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Unlocking the Power of Customer-Centric Selling, with Paul Butterfield [Episode 1160]

In this week’s podcast, hosts Alastair Woolcock and Howard Brown engage with Paul Butterfield, founder of the Revenue Flywheel Group, to explore the transformative impact of customer-centric selling. The conversation reveals how this approach can significantly enhance profit margins, stressing the importance of genuine engagement and strategic product discussion as verbs rather than nouns. With insights around equipping sales teams with the necessary business acumen and leveraging AI for enhanced buyer-seller interactions, this episode offers a deep dive into the methodologies and technologies that are shaping the future of sales in both B2B and B2C landscapes.


Podcast Transcript:



Welcome back everybody to this week’s Sales Strategy Enablement Podcast. I’m Alastair Woolcock, joined by my co host Howard Brown, pioneer in AI and revenue science. Howard, great to see you today. Great to be here. We are excited to have our part two with Paul Butterfield, the founder of the Revenue Flywheel Group, also former president of the Executive Board of Revenue Enablement Society, Microsoft, Vonage, you really, you’ve been in and around this for we’ll just say a while and helping many companies around the world, but we’re really excited to have you back. How are you doing? 



I’m doing great. Love sales. Love talking about sales. So thanks for having me back. We finished off last episode on a bit of a cliffhanger talking about the impact of customer centricity, customer centric selling. And I want to pick up from there because we’d stated now, it has demonstrable gains to profit improvement. We said 60 plus percent is what it’s, what is showing up in terms of these companies. 

But Paul and Howard, as you think of customer centric selling, we think of that approach. A lot of companies give lip service to the idea we’re customer centric, voice of the customer, we have all of this, but what does customer centric selling and customer centricity actually mean to both of you. 


You’re right in that statistic that you just quoted actually surprised me just because it was so high, and I’m anxious to go read that. And I’m also going to be curious to see how did they define customer centricity? Because to your point, a lot of companies say they are, but yet you’ll still hear them say things like where are they in our sales process in their forecast meetings, that type of thing.

So they’re not really thinking that way. So to me, there are a couple of key things to having a customer centric approach by your revenue organization. As I, to me, it’s not just necessarily sales or anybody that is talking to the customer in a revenue capacity needs to understand this. First. And we talked about this a little bit last time, do they have the, have they developed the business acumen and is the business supporting them and developing the business acumen to go in and talk with prospects about business issues and they have enough background and understanding to have that conversation, carry that conversation and add value to it, right?

If they don’t know that, then they’re going to just fall back on product. Which goes to my second point how are our sellers equipped and enabled to talk about the products and services they sell? I think of it as talking about them as verbs and not nouns. And what I mean by that is as you’re doing effective discovery and you’re starting to understand the gaps in the business that they’re trying to fill, they can on their own, how do you then talk about what you offer?

You don’t need to name it. In fact, you shouldn’t name it. You want to talk about usage scenarios, use cases that help that prospect start to visualize how it’s going to make their business better and help them achieve the things that they care about. One of the biggest mistakes I see sellers make is they go in assuming that they’re a specific part of their product set.

Or service that the customer needs, stop that, be curious, stop selling, start listening and really start to understand and help them start to see how they can fix the problem. To me, that goes a long way to a prospect walking away and feeling like they were hurt. 



Howard, as I, I agree with that impulse saying, but I’m also a bit of a pragmatist in the, for a lot of organizations, let’s take a b to C sales motion, and they have a fairly, let’s say a high velocity motion. They got a lot of pull through things like that. Big org, a lot of that is, it requires a pretty high amount of intellectual muscle and memory and recall and an understanding of basic facts of the company, and I don’t think that the average seller is ever trying to manipulate or lie or anything, but they often just recall and understand all of this stuff.

Like, how do we. How do you equip a seller to actually deal with the complexity that they might have a big portfolio? They may have a bunch of things they need to remember. They may need to like the discovery polls talking about, it takes months, sometimes years to get really good at this stuff. They don’t have the time to get there.



Yeah. I feel like you’re teeing up a great question as it relates to the use of AI and technology today to really support and enhance. The intelligence and the knowledge of whether it’s B2C or B2B, there is so much to know. There is so much to react to. There is so much information about the prospect and their company.

The product and services. You provide the type of problems that an organization will deal with depending on what industry they’re in. That’s where AI that is actually listening and able to. Notify or essentially provide that agent assist technology to enhance the experience of both the seller and ultimately the buyer because it arms the seller with the information they need to answer questions to ask appropriate questions at different stages of the process.

