Adjusting your messaging? Here’s what to do
Devin Reed: Sheena, what would you say is your competitive edge?
Sheena Badani: I would honestly say that this podcast and the conversations and dialogues with execs is one of my competitive edges.
Devin Reed: I feel access, whether that's to people or information, is a huge competitive edge, especially today in the digital world. That's exactly why we decided to launch The Edge, which is a new thought leadership newsletter penned by our very own president and COO Kelly Breslin Wright.
Sheena Badani: It's fantastic. It's this sneak peek into the inner thinking and the experiences of a highly successful female executive who has been there, done that as a board member, as a president of a hypergrowth company, as a sales leader. Being able to see her thought processes, you really get to tap into something that you wouldn't have known otherwise.
Devin Reed: It's really a written extension of what we talk about here. How to scale your business, how to be a better leader, how to adapt to the different trends that are coming. Every month, she drops a new addition. It's always less than five minutes. And you know, you know that there's data in that because that's what we do. We love data.
Sheena Badani: How do we sign up, Dev?
Devin Reed: All you have to do is jump down to the show notes and you're going to see a link. Hit the link, put in your email address, and that's it. That's it. That's all you have to do.
Sheena Badani: Easy peasy. All right.
Devin Reed: That was fun.
Tony Granados: Boring ass stuff leads to scalability.
Devin Reed: This is Reveal: The Revenue Intelligence Podcast, here to help go- to- market leaders do one thing, stop guessing.
Sheena Badani: If you're ready to unlock reality and reach your potential, then this show is for you. I'm Sheena Badani.
Devin Reed: And I'm Devin Reed, coming to you from the Gong Studios. As a seller, have you ever updated or changed your sales deck even when you're told not to? Yeah, me too, a lot. Don't tell my product marketing leader. Sometimes, I felt the prospect needed something custom, and sometimes I just plain felt I could do it better. I know every sales rep has had this experience, which is why we asked Tony Granados to join us for Reveal. Tony is the senior director of go- to- market strategy and revenue at Airtable, a no code workflows platform. And he's a limited partner at Stage 2 Capital. Tony is the king of creating, getting buy- in, and rolling out messaging that helps teams work less and sell more. And that's what he's going to share with us today, step by step. And you've got to stick around for the end of the conversation because that's where Tony gets into the really good stuff around the psychology of a consistent pitch deck and its effects on your buyers, especially during uncertain economic times. Also worth mentioning that he may have given me one of my favorite quotes of all time hosting the show. Here's how, with Tony. Tony, what's going on? Thank you for hanging out with me.
Tony Granados: Oh, happy to be here for this fake cup of coffee today, Devin.
Devin Reed: Well, few people know Tony, and I don't even know if you know this, but I consider you one of the very few that got away in my sales career because the way we initially met was trying to sell you Gong at a previous company. And despite both of us doing fantastic work, it didn't quite work out, but we remained friends. And so when I had the opportunity to get you on the show, I was excited, truly excited.
Tony Granados: It's really interesting. And very rarely do you find a person you're trying to sell to who builds, I think I had a 17 page business case that we built out, but it was a tremendous lesson because I was a very eager coach. And unbeknownst to me, the decision process continued beyond my leader and actually went to our chief product officer. It was a very interesting learning, I think, for both of us around how sometimes your buyer may have the right intentions, may be telling you everything they know, but doesn't have the juice that they think they do.
Devin Reed: Because me and your friends, we both learned a lot and we all know we lose more than we win in a game of sale. It's all good, but I'm excited to chat with you today because we're going to talk about how to adjust sales messaging in the field and talk about a lot of go- to- market motions here. Many sales leaders are looking at what's happening in the market right now and wondering if they should adjust their messaging, and maybe it's many have already kicked off a project to start to modify based on some of the economic headwinds and things of the like. Let's just start off with why, Tony, why is it so important for sales teams to adjust their messaging today?
