The Priority Sale and the Future of B2B Selling
We are in the midst of a Customer Experience (CX) revolution where customers demand an enhanced experience. In this episode of The CX Angle, we discuss the three deadly C’s of the sales process and how to avoid the race to the bottom.
Read the transcript below or listen to the podcast.
(Ryan Kubec) All right, welcome to The CX Angle. I’m excited. Today we’ve got our guest, Bryan Gray from Revenue Path Group. Bryan, thanks for being here. And please introduce yourself to the audience. Tell us a little bit about yourself, about your organization and some of your background.
(Bryan Gray) Thanks, Ryan. Thanks for having me. My name is Bryan Gray. I’m the CEO of the Revenue Path Group and what we do is we design revenue systems and cultures that are designed to withstand today’s accelerated change. Because, Ryan, we believe the biggest threat that organizations face today is becoming a commodity in their prospect’s eyes. What’s making it worse, decision-making teams keep getting bigger and sales teams are being ignored until the very end of the buying journey. These three factors are really driving what we call this race to the bottom, and this race won’t stop on its own. This race is driven by what we call the three deadly C’s: commoditization, consensus decision making and compressed selling time. We fundamentally believe that sales teams are unprepared and ill-equipped to combat these three deadly C’s. So our organization has been put together in a way to help people fight back against these deadly C’s, but doing so in a way that helps you win the brain, win the journey [and] to eventually win the deal.
Now, a little background about me. Before leading the Revenue Path Group, I built and designed two INC 500 businesses. So the idea of accelerating change is something I’m very comfortable with. In fact, if you do your strengths finder, my number two is futuristic. I totally geek out on this idea of the future and how much it’s changing, and I’ve been able to make a living operating in that space. I think we’re in a world now where people are looking for some guidance around this, because they can’t quite figure out what to do about the future that is changing right before their eyes.
(Ryan Kubec) Sure. We’ve talked about some of that offline. I mean, the current state of the world, right? I think everyone would agree that things are changing. And they did change very drastically last year, when all of a sudden on March 15th, or whatever day it was in the U.S., everyone’s business changed. Some of them skyrocketed, right? I would bet Charmin toilet paper did pretty well. But, you know, the thing that I’ve always told people is that good problems are still problems. Just because business is booming doesn’t mean that you aren’t going to be under stress or having challenges facing your business. And we’ve talked a little bit about some of these current challenges. One of them just being staffing. What are your thoughts on what businesses can do? It seems like there’s this [one] phrase that I keep hearing, the great resignation. People are coming out of quarantine and they’re either changing careers or getting out of the workforce, to where now getting good talent is hard to come by.
(Bryan Gray) Yeah, absolutely. A couple things around that. A lot of people talk about the change that came about because of COVID, but what really happened was that we just accelerated our timeline. We were moving to all of these environments. We are going to move to a video-based sales approach, right? While 80% of sellers don’t like it, [because] they think they’re way more effective face-to-face, only 22% of buyers are like, ‘I want you in my office.’ They just don’t. So, there’s a real disruption there and we have to get really good at how things are evolving in the sales world.
But I think the idea of talent, when I first entered the business world [and] there was no Internet, the salespeople were seen as covering [a] territory, and we needed salespeople out there educating consumers. We had control of the sale because we had information they didn’t. And we still seem to staff sales teams by gaps and openings and territories.
The sales organization of the future is going to be much, much different. I think that this can actually help those who are limited, who can’t find the right talent. I say that we have to readjust and transform the talent that we have before we start just adding six figures here, six figures there—just continuing to add sellers in spaces that we may not need them, moving forward. So maybe this challenge of finding the right people we can counter with the right use of technology and how you approach the market from a messaging perspective.
(Ryan Kubec) That makes sense. I use sports analogies for almost everything. Once you have your team, it’s time to go play. You can’t just replace everybody. I mean, sometimes you’ve got to coach up the people that you have, make them better, help them grow and reach their own potential. It sounds like what you’re getting at is that you don’t always need to just add more salespeople. Sometimes you just retool the people you have, to make them more effective.