So to me, it’s never been a more exciting time to be a seller because we can equip them with. This training that we provide that they typically forget 48 hours after learning it, we can provide them with those tools to really help in the moment, micro learning, micro helpful sort of guidance to provide that rep what they need to be more responsive, to be more intelligent, and to essentially augment what they have with the technology that we provide.



And as I think of the, let’s use customer centric selling as an example here. I think what Howard, you’ve just said there, which is, we’re augmenting and basically helping the rep meet the occasion of the buyer because they’re often, they’re not equipped for success. I don’t care how much enablement you’re doing. It’s really hard to make enablement stick, like in the actual moment that something is happening. But then I think there was a customer centric selling to your point poll. And what we’ve been talking about here, like that’s a really progressive or gap, or we spoke of Challenger last call. I can now take a platform. 

I can take technologies and I can actually break apart those methodologies and reinforce them in the live conversations themselves as well. And I think that’s a really exciting new area where. We’ve struggled for years to go we’ll train, we’ll get another offsite. We’ll do another thing. We’ll, we’ll look at it this way or we’ll make ops, do another enablement session. But now we’re quickly getting to that point where we can now really cue in on those buyer experiences that line up to the methodology that makes sense to us and actually deliver a customer centric outcome. Paul, are you seeing many enterprises think that way, look at tools that way now?



Yes and no, AI still frightens, maybe that’s too strong a word but people are still learning how to use it. And the other thing that I’m seeing is, and we saw this with a lot of other sales tech that’s come out. You think about the sales tech explosion. In the last five to 10 years, things like conversational intelligence, which to me was another big game changer for driving any sort of change.

They grab and buy and implement things without a blueprint, without a master plan of how they’re going to do it, and then don’t quite get the results they want. I agree with everything that you said because enablement activities alone are never going to do it. So the one thing I would like to preface is just teaching these methodologies or rolling them out.

That’s step one, having the entire sales leadership help drive that, make it part of every sales conversation. It becomes a common language. Part of the sales DNA is really the critical step to making any good methodology stick. Now, when conversational intelligence came on the scene, I got very excited because now we could track and analyze calls at scale.

As a former sales leader, that was always a challenge. Is, you can’t be on every call, nor should you be. But now when we’re, we’ve just rolled out a new methodology, we’re trying some new customer centric approach. We can listen, or we can have the software listen and find out are people having those conversations?

Are they having the right quantity of talk time? Now, AI, to me, is exciting because it takes that to the next level. And rather than as good as CI is, the calls over by the time you listen to it, right? You can learn from it, but now there’s great tech out there that is giving it to you, as you say. It’s feeding you and prompting you in real time. It’s listening, it’s reacting. There’s a company that I’m working with that to me, one of the beautiful things they do is their monitor shows reps the ratio of talk time to listen time in real time, which is always a challenge I have found for salespeople as well.

They think that they are letting the prospect talk more than half the time, but in reality, they’re dominating the conversation, 60,70, percent of the time. So that’s what I love about AI is it’s going to let us take all of that. Into the real time, but also be able to measure and coach for improvement.



Howard, I, I gotta pick off something that Paul said there, because nuance is so important in detail on those types of things. So Paul agreed, but I was just going to share a piece of data that we see in this space. I, just for perspective, for everybody to quantify what I’m about to say, we process and analyze over 555 terabytes of conversations, like billions, actually, at this point off there. And you’re right on talk listen ratios, but, it’s not just me asking you a series of questions, making sure I listen correctly.

We’ve also found, and Howard and the data science team at Revenue. io have found, monologues actually are one of the top performing things amongst high performing reps. And you go that’s interesting. Howard and I love that because we love to talk. But you actually think hang on. That seems to go against the idea of listening, isn’t it? It’s what’s in the monologue that makes that successful in combination with the ratio of talk, listen, Howard, can you explain for me a little bit more there? 



Yeah. And I’ll just add on to that because this was a really interesting fact that we found across millions of conversations. We had always talked about monologues as a very bad thing, as Alastair mentioned. What the best sellers are able to do are a lot of what we’ve described earlier, which is a discovery process. So if I am doing a proper discovery, I’m asking you questions, you’re answering. I may follow up with additional questions.

Now I’m starting to understand the pain. I’m trying to understand what you’re going through. After I’ve done that, now I’m going to tell a story about what I’ve heard. So now I’m going to repeat and mirror back a lot of what you’ve said. To make sure that I understand their situation, and I’m going to hopefully start to craft a vision of a better future for them.

So I’m taking the pain that I just understood, the problems that they’re trying to solve, and I’m weaving a beautiful story of how we can hopefully help them achieve their goals. That looks like a monologue to most modern day conversation intelligence. It’s not only the fact that it’s the length of time, but it’s when it happens, understanding that it happened after a bunch of discovery and empathy and rapport building now I’m crafting a vision that is spot on.

