Lessons from LinkedIn: How to sell with a buyer-first mentality
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, 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, everyone knows that you're a seller, but you are also a buyer, you buy things for your team, for our company. Of course, with COVID, things have changed, as it has for every single person. So I'm curious, how has the way that you buy, particularly software or services on the business side, how has that changed over COVID?
Devin Reed: Yeah, I only buy two things, Sheena, which is software for Gong, and sneakers for-
Sheena Badani: Yes.
Devin Reed: ...the family. The latter has not changed, at all. It's, if I see it, I like it, I buy it. For a software, how has it changed? Now, this is a trend that we've been hearing, so this won't seem too groundbreaking. But I really like to get as much information as possible. And when I reach out for a demo, it's because I've already narrowed it to like two, maybe three companies that I think can solve it, because I've consumed their content, looked at their website. But even before I'll reach out for a demo or take a second call, I always ask someone in my network if they use the software.
Sheena Badani: Right.
Devin Reed: So that's a little bit about me. What's changed is I think as soon... I don't know if it's in correlation or not, my patience has gotten low for the amount of time invested in the evaluation, because I front- loaded so much of my time on the information part, awareness, figuring out what I like, going to their product pages and really scoping it out before I call. So now, when I'm in a sales cycle, and I know as soon as I click that demo button, I'm in it, I want to get from what do you have, to signing as quickly as possible without, skipping steps and being irresponsible with the evaluation process.
Sheena Badani: Yeah, I think that's... For me, it's the same. Now, time is just more precious, and a lot of the basic information, you can get that on your own. You don't need a one- hour meeting to walk through introductory slides from a vendor. That's a total waste of time, from my perspective. Show me what I can't see on my own, that's not online, or I can talk to a friend to get that information. And that's, I think, where a bit of the conflict comes in, because you have sellers who have this well- defined sales process that their managers and enablement is pushing on them, that you must do all of these six, seven, eight, nine steps-
Devin Reed: Yep.
Sheena Badani: ...and the buyer is like, " Hey, whoa, can we just get to number four, step number four, and skip all of that?"
Devin Reed: Yeah, no, it's very true. It's where the friction often starts in the sales process, is expectations and desires. People have what they expect the process to feel like, and sellers have what they need it to look like. Ironically, the thing I do like the most, and where I think I actually get one over, now that I'm thinking through it, is when I present the problem, like, here's what I'm struggling with, here's why I clicked request demo on your site. And if they can show me a bigger problem, or a deeper problem that I had already perceived, and how they can solve that, that will win me over, as well, because that... If you go back, that's the information I didn't get online or I didn't get through backdoor channeling. So, that's me, that's a buyer. If you're wondering, sneakers is much easier. You can sell me sneakers in 10 minutes, maybe less. I don't even try them on anymore. But the reason we're even bothering talking about this is because we hung out with Jonathan Lister, who leads sales over at LinkedIn. And he had a really interesting concept, which is so obvious in hindsight, but he was like, sellers spend their entire day, week, year in a sales process, in multiple sales processes. Buyers, alternatively, only spend a fraction or a percentage of their working life in a sales process, buying something. Which I think is really interesting, because it shows a mindset. Salespeople want to be... they want the sales process to move as much as possible, but they're constantly in it, versus us as buyers, we just said, " We want to be in and out as quickly as possible, because you just don't enjoy the process of investing time there."
Sheena Badani: Exactly, exactly. He shares a ton of data from a research report that LinkedIn just conducted on their state of sales, and I found it really, really interesting and fascinating about how you can leverage some of this data and understand whether or not you're actually close to your buyer, and on the same page as them.
Devin Reed: Yep. I love the State of Sales Report, it's an annual report LinkedIn puts out. I quot it every year. When it comes out, I find a new little tidbit, and then I quote it in some of my presentations. So yeah, I'm a big fan of it. We walked through some of that data and their buyer- first mentality that they run it LinkedIn. So let's go hang out with Jonathan.