Tony Granados: More often than not, you should not adjust your messaging, okay? That's really interesting because we think about this rapid iteration and feedback loop and continuous improvement, but from my experience with companies that scale, you kind of want to resist the temptation to rapidly innovate core messaging once you've published it live, okay? Once it's out in the fields, let it sit and then you want to look for a couple cues that really say, hey, it's time to make a change. I think one of the main cues is when you start to notice that people are creating their own decks. When people are creating their own decks, sometimes that's great because it's showing that they understand and can configure it to the customers. Great, this is a savvy sales professional who is contextualizing the message for the customer. But you start to realize that when decks from an individual, maybe Devin, you make a deck and then all of a sudden for me, I notice that the deck is showing up in our European team or showing up in other teams. There's probably a little bit of a disconnect. And sometimes the slides that are the favorites from the sellers may not actually be the direction that you need to move the messaging in. But I really view it as an indicator that something has either shifted in the market or something is resonating more with the sellers. And when I start to see that, you then start going on a bit of a listening tour. That's something that if you're a revenue leader or if you're on the enablement side, you kind of always have your antenna up for. We're looking for that as a bit of a reactive, but then the other main things are the obvious things here is, when you have a major business shift, if you have an acquisition or a dramatic new product launch, or I know a lot of people are doing category creation. And then also I think that many people here who are having this question now is economic downturn. Do we need to adjust our positioning a little bit in our messaging? Those are the signs when to, but let me tell you a sign not to change. And the product marketer in me, man, it's very important that the organization does not change messaging because the organization is bored. It's like, oh, we rolled out a new aesthetic of our slide or a new branding guideline. And instead of just changing the branding elements in the deck or in the messaging, you kind of do an overhaul. It takes a long time to build up mental models in our buyers to build the brand, build the brand elements and actually start to nurture the market. You don't want to change that just because you're bored. And that happens a lot in organizations. That's kind of the when not to.
Devin Reed: That's interesting. Okay. Let's get into it a little bit more. Here's my hunch, company should at least consider it right now, which is review where's their audience at today, and does that messaging have any maybe now rough edges or maybe just blatant parts like, hey, this is completely outdated, right? If you're an onboarding platform, people aren't onboarding as many new reps right now. Maybe if that was your primary message, you really pull it back, cut it all together. Do you have any advice for maybe how to, just to do that review to decide if it even makes sense to change right now?
Tony Granados: I think that there's two things there, right? If we use this onboarding example you're pulling up, there's the larger question of, do we address product? If we're the onboarding tool, they'll be like, we're now not onboarding, but our story is ongoing enablement so that you reduce the risk. But ultimately your value prop has to have the three value drivers that exist for every business, make more, spend less, de- risk. If you have the onboarding, you can talk about messaging as we know that the cost of acquiring is higher now and the rates are higher now. How do you make sure that anybody coming in has the optimal experience so you're not burning cash on that individual. How do you de- risk the onboarding of a new person and get them ramped up more clearly? That example would be not making a dramatic shift to your messaging, but instead just tailoring it more to the business value. I think whether we're in a recession, we're not in a recession to be debated, to be seen, technically depending on what definition you're going with. But we live in a world where sloppy selling ain't going to cut it anymore. Like the fish jumping in the boat, I think that's going to start to slow. And it's cool if you've made a sales career off of that and some products will still persist and you'll be able to do that, but if you've ever been looking for a signal, if you're a seller out there and you're ever saying, should I invest in this as a noble profession of sales, one that I need to really learn my craft? What you're going to see happening is this natural sorting of those sellers who have started to drink the Kool- Aid and started going outbound, started talking to value, started entering deals, higher or closer decision makers. That's going to be more relevant and those people are going to survive and be less affected in this time. And what's interesting is those individuals, when they're up against the traditional competition with somebody who maybe is just like, the product sell itself, those savvy sellers will win more deals. There's going to be a sorting.
Devin Reed: Let's get to the kitchen, which is who's cooking, right? Who's involved. On the marketing side lately in my career, I joke that the most difficult thing in the business to get approved is the homepage copy. What goes on the homepage because there's the CEO, head of marketing, you got to have some copywriters, product marketing, sales. It's really challenging. I have to imagine sales script, sales messaging has to probably be number two from a sales point of view. Who do you get involved?
