Business Breakthrough Thursdays

Episode 9 — Joe Ippolito on Building a Scalable Sales Process

November 12, 2020 David J Fionda
Business Breakthrough Thursdays
Episode 9 — Joe Ippolito on Building a Scalable Sales Process
Chapters
Business Breakthrough Thursdays
Episode 9 — Joe Ippolito on Building a Scalable Sales Process
Nov 12, 2020
David J Fionda

In Episode 9 of Business Breakthrough Thursdays, award-winning Sandler trainer and sales coach Joe Ippolito explains how to build a scalable sales process. Joe shares how even inexperienced salespeople can consistently qualify and close in a few simple steps. If the thought of selling scares you, Joe is the person to listen to. 

Learn:

  • How a series of simple steps can help you map out your prospect's sales journey and identify the right opportunities to close the sale
  • Which questions to ask during the discovery call
  • How to detect when a prospect is just looking for free consulting
  • Why the "show up and throw up" sales pitch just doesn't work
  • How to avoid wasting both your time and your prospect's time
  • A simple way to identify (and address) needs
  • How to apply basic psychological techniques to quickly assess a prospect's interest level


Joe Ippolito is the President of TOPLINE Performance Solutions, an authorized Sandler Training franchise. For the past decade, Joe has been an award-winning Sandler trainer, author, coach, and speaker. His columns on cutting-edge sales topics have appeared regularly in the Boston Business Journal. Joe has successfully trained and consulted with business owners, senior managers and sales professionals from a variety of industries including professional service firms, manufacturing, consumer product companies, information technology providers, healthcare and biotech, to name a few. He has worked with start-ups, building and scaling their sales process infrastructure, as well as established organizations committed to growth. Joe’s successful clients are both companies and entrepreneurs that are committed to becoming leaders in their industry by developing their human capital and themselves, giving them a true competitive advantage.

Show Notes Transcript

In Episode 9 of Business Breakthrough Thursdays, award-winning Sandler trainer and sales coach Joe Ippolito explains how to build a scalable sales process. Joe shares how even inexperienced salespeople can consistently qualify and close in a few simple steps. If the thought of selling scares you, Joe is the person to listen to. 

Learn:

  • How a series of simple steps can help you map out your prospect's sales journey and identify the right opportunities to close the sale
  • Which questions to ask during the discovery call
  • How to detect when a prospect is just looking for free consulting
  • Why the "show up and throw up" sales pitch just doesn't work
  • How to avoid wasting both your time and your prospect's time
  • A simple way to identify (and address) needs
  • How to apply basic psychological techniques to quickly assess a prospect's interest level


Joe Ippolito is the President of TOPLINE Performance Solutions, an authorized Sandler Training franchise. For the past decade, Joe has been an award-winning Sandler trainer, author, coach, and speaker. His columns on cutting-edge sales topics have appeared regularly in the Boston Business Journal. Joe has successfully trained and consulted with business owners, senior managers and sales professionals from a variety of industries including professional service firms, manufacturing, consumer product companies, information technology providers, healthcare and biotech, to name a few. He has worked with start-ups, building and scaling their sales process infrastructure, as well as established organizations committed to growth. Joe’s successful clients are both companies and entrepreneurs that are committed to becoming leaders in their industry by developing their human capital and themselves, giving them a true competitive advantage.

David: Good afternoon everybody and welcome to Business Breakthrough Thursdays. I'm your host. David Fionda. Today’s episode is Building a Scalable Sales Process and What it Can Do to Benefit Your Business. We have Joe Ippolito today who was an award-winning Sandler trainer, consultant, coach, and speaker. From startups who are building and scaling their sales opportunities and organizations to established companies trying to maximize revenues, Joe has worked at a variety of industries helping them develop high-performance sales and sales, leadership teams. Joe's columns on cutting edge sales topics that have appeared regularly in the Boston Business Journal. He's also a contributing author to the soon to be published "A Research Agenda for Sales, the Challenges of Transitioning to Professional Selling in a Family Business." Welcome, Joe Ippolito. Tell us, Joe, what is a scalable sales process?