(Bryan Gray) Absolutely, yeah. As I mentioned earlier, we believe sales teams are unprepared and ill-equipped. Before we start adding people, let’s prepare and equip the people you have. Because it’s one thing to acknowledge, and we can talk later in our session around some things you have to really work on, but you can choose to throw everybody off, start all over again, or not do anything at all. I think we all agree that doing nothing at all is probably not the right option. So, you can replace everything you have. That doesn’t make sense. Do nothing at all. That doesn’t make sense. But the third option [is to] just make the right kind of adjustments. And there are three fundamental pillars of what we need to do with our sales teams to stay relevant and effective, moving forward.
(Ryan Kubec) Gotcha. One of the things that you mentioned in your intro there, you talked about how sellers today are trying to sell to commodities. I deal with that all the time. You get an RFP that comes out, you have one contact person, you’ve got 15 people that are on the evaluation committee, and one hidden executive sponsor that’s probably your ultimate decision maker. Don’t know who he is. And then, beyond just that specific RFP, there are probably 15 other ones in the organization. And we’ve already talked about the staffing challenges. So that limits the capacity of what companies can actually do. They have lots of needs. And I see this every day, as well. There [are] a lot of people that realize, ‘Hey, we need to retool our business. We only have so much runway to do that with.’
So how do you see that impacting sellers? And does that fit in with this model of change that you’re talking about and acceleration?
(Bryan Gray) Yeah, absolutely. When we’re brought in at the very last minute, we have to realize that we’re in too late and we’ve got to compete there. But the way to approach this is to be in earlier, at that higher level, and this will work for a couple of reasons. When you take a step back and look at the steps that a buying team/organization goes through, at the very end is procurement. But if you look to the left of that, that’s the planning process, and even prior to that is what we call the priority phase—which is really where organizational priority is set.
You talked about that hidden decision maker. When organizations get a lead where there’s a large decision committee, makes sense because that’s the world we live in, the average decision-making team is 6.8 people. When you’re brought in late, the real decision maker is gone. And now, you’re on that race to the bottom because all they’re doing is comparing you to other options.
Now, here’s the hidden concept that most don’t think about that’s affecting everyone today with priorities and larger decision teams. We were all trained as sellers to beat our direct competitors. Right? The competitive matrix, we do this, they do that, how do you stack up and your job is to beat out your closest competitor. But what if I told you that your biggest competitor is not even them? It’s the prospect doing nothing at all.
Because what happens, what we know to be true, is every organization has what we call the 17-4 impact. They all have about 17 great ideas that they can take action on and create phenomenal returns on investment. They’re going to save them this, do this and do all that. But guess what? There’s not enough time, money or resources to act on more than four of those. So your real competition is not your direct competitor. It’s how do I connect our real impact to the organizational priorities? Because we do know that 13 out of 17 great ideas will never ever see the light of day. So how do we make sure that what we’re doing is connected closely to that organizational priority of that hidden decision maker, that’s not even in the room, when we’re currently brought in?
(Ryan Kubec) I think what you’re getting at is [that] by the time you get to the RFP, they’ve already kind of boxed in all the rules of how you’re going to compete. The businesses might be kneecapping themselves by saying, ‘Hey, there. Here’s the small place we’re going to allow you sellers to operate in.’ Now, you can’t even sell the value to actually fix the problems because they’ve limited what you’re able to tell them. I think there are probably people, at least in our world in software sales, that have gotten an RFP and you can tell how one of our competitors helped them write this, just by the language that I’ve seen in there. I think you’re saying you’ve got to be in early enough that you can help craft that narrative and drive that value with the ultimate decision maker.