Tony Granados: Your final say is the sales leader. We got to keep in mind who our customer is when you're building assets and from my product marketing days and my enablement days, ultimately you want to sign off from the leader, ranking leader. That's what's going to matter, but who's involved, who are the cooks. You must have a really good partnership with your marketing and product marketing team. I've been privileged to work with some amazing individuals and some amazing marketing teams in my time here at Airtable and even back at Datadog, but you have to have alignment with marketing. Marketing on their own could kind of go off and it could be very heady, very theoretical, very academic. And that's one of the things that makes marketing so great is that they understand this longer term vision. They know where they're going with product because that's their responsibility, align with the product team, set the vision and really build that external narrative. The challenge here is that when it comes to building sales assets, it all has to be contextualized for what the sales people are going through. Saying we're going to create new messaging, that's not useful unless it's integrated into your motion. You may say, hey, we're going to create a new business deck or we're going to create a new executive deck that's used in these very specific instances. The people who are the cooks in the kitchen, you definitely have the seller to the head of sales, you have your marketing team, maybe you'll have enablement, but you do and you are going through an interviewing sales customer success to understand what's working and what's not. You get that team together, but in my experience, product marketing is holding the pen, right? They do the wordsmithing.
Devin Reed: How do you, as you're in that creation process, battle the loudest in the room, right? And here's what I mean. Maybe it's a rep, who knows, maybe the top enterprise rep for kind of iteration round, hey, we're working on it, want some feedback. How do you get the tone, Tony, that would never work. Okay, Devin, how do you know? Well, I've been on three calls this week and they said this, right? That's the anecdotal and there's value there. I wouldn't say completely discount, but how do you balance that with, I don't know, any actual data that you have to say, I hear you Devin and you're probably right for those calls, but in the bigger scheme, here's some data or here's something to back it up. You know what I mean?
Tony Granados: Yeah, yeah. You can always get loudest person in the room and recency bias every time. I think that this is where having trust in the partnership between marketing and some of the sales people is going to be most important because even when you have trust, it's hard to navigate that political dynamic. In terms of pulling data in, I don't know how you actually pulled in. I'm sure Gong has some good ideas, but by looking at what's being used, win rates, who's actually being effective, I think that is very true. Whether you're using Gong to analyze it or whether you're saying, yeah, this person is top rep, but it's all from install base. There's all those things that you look at where basically, you do want to gather the information, but you want to go wide enough. Here's a mistake people make, they go too wide. The messaging for a company, you can gather a lot of input, that's fine, but then you got to get smaller and smaller so there's a small working group. At one of my organizations, we didn't have a new business deck or core messaging, but we had some ideas that were laid out there from our founder. And we took that, played with it, and when I showed up, it was my first week, I walked in and it was CRO, heads of sales, AEs, marketing, head of marketing in a room. And they were all talking about building the business deck. And I was like, hey, time out, I'm the new guy here. Can I be super critical and be a little judgey here? Yeah. I got the nod for my CRO. I said, everything I'm seeing here looks like it is a product of compromise. It looks like everybody has their own slide that they use like that AE who comes in hot who's like, this is our architecture slide we should use. In my experience, we basically have to say, is it possible for us to take the input of the favorite slides and then build something new? Because otherwise everybody's going to be telling a different story in a different direction. Sometimes if you walk into this messaging thing late, you kind of have to say, something's stinky in here. Permission to say that because yeah, these things are like congressional bills and what comes out the other end is so watered down it satisfies individual constituencies, but the actual thrust or the whole reason for it is lost. I try to get people out of the room, get a small committed group to make a straw man, straw woman, straw person, right, version. And then we go back to the group. When I go back, in my mental checklist because I think there is kind of a format to follow this. After we've got to the point where we've agreed, yes, we need this change. And we've actually sized how big the change needs to be because like I said, it takes a long time to build the messaging and market, but it also takes a long time to build the mental models in the world of the AEs to be able to apply that. But once we've gotten through those two hurdles of, yes, we need this and it's a meaningful change on top of a scaffolding that everybody already knows, that's when the work starts. In my experience, having built these things that have visual components as well as a storyline, I always put my focus on let's first build the outline. It is a single page with one column that has the name of the slide and the TLDR, what is the emotion the customer should be feeling? There's a pain. It's only getting bigger. There's going to be winners and losers. The story arc and the high, then you have the bullet points. You don't write in long form, et cetera. You get that and then you get that concept approved before you start pointing pen to paper. Sometimes I'll draw a picture, take a photo of it, what a slide could look like because what you don't want to have people doing is talking about the storyline and somebody saying, maybe these arrows should go in the other direction or maybe you choose a different story point. It's the small macro things that really do matter on derailing something about this because we need the input from the team on the story arc, then we can go away on the messaging. And then we come back around when we have something for them to pine on and weigh in on slide wise. And when you share it back with them when you get to the world of slides, the trick, open up Zoom, record yourself doing the seven minute slide presentation and make them watch that. Don't do it live on the meeting because you won't get through it. I'll get in the meeting, I'll press play, man. And then nobody can talk for seven minutes and then we solicit feedback so you avoid that whole, it's coming in slide four, it's coming in slide six.