Joe: Yeah, it's a great question, Dave. In a nutshell, a scalable sales process is the journey we take our prospects through for sales opportunities. So, let me give you an example. From when a customer says hello to when a customer finally closes, what are the steps that you want to take that prospect through with whatever you're selling product or service and based on your industry. So, it's a series of steps. They're going to give you some predictability and success.

David: Tell me a little bit Joe, of the components of a saleable skill sales process. What are the components of that scalable process? Tell us a little bit about that.

Joe: So, let me, let me take an example of what it might look like. And by the way, Dave, a lot of companies, they have a process that they don't know about and meaning that they have a number of people on their team that are kind of doing the wrong thing and selling the wrong way and other companies have a defined process. 

So, let's just say for example a company that an opportunity comes in from a lead and the first step is to run a discovery call. That would be say, step number one in the process, run a discovery call to determine if the prospect is going to be a good fit. If they are a good fit, step number two might be a longer discovery call to now start getting information about their problems, challenges, what are their goals and objectives, start covering us talking about maybe investments and budgets, the people that are involved. 

So, that would be a deeper step two discovery call. Once you've gotten that information, step three might then go to proposal or presentation and then they close. So, an example like that would be, say a three or four-step sales process. So, what it does is it takes a different... You know, sellers are different. People come into the sales game from all different environments and backgrounds and experiences, and we really sell according to kind of our own personalities and the way we view the world. 

So, without this process, you'll have a team of people working hard but kind of doing their own thing based on their view of the world. Now a scalable sales process is going to be based on your organization, who you're selling to, the best framework to kind of get everybody on the same page and march to the same drummer if that makes sense.

David: I think our primary audience here at the Business Breakthrough Network is technical founders and owners and I think a lot of times they end up doing a majority of the "selling." So, they aren't doing it from their perspective, and they haven't made that shift yet to making it a process. We're thinking about the small businessperson. We're talking about, let's say somebody who's a plumbing contractor or an HVAC contractor. They're doing all the sales. They are meeting with all the customers, they're assessing needs, they're preparing proposals but when you get to that next level of growth, you've got to be able to document that in a process, in order to blow that out. So, let's talk a little bit about why is it important to have a scalable sales process? Why is it important, Joe?

Joe: It's a tongue twister, Dave. So, let me give you an example because that's a good kind of set up to answer this question. So, say, for instance, there's an inbound lead or somebody comes in from a referral or it could have been, maybe some companies do outbound prospecting. That first initial call, say it's an outbound prospecting call should only be about three to five minutes because a lot of times what will happen is if you move beyond that three to five minutes, you are now in sales mode. You are starting to sell on the phone when we don't want to do that so early in the cycle because now we're going to give away information. We're not going to be aligning to the prospect's needs. So, to say step one of the processes, when we qualify an opportunity, it's a three to five initial discovery call.

If we get by that and there's a bit, they go into that deeper discovery call. Now why we need to do that as an example, because you get a bunch of different people, they're going to be doing their own thing. You'll never be able to track, measure, define opportunities and sales as you know, Dave, it's really a science and this is part of the science behind sales. Otherwise, we don't have any visibility into pipeline, predictability of what's going to close, when they're going to close, or really what we did wrong and to self-assess how we can get better. Now, as far as scalability, now, think about it when you start hiring people, you're going to have the experience of knowing what the appropriate sales process is for your business and your natural sales cycle. So, like a professional sports team has a playbook. You want those folks, those new salespeople to come on and be following your sales playbook i.e. sales process.

David: Yeah. I mean, I think you're right. I think a lot of smaller companies haven't made that leap yet. I think a lot of companies, as you said have already kind of done that because it's important to them. But I think a lot of smaller companies haven't made that leap yet. What are some common problems that you see for business owners that are still trying to do everything themselves and haven't documented this as a process and haven't made that first hire and trained that first person to what are some of the pros and cons? I mean, what are some of the pros and cons? I'm a business owner today. Right now, I'm doing all the sales myself. Haven't hired a salesperson yet, whether it's an electrician, a plumber, or even the next level, a software engineer that's starting a company. What are some of the challenges and problems you've seen with business owners that aren't building a sales process?

