Why curiosity wins deals
Why curiosity wins deals
Curious reps uncover prospects’ real problems -- allowing them to close more deals. That’s why Kevin Young, Director of Sales at Metadata.io, is passionate about bringing customer voice to life. He does this by teaching his reps active listening and the power of pausing. In this episode, Kevin reminds us of a simple fact it’s easy to lose sight of: we are all selling to humans. This is the perspective you need to ensure your reps ace their next call.
Devin Reed: Welcome to Reveal, The Revenue Intelligence Podcast, powered by Gong. We're your hosts, Devin Reed.
Sheena Badani: And I'm Sheena Badani. Revenue intelligence is a new way of operating, based on customer reality instead of opinions. Making data- driven decisions based on facts instead of opinions or guesswork.
Devin Reed: And it's made up of three success pillars, people intelligence, deal intelligence, and market intelligence. You know, the things all revenue teams need and care about. Every week, we interview senior revenue professionals and share their stories and insights on how they leverage revenue intelligence to drive success and win their market.
Sheena Badani: You'll hear how modern go- to- market teams win as a team, close revenue with critical deal insight and execute their strategic initiatives, plus all the challenges that come along with it. So, Devin, I know you listen to a lot of Gong calls. It's just part of the thing.
Devin Reed: I do and I have, especially as a seller, listen to lot of Gong calls.
Sheena Badani: Exactly. Seller, now marketer, across the board. So of course, the reason you're doing it is so you can listen to the customer, maybe going back and re- listening to a call that you maybe just had with a customer. But naturally, as you're doing that, you're also listening to yourself. I don't know how often you go back and listen to Reveal episodes and hear your own voice. But I think you might have a hack of what you do when you listen to your own self.
Devin Reed: I am laughing right now because I do. So I listen to Reveal episodes before we publish them. My least favorite part is hearing myself talk. And the same for sales calls. I don't enjoy it. And what I've realized is, right now, the voice that I hear talking to you is different than the voice I hear when I play it back. Now unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, because I speak more than I listen to myself. When I hear that voice back, I really don't like it. I really don't enjoy hearing that. So what I've done to rationalize this, I just speed myself up to 1. 25. And then I start sounding a little bit worse. But that's how I say, oh, the reason I sound terrible is just because I'm at 1. 25, or one and a half speed, so that's why.
Sheena Badani: Are you a chipmunk?
Devin Reed: Yeah. The voice, you get a little chipmunky for sure. For sure.
Sheena Badani: Well, the reason I bring it up is because, in our episode today with Kevin, we specifically talk about how you can be close to your customer, especially today, when we're all in different places. It's so critical to understand the voice of the customer and be as close together as possible. And he focused a lot of the conversation on how he utilizes conversations of his reps with customers, how he may jump in to guide the folks on his team to improve their skills, to improve the team overall. So really, really deep conversation on the voice.
Devin Reed: Yeah, it was really interesting because a lot of times when we talk to the great sales leaders on this team, it's often about their sales team, what their sales team is saying, what their sales team is doing. This was cool because it was the reflection of that. It was how he brings the customer voice to life, which fuels how he coaches and how he goes to market.
Sheena Badani: Exactly, exactly. And if there was one thing that I took away, it's like, always ask why. Always dig deeper. And then you'll finally get to that true voice, what do they actually mean. So peel the onion, ask why.
Devin Reed: Peel that onion. All right. Let's go hang out with Kevin. Kevin, my man. Thank you for joining us on Reveal. Fantastic to have you here.
Kevin: Great to be here. Thanks for having me.
Devin Reed: Awesome. Well, Hey, I want to get started on this LinkedIn bio quote that I pulled from you, because I did such fantastic research. I started, like all salespeople do, and went right to your LinkedIn. So here's the quote." In business, as in life, you don't get what you deserve. You get what you negotiate." What does that quote mean to you? I like it. But I'm curious why you put it there.