Sheena Badani: Wait, Devin. We forgot one thing.
Devin Reed: We did?
Sheena Badani: How could we? Guess what, everybody? We have a huge announcement. Celebrate Together is coming up in just a few short days.
Devin Reed: Sheena, I am a big fan of Celebrate. Now, that might seem obvious, because I work at Gong, but I genuinely love the event. There's something for everybody, because there's going to be Gong Labs data revealed for the first time, no pun intended. I'm going to be presenting there some brand new data on team selling. There's some fantastic panels with sales leaders, ranging from paychecks, to drift, and you also get a fantastic keynote from our CMO, Udi Ledergor, for folks who want to know what's happening in the world of revenue intelligence.
Sheena Badani: And that's not it.
Devin Reed: It's not.
Sheena Badani: I will be your host. So you enjoy tuning into us, you actually get to hear both for myself and from Devin. But wait, there's more. Headlining the entire event is the amazing Angela Duckworth. If you haven't read her book, she is amazing, she talks about grit. That is her passion.
Devin Reed: She also has, I think, the number one, or one of the top most watched TED Talks on grit, as well, which gets you fired up, gets me ready to go. Monday morning stands no chance, if I've seen that Ted Talk. Definitely not even what's last, but it's not least, by any means, is there is a huge portion of this event for our friends out in Europe.
Sheena Badani: Yes. We are excited to host our first event, specifically dedicated to all of our listeners and attendees based in Europe. You'll get to hear from our CEO, you'll get to hear from some amazing sales leaders from a variety of companies that are based in Europe. So, don't miss out. The event is coming up on July 21. Get your tickets today, they're free, celebrate. gong. io. The link is also in the show notes.
Devin Reed: See you there. Jonathan, thank you so much for hanging out with us. Welcome to Reveal.
Jonathan Lister: I am happy to be here, Devin and Sheena. Nice to see you both. Looking forward to the conversation.
Sheena Badani: Same here.
Devin Reed: So, you're the VP of Global Sales Solutions at LinkedIn. As just a really quick intro, can you tell us a bit about your role and what you're focused on this year?
Jonathan Lister: Yeah, sure. So I manage one of LinkedIn's three commercial lines of business. I manage a team we call sales solutions, and we sell sales intelligence products into the sales community. So we sell Sales Navigator, we sell Sales Insights. I love my job. I run a sales team of people selling sales products into the sales community. So we are all things sales. We live and breathe the sales community, the sales industry. For the last couple of years, we've been super focused on really figuring out how we create more value for our customers. We're very focused on like, how do we create that value? How do we measure it? How do we talk about it? It's been super inspiring to see the amount of value we created for our customers and see them expand, see their footprint expand, their customers grow because of it. To me, that's all very exciting stuff. Increasingly, we are very focused on the idea that sales and B2B sales can do a much better job of putting buyers first, of really pulling buyers to the center of selling, which by the way, sounds really obvious to lots of people who aren't in sales. But if you've been around sales, as I have for the better part of 25 years, putting buyers truly first, and you're selling to buyers in a way that they want and need to be sold to, is done... is not done in the main, in sales, for lots of reasons we can get into. But we're now entering a period where it is becoming more and more important to pull buyers to the center of the conversation, sell to buyers in a way that they want to be sold to, that they need to be sold to, and increasingly, that they are demanding that they be sold to. I think that's a fairly sweeping change that is happening across all of B2B selling. So we're super focused on that, both this year and in the coming year.
Devin Reed: Well, Jonathan, we are in great... you're in a great company, we are also in a great company. But I describe my sales career in a very similar way, which is like Leonardo DiCaprio's movie, Inception, salespeople selling sales software to other salespeople, and there's nothing better. You're the only other person I've heard describe it like that, so I know what our passion is.
Jonathan Lister: inaudible. I love it.
