Book Club: Mo Bunnell on Science-based Sales Skills To Build Lasting Relationships
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Olivia Fuller: Hi and welcome to Book Club, a Sales Enablement PRO podcast. I’m Olivia Fuller. Sales enablement is a constantly evolving space and we’re here to help professionals stay up to date on the latest trends and best practices so they can be more effective in their jobs.
Sales can be a tough job and it’s not one that everyone is naturally inclined to do. With uncertain economic conditions like we’re experiencing today, this job can be even more difficult. The Snowball System is designed to help people sell effectively in a way that they’re comfortable with without feeling like a sleazy salesperson. I’m so excited to have the author of “The Snowball System”, Mo Bunnell, here to tell us a little bit more about this concept and his book. With that, Mo, I’d love it if you could tell our audience a little bit about yourself, your background, and your book.
Mo Bunnell: Yes, let me say this out of the gate. All of you listeners and watchers out there, I am so much a fan of sales enablement professionals and Olivia and her team at Sales Enablement PRO have great resources on the website, certifications, classes, courses, assets, and resources. It’s better than I’ve ever seen anywhere, so when Olivia reached out and thought we should do this podcast, I was excited because the work you do matters, and the things that we’re doing to evolve the profession are important. So, Olivia, I just had to say that out of the gate then I can talk about me.
OF: I love that. Thank you so much.
MB: It’s such an emerging profession and it’s going to continue to grow in importance over time, so you’re all in the right place. A little bit about me, I think a lot of times entrepreneurs start a business without trying to start business. I’ve been at it for about 20 years, and my moment of starting Bunnell Idea Group was a moment of complete panic, almost an anxiety attack. I had gone from a deep technical expert. I had taken all the exams to become an actuary, which if you don’t know what an actuary is, are long-term financial forecaster. We make the accountants look like party animals. I had taken all these years to pass these exams to be an actuary and in one weekend I turned into a salesperson. Now, we didn’t call it that, I was at a high-end professional consulting firm, so we called it a managing consultant.
The fact is in one weekend I went from being rewarded on service delivery, billable hours, client satisfaction, and things like that to retention and growth activities. The moment of panic occurred when I went to my new boss that Monday morning with all of the new floors, business card titles, and all that stuff and I asked him for the manual on business development, sales retention, and growth. I wasn’t expecting him to respond by laughing at me, but he did and it was probably a chuckle, but I heard it like the villain in Scooby Doo. It was not a good thing. That was the beginning. I thought I would get a playbook, but I didn’t get a playbook and I had to build the playbook I can tell you much more about the story if you want, but after years later it turned into an experience, a training class, and now we’ve trained 30,000 people at over 500 organizations all around the globe.
OF: I love that. I have a friend who’s becoming an actuary right now and I have a lot of respect for that journey. It is definitely a tough one. As you mentioned, sales is a very tough job and it’s not one that everyone can be naturally inclined to do, especially with the turbulent economy that we’re all experiencing right now, it can be even harder. You talked about how The Snowball System is really designed to help people sell effectively, but the part that I loved is that it’s in a way that they’re comfortable with. I’d love it if you could tell us just a little bit more about that approach and how it can really help sellers be more comfortable, and confident, and ultimately how that translates into effectiveness.
MB: This is such an interesting topic. When we first started Bunnell Idea Group or BIG for short, I really tried to redefine what sales meant in people’s minds and I thought for some reason I could do that with the billions of people on the planet. You can’t. Unfortunately, sales have a bad name to a lot of people and we’ve got to reframe that. One of the things that we talked about a lot in our workshops, you see it in the book, is people hate to be sold to, but they love to buy. In our live workshops, we actually list it out, we have people ask buyers they were purchasing something and it did not go well and you’ll hear the buyer say things like the person was pushy, they talk too much, they didn’t listen to my needs, they suggested something that didn’t make sense, they didn’t want to talk about the pricing or the money of the investment easy, they didn’t make it easy to buy and things like that.
