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Where Will the Real Sales Revolution Begin? w/ Bridget Gleason [Episode 320]

Welcome to another Front Line Friday with my regular guest, Bridget Gleason. On this week’s episode, Bridget and I discuss, among other topics the connection between new sales technologies and enhanced sales productivity.

Join Bridget and me for this episode of Accelerate! as we dig into the future of sales in the face of technological changes.

Key Takeaways

  • Andy poses the question of whether new sales technologies are fundamentally contributing to improved sales productivity.
  • Where the real revolution in sales is going to come from.
  • Andy says he tells hundreds of sales leaders each year that the hard part of sales is still the human-to-human contact, technology notwithstanding.
  • How to identify and recruit sales reps with good emotional intelligence (and how to test for it and reinforce it.)
  • Technology may help us to be more effective in knowing what to do, but not in knowing how to do it.
  • Are salespeople going to become unnecessary?
  • Andy compares the sales team to a football team. The best team runs a system that needs good team players, not star players.


Episode Transcript


Andy Paul 0:35

It’s time to accelerate! Hi, I’m your host, Andy Paul. Join me as I host conversations with the leading experts in sales, marketing, sales automation, sales process, leadership, management, training, coaching, any resource that I believe to help you accelerate the growth of your sales, your business and most importantly, you. 


Hello, and welcome to Accelerate. This is another edition of Frontline Friday. I am joined, as always, by my regular and special guest, Bridget Gleason. Bridget, how are you today?


Bridget Gleason 1:09

Andy, today’s a great day


Andy Paul 1:12

Today’s a great day to be alive.


Bridget Gleason 1:14

Today’s a great day. Yes, that’s right. Today’s a great day as always. I’m lucky in that I typically wake up happy and go to bed happy. So today is no different.


Andy Paul 1:25

Perfect. Yeah, I’m jet lagging still a little bit. I just returned from a little bit of a vacation, quasi-vacation as mine usually are. But yeah, still trying to adjust to a six hour time difference. So I was up late last night. Either that or I–


Bridget Gleason 1:48

Makes it a slow start for the morning.


Andy Paul 1:51

Yeah. So anyway, gosh, a couple of really interesting things I want to talk about here today. Here’s my problem is we’re living in this really smart, really exciting age with regard to sales. We’ve got this influx of technologies, sales enablement technology, tools, things to make selling easier, perhaps more efficient, more effective. But what I was thinking about recently, and I was reading reports about sales productivity and sales performance and so on from industry standard sources like CSO insights and others. What struck me is that while on one hand, everything is changing. On the other hand, nothing’s changing. So I mean, yeah, on the top, we’ve got all these great technologies and so on. 


But according to the reports, over half of our sales reps still don’t make quota. In fact, I think that number is going up slightly. But it hasn’t changed remarkably in a really, really long time. Multiple reports saying that a range from anywhere, 50 to 60% of qualified opportunities and pipelines end up in no decision, what I call the no decision decision. Which gosh, that’s a huge number, but it’s not changing, right? Nothing we’re doing is changing that conversion rates, close rates, nationally. 


Gosh, we’ve got this whole influx of inside sales and our SaaS business. And people seem to be happy to have close rates in 20 to 23% whereas to me that’s unsustainably low. You can’t build industries based on that Yeah, some superstars will come out. But by and large for most of the companies, it just doesn’t work. 


So it’s this conundrum of trying to deal with those things. But where’s the real revolution in sales gonna come from? Not just changing the window dressing as we’re doing with technology. But fundamentally, how do we engage with prospects and improve the productivity, the real productivity of the individual? And I talk about productivity as the rate of output based on a unit of input. So how do we get more sales, revenue for each hour we spend selling? And that seems to be the real missing ingredient. And so I want to spend some time talking about that, get your take on it.


Bridget Gleason 4:39

Well, here’s something. If you’re talking about this, Andy, then I wonder. We haven’t seen quota attainment go up. We haven’t seen conversion rates go up. We haven’t seen the different statistics that you mentioned, the no decided has stayed the same. So it does beg the question, has technology done anything? We’ve got all these sales acceleration tools in helping us be more productive. 


