Episode 88: James Marrable on Enabling Customer Centricity

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Shawnna Sumaoang: Hi, and welcome to the Sales Enablement PRO podcast, I am Shawnna Sumaoang. 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.

Today, I’m excited to have James join us. James, I’d love for you to introduce yourself, your title, and your organization to our audience.

James Marrable: Yeah, sure. Hi, I’m James Marrable. I am the Director of Sales Enablement for Sales Platforms at Refinitiv. Refinitiv is one of the world’s largest providers of financial markets, data, and infrastructure, and essentially, we provide leading data and insights on trading platforms to financial organizations globally.

SS: Thank you so much for joining us, James. Now, I was really excited to bring you onto this podcast because [with] your approach to sales enablement, you take a very customer-centric lens.

So, in your opinion, why is it important for sales enablement to place an emphasis on the customer experience?

JM: I think, it’s an interesting one. So, my background — I think people come into sales enablement in different ways. And my perspective or my journey has been very much through the sales perspective. So, before I found myself into sales enablement roles, I was very much a salesperson, leading sales teams, having done customer success, et cetera. So, I think when you’re in those kinds of roles, you understand the importance (or you should, certainly, if you’re any good) understand the importance of sort of having a customer-centric lens.

But then I think when we get into being a sales enablement sort of person who is supporting sales, I think you have to think about customer-centricity in two ways. There’s one around understanding your customer, which is broadly the salesperson and the sales rep, and there’s also the end customer, the people you deal with indirectly through the salesperson, which is obviously our customers and clients that buy from us.

I think, first of all, when you’re a sales enablement person, it’s really important just to think about the two distinctions there. From my perspective, I think understanding about customers and being customer sort of centric is really about understanding the customer process that they go through. Whereas invariably I think salespeople, because of the way organizations are structured, because of the pressures that they are under, they tend to focus very much on the sales process and the things that they need to do. And they kind of forget about the things that the customer is going through which is key to actually driving a deal through.

And so, the more they understand, where is the customer at? The more effectively they can drive opportunity through those various processes. Does that make sense?

SS: Absolutely. Absolutely. Now I’d love to get a little bit tactical here. What are some ways that you’ve enabled teams that you support to be more customer-centric?

JM: Yeah, sure. So, for me, one of the most important things to do is, as I said, understand where the customer is. Typically when I am working with individuals or even if we were on our platform, when we have a sales enablement platform that we use within our organization, we structure it in a way which aligns to the buying process of the customer, because depending on where the customer is in that buying cycle, the salesperson needs to do different things in order to get the best out of that customer at that moment. The way we sort of do that tactically is to really challenge the salesperson to understand ‘where is their customer?’ Often, I think when you’re in sales meetings or you’re with your manager, your sort of sales leader, they’re saying to you, ‘Have you done the proposal? What’s your forecast? When’s your next meeting?’ [It’s] all very actionable on the seller and what they’re not actually asking [are] things like, ‘Why do they actually want it? What actual problem do they have?’ The things that actually connect the seller to the customer and understanding where that person is and then what they need to do within that particular stage of that buying process. And so, what we try to do is align our platform so that the buying processes are front of mind. And then help coach ourselves, managers, leaders, people, to think about things from a customer perspective rather than their own.

SS: I think that’s a fantastic tip. Now, most of the world right now has gone a bit virtual just given everything that’s going on. What are some skills that salespeople need in order to effectively engage their customers in a predominantly virtual environment?

JM: What’s very interesting about going into the virtual environment is on the face of it, I actually think prospects, customers have in some ways become more available because actually allowing time for a half an hour call or an hour video conference feels a lot less risky, I think, than actually meeting someone face-to-face. I think there’s an opportunity there for salespeople, for where customers typically might be going ‘Well, actually, is it worth dragging this guy all the way up to x place for an hour? And actually, we’re only kind of half-interested.’ They probably wouldn’t take that. Whereas actually in our new virtual world, that buyer might be like, ‘Well, actually I could be half-interested. There could be something there.’ So, it doesn’t really hurt either one of us to allow an hour, to have other conversations, to see if things go from [there].

