Episode 107: Brent Adamson – It’s Not What You Sell, It’s How You Sell
Brent Adamson joins The LinkedIn Whisperer Brynne Tillman to explain why the best way to stand out from your competitors in the sales industry is by mastering how you sell your product or service.
Listen as he talks about the narrowing window of opportunity to differentiate your brand from the rest based on your solution, and how the wide availability of solutions is actually leading consumers to experience what he calls “paralysis of analysis.”
Discover what you can do to stay ahead of the “smartness arms race” in an era where customers start to lack confidence in their own ability to make decisions and on behalf of their company due to the overwhelming overflow of information.
Learn about the concept of the frame maker and sensemaking, and how these techniques can help you serve customers better by serving as their guide for making sales decisions.
Find out why Brent thinks empathy is crucial in making sales social and why some sales professionals fall into the trap of committing what he calls “indiscriminate generosity.”
Listen as Brent and Brynne discuss key questions salespeople need to ask themselves:
- Where are your customers learning?
- Are you present where that learning is happening?
- How are you participating in that learning process? (Are you, in fact, helping when that happens?)
Brent Adamson 00:00
As you engage in social and as you make selling social, I think the new window of opportunity for differentiation is to ask yourself, “How can I help my customers feel more confident in the choices they’re making?” “How can I give them a framework, a scaffold, a guide, a tool, a diagnostic, a benchmark that is not going to just be one more piece of information, but is not a product or a piece of information but a tool for them to make decisions.”
Bob Woods 00:29
Welcome to the Making Sales Social podcast! Featuring the top voices in sales and marketing. Join hosts Brynne Tillman and Bill McCormick as they discuss the best tips and strategies they are teaching their clients so you can leverage them for your own virtual and social selling. You can also listen to us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, and Google Play. Here are your hosts, Brynne Tillman and Bill McCormick.
Brynne Tillman 01:06
So today might be my number one favorite day of all of 2022 because I get to interview Brent Adamson who, as everyone listening knows if you’re in any sales capacity at all, is the co-author of The Challenger Sale and The Challenger Customer, and has transformed the way that people go to market today, the way they engage with their buyers, the way they are now more productively disrupting the industry. Brent, welcome to Making Sales Social.
Brent Adamson 01:42
Thank you, Brynne. It’s great to be here. Thanks for the intro. It’s like, I just like to talk loud and say things quickly. If it has had an impact, that was purely byproduct and happy coincidence.
Brynne Tillman 01:54
Yeah, I had mentioned in the pre-show how you have absolutely transformed my business. So, briefly for the listeners, 12 years ago, my client Aramark, handed me The Challenger Sale and said go make this “LinkedIn-ized.” And I did. And it really took me from being an average trainer to bringing, I think, the most incredible value that doesn’t lead with your solution but leads to your solution. So I thank you, Brent, for the brilliant gems and gold and… (Brent: The little pearls of wisdom that are all based on good data.) …pearls of wisdom, yeah.
Brent Adamson 02:32
Well, you know, it’s funny, Brynne, because when you go out there and you share what are potentially disruptive ideas, reframing ideas, you create a wake behind you of churn in the water. People like, “Who is that?” “Crap, what do we do now?” So it’s like, “I don’t know, good luck with that. I gotta go on to catch a flight home.” but it’s been really interesting and I think in some ways, it’s the model that a lot of companies are pursuing now, it’s creating markets, it’s creating a space into which your business can flow. And what I effectively done purely, it was not intentional, I don’t know if it was accidental either but — I wouldn’t say I, but the Challenger work, the Challenger IP has created a space into which all sorts of individuals and companies have been able to flow to create all sorts of really interesting ideas, interesting opportunities, interesting new markets, and to have that kind of impact, it’s humbling. I mean, deeply humbling.
And, but it’s cool, it’s cool to see — you know what it is, and you’re the perfect example of this — is the creativity that if you just give someone a new idea, a new way to think about things and just put it in their hands even like this, it works with kids too but with adults because we’re all humans, and just watch the magic happen. And I am more floored not by anything I’ve been able to do. I’m more floored by people like you who have been able to take this, basically a couple of bar charts and a talk track and turn it into an amazing opportunity. So my hat’s off to you. I’m honestly and everyone else out there listening has done cool stuff individually and collectively. It’s pretty amazing.