Joe: Well I would say in my experience, talking to business owners and anybody today, their number one problem is having enough time in the day and where do they focus their effort and resources. Without a sales process and without some way to measure where prospects are and how to get them moved through your sales process from hello to a proposal. You're just going to waste a tremendous amount of time spinning your wheels and end up probably doing a lot of unpaid consulting and wasting time for prospects that will never close. Because here's the thing, Dave, a lot of business owners don't realize, they probably realize it anecdotally, but until it's framed out. They don't realize that prospects have their system for buying too and if you could get through the door of them first saying, hey, I'm not interested. We're happy with who we are. 

They can put initial stalls up there that are hard to get through. But let's say they want to meet you and hear what you have to say. Prospects are inclined to get information. They want to hear what can you do for me and without a process, people think, well, I need to tell the prospects what we do. So, we end up doing a lot of unpaid consulting and we answer a lot of questions without knowing the reasons behind the questions and uncovering need and then the prospect gets us all excited by asking for a proposal and we think that's a good thing. But what we haven't been able to do was really qualify that opportunity. So, we ended up giving them a proposal and we walk away thinking, hey, this is great. They've really liked what we had. I spent my time doing a proposal and then we try to get some type of answer or commitment and then they go run and hide, maybe even disappear yet they put us in follow-up mode and guess it would the only one following up is Dave?

David: You.

Joe:  Me, and so there's a lot of wasted time, energy, and resources. So, that's why we need to put a process around that function to prevent that from happening. So, before we give them all our information, we're qualifying so our information matches hopefully against what they're possibly looking for.

David: Yeah. It's a lot of times I've heard it called the give and get approach. I mean, I've heard it called give and get. So, as you said you meet with somebody right away. The mistakes that a lot of businesses make is they're automatically assuming that persons got the decision authority to buy...

Joe: Correct 

David: ...that person has got the money to buy and that person has got the need to buy. And that person is going to do something in a short period of time. So, many times it’s just tire kickers that are out there just gathering information and you do this whole thing, do all this work and they're not ready to buy. So, that first step to me sounds like it's the most critical step. It'd be able to qualify someone and say, do you have a need? Are you the right person making the decision? Have you put the money aside and more importantly, what's your timeline? I think that's a critical first step.

Joe: Well, I agree a hundred percent Dave and when you look at it, there's some psychology behind this too, because the prospect is going to fan a lot of interest and probably act enthusiastic about what you do. Not a lot yet this is really interesting. This is really nice because they don't want to let you down. They don't want conflicts. So, that's when they, a lot of times ask us for proposals. We look at it as a good sign when really it's just a nice way to get rid of us and the reason why they do it is it works. Untrained people without a process will put out proposals like it's popcorn thinking that now you have a good pipeline of opportunity, but you're really doing a lot of just unpaid consulting. 

To your point earlier, Dave even if they have better intentions, even if the prospect has good intentions where they're not misleading us intentionally and tire-kicking a lot of times we lose deals, not because of competition. They might like what we have but they have a lot of other priorities on the other side of the fence that the prospect is looking at. So, they might like what you have, but in their realm of priority, I might be number 10 when they get a proposal and then go dark at me. How within that process, do I get my proposal to be a number one, two, or three priority so they'll take action?

David: Part of that problem is you said, is that a lot of times that people feign interest and want a proposal. Well, I think you've said it to me before when we talked is that you said it, they make the mistake to think that proposal equals interest. Then the second biggest mistake they make is they automatically assume that someone's going to do something with that proposal. 

Joe: Correct.

David: They're going to take action on that proposal.

Joe: Well, they are usually...

David: Go ahead.