Devin Reed: Here's my thing and I've been on sales, I've been marketing. I say this with love to my product marketing folks if you're listening. I think sometimes on, maybe it's that bullet point outline, maybe it's the next phase, is the language gets really, I call it product market- y, which is phrasing and words that we don't really use in everyday life. I don't say that in the kitchen at home, I don't say it with my friends obviously too often, unless we're talking about work, but I do understand there is a language and a lexicon when you're in a business meeting, I'm not going to ignore that. But a lot of times the language, you go to a sales team and they're like, no one talks like this, our prospects aren't going to really resonate with it. But I'm curious like how do you combat that, how do you balance the things we need to say as an organization, but then the realistic, what will happen in the trenches and in the field?
Tony Granados: The reality is you're a seller, you're going to do what you need to do to move the deal. And I'm saying that as in, if I have something that's talking about extensibility or single pane of glass, all those buzzwords that really do matter if you're a marketer talking to Forest or Gartner, and trying to hit on your buzzwords and keywords. It depends on your style of sales, your style of selling and your personality of the buyin, but my style is really conversational like yours. It was when I was an AE, hey, let's talk about it. Here's what this means. This is where the partnership from sales is going to matter because as we're doing this back and forth or you have sellers giving input, you have the final person who gives the thumbs up is your sales leader. The sales leader has to be willing to say, I understand the story arc. I've been involved at these key check- ins, but we're not going to use the word extensibility. It's not natural. We're not going to use that. You can show it on the slide if you want, but let's talk about some other words we can use. And where this comes to is after you have, we think about the steps. We have approval on the storyboard and we've got some bullets of what we're saying on each slide. Then we kick over and we say, let's get a few sellers to take this in the field. Let's record the interactions and let's see what's happening. And you put a timeframe on that and you just ask a couple sellers to do it. Not everybody, a few you know, few who understand it. And then you come back and they tell you if there was organ rejection, tremendous failure from the customer, right? You're looking for the blinky red. And then based upon that, if you start to feel good, maybe make some minor edits, then you get the green light from the sales org. And then it's time to do the rollout.
Devin Reed: Tony mentioned that creating a story arc for your pitch with your team is a great way to get early buy- in and feedback. And guess what? This exercise pays off for the buyer too. Studies show that your prospects are more likely to retain your pitch and brand if you're presenting it to them as a story. According to Sales Hacker, most prospects remember five to 10% of statistics that you present to them, and only 25% of images in your slides, but if your pitch includes storytelling, that retention rate bumps up all the way to 60 to 70%. Hopefully you remembered all those stats. Starting your pitch building process with a story arc will help your team create a narrative around your value prop and brand that will be worth remembering and worth buying. Let's hear more from Tony on how to roll out new messaging. We've rolled it out to a small group, now we're feeling good, right? We're in a place to roll this thing out. Give me the high level here, and examples are welcome. How are you rolling this thing out across the other 95 reps?