Kevin: You know, it's funny. Some people take it as a sly smooth talking kind of idea. But really, I think it's just that we hear so much nowadays about people struggling with things like imposter syndrome, meaning they don't know necessarily that they deserve to be in the role or the position or the status in life that they are. And I would argue that that's nonsense. Because as we well know, you are your fiercest advocate. So where you are in life is often a direct result of your actions and what you have evangelized and materialized for yourself. I'm a huge believer in this stuff, in the idea of blazing your own trail and pursuing your own happiness. So to me, if you're dissatisfied where you are, shoot for something else. This isn't a novel concept. And we talk all the time about job requirements, and entry- level jobs want three years of experience and all that stuff. And these are concepts, like anything else. So for me, where you are in life is something you are in control of. And I think it's important that we tell ourselves that. So the quote being, you get what you negotiate, is not only reflective of the business world, but your personal life and things like that. So that's why I keep that as my LinkedIn headline, because it's a good reminder for everyone else and myself.
Sheena Badani: That's so good. I love that. Taking your career, your life, in your own hands, and not just settling. It's so important. So tell us a little bit about yourself and Metadata. What problem does Metadata solve? And what's your role in that?
Kevin: Yeah, my role is several. We'll start with what Metadata does. At its simplest form, Metadata adds predictability to demand generation. And in doing so, it helps you get to revenue faster. You're both marketers. At the of the day, clicks and leads and engagement and all that stuff is great. But the end goal is to drive revenue for the company. I would argue more so now than ever. So Metadata's goal is to help you better target both your target accounts and your target contacts within, and then run an experimentation model that enables you to understand what type of content your audience is craving, and what they're responding to. And in doing so, allow you to optimize your ad budgets and things like that towards the ads and the creatives and the copies that are producing revenue, and not just producing things like clicks and ebook downloads. We're getting towards that ungated world and all that stuff. And so it's important, maybe more so now than ever, just to understand what really is working, and then act accordingly. You asked a little bit about me as well.
Sheena Badani: Yeah, please.
Kevin: So I covered a lot of the typical stops in Chicago Software. So I spent some time at Groupon early on, just missed the IPO. So poor planning on my part. Went to Salesforce after that, which is just a wonderful place to be, and where I really credit learning how to become a sales professional, and not just a salesman, if you will. After that, I spent a little bit of time at a small agency type shop, before going to G2, where I started as an individual contributor and then ended up scaling our SMB, we call it the growth segment, from a team of three to a team of 14. When ultimately, I left to come to Metadata. And you may have noticed, Devin, you said you were poking around LinkedIn. Most of our go to market team actually came from G2. And there's a lot of story behind it. Just briefly, I'll share that. Our marketing team at G2 started using Metadata, and couldn't speak highly enough about it. We realized that this tool could help a lot of our customers at G2, particularly in terms of operationalizing their buyer intent data, which is a super popular thing right now. So G2 tried to acquire the company. They unfortunately turned us down. Well, fortunately for me, because then we all came here and have been growing this place ever since. So that was my trajectory. I've been in just about every sales role you can imagine, and selling things like financial products, to CRM, and now to MarTech.
Sheena Badani: Really great companies. And that Chicago tech hub is really unique. It is really tightened it. And shout out to Sales Assembly too, who's doing a lot of great work in the Chicago tech space.
Kevin: It's gotten to you too, huh? Matt green is everywhere.
Devin Reed: He sure has. Well, Kevin, when we met and we were chatting about what we should talk about for the interview, something that jumped up for you is something you're passionate about, bringing the customer voice into sales. So I'd love to just start with, what does that mean to you? And why is that so important?
Kevin: It's funny. When you're selling, you think the ultimate goal is to sell your product. And at the end of the day, from a company standpoint, it kind of is. But we think that the way to do that is by convincing everyone how great our product is. And it doesn't really matter what you're selling. If it's a car or a software, what you really discover, and I talked about learning much of becoming a professional when I was at Salesforce, you learn that really the way to sell is by not selling much at all. And for genuinely being curious and asking questions about what people are struggling with. And ultimately, if you have something that can help them solve that problem or pain point, or help them reach new levels, then great. We have alignment here. But the only way to know those things is by asking questions and being genuinely interested in their answers.
Sheena Badani: Now, as a sales manager, I'm curious. Are there specific strategies you use to best listen to that customer voice and be in tune with what the customer wants and needs?