Joe: I'm sorry Dave, they usually do something with it. It goes in the bottom drawer and collects a lot of dust never to be seen again. But even going back to your point about give, get, it's not that we don't give information but if I set up a process and initially my process was a 15-minute discovery call to see why the prospect is interested and answer a few questions so we can get some type of alignment. They're going to give me some information. I'll get the information, I'll give them a next meeting and at that next meeting, I'm going to take a deeper dive and go to the things you talked about. Okay, what are their needs, their problems, their challenges? Is budget available or at least is there money tolerance that we understand? Are we talking to the right people? As I get that information I'm like yeah, I will then give more but until I get that I really can't align a good solution anyway so, I'm really wasting my time.

David: So, does the concept of discovery call, does that apply to every business Joe? Does that apply to somebody who runs a plumbing supply house to somebody who is building a school let's say? Is that a concept of an initial discovery call, the same all the way across?

Joe: There's going to be levels of discovery depending on the industry and what you're selling, and it could be dictated for services versus products. Like if I'm a plumber and someone calls me and a pipe just broke in someone's house and the floor is flooded, I'm not so sure I have to set up an hour discovery call of why they might need my services. But, but here's the thing too, Dave, which a lot of people misunderstand because I'll talk to a lot of companies and they tell me they have a sales process and they're right about that. But what they don't have that's mission-critical to run the process is a sales methodology of just what you do in that sales process. So, the process is what to do. The methodology is how to do it and that's really the big mistake. Number one, they don't have anything. Number two, they have a sales process only. Number three is they don't have a methodology to drive that process. It's almost like I have a race car. I built my great race car, but I don't have a driver, tires, fuel, or lubricant to make the thing move.

David: So, day to day it's not going to go very far?

Joe: It's not going to go very far. So, methodology within the process is like when I run my discovery call, what type of questions am I going to ask you? What type of agreements am I going to get to see if we're going to take the next steps. How am I going to build rapport and trust with you so you're honest to answer my questions?

David: Right. And not just saying stuff to get you off your back. 

Joe: Well, that's the other thing too. You can have a process and it's like some people have a process initial discovery, deeper discovery, presentation, proposal, close... They go through that and they think, oh great I've gotten a proposal out and that's a good indication of my business. If it's garbage in garbage out unless I can get those right questions and have that right methodology to run the process. Even though I've gone through the process, accordingly, the criteria haven't been established so I can build that predictability into my revenue, which is really what a process should be able to do as well.

David: I'd like to turn our attention to something you said a few minutes ago which is about the concept of trust. Building trust with the prospect, building trust with them and I've always talked about that quite a bit. So, I think, just to echo what you said, throwing proposals out there, it doesn't build trust. It doesn't build trust. It just throws the proposal out there; they don't have a sense. If you follow a repeatable sales process, how does that build trust with the prospect so you can get to a higher percentage of close?

Joe: Well, the other thing too is to really again depending on what you're selling, product, service, industry, sales cycle. The prospect isn't necessarily willing to give you all that information. In fact, they probably want to come into a meeting knowing what can you do for me and that makes sense. They're going to take their time and say what can you do for me? An untrained salesperson, a business owner will come in without a sales process and just start showing up and throwing up.

David: I love that expression. 

Joe: Well, I mean, it's like, I don't know what I can do for you until you can tell me kind of what you're looking for. So, there's a little bit of misalignment right away. So, when I talk about methodology, the methodology would drive the process. So, I might say something like this, Dave if I just did a role-play it's like, hey Dave, why don't we get together for a 15-minute initial discovery call? You can ask me a couple of questions about what I'm doing. Of course, I'll ask you some questions. Based on that call, if we think there's something there, we can set up a deeper call for an hour and take a deeper dive. And if for whatever reason, Dave, we're not on the right page or we're just not a home run for you. We don't have to take it beyond today's meeting.

David: Yeah. The worst-case scenario is when sometimes people just cast that wide net and they figure the more proposal they get and then what does it come down to? If you're just casting the net for proposals, what does the decision come down to? Price. Just comes down to pricing and do you really want to sell on price, Joe?

