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Best-Selling Author Brent Adamson on How Sales and Marketing Can Better Support Customers

Brent Adamson
January 13, 2023

Your approach to B2B sales and marketing is becoming obsolete. But best-selling author Brent Adamson thinks the better way involves customer confidence. In this episode, we discuss how marketing and sales teams can operate differently to better serve prospects, how organizations can potentially completely rework their go-to-market strategy by reorganizing teams, and how to improve the likelihood that your customers feel great about their purchasing decisions.

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Dan:

Welcome to the All About the Customer podcast, brought to you by Influitive, where we talk with customer-obsessed people to uncover how you can be more customer-focused. I’m your host, Dan Kalmar. Today I’m joined by Brent Adamson. Brent is a world-renowned researcher, author, presenter, trainer, and advisor to B2B commercial executives around the world. He’s currently global head of Research and Communities at Ecosystems, and is the co-author of The Challenger Customer, and the bestselling The Challenger Sale. This is a fun one. I mean, not that they’re not all fun, of course, but Brent is super outspoken, and as you’ll see, gets worked up pretty easily, but in a good way.

We talked about something that’s come up a lot recently on this show, the idea that the B2B buyer journey is changing, so how do we adapt? Brent worked at Gartner, and his research there shed a lot of light into how buyers like to make purchasing decisions today, but he’s also uncovered that our current sales and marketing setups just don’t line up to these new behaviors. Brent shares how marketing and sales teams can operate differently to better serve prospects, how organizations can potentially completely rework their go-to-market strategy by reorganizing teams, and he also compliments Canadians a lot, which I appreciated. I think this is our longest episode to date, but for good reason.

Brent, welcome to the All About the Customer podcast. So glad to have you here.

Brent:

Dan, it is so good to be with you. How are you today?

Dan:

I’m doing great. We had a lot of good preamble that didn’t make it into this recording. I don’t think people want to know what we were talking about.

Brent:

The best part of the podcast is the part that no one will ever hear.

Dan:

That is beautiful. I love that. Earlier in 2022 you wrote a couple great articles for Harvard Business Review, Sensemaking for Sales, and Traditional B2B Sales and Marketing Are Becoming Obsolete. I recommend everybody read them, but I think they have a couple common themes to them, which is that B2B buyer journeys are, I was going to say, changing, but I think are changed, and they’re ever-evolving. But they have fundamentally changed, and us in sales and marketing need to adapt to that. One of the things you talk about is that this handoff between marketing and sales is dead, this idea that first the marketing, then the sales. What do you mean by that being dead or obsolete?

Brent:

All right. I can tell you something real quick, Dan, which is just to be clear. I didn’t choose the word obsolete. And nothing against Harvard Business Review, because the last thing I want to do is hurt that relationship. Those are great people over there, but when you write for them, they make the titles. I don’t…

Dan:

Oh, interesting, interesting.

Brent:

So if the title at all feels A, sort of like click-baity, it’s like I refuse to-

Dan:

I liked it. I thought it was good.

Brent:

I refuse to accept any responsibility for that because that’s … By the way, you could actually take it a step further, are becoming obsolete. As I told someone, maybe the better title is, Sales and Marketing Should Be Becoming Obsolete. How about that? Because it goes back to a longer riff, and the article kind of lays this out. And to be fair to Gartner, where I no longer work, I left Gartner in May, but a lot of this came from the research we were doing together at Gartner’s. I worked across the sales and marketing practice, so full credit to the team over there.

But one of the things that became very clear as part of that research over the last, I don’t know, probably five years or so, is that when you ask customers about the channel, not only … in fact, a series of questions. If you ask customers about the channel through which they want to acquire information as they go on a purchase journey, or that they prefer to use in going on a purchase journey, and by channel, I mean they’re a human being, talking to a human being, live in person, talking to a human being over, of course, some sort of Zoom platform or something like that, using a website, using third parties, all the different, so we’ll call those … When I say channel, that’s what I mean by channel. What you find is …

Oh, there’s two ways we can go with this story. One is that they really don’t want to talk to people. So, let’s maybe park that for just a second, put it over there, because that’s more about preference, what they would like to be doing or not like to be doing. But if you actually measure what they are doing, at the very least what you find, Dan, is that customers just, through their demonstrated behavior, have become essentially channel agnostic. They’re just as likely to talk to a sales rep in whatever form, live or in person, not in person, they’re just as likely to talk to a salesperson as use a website. In fact, some cases they’re more likely to use a website than talk to a salesperson.

But there’s also even more than that. There’s a tendency, I think, even today for us in sales and marketing to think, “Okay, yeah, I get that. Of course, customers learn on their own. They go through digital channels and then of course they probably talk to sales reps.” But there’s a tendency, I think, for us to assume that that happens sort of linearly. So, as customers go on this journey, when they’re up funnel and they’re at the top of the funnel and early on their journey, they tend towards more digital channels. And at some point as you move along that buyer journey, the customer will then at some point say, “Okay, my digital learning is done, or is largely done, and now I’m ready to talk to a salesperson.” So, you move out of digital and into human interactions.

What we found is, at Gartner, is that that’s actually not how it goes at all. So when you look at B2B buying through the lens of buying jobs, and all credit here to a guy named Bob Moesta, M-O-E-S-T-A, Bob Moesta, Bob Moesta worked with Clay Christensen on the Jobs To Be Done approach. And they wrote about it in the Harvard Business Review, and the Jobs To Be Done approach is a super cool, powerful work, and Bob’s written about it in his own books. Sorry, that was a bit of a digression, but I just wanted to make sure everyone gets credit for all this really great work.

So one of the things we did at CEB, which then eventually became Gartner, is we took that work and worked with Bob directly to apply a Jobs To Be Done approach to B2B buying, and asked ourselves, “What are the, quote, unquote, ‘jobs’ that customers have to complete to their satisfaction in order to complete a buying journey?” And after a whole lot of research by some really talented researchers, it kind of boiled down to some things that seem on the surface so superficially very straightforward. It’s things like problem identification, solution exploration, requirements building, supplier selection. Those were the four key buying jobs that we found.