(Bryan Gray) Yeah. The strategic advantage to that, right now, is there’s a necessity when AI takes over a lot of the purchasing. Now, you’ve talked about this idea of kneecapping themselves. Just because there’s a buyer’s playbook, how they go about making a buying decision, no one said they make good buying decisions. While you’re working to be in earlier, at a higher level, and being more influential is better for them—they just don’t understand that. Because if we wait until the very end, and you think about this accelerating world we live in with the real implication and ramification of artificial intelligence, you’re going to see that procurement phase where people think they know what they need and want—and artificial intelligence will take over that entire phase.
So, now, it’s a competitive advantage to be in earlier, at that higher level, to be influential. In the next three to five years, it’s an imperative. If your sales team can’t get access earlier and at levels high enough, then you really don’t need a sales force in the next five years. And that’s a fundamental question that we work with sales leaders of organizations on all the time. We start by asking, why do you even have a sales team right now? I know why they do. But most of the answers that you get aren’t that good.
(Ryan Kubec) I’ve heard people in my organization, and they will probably laugh if they hear this, because there’s a few select people who have said, ‘There’s real salespeople, and there’s order takers.’ And I think what you’re saying is that if you’re just an order taker, sitting around waiting for your customer to place the order, and you’re going to call that sales, then you probably need to either get ready to retire or start brushing up on your skillset. The real selling needs to happen earlier, before the customer even realizes, ‘Hey, I have a need.’ You’ve got to know that customer, know that industry, know what challenges they’re facing, and be able to help them get out in front of it.
(Bryan Gray) Absolutely. Fulfillment selling, procurement selling, or order taking will be the first to go. And that’s where we’re in the most trouble because we live in that space. You mentioned there’s always two or three other competitors and your prospect’s brain gets confused. They can’t really tell the difference. Everyone has great referrals, great testimonials, and they all can do the work. So, this race to the bottom is an inevitability of our accelerating age. And if you’re living there as an order taker, you’re just going to be the first group that is going to be leaving the profession.
We’ve talked about the 17-4 scenario. If you’re going to make sure that your solution is a priority, you have to become more influential, earlier. What we hear from most people, because no one argues that we need to get in earlier, at a higher level, [are] two things: ‘Who do I need to get to?’ or ‘I don’t know what to say when I get to the job programs to win out over our direct competitors.’ And that’s not what a CEO wants to talk about. What she wants to hear are insights of how you can make her threats go away. Threats, from a neuroscience perspective, are always our priorities. And if we as a seller can’t connect our real impact to our prospect’s priorities, which means we have to understand the threats they’re dealing with at an organizational level, we can’t make that connection. We will be stuck at order taking. There’s just no way around it if you can’t do that.
(Ryan Kubec) The other thing that I think a lot of businesses are getting smacked with, and we’ve heard this as the big buzz phrase for the last five to seven years, is digital transformation. No one really knew what that even meant. But, last year, supply chains got disrupted, all workforces went 100% remote for the most part, and all of a sudden some of these buzzwords that were [previously] ambiguous had very tangible implications. How do you see companies addressing that, or reacting that, or trying to catch up to that? Is that all part of this bigger picture of this accelerating change?
(Bryan Gray) Yeah, absolutely. The nature of a sales organization is to ensure that you get the most value for your solution. Right now, you could say, ‘We’re going to become a total e-commerce and we’re not going to have salespeople at all.’ So why do we have sellers? Because we want the right people to understand our real value and impact. But if they can’t do that job properly, what’s going to happen is that you might stay busy selling at lower margins—and we all know what the lower margin game means to us. You have to work harder to pay the bills [or] defend your value, keep your margins at a healthy level, and grow your market share. That’s going to help you turn back some of the challenges, or at least pushback appropriately. But if your sellers can’t defend that, that’s where life just gets harder and harder and harder. You have to continue to sell more at lower margins, which creates its own conundrum because [you’re] too busy to make any change. But every single day you move forward, you’re losing your relevancy because you can’t get in at the right spot, at the right time.