Sheena Badani: Your career journey has been pretty interesting. You've been at LinkedIn for over a decade in a variety of roles. You started out as country manager, and then now you're leading up this BU, as you talked about. What were some of the interesting roadblocks or just twists and turns in your journey, as you got where you are today? Actually, maybe it predates the LinkedIn days.
Jonathan Lister: Yeah, I think it predates the LinkedIn days. I'll be honest with you, I love, love selling, but I never... Like a lot of people, maybe, I never started out wanting to be in sales, and I often... As salespeople, we often think about that, like, whose aspiration was it to become a salesperson? And I'm sure there are lots of people like that. It wasn't mine, originally, but I love, love problem solving. Ultimately, I just love delivering solutions. I find that very, very gratifying. Frankly, whether its internal or external. So that guided me towards sales fairly early on. I also love risk taking, and I love learning, and I think I've tried to build a career with lots of risk taking built into it, and lots of learning built into it. So, sales wasn't always like a up end to the right path for me. There was a lot of lateral moves, there were down moves, there were kind of loop de loops in my career. But for me, it was all about learning, a lot of it was a risk taking. At the same time, I continued to think that sales... especially when I started out, sales had something of a bad rap. From the very beginning of my career, I felt that was a very worthy challenge, that there were great things about sales, sales was always about helping people. B2B sales, or frankly, any kind of sales, done well, was about helping people solve problems, and always loved that piece of it and felt that there was a better way to do it. What I'm so excited about at LinkedIn, the job I do at LinkedIn, is that's what we do every single day. I think people at LinkedIn, we come to work because we really, both feel and concede, that we are helping salespeople and companies become more productive every day, and it's super gratifying. So that's what's driven me throughout my career, was that desire to learn, that desire to problem- solve, and inaudible that desire to take some risks.
Sheena Badani: I love all of those. On the risk piece, what was one of those risks that you could highlight for the audience that you took?
Devin Reed: Got to know. What has stood up to your mind, Jonathan, in your career?
Jonathan Lister: Well, lots of them. I've worked at small companies, I've worked for startups, initially. Before startups were cool, I worked at startups. I've done jobs that didn't maybe make a lot of sense on paper, for me anyway. Early on, I was an editor, I worked in production, media production. I did it all, knowing that I had an aspiration to lead people, and ultimately, to be a sales leader, I felt like these were really interesting and important competencies to acquire along the way, understanding how products are built, understanding how to create value. I've been in operations roles for a long time, so understanding how to make businesses great, and how to drive efficiency was important to me. So lots of lateral moves, a lot of them looked like risks, and frankly, probably were short term risks. But I like to think in the long arc of a career, and the reality is, careers are long. We get swayed, and we hear stories of very short careers, but in fact, careers are long. So the long arc of a career, doing a lot of really interesting things that excited me and were challenging was more important to me than, again, this sort of up into the right linear progress through one division or when one industry.
Sheena Badani: So, LinkedIn has changed quite a bit during the pandemic. There's been a tremendous an increase in remote job postings that we've never seen that before in the space and beyond. Can you talk a little bit more about how that's affected your business?