Then, we say, hey, tell us the time when you purchased something and it went great. They say it was easy, it was frictionless, I liked the person, I was learning, they gave me options, they suggested something less expensive that was better for me, they built trust, and it was fun. The whole mantra of, we hate to be sold to, but we’ll have to buy, if we can start with the frame of salespeople saying I’m not going to fall in love with my solution, I’m going to fall in love with their problem and build trust and have fun with this over time if we can just have a campaign of helpfulness to the other person that changes the whole frame from selling to helping and that’s where we see if people have that right mindset, they are off to the races.
OF: I love that approach. The system that you cover in the book really walks through a series of steps. I want to cover each of those just to dig a little bit deeper and the first one that you talk about is targeting your ideal clients. I’d love to hear, from your perspective, what are some of the common challenges that can arise from effectively targeting prospective clients, and then how do you recommend overcoming those challenges?
MB: Oh, I could go on for hours, we don’t have enough time. Let’s dive in. I was just training some high-end consultants in Malaysia last night. I’m in Atlanta, Georgia in the US, so it went to like midnight my time and we had a really big unlock. I mean these are some of the smartest business people in the world, tier-one consultants. One of the things that we did that’s different is we broke through a mental heuristic called status quo bias. Now, the audience may not know what that means, but if you can google it if you just go to Wikipedia, it’s not the end all and be off research, but it can give you a good head start. Just google status quo bias and you will get this litany of research that basically says, we tend to do the same things over and over again. When it comes to little things like what app you open on your screen when you open up your phone in the morning, we tend to do the same things over and over. That’s easy. We understand that, but it’s particularly dangerous.
I’m being provocative here with the word dangerous. It is particularly dangerous in sales because what status quo bias will make us do if we don’t get out of the trap is keep hanging out and reaching out to the people we already know and like. The reason for that is that we tend to do what we’ve already done, status quo bias, but our egos are at stake to reach out to somebody that we don’t know. We fear rejection, we fear they won’t reach back, and we fear we only have one shot so we have to be perfect with this first outreach. We will make the bar so high that we won’t act and will delay and that’s harmful to the sales rep. What you can do to get over this, and what we did with the group in Malaysia last night, as we said, hey, let’s start with the people we want to work with and the things that we think we could be most helpful to them. What are the game-changing programs that we can take to the people that should purchase from us?
By flipping things in their minds from here’s who we usually stay in contact with. They had a contact list of 100 people in a small team. We flipped that from, put that aside for a second, let’s focus on who should buy what from us and where we can have the biggest meaningful impact. We started with that, and then we said, who are the decision makers for those things? It was a completely different list and they left that session so energized to go out and build relationships with those people. It was awesome. We finished the session at midnight, Olivia, I don’t think I went to bed until 3 AM because I was so excited for their future success. I couldn’t sleep.
OF: Oh my gosh, I love that story. That goes to show just how when you flip the way that you think about something, you can completely change your approach and ultimately increase the value that you bring. You mentioned that thinking starts with where we could have the biggest impact, and that goes into the next step in the book, which is around positioning your unique value. I’d love to hear some of your best practices around how sellers can actually identify what makes them unique and what that unique value is.
MB: I love this and to speak to all the sales enablement people out there, this is frequently done incorrectly, so I want to give you the right way. A lot of times it’s frequently done to come up with some kind of value story or positioning elements like it goes on the website and we definitely need to do that. That’s a universal version of positioning that may or may not be true for one individual or for a certain client prospect to the customer. We definitely have to do that, keep doing that sales enablement folks to get that message tight, get it short, get it sharp. Do all the stuff that you’re used to doing. At the same time, I want you to work with your sales reps, your account managers, and your account execs to also be able to tweak that and shape it for a specific pursuit.
We talk about a value pyramid that you saw in the book, Olivia, which is the lowest level or the least that your clients or prospects care about is your universal positioning for your organization. They are a little bit more about the specific offering in the middle of the pyramid. The apex of the pyramid is ‘I am thinking of hiring somebody for X, how are you positioned for me exactly for that?’ That makes it real. We need to blend the universal positioning, the kind of stuff that goes on the website that anybody could log into, we need that, but we need to also focus deal by deal, especially for the important ones. That’s thing one.
