Join Pete Evans as he speaks to George Brontén, CEO and Founder of Sales CRM Membrain.
George gives his experienced insights into running his team, making a good hire and looking into how tough sales is for a sales leader. George talks about the benefits of investing in sales coaching as opposed to quick-fixes with sales training. These are some of the questions asked in our very first episode of Creating SalesStars.
About our Guest
George Brontén is a life-long entrepreneur, with 25 years of experience in the software space and a passion for sales and marketing. With the life motto “Don’t settle for mainstream,” George is always looking for new ways to achieve improved business results using innovative software, skills and processes. He shares his thoughts on the award-winning blog Art & Science of Complex Sales.
Since 2012, George and his team at Membrain.com have collaborated with thought leaders and studied research to identify the success factors behind successful sales organisations. The result of their hard work is a software-as-a-service that makes it easier for companies to capture, learn and execute the behaviours needed to achieve sales excellence.
About our Host
Pete Evans has over 20 years sales experience with a successful corporate sales career. If you’re involved in B2B selling, cold calling, sales recruitment, sales training, sales coaching, sales transformation or have a desire to grow your business then this podcast is for you.
Pete is currently MD and Practice Partner of SalesStar UK. SalesStar combines sales training with sales coaching to deliver long term results in line with your sales strategy so you can smash your targets and grow top line revenue. SalesStar works with growth minded CEOs and sales leaders who are frustrated with their sales results and are looking for a proven system to grow sales.
Oliver Eaton | Pete Evans | George Brontén
Welcome to the Creating SalesStars Podcast. Each week, our host, Pete Evans, will be joined by some of the big and upcoming names within the sales industry. This is brought to you by SalesStar UK.
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, you’re listening to the Creating SalesStars podcast. I’m delighted this morning to introduce George Brontén, who is the founder and CEO of Membrain. George is a lifelong entrepreneur with 25 years of experience in the software space. And George has a passion for sales and marketing, and with the life motto “don’t settle for mainstream”, George is always looking for new ways to achieve improved business results using innovative software skills and processes. He shares his thoughts on the award winning blog “Art and Science of Complex Sales”. Since 2012 George and his team at Membrain have collaborated with thought leaders and conducted research to identify the success factors behind successful sales organisations. The results of Membrain’s hard work is a software as a service that makes it easier for companies to capture, learn and execute the behaviours needed to achieve sales excellence. So good morning and welcome, George.
Thank you very much. Happy to be here.
So the theme of these podcasts, George, is about creating sales stars. The podcast is talking to sales leaders and sales managers globally. So I just wanted to open up and ask you, what do you see as some of the challenges for sales leaders in creating sales excellence in their organisations?
Yeah, I think my answer to that would be our own assumptions about what selling actually is. And as you might know, I wrote a book about the topic called ‘Stop Killing Deals’, where I shared how I held very incorrect assumptions about selling. And I think that’s what holds us back a lot of times just how we think about things.
Yeah, I mean, I’ve read your book and it’s excellent. What sorts of paradigms did you come into selling with and you’ve talked about these things that can block us in our own perceptions and paradigms?
Yeah, I think just the word in itself selling it sounds like it’s something we do onto others. I think we have to realise that we can help someone make a decision and hopefully that would involve us, our products and services. But selling is really about helping and not so much about selling. So I held a belief, for instance, that sellers more or less are born with certain traits. And if you are extroverted and competitive, et cetera, et cetera, then you become a good salesperson. Whereas it’s a profession, right? You have to. There’s a lot of things you have to be good at. And also, depending on what you sell, those things are very different if you’re selling transactionally or if you’re selling a very, very complex solution. So, so I think that would make me maybe my main sort of. Problem, I thought I could hire people who had certain traits and who had sold for other companies, and they would perform in my company selling what we were selling, which was simply not true.
Yeah I mean, you’ve raised a very interesting point there about extroverts. And when I first went into sales too many years ago to think about, I sat in a room full of extroverts and thought, I’ve made the wrong career choice.
