From SDRs, to Account Execs, to VPs, building a successful sales organization is a team effort.
Whatever your role, you need to know how you contribute towards your company’s revenue engine.
In this episode of the B2B Rebellion, Niraj Kapur, Sales Coach and bestselling author, discusses what it takes to build a great sales organization and how individual roles can excel.
Andy Culligan: Hey guys. Welcome back to another episode of the B2B Rebellion from Leadfeeder. Really happy to have on a gentleman today by the name of Niraj Kapur. Niraj owns his own organization, a sales consultancy business called Everybody Works in Sales. And myself and Niraj came across each other actually on LinkedIn about that recently. I really like the message that he's been pushing at, especially around mental health and sales and how people should be focused on creating engagement within their deals that they're having rather than just focus on actually closing pipeline.
Niraj is also a best selling author. He's got a book by the same name as the business Everybody Works in Sales. And one of the best things I like about Niraj is that he's actually doing it himself. So you come across a lot of sales trainers that try to sell you the world and tell you how it should be done although they've never done it themselves.
So if you look at Niraj's LinkedIn profile, you'll see that he's got extensive experience in sales, having worked with a number of blue chip clients already in his current business, but also in the past. And so his experience as sales director, sales manager, sales rep, you'll see that the list is long, so the guy knows what he's talking about when it comes to sales.
Again, I can't reiterate enough that annoys me nothing more than seeing sales consultants or sales people that claim to be sales leaders that have no experience in sales. So Niraj, I think I have done you some justice there, but I'll allow you to introduce yourself quickly and also Everybody Works in Sales. So over to you, Niraj.
Niraj Kapur: Thank you so much, I really appreciate. That was a fantastic intro. All over that it's about was. I started off the very bottom 25 years ago and I worked my way up. And along the way, I made a lot of selling mistakes, and they're not really good things as well, and today I'm gonna share some of the mistakes I made, some of the good things I've made that you can use in this current climate to help you generate more revenue and do right by your clients.
AC: Perfect, perfect. And then we were talking just prior today surrounding what we'd speak about today, and somewhere where you see a lot of value at the moment is in engagement and opening deals. Because as I said just a couple of minutes ago, everyone's got the chase. "We need to close more business there," "Oh our H2 is gonna be terrible therefore we need to start chasing more prospects down and get them to close in H2." Which in my opinion is not gonna work.
The more pressure you're put on a prospect to close, the less likely you are to closing. So what are your tips or your advice or what are you seeing right now that could be helpful to sales people out there?
NK: Well, it's quite interesting. Up until March this year, until COVID-19 and lockdown, so many sales directors and sales managers of large companies approached me saying like, "We gotta close more deals. Can you help us." None of those companies are in Beloit, it's small businesses and it's entrepreneurs, and it's sales executives who aren't getting trained properly by the sales manager who are coming to me and saying exactly the same, "How do we close more deals?" Everybody's asking the same question.
Prospecting and how to close more deals are the two most common elements I deal with every single day. And so what I often do is I'll jump on to their calls with them, and I'll be a consultant or a colleague, just so that I can listen in or if they're a bigger company, and they already have pre-recorded software, so I can listen to the phone calls and hear what they're saying.
And most people are just rushing through the process, that's a very common problem in sales, Andy. They rush through the process, maybe ask one question and then start trying to sell the product and they will try alternative closes, trial closes, and then they get nervous when it comes to negotiation. That's not how you do sales. It's not how you do business. Okay? You have to follow a sales process. So stop closing deals and start opening deals and engaging with clients. That's the first thing I would say to anybody 'cause it's so, so important.
AC: Absolutely. That makes perfect sense, but what would you say to... What advice would you give to those sales people at the front line let's call them, that are getting the pressure from above, from sales leadership saying, "You need to start closing, otherwise you're gonna be furloughed, or otherwise there's gonna be problems."
It's a tough market out there at the moment, people are under a lot of pressure. How do you shift mindset, how do you manage up from the ground or how do you instill that within the sales leadership to make them know, "Hey, this is something... This is more of a long-term strategy rather than just some quick wins we can maybe get over the line."