And yet, here’s what I wonder. I do think that these technologies have helped. And here’s gonna be my hypothesis, and I’d like to get your opinion on it. I think it’s helped and that things would be worse if we didn’t have the technologies. So all it’s really allowed us to do is get to the place where we’re treading water. But without them, I think we’d be struggling. Without technology that has enabled salespeople to deal with the fact that prospects can block contact more frequently, that they’re getting bombarded with messages more often, that they can do a lot more of their searching and research via the internet these days. 


So there’s a lot of technology that has changed the way the buyers buy. And I think technology has helped change the way that we, as sellers, sell. But it’s only gotten us back to about parody, and maybe from what you’re saying, maybe not even quite parody. Maybe we’re still a little behind.


Andy Paul 6:30

Yeah, I think we are to some degree. But I think your point is absolutely correct. This hasn’t happened in a vacuum. We look at the way the sales models changed in various industries. Take software, for instance, right? The sales model had to change, because the way the products were sold changed. Let’s say in software you went from a hosted to a subscription services model. Well, gosh, you obviously have to have a different cost of acquisition In that sense than you did before. So it forces this change in the model. Perfect, love it, great. 


But at the end of the day, we’re not doing any better, right? We’re not using the technology, I agree. I look with envy at so many of the tools that are available. Because when I think back to the day when I was a bag carrying sales guy, it would have been great to have them. And I like to think that it would have made a huge difference in my own productivity. But the question is maybe, would it have? 


It’s interesting, because one of the things I’m seeing and I’m hearing, because, as you know, and everybody listening to the show knows, every year I talk to hundreds of sales leaders and sales thought leaders and technologists and so on about sales. And there seems to be this common thread that’s coming through, which is what we’re missing and what’s the hard part still is the human to human engagement. That technology not withstanding is the real raw fulcrum, if you will, the real leverage point that we’re not able to really get better at is how we as people deal with people on the other end.


Bridget Gleason 8:24

Yeah, and I think that’s true. I had a conversation yesterday with a sales manager. I listened into one of the calls that she had. It was a strategic accountant. She wanted to take it, and I was listening in on it. And she was excellent at the people to people. She was excellent at reading this prospect. I mean, the soft skills that you’re talking about, Andy, she leveraged technology, she did all of those other things. 


But the conversation we had after was right on point with what you’re saying. Because they said there was a reason that she didn’t have any of her reps take this call, that she did it herself. And the reason was because she’s better at selling. She’s better at the soft skills. And so our discussion was, gosh, how do you hire for that? Somebody that is going to have a good emotional intelligence, as well. How do you hire for that? How do you train around that? 


Because all the tools in the world, all the sales acceleration products and services aren’t going to overcome that. And so how do you hire to it? How do you train around it? How do you test for it? How do you reinforce it? 


Andy Paul 9:51

How do you reinforce it? That’s a huge part of it as far as I can tell. Go ahead. I’m sorry.


Bridget Gleason 9:57

Yeah, no, no, I was just gonna say I think to your point, all these other things are going to keep a salesperson from drowning and doing a whole bunch of little things that aren’t going to go anywhere. So technology may help us be more effective in knowing maybe what to do, but maybe not how to do it. Not how to do it and have that interpersonal. You and I have had several discussions on are salespeople becoming obsolete. Are they going to be unnecessary? Well, I think some of the stats that you’re bringing up to me highlight a bigger issue, which is no, they’re not. Good salespeople will always be in high demand.


Andy Paul 10:44

Yeah, I agree. I think that where the issue becomes and perhaps the challenge comes is I think undoubtedly, in the business to business space. There are, at the lower end– let’s define that from a dollar and complexity standpoint. There’s always this continuous pressure, as technology improves, that more and more of that can become self service. 


Because one of the things that’s happening at the same time is that the buyers themselves are becoming better enabled to find the information they need to make decisions. Now one of the things that that’s just happening is we’re making more data available. And at the same time, we’re making the tools available to the buyers to go out and find what they need. 