So, I do think in the first instance, there is a massive opportunity. But I think for me, one of the key things I see when I’ve worked with sales teams in the past is one, the importance of preparation. So, a sales rep spends so much time trying to get a meeting, which is predominantly most of the time what they’re doing. And actually, when they get the meeting, they don’t then prepare well enough for that meeting. It always blows my mind. But actually, they kind of just want to rely on my pattern or rely on what I normally do. Where actually each customer is very different and I guess that advice doesn’t change whether it’s virtual or not, you know, preparation is really key. And I think, how you present information virtually is really important because you don’t get those cues that you do in a meeting. You’re not there with your physical presence. You can’t necessarily judge people’s emotions and feelings; how much they’re engaging with your content.

So, things like — I really have a thing about sort of poorly presented slides, [such as] overly wordy content that we put in front of customers because they just don’t read them. It disengages and I don’t get the point of it. I think the other things to remember with all interactions with customers is that broadly, seven to ten days later, just because of how the brain works, they’re going to forget 70 percent of what you’ve said. But what they will remember is how you made them feel. I think it’s really important to think about that context of the meeting: did the prospect think that you were engaging? Interesting? Were you interested in them? Were you asking great questions? Did you seem like you were an expert, where did you understand your content? Did you understand their problems and could articulate them back to them effectively?

Those are the kinds of things, I think, are relevant for all customer interactions, but particularly now in this world where finding deals is going to be harder because everyone’s going, no, I’m all right, thanks, I’m going to keep my money where it is at the moment.

SS: Absolutely. Now you talked about preparation and you actually also wrote an article on LinkedIn where you talked about the importance of identifying the root of the customer’s problem. From your perspective, why is it so critical for salespeople to have a deep understanding of customer problems and how do you help ensure that your salespeople are equipped to draw that information out of their customer interactions?

JM: Yeah, I think it’s one of the most critical parts of selling, because we often hear the phrase, things like, are we going to create a need? And what tends to happen is, I think what does happen is, sales reps go into meetings and they listen to the gospel questions and they listen to the customer and then based on what their customer is saying, they make that link, right? So that the problems the customer is having versus the solutions and offerings that they have, and they think, well, this customer has just said this is a problem. I can fix that, brilliant. There’s an opportunity. And they start to make assumptions. And what we try to think about in our world is, say, if a customer didn’t actually say it, then it doesn’t exist. Because customers have loads and loads of problems, but doesn’t mean they’re going to do anything about it. So, the important thing for me and why I wrote that article is it’s really important for the salesperson to understand, do they have problems which customers are actually going to act on? You know, the pain is so bad that you couldn’t do something about it, or is their pipeline filled with stuff that’s never going to happen and is just wasting time. And at the end of the day, all the salesperson has is time, and they need to use that time as effectively as possible.

One of the things I’ve done historically in my career, is I’ve been a sales trainer and this is one of the key things that we speak about and one of the things we do is SPIN, which is obviously a well-known mythology. But what we talk about in that is having implied needs, which is like things where customers are just sort of going, yeah, okay, like it’s a bit of a problem, it’s a problem. And then there’s more of an explicit need where it’s like, yeah, it’s a problem, but I need to do something about it. And it’s understanding the distinction between those two, cause when you’re in the heat of the battle, you can easily mix the two up.
And for me, the way that you get to the crux of those two types of problems you get from a customer is through really great questioning, and we do that by arming our salespeople with great playbooks, with question sheets to prepare them, those types of materials which really helps the seller get into that mind frame and absolutely up preparations, so before you go down, make sure you’ve got your five or six really great problem-type questions that you have. Make sure you go through them and once you identify properly, make sure you explore it properly.

SS: I love that. Now another part of customer-centricity, obviously, is being able to build very strong relationships. And you’ve mentioned that one of your primary goals as a sales enablement leader is to help salespeople understand how to confidently build relationships. So, what are some of your key strategies for developing that confidence?

JM: Yeah. I think it’s a really interesting question. I think for me, the number one thing when you’re trying to build really good relationships with customers is be interested. Clearly, like I know you’re there to get a deal, and the person buying from you knows that you’re there to get a deal from them. But the great thing is their job is to spend money and your job is to get them to spend that money, and so having that sort of genuine interest in what they’re talking about and sort of really being inquisitive into the problems and challenges that they have is really key. And I think it gives people a real sense of being listened to, a real sense of, you’re coming across as someone who is actually quite genuine, quite interested in what they’re trying to do, rather than someone who’s going in and just going through that pattern that you always do or trying to lead your prospect straight to your solutions that you offer. Like that should be way down the line. They shouldn’t be talking about products, solutions or that kind of thing for a long time, in my opinion. It should be about really understanding that customer and being totally interested. That’d be my first kind of point.