Kevin: Yeah. Everyone is partial to certain sales methodologies. And you ask a really good question because it's probably going to be different for a lot of people. For me, I tend to gravitate towards what is considered like Sandler sales. And not because I think it's necessarily better than any other, as much as it is. It helped me really understand how to ask questions. So in terms of strategies, there's this concept of peeling the onion. Whatever they tell you they want, or they need, really isn't necessarily the root cause at the end of the day. So I think of things like, I sell MarTech. People are saying we need more leads. Well, great. What does that really mean? Or from Gong's standpoint, we want to be able to listen to our rep's conversation. Well, why? Did you miss your number? Are we trying to scale the team and looking for the right kind of people who would do well in this role? There's always a second layer of information when you ask questions. And when you're selling, it's crucially important to get to that second layer, to really understand what people are trying to accomplish. Somebody tells me I want more leads, and I respond with," Great. We can do that." You might get lucky once in a while and sell a product. But they're not going to necessarily even understand why they're using it, or why you can help them, until you help them understand what really we can accomplish for them. And sometimes it comes down to, the customer doesn't necessarily even know what they don't know yet. So the good salespeople, listening to the customer voice, I think are those who are asking questions to help uncover. And that, to me, is customer voice. It's not them saying the right buzzwords, so you can jump in and get those happy ears and say," Okay, great. We can do that." It's more, preventing product vomit. Just going in and saying, Metadata does X, Y, and Z. Otherwise everything's a cookie cutter conversation, you just have the same demo every single time, no matter who you're talking to and what you're doing. So the goal of listening to the customer voice is just to ensure that you're tailoring a solution to them. And I think the way to do so is by asking the right questions.
Sheena Badani: One of Kevin's keys to driving revenue is by coaching his reps to always listen to the customer voice. This can be asking questions to uncover pain points, or even making sure to pause enough to let them finish speaking. He puts it bluntly, saying," Let the customer finish their thought before you jump in, because whatever they're going to say is more important than when you have to say." So how can listening to the customer voice be shown through data? One part of listening to the customer voice comes from asking questions. Gong data shows that the most successful reps listen for 54% of a discovery call. While the average rep only listens for 32% of it. The best reps are asking questions. They get a prospect talking about what could be improved and what their overall business goals are. Then they tailor the time that they do speak to those topics to create an impactful conversation that will push a deal further down the pipeline. When it comes to pausing, insert dramatic pause, data shows that the highest performing reps pause for longer than others. This can come after receiving an objection or the time after a prospect finishes speaking. This tells me that top reps are not looking for an immediate rebuttal or response. They're patiently waiting to obtain as much information as possible to best tailor their solution to the customer's needs and goals.
Devin Reed: I love that, Kevin. And I've learned that, at Gong, which was a lot of times, sales leaders say," We want to coach better. I want to improve our coaching." And it's easy to go," Great. That's one of our three value pillars. I'm glad I have a hit here in two minutes into our discovery call." But you learn to dig deeper, which is, what are you trying to coach?" Oh, I want to make sure that we're using the demos more effectively."" Okay. What are you demoing?"" Oh, there's actually a new product that we're going to market with." Oh, okay. So now I know there's probably a CEO slide that says this year, this quarter, we need to sell X amount of dollars of this new product. So now, coaching becomes a strategic value add, and something to lean on. How do you instill that with your reps? How do you go from, hey, don't bite on that surface level, go level 2, 3, 4 deeper, and really get to that impact?
Kevin: You know, Devin, one of the things that we talked about in an earlier conversation is, some of the data that I look to when trying to figure this stuff out. And I really had an epiphany one time when I was using Gong as an individual contributor. Because they track all these really cool stats, and I'm not just trying to plug Gong. Although I will, if you pay me enough. Some of the data that you track, you don't immediately think of these things as important or valuable long- term. But when I saw a little data point in there talking about the pause, meaning the duration of time between your prospect or customer or whomever, when they stop talking and when you start talking. And I noticed that just slight variations of that ultimately started altering conversations. I really started focusing in on this and tracking it on every call. So bringing it back to your question. For me, it's to wait before you jump in, because oftentimes these people are still thinking through their own answers. And if they finish their sentence, and we rush to start our next sentence, we're missing a lot of valuable information. And it's not just words, right? Part of active listening is listening for things like tonality. And we have the benefit nowadays of being on video most often. And you can see things like body language. Or you'll see somebody shift back in their chair and exhale. And you see that you're getting somewhere. And when we don't understand data points, which luckily, we can track all of these things down to data. But when we don't understand things like the amount of time you wait before you start talking, we lose out on so much. So, to your original question. What I instill is, don't rush. Don't rush to answer. Don't rush to capitalize if you think you have an opening here. Let them finish their thoughts, because I can assure you, whatever it is that they say is going to be far more important than what you say next.