Joe: Well, let me take a step back. I'm going to answer that question. What I did in my little role play, I set up the process by saying, hey, if we like what we talk about, we can talk about a deeper discovery call. So, I can now I don't want to say take control, but put a framework around this call and whether it's appropriate to get more information or not. I might even give my prospect a little bit of homework to do before that call so we can start thinking about the types of problems he might have and the questions I'm going to ask the second time around. I mean, if you have nothing to do, Dave, maybe you like writing proposals all day, but I think most business owners and people trying to scale have a lot of other things to do. I mean, we can joke about here because a lot of people do that.

But I think the worst thing is it puts them on Hope Island. They think they've got a lot of deals out there. I've sent out a lot of proposals and there's a lot of psychology in selling too. I mean, it's definitely a science and there's definitely an art of application, but there's science that says too, that the longer you withhold information, the more valuable it will become and especially if I can take what I do and align it to the prospects immediate issues, concerns, and problems, and can solve their problems. Because see, I think what a lot of people do, Dave, and you've seen it before they go out selling features and benefits and selling their product instead of selling their product to the problems it solves for their clients.

David: And that can apply anywhere. I mean, that can apply universally. 

Joe: That's universal.

David: Somebody goes out and buys something because they have a need. 

Joe: Correct. 

David: And if you're able to like you said, match your expertise to that need then you've built that trust with the person and even if you're a little higher, they'll still go with it because they say, you know what, that Joel Ippolito guy, I'm confident that his company can meet my needs. I think that is what is lost a lot of times. I mean, I have friends who are in the trades and they talk about I'm sending all these proposals out, but I'm not getting any work. I loved your comment about information withheld is valuable. A long time ago I had a company, and I hired this ex-Oracle salesperson. So, Oracle and SAP and Xerox, those are like the best-trained salespeople, they really are. So, he would always say don't give up anything unless you get something in return.

Joe: In return.

David: From somebody wants, let's say a demo of your product. Don't just go demo the product. Get them to commit to understanding the needs because that way Dave you've identified if you're a fit, but more importantly, you're not giving up a resource without getting something in return and you talked about that.

Joe: Well, think, think about this too Dave. So, you answered your question. Unless we can run a process and identify those needs at the right time. Because I can't go to my first meeting and say, hey, Dave, Joe Ippolito, what are your problems? Tell me what's keeping you up at night. You're going to look at me like I have three heads. So, there's some art of application here, but at the same time, I am not really selling products or services. We have to look at our products and services and understand specifically what problems does it solve for the client? Because when we can do that, that's when we're creating value where the prospect can connect the dots. That's when they'll prioritize our solutions as being something they should take action on. 

D Yeah. 

Joe: Yeah. Go ahead. Sorry.

David: No, that's okay. When you talk about the sale and we've talked so far about what is a scalable sales process. Something that's documented, something that fits your business and has the right methodology. We talked about why it's important to build a sales process. We've talked about common problems. If somebody, I guess that doesn't a sales process, allows you to use less valuable resources to do part of it. If I'm a business owner, there is just one of me I have to be concerned with the payroll, concerned with the lights, concerned with everything, and selling. One of the big investments is obviously hiring a salesperson but is there a way that someone can make small investments in their existing staff and leverage their time with a saleable skills process?

Joe: Well, here's the other misnomer when you think about any organization at all. They have functions and processes around finance, accounting, operations, manufacturing, HR. Every other functional area in a company has some type of process so we can run this thing effectively and efficiently. Then we come to arguably the most important function in the company, driving revenue and sales and bringing in clients. We don't have a process. We go out there and kind of get a bunch of people and wing it. I mean, it doesn't make sense. So to your point, not only is it going to help us be more effective and efficient, this might be a little bit down the road Dave, but imagine this, you have a sales team of three or four, say, three people, even two people, or you're a manager and you have one person, and now you're playing the role of sales leader and you're trying to talk about deals and opportunities and you're trying to coach, how do you coach to somebody when they don't have a follow common playbook to coach against? 