(Ryan Kubec) Sure. Earlier, you mentioned those three deadly C’s and that’s really the main focus that I wanted to dive into for this episode, the three biggest challenges. Every time I’ve heard you explain it, I pick up some different piece. There’s some other anecdote or a different customer that clicks in my head and I go, ‘Oh, they’re definitely facing that.’ Or there are challenges that I face in my role in sales. So can you dive in a little bit deeper, and explain some of those three deadly C’s? How do they impact companies?
(Bryan Gray) Yeah. Really, they’ve developed into what we call the buyer’s playbook. Because there’s a battle of playbooks going on. To use a sports analogy, you can’t show up to a game without having some form of a playbook and most organizations don’t have the playbook that allows them to compete. And when you have an inferior playbook or not one at all, you’re going to fall for the prospects every single time. The idea of the three deadly C’s.
If I can take the salesperson out of the equation for the first 70% of the buying journey, that’s compressed selling time. ‘I will call you, Ryan, when I’m ready. Until then, I’m going to do my own information gathering.’ So, not only are you showing up late, but there is no trust being built. The decision-making team now has nearly seven people, each with their own priority. We have to contend with these varying priorities, and this is why if you don’t understand organizational priority, you’re going to struggle.
We just talked about compressed selling time, consensus decision making, and we wait to the last minute with too many decision makers. They’re shopping you [along] with three other similarly sounding firms, and that race to the bottom kicks in—which is what full commoditization is all about. That’s the buyer’s playbook. That’s just the way it’s evolved. It’s not that they’re bad, mean people, but that makes it easier for them to buy. If you don’t have a power playbook that’s designed to counter that, you’re stuck. And you’re stuck in a bad way.
Whereas the playbook that we help organizations deploy is designed to do three things. Number one, get in earlier, at a higher level. You need to connect to the highest possible level’s priority by understanding your real impact—and there’s a way to help you create those conversations. Second, you’ve got to be able to connect your real impact to their priority. And third, you have to become more of a consultative seller, which I would say, Ryan, is the exact opposite of an order taker. So you have to work on those three fundamental pillars, or you can’t be successful.
In fact, I will challenge each and every revenue leader on this call to understand how your sellers introduce themselves to a complete stranger. Because, if you believe me that we need to get in earlier and at a higher level, a prospect is going to say, ‘Well, why should I take this meeting with you, Ryan? Why can’t we wait until we send the RFP out?’ You’d better have a take and you’d better be able to connect with me at a level that I can work with, in 30 seconds or less. And that comes down to your elevator pitch. When I introduced myself to you earlier, I shared our elevator pitch. And what that does—it doesn’t talk about what we do—it is designed to connect quickly to a threat that you might have. I call it the elevator pitch challenge. Next sales meeting, just go around the room. Ask each seller, ‘You’ve got 20 seconds to earn the trust of a CEO of an organization. How would you introduce yourself?’ In the answers you hear, you’ve got to think to yourself, ‘Would I take a meeting with a person who said that?’
(Ryan Kubec) Yeah. And in my head, I’m thinking of pitches that I’ve heard. Some of them are just buzzwords and fluff that is all surface-level substance. Some people jump to feature functions right away. You’re going to have a few people that can probably tie some of that to value, but probably less likely you’re going to have someone who really understands the worries, concerns, apprehensions. What’s keeping that specific CEO/CRO person up at night, as they’re trying to lead their business forward and provide a strong company and take care of their people?