And so if the salespeople aren’t upping their game in order to be value providers for the customers, add a difference, add the insights, things we all talk about, then we’re gonna start seeing the line start creeping, let’s say upwards where below you really don’t need a salesperson and above, you do.


Bridget Gleason 12:10

Yeah, and I actually don’t have any problem. I think about my own buying patterns. And in many instances, perhaps most, I would prefer to self serve. That’s my preference. However, there are situations when I do want to talk to someone. I want someone with context. I want someone knowledgeable to talk to me about it. And that’s even after looking at sites that give referrals and compare products. And there’s a lot that I can get there. 


But there are still situations when I want to talk to somebody. There aren’t a lot, but there are ones when I want to talk to somebody. And when I do want to talk to somebody, Andy, I want them to be knowledgeable. And so I was thinking about this also. Just in the context of hiring salespeople, and I’d be curious to get your take on this. 


Here’s what I’m noticing. And I don’t know if it’s just me noticing it being in tech in Silicon Valley, although I would hire across the US, and I’ve hired internationally as well. But let’s just say across the US and in tech, it seems that the range for salespeople, there’s less on the really high end. I mean, you and I, in the heyday, what would you say an enterprise rep would make in our day? Let’s not date ourselves by saying when that day was. But it was a while ago.


Andy Paul 13:53

$10,000 a year.


Bridget Gleason 13:55

Yeah, no, but I mean, equivalent,  what did these look like in terms of what enterprise reps were able to bring in?


Andy Paul 14:07

I think it was at least the equivalent of what you’d earn today if not higher.


Bridget Gleason 14:12

And high, 500, 600, 700K? And some reps were making– I’m seeing the number of those jobs, the number of those salaries going down. Like I see that dropping. I don’t see as many of those. And I see the salaries that an inside salesperson can expect to make going up. It used to be that inside sales was super junior. Where now so much is done over the phone that an inside rep can make great money. 


So I see the two sort of coming together. They’re congregating more in the middle, where it seems to me there used to be a much wider spread in sales. And I think it speaks to the fact that a lot of self service can get taken care of on its own. So you don’t need a more junior person with a junior skill set. And at the high end, customers are able to self serve to a degree that there are even more complicated products and complex products. You just have less positions that require the level of expertise that you would need to pay somebody $600,000, $700,000 a year. Do you see that? Do you agree with that?


Andy Paul 15:32

Well, I do. I think that on the high end, I think where I might differ in terms of what the cause is, I think that just the era has changed. At one point people were rewarded for being quote, unquote, “the superstar”. And today, because there was some value they thought that they uniquely brought to it, whereas now I think that people understand that it’s much more of a team process to solve a major account. And that there’s lots of people involved with it, and it’s not just one person that did all the work, deserves all the credit, deserves all the money. 


And so I don’t say it’s devaluing that role, but it’s putting it into the right context, I think. Because I worked in situations selling really large accounts where we didn’t pay commission to sales reps on large deals. They got bonuses based on it, but they didn’t get commissioned. Because they couldn’t have sold the deal without the sales engineer. They couldn’t have sold it without support of the VP of Engineering. You rolled up the bus to solve the account. And so I think part of that’s a reflection at the top. And part of it’s a reflection of salaries of that reality.


Bridget Gleason 16:55

And in a way, that’s always been the reality.


Andy Paul 16:59

I know I think executives are better at saying, this is the reality. And yeah, this high end person, yeah, they’ve got certain skills, but they’re more replaceable.


Bridget Gleason 17:10

Yeah, I think I agree with you. I’m glad you brought that up. I think that’s exactly right. Selling is a team sport, and to bring in those big accounts, it does– You’ve got a lot of different players involved. And as you said, I think just gone are the days or the days are numbered when the sales rep is just seen as you the superstar. Because it does take a team. And I think you’re right. That’s a really, really good distinction. And we’re starting to see salaries come into line that recognize a reality that’s always been there.