After, I don’t know, a year of work, and you come out with that, there’s this little moment where you look and say, “Duh.” It’s like, what was that 12 months of research for? But once you begin to identify these jobs that customers have to complete to their satisfaction, and you’re in a research shop, then you’re just getting started, because then you can start asking really interesting questions. And one of which I already hinted at is, which channel do you prefer to use in the completion of that job? Is this one more of a digital job, and this one more of a human job? And when you look at the data there, it turns out they’re essentially equal. Customers are just as likely to talk to a sales rep in problem identification as use a customer, excuse me, a supplier website in problem identification, and so on across the board for all four of those jobs.

And then the second thing that we found about these jobs, Dan, that’s really interesting, is that they don’t occur linearly. In other words, when you ask customers, “To what degree, as you went on this buying journey, did you find yourself going back and repeating certain jobs over and over and maybe even over and over again?” And it was roughly … This is some data’s about five years old, so hold on. I’m bringing it up from long-term memory here.

Dan:

We can fact-check this after.

Brent:

Please do. But over 90% of customers said that that was true for at least one job, and for each of those four jobs, 75% of the customers said they repeated that job at least one time. That’s a lot of data without even seeing any data. So essentially, practically what’s happening is you identify a problem, then you move on to exploring solutions, and in the process of exploring solutions, you realize, I don’t know if we got this problem quite right. Or, there’s another dimension of this that we hadn’t fully appreciated. We need to go back and rescope the problem. So, it becomes two steps forward, one step back. Sometimes it’s one step forward, two steps back.

But this led to this term that we started using, which I still love today, called looping. In other words, customers don’t really move through a buying journey. They loop through a buying journey. It’s very circular, almost like, well, I guess a spirally sort of motion as they go on this buying journey. So, now I’ve got two … If anyone’s tracking with this, it’s probably nobody, because I’m talking a mile a minute. I apologize.

Dan:

I’m picturing a Slinky in my mind, that’s how I’m following you.

Brent:

That’s exactly right. Now the two points that we have on the table are, I’m moving through this buying journey nonlinearly, that’s hard to say, and simultaneously, I’m moving through this job in a way that is channel agnostic. All right? In other words, at any given point in a purchase, I may be involved in any one of those jobs, or even, in fact, more than one job simultaneously, and I may be engaged in those jobs through both in-person and digital channels at the same time. Put all that together, and so that’s the reality of buying. All right? Now set that right here.

Now, right next to it, put our traditional commercial engine, all right? The traditional commercial engine is, we’ve got marketing and then sales. We’ve got first, you buy through … First we engage them through digital, and then at some point we qualify them, we call it a marketing qualified lead, and we throw it over the wall and now sales catches it, hopefully … They usually ignore it, but that’s a different story … and then they run off with it, with my MQL, and they go chase it down. So, it’s first marketing, then sales. First digital, then in person. I call that the serial commercial engine. It’s because I grew up with engineers, right, so it’s first this, then that.

But if you think about what’s going on over here with buying, it’s not happening in a serial fashion. It’s happening in a parallel fashion. Everything’s kind of all happening at once, all at the same time. So, what happens when you take the buying reality and run it up against the selling or the commercial reality? You get this really weird mismatch. Essentially, I would argue, and this is based on what I’m seeing … I mean, you can see this in the data, which is where I saw it, but then you can also see it in just the conversations you and I have with commercial leaders all over the world every single day, when we find that our commercial engine is just deeply misaligned with how customers buy. And then if I were to take it a step further, which we can dig into if you want, and especially how customers would prefer to buy, if they could.

Let me take a break, or I’ll take a breath there. That was a lot. But if you start on … And that’s what the article was getting at is, if you start unpacking that, it’s just at the org structure level, you realize, we’re just not built for today’s buying, and I think that’s really interesting.

Dan:

As Brent talks about this nonlinear looping buying journey, it makes me think of a couple things. First, it makes me think of Fruit Loops, because he keeps saying the word loops and cereal, and I’m kind of hungry right now. But if all of us looked at how our marketing and sales processes aligned to this new buyer journey, an alarming number of us would concede that they don’t line up.

We keep talking about marketing funnels as if customers perfectly flow through in that way. Now, many organizations don’t have customer marketing functions, and think of marketing as something that just brings prospects into the door and then hands things off to sales. But we know from our own buyer journey that that just isn’t the case. We do as much research as we can, and then we talk to a salesperson when we need to, but then we often go back to the drawing board. Most of our companies aren’t built to handle that. I also wondered if this buying journey was a relatively new development, or if buying decisions have kind of been this way for a long time.

Do you think this is a new development in B2B buying, or do you think it was always this way?

Brent:

It depends. And I say this was a huge amount of love for you, Dan, but it depends if you’re talking to someone your age or my age, right? Because I’m a lot older. It’s not that you’re young, it’s just I’m old. I used to think, by the way, that people are really, really young, and I talked about the kids at work today, and then I realized, actually, they got offended, because why is this jerk calling us “kids”? And I realized that actually isn’t cool and it is offensive.

But I came to this appreciation. The reason why I thought they were young is because I thought I was young. Do you see what I’m saying? And it turns out, no, they’re not young. They’re actually adults, and that just means I’m really bleeping old, and it’s terrifying. So, for any of those listening today, all thousands of your listeners … I do a show. We have four listeners, so it’s a different story. But if you’re over 50 like me, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Sorry, that was a huge digression, but there you go. It’s Comedy Hour with Adamson.

Your question, “Was it always like this?” And it depends on how far back you go in time. That was a really long wind up to get to that simple statement, right? If you go back 15 years ago, and certainly longer, earlier, more than 15 years ago, I mean, think about it. I didn’t have the option as a customer to learn nearly as much online as I do today. In other words, I talked to sales reps back then, not because I wanted to, because I had to, right? So, it depends.