(Bryan Gray) Let’s dive into some brain science for just a minute, because that’s why introductions are so important. Our brains get deluged with about 10,000 messages a day and the vast majority we don’t listen to. All the real decision making happens at the primitive brain level, which doesn’t even know how to read, by the way. It is wholly consumed by making your physical, emotional or social threats go away. So if you want to create a quick connection with a complete stranger, you can’t talk about value. You can’t talk features and benefits because there’s no connection. Because my primitive brain, where decision making happens, doesn’t make an inference. You have to actually connect at a threat level because the primitive brain has the world’s strongest filter. When it’s presented with information, it only does one of two things. It moves toward the stimulus, the information, or away from it. And if you come in talking about things that don’t matter to me, on a conscious or subconscious level, I’m ignoring you. But if, right out of the gate, you can connect to me in a way that speaks to some deep, underlying threats that I’m experiencing, I’m going to lean in. I’m going to take the challenge. I’m going to ask you, ‘What do you mean? How do you do that?’ And also, within 30 to 45 seconds, you’ve developed a high degree of trust with a higher level prospect that you never thought you can get to earlier.
(Ryan Kubec) What are the most common mistakes and pitfalls companies make when they’re trying to combat some of these issues? We talked about not having enough people, consensus decision making, the race to the bottom. So where are people getting it wrong when they’re trying to address those challenges?
(Bryan Gray) Good question. It’s not about workshopping your way to success. We talked about revenue cultures. And we all know that cultural change takes time. It’s all about the behaviors that we do on a daily basis that become ritual and routine. The first thing that we have to recognize is the priority planning and procurement phase. We have to start working closely with marketing, as an example, because most marketing leads are designed to develop procurement leads, which puts you in an automatic tough situation. So we have to work with our marketing team to help us hunt for those opportunities to be in earlier, at a higher level.
We have to think about the sales training that we do. The vast majority of today’s top sales training programs are built on 40-plus-year-old chassis. They were not designed for a role with multiple decision makers, with half of them remote, with other priorities that they’re considering. So they’re not even applicable to today’s world.
We have to look at our individual salespeople to understand what more revenue potential they have. What do they need to work on? Because we’re moving into a role that I’m calling genome sales training. It’s not about a one-size-fits-few sales training that we do once a year, or once a quarter. It’s about identifying every single issue with up to 450 data points that we can gather. What does each salesperson need to improve? And, more importantly, what’s the revenue upside that they have?
We can’t go blindly into the future and just keep adding more and more salespeople, when our existing team might be at 63% of their capability or capacity. We’ve got to fix what we have, because the pillars that we need to anchor to have nothing to do with the new salesperson. Every single seller that you have must be able to get in earlier, at a higher level. They must be able to connect your real impact to a top priority. And they must be more consultative in their approach. If you worked on that, Ryan, you don’t need to add a bunch more people when all your growth is probably within your existing team.
(Ryan Kubec) And if you’re getting in at that higher level, to that ultimate decision maker who’s going to approve this, or sign off on that purchase order, I think that probably eliminates that race to the bottom. When they believe in your value and they see how it connects to their business priorities and their vision and where they’re going, they’re willing to pay for it and they don’t care if some competitor can come in and say, “Look at our features and functions, and we’ll do it for 20% less.”
(Bryan Gray) 100%, Ryan. Because there’s that trust built at the right level, and I know we need to include others in the decision, but when a high-level decision maker believes that you can make those threats go away, she will walk this deal all the way through. Right? There’s no handing you off anymore. Because if the priority is right and the threat is real and your impact connects to that, you know, Ryan, you’re my guy. ‘Help me. Help me get this done.’ All of a sudden you’re in a very influential role where you can help them make the right decisions, which is really getting back to working with the organization in the way you can best help them.
(Ryan Kubec) I think what I see in now, not just in my world of CX but across the board, is that businesses have business pains. Sometimes they just try to throw technology at it and hope that it fixes it, but sometimes it’s just a process issue. And, like you said, you actually need that consultative relationship to help them take a step back. We work with a lot of great organizations that have great cultures and that’s where you see people who have been there for 30 years—and they’re still viewed as some of the new people. But the other side of that double-edged sword is that they don’t always see how other companies have done things. And that’s where I think a lot of people just say, “Well, let’s go find a solution,” and grab some technology like that’ll fix it. It’s like the magic easy button and then they’re shocked when they don’t get the results that they were expecting.