Thing two is, there’s a bunch of research by Dr. Suzanne Shu, and she tested value props from saying you’re good at one thing to 2 to 3 to 4, all the way to 10. And you saw this in the book, Dr. Shu found that people that say they’re good at three things are magical. It’s the most believable. It’s a thing saying you’re good at three things is more believable than 1,2,4,5, or 6, all the way to the 10. There’s a peak and a curve that says that two is better than 1, 3 is better than 2, 4 is worse than 3, 5 is worse than 4, and so on. What we see a lot of sales reps do is because they have fear of being focused, they sort of have this David Letterman top 10 list. These are the top 10 reasons you should hire us for this deal. What happens in Dr. Shu’s research is that having more than three creates so much cognitive load for somebody trying to figure out what are you really for. You’ve got these 10 things here, is there a theme? I don’t know, I can’t understand this.
It becomes negative and they give up and having 10 reasons to hire you is basically worse than zero. We want to get really crisp on a specific opportunity. What are the three reasons that we are totally unique to serve this organization? Make it really short, really sharp, and communicate that over and over in our RFP response in the formal finalist meeting and everything else, and that’s what can win the day, Olivia.
OF: Absolutely and something that we haven’t talked about a ton quite yet, but I think it’s really important to understand from the book and how the approach is all laid out is that it’s really rooted in science. You mentioned some of those research pieces that fueled how you’re approaching each of these steps. Another one that really resonated with me that I liked in the book was around the step of building connection and the concept was around the science behind likability. I’d love to learn from you, what are some of the ways that sellers can really build impactful connections with their prospects and turn those into long-term client relationships really by being rooted in that science of likability?
MB: Thank you for bringing this up because there’s a mantra that some people are sharing in the marketplace that relationships don’t matter, they’re dead. That’s completely untrue. All the research shows that we say yes to people we like, we spend more time with those that we like, doctors spend more time with patients they like, and have better outcomes with those that they like. Likability matters in so many aspects of human nature. You can’t even count the studies that back this up. I will give the audience 3 levers of likability. One I really like is Dr. Jerry Burgers out of Santa Clara University. He was the first person to scientifically prove that we hire people we like more often than those we don’t. In a follow-up study was like, hey what correlates the likability, and the number one level he found is commonality.
It’s up to us as sales reps, account managers, and account executives to find ways that we have things in common with other people. In general, uncommon commonalities are more powerful than common commonalities. Olivia, when we were chatting right before we started recording, we were talking about how we both have dogs, they love snow, and they do silly things. You and I were bonding on that, so it’s up to us as salespeople to find out what we have in common. The science shows it can be things like we both like Dan Pink’s business books. It can be that we both have dogs that are rescue dogs that are huskies or shepherds. It can be that we both like ultimate frisbee or the Kansas City Chiefs or Big Red Bordeaux’s. It can be things in business and in non-business, but we’ve got to find those things that we have in common and then reinforce them over time. That’s lever one.
Lever two that we love to talk about is the mere exposure effect. It’s all about frequency. It was first studied in Germany in 1876. Science has seen three centuries and what it says irrefutably the more often we see a person or a thing, the higher the chance it is that we like them. As reps, we’ve got to have a system for reaching out, being helpful, and staying top of mind. It’s why the flip of the mere exposure effect is why we say ‘out of sight out of mind.’ We’ve got to have a mechanism to add value routinely.
Then, the last one we talked a lot about is mutual benefit. This is our third big lever. Those deepest relationships are not one-sided. They’re not, ‘I serve you because I’m a sales rep or an account manager,’ it’s that we are working together to build a better future. Science shows not only do we help people we like, but emerging science is saying we like people who help. Simple things like having a relationship with somebody and saying, hey, we’re doing work in this part of the organization, we think we can have an impact in this other business unit that is in your organization, what would you do if you were me. Making a statement of something that would be helpful and saying ‘what would you do if you’re me’ is a wonderful way to ask for help and what people find is the enrollment they get from the other side gives them greater ideas, the person co-creates the next step, they enroll in their success and likability follows. There’s more in the book, but those three big things, finding and reinforcing commonality, having the mere exposure effect, frequency and staying top of mind, and having a mutually beneficial enjoyable relationship. Those are three big ones.