I could interpret your question like, was it always like this? Was it always true that customers didn’t really want to talk to sales reps? Probably, although I had this great conversation with a bunch of sales thought leaders yesterday in Dallas, and a number of them, they’re all kind of my age, and we all kind of came up at the same time. And many of them harken back to their start of their sales careers at IBM, at Xerox, and these places in the ’80s and ’90s that grew these amazing sales organizations, where the sales reps were truly consultants, and it was an honorable profession. And I think back then, customers

Brent:

… would want to talk to those kinds of sales reps. By the way, I think today customers would still want to talk to those kinds of sales reps. But what we have today is the Saasification of everything where it’s just BDR sending you in-mails that you never wanted in the first place, and the whole thing breaks. So that’s a long-winded brand, isn’t it?

I think today what’s different is your customers have significantly greater opportunity to learn on their own through digital, but that has been true for at least 10 years. I think if nothing though, on the marketing side, if nothing else is true… Do you remember about 2015 or so, everyone got on the content marketing bandwagon? Do you remember that? And this, by the way, partly the world you live in professionally, right? You’re a content producer and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Part of that was is because we were all seeking new ways to differentiate because the products we were selling were becoming undifferentiated from fast followers and easy replication. So we all moved to sort of a solution selling approach. Solution selling over the course of say 2000 to 2010 quickly became commoditized as, not only did I have a world-class solution, but you had a world-class solution. So about 2010, not only are products commoditized, but so our solutions. People were looking for a new way to stand out, to be different, to differentiate in the marketplace. Right about that time is where Challenger, the Challenger sale hit. And that’s all about, as you may know, it turns out it’s not what you sell, but how you sell is your biggest opportunity for differentiation. It’s your ability to provide insights and change the way and challenge the way customers think, not about your business, but about their business.

And right about that same time in a parallel process, CEOs, heads of marketing, heads of sales around the world all decided the best way that we can differentiate is through thought leadership. So everyone wants that, “We need to be a thought leader. If we can be a thought leader, then we can demonstrate to our customers that we have cutting edge insights that’ll help them with their mission critical priorities, and they’ll trust us with their toughest challenges, and they’ll come to us first in their time of need.” And so now take all that together, you take thought leadership and this desire to stand out and differentiate. You take, wow, so we need content to be thought leaders. So we need a strategy for that. We’ll call that content marketing. And now we’ve got better tools than ever before to do that. And enter stage left MarTech or marketing technology in this thing called marketing automation. Holy mackerel. Now I can create and distribute content at scale and I can see it.

What happened, I think, starting about 2015, we entered into what I now call the smartness arms race. So we are all going to just produce massive amounts of content and demonstrate to the world that we’re unbelievably smart. And across the next five years, that’s what we did. We spammed the world at scale with not just content, but actually, frankly really good content, even great content like you produce. But where that left customers isn’t empowered with the best information they’ve ever experienced in their lives. Where it left customers is completely overwhelmed with huge quantities of high quality content.

So actually I skipped a step. See, “So Brent, was it always like this?” It’s never always been like anything. The whole thing keeps evolving. So Dan, there was this period where people didn’t learn online, then they did learn online, then they were empowered by learning online, then they never had to talk to sales reps and then all of a sudden became too much of a good thing and now they’re learning online and they’re overwhelmed. And now I don’t want to talk to a sales rep because I hate talking to sales reps, but now I’m trying to learn online or independently, and I’m overwhelmed because everybody’s storing data and statistics and white papers at me that all seem really compelling, but are telling me to do two different things. So now I’m like, danged… I’ll use the Midwestern version and say, “I’m danged if I do and danged if I don’t,” right? Because now it’s like, “I don’t want to talk to a sales rep. That’s not helpful. I want to do it on my own, but oh gosh, that’s not helpful. Now I don’t know what to do. You know what I need to do? I just need to study this more. I need to go do some more research.”

And you know what that’s going to do? It’s going to exacerbate the very problem, make it even worse. And yet we’re over here saying, marketing’s over here saying, “Woo, but they downloaded and consumed a lot of our content. That thing scores high. That is an MQL with a capital Q.” They throw that over to sales and sales is like, “They didn’t engage.” They didn’t engage because they’re so confused. And oh, by the way, they still don’t want to talk to you. This is the machine that we built and how is that machine supposed to make any sense in this world that doesn’t even make sense to your customers and how they’re trying to accomplish a purchase. And oh by the way, there’s not one person going on this journey on the customer side. It’s like 14 of them and they all don’t even get along with each other. How does commerce still even happen, Dan? That is my question.

Dan:

Luck? I don’t know. Do we just get lucky that people choose us?

Brent:

Well, no, the truth is, I think some… Yes, actually there is some of that, right? And I think there is some commerce still happens because commerce has to happen. It’s like, “I have to buy replenishable, I have to keep my factory running. I have to buy medical devices for people in need.” So some commerce is going to happen. I do truly sincerely wonder how much more commerce could happen if, one, it was just easier for customers to buy. And two, we were in a position to better support that buying journey. That I think is actually really, really interesting.

So I think where it leaves us is everybody struggles and just that’s where all of a sudden the thing that I’ve been poo-pooing for 15 years comes back to actually be important. Things like, what do I do? I just buy the brand that I know or I buy from the incumbent because it’s less inertia, it’s less change. So I just do what I’m already doing. So you would do things like embrace the status quo, you embrace the trusted name that you already know. And then all of a sudden it feels like all things new are old again, or all things old are new again, I guess, is the right way to say it, where we’re right back to just, I don’t know, it’s like 1990 all over again, but in this weird, non-functional way. Man, that was a lot, Dan, wasn’t it?

Dan:

It was good. I just set you up and-

Brent:

All of this is up here in my head, man. I don’t know. It’s like it’s amazing I don’t just explode.

Dan:

Well, but it’s not up in your head anymore. It’s out there now.

Brent:

There you go. Somebody recorded this, right?