NK: If you go to your boss and you say, "Look, this isn't how we should be doing things." You're gonna sadly find yourself losing a lot of opportunities in the company. That is how corporate market life works. I don't think it should work that way. I think bosses should be more open to feedback from staff, and I believe that all bosses shouldn't believe this is the one way how we should do things, 'cause I see a lot of egos coming into play, and I've been in positions myself where I've said to my boss, "Why are we making 60 phone calls a day? This is ridiculous. It's meaningless.
The clients are better than this, and I've actually worked in companies where I've not made 60 phone calls a day, but I've made 25 to 30 really good quality... I've actually made proper conversations with clients and set up meetings. But if you go to the boss say, "I'm gonna change things." Bosses don't like that, they don't appreciate it, and sadly they will give you a hard time in most cases.
So what you gotta do is lead by example. So what I recommend is if you're gonna make the 60 phone calls a day, believe it or not, if your boss sees you booking more meetings, if the bosses see you having a bigger pipeline and they eventually see you generating more revenue, they don't really care if you make 60 phone calls, 50 phone calls. They really don't care. All they really care about is you hitting your target because that's what protects their job.
And ultimately, sadly, most sales directors just care about their job, their bonuses, there's ego at play, there's management opportunities for them in the future, and they know if they hit their targets, they're gonna get that. So really you have to lead by example. Arguing with management and challenging them, sadly, in most cases, is not gonna work.
AC: Absolutely, I mean, look, I think that just goes across the board whether you're in sales or any other role. Put the head down, get the job done, don't make too big of a fuss out of it and try to reach your numbers. I think that's the message there, but nothing's gonna be done without hard work really.
One of the things that I've come across recently, and I spoke about this, we did another episode yesterday on this same show, and I was speaking with a guy called Aurelien Mottier who runs a company called Operatix, and basically they create demand for companies, for software companies. And one of the things that he's found good about this particular time is that he's been having more time to actually upskill sales reps.
We got into a conversation about how bad some sales reps actually are, and I've said, I've noticed it recently myself, in that the outreach people are getting desperate, so actually in the past couple of weeks, I've gotten a lot of outreach. Out of a lot of out-reach, probably one or two have been somewhat decent. But the vast majority, I'm just like, "Where did you learn this? This is just terrible." How do people upscale themselves, where would you or how would you advise people to upscale?
NK: Okay, I would say that every single sales person are there, whether you're a sales executive, and especially if you've worked for 20 years in the business and think you know everything. I meet a lot of those people as well, they've won awards five years ago and still think they're good, or they hit target 10 years ago and still talk about it. Okay. Look, you've gotta treat sales like any profession.
Okay, so my mother is a physiotherapist, she spent years training. My brother is a tennis coach, he spent years training and still goes to tennis matches and still trains all the time. My father is a doctor, and even though he spent several years being a doctor, even in his 60s, he was still going to conferences twice a year, he was still reading books at the weekends, he was still learning.
Look, sales professionals who really succeed in life, they're not the ones who get lucky, they're not the ones with the gift of the gab, they're the ones who every day are reading sales books, who are watching sales videos, who are listening to sales podcasts. That is how you get better.
I would also recommend you find successful people, either in your business or on LinkedIn and reach out to them and ask for advice and learn from them. Take them out for lunches or coffees, when you get to know them ask why did every company. When I finally got a coach in 2011, he said, look, find the most successful people in this business and buy them lunch or dinner, and I did, and I had breakfasts and lunches, they didn't really have time for dinners 'cause they had families. And I'd ask them questions, how are you doing this? And how did you hit your target and what did you do?
And in most cases, they were very generous with their time, and they were all quite similar, actually, I was quite surprised Andy, the most successful people were humble, they weren't braggers, they were massive learners and only wanted to do was help the customer. They weren't focused on closing deals, they were focused on engaging with a customer, asking great questions, giving value and then they closed the deal and that's really the way it should be.
AC: That's really good advice, find a mentor of sorts or a coach. Again, I also have mentors and also people that I see as a coach of myself as well, like you can't know everything, it's not possible. I think even the best business leaders have coaches, they have people that they lean on to ask questions, they need advice, they need to throw ideas off of, what do you think about this? What would you do if I was in this situation? Etcetera, etcetera. It's sort of a role play type of thing, but it also helps you get things off your chest, but also helps structure things a little bit in your head. I find it helpful myself as well, so I fully relate to what you mean there.
