Book Club: Rana Salman on Essentials for Sales Success

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Olivia Greiman: Hi, and welcome to Book Club, a Sales Enablement PRO podcast. I’m Olivia Greiman. 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.

In sales, it’s easy to get so focused on the end goal of one deal that you ignore the details and then lead to an aftermath of the sale that is crucial to long-term success. Setting a solid foundation and maintaining a strong relationship after the sale can be just as important as closing the deal. In her upcoming book, Sales Essentials, Rana Salman details a start-to-finish guide to lead you to sales success. I’m so excited to have her here to tell us a little bit more about her book today, so with that, Rana, I’d love to hear a little bit more about yourself and your background.

Rana Salman: Thank you for having me and really thank you Sales Enablement PRO for all that you do for our community. My name is Rana Salman. I am the CEO of Salman Consulting. I’ve been in sales and sales enablement for a long time, and before it had the fancy name, which I know some of your listeners, Olivia, would relate to.

I work with hyper-growth to large organizations to help strategically elevate the performance of their sales team through strategic content and through training and coaching. I’m a seller at heart. I’ve been selling for a long time, and I still actively sell to this day. Olivia, some of your listeners, I may have called on them, and in fact, I’m hoping that they got me later on in my career rather than earlier because as many of you know early on in our careers we’re a little bumpy in sales.

OG: I’m so excited to have you here and to hear more about your upcoming book Sales Essentials. Tell us a little bit about what the book’s about.

RS: I’m excited to share it with you. Sales Essential is created with the salesperson at heart. I created that book with the sales rep in mind and wanted to create it as a guide for them. Wherever they are in their deal, they can get to that place where they need that information and that can enable them to exit that action effectively.

For example, Olivia, in the book, the bulk of the book is called Applied Essentials, and it’s divided into three areas: before the sale, during the sale, and after the sale. A very simple way to categorize how we navigate our sales process and what I wanted to do is in each of these categories, there are specific chapters that are aligned to these categories, and they’re written in a way that is very simple to understand and navigate, so that way there are no gimmicks, there’s no jargons. It’s easy to understand.

For example, if I am a sales rep and I am getting ready to do my discovery call, what I wanted the rep to do is to go to that chapter and to look at these nuggets of information, to look at these best practices, to remind themselves of that, go get the tools about discovery, and then to put it away and go do that call. The idea here is that if you are selling and if you’ve sold for a living, you know that time is invaluable. It’s finite, and time is money. When I was creating the book, I wanted to keep that in mind and provide them with what they need when they need it.

Also, another thing that I wanted to make sure of is that we provide the sales enablement leaders with case studies and provide sales leaders with the sales tools that they need to coach their reps as well, for the sales reps to have the tools that they need. It’s about 300 pages that are divided and created in a way as a guide and as a reference.

Before I forget Olivia, I want to give a big shout-out to my publishers, McGraw Hill, who have helped me bring this to life. They are one of the top three publishers in the world, and I really learned a lot from them. They took my book to the next level and I wanted to make sure I say thank you.

OG: I cannot wait to read the entire book, but I was lucky enough to get a little bit of a preview that you shared with me, and something that I loved that you wrote in that snippet that you shared was that the focus of sales always seems to be on the ultimate goal of closing deals, which makes it easy to overlook the crucial steps that come before, during, and after the sale. I’d love to hear a little bit more from your perspective. What are some of the challenges that can arise from overlooking those other steps before the closed deal, and how can these be overcome?

RS: At the end of the day, I’ve been selling for a long time. Of course, our ultimate goal is to close those deals. Our ultimate goal is to crush our quota, but the reality of it, there are things that we need to do before, during, and after the sales. Those strategies, those tactics, those actions that we need to take, if we don’t do that, we will put our deals at risk and we’ll put our whole quota at risk.

Let me share with you an example. If I think about before the sale, there are several topics and chapters we talk about in the book related to some things that you need to be able to be doing before the sale. One of them is preparation. You and I know that if you don’t prepare for your sales call, what we end up doing as sales reps, and I’ve been guilty of that, is reverting back to what we’re comfortable with. What we’re comfortable with is our product, our tools, and our solutions, so we lead with that.

When you lead with that and you’re not prepared to take an outside end perspective, to focus on the buyer, to focus on the customer you end up being a commodity. You end up really focusing on your features and your functions, and you become just a tool. However, when you prepare for these conversations and when you do your homework, do your research, and lead with the buyers, then you are aligning yourself as a partner, as a credible source, as someone that can add value, and as someone that is relevant.

Another thing that I talk about in my book, Olivia, related to before the sale, is prospecting and building pipelines. As salespeople, we need to make sure that we are consistently prospecting and building a pipeline because at the end of the day, no matter how great your this quarter is or how great your second quarter is, if you’re not consistently building that pipeline, it’s going to dry out and it’s going to impact your success.