Andy Paul 18:02

Yeah. I mean, there’s still a risk premium, I think, that’s paid to sales reps. I mean, they are at risk in ways that other professions aren’t, the other people on the team that are helping them sell. You know, it’s their neck still on the line. But yeah, and I’ve written about this in my books, the really successful sales teams that I’ve seen, that I’ve researched that are like to draw an analogy – I know there are people probably may hate the analogy – the New England Patriots, coached by Bill Belichick. He has set up a system, a process if you will, analogy to a sales process. And when they go into the free agent market, when they have need for players, you don’t see the Patriots out competing for the real high dollar free agents. Because they find people that fit into the system. Because the system is what wins. 


And increasingly, you see sales managers and executives take that same approach. Look, we’ve got a really effective process, system that we use for capturing accounts. And we’re not going to perturb that by bringing in one person and paying them an outsized amount of money. We’re going to reward them appropriately for what they contribute. 


And they get people that want to come into that position, because it becomes a more sane place to work. It becomes a more predictable place to work if you’re a sales executive, than it does one of these places where perhaps you’re brought in as a hired gun. And yeah, they’re gonna pay a ton of money if you do well. But you’re sort of out there on an island. And the pressure’s on from day one, and oftentimes, people fail in those circumstances.


Bridget Gleason 19:48

Yeah, because as you said, they can’t do it on their own.


Andy Paul 19:53

No, no. So yeah, the days of being the lone ranger, if you will, increasingly are gone.


Bridget Gleason 20:02

I think that’s a good thing.


Andy Paul 20:04

Well, I think it is, too. But we circle back to the original point we were talking about, we have now this more of a team ethos, if you will. And it makes sense. If you are dealing with situations, if we accept as a given the data that comes out about how many stakeholders are involved in a decision, a typical decision and so on, anywhere from five to eight, whoever you believe– Well, that really requires that you have a team approach to that. 


If you’re assuming that your account executive is the one that’s going to form the primary relationship with all of those stakeholders, that’s really a mistaken notion. That’s a bad strategy. You don’t have multiple people with those relationships into their counterparts that are stakeholders within an organization, the buying organization.


Bridget Gleason 20:58

I know that we’re straying off topic here, but–


Andy Paul 21:01

Hey, we can do that. It’s our show.


Bridget Gleason 21:04

But what do you think, then, about presidents clubs?


Andy Paul 21:10

Whether there should be one or not?


Bridget Gleason 21:12

Yeah, and who’s invited to presidents club? Because a lot of them, sometimes they’re not just salespeople.


Andy Paul 21:22

Yeah, it was interesting. I was in Hawaii last week. It’s hard to believe that was just last week. I wish I was still there. Anyway, at the hotel we were at, there was the presidents club with an Australian company. So you have a whole group of Australian sales reps and their wives and significant others. 


You have to find a way to include the team. Now I don’t think it’s just for salespeople. And I’ve seen companies that have found a way to include everybody that had some sort of goal that they need to achieve within their jobs. Or there was a team goal. They’re part of a team, and there’s a team objective or whatever. 


So yeah, we talk about sales marketing alignment. We talk about the need to have, certainly in complex sales, some sort of technical support that’s coming in to help you sell. If you separate the sales team and reward them separately, then it doesn’t encourage that alignment with these other groups. It doesn’t help them to say, oh gosh, these guys are being treated differently. These people are treated differently because they just happened to be in sales. But they couldn’t have gotten this done without me.


Bridget Gleason 22:53

Yeah, and like you said, there’s a different–  salespeople typically accept a different amount of risk in their salary. It’s typically 50/50, 50% base, 50%. So there’s an amount of risk that salespeople assume that they get rewarded for. And I think you take that into consideration. 


But then aside from that, it’s a team. You can’t do it without product. You can’t do it without marketing. You can’t do it without finance. You can’t do it without admin. You can’t do it without customer success. You can’t do it without support. You can’t do it without management. There’s so many areas in which salespeople really need the support of the organization to really be successful. 


And just how do you continue to reinforce, like you said, that alignment in where one group isn’t being either paid so egregiously differently or thought of so differently. I think the alignment is getting better and better and better. That’s been my experience is that it’s just getting better. That part of it, I would say, there’s definitely been an improvement.