There is a couple of things you mentioned there around process, and just to focus on process from the company side. So we've spoken about now like, what people can do from their individual sides, so as an individual I can go find a mentor, for example, I can read books, I can try my best to upscale based on different areas of interest. Like from a company's perspective, how can they set a process in place that's facilitating sales to be successful?
NK: Well, in an ideal world, sales managers and sales directors should be training their staff and help them get better. And in 2011 when I got a coach, my coach said to me, it's really important you have one-to-one's every Monday with your team, and if you do that, you'll see what the problems are, you'll see where the skills gaps are, and you gotta help them.
And then through finding who the most successful sales person was in the company, she advised to me, "Look you gotta have call coaching sessions once a week with your team as well." So I did those two really simple things, now bear in mind 2011, I've been working in sales 15 years, I had never been a manager before, because as far as I was concerned managers spent all their time doing boring paper work and there were meetings all day, they had nice salaries, but apart from that it was boring.
All I wanted to do was sell. But when I became a manager, I had one-to-ones every Monday with my team, it took up my entire morning, 45 minutes to one hour each and on Wednesdays, we had call coaching sessions.
I was the only manager that did this, and two things happened, first of all, I became manager of the year after 12 months, but second of all, whenever redundancies took place and restructuring takes place, which happens a lot in big companies, I kept my job and the more better known and experienced managers lost their jobs because they couldn't get their staff to sell.
So you've gotta spend time one-to-ones every Monday with your staff, the first five minutes talking about them, their weekends or families, whatever it is that they are doing and then asking what challenges they're having. If we talk about KPIs, especially young people Andy, they don't care. No young person goes to work thinking, "What are my KPIs?" They don't care. What young people care about is their holidays, their music festivals, getting pissed in the weekend, going on nice holidays, buying nice clothes.
That's not meant to be a cliche or generalization, but it's more of a fact, but if you talk about look, if you can make X number of meetings and get X number of deals, you're gonna have the commission to go on a really nice holiday. If you bring in X number of revenue or you learn, X on mind, that's gonna help you go away to gigs more often.
You relate their personal goals to the company's goals, that's how you coach people, and coaching is such an important part, but it has to be consistent, it has to be every week. And you will always go further coaching a team, than you will doing it yourself and saying to your team, "Just follow me, do what I do." That's not management, it's not leadership, and that's what bosses should be doing.
Now in some companies, bosses don't do that, but either way, you work in sales, you gotta be reading books, I mean this book shelf, I've been through these books at least twice, these are books I've studied, read, underlined, made notes of, you've gotta be studying, if you go to everybodyworksinsales.com, there's a recommended reading list at the bottom of the home page, just look at those books, buy those books, and just study them, and you'll be amazed after a few months, you will learn so much more and you'll do so much more on your job, I promise you that.
AC: Like what would your advice be to... First of all to SDRs let's say, that wanna get to the next level because typically my experience with SDRs, nobody wants to be an SDR. They all wanna be an account executive. It's the one role where nobody... Where everybody's working and doesn't want to be doing that job. First of all, what would be your advice to those guys and then to leadership and how to manage them? 'Cause I typically refer to them as the kindergarten of any organization.
A kindergarten that has massive weight on the shoulders to get meetings into the calendars of their account executives, typically. So without them, actually, you're not getting meetings booked, without meetings getting booked, you're not getting opportunities into the pipeline, whatever opportunities are probably not gonna get... Etcetara, etcetara.
So they're actually the lifeblood of an organization but not really taking that seriously and they're very young and they don't wanna be in that job. How do you, first of all, how do you advise people in that job to stick at it, keep the head down, you will get to the next level, you just need to be patient because as you said, they don't give a shit about KPIs they care about going out getting pissed at the weekends, they care about, going to music festivals, things like that. 'Cause they're young, they're probably late teens, early 20s, what advice do you give to them to keep the head down and keep pushing forward?