Brynne Tillman 04:08
Well, we appreciate the groundbreaking work that you and Matt did to get to this point, so…
Brent Adamson 04:14
By the way, when you say it like that, I gotta tell you, there’s a whole lot of other people involved. They’re all in the… no one ever reads acknowledgments of a book but it was important to us, like just like, here’s the cast of characters. This was a huge team effort. So Matt and I get to put our names on the book but wow, there’s just a lot of incredibly talented people. I know not everyone cares about that, I care about that. So I had to say it real quick, but (crosstalk)…
Brynne Tillman 04:34
I love that. The Challenger Sale taught us about our personalities as salespeople. about what really works, about what to do with that brilliant lone wolf who might be breaking a lot of things and you’re afraid to challenge that person because they’re making commissions and they’re making sales to The Challenger Customer where we looked more about into how buyers are thinking, right. And so when we marry the two together, we create this. There’s the buyer’s journey and the seller’s journey and it’s these two books together that really create successful enterprise sales opportunities. So, again, (crosstalk)
Brent Adamson 05:26
At least they get you, they take you a little farther down the path, you know, there is, I’ve seen lots of people try and struggle because it’s hard, by the way, but also because they don’t want to or because they don’t get it or because frankly, it’s not a good fit for, what, there’s a thousand reasons but I’ve seen people try and struggle to apply these ideas but hopefully, it gives individuals an idea of at least things to try. Just a different perspective. And you think about sort of just thinking about, still to this day, but for what it’s worth, The Challenger Customer, I think is the more underappreciated book and is in some ways, the better book.
And even today, I have debates. In fact, just this morning, I was having a debate about “(unintelligible) did find our customer champion.” It’s like, “Hmmm.. I don’t…” because one of things we do in The Challenger Customer, we talk about the difference between being a customer champion and a customer mobilizer. Champion is someone who’s a fan for you, a mobilizer is someone’s fan for change and if I had to pick between those two, I pick the mobilizer 10 times out of 10 because that’s what you’re selling, you’re selling change. “I love that you love me but can you actually freaking get anything done inside your company?” That’s what I need, if I’m gonna actually make, you know, my quota this quarter. So, anyway, so there’s now you just got me ranting. Should we start with your first question? You have an opening question. Let’s go with that.
Brynne Tillman 06:36
Okay, so the first question we ask all of our interviewees is, “What does making sales social mean to you?”
Brent Adamson 06:44
Well, all right, so you may just have launched me on to a 60-minute answer, so I’ll try not to do that. But so making sales social, when you started doing this 10-year, let me, I’m gonna, let me, actually, let me do this. Let me answer your question with the questions. It’s kind of not a cool thing to do but would you or would you not, would you argue that making sales social today is different from making sales social 10 years ago when you started? Is it different? And if so, how?
Brynne Tillman 07:09
So let’s say it’s different than 14 years ago, and then 12 years ago, I read your book. So sales is social, so there’s a different goal of attracting, teaching, engaging our buyers in a way that disrupts their current thinking so, you know, part of our definition of social selling is to get them thinking differently about their current solution.
If you can’t do that and clearly, you know, I learned a lot from you but that’s (crosstalk) for, so, our five things, right, is resonate with your buyers, create curiosity, teach them something new. Number four is that it gets them thinking differently about their current situation because when we start saying, teach them something new, it will get them to the second piece of thing that gets them thinking differently about the current solution. We never got to number five, which is, create a compelling moment.
Brent Adamson 08:08
Yeah, I know that I so I’m, obviously I guess, I don’t know, obvious or not, but I’m on board, because that is completely consistent. As you’ve already mentioned, with the challenger work. Let me fast forward to today, though, because I think in 2000–, what, 12 right, when LinkedIn was emerging — it was already a big deal then but it was still emerging and social selling was absolutely — these are the days when like early Joe Rowley where like, you know, he was out there teaching the world how to do this in ways that (crosstalk) no one has even seen. Right? But now you fast forward to today. So this is now 10 years later, and the landscape is quite different. So I’m not suggesting in any shape, I promise, that social selling is bad or ineffective or has jumped the shark or whatever. But I do think it’s actually changed.
And so let me throw this out there. There’s an article that captures a lot of what I’m about to share with you all, in the Harvard Business Review, which I wrote, while I was still at Gartner, I’ve since departed Gartner, but it is the January-February issue of the Harvard Business Review, the print magazine, it’s called Sensemaking for Sales, and that the heart and soul of sense being for sales as an idea and article, this whole idea of sensemaking is that the world we live in today is different for customers in some pretty fundamental ways.