(Bryan Gray) Yeah, and only because of our clear understanding of each other, I think I could say some of these things. I really believe that if an organization is seeking advantage, because that’s really why people do that. ‘I need to create a balance to weather the storm,’ or ‘I need to create advantage so I’m not becoming commoditized.’ But what’s interesting to me is that if your direct competitor can buy the same exact thing that you’re buying, then it doesn’t create advantage.
Now we need technology to support, but the real key is, ‘How do we create value around the things that are unique to us? What is our value proposition? What’s our priority position? How do we get those meetings? What can we do that is unique to us?’ Now if we buy the solution and my direct competitor buys it, then there’s no real advantage here. I think it’s how they work together. And that’s where you see this advisory role become more and more important because what organizations need is help creating greater margins and market share growth. Yes, they want to automate what they can, and they need the technology to support that. But I think sometimes they want to push that easy button without doing the real work that creates real advantage.
(Ryan Kubec) Yep. So, just to recap, what I’ve heard you say is that you have to get in at that priority phase, when business leaders are getting together at that C-level or executive level to do their planning for the year, or the next two years. They’re doing some of their SWOT matrices, finding out what are their biggest threats, where are their priorities for this business, and making sure that your message is tied to that. Can you talk a little bit about your book, The Priority Sale, that I’m guessing ties in nicely with getting in at that priority level?
(Bryan Gray) Absolutely, thank you, Ryan. It’s called, The Priority Sale, and I really like the subhead better than the title. It’s ‘How to Connect Your Real Impact to Your Prospects’ Top Priorities.’ How we got there was this whole idea that the world has changed with larger decision-making teams. It’s no longer about beating your direct competitor. It’s about achieving priority in that organization.
You start thinking about the framing of the different parts of a sale, and you look at where we’re brought in, and you look at why we’re always competing with the same people, why is everyone in on every deal and why are they always pressing me on price. We took a step back and realized it’s really a positioning play. And this has happened [because of] a convergence of technology, the internet, a variety of things are doing this.
But when it comes down to it, with so many great ideas and few resources to go around, you’ve got to find a way to win that priority. There’s nothing joyful in saying, ‘Hey, Ryan, we liked your proposal the best. You were great. You knocked it out of the park but we’re not going to do anything for six months because we’ve got some other fires to put out. We have other blah, blah, blah.’ That’s still a loss because you didn’t win priority. This is not about being a direct competitor, you’ve got to win priority. And that’s what every sales training program out there, to this day, does not address. And that’s something we have to learn to contend with.
And, as I mentioned earlier today, it’s an advantage for you to be in earlier, at a higher level. Within the next three to five years, it’s the price of admission. It’s table stakes. So those who move fast and start thinking about these pillars, and what they need to change, will start seeing that margin growth and that market share growth that really defines a healthy organization.
(Ryan Kubec) Great stuff. I appreciate it. Thank you for your time today, Bryan. Where can folks find The Priority Sale? I’m guessing, Amazon. And then do you guys have that available on your website as well?
(Bryan Gray) Yes, we do. It’s on Amazon.com, as you know, [where] it’s actually the number one new release on sales and marketing. It’s on theprioritysale.com, our website address or URL is www.revenuepathgroup.com. And we look forward to answering any questions. Challenge our thinking. But the reality is [that] we have to do something different because the way we built and designed our sales cultures in the past is not designed to compete and win in a world that’s accelerating around us. So, Ryan, I appreciate you taking the time and the questions were fantastic. You’re a wonderful host.
(Ryan Kubec) Thank you. We’d love to have you back on again sometime. Certainly, I resonate with a lot of what you say, and I see it day-to-day, 100%. I appreciate your time and have a good weekend. We’ll have you on again sometime.
(Bryan Gray) Awesome. Thank you, Ryan.
(Ryan Kubec) Thanks, Bryan.
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