Devin Reed: I love that.
Sheena Badani: Well, I think, you talked about video. You talked about Gong. There's all this technology now to help understand the voice of the customer, to help managers understand when they can and should maybe step in to guide somebody on their team. So I'm curious, at what point do you think it's okay, as the manager, to step in on a live call or after the fact? What are some of those guardrails that you have for yourself?
Kevin: Well, that's a good question. The team that I was leading at G2 was a young team. People with between one and four years of sales experience. So your natural inclination is to always be there, and be like the helicopter parent, where you want to make sure they don't get hurt. The reality is that, sometimes, keeping on that kid theme, sometimes you got to let the kid touch the hot stove to figure out that they shouldn't do that anymore. So I think it's a hard question, because it's going to be unique for every deal, every rep. I think part of it is knowing each of your reps individually. Asking them things like, how do they like to be coached, or getting an understanding for how they communicate so you can sense if they're starting to slip, or they're a little bit lost. So you certainly want to let them have those moments that are sink or swim. Let them figure it out for themselves or else they're going to be reliant on people, going forward. As a leader, you also have to think about the revenue. You have to consider, is it worth losing this deal because I'm trying to let someone be autonomous? Or are they just throwing stuff against the wall, hoping something will stick? In which case, of course, you want to help things get back on track. So, over time, you start to recognize these patterns. And you start to realize areas where you can be a little bit more assertive perhaps, in these conversations, particularly, Sheena, when you're on a live call. If the conversation is all over the place, you can help bring things back in, if you're listening to calls and you notice that your reps are frequently running out of time before they get through everything, like next steps and so on, one of the things you can coach is keeping structure of the call, letting them know in the beginning, hey, here's what we're going to cover today. We'll save X amount of time at the end to discuss what comes next. Get their buy- in on that, this idea of an upfront contract so you're both aligned in this. And once you master that, the idea of jumping in and not, should become less significant, but certainly always there.
Sheena Badani: That's definitely a trend that we've heard on this show, is, the best managers are the ones that take some of that time. They're investing to learn about the people on their team. It's not just about what works for you as the manager, and how do you want to work? But how does somebody themselves learn, and how do they want to be coached? So, I think taking that time to really understand the nuances of the folks on your team is something that's going to be so appreciated in the long run, by every single person on your team.
Kevin: Sheena, you bring up such a good point. I found, as I was having more of these conversations. And I can assure you, it took me far too long to start having those conversations. I figured, hey, I've been selling for a long time. You haven't. Listen to me and everything will be fine. And of course, that's not how the world works. So when I did start having these conversations, it's like we talked about with the customer, how you have to wait to offer your opinion until they're really finished giving theirs. And, to your point, so many people tell you that they want the direct feedback. They want you to tell them every time they're doing something wrong so they can fix it. And the reality is, that's not necessarily true. It doesn't mean they don't want it. It just means maybe that's not how they're best equipped to receive information, or they like the idea in their head more so in practice. So all of this stuff goes back to the voice, right. Hearing what's really underneath and peeling this onion of your reps or your prospects and so on.
Devin Reed: Well, yeah. And there's a difference between, I want direct feedback all the time. And, I only want direct feedback, right? Because lot of times, it's constructive. And even the best delivered constructive feedback, after eight or nine times, you're like, can I just get like a good job?
Kevin: crosstalk my way, once in a while.
Devin Reed: Can Kevin just comment my call," No notes. Well done, Devin" just one time? So it is about balancing that for sure. So Kevin, as you've listened to calls and you start to hear the next level from buyers, not the surface level pain, but what truly matters to them. Has there ever been anything that surprised you or caught you off guard, and then therefore shifted the way that you view pitching or coaching your reps?