There’s a long version, a short version, see if I can do the short version, but if I go back, say, six, seven years, or the early days of Challenger, and in The Challenger Customer, we talked about this a lot with the blue arrow, it’s actually gray in the book because we didn’t print in color but the, but this error that says that customers are on average about 57% of the way through a purchase process before they proactively reach out to a sales rep to get their input on what they’re doing. So they’re learning on their own, they’re going out doing their own due diligence usually of course through digital and researching surfacing information. They’re on LinkedIn, this is part of your point is like that’s why you have to be in social. I used to ask, and I still do, two critical questions that (unintelligible) marketers but sellers do that’s germane here, which is “Where do your customers learn? And are you present where that learning is happening?”
And so, and for a seller, the answer is well, they learn in digital. “Oh bleep, I better be there.” And so interstage left, Brynne and others say like, “Let’s get good at this, let me help you become great at this.” because you have to be because that’s where learning is happening. And so I’m on board 100%. However, nothing’s ever easy, right? So what’s happened, of course, is over the last 10 years, 10 years ago, when we made this big shift, it’s not what you sell. It’s how you sell. That’s the heart and soul of Challenger. It’s not that you differentiate based on the products and solutions, not because they’re not important, they’re critically important but they’re easily replicable. Even great complex solutions can be copied by great competitors. Think UPS, FedEx, right. So the two world class companies that go head-to-head across every single dimension of their world class solutions.
And so a lot of the story in Challenger Sale is that if you’re looking for that next big, incremental window for differentiation, the new opportunity to stand out, it’s not going to be based on what you sell, which is so critical. It’s how you sell, how you go to market, how you interact with customers to stand out with insight, and change the way customers think about their business. That book was lightning in a bottle because it hit right at this moment around 2010, where this window of opportunity around solution selling, as a window of opportunity for differentiation rent solution selling was rapidly narrowing. It wasn’t closing, but it was narrowing. And so companies were looking for new ways to differentiate, to stand out. And lo and behold, whether it was the challenge of work and insight, or just how you sell more broadly, there’s this broad consensus — you were there to see this too, right? We went on this journey together, where right about this time is when I first started hearing from CMOs, CSOs, CEOs — you know what we need to, Brynne, you know, we need to do? We need to be a thought leader in our industry, right?
So because if we’re a thought leader in our industry, we’re going to stand out. We’re going to have cutting edge messages and world class insights to help our customers meet their mission critical priorities with our cutting edge technology, and they’re going to come to us first because they know that we’ve got the best things to say. And whether or not you saw challenger, read challenger, adopted challenger or even heard of challenger, what the broader story across the last 10 years, has been the story of competing on the basis of information and knowledge, and I would argue also, insight for some.
And particularly around 2015, you remember, that’s on the marketing side when content marketing, remember it just kind of came out of nowhere and blew up. And obviously, we had the content marketing associations and institutes. And now we got Scott Brinker, an amazing guy doing his, you know, he’s the one that does the poster with all the different logos of all the martech of vendors went from like 2000, I think, Scott’s up to like 7,000 vendors selling martech.
And now we got better data than ever before. The point of all this being we have a better infrastructure today than we’ve ever had in the past, in terms of strategy in terms of technology in terms of inputs and data, to create world class information and distributed at massive scale. We’ve created thought leadership factories, right, you know, if you go back to that blue arrow on the 57% of customers learning on their own, in the old— back when I was in my 40s, in the old days, it was a story of, you know, customers learning on their own and separating signal from noise. They’re doing their own due diligence or doing their own research. And they’re looking for those standout ideas, those things that are really cutting edge, the thought leadership, the commercial insight, the challenger ideas. And I’m looking for them probably on social. So your point is, like, be there with those ideas and social. But as we’ve all gotten really, really good at this, where it’s left us, where it’s left Custer. I call this the “smartness arms race,” but we’ve all engaged in the last 10 years in the smartness arms race, and turns out we’ve all gotten really good at it.
If you fast forward to today, and even prior to the pandemic — 2019, -18 is when we first saw this in the research we were doing at Gartner, which is again, part of this article now in Sensemaking for Sales, is that the vast majority, 92% was the last number I was involved with Gartner, of customers will report — these are B2B buyers, complex sales, were saying “The information that we encountered as part of this purchase was generally of high quality.” In other words, it’s not just there’s a lot of information out there but there’s a lot of really good information out there. It’s credible, it’s relevant, it’s backed by evidence, it’s supported by specialists, it’s got, you know, it shows up in the form of a bar chart, but it speaks to my business.