Dan:

Oh shoot. I forgot to… No, we’re good. I think we’re good on the recording. If not, I’m going to be very pissed. So you talk about needing to support this new buying journey and how old setups aren’t equipped to do that. So I’d love to dive into specifically sales and marketing. You talked a lot about the sales side in the sense making for sales. So I’d maybe love to dive into that first. But if you’re a salesperson listening to this, how do you need to rethink how you approach sales? And then if you’re a marketing person listening to this, how do you need to rethink how you approach marketing?

Brent:

Okay. So I think the answer’s the same for both. So we can do both the same time. And if you allow me, I’m going to go up one notch in altitude.

Dan:

Let’s go up.

Brent:

And talk about it, not just in terms of sense making. I think sense making is… I’m going to essentially offer a toolbox with four tools in it. And sense making is one of the four tools. But the toolbox, if I had to put a label on that toolbox, I would label that toolbox, Customer Confidence. And again, this is inspired and in fact generated a lot by the work that I was involved in at Gartner right before my departure. But I’ve continued to do this today ’cause I think, when I talk to CEOs, heads of sales, heads of marketing, anyone in an audience like this, I would suggest very humbly just based on research, not just my opinion, if there’s one thing that we could and should be solving for right now as a commercial organization, whether it’s sales or marketing, and as we need to be solving for customer confidence.

This is something that became very, very clear in the data at Gartner, is that the single biggest attribute that drives up the likelihood of customers buying a bigger deal, with a broader scope, at the higher price point and feeling better about it. So we used to call this a high quality, low regret deal. And ideally, we were always trying to say, “How do I increase the probability of customers buying a high quality, low regret deal?” And by far, and it’s hard, Dan, to explain non-statistically how much by far. It’s literally, it’s not even an order of magnitude, it’s multiple orders of magnitude. It’s a bar chart with bar, bar, bar, bar. Do you know what I mean? That’s the layman’s version of that. But there’s actually-

Dan:

That was a great visualization.

Brent:

There are numbers on those bars, I promise you.

Dan:

[inaudible 00:20:40] several times but I kind of still knew what you meant.

Brent:

At CV, we literally had a name for this. We used to call it Big Bar, Little Bar. It’s like whenever you find a bar chart with a big bar, little bar, you knew you had something, right? And this is big bar, massively huge bar. And the massively huge bar was customer confidence. In other words, if you’re trying to drive up the likelihood of a high quality, low regret deal, by far the single biggest thing you want to focus on, the single big single biggest, not the single thing, but the single biggest thing. There’s other things you could do, but if you want to like, where’s the incremental benefit? It’s customer’s confidence.

But briefly, the thing that, when you break down customer confidence, the thing that was interesting was confidence in what? What does that mean exactly? And it turns out it was things like from a buying perspective, how confident are we as a buying group that we’ve even asked the right questions? How confident are we that we looked at the right information? How confident are we that we drew the right conclusions from looking at that information? How confident are we that we’ve identified the right problem, that we’re pursuing the right solution, that we’ll be able to implement whatever we buy? Again, there’s a whole bunch of these different dimensions, but that there’s a common denominator across all those dimensions of confidence, Dan. I don’t know if you picked it up or not, but notice every one of those dimensions of confidence has nothing to do with you as a supplier.

Dan:

When Brent first started going down this path, talking about customer confidence, I thought I knew where he was going. We need to ensure our customers are confident in our ability to deliver. But that’s not what he’s talking about here. That’s probably part of the sales and marketing equation. But what he’s talking about I think could be defined as customer self-confidence. I’m not saying we should send all of them Tony Robbins books, but, you know what? I’ll let Brent explain it much better than I’m going to.

Brent:

This isn’t how confident are we in your product? How confident are we in your brand? How confident we are we in your team? It’s none of that stuff. It’s how confident are we that we looked at the right information, that we can implement this. So in other words, the thing that we need to solve for, it’s easy to say customer confidence, but the twist on it is it’s not customer confidence in you, but customers confidence in themselves. How can we change customers perceptions, not of us and our brand, but of themselves in their ability? And that’s really interesting, particularly from a marketing side. ‘Cause that’s the kind of thing in marketing we all kind of geek out about anyway. It’s super cool. That’s like legacy consumer marketing from way back when. But it’s very specific to, how can I change the way that you think about your capability to make large scale decisions on behalf of your company?

And this is where… So now I’m going to get, this eventually will land us in sense making and a couple other things. So the talk track, the kickoffs that I’ve been doing these days, where it goes is this, is that, I think what this does is offers us an opportunity to move from what I would call frame breaking, which is very Challenger-esque, because Challenger’s all about frame breaking. So identify a customer’s mental model and challenge that mental model, break it effectively. Find a new way for them to think about their business. I still stand by that. I still think that’s accurate. But again, in the smartness arms race world, it’s just less differentiated.

But the thing, if you truly want to stand out and you truly want to help and you truly want to move commerce forward, I think the bigger opportunity for us today is to move from a frame breaking posture to a frame making posture, which is, how can I help create frameworks for my customers to make them feel more confident in their ability to make decisions on behalf of their company? And I think there’s four ways that we can do this because there’s four challenges that are eroding customer confidence.

So I know this becomes like a list, so bear with me, but just real quickly… Because I think they’ll all ring true. The four things that, whether it’s the work I do now at a company called Ecosystems, which is where I’m at now, or the work I did at Gartner, or just the talking to sales and commercial leaders around the world. The four forces eroding customer confidence, here they are, Dan. Number one is decision complexity. Again, it’s the looping problem. There’s so many people and we’re looping through so many different jobs and it’s just like we literally don’t know how to buy. We don’t know the process. People say, “Map the customer buying journey.” How are you supposed to do that when customers have no idea what their buying journey is? And every time they think they know, they’re wrong because it blows up in their face. So it’s decision complexity.

Number two is information overload, which we talked about. That’s the result of the smartness arms race. Number three is implementation uncertainty. So my friend and colleague at Gartner, Hank Barnes, has done a huge amount of work on just what happens when customers lack confidence in their ability to implement whatever it is they buy. You know what they do? They don’t buy or they hate whatever they bought, and they hate themselves as a result. This gets very deep and very human. And then the fourth one is what I call value opacity. People have been giving me a hard time because they think opacity is a fancy word, but it’s got four syllables. Opacity simply means value is not clear.