The second one would be to totally understand that your proposition. And I think this is one of the key things that the salespeople often don’t do. They have a generic understanding of what it is that they sell clearly, but actually do they have a real deep enough understanding of the proposition that they’re going to market with, so that when you were in that room, you have the confidence to work with that customer. You need to be really comfortable with what you’re saying to provide confidence to that customer.

Also, actually, it’s the people who are totally confident in that kind of space, who understand that proposition, that means that when you get a question from a customer and you don’t know the answer to that question, it’s okay then to be like, actually do you know what, that’s a great question. I don’t know the answer to it. Let me come back to you. Because you’ve bred that sort of confidence from the start.

The fourth thing is to challenge your customer as well, challenge them to think differently. You know, we can do that in a lot of different ways, depending on your style, depending on how you’d like to, how well you know the customer, all that kind of stuff that plays into it. But I definitely don’t think sales reps in this modern world should be sitting there and just go yep, the customer’s right — and you’re just writing everything down. I think it’s sort of going, ‘Okay, that’s great Mr. Customer, but why is that? And have you thought about trying to do it this way? And, over here that doesn’t really make any sense, so why does that work?’

I think if you engage sort of real authentically in that, and really challenge the experience, I’ve certainly seen that in the market and the experience that we’ve had with our sales reps [it] has been super positive. So, I guess those are the kind of the four key things that I would say around that.

SS: Those are four fantastic tips, James, I’ve really enjoyed chatting with you. I have kind of one closing question for you and in the world of business, it always comes down to what you can measure. So, how do you measure customer-centricity? How do you apply those insights to optimizing your sales enablement efforts?

JM: Yeah, it’s such an interesting question. And when I got this question, I was like, oh, that’s a tough one. It’s kind of like the golden goose egg in some respects. And I even called on one of my colleagues and I was like, well, what do you think about this question? This is a very interesting question, but actually I’m going to be a little bit — I think facetious is the wrong word — but I’m going to of challenge this question a little bit, because I think there’s a couple of things with customer-centricity.

One is when you’re talking about going to market, there is more than just kind of the sales rep that is involved in that. Customer-centricity sort of spans all the way through the organization. And I think if you’re in an organization that doesn’t put the customer at the heart of everything it does, I think you’re going to struggle. It doesn’t matter how customer-centric your sales rep is, if the people who deliver the products aren’t into that, if the system goes down and the support section isn’t great, that customer-centricity sort of eats away. But studied from a sales perspective, I would be quite candid to say, look, if you are a customer-centric sales rep, I would expect to see you selling more than you sold last year. I would expect to see all those stats and the things that we check and we measure. Day in, day out, with Salesforce or with different platforms, I’m sure these organizations use, we should be seeing those incremental increases in all those kinds of behavior, because if the salesperson isn’t being customer-centric and they aren’t doing all those things they should be doing.

I think also that one of the key things I would look out from if I put my sales operations hat on would be looking at trends in terms of like, how much a customer is spending with us? Is that increasing over time? Because that’s a great measure to understand, does that customer feel engaged in what we’re offering and with the people that I’m working with?

Similarly, with like NPS scoring customer feedback, often that kind of stuff gets really overlooked. Well, that’s kind of not really fair. Often at a top level of the organization, it’s really important for the people at the top. There’s not necessarily really important for the sales reps at the bottom because their life is a lot more transactional. So actually, it’s a great way to measure if they saw that at the top of the organization as sort of connecting with the bottom part of the organization with their sales reps. So, I think for me, those are the kind of things that I would look at to measure that sort of customer-centricity.

SS: Fantastic. James, again, thank you so much for joining us on our podcast today. I enjoyed our conversation quite a bit.

JM: That was great. Thank you very much. Cheers.

SS: To our audience, thanks for listening. For more insights, tips, and expertise from sales enablement leaders, visit salesenablement.pro. If there’s something you’d like to share or a topic you’d like to learn more about, please let us know. We’d love to hear from you.

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