The promise is not that the quality of information has gone way, way up, which is great, the promise, there’s so much of it. And now I’m actually in a new, I’ve got a new problem, which is as a customer, it used to be a separate signal from noise, but now it is all signal. It’s all pretty reliable. It’s all pretty good because everyone’s a thought leader but now I’m confused at a higher level, because one of two things is happening, either you’re telling me to zig, and they’re telling me to zag. And that’s great. But by the way that was always a challenger, a challenge. It’s like everyone’s saying that, literally I was at a meeting in Palo Alto before the pandemic and someone said, “Brent…” He says, “I just did what you told me to do.” And it’s always a terrifying thing when people say that. But I just did. It’s like, “Oh god, what did I tell them to do?” But he said, “Look, the whole marketplace is out there telling our customers they need to go in this direction and we’re out there reframing we’re out there challenging. We’re telling them they need to go in that direction. And it’s a really compelling story.” and I say, “I’m with you, but…” I said, “…but from a customer’s perspective, if they’re telling me to zig and they’ve got data, they’ve got research, they’ve got experts, and you’re telling me to zag and you’ve got data, you’ve got research, you’ve got experts, now, I’m just confused at a higher level, because you’re all pretty dang convincing but you’re telling me to do two different things. So what that does to me as a customer, is it makes me two things more confused, and less confident.”
So now I’m more confused about what I should do and less confident about making a decision. So what I ultimately fall back to, Brynne, is I better do some more research, I better look at this even more, I better do more and so then I’m off to do more learning and more research. And then I get more confused, and they get at the paralysis of analysis.
That’s the world that we live in today, a world where the smartness arms race has ended in a tie and then that little flippant line at the end is — the only one that loses is your customer. So the one of two ways, the bad way is it ends either you zig, they zag, and I don’t know what to do, or you’re all saying really smart stuff but it all kind of sounds the same. And this is where we talked about the window of opportunity to differentiate based on solution selling is not gone. It’s just closed, it’s narrowing. I think that’s exactly what’s happening around insight and quality information.
No one should unilaterally disarm in a smartness arms race So I’m not suggesting that you show up and be like to have the dumb things to say, that’s a bad idea. All I’m suggesting is that it may be necessary but not sufficient. So if you’re going to be frame breaking in this world, you have to be incredibly accurate. You have to be incredibly precise. And you have to probably be pretty provocative to really stand out. It’s like if they’re telling me to zig and I’m going to tell no, no, you should zag. You have to give me a reason to believe that zagging is better than zigging that’s convincing because the zigging argument, or is it the zagging argument, was pretty good, too. Right? So do you see what I’m saying? So all of this is the same, It begs this question. I will bring this all around to social selling again, in a heartbeat. I promise it’s coming. There is a punchline to this. (Brynne: No, this is gold. This is gold.)
So, by the way I riff on this not because it’s the research, it’s so interesting, right? It’s like, the way this thing evolves over time is this moving target and at the heart of this is not a selling story, or even a buying story, which is what I’ve said for years, at the heart of this whole thing is a human story. Because the way this all falls apart is not because you know you’re not making a quota. The way this all falls apart is that your customers begin to lack confidence in their own ability to make decisions and on behalf of their company, which is not a business thing. It’s a human thing. It’s like we’re losing to the status quo, not because customers love the status quo, we’re losing the status quo, because customers don’t feel confident to move forward.
And we’ve kind of created this problem with all of this content, among other things that we put out there. By the way there’s a whole another side parallel story, which I’ll just glance and then move on is that just the complexity of the buying process inside the customer’s own company, some of you, your listeners will know this. The slide we put together at Gartner was designed by my dear friend Martha Mathers on her couch on a Sunday. We call it the long, hard slog, I call it the spaghetti bowl, which is all those arrows. Have you seen this chart with all that? It’s like, here’s your customer buying journey. And it’s just, it’s arrows going in all sorts of different directions. It’s just a big complex mess and nobody wants to do that. It’s awful. It’s not that I don’t want to buy from you, It’s I don’t want to buy it because my own company’s complexity is awful. So now I’m overwhelmed with information. I’m overwhelmed with my own complexity. And it seems to me,if you’re looking now, in this environment, this is our environment today, Brynne. And I would argue and if this is the environment, being a frame breaker in this world, I think it’s beginning to have diminishing returns.