So decision complexity, information overload, implementation uncertainty, and value opacity. Each one of those things, and I would say we’re spiking in all four simultaneously right now. So customers, they lack confidence in their ability to decide. They lack confidence in their ability to conclude from information. They lack confidence in their ability to implement. And they lack confidence around the value that they’re getting from whatever they buy. And if that… Oh, Dan, what’s like a… There’s a trifecta. What’s four? Is that a quadfecta? What is that? I don’t know. I don’t know, man. But whatever it is, this is it. So it’s like the quadfecta of bad things happening that erode my confidence.

And so if you’re going to be a frame maker, what if I took on, as my opportunity, as a marketer through my digital materials, my digital content, my website presence, my interactivity, what if I took it on as my role as a sales professional through the conversations I have, through the collateral

Brent:

Role that I use to provide my customers a framework for buying a framework for information and how to use information, so that’s sense making. Framework for buying would be what we used to call buyer enablement. So framework for buying, a framework for decision-making, a framework for implementation. So maybe we bring in the implementation team is part of the sales effort and say, here’s how this is going to go down. Here’s the steps we’d recommend. Here’s two companies that have already implemented successfully you want to talk to. And then finally, a framework for value, which is what we do at Ecosystems, which is how do we understand what are we even trying to do and how we know when we get there and how do we do that sort of prior to the sale and post-sale or post-purchase such that we can track what we were trying to do and how we actually gotten there and feel confident about our building to make good decisions. Man, you asked a simple question and there it was an entire keynote in six minutes.

Dan:

I don’t know that it was a simple question. I feel like that-

Brent:

Well, there you go, right?

Dan:

… that kind of answer.

Brent:

By the way, there’s all of your listeners, “God, this guy never stop talking.”

Dan:

But no, this-

Brent:

I apologize.

Dan:

I don’t think they’re saying that.

Brent:

But there’s a lot, I mean there’s just so much going on right now and maybe that’s always true. But certainly, right now it’s this very complex Nexus. Ooh, that’s a fancy word. Of all these different… What’s the word? Trends coming together where it’s digital, whether it’s pandemic, whether it’s complexity of information and this is where it lands. And by the way, you throw on top of that I think, Dan, the uncertainty of political polarization of environmental decay of war in Europe. And it’s just all of that is just this dull thudding drumbeat of uncertainty in which all of this, that’s the context in which all this business stuff happens along with uncertainty of am I a good parent and all that other stuff. That’s just daily life too. But it’s literally amazing. We all manage to get out of bed in the morning. Let’s cheers to that.

Dan:

Well, and I think something interesting happens when you’re faced with all that uncertainty and this overwhelming amount of information is the easiest thing to do, becomes nothing, right? The deals get up getting lost to, I think you talked about this, getting lost to the status quo. It’s just so much easier to just keep doing what you’re doing, especially if you have this product a lot of us do in the SAS-Space that is a new, cool, innovative thing. But it’s something that you don’t necessarily need you could probably just keep doing your old thing and maybe that’s really bad and you’re going to go away if you do that. But it just becomes so easy to not do it.

Brent:

This is exactly right. I mean, the same thing as all of us with our health or our weight or the amount we exercise or the decisions we make on our diet mean not to go there, but I guess I just did. But I mean it’s just because, and so notice what we’re talking about here. When you put that kind of spin on it stops to me at least feeling like we’re talking about buying and selling and commerce and marketing and sales. And it just feels like we’re talking about human beings. And I think that’s where these two stories are so deeply commingled that we have to appreciate just that our customers are humans. And right now, maybe it’s always true. It’s just kind of hard to be a human. You know what I mean? It’s just hard. And I think what customers, what people really want is some help, is some guidance, is some framework.

Can someone just please help me make sense of this? Can someone please help me? Just tell me what I need to do. I can’t just show up and say, here’s what you need to do. Actually no, I don’t want that because that’s just like some blow hard telling me what to do. But if you could sit down with me collaboratively as a partner, as an empathetic listener and help me work this out, that’s the posture. And I don’t mean that in a cynical way. Do that and you’ll sell more, but that do that and you’ll just like maybe make the world a little bit better and as a result, maybe sell a little bit more, right? I don’t know man, I’ve got way too many college degrees and four of them are in liberal arts. So I tend to skew heavily towards the humanity side of things. And when I look at commerce today, that’s where my head’s at. It’s deeply embedded in all these very human rifts and human themes.

Dan:

And I think that that’s just, it’s better for our customers because I think at the end, they end up buying solutions that are more of a fit for them and that’s what we should want to do. But like you said, I think it’s also really scary. One thing you talked about, I think in sense making for sales is, this was specifically for salespeople, but I think it also applies to marketing is the aim is to support customers regardless of the outcome. And I think that’s really scary because if I’m a sales rep and it’s my job to just sell as much of this as possible, that’s a scary thing. To think that I might be guiding somebody and maybe our solution isn’t the right fit. How do you overcome that mental hurdle?

Brent:

It’s going to be hard. This is part of the conversation I had with this group of thought leaders yesterday and we all agreed it’s like this system’s not built for that. And this is why I was so interested in profiling that company in the Harvard Business Review article that you mentioned, that’s sales and market are becoming obsolete. So the second half of that, the first half of that article is themes we just talked about. The second half of that article is a profile of a company called Smart Technologies. They like you are Canadian, therefore just good people. And they’re Smart is based in Calgary. They’re an educational technology company. So every once in a while, I mention their story, Dan, people say, “Ooh, this felt like a commercial for the company.” It’s not a commercial for the company. They make the flat screen panels that kids have in their classrooms.