Andy Paul 24:14

Well, I think you can actually foresee a day, if we look at some of the current trends and play them out in terms of how sales takes place, especially on, again, more of the enterprise complex side sale, you get back to a point where, a company like Digital Equipment was– people remember Deck, the old Deck back in the day. For the longest period of time, they did not pay commissions to salespeople.


Bridget Gleason 24:48

They didn’t?


Andy Paul



Bridget Gleason

I didn’t know that.


Andy Paul 24:53

Yeah, I think there were times when it changed, but that was part of their ethos. And yet, I lost people that worked for me that were earning good money in commission who went to work for them. So the question was always why. But it was a combination of environment, success, experience. I think non-commissioned salespeople, the day to day pressures are different, especially if you’re in more of a team thing, a team setup. So I could see that making a comeback.


Bridget Gleason 25:36

Yeah, there’s a company that I advise that has been experimenting with that. I like it. I was working for a technical VAR. It was actually Hewlett Packard’s largest technical VAR. And we wanted to do a team commission, team-based team. And we were shut down by management. They just thought that somehow we would be demotivated and wouldn’t work hard or that somehow we’re going against our very nature as salespeople to not be competitive and I want to say money grubbing. That’s not really the right term.


Andy Paul 26:23

Well, I think the concern oftentimes with executives is on the other side. Because I have been in similar situations where we pushed the same thing earlier in my career. And it got shut down because really, the concern was not salespeople as much. It was about the other people. If you took people that were not accustomed to having a substantial portion of their compensation be variable, then they’d all be demotivated if for some reason they didn’t make it. Because they weren’t the same mindset of salespeople. So if there’s a year where they didn’t make as much money as they’re accustomed to because they didn’t hit their objectives or whatever, then they stand at risk of losing those people.


Bridget Gleason 27:06

Yeah, well, it’s where the conversation and the decisions get sticky. Because there are some people where that would be the case for sure.


Andy Paul 27:14

Yeah. So we’re gonna start wrapping this up, because you’re right, we strayed away from the original, where’s the revolution in sales going to come from. We discussed perhaps one area where the revolution may occur and whether it affects ultimate productivity. We’ll come back to that issue in another episode, and we’ll dig into that. 


But the bottom line for me is to just go back to where we started at the top is just how are we really going to make a dent and fundamentally change how we produce the salespeople. Or the flip side is, I’ll use the analogy, let’s say, of golf, the game of golf. There’s been a technological revolution in golf. And the scores, let’s say on the PGA Tour, at the top of the game, because we’re talking about professionals at the top of their game here in sales, have dropped, right? 


They’ve been able to use the technology. But there’s been some stuff written and arguments made that things haven’t really changed enough, even though there’s all this technology in terms of scoring in golf. So I mean, do we have the same situation in sales where we just sort of reached the edge of human limits? 


I don’t understand the mindset. I don’t think we have. I think there’s so much more we could do that we’re not doing that have to do with how we relate to the other person on the other side to be more effective and more productive.


Bridget Gleason 28:54

Yeah, I don’t think we’ve reached our limits either. I think we’ve got a long way to go.


Andy Paul 28:59

Oh, good. That’s a very optimistic, positive way to end–


Bridget Gleason 29:02

I can be optimistic. I tend to be optimistic.


Andy Paul 29:05

Well, good. All right. Well, Bridget, as always, great to talk to you. And friends, thanks for joining us again on another episode of Frontline Friday. If you have any questions, remember to send those to us. We’ve been answering some of those on the air here recently. You can reach me at andy@zerotimeselling.com. And Bridget, look forward to talking to you next week.


Bridget Gleason 29:25

And likewise, have a great day.


Andy Paul 29:27

Okay. Thanks for listening to the show. If you like what you heard, and want to make sure you don’t miss any upcoming episodes, please subscribe to this podcast on iTunes or Stitcher.com. For more information about today’s guests, visit my website at AndyPaul.com.