David: Let's say what happened to the football team. If a coach and a football team tried to coach how to play a game without a playbook.

Joe: How do you do it?

David: That process is really the common body of knowledge that everybody needs.

Joe: You can't do it and then you think about it, you mentioned football. Look at least, pay Bill for whatever on Sunday. He's going to look at the playbook and the execution. What plays do they work? What didn't and he's back on the field with the best players in the world, practicing those plays and putting in the players that can execute or not. So, there's clarity in where you can identify problems in the sales process and correct them. 

Otherwise, here's what Dave. Your salesperson comes back or even the owner in some cases, and maybe the owner's wife, he comes home after working 18 hours and his wife says, hey honey, how did that deal go with Acme Corp? And he says, yeah, this COVID thing is really preventing us from moving forward or, they decided to stay where they were. That's an external excuse. This person doesn't have any context to look into what happened during those meetings and say what could I have done differently to prevent that outcome? How would I navigate a COVID pushback? How would I navigate through when someone...? Because here's the other problem, Dave, without a playbook or sales process, the problem you identify as the problem is never the real problem.

An example, you're delivering a bunch of proposals, they're not closing. You're thinking, oh, I need to cut the price, or I need to do this. Well, maybe you're not asking the right questions to create enough value. Maybe you're not presenting to the right people to make a decision. Maybe you're not... Go ahead sorry.

David: No, go ahead.

Joe: Yeah. So, you have to have this process in the playbook to start now looking. It's like an MRI to dissect where you can go wrong. Where do you think your deal can go wrong and go in and self-reflect and take some action. So, if you ever had a sales leader, come in and try to coach a guy who's looking at the world through their eyes you can't do it. He'll say boss, it's COVID out there. I can't sell anything right now. The economy's bad. Come on. Our competition's tough. They do a lot more advertising than us. All external, they don't know what to do differently without a process and methodology to drive actions and behavior.

David: They're pointing to factors they can't control rather than things that they can control. So, if you have a real understanding and you talked about the whole thing about objections. Part of your sales process is how to handle certain objections. I don't have the money. Well, here's what your response is. 

Joe: Yeah.

David: We're not ready to make a change. So, if you have that common body of knowledge,  then you're able to improve yourself. If the excuse is...

Joe: Bingo!

David: ...Oh, yeah because of COVID, because of COVID. Well, that's the excuse for everything, but you can't control that.

Joe: Well, COVID and budgets, that's exactly right.

David: There's something else in that process, the way you delivered the proposal or how much they trust you or how good they feel about your firm or how well you understand their business. 

Joe: Bingo!

David: There's so much in that process that maybe didn't get communicated and when you go right from hi, I need this solution to here's a proposal all those things never get communicated.

Joe: That's 100% correct. So, the real big problem is, and then with a business owner when they bring in a salesperson, one person. We all know I've seen it happen so many times they get one person. They have experience but I always, from my perspective in my world, get someone with 20 years' experience. I always have to ask myself the question is that one year experience repeated 20 times over, or is that 20 years of ongoing experience. The poor owner of the business is held hostage by the salesperson, telling them why deals won't close, why they're getting delay. It's COVID, there are no budgets when there's no process to put that deal through the MRI machine and say, okay, I get it. Two things. What do I do to handle those problems if they come up? Just as importantly, Dave, with a process, you can prevent a lot of the objections from happening in the first place.

David: Well, you could be proactive with them rather than reactive to them. You're right because the typical owner and we're going to wrap up, but the typical owner says, okay, I've got to hire a salesperson. I can't do this myself. I'm out of the walls. I got to hire a salesperson and they go out and they say to the salesperson go sell, go sell, go sell. But without a playbook, it's like bringing a new player in onto your team and saying go out and play. Well, what are the plays? What do I do? It doesn't happen. 

We've had a great opportunity today to talk with Joe Ippolito master sales trainer. Joe, thanks for coming on Business Breakthrough Thursdays.

Joe: Thanks, D