That’s the business they’re in. If it’s anything it’s a commercial for Jeff Lowe and Jenna Pipchuk who are just friends of mine. Full disclosure, they became friends of mine through all this work. But they’re just really good people. So Jeff is the former head of marketing. Jenna’s the former head of sales. They both still work there. The reason I say former is because they don’t have sales and marketing anymore. They literally woke up one day, that actually figuratively woke up one day. It wasn’t quite that literal. But through a lot of these stories and themes and research that we had done with them, they kind of came to the realization that their or their commercial engine was deeply misaligned with how customers are actually buying. And they weren’t providing confidence, they weren’t providing help, but they weren’t providing the channels, allowing customers to use the channels they prefer all of that stuff.

And by the way, this is a company that sells almost a 100% through channel partners. So that makes it that much more complicated. But what they did is they took sales, marketing, success service, all of it, all the customer facing commercial engine and they effectively dismantled it. They started with a clean sheet of paper, and they built it from the ground up around the jobs that customers have to complete to their satisfaction in order to make a purchase happen. And they restructured. So no one lost a job, which is very cool. But everyone got essentially reassigned to one of those customer jobs. And there’s jobs teams. So there’s a learn team, there’s a buy team, an install team, irrespective of whatever function used to be in sales, marketing success or whatever, you’re now one of these teams. And the way they go to market isn’t what they call a pod.

And companies have experiment with pod structures in the past. So some people have told me, “Brent, this isn’t new.” It’s like, I didn’t say it was new or not. I’m just thinking smart. It’s like we could debate newness or not, but I think that’s missing the point. The point is rather what they’re doing, it’s like if you look at, I don’t know, Western Canada, so they’ll, I’m making this up a little bit because I don’t know if that’s how their regions are actually broken out, but they’ll have a Western Canada pod and in that pod, they’ll have representatives from each of those different buying job teams. And then they’re all measured collectively on the UCE or the unified commercial engine dashboard. And it’s been amazing for them.

And so when I talk to Jeff or Jenna, I say, who are you now? And it’s like they say, well, I’m still helping. I’m the co-leader of the UCE. That’s who they are. And that takes guts, man. Dan, I’ll tell you that the thing, it’s like, and I can’t tell you, every company person executive I’ve talked to about the Smart story has almost the same reaction, which is a twofold reaction. First reaction is good for them. That’s great. That’s really interesting. But we can never do that.

Dan:

That was going to my question. Do you think everybody can do this?

Brent:

No. Well actually it doesn’t matter whether I think everybody can do this because everybody thinks they can’t do it. And that’s actually the more important thing, but it’s really fascinating, Dan. They’ll say, “We can’t do that.” And I’ll say, why not? “Well, they’re big and we’re small.” And the next company will say, “We can’t do that.” And say, “Because we’re small and they’re big.” Or it’s like it’s either they’re bigger than us so we’re too small or they’re smaller than us, we’re too big. Or they’re in educational technology and we’re in manufacturing. And the list of reasons that people start throwing out around why they can’t do this starts to sound really, really arbitrary at some point. I think the reason they could do it is because one, they had a CEO who’s amazing, who’s bought in and said, “You’re right, we need to do this.”

And provided an umbrella to do this then. But the most important thing, Dan, when I was talking to Jenna and Jeff a number of years ago in a internal interview at Gartner with all of our analysts and I was interviewing them on in front of the analysts, is almost like a panel discussion. I asked him that question, how did you do this? I mean essentially, you’re dismantling not just and remantling of course, but you’re like, Jeff, Jeff’s one of the smartest B2B marketers I know in the world. That’s not pandering. That’s the truth. He’s brilliant and he’s amazingly good guy. And it’s like, Jeff, you’re one of the best marketers I’ve ever known and now you don’t have marketing. How does that work mean? Are you okay with that? And I said, how did you guys do this? And Jeff and Jenna, I bleep you not said, “Brent, I’ll tell how we did that because we trust each other.”

Dan:

Canadians, so beautiful.

Brent:

I know, right? So that is the only answer I will accept Dan on why we can’t do this. We say, oh, they can do it because they’re Canadian. That’s the only answer I will accept as an excuse why you can’t do this if you’re not Canadian. God, you are good people, you’re just such good people. But that was one of the most profound things I heard that year is we did this because we trust each other. And I think that is why most companies won’t be able to do this, is because our own legacy silo structures and the incentives and the identity that is attached to all of that is going to make it very, very hard for us to embrace change without trust. And while I think, I’d like to think most of us kind of trust each other on a superficial level. That’s a deep level of trust, man.

You know what I mean? That’s profound. And that’s very human. This isn’t like, “Let’s restructure the org chart.” This is like, “Let’s look each other in the eye and say what we’re going to do together on a very different journey.” And I don’t know if most of us are lucky enough to work at a place like that. That’s pretty cool. So then that begs all sorts of following questions. Okay, short of that than what can we do? And there’s then it gets into really tactical stuff that I, then I lose interest, right? Because it’s not this really big idea. It’s like you get your CRM system working better and you can have better, I don’t know, process. Because if you don’t solve it like that, then you got to start solving with technology and process.

And I’m on board with technology. That’s where I live now at Ecosystems and solving these things with technology, I’m less on board with process because I’m, I’m a right brain jazz musician guy and I don’t like to play in marching band. So if you start putting a lot of process in place, I start getting, I break out in hives. Do you know what I mean? But that doesn’t mean its wrong answer, it just means it’s the wrong answer for me. But it might be the right answer for other companies. But one way or another, I think we have to come to the realization that we’re not selling the way our customers are buying and we have to do something about it if we want to solve for customer confidence.

Dan:

There’s eight million questions that I have as follow-up to all this.

Brent:

Dude, if it’s worth, if it to be fair, there’s eight million questions I have. Yeah, it’s like I just put 10 different things on the table that I can’t solve. Do you know what I mean? So I’m with you. I just find this stuff so interesting where we are right now because it is some smart person and group of people is going to find out really creative answers to do this. And I particularly heading into a recession where we have to rethink anything, everything anyway, there are clever, creative, interesting answers. I tell people UCE and what’s happening at Smart is not the answer. It’s a answer. What are other answers? I don’t know. But we better bleep and figure it out kind of the way I look at it.