Jonathan Lister: I can, although I think... As I thought about this question a little bit, I think about this question a little bit, the... LinkedIn is really a proxy for what's happening in the professional world. So I think that for me, the more interesting piece of this is, what does it mean for the macro? What does it mean for the professional world, or sales as an industry? We've clearly been in this time of massive change in the last 18 months, the secular shift to remote work, and for those of us in sales, the secular shift to remote buying and selling has been super profound, and we've all lived through this with varying degrees of success over the last year and a half. I think we've seen some pretty amazing shifts that have happened quite quickly, and there's this... This, clearly, has opened question about how much of these shifts will remain, will stick around, and we're all trying to work through those. But we saw things like... When we pulled buyers through COVID and through the recent secular shift to remote buying, and we asked buyers and sellers, like, what's happening in your world, and how are you doing? The most interesting thing that came back was that buyers are pretty comfortable in a remote world. In fact, buyers, by and large, like working remotely, like working digitally, they're more effective. And that makes sense, right? Like buyers, a large part of their world was... in a physical world was not part of the buying process. They had to do a lot of like, meeting people that were inefficient, they had to go around and, in person, meet with a lot of people on their buying committees, and there was just a lot of inefficiency in their world, and a lot of that has gone away through digital. So, we're hearing from buyers that they're very comfortable with this sort of digital selling and the shift to remote work. That, of course, will or may have material consequences for how sales is done. If buyers decide that buying is best done digitally, it will become increasingly difficult for sellers to operate in a physical world, whether they want to or not. So I think there's this big open question, really, around, what do buyers think? What do buyers want to do going forward? Something like 70% of buyers, at least the ones we surveyed, the 400 odd we surveyed, 70% of them want to keep working 50% of the time, want to work remotely 50% of the time. So, that's going to have material consequences just on how selling is done. So if you're a salesperson, almost regardless of how much you like digital selling or remote selling or don't like it, we got to pay attention to our buyers, and really start to understand how our buyers like this shift to remote. We've certainly just, overall, seen a rise in remote work. I think remote work postings have gone up 5x on LinkedIn. Now, again, the question is, do those level out, or do those kind of retreat back as we go back to work physically? So I think that's still very much an open question. Maybe one more thing I think we found, or I found pretty interesting over the last 18 months with respect to the data we see on LinkedIn, we saw the job postings for industries that support or partner with sales have also gone up pretty dramatically. So functions like customer success, functions like sales readiness, even functions like sales operations, although slightly less so, have grown massively over the last couple of years. I think both customer success and sales readiness have grown something like 200% over the last couple of years. So those functions are growing extremely quickly, and they really kind of bolster the idea that, yeah, sales is growing up, and sales is becoming well- defined and well- structured, but also, that it can be done digitally. A lot of the functions that we're building up are functions that support remote selling. So lots of online sales, lots of movement in the direction that supports digital selling, and a real open question around buyers, and how much buyers want to continue with remote or digital selling.
Devin Reed: Yeah, that's really interesting. It seems so obvious now, but even having sold, I never thought of this. As a sales professional, your entire career is in a sales cycle. Buyers spend a very small percentage of their year in an actual buying cycle. So I think that's really interesting, to think of that mindset and think, " Hey, we have to meet... as sellers, we have to meet them where they are, when they're there." That's really interesting.
Jonathan Lister: Well, here's something for salespeople to think about. We pull buyers and we ask them like, how do you spend your day? And 17% of buyers' time is spent talking to sellers. 17%, talking to all sellers, every seller. As a seller, you're one of... You get some sliver of that 17%. The majority of their time is spent doing research, online and offline research, which... that supports, of course, the idea that buyers do a lot of research and are well prepared. Whatever they are, 70% inaudible sales cycle before they talk to a salesperson, so they're doing tons of research. That's how they spend their day. By the way, the other portion of their day is spent talking to their internal champions or the buyers' circle, so that... Literally, their day is split into those quadrants. So as a salesperson, you're only getting a small sliver of their time to begin with. And whether that's digital or in- person is very much an open question.
Sheena Badani: It's interesting, like, I've seen so many sellers post on LinkedIn of how they're craving to get back in the field and go meet with their customers and their buyers. I don't think I've seen a single post of a buyer saying, " I am craving to meet with my sales rep." Or, " Get back in that buying cycle." So how do we come and meet in the middle and make everybody happy? It's going to be really interesting to see that.
Jonathan Lister: Yeah, it will be. None of us know, we're just looking at this play out and inaudible. One of the things we do know, going back to this idea of buyer first, we know that if you only get... if you're getting a small sliver of buyers' time, of course, it has to be super highly effective, and you have to figure out how to drive value in that time, in a very limited time. And, the trends are changing. The reason we're moving to this buyer- first world is, at the end of the day, because sellers increasingly have to deliver value from the very first interaction, and buyers tell us they have to deliver value from the very first interaction, or you don't get a second chance. So the days of like being able to do discovery calls and having all this time to gather data, it doesn't exist anymore. For lots of buyers, if a seller shows up, whether it's in person or digitally, you have to deliver value from the very first interaction in order to get a second interaction or to proceed down the sales cycle. That's what's driving this buyer- first phenomenon. Buyers are doing the research, they know everything about your competitor, because it's all public. They know all about your product, because it's... for the most part, it's all public. They want to know how you add value, they want to know increasingly, how is your company going to advise me? You're going to consult me and add value to what I already know about the products.