And where I landed my head about a month ago, as I was thinking through this is what if our role was not to be so much a frame breaker, but a frame maker. And I love this language, because it just sounds cool when you say it, but the, but a frame maker captures a very different way of thinking about how you interact with your customers. What if my role was to be more of a guide to so as say what we sell, to how we sell, to how we help. I can help you not feel more confident in me the seller, more confident in my company or my brand or my products with ROI (unintelligible), but how do I help you feel more confident in you and the decisions that you’re making on behalf of your company.
And I can do that by helping you, one: just play, it’s on the buyer enable-, what we call buyer enablement. So, on that side is like just actually take on the role of guiding you through your own organizational decision making complexity. Have you talked to this person, when you do you probably want to talk to him about this, here’s the kinds of things you’re going to want to have to be able to say and here’s how to say them. So I can guide you through that. And so in working with other customers like you, we found that it tends to go off the rails in these three ways. Here’s what you’re going to want to watch out for.
By the way, that phrase, “…in working with other customers like you, one of the things we’ve learned…” that’s what I call the “phrase that pays.” I’ve used it for 20 years, it’s so powerful, because now I’m not showing up with my expertise. I’m just playing the role of connector. I’m doing what you want more than anything else. I’m connecting you to other companies like you because that’s what you crave, is to know what other companies like you’ve done in social. Again it’s very human, social norming, social proof. It’s just at the business level. So frame making and the sensemaking thing is, I think what happens now, Brynne, in this world is we have to approach, I don’t have, to we don’t have to do anything I suppose, but if you’re what is well-advised maybe, to approach… (crosstalk) (Brynne: If you want to be successful…) There you go, right? I think it wouldn’t be a bad idea, how about that, I’ll soften it as much as I can, to consider approaching your customer with an information strategy.
This is not something that was even close to our radar screens 10 years ago when Challenger came out but it’s like, and what does that even mean? But I’ve got to think about what information have they likely already encountered, not just from us but from competitors, from trade associations, from advisory firms like Gartner? What information have they already encountered? What conclusions have they probably arrived at as a result of consuming that information? What questions do they likely have? Where are they likely confused?
Now my, this information strategy is this, first of all figure that out — and there’s ways we can talk about if you want to — then ask yourself, “How can I help?” And the way that a sensemaking sales rep, the way they are, and by the way, this is not a personality type, this is not a profile, it’s not I am a sensemaker, it’s just a technique. It’s something any one of us can do is engage in sensemaking, not be a sensemaker. But engaging in sensemaking essentially approach a customer with this very empathetic posture of, “You know, there’s a lot of information out there. And I would imagine some points it’s a little confusing. I’d love to if you’re open to it, maybe I can see if I can help you kind of work through it.” And the frame making approach is just providing them a framework to help them organize, analyze, prioritize that information in a way that makes sense for them.
So I’m not telling you what to do. I’m providing a scaffold, a structure for you to conclude on your own. What you want to do because I’m not solving for your confidence. I mean, I’m solving your confidence in yourself. So it’s got to be done socratically, you have to believe it’s your decision. So my role is frame making, it’s like, here’s working with other customers like you the kinds of things you want to consider, there’s a lot of questions out there. Our sense is based on this evidence, these three questions are the ones you want to prioritize.
In the article, I profiled a company called Expedient. They’re in the cloud computing business. And Brian Smith, I talked about him in the article, is the chief strategy officer there now. Also head of sales, Brian is, he’s just brilliant. He’s just so brilliant. And what I’ve done is back at the four times we’ve traveled I used to do is, I’ve done his sales kickoff and, and one things I heard Brian said his entire sales team, once it’s just completely stuck with me, he said, “It’s our job as a sales organization to help our customers make the best decision they can, in as little time as possible.” That’s it.
Our job is to help our customers make the best decision they can, in as little time as possible. I want them to feel good about that decision, I want to feel confident about that decision. And by the way, if it’s not for us, it’s not for us. But as long as we’re the team that helped them feel good about that decision, that will come back and benefit us if not the short run, the long run, I want that to happen quickly because if it’s not us, I don’t want to take 18 months to find out, if you’re going to lose, lose early, right? So our job is to help our customers make the best decision they can in as little time as possible.
And so now all of that. So now, I told you we need more time. For those listening, Brynne said, “We’ll do it 20 minutes.” No, we’re not, that’s one answer. But yeah, your question, so your question is like, what does social… (Brynne: Making sales social, yeah.) How do I make sales social? Well, I mean, there’s a very, sort of, that’s not the answer you’re looking for, making sales social is like engaging online and being present where your customers learn. And that’s what I would have said, but I think, but it’s not just put up another poll, not another link to another white paper. And like one more insight, those things aren’t bad. And it creates a brand, a halo effect around you of a thought leader and as a smart person, but have a little empathy, right?