But actually what I worked out was after a while, just because you were extroverted, it didn’t mean you were going to be successful.
And I’m eventually talked about people you hired with lots of different experience than you thought they could do it. I mean, how did you feel as a sales leader when those people you’d hired probably came with a successful track record? Were extroverted, didn’t succeed? How did that make you feel?
Yeah so in the beginning, I pointed outwards. I thought it was the fault of the recruiting company. And yeah, it was the fault of these people. But but of course, I realised after some time that I was the problem, and I had been making these faulty assumptions. And I also realised that I trained them. I trained them well on certain things like product, but I did not train them well at all on other aspects such as, you know, more more, maybe more on the how, how to engage people on the almost like, you know, psychological level. That sounds a bit Dr. foolish, maybe. But but really, that’s we engage with people and you have to understand people. So I realised that I was not doing a good job as a sales leader and I didn’t have a defined sort of way of selling. So it became very ad hoc, everything. So when I did this, I did this in another company that I founded and I realised that, Wow, selling is really complex when you’re selling something that is not transactional. So I started studying a lot, you know, read all these sales books about sales methodologies and but also went into more MLP neural neuro linguistic programming and how we people, how we think and how we make decisions. And I think that’s what really got me excited about selling and sales leadership is that the human part is so fascinating.
Do you think I mean, obviously you dealing with a lot of sales leaders as we do? What do you think puts off sales leaders really diving into this and really investing in sort of the coaching and the behaviours that are needed to transform sales performance? Because you mentioned there about, you know, training on products, and we still see a lot of companies who will focus on training the salespeople on the products, but will ignore a lot of the behavioural aspects of selling you you refer to as the getting into the psychological level. What do you think put sales leaders off from getting involved?
Well, if I just sort of think back to myself, I guess I didn’t think it was needed because I was making these assumptions that that’s something the salespeople, especially if they’ve had a career in sales, should know, right? It’s not something I should have to educate them on. So I think there’s just maybe a blind spot there, and it’s easy to train product, right? We know our products well. We sometimes believe that the product will sell itself because it’s so fabulous. It’s so fantastic. And I think honestly, that might also be or might that it’s a great problem today that for customers, most products really look the same. I mean, if I go to one website and I read about a product in a certain space and I go to the biggest competitor, they probably look and sound very much the same. So it’s my strong belief that how you sell is really the only maybe differentiator you’ve got that can set you apart. So I’m not sure that’s a response to your question specifically, but I think there’s a blind spot there in really, really diving into the way you are selling and what experience that gives the buyer.
And I think that’s a great response. Do you think do you think some sales needs? Obviously not. I won’t include yourself in this sort of question or comment, George, but that they’re sort of wedded to the past of the old way of selling, you know, the soul focused on the product. They don’t want to equip themselves with some new skills and maybe invest in, you know, software like Membrain support, you know, great behavioural change in the sales process. Do you think there’s a bit of that? What I would say, that dinosaur complex, you know, we’ve always done it this way.
I mean, we’re human beings. So we’re creatures of habit and habits are hard to break. So, yeah, I definitely think that’s the case. And also there’s little, you know, formal education to become a professional salesperson or a professional sales leader. It’s still a lot of learning by doing and learning, by self educating. So I think there’s a leap that has to be made there for four leaders, and I had a great conversation yesterday. I think we’ve had we have to be careful who we learn from. And I think there’s a lot of teachings going on in our space sales and marketing that is just plainly wrong and hurtful. And this idea of automation, for instance, which has been big for a while now that you can automate prospecting, for instance, and you can just send out a series of emails and stuff. And all of a sudden you will have a bunch of customers banging on your door wanting to buy your stuff, and that’s just simply not true, depending on what you sell. Of course. But, sometimes these messages come from high tech companies coming out with a completely new product, maybe even a new category, and they need to educate the entire world. And every company in the entire world is a potential customer. Of course, they have a different go to market strategy. They have a different way of selling than if you were selling, I don’t know, a medtech product to, you know, a maximum of 10,000 customers worldwide. So we have to be careful who we take our advice from.