Devin Reed: I'm loving this already, Jonathan, because as you know, we're all about opinions versus reality, and you've dropped at least a handful of stats, which is fantastic. We love that. I want to go into the buyer- first mindset. I saw on LinkedIn that you had referenced the new State of Sales 2021 Report, that LinkedIn puts out every year, and it said that... I'm reading from it to make sure I get it right here. " 63% of sellers said they always put buyers first, yet only 23% of buyers feel that that's true." So one in three.
Jonathan Lister: I think it has to do with the changes I talked about. I think there's a couple reasons. So the buying and selling process has changed. If I use myself as a quick analog, when I started selling a long time ago, I was a B2B salesperson, and I literally knocked on doors. My job was to knock on doors and to wait in waiting rooms. And when I finally got a meeting with somebody, it was really to show them the features and benefits of my product. Well, all that features and benefits stuff is a zero value. Sales used to be about, essentially, asymmetry of information. Salespeople had all the information about your product, and you inaudible it out in sort of dribs and drabs to buyers, as you felt sort of had benefit for you as a salesperson. Well, that clearly no longer is the way, it hasn't been for a long time. But buyers can access all this information about features and benefits. So that that asymmetry of information has closed. Buyers have all this information. So salespeople have to deliver value, they have to add these insights. I use that word insights because I think increasingly, the job of a salesperson is to show how your product portfolio, your suite of services adds value, and maybe adds insights, or can help your customer achieve their goals in a way that they wouldn't be able to do without your product and services. That's your job. It's not to talk about the product and the services anymore. So I think this disparity exists because lots of cases, sellers aren't there yet, their organizations, by and large, haven't back them up, by the way, their organizations haven't helped salespeople get to the place where they have those insights and that value to talk about, and so they're still selling features and benefits, or they're pitching with templates, or they're using stock information, none of which adds value. So that's the disparity. In lots of cases, sellers, by the way, know that they're doing that, but they're sort of constrained by their organization. So I think over time, we'll see organizations start to change that approach, and then we'll see salespeople start to change that approach. But that's largely how... I think how this is playing out right now. But maybe one more thing that I think is actually the real shoe dropping, or kind of so what moment, yes, there's this disparity of how buyers and sellers perceive how much value is being added. But at the end of the day, this is about trust. It's increasingly about trust. Increasingly, buyers say that trust is... I think trust ranks like the second highest dimension of the sales process. Buyers put trust above price. You can have the greatest price, but if you lack trust, they're not going to buy from you. So the problem with all of this is really the trust gap. The majority, to be very clear, and I think this is in the State of Sales Report, as well, 51% of buyers view sellers as untrustworthy.
Sheena Badani: Yeah, wow.
Devin Reed: No shock why people don't sprint towards sales careers.
Jonathan Lister: Kind of full stop.
Devin Reed: Right. Like, inaudible.
Jonathan Lister: View salespeople as untrustworthy, and trust is important. So, forgetting everything else, we just have to solve that trust gap, and the trust gap gets solved by putting buyers first, the trust gap gets solved by providing solutions, customers solutions to problems that they have, that they say they have, that reporting to them. So increasingly, we have to move in that direction.