And we see reps that are able to do it in that sequence. Outperform their peers by a great margin. So a lot of times we just take these basic metrics and assume that, hey, that means that the person’s talking too much. No, that’s exactly what they should be doing again. If they can better understand the customers needs. Get out of selling their product or service, get out of their own way in the jargon, align with the customer priorities, then build that relationship and trust, and then essentially guide them to that outcome. That’s the job of a great salesperson.



I absolutely agree. And I think we’re saying the same thing, just maybe, slightly differently because when I’m, when I was talking about like the talk time metrics, it was really that overall call, but the context, as you said, are critical and the reps that I have coached, or when I’ve done rev org and valuations for clients, what I see, it’s not what you described. It’s that they just monologue. 

With slides and things like that, they’re not really being curious, but I agree because if you don’t do what you said towards the end of the conversation, the prospect’s not going to leave with that beginning of a vision in their mind. And if they’re not seeing it for themselves, it’s much more difficult if it’s even possible to get them to bring you in to talk to other stakeholders, they’ve got to have some skin in the game at the end of that meeting.



As an Inventor of the technology, the real time technology and holder of five patents around that technology. It’s all about the context. If I’m just rudely interrupting you with a bunch of notifications that aren’t specific to the needs of that customer, the Stage that customer’s in the industry, that customer is a part of the title, that customer has, and all of that information to then provide you a notification and context to deliver a better conversation that it’s probably not helpful.

And I think a lot of technologies today, they’re just, Hey, we can alert you of this, that, and the other thing that’s not effective. That’s distracting in the world today that we live in. It has far too many distractions. So if we get out of applying a technology that’s going to distract and one that’s truly able to help and understand the complexity of the moment to deliver a better conversation and more help to your customer or prospect, that’s where technology needs to go. But a lot of times we’re just conflating, Hey, it’s real time or it’s a notification or it’s an assist. That’s distraction for a rep and not helpful. 



I agree. That makes a lot of sense to me. Sorry, I get up on my, I get up on my soapbox there because it’s so important. Yeah, just a little bit. We’re working, we’re working on a virtual hour as well. So we’ll we’ll see what that looks like. Yes. Howard Headroom. Yeah. That’s a dated reference. Max Headroom for those that don’t remember. Paul you said something in the last, I believe it was the last time we had you on, which I think is to Howard Sage advice here from all the people listening in.

You were talking about the application of, I think it would maybe when you were at Vonage and you went and found it, what you’d done previously, maybe Microsoft or into it. I can’t remember where it was, but effectively the methodology and the approach from before didn’t apply to this show. 



Right? Yes. It’s when I went from B2B to EdTech. So B2C, B2B to, I guess you’d call it B2E. Big shift. Yeah. Perfect. So I want to just double click on that story because. If I look at it and look, I’ve been in and around the tech field, 22 years, Gardner looking this, helping Howard here at this company, we, so many people, and this particularly, I’m going to just, sorry for everybody that’s in sales ops and enablement ops here, but I am going to pick on them for a second.

Rush to buy a technology because it will give a flippant advice and why I queued in on the talk, listen ratios. We all agree it’s, but if you aren’t putting context in. It’s just another technology. That’s what the CSO and CRO is very frustrated with. They’re like okay, but I, great, you’re telling me something, but my revenue is what I care about.

Is this actually doing something or not? You just give me a bunch more stuff I now look at, and it’s not actually causing a change in my business. The same as your story will go, and maybe even share on the methodology piece. It’s a parallel analogy to me on technology. You can’t just assume a technology works if you can’t make contextually aware, contextually significant to the buyer in the way they want to buy. And I know that makes it harder, but it’s an essential step when assessing technology. So With that in mind, tell us your story. 



This wasn’t technology. This is methodology. As a Microsoft leader, they brought in the co founder, one of the co founders of a methodology called customer centric selling, great methodology. I was glad they brought it in. In fact, it was one of the first very useful ones I had come across in my career. We rolled it out with my sales team there with success. When I left and went into it later, they didn’t have a methodology and I wasn’t selling any of the financial products. 

My team was actually selling a at the time, no code, no codes developed a lot more now, but it’s a no code type database technology called QuickBase and we customized it and used it very successfully fast forward to I’m at a contact center as a service company called in contact now part of the nice corporation. And I was a sales leader and when I made that transition at the request of my EVP into doing what I was doing for my team for the whole rev org, he expected me to just take that methodology, roll it out.