OF: Fantastic. Thank you so much for walking us through that. It is very interesting. To take that a step further, the final step in the process that you talk about is really nurturing to turn your clients into what you call ‘raving fans.’ I love that phrase, and especially in the economic climate that we’re in, this is really becoming more and more essential for businesses to focus on so that they’re maintaining and ultimately setting themselves up to grow their business. Given this current economic environment, I’d love to hear from you. What are some of the key considerations that sellers should really be keeping in mind to nurture those long-term relationships with their clients?
MB: I’ll actually share some things that aren’t in the book. The core research says that soft skills do turn into hard results. That’s some of that science of likability and things that we talked about. One thing that’s not in the book that I think is really compelling is McGraw Hill, the publishing arm also has a research arm. They did some research in the 1980s, and there was this big economic collapse and economic headwinds in the early 1980s. What they found is that B2B companies that advertised in the economic downturn that happened in the early 1980s not only outperformed during that recession but outperformed to a huge extent for three years afterward.
What we can learn from that is that when we think about human relationships, I think that’s even more important than even B2B advertising. With human relationships, we’re advertising when we’re out there talking to clients, talking to prospects, and adding value. That is sort of an advertisement for us humans and the nut of all is that when there’s an economic downturn, we shouldn’t judge ourselves on what we did the year before. That’s an unfair metric because we’ve got economic headwinds against us.
What we should judge ourselves on is whether are we beating the competition because they’re on the same playing field we are. What the McGraw Hill research shows is that if you’re out there adding value, being helpful even before it’s time for somebody to buy from you, deepening those relationships with likability as we talked about before, economic downturns are when you go out and win market share because you’re out there doing it more in your competition, hopefully, is dying it in and not working as hard because they’re like, oh, I can’t do as good as I did last year, so I’m not gonna work as hard. No, I want you to double down when there are economic headwinds and help people before they can even hire you and they will remember that forever.
OF: Absolutely. Those are fantastic insights, so critical to the environment that we have right now, and very relevant to our audience of enablement practitioners and I want to dig into that a little bit more. You mentioned this right at the start of the conversation. Enablement leaders today are not only responsible for equipping their sellers with the tools and the resources that they need to be successful, but they also have a job to do today that’s really about gaining buy-in and support for their initiatives. Working with executive leaders and cross-functional partners to get that support can be a hard job to do, especially in these times we’re in. I’d really love to hear from you. How can the principles of The Snowball System be applied to that concept of selling internally to your stakeholders the value of the programs that you have, especially for sales enablement practitioners?
MB: Olivia, it’s such a great question. We have helped so many functional leaders help them grow their influence within the organization. CHROs, CIOs, CTOs, CFOs, and sales enablement leaders and I’ll give you our steps to gain approval. This is all in The Snowball System, so I highly recommend folks to read the book and then apply it to their influence because if you’re a sales enablement leader, the regional head of sales, the global head of sales, whoever you’re helping, they don’t pay you in money necessarily, but they’re paying you in their budgets. They’re paying you with their time. They’re paying you with their attention. Really you’re just a consultant inside the company, so here are the four steps.
One of the fastest ways to get a yes is to slow down to speed up. A lot of times people will go in sort of machine gun nelly and suggest what they want the decision maker to approve. That’s almost like skipping straight to step four. Here’s a faster way: when you do that, you’re using your words, and your priorities and it can come across this jargon to the other side, especially in a deeply technical world, like sales enablement. Instead of jumping to the end, here’s another way to do it.
Step one, listen and learn. Schedule a call with the people you support and just say, hey, I just want to make sure we’re lined up for our work this year together. I’d love to hear from you, what do you think are the top priorities this year as we think about enabling the Salesforce and account management teams? You want to go to that with some ideas for sure and you want to help shape the agenda, but you’re also listening to their priorities and their words. Research shows it’s easier to get a yes when you use somebody’s own words with them than if you use your words, so we want to listen and learn first.