Devin Reed: In sales, you want to make your buyers' purchasing decisions as easy as possible to win their business. Jonathan emphasizes that salespeople must adapt their selling to the way buyers want to be sold to. LinkedIn's State of Sales Report highlights that 50% of buyers say working remotely has made purchasing decisions easier, and 70% of those buyers want to work remotely at least half of the time in the future. So, sellers must adjust accordingly. This can take many forms, like pricing transparency, mastering digital interactions, and discovering new ways to consistently deliver value. In a remote selling environment, it can be hard to see exactly what your reps are doing well, and what can be improved. That's why it's important to look at data, to see how remote selling has impacted your company. Through these insights, you'll be able to see if your reps are adapting to changing buyer habits, and adjust accordingly to ensure you're on track to hit your revenue targets.
Sheena Badani: As a salesperson coming in to work with a new client, you're dealing with the experiences that they've had with prior sellers. So maybe that prior man or woman was not trustworthy, or they did something that turned off the client, and now you have to overcome that hurdle. So it's even harder for you.
Jonathan Lister: Yes, totally. You're right. If you have a brand that has not looked at... the brand ranks pretty high on dimensions of value, and if you work for a company that has had a bad brand in the past, then yeah, you have to overcome that, as well. Just to be really clear, I think there are a set of activities that a lot of salespeople do today. And just to be really clear on what we've heard from buyers on the kinds of things that they consider... I guess I can call them deal killers, but essentially, the things that don't engender trust or don't put buyers first. Of course, it's things like misleading information. That's not surprising, that that is at the top of the list. But it's things like, not understanding the buyer's company. Again, that sounds obvious, but we need to go beyond the first level of information about a buyer's company. They're talking about the strategy, understanding my company's strategy. A seller should know that, going into an interaction. So the bar is becoming higher for what is considered deal- killing type of behavior on sales people. Increasingly though, it's things also like cold calling. Cold calling buyers is increasingly becoming one of the areas that buyers consider deal killers. So I think there's a very explicit, specific list of things that sellers are still doing that buyers consider deal killers.
Devin Reed: I'd be curious to know if it's the cold call itself, which is an interruption, or if it's the way the cold call is handled, so it's the way you're interrupting. I don't know if you have insight into that, Jonathan, or maybe a personal stance.
Jonathan Lister: Increasingly, there's a privacy piece to this. One of the things that's happening, that we observe, is there's this sort of conflating of B2C and B2B, and companies like Amazon and Netflix have done a wonderful job of training us, as individuals, to expect services in a certain way, and that is porting over to B2B, and so buyers are expecting that same level of personalization. Buyers increasingly want things personalized, they want it round the clock, and a lot of that's, I think, driven out of their personal experience, the B2C experience. In B2C, there's a high bar for privacy. Amazon or you Netflix knows who you are, and they treat you like an individual, they don't cold- call you, and I think that that idea of just how sort of invasive cold calling is, is bleeding into B2B in the same kind of way. You only have one phone, and you... Amazon's on your phone, and so are the people who are calling you for work. I think if a cold call comes through on your phone, it's increasingly... whether it's for work or personal inaudible.
Devin Reed: Yeah, Netflix is making it hard for B2B sellers, because if you think your behavior and your mindset on Netflix, it's, I expect you to have everything that I want, when I want it. And sometimes I don't know what I want, but I want something, so tell me what I want. inaudible is the recommendation panel.
Jonathan Lister: A slight tangent to this conversation, but I do... I think we will get into a world in B2B selling, where, among other things, I think that recommendations will become increasingly important, data- driven recommendations. Sellers will start to be... their reputation will start to be well known and well documented, because of your digital footprint. And I think buyers will increasingly be able to choose sellers and salespeople. They'll have a really good idea of who the strongest salespeople are from their digital footprint, and they'll... yep, they'll start to pick and choose. I think we can expect to see that coming in the next couple of years.
Devin Reed: Imagine, reps are like, they have Yelp reviews, and be like, " Oh, Devin's only a 3. 2 sales rep? Bye Gong, I don't want to deal with him." Scroll, scroll, scroll. " Oh, Sheena, she's 4. 9? Great reviews? I'll click her and start the sales process with her, specifically."
Sheena Badani: inaudible.