And I did, and it worked very well. I use it at Vonage. So fast forwarding, I had consistent success with this methodology as a sales leader and as a global enablement leader. And in fact, we became a case study because of some of the results that we saw. Now I leave Vonage and I’m recruited by the CRO at Instructure, which is an ed tech firm.

Any of your listeners that are in school or have people in their family in school may be familiar with Canvas because it is very much the dominant leader in both K 12 and higher ed. And I don’t work there anymore, so that’s not hype. It really, they really do have that significant share. It wasn’t B2B.

And I remember when I got there my CRO that hired me assumed that I was going to bring in and replicate what I’d done at the last two companies with the same methodology. COVID hit. I got there in fall of 19 and in March of 20. Every school shut down and so we had just had sales kickoff. We hadn’t started rolling out customer centric selling yet.

That was going to happen in 2020 and in some ways having to take a step back allowed me to understand my sellers better. I was also four or five months into the job at that point and also understand the buyers, the ed tech buyers better the things that work so well in a B2B environment, what I started to understand. Would be difficult. You could maybe do it, but it’d be difficult to modify to not feel like sharp elbows to educational buyers who nobody likes to be sold to, but they’re just very sensitive and in different ways. The Other challenge was, I had a sales force that I, my team was enabling that I’d never encountered before where a significant number, a third or more of the sellers were in their first sales job, but these were people in their 30s and 40s.

But they had come from being a customer to now selling the tech because they loved it. They were an evangelist, they thought, I’m going to go sell this. And prior to my time at Instructure, they were on the right side of Jeff Moore’s chasm. So things were going really well having educators sell to educators.

But around the time the new CRO came in and brought me in that chasm jump needed to happen and you had to start being able to really sell and really be able to talk and so they needed a methodology that was going to be comfortable for them and be not too what they would perceive as business focused.

The reality is most educational institutions as I learned actually have solvable business problems and quantifiable business problems. They don’t look at it and they don’t think about it that way. So we went looking, I went looking for another methodology. I, what I realized in time was that it might’ve worked, but it probably wasn’t the ideal.

So that’s what I think you’re getting at is you’ve got to understand your market, which I always understood that, but that for me, the education for me was not all sellers. are going to equally succeed with the same methodology that other sellers I had worked with did. So we brought in another methodology that was comfortable for them, still had those same, to me there are some core components, Alastair, of any methodology that have to be there for it to be a methodology and for it to be effective.

And I found another one that had it, but had more of a questioning, more of a Socratic different type of approach to discovery that, that my sellers would be comfortable with and my buyers would be comfortable with. And it worked. 



Paul, we are nearing our end of time. I apologize because you said Socratic and I wanted to jump on that and go down all of those paths and I’m sure Howard would as well, but we are, we are nearing our time. Howard, I’ll give you a final word and then we got one quick pop quiz for you. There, already you think of all the customer centric approaches.

It’s a complex, hard world. And to Paul’s point, people are evaluating, but there’s also a bit of noise here on what it is. My view, right? If you can’t give contextually rich advice, it’s just noise. Final thought, Howard tip tip of the day. 



Yeah, I think, I think Paul nailed it. I, it’s to me, understanding the buyer, spending time on that discovery, making sure that you’re able to build that rapport and trust using technologies to make you better. Make you do less manual work because there’s just too much to do. Allows you to spend cycles actually having conversations, building rapport and trust. As opposed to all the manual things we ask our sales teams to do all day long. It’s great seeing you, Paul. Great having you. 



So great to have you. Paul, final pop quiz and we will let you run. We’re all about engagement here at Revenue.io. So Gartner studied for years, buyer engagement in particular in B2B sales. And they look at it from the lens of the amount of time buyers spend with sellers. So based upon last year’s data, what is the average amount of time that buyers spend with sellers through their total buying process? Is it A, 10%, B. 19%. C, 27%. D, 40%. 



I’m going to go with C, the one that was 27%. You’re very close. It’s actually B, 19%. Okay. I thought of that one as well because I know how far people go in their journey before they even talk to a seller. So that’s interesting. 100%. And I think, the world is in need of more and more, like the moment you have that app back. You just can’t afford to blow it anymore, right? 

You do better than ever. And Paul, I think what you’re doing with you’re helping people with the Flywheel Group and really engage and drive top tier engagement in those moments that matter most thank you for doing it. How does everybody get in touch with you, Paul?



I’m easy to find on LinkedIn, happy to meet that way. And they can also book time with me through our website, revenueflywheelgroup.com. I would love to talk to anybody. Sales. Sales is the greatest profession in the world. It’s not easy, but it is truly the greatest. 



We agree. Thank you so much for joining us. Thank you, Howard. Thank you Paul. And thank you to all of you listening in. Please remember to like and subscribe and we’ll see you on the next episode.