Dan:

So in the interest of time, and if I ask those eight million questions, this is going to be a 50 part-

Brent:

Part two, there’s a part two.

Dan:

It’s probably there’s going to be a part two and part three and part four in here if you’re up for it. But in the interest of time for part one, I’ll end off with my standard question here, which is the folks listening at home who are now, if they didn’t already know about these changing buyer journeys and how they can adapt or thinking a lot more about it. What’s one piece of advice that you can give them that they can implement today, tomorrow to be more customer centric to help deal with these new buyer journeys?

Brent:

So there’s probably less necessary in marketing because hopefully marketers are there already. But on the B2B side, I don’t know if that’s actually true. I mean that with deep respect and love for B2B marketers. As part of the thought leader meeting, I mentioned I was at yesterday, I was in Dallas and it was hosted by the University of Texas, Dallas, who was one of the best sales programs in the world. And Howard Dover runs that program.

And so I say all that because I got a chance when I went. I flew down a little bit early to meet with the students. And so I was in the classroom, my old stomping grounds. I love being in classrooms and meeting with this, I don’t know if there’s probably about 50, 60, 70 students in that room. And we were just talking about sales careers and marketing careers. And we got in this conversation around what are the things that you need to know to prepare for a sales call, right? Because it was a sales program, and it was all the things you’d love to hear and the things we train. Things like annual report and then like 10Q and 10K and what are the, go to their website, listen to podcasts about

Brent:

… about them or any YouTube videos and all this research. And so there’s all this stuff about information that you gather around this company. And I would imagine, by the way, if we asked marketers, they would’ve come up with a very similar list. And what I suggested to them was, yes, yes, yes, yes, but. Right? Or, and maybe and. It’s yes and. It’s never yes but. Right? It’s yes and. Sorry.

Dan:

[inaudible 00:39:19].

Brent:

I got to learn this. I know. So I’m very confrontational, as you could tell. So yes and. So what’s the and? That was a long run up to an answer to your question. I think the thing that we sometimes overlook, and yet it’s funny because particularly on the marketing side, back in the traditional consumer marketing, how the whole thing started is not the rational side of things, but the emotional side of things. So, as you map out the customer buying journey, for example, we tend to think of that as an exercise, almost like a diagram, like it’s a spreadsheet or whatever we use to map out customer buying journeys, right?

It’s a flow diagram with circles and arrows and maybe there’s going back and all that. But the thing that I think we tend to overlook is, again, we come at it from a process perspective. What are the channels they use? What are the steps they go? Where do they loop back? I think the incremental opportunity, the thing we’re not asking but could and should, is how do people feel at each one of those points? Is it excitement? Is it frustration? Is it overwhelmedness, is it a lack of confidence? And ask yourself, not just what is the customer’s buying journey, but what is the customer’s emotional journey? And, if you’re not sure, ask. Right? I get this question all the time from marketers, “But how do we know what they’re struggling with?” Ask. I say, “How do we know what steps they go through?” We don’t know that. Ask.

So, but the same thing I’m being flippant, but I mean literally, I’ve had this conversation with Mark. I love you guys as marketers, but go find these things out. Whether it’s ask your sales reps to ask your customers, ask your customers directly, focus groups, surveys, all the tools that we all have in our toolbox to find this out. But the thing that I think we’re under leveraged on is understanding customer’s emotional journey. Because if they’re feeling fear, then that provides us an opportunity to reduce that fear, to give them courage. If they’re feeling a lack of confidence, that’s an opportunity for us to frame make, and give them confidence. And to be that person…

We always talk about relationships are so important in sales, and I know I’ve got my name attached to a book where it seems like we’re saying relationships are dead. I’m not a relationships are dead kind of guy. Challengers win, relationship builders lose. It’s much more subtle. And that’s a different podcast for a different time. But relationships do matter. And the substance of those relationships matter. Are they driven by insight? Was the challenger answer. I would say today too. Are they driven by your ability to diminish the emotions associated with downside risk and accentuate the emotions associated with upside potential? And, if you can start mapping out those buying journeys from an emotional perspective and begin to approach your customers through language… You’re a language guy. You’re a content guy. You’re a writing guy. You and I would geek out. We could do a whole episode just on language and get into stuff like language of identity versus language of behavior. And we could totally get into NLP stuff. Because your word choice matters in this world, really deeply. But, by the way, so for those who are… So that would be my answer. Let me stop there. That would be my answer to that question. Did that make any sense at all, Dan? About this emotion, yeah-

Dan:

It did make a lot of sense. But I’m also trying to think with that, like how do I make that even more actionable? I think mapping that out is amazing and incredibly important. What’s the step today that I can do to start mapping that out, to start getting closer to that?

Brent:

Oh, dude. Man, all right.

Dan:

Is it asking? Maybe it’s asking, right? Like we talked about with asking.

Brent:

Okay. I know. No matter how tactical I get, I see that you’re going to ask me to get even more tactical. I totally-

Dan:

You got to get as granular as possible.

Brent:

All right.

Dan:

Or you can’t leave.

Brent:

So I’ll do this one. I’ll do this briefly. So, by the way, I’m going to do a real quick self promotion. I started a video series at Ecosystems called Brent’s Breakdown, which was named by a colleague of mine. She had no idea how close she hit it to the mark when she came up with the name. But Brent’s Breakdown is a weekly YouTube series that we also post on LinkedIn. And they started out being three-minute videos. As you can tell, they’ve gotten a little longer. They’re now six-minute videos sometimes. But I’m shooting for three-minute videos. And just each week is like a little kernel of an idea. Here’s a thought, here’s a nugget. So here’s this one I haven’t taped yet. So maybe when we hit record, maybe you can send me the recording of this and we’ll do it that way.

Dan:

Yeah, I’ll record.

Brent:

No, but-

Dan:

Knock out two things at once.