Jonathan Lister: If you look at LinkedIn, a lot of your reputation is known and clear on LinkedIn, and will get more clear over time. The great relationships you have, the strong relationships, will become known and will become evident.
Sheena Badani: So speaking of data, what data do you leverage when working with your team to make sure that they're putting buyers first?
Jonathan Lister: It's a great question. The data that we look at is mostly customer data. So you can start from... The question is, are we creating value for... Maybe that's the best sort of proxy for, are we acting a buyer- first way, is, are we creating value for our customers? So we have a metric for value that we look at, and we measure all of our customers against this value metric to see how much value they're getting. So one is we look at the value. Two, we look at things that are maybe a little more traditional, like growth, like retention growth, growth and raw retention, and growth... Especially a certain kind of growth is a great proxy for value. Customers will grow, typically, when they're getting value. We're starting to look at metrics like quality revenue, high quality revenue versus low quality revenue. So revenue comes from growth, revenue comes from customers who are growing, again, as good proxies. We have some more internal metrics that we look at actual individuals. There's a set of behaviors that we expect salespeople increasingly to do, and there are certain ways to measure those, there are certain activities that we ask them to do that help us understand the value that they're creating with the sales model that we built. I think Devin, you'd asked the question about how we... what we ask our salespeople to do that sort of exhibits buyer- first behavior. We've created a sales model or rubric that we follow. The very quick way to think about it is... Because they're all behaviors that I think salespeople are doing different than they have been in the past. One is, we're encouraging all our salespeople to learn a lot before they go in. That's different from a discovery call, because this is mostly done digitally, it's mostly done on your own, or at least, it's mostly done before you ever talk to a customer. So learning before we do anything is essential. The second one is sharing, and sharing really, really readily. This shows up in the state of sales as one of the deal killers, is... Also, one of the things that buyers consider buyer- first is sellers who share information beyond just the product that they're selling. So, the sellers who share competitive information... Again, it's all out there. But salespeople who share competitive information, and do it coming from the sort of front foot, we consider a really great buyer- first activity, so we encourage our salespeople to share beyond just our information, share competitive information. We expect them to solve problems. So we ask them what problems they're solving, we look... When we look at our accounts and our account reviews, we look at what problems are being solved, and we try to map those two problems that customers want to be solved. And then the last one is the value metric, is how much value we're delivering. So we ask all of our sales reps to go through those, and we have various ways to measure each of them. I think we do all those things. By the way, that's how we think about building trust. We think if we get through sales motion, if we can do all those activities, if we can learn and share and problem- solve and deliver value, we'll build trust.
Sheena Badani: I love the first thing that you mentioned, which was that value metric that you track for each client. Are you able to elaborate, at all, on that, or is it something that's proprietary?
Jonathan Lister: I can tell you. We sell software product, we sell SaaS software products, so it's largely an engagement metric that... We know that if customers engage with the product certain ways, they'll get a lot of value out of it. So we look at that engagement metric as a proxy for value. I think lots of companies can do a version of this.
Sheena Badani: Sure. That's helpful. Thanks.
Devin Reed: I find that interesting. I liked all of it, too. I was admittedly spot- checking you, Jonathan. He was like, Hey, buyer first, here's the five things we do. Everything was mutual with the buyer. It wasn't like 20 calls a day, or working 9: 00 to 5: 00 specific hours. Everything was like, okay, there's... What is the reciprocation of that? Which is something I talk about a lot. Sales activity is something a sales rep does, that's outbound, sales engagements when it's reciprocated, and that's when it really matters. I like that all five points were very much focused on that latter part. Last question for you, before we get to the last question. Are there any pieces of data that you leverage, that some sales leaders might be surprised to hear?