Then another thing that I also talk about in my book is the ability to leverage social selling to help us drive revenues. What that means is that we have to own our brand as sellers. We have to be able to build that digital presence because guess what, Olivia, anytime I send you an email, anytime I’m trying to get in front of you, the first thing the buyers are doing, they’re checking us out and they’re trying to determine are you worthy of my time? So how are we developing our digital presence? How are we prospecting leveraging social selling, how are we nurturing existing relationships, leveraging this channel, and how are we integrating it with other channels to prospect effectively? That’s before the sale.

Of course, there are a lot of other chapters, but, because of the time, I’ll go into now during the sale. During the sale, what are some things we talk about? I’m very passionate and I talk about that because of a lot of the lessons that I’ve learned in my career as I sold for a living and also as I coached other salespeople around the world, one of the things that we talk about during the sale component is the importance of making that first impression. How are you making that first impression? Because guess what, it’s very hard to try to get over this bad first impression. We talk about the importance of showing up, the importance of taking an outside perspective, the importance of qualifying that opportunity properly, and specifically what I also talk about the importance of understanding the internal decision-making process of an organization. The importance of unpacking the root cause of their problems and helping them share with them some insights into how we can help them.

The best reps are those that qualify in really quickly and also that qualify out really quickly. You need to be able to make sure that you are conducting and qualifying that opportunity properly. Another thing that I also talk about, enduring the sale, there’s also the actual, for example, designing the solution. How are we designing a solution that actually meets the needs of our buyers? Are we actively listening? Are we collaborating with them? How are we delivering that demo and how are we aligning it to business outcomes? Also, how are we designing the proposal and what are the best practices for delivering that proposal? I take you through each one of them and each topic, of course, is aligned to a chapter in a succinct, straightforward way to help us in exiting that activity successfully.

Now, after the sale, what happens? Well, after the sale, if I go back to my twenties, I get so excited, I’m getting my commission check, and off I go. The reality of it is what happens after the sale is critical for expansion. The best career successes I’ve made were when I really paid attention to what happened after the sale. So what does that mean? Well, one of the things that we need to enable our team to be successful. We were successful in closing that deal, but our job is not done. How are we doing that seamless handoff experience? How are we helping our team be successful and deliver on the promise that we made to our customers? How are we debriefing these deals?

I remember when I would win a deal, I’m done. I did an amazing job, but hey, step backward and even look at your wins as lessons because what you can learn from even your wins are things that you can scale, but also things that could have put your deals at risk and of course doing debrief for the losses. Also, how do we expand, right? The most money is made when I’m expanding within this existing account when I’m deepening those relationships. How am I working with the CSM team? How am I working with the renewal team? How am I staying engaged as part of that strategic team?

OG: Fantastic. You covered so many great pieces of wisdom and advice there. One theme that stands out and something that you also wrote about in the preview of your book is really the importance of the human element of sales. You wrote specifically that the quickest way to fail is to take the human element out of the sales equation. I’d love to hear a little bit more about that. What does it mean to really have a human-centered approach to sales across the entirety of the sales process?

RS: Think about it. When we’re selling to the enterprise, people are at the heart of every decision that is being made. When you think about enterprise selling in B2B, it is critical for us to remember. I’m going to emphasize that people buy from people. People build relationships with people. People build trust with people. They don’t build it with faceless entities. Even our third-party research shows us and our buyers are telling us this.

There was a study done by Salesforce, I think the State of the Connected Customer, and a high percentage of B2B buyers noted that to do business with you, they want you to treat them like a person, not a number on a spreadsheet. The reality of it, is and we all know that our buyers don’t care about your quota, our buyers don’t care about your product, what they care about is how can you help me, Rana? How can you help me drive my initiatives? In fact, if we look at a recent survey from McKinsey, what they found is that B2B buyers noted that they’re more likely to buy our solution if the rep demonstrates an understanding of their business needs and if they personalize that communication.

When we adopt a human-centered approach, we put that human being at the center of everything we do, and that’s where those soft skills of active listening, that I truly am actively listening to what you’re saying to me, Olivia, that I’m listening to your initiatives, to your challenges, to your KPIs, that I’m also listening to your career aspirations and that I’m working with you to help design solution that will help drive your initiatives.

Also, when you think about a human-centered approach, it’s also about sharing insights with the customers and with your buyers that they may not have thought of challenging their thoughts because at the end of the day, what our job is to do is to help our buyers reach that objective that we promise, and to do that, sometimes it does take us challenging their thoughts.