NK: Now, great question. And by the way, there's nothing wrong with that, that's what young people do. When I was that age I was different, I became a father in my early 20s. I got married. I did everything the wrong way around in my life, I think in my personal life, but so I had different responsibilities, but I totally get young people, I get why they do that and I don't hold that against them, by the way, good for you if that's how you spend your weekends.
But look, I don't know anybody who's really gotten to the sales, this is something I've dreamed of my whole life. Most SDRs get into sales as a kind of something they're doing along the way to find their dream. It's not their dream to work in sales. It's not a dream for most people to work in sales, and they're looking at it as a quick fix to get what they want in the real world. And it doesn't quite work like that. My advice to any SDR is look at sales as a profession. Don't try to say, "I'll be in this job for six months to two years get my commission and leave." You won't succeed that way. You've gotta look at it as a profession.
So first of all, you gotta study it by reading books, listen to Audibles. If you're young, lot of young people don't read books, but least listened to podcasts, they're free, there's no excuse, there's so many great podcasts out there, watch YouTube videos. Everybody Works In Sales on YouTube. There's 50 videos, they're a minute each. Watch Victor Antonio's videos, there's so many amazing podcasts on YouTube as videos, it's all free. So there's no excuse not to be learning. And don't tell me you're too busy to learn, because that's just an excuse.
Everybody has half an hour a day. They can spend less liking posts on Facebook and actually learning, okay? And second of all, it's very important to understand sales is a multi-platform business. So a lot of SDRs are obsessed with sending out emails and when they get on the phone, they're very nervous. And guess what sales is not sending out emails, sales is picking up the phone, sales is learning how to leverage LinkedIn effectively, sales is writing fantastic content on LinkedIn, sales is going to networking events, or nowadays virtual networking events.
And this is what sales is about. Sales is actually about seeing your client's content on LinkedIn, liking it, commenting on it, sharing it, and then saying to the client, "Just to let you know, I've liked, shared, commented on your content, I thought it was brilliant." That is something I can guarantee to you most SDRs aren't doing. They're clicking "like", which by the way is pretty meaningless. But you gotta comment, you've gotta share. There's so many things out there...
If you imagine the circle, it's emails, it's phones, it's marketing from your marketing team. It's LinkedIn, there's so many things you should be doing and you have to learn all these skills as an SDR. Now, if you're a manager, managing a young team, saying to them, "Get on the phone," doesn't work, because they hate the phone, they don't use the phone. They don't call their friends like my generation does. They text their friends or WhatsApp, their friends. And if you say to them, "Get on the phone," it's not gonna work. And if you say to them, "Get on the phone or you're fired," it's not gonna work.
I've worked in these offices, I've trained these people. And so what I do is, I have a training session for half an hour with SDRs. And I'm like, "Okay, tell me why you hate the phone?" And they all tell me, "We don't wanna bother people, we don't wanna disturb." Just to flip chart the whiteboard training session, that's it. And they tell me all the things they hate about the phone, 'cause you have to acknowledge the fear. You can't ignore it.
And after I've done that Andy, then I say, "Okay, why is phone important?" And they give me a list. And they struggle with a second list, but they give me a list. And I say, "Okay, so you don't like picking up the phone, you don't wanna bother people, and let's look at the reason why the phone is important. It saves you time, people buy people. You can judge tone quicker, you can get deals faster. Now looking at these two, what do you think is better for you?"
And in most cases they will go, "Picking up the phone." I said, "Great. Okay, so let's have a few call sessions here." So we then train them on calling people, but then after that, you have to have role plays with them in a safe environment. So I'll be in the front the stage, I'll be the client and each rep comes up individually, and has to sell to me in front of their peers. But you have to create a safe environment where they can make mistakes, and feel comfortable making mistakes. And they all do it. And the first few are kinda awkward, and after a while it's quite fun. But afterwards, they're all pumped up and they're exhilarated, okay?
And then once they do that, you've gotta make sure they're kept accountable because 50% of what you learn in sales training, you forget the next day. 95% you forget in a week, so you gotta... I work with management to make sure that every week the boss is sitting down with the staff and saying, "Okay, what did you learn? What are you making improvements on? What are you getting better at?"