Tony Granados: I'll generalize it a little bit, but an example when we were at Datadog. In 2018, a little bit before that, Datadog, we noticed that there was a trend happening in the observability space, right? Observability is letting you look into your infrastructure or your data centers. Are data centers in the cloud working, your code working, et cetera, okay. And what was happening is we were noticing this trend where people were talking about the three pillars of observability. And what that was indicative of is that the buyers themselves, historically companies had gone to and sold point solutions of, I have a solution for monitoring your infrastructure, I have a solution for monitoring your traces or your code, your application. I have a tool and a story for monitoring your logs, which is data that's generated just inside the tech stack, and companies formed across each of these silos. And what became apparent is that's how the companies were going to market, but the way the buyers were buying where they said, forget all of that, I have a problem to solve. How can I solve this outage because every five minutes down, it's causing me X dollars. We hooked onto this idea of three pillars of observability, which is basically taking our bread and butter of our product, something we did really well on infrastructure, and then folding in the idea that we do one of these really strong, but we also can integrate with your other platforms and see value. As we found this messaging, we knew this message was resonating. We started to pilot a few things and we worked with our chief product officer and he's like, I'm seeing this, I'm feeling this, our IT team or our product team, we know this because we're living it. This is the problem. With that, we said, how do we take that lofty concept and distill it down to something all the sales team can understand? We built the deck using the messaging, incorporated the deck using what we had talked about here. How do you roll it out? We took that deck, we had the script for the deck written out in a very specific format, and then we had a recording of somebody doing the deck. When we got everybody together for the QBR, where all the people were in the office, what we did was we took that deck, we gave it maybe two days before to somebody junior on the team who had just joined. And then during that kickoff event or QBR or whatever it is, I got up there with my buddy from product marketing. We said, here's the deck. We're going to watch the product marketer do the deck. He did it elegantly. We then handed out the scripts. We then said, now you're going to watch somebody who joined two weeks ago deliver the deck. They did, everybody claps. And then we say, it's time to watch some train wrecks. Partner with the person sitting next to you, groups of four, the person who's the newest of the company goes first. I want you to cold read this. And by having them do that, the biggest thing is always the hurdle of trying something new. If you basically rip off that bandaid and they stumble through and they're like, gosh, I sounded like a clown. Other people are going to go, no, that was kind of fine. But the idea is they do it, it wasn't that bad. And then the next person does it and they're giving feedback, but by ripping off that and making people apply it and take it for a test drive, that removes the fear of adoption and then people will start using it in the field. That's how I always intro it. You want to back that up with some sort of certification. That's a normal process of we've seen it, now your manager must certify your ability to deliver. Managers are signing off. You would certify the managers on their ability first as an enablement team, but you would get the certifications. Those can be rolled up and when you're doing certifications, when you think about data, I'm always looking for people who are not completing the certification and trying to determine is that an issue with the individual contributor or were six out of eight people on Devin's sales team non- compliant because then it's not an IC problem, it's a Devin problem. We're always thinking about that and using metrics. You could also deploy Gong, I've done that in the past of looking for some of those keyword and figuring out, are these keywords being used and when are they being used in the sales cycle? The final call out, I would see of a mistake here is when you roll something like this out, you talked about having too many cooks in the kitchen. On the day you roll it out once people start using it, you're going to immediately start getting feedback on things to change. Don't change it for a month. Just sit, marinate on it because what one person thinks you should change is something that somebody else thinks is great. And you don't want to have multiple decks and versions out there. You put it out. We had confidence already that we were doing it the right way. You put it out, you marinate on it, and then the changes you make, small, small, small tweaks. And then future iterations when the economy changes in another way, try to preserve as much of the old deck's aesthetics so that the sellers don't feel this is a full burn it down and build it up, but it's a slight modification of the messaging, right? The more you can minimize the shift in the mind of the sellers and make it integrated into the way of we're already working into your natural operating, that's how you get the win of the messaging when you're trying to change the behaviors in the field. That's how you adjust.
Devin Reed: It was perfect the way that it unfolded. And it's funny as you're saying the last thing, we all know people don't love change, but marketers, I think, love change a lot more than sales people do, because it's fun to create and build something new and that's me included, but then when you think of your point of sales people, change is risk to their quota, uncertainty. Ironically kind of the things we started with, risk and uncertainty in the market. Let's not add that to our sales team, unnecessarily.
Tony Granados: Boring ass stuff leads to scalability if you have it right. Predictability and scalability is the name of the game. That's how we got to the hundreds of sellers. You have to have principled repeatable process. This is something that I geek out on. I really do love it. That's why there's a system for rolling out new messaging and developing new messaging, but it has to be repeatable. You want to minimize change and work within mental models the customer has, but also mental models the field has. And that's how you get the adoption because strategy, poorly implemented, you can't blame the strategy. You got to rule out the operational variability by saying we have a system, we have a process, this is designed to scale. If we follow it, we can know that we ran the playwright, the play was just poorly designed.
Devin Reed: If you want to learn more about how Revenue Intelligence can help you achieve your goals, head over to gong. io. And if you like what you heard today, be sure to give us a five star review on Apple Podcast, Spotify or wherever you're listening.
The world is always changing — but does that mean your messaging should too? Tony Granados joins us for a step-by-step guide in creating, getting buy-in, and rolling out new sales materials to your teams that actually move the needle.
Tony is the Senior Director of Go To Market Strategy and Revenue at Airtable — a no-code workflows platform, AND he’s a Limited Parter at Stage 2 Capital — a VC fund led and backed by elite go-to-market professionals.
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