Another thing that I also want to highlight is when you think about putting the person, the human, at the center of everything we do, it’s also about embracing collaboration and really taking time to truly understand and collaborate with your buyers. Help them and involve them to be part of their process, to help them participate in these discussions, and to really participate in these conversations because what you notice is when people start believing and feeling, truly feeling that they are part of this process, they start owning it. When there is collaboration, what ends up happening, is you have trust and you have a human connection.

Now, on the flip side, if I start looking at you as just a company or numbers, what ends up happening is we lose that human touch and that empathy fades, that connection weakens and in B2B strategic deals, when it’s a longer sales cycle, you can’t afford to look at this as a transaction, but rather as a strategic long-term partnership. I can tell I’m passionate about that.

OG: Absolutely. I love that advice around really having empathy and building that relationship with the person on the other side of the deal. That’s fantastic advice there. Something else that you mentioned that’s really important when it comes to the human side of sales is not just externally with the relationship with the customer, but also focusing internally on the wellbeing of the seller themselves. Why is this not only important to talk about in today’s sales landscape, but really an imperative for sales success long-term?

RS: Let’s look at the data. In the summer of 2022, Gartner noted that 89% of reps experienced feeling burnout. We also looked at research by Uncrushed and its partners, and what they found when they surveyed their reps is that 63% of reps noted that they’re struggling with their mental health. What they saw is that a decline in mental health correlated with a decline in performance. Now, I came across these data points when I was writing my book, and honestly, this topic was not part of the book before. Why? Because these conversations don’t happen, or at least they didn’t happen in my career.

As someone that is not an expert in talking about well-being and integration of work-life balance, it didn’t even occur to me, but I also wanted to make sure as I looked at the data that in the name of authenticity and also in creating a book that is talking about all the facets of sales that we talk about this topic. Look, if you think about sales, sales have often been associated with a culture of hustle, a culture of competition, a culture of relentless work until the deal is closed. It’s not just organizations putting pressure on us, we put pressure on ourselves as sellers and I know that because I live this day in and day out and I’ve been doing this for a while.

However, the truth is that this approach, if we’re not careful, can impact people. It can impact individuals’ performance and their well-being. It can also impact companies and it can also impact industry. When you think about a human-centered approach, it doesn’t only affect the bottom line, but there is an impact on humans and to their families, and to their lives. We see that, and we hear that. As an enablement person, while I can’t stand there and tell you I figured it out because I haven’t, as I was writing this book and I was thinking as an enablement leader, as a sales leader, how can we enable our reps to deal with rejection, to be trained on mindfulness, to develop that grit, and how can we make it okay to have these conversations.

When sales reps are mentally and emotionally supported, they can perform at their best, they can build stronger relationships, can perform at a level, and drive sustainable business, business growth. If you think about it, it’s a win-win for both. It’s a win-win for the company, and it’s a win-win for the individuals. As enablement leaders, I think we have some influence on how we can enable our reps to find that level of mental strength.

OG: Absolutely. I think it’s such a critical and important topic, so I’m so glad that you’re bringing that to light in your book. We talked a little bit about this at the beginning about how, for sales enablement leaders specifically, there’s so much that they can take away as a guide for putting into practice in their own organizations. I’m curious, from your perspective, what do you most want sales enablement leaders to take away as key learning from your book?

RS: In today’s world of AI and advanced sales tools, we have access to powerful tools that can help us be more effective and efficient in our sales, but what the tools can’t do, or at least yet, is replicate that humans connection, that human touch, which is the essentials. What I want sales enablement leaders to take away as key learning from my book is the importance of going back to the fundamentals, the importance of going back to the essentials of human connection influencing that behavior.

I want to be very clear, don’t confuse that with fluff. There’s a methodical approach to building strategic relationships, influencing behavior, positioning yourself as a credible source, and selling value, and it does require us to integrate both the art and the science, the science of sales to help us develop these strategic relationships to help us in selling that value.

OG: Oh absolutely. Well, I’m so excited for our listeners to be able to read your book. Where can our listeners find your book?

RS: The book is going to be released on June 20, 2023, however you can pre-order it at Amazon, it is called Sales Essentials. Olivia, before we wrap up, I do want to thank the folks that have already pre-ordered the book. I announced it on LinkedIn and a week later it was the number one new release on Amazon in the business sales category. I’m very grateful for folks that have supported me throughout that journey, that have already bought this book, and I cannot wait to come back and talk with your listeners about what they think and get their input and perspective.

OG: Absolutely. Well, we can’t wait to hear from you all listeners about what you think about the book, and again, we highly recommend pre-ordering or finding that book once it is out on June 20th. Rana, thank you so much for taking the time to share all of your expertise with our audience today. I enjoyed this conversation.

RS: Thank you so much for having me, and I’m looking forward to getting some input from your listeners as well.

OG: 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.

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