Kevin: Yeah. This has stuck with me for a long time. This happened when I was at Salesforce. So that was six, seven years ago now. And I remember the conversation vividly, to this day. And it's not so much like a software thing or a sales thing, as much as it is that you start to realize that this stuff matters to the human. Not the prospect, not the marketer. So when you learn something new, you're often really anxious to put it into practice and so on. So I was really hammering these next level questions in the Sandler stuff. And there's three different levels of questioning. There's the surface level. There's the level two, which is like, what makes you bring that up? Or what makes you ask? And then the third is like, how was this affecting you personally? So I got to that third level question, which is hard to do, especially in a cold relationship. And I had somebody tell me that if they were to meet their goal for this quarter, they knew that they had enough money set aside to put their daughter through college. And it was a moment of, we're no longer talking about software. I think it's important to remember, for most of our products, we're not curing cancer. Doesn't mean what we do is not important, but there are real life issues and people, and situations going on behind the scenes. And all of these things do impact our lives and our jobs, which are such a big part of our lives. So when you're having these conversations, to your question, Devin, you start to hear people's emotions come through. And you hear them answer questions in such a way that you can tell there's more to it. And when you really get comfortable asking questions, and by comfort, I don't mean really good at shucking and jiving and reading a script. What I mean is really good in the sense of having a conversation and not a discovery or an interrogation. You start to see opportunities to pause and go, hold on. I heard a little reservation there. Can you tell me more about that? You only learn those things by hearing them frequently. And I'll give you another plug. It's very hard to hear on the fly. So when you go back and listen to call recordings, and you start to hear a shift that you may not have heard in the midst of the conversation. You recognize, hey, ensure that you're leaving space in these conversations to let people shine through, and to make this not just a business dialog, but they're here to solve a problem. If they solve this problem, it impacts their personal life. Similarly, as a salesperson, look, nobody thinks that salespeople don't do this, at least, in part, for the money. So sure salespeople get tied emotionally to deals and things like that. So does everybody else. Everybody else has a reason for what they're doing. And ensuring that we leave space in these conversations to hear that is paramount.
Devin Reed: It's funny you said that. I was just going to say this anecdote, but you beat me to it. When you're on the call, the world's moving really fast. You're trying to process information. You're trying to listen. You want to think of the next right thing to say. And so you miss those little cues that you just mentioned. But when you listen back to calls, either your own or you're coaching somebody else, it's kind of like watching a movie. And I'm a big Quentin Tarantino fan. So there's a lot of dialogue, a lot of pausing, and a lot of meaning in there. And you can really pick up on those things. And that's what was helpful for me, was like, oh, there's these tone shifts. So there are these pauses that I didn't get in the moment. Next time I'm on a call, I'm going to be more mindful of those things. And when I hear them, when I sense them, I'm going to pause and react differently.
Kevin: You really nailed it, Devin, when you said, I want to make sure I say the right thing. And I know what you meant. And you're exactly right. I think that's such a common mistake that we as salespeople make, which is that we believe we know the direction the call should go. And in doing so, if you go into the call with a premeditated talk track and a premeditated direction, you're not leaving that opportunity to find out what's really going on. In sales leadership, you keep lists of engaging questions that are helpful to ask. And oftentimes, particularly new reps will take five or six of those. And they are going to hammer those questions on every single call based on the personas and all this stuff. And that prep work is great. But what you're doing when you do those things is, you are predetermining where that call is going to go to. To your point about going back and listening to it. If you listen to 3, 4 or 5 of the calls that you used those questions on, you're going to hear that they go the exact same way. The goal should be, once you identify that, knock it off. This is 2021. We're not hammering sales scripts anymore, and banging out dials. These are human interactions. And there's a reason we keep our videos on now. It's because we're getting more interpersonal in our interactions. So going back and listening to these conversations, first of all, I think it's so understated that it allows you to actually have a conversation, like we are right now. If I was trying to sell you, Devin, which I might after this, I'm asking you questions and I'm scribbling down notes. There's not a chance that I'm going to hear those little nuances and tone shifts and things like that, as I'm frantically writing down what I think are the important takeaways here. So something lucky, Gong enables you to have a human interaction, a human conversation, and then go back and figure out, hey, what are the areas that they're looking for some help in? What are the areas that we can do to help them towards those goals?
Sheena Badani: So, Kevin, we talked about a couple of pitfalls that folks deal with if they're disconnected from their customer voice. So not getting to that deepest personal pain, not being able to connect emotionally, too focused on their own script and their own agenda versus what the customer cares about. What else? Is there anything else that we've missed, if you are not close to your customer's voice?