Ask yourself, am I just throwing another log in the fire? So that one of the opposite approaches of sensemaking is what we call the giving approach, which feels so natural, giving is this, the provision of get more information to your customers, which we often assume as sellers, that’s our primary role. That’s the way we deliver the most value is the provision of information.
But if your customers are already overwhelmed with too much information, giving them yet another link, another poll and other white paper, another video to watch. This is fuel to the fire, I call this “indiscriminate generosity.” And at some point, you’re actually exacerbating the very problem you’re solving, so as you engage in social and as you make selling social, I think the new window of opportunity for differentiation is to ask yourself, “How can I help my customers feel more confident in the choices they’re making?” “How can I give them a framework, a scaffold, a guide, a tool, a diagnostic, a benchmark that is not going to just be one more piece of information, but is not a product, a piece of information, but a tool for them to make decisions?
Brynne Tillman 24:40
I love that. And I remember…
Brent Adamson 24:44
I think that was one answer to a single question, wasn’t it? I’m so sorry.
Brynne Tillman 24:47
Do not apologize for your magic.
Brent Adamson 24:50
Oh, it’s not magic, but I do legitimately think this is what’s going on. And it’s super interesting. I don’t know. What do you think? What’s your take?
Brynne Tillman 24:58
The trend is phenomenal. There’s a small piece that brings me back to 20 years ago when we would help our clients create the RFP or our process. Create the RFP, right. We were the advisor to help them make sure they were asking the right questions. And so, I have this moment of, that was really effective. I don’t actually even answer RFPs anymore or like RFI, maybe, but I don’t sell like that anymore. However, with this bit of information, essentially, that’s what we’re doing. We’re teaching them how to buy the right way. Right?
Brent Adamson 25:40
And in fact, if I may, let me just tweak that a tiny bit because it’s actually even cooler and gives you more opportunity. It’s not just to help your customers buy the right way. Help them decide, what you’re solving for isn’t buying, which is the thing you want, you’re helping them decide. Does that make sense? Don’t think of your customers go on, think about your customers, that’s (unintelligible) going on a buying journey but a decision journey. Or if you want to change your journey, so some of my colleagues at Gartner and I got involved in this towards the end, but brilliant, brilliant researchers on the marketing side at Gartner developed this idea of what they called change enablement.
And that’s, and Hank Barnes, for example, talks a lot about this and his work that he publishes openly but the, is how can I, it’s not just how can I help my customers go on a buying journey, but a change journey, because every large layer, most complex B2B purchases are tied or associated in some fashion, with some sort of organizational change. And the thing that’s really hard isn’t the buying of the thing, it’s actually the whole changing story around it. So as you think about how to enable your customers, how can I help them go on that change journey? It’s a way to think about it.
Brynne Tillman 26:45
Ah, yeah, I have chills. And you know, it’s interesting because, you know, reframing is such a huge piece of the way that we’ve been doing business for the last decade. So, I mean, I do think that this is an extension of that.
Brent Adamson 27:04
Hundred percent. This is very meta, what I’m doing is I’m reframing the narrative around reframing right? It’s yeah, that’s kind of what’s happening. But yeah, so this doesn’t mean like, oh, throw Challenger out, that the party’s over people, or social selling is over. None of that is true. It’s like social, social is a channel. It is a channel through which to engage your customers, right, among others. And the question, but we still have to ask ourselves, how should I engage my customers through social? And that’s really what I’m talking about here. And I think that’s where it gets really interesting. (Brynne: I love that.) Yeah.
Brynne Tillman 27:32
And one of the things you said, that really resonates with me, and I’ll be quoting you probably for the next three years, is because I always say, where are your customers hanging out? But the better question is, where are your customers learning? (Brent: Yeah.) I think that’s brilliant.
Brent Adamson 27:47
And then question number two is, are you present where that learning is happening? And either directly as a human or indirectly through your digital presence or third party indirectly through trade associations, but one way or another, how are you participating in that learning process? And then, and then I guess the thing I would add today is and so where do your customers learn? Are you present where that learning is happening? And are you actually helping? Maybe that’s … I just did that. That’s me in the moment, coming up with new ideas but I think that’s the third question I’d add to the two. Right. So where do your customers learn? Are you present where that learning is happening? And are you in fact helping when that happens?