Yeah I mean, the internet’s made it a lot easier to set yourself up as an expert, George, so I can completely agree that you do have to be careful if you take your advice from it, and it’s actually easy to set yourself off as an expert on day one, not having done any research. And there are a lot of people who attract a lot of followers on different social media channels. I completely concur with what you say. It’s interesting what you say about refer back to something you said earlier about, you know, sales is a profession, but actually there isn’t really any formal education as a, you know, for sales leaders or salespeople. Do you think if there was a sort of formal route to get educated as a sales leader, that would help sales as a profession?
Yeah, I think so. If done right. I mean, there are universities that are starting to provide curriculum for professional salespeople and sales managers, we work with a few of those. And yeah, no, I definitely think so – because there are fundamentals we have to know in selling and those can be those can be taught.
So how would you respond? And this was a piece of feedback from a sales leader a couple of years ago, George, from a former client of ours through the sales leader, said, “my people don’t need any coaching. I don’t need any software to, you know, transformers. I’ve got a magic sales leadership source.” How would you respond to that if a sales leader made that sort of comment?
He did what he had, what he said.
He had the magic sales leadership source.
And OK, and that did not include coaching.
No, that did not – technology.
Well, I would really like to know that magic sauce. But yeah, I know it sounds. Sounds like he’s got a bit of a overconfidence there, for sure. Now, I mean, coaching is the magic sauce. I believe actually in any profession, I guess everyone has everything they need inside of them. But how to get that out is what a good leader can do, right? And that coaching is at least the best tool I’ve found to get people to extract their own excellence, so to speak.
OK, so this sort of comes in nicely in terms of using tools to support coaching. And I think it would be remiss of me not to mention membrane on this podcast. George, seeing as you’re the founder and CEO of Membrain, you know, you’ve talked about your passion for sales. You know, sales excellence. You know, you write a lot about this and you know, you know what gets in the way of deals. And you know, particularly you mentioned complex, you know, complex sales. Do you see technology and tech such as Membrain can really enhance the coaching process for a sales leader and sales manager?
Yeah, absolutely. I think without technology, it gets much more difficult because you don’t have any measurements, really. It’s all manual. It’s like flying an airplane without any instruments through a blizzard. It’s too hard. You need data to really understand what’s going on. And also you need to find sort of. So technology we can have all also overconfidence and over belief in what technology can do. The reason I founded Membrain was that I wanted the technology to help me define our way of selling. How should we be selling? And I thought that CRMs were really poor and there still are very poor at that because they basically design just to have on that assumption. I mentioned previously that salespeople ought to know what to do and sales leaders ought to know what to do that you just use the CRM to log what they’ve done. And that was something that really frustrated me, and I wanted to sort of have a map of this is how we should be doing it. And this is when we need to ask a certain question, and this is when we need to engage a certain stakeholder. But there was nothing like that in CRMs. So, yes, absolutely. You need that guidance, from my perspective, and technology can really do that and also the stickiness of training because it’s very easy to go to training and then you forget about it unless you actually execute and do what you’ve been taught, you’re going to forget about it. And that’s where technology can come in as well to sort of reinforce and remind you about all those good things you learned.
Yeah, I mean, you’ve talked about some really great points that I’ve noticed there’s talk about CRMs and some of the frustrations with CRMs. And I also picked up on that like, you know, salespeople fill in CRMs because it’s like a tick list, like a checklist, but it’s not really adding any value to the sales process.
Yeah, and there are usually no real process in my how I view a process. It’s more, you know, a dropdown or a kanban board where you drag and drop deals based on your gut feeling. But there’s very little, you know, milestones. That said, OK, once you’ve once, because it’s all about helping the client, we’re trying to make a customer or a potential customer to come to a decision. But in a traditional CRM, basically we have these gates which are just inside out. It’s what we believe we need to do. But we can be completely disconnected from the customer where they are on their sort of decision making journeys. There’s just more granularity that I believe needs to be in a sales process that than a sales process than how a sales process is represented in a traditional CRM