The management, believe it or not, are just as responsible as the SDRs and keeping them accountable because that accountability, which is gonna make them go further. So that was a long explanation, but I thought it was really, really important to explain the process I have of getting a success for people. So I have those moments where she only communicates to me by WhatsApp or text. She never picks up the phone ever and calls me, probably not, but that's okay. That's their generation. And if I say to her, "I will only speak to you by phone." I tried that once, she never called me.
You have to understand, you have understand the generation of people you're coaching, that is so, so important. Understand their personalities, understand the best way to motivate people as well. Some people like quiet, gentle praise, whereas other people like being praised in front of all their colleagues, yeah. You have to understand people, but I don't see managers spending much time with our staff, and that's why they hire me because most of them are too busy to spend time with their staff and they want to know what they're doing wrong, and I can look at things very objectively and say, "Okay, here's what the problems are, here's how we're gonna fix them."
AC: Perfect, perfect. I mean look, we're coming to the end of things now, but I just wanted to ask you, is there any closing words of advice that you'd like to offer sales people at the moment?
NK: I'm a big fan as a sales trainer of not just teaching it, but saying, "Okay, here are your take aways." So I think it's really important people, leave this session with takeaways in place. So please stop focusing on trial closing, alternative closing. Try to focus on opening deals, following sales process, asking great questions, helping your clients, that's really vital. The second thing is every day, learn for at least half an hour; whether it's through a Podcast, Audible, YouTube video, book reading is still brilliant or Kindle reading, but learn for half an hour a day at least. I've been in sales 25 years. I spent one hour day learning and I have a sales coach who works with me once a month to keep me accountable.
After 25 years of doing this, that's why I've got to where I am and that's why I have a career in sales, and that's so important. The more you learn, the more you earn. One thing you brought up which I think we should mention, which is very important as a marketeer is knowing your numbers. Most sales people don't know their numbers. When I asked sales people in training sessions, "What's your target and how far are your target?" They get their laptops out, they can't tell me.
Every great sales person knows exactly what they have to hit, what they have to do, how many calls they have to make. So as a sales person, it's so important to know your numbers, you can't hit your targets otherwise. You should not have to look up your computer and say, "I wonder where I am." No! Know where you are every single day. That's how you know where you have to get to. In an ideal world, your boss should be training you, but if not, train yourself, okay? There's so many free resources out there. There's no excuse to be bad at sales in 2020, absolutely none.
AC: I fully agree. And on that last bit there, that you mentioned about knowing your number, that also goes back to the accountability piece. And sometimes you learn... I learned that, so as I mentioned before, I'm a marketer student by numbers, but I learned knowing my number by getting quizzed by a CEO of the company I worked with in the past. The company was... The entire leadership team were Israeli, very brash, very in your face. And I go for a coffee and the CEO, he would come to me and say, "Okay Andy, how many damn more requests have we got today? How many people have visited the website in the past week? How many leads have we got in the past two hours? How many MQLs?"
I'd be standing there the first couple times and I didn't want to have that situation again, so I wanted to be able to say to him, "Okay, we've got 12 in the past hour, this is how many we've gotten in the past week, this is how many MQLs we're on, this is where we are against target, this is how many opportunities have been touched by our marketing." For me, that was like, because I also come from a sales background, I was like, "Okay, I'm selling to him now." And this is also gonna help me progress my career at some point, by me being able to know that stuff and showing him that I'm able to know it. So there was a certain accountability factor there to me as well. So Niraj, it's just been really, really great advice, mate. I much appreciate your time. Thank you so much. Where can people find you?
NK: That's quite interesting. I always say to people, the best way to contact me is everybodyworksinsales.com, and no matter how many times I say that, people go to LinkedIn and find me and connect with me there, just find me on LinkedIn. It's Niraj, N-I-R-A-J, surname is K-A-P-U-R. And the name of the books are, Everybody Works In Sales, was my best selling book two years ago. My new book is, The Easy Guide To Sales For Business Owners.
AC: Perfect. Okay Niraj, thank you so much yet again, and it's been a real pleasure.
NK: I really appreciate it, good to finally speak to you.