Brynne Tillman 28:24
Yeah. Are you influencing? (Brent: Yeah.) (unintelligible) their solution, whatever their challenge? I love that. I mean, we talk a lot about with our members, often, we talk about stop sharing content you want them to read and start sharing content they want to consume. (Brent: That’s great, too.) Yeah, and, you know, that’s, to me, that’s that third piece, right? So, you know, where are they learning? Are you — so, say it again?
Brent Adamson 28:56
So where do your customers learn? Are you present where that learning is happening? And are you, in fact, helping when that happens?
Brynne Tillman 29:02
So are you bringing value to what they’re looking (crosstalk)?
Brent Adamson 29:05
Right, well, yes, and I think so. But there’s an assumption that we think, are you bringing value, like, “Oh, you mean this 30-page white paper?” And ironically, that may not be bringing — it seems valuable, because it’s great insight but you’re actually doing harm and harm in the sense of you’re just making them confused at a higher level, that’s not valuable. If you’re actually making them feel less confident in their decisions, less confident in themselves, that’s not valuable, that’s actually value destructive not value accretive. Right? And so. So I think the question becomes, and that this takes, but bear with me, but I think, I think you’re on this journey with me. It’s like, this takes a level of empathy to get this right, that we, everybody and their dog is talking about empathy for the last five years. That kind of drives me crazy because it’s become almost performative now to say empathy, but that’s exactly what this is. Right? It’s like, you really have to not just understand your customers’ business or get in inside their heads or challenge yourself but if you want to understand how your customers think about the business, the first thing you have to understand is not their business, but how they think about their business. But it’s largely a cognitive exercise, right? But I love that line, by the way, but this is different.
This is not how you have to understand your customers feel about their business, you have to understand how your customers feel about themselves as painful as individuals, and not again, in a performative way but in a really kind of deep, meaningful, connective way and different and what I’ve learned with my really crappy projection bias, which just gets me in trouble every single day of the week because I assume everyone must think and feel the way I do and I’m never right, because I’m a jackass, right? But so it takes a lot of stretching and a lot of thinking, and really working very hard to think not just what do people how do they feel but how does this person feel and knowing that this person, probably no different than I am, and they probably see the world through a different lens. And can I think about how I can help them so that they feel better about themselves, given the way the physics of their mind works, right?
There’s we are so far away from selling now we’re like, I mean, but we’re not, that’s kind of the point, right? It’s like this is selling, but this is humanity. This is living, this isn’t just selling and it’s like, that’s why I still do this, Brynne, after all these years. Because I’m a trained social scientist that’s like by career before this all that was, I told you that I was a German linguistics professor, I’m a trained social scientist, which isn’t like a named right, it’s not a geeky, it’s just that that’s just how my brain works. I just, when I look at sales, I’m not like, this is why there’s so much of what’s really valuable in the sales profession, isn’t stuff I touch, like, should I cold call or should I not? Should I do that on a Thursday? A lot of this mechanical stuff, which is so valuable and so helpful to people, I don’t touch not because it’s not important. This is because my brain is wired to look at these really weird human stories that are going on sort of at the same time. So anyway.
Brynne Tillman 31:53
So I love it. So I’m just going to throw in one other thing that I teach. And you know, all of this is influenced by you, by Bob Burg, by Jeffrey Gitomer.
Brent Adamson 32:03
Bob Burg is wonderful. He’s so great. Bob Burg is an amazing human being.
Brynne Tillman 32:06
I love him. I mean he’s a mastermind. And he just…
Brent Adamson 32:10
For those who are listeners who don’t know what we’re talking about the book, there’s others, of course, but The Go-Giver, The Go Giver is, it’s just, it’s a beautiful book. It’s just beautiful. So if you haven’t read it, go do that.
Brynne Tillman 32:25
And Endless Referrals also, (crosstalk) but these deep influences, really, I’ve come, if you ask me what is my number one philosophy in social selling, it’s “detach from what the prospect is worth to you and attack what you are worth to the prospect.”
Brent Adamson 32:44
Don’t define that in terms of your product, your solution, or your content? Right? Define it in terms of human connection. How am I valuable to this person in my ability to make them feel better about themselves? Not? How am I valuable to this person based on the solution I could tell him or how am I valuable to them based on the content I could provide them? How am I valuable in terms, think about how am I valuable to this person in the way that they wake up and feel about themselves in the context of their company and the decisions they are making every day because you mean something. You mean something not as a seller, you mean something as a human being. You have the means every one of us has the means to make the people around us, to make their lives a little bit better. By the way, as we all know, we have the means to make their lives a little bit worse. We’ve all been guilty of that. It’s a bummer when that happens.