Brent:

Right, exactly. Here’s your tactical idea around emotion. It’s something, it’s an idea that I developed through the school of hard knocks because I’m working with heads of sales and I’ve, full disclosure, people don’t know this, I’ve never carried a bag. And I don’t like to say that out loud because I’m known as the guy that talks about sales and marketing. I’ve never been a marketer, never been a sales leader. So now everyone’s shutting down the podcast. But what I am is a researcher, right? And that’s my training. 30 years career as a researcher, used to be German and linguistics, now it’s sales and marketing. Long story.

But out of the necessity of trying to tap into the emotional side of people whose job I’ve never had, I, through the school of hard knocks, developed what I’ve come to call hypothesis led empathy. Hypothesis led empathy is when you’re talking to someone… So ,yes. So, first of all, tactically engage with your customers. Have conversations with them. Talk to them. And, as you’re talking to them about that buying journey or the steps they go on, ask them a question. But ask them a question, not about the process or the steps, ask them a question about how it feels. And you don’t even have to be right, Dan. It’s like, “Wow, I got to imagine. That’s got to be…” And just you put it like that. “I got to imagine…” So you’re imagining. You’re just like, you’re giving yourself like, “No, no, you’re wrong.” Say, “I got to imagine that’s really frustrating, isn’t it?” And what’ll happen is they’ll either say, “You have no idea. This is so frustrating,” in which they’ve confirmed your hypothesis. Or they might say, “Actually, you know, it’s funny. No, it’s not. It’s not frustrating. It’s actually more maddening.” It’s like, okay, duly noted. So then you modify your hypothesis. Okay, next call you’re on with the next person.

I’ve talked to other leaders who I would’ve thought that would been really frustrating, but talking to other leaders, they tell me that’s actually more maddening. How do you see that? So now you see what I’m doing. I’m testing, I’m expanding, but I’m doing it all through the lens of emotion. And you do that enough times and eventually you hear maddening… Where I’m just picking one arbitrarily. Maddening enough times. Next time you’re on a call with a client, you say, “This is so maddening, isn’t it?” And they say, “Oh, you’re so right. It’s like, you live here. How did you know?” Right? And now I’m one of you. Right? Now we’re in this together. Do you see what I’m saying? I just came over to your side of the table because I get you. I understand you. I know how maddening this is. And how do I know that? Because I just tested it with five other people and I confirmed it, and now I’m going to use that going forward.

I call this borrowed competence, right? It’s like I’m borrowing the competence, I’m borrowing the experience of others and essentially assuming that experience myself. It’s very sneaky stuff. By the way, don’t use this for ill. Only use this for good, people. This can be very manipulative. And I mean that, not jokingly, because there’s enough evil in the world. But yeah, I don’t know. Is that tactical enough for you, Dan? Because I find that is-

Dan:

That is tactical.

Brent:

That is tactical.

Dan:

I’m going to start using this today. Brent, this has been amazing. This has been a great part one. I don’t think we can just stop here. This is part of a 18 part series that you’re going to be on here. But seriously, Brent, this was terrific. I learned so much. I know everybody listening learned so much. Thanks-

Brent:

Cool.

Dan:

… so much for being on the show.

Brent:

Nah. You’re welcome. I’m out there on LinkedIn and on YouTube and check us out over at Ecosystems. We could talk sometime about what we do at Ecosystems, this idea of value management and value engineering. It’s a software platform that helps your entire team. Marketing through success, have better value-based conversations with your customer. It’s super, super cool stuff and it’s all designed to drive up confidence. So there’s my one plug at the end. But I’m out there floating around. Reach out on LinkedIn and yeah, let’s do part two and a part three. That’d be cool.

Dan:

And check out Brent Breaks Down, which I thought we-

Brent:

Hold on. Is Brent’s… No, no. It’s not brent Breaks Down. That’s an even better name. It’s-

Dan:

That’s what I thought you were going with.

Brent:

Oh my God. That is hilarious.

Dan:

I thought it was you breaking down over a topic that you were so upset about.

Brent:

It’s a possessive, it’s not an action. So it’s Brent’s Breakdown.

Dan:

Okay.

Brent:

But I do like Brent Breaks Down, which is kind of what I did on this podcast today.

Dan:

Originally, that’s what I heard. So that’s what I thought. Maybe that’s a spinoff series.

Brent:

That’s amazing.

Dan:

It’s an idea. A gift to you. But thank you so much, Brent, for being-

Brent:

That’s me as a father every day. But that’s a whole nother podcast.

Dan:

Thanks, Brent.

Brent:

All right, man. Be well, Dan. Be well out there, everybody.

Dan:

There were a lot of insights packed into this episode. The bad news is that to adapt to this new buying reality that Brent outlines, requires some fundamental shifts in how we operate as businesses. Salespeople need to take new approaches to selling. Marketing needs to take new approaches to marketing. Customer success people need to take new approach to customer successing.

The good news is that it’ll be worth it. We know our buyers are changing and we’re left with the option of changing with them or not. Maybe we can’t all completely reorchestrate our teams and form these cross-functional super teams. Or maybe we can but we just think we can’t. At the very least, we can stop looking at the buying process as a linear one. We can start marketing and selling in a way that empowers our customers and inspires their self-confidence. For many of us, that alone will be enough to stand out in our industry. And like the content arms race, as Brent so eloquently put it, maybe we’ll reach a point where everyone will start doing this. And then our customer will become saturated with so many helpful and kind salespeople that they’ll want something else. But until that day comes serving our prospects in a way that they don’t want to be served, isn’t going to bring in much new business. It’s not going to make our customers confident in their purchasing decisions with us. It’s not going to be sustainable for much longer.

This has been All About the Customer podcast, brought to you by Influitive. I’m your host, Dan Kalmar. Until next time, everyone should be more like Canadians. I think that was my takeaway from this episode.

 

 

About The Podcast

We talk with customer-obsessed people to uncover how you can be more customer-focused. From customer marketers to CS leaders, we go deep with people who put their customers at the heart of everything they do.

Who this podcast is for:

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About The Host

Dan is the managing director of Upshot by Influitive, where his team creates authentic customer stories for industry-leading companies like Cisco, HPE, and Dropbox. He’s also the host of the All About the Customer podcast, but you knew that already, didn’t you?

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