Jonathan Lister: I do a lot of qualitative, sort of... So we're a very data- driven company, and we have really great quantitative data. We use all of that. But I think that really the piece that rounds it out is the qualitative data. So I do a lot of what? Maybe we consider LinkedIn sort od dot- connecting, is checking in for signals that maybe don't come from sales or come from other parts of the business that may be meaningful. I do a lot of just voice to customer, not so much spot checks, but just talking to customers. Not necessarily about a certain subject, but really listening for what they're focused on and what they're working on. But maybe the one thing that we found really effective last year, was we did a lot of customer roundtables, and they were slightly unstructured customer roundtables, where we didn't come in as the expert, we came in as the facilitator. I found those were just the most robust conversations. Again, they weren't about LinkedIn, and they weren't certainly about our sales team, but they were about sentiment, and they were about mood, I think broadly, and maybe most importantly, they were about helping each other. This was about a group of peers who were there to help each other through this, and I think in that respect, they were incredibly helpful to everybody and to me. So we were doing probably one of those a week or one every couple of weeks for the last year.
Devin Reed: I love that approach, because I think it's easy to go, " Hey, let's get all these people that like us, their clients, or people we want to like us, let's get them in a room, and let's tell them what to talk about." Which is the thing, selfishly, we want. We want that to be aware of. Like you said, I think a semi- structured structure actually works best. You're going to get the real voice of the customer, the things that are actually on their mind, and that's what can guide you and give you more insight than necessarily a, " Hey, here's this narrative we have one. Why don't you all talk about it in a forced manner for an hour?"
Jonathan Lister: I really hope we don't lose that, and we're going to try not to. But I think these are the kinds of things we learned last year that I think have long term benefit. We should keep on doing these in this kind of way. So we're going to try to keep continuing to do them.
Sheena Badani: All right. We are at the tail end of the episode. So Jonathan, we're going to ask you the same question we ask all of our amazing sales leaders that join us on Reveal, which is, how would you describe sales in one word?
Jonathan Lister: Well, you won't be surprised at this point, I don't think, to hear me say the one word I use to describe sales is value. That the one thing I encourage all of our salespeople do, whether you're new or been here forever, regardless of what our priority is that year, or what the product is, or whatever else, is, every single interaction you have with a customer or a stakeholder or someone in the buyer circle, every single one, consider what value you're delivering in that interaction. That's it. And just go into that interaction, and understand you have 30 seconds or 30 minutes, what's the value you're going to deliver? It's this scarce, precious use of time, the scarce resource. If you don't remember anything else, just remember, what is the value you want to get across in that time? Make that interaction a great use of time for the buyer or the person across the table. Every interaction matters, so I'm going to go with value.
Sheena Badani: That's a great gut check. As you're putting together your agenda for any meeting that you have, make sure that's part of the list, as you're thinking through what you're going to talk about. I love that. Well, Jonathan, it was such a pleasure to have you on the show today. Thanks so much for joining us. We had a blast, and we hope you did, too.
Jonathan Lister: Yeah. Thanks for having me. Great talking to you both. Hope to catch up soon.
Devin Reed: Thanks, Jonathan. Every week, we bring you a micro action, something to think about, or an action you can put into play today. One of the most profound stats in LinkedIn State of Sales Report is that 65% of salespeople say they always put the buyer first. But only 23% of buyers actually feel that way. This is a classic example of data versus opinions, because sometimes things are not as they seemed. This week, think of how you can put your buyers first. This could mean going the extra mile to align your solution to the buyers business needs, instead of focusing on your features, or giving information about your company, your industry that they can't find on their own. Get together with your reps this week and pick some top target accounts. Look at those accounts and figure out why they would want to buy your solution, and create targeted pitches and outreach that will make them feel like their needs are being put first. Because at the end of the day, showing buyers how you can help them achieve their goals will make them want to do business with you. 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.
Sellers often think they are putting their buyer first. However, only 23% of buyers agree. In this episode, Jonathan Lister, VP of Global Sales at LinkedIn, dives into what buyer-first selling really is and why it’s essential today. You’ll learn how to use buyer-first behavior to build strong relationships that drive value across every stage of the buying process. This new mentality will be a win for you and your buyer.