Step two is to create curiosity. It turns out that their curiosity is an intrinsic motivator. We love experiencing curiosity. It’s why we hear a cliffhanger at the end of a Ted Lasso episode, and we can’t wait to watch the next one. Cliffhangers are a curiosity that gets us to do the next step. What you can do to create curiosity is say, ‘hey Mr or Ms sales leader, would it be helpful if I shared some stories about how I’ve heard other organizations have tackled that problem? I can help you with that.’ In this step, we’re conceptually getting buy-in to how we might be able to help them solve the issues that they shared in step one, so listen and learn when we hear their issues. In step two, we are conceptually talking about storytelling, mostly about how we can solve those.
Step three is mind blowing-ly effective. We call this, build everything together. The science here is called the IKEA effect named after the Swedish retailer. Dr. Michael Lord at Harvard’s All-Star Team of researchers proved this. They found two things. Once we buy into what we helped create, and two, we view our own work product as on par with worldwide experts, even if we’re not an expert. We love our stuff and we think our stuff is awesome. The best way to get approval is if you’ve already heard their priorities and their words. They felt some curiosity about how you might be able to solve the issues that they’ve got on their agenda. So, step three: come up with a 60% rough draft that you can float in from in front of them and you say these exact words, ‘hey sales leader, I’ve thought a lot about what we talked about and I’ve got some solutions that I think we could deploy.’ Here’s what you say. ‘I really think it’s only about 60% right because you see some things I don’t see, I see some things you don’t see given our roles, so I need your help to make it great.’
The reason you say 60% instead of a lot of it’s mostly right is you want them to see what the gap is. You want them to think that at 40% they can roll up their sleeves and help this out as they co-created from that point. That’s when the IKEA effect kicks in and you get buy-in. If they change something great, that’s buy-in. If they like it great, that’s buy-in. As you move closer to 100%, you’ll see them get so excited about their ideas because they become their ideas.
The fourth step is to gain approval. If you’ve done the first 3, the 4th is usually easy peasy because they already love it before they get all the formalities of it. Listen and learn, create curiosity, build everything together, and gain approval. Steps 1, 2, 3, and 4 work like a charm.
OF: I love that approach and you’re so right, so often we skip just to that last step and then wonder why we haven’t gotten the support that we think we have. I love that approach, that’s fantastic. Well, Mo you’ve shared some really awesome insights with our audience today, and again, to our audience, we absolutely recommend that you pick up The Snowball System and read through that book. Mo, you have some other resources that I want to make sure that our listeners know about. Can you tell us a little bit about some of those where our listeners can go to learn more about some of what we’ve discussed today?
MB: I would love to. Probably the number one thing I’d recommend that takes 30 seconds is I spent about three hours a week writing an article on a very specific topic, much like we talked about today, but we just scratched the surface. We did five things out of 1000. I write these articles that take several hours and my goal is that somebody can read them in three minutes. It’s sort of sad that it takes three hours to write something that someone can read in three minutes, but it’s hard to write short and that’s what we try to do. We try to pick a very specific topic that’s really sharp so that somebody can read that in a couple of minutes and think this is amazing and the reader wants to forward this to a ton of people because they got so much value out of it.
If people want that little weekly newsletter that just drops in their inbox every week, they can go to growbigplaybook.com, and they can sign up right there. It has tons of value. This Saturday’s newsletter is about how to have really great pipeline meetings. That’s something for whatever reason a lot of people are struggling with. We’ve had other articles on likeability, and others on how you scale specific learning across the team. It keeps the learning alive and there’s no charge to it. So growbigplaybook.com is where people get that.
OF: Awesome, thank you so much. To our listeners, we will include a link to that in the transcript and episode description. Thanks again Mo for sharing all of your insights with our audience. I certainly learned a ton from this conversation and I can’t wait for our listeners to hear what we talked about.
MB: It’s been a blast. I just can’t say it enough, what you are doing is so powerful and so important. We are in the early days. It is going to grow in importance over time. Folks, keep going back to the Sales Enablement PRO’s website, keep getting more learning certifications, and do everything you can to build your skills because I’m convinced this is one of the areas that is going to just 10x over the next couple of years. If you’re at the forefront of learning and leading you’re going to be in a really great spot. Thanks, Olivia.
OF: To our audience, thanks for listening. For more insights, tips, and expertise from sales enablement leaders visit salesenablement.pro, and if there’s something you’d like to share or a topic that you’d like to learn more about, please let us know. We’d love to hear from you.