But now we’re in platitude land but freaking seize that opportunity to take your own power as a human and use it for good. So I’m sorry, now I’m just off in the clouds but that’s what I, when I look at sales print, this is literally what I see. And that’s why you can tell I get all kind of agitated about it because there’s so much opportunity here. Not just to go to Cancun and sell more stuff and hit your quota, there’s really legitimately an opportunity to hear to make the world a freaking better place which goodness knows we could all use right now. There you go. What is it? Soapbox moment!
Brynne Tillman 34:03
Oh my good-… best soapbox. I cannot thank you, beyond thank you for your words of wisdom, your gems. You know, this is such a great moment for me to be sitting here talking with you and getting the real Brent Adamson.
Brent Adamson 34:21
This is unvarnished stuff here, I’ll tell you but it’s a pleasure for any of us to sit down and have a great conversation and hopefully someone found this interesting. But Brynne, I’ve certainly enjoyed it. And it’s you know, the pleasure is all mine is such a cliche, but you know what it is? It’s like, I am deeply humbled by the impact that I’ve had for you personally and for others who maybe listen, I mean, honestly, that’s so cool. But let’s, I don’t know, I just, which is great. But that’s like I’m most insatiably like, what’s the next one? Right? So I’m like, I like sales. It’s like so what have you done for me lately? Right. So what’s the next way you could have an impact but I just like, let’s just find a way to all connect with each other and feel better about ourselves and make each other feel better about them. It’s a cool thing — that’s what sales can be.
That’s, that’s your vision, I will tell you, my senses — and there’s bar charts out there, I’m sure, to prove this. But if you adopt, if you can manage to do even a little bit of that, you will not only do better against your quota, you will have a better quality of life, at least as a professional in your professional setting. You’ll just you’ll enjoy your work more, because you’ll hear things like, “Brynne has said to me, which is amazing, which is I just so appreciate you.” I mean, we live, all of us like that feels good. And that’s within your potential. Any one of you listening, that’s what I would say.
Brynne Tillman 35:36
I love this. Ah, this has just been such a joy for me, how can our listeners get a hold of you? And what would you like them to do? (crosstalk)
Brent Adamson 35:46
Yeah, so Alright, so I mentioned I left Gartner, I met a company now called Ecosystems, our website is ecosystems.us. Soon to change that, we will probably change the domain on that as we continue to expand globally. But the, very briefly, because actually, I wouldn’t have made this move to this specific company, if it weren’t for amazing people who think like I just described and I want to spend my time with which is amazing. This is a group of — but there’s lots of companies have really great people. But it’s also interesting about Ecosystems, Brynne, is it’s a software-as-a-service, because everything is these days, right? But what we do at Eco is, and I say we, but it’s really that all of this happened before I got here is, but boy, I’m here.
It’s a software platform that allows companies and their customers to sit down collaboratively and discover, discuss, determine the dimensions of value along which they want to measure their ongoing relationship. So this fits under the umbrella thing called value engineering or value management but this tool is, the more I’ve gotten to know it though, I’m just blown away by it because so much of what it does goes well, well, well beyond value engineering, like, Brynne if you were to think about what’s a software playbook that would guide not just sellers, but customers through this collaborative through the very conversation we just described, what would that look like? What would a digital experience look like that supported the conversation I just shared with you? That’s what I see in Ecosystems. And so I’m there to build a community around that, to do research that, basically just keep pissing people off and breaking frames. To do more research but that’s that’s what we do. So we have a community we built called the customer value community, you can find that on our website under the Resources tab. I’m on LinkedIn shoot me a note send me, a send me an email say hi. I’m always happy to engage in conversations but that’s what I’m up to now and it’s, and what I’m hoping is it’s just more of the same, more just ticking people off, productively.
Brynne Tillman 37:44
Brent, thank you so much. Such a pleasure. And I’m sure for everyone listening, this was a really good use of your time today.
Brent Adamson 37:51
I hope so. Cheers. Have a great day. Thanks.
Bob Woods 37:55
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- Harvard Business Review Sensemaking for Sales
- The Challenger Books
- The Go-Giver by Bob Burg
- Endless Referrals by Bob Burg