Kevin: Well, I think there comes into to play some predictability. Sales is, I often equate it to a high school chemistry class or a science class where everything has a process, a control and a variable. And in doing so, it enables you to figure out what is causing change, or effecting change, and things like that. So I think one of the pitfalls that salespeople, and even sales leaders have, is winging it. And I know that flies in the face a bit of what I said before about not predetermining where calls are going to go. But writing a script is not what I mean by saying, having a defined process. So I think a pitfall is not following at least a structured sales cycle, an evaluation plan, whatever you want to call it. And that requires mutual buy- in, right? Who cares what I think or how I think this should go, if that's not how the customer wants to buy, or their company generally makes purchases? So in running this experimentation, that is sales, we have to have that control involved or else we're never going to know why things are getting off. What is the variable that is making our deals go off track in stage four? We run a great discovery call. We had a wonderful product demo. And then people are going dark. Well, why is this? Well, we only know that if the first and second conversations are generally going similarly. So, Sheena, the pitfall is guessing, is trying to wing it when we know we have a hundred years of data. Todd Caponi, you brought up Sales Assembly. I'm a huge fan of Todd Caponi and the transparency sale. And he always shares sales wisdoms from a hundred years ago. They're really cool if you're a nerd for that inaudible. And it's a consistent theme of salespeople. We think we know everything. We love hearing ourselves talk. And oftentimes, we let that shine through when we lose track of the process. And then we lose deals. And we get to forecast time. And we go, yeah, I feel really good about this one. And they go, " Okay, what's next?" And you go, " I'm going to follow up with Steve next week, probably." All right. Well, we've been doing this long enough to know how that generally ends.
Sheena Badani: Getting close to reality. That's what we're all about.
Devin Reed: All right, Kevin. There's one question that we ask every single guest on Reveal. You would only know it if you've listened to the end of an episode of Reveal, because I don't put it in the notes. I don't let you prep for it. Are you ready? I'm ready. All right. How would you describe sales in one word?
Kevin: Oh boy. Do I want to give a funny answer, a practical answer here?
Devin Reed: What was the first thing that came to your mind? I'll let you change it. But now I'm curious what the first was crosstalk.
Kevin: The first thing that came into my head was the word, persuasion. But I didn't jump out and say it because it has sort of a negative connotation, right? Essentially what we're doing is, we're transferring beliefs and all those like technical ways of thinking about this. But persuasion is everywhere in life. Sales is everywhere in life. So for me, the word is persuasion. Persuading you that my way of doing things is better for you than your way of doing things.
Devin Reed: That's a good answer. I like it. And I agree that persuasion has a negative connotation, but I don't think that it should. Manipulation is its ugly cousin. If you persuade people for a bad cause, it's terrible. But if you persuade people for a benefit of their own, if you've uncovered the pain, like you've talked, and I'm persuading you that you want to go towards this desired state, it makes a great sales person.
Sheena Badani: Especially in high tech. You're often educating about a new way of doing things. So you have to educate and advocate and persuade on this new form, this thing that you truly believe in, that they may not be aware of as yet.
Kevin: That's a really good point, Sheena. If you think about literal education, isn't that really a passing along of beliefs? [ crosstalk 00:31:59] this information is relevant and important to you. So yeah. I think you nailed it.
Sheena Badani: Well, Kevin, it has been so fun having you on the show. Thanks for joining us today.
Sheena Badani: We really, really appreciate it.
Kevin: Cheers. Good talking to you.
Devin Reed: Thanks Kevin.
Sheena Badani: Every week, we bring you a micro action. Something to think about, or an action you can put into play today. The goal of listening to the customer voice is to ensure you are tailoring your solution to their needs. This week, try peeling the onion on your sales calls. Meaning, listen to what your prospect is saying and ask questions that can uncover what's really going on, and what they're trying to accomplish. And take this a step further while you're at it, and practice pausing. One helpful tip for this is to mute yourself while the prospect is talking so you can fully focus on what they're saying, instead of thinking how you're going to respond.
Devin Reed: Did you like today's episode? Subscribe now so next week's episode will be waiting for you on Monday.
Sheena Badani: And if you really liked the podcast, please leave a review. Five star reviews go a long way to help get the word out there.
Devin Reed: And if you're not ready to give a five, check out another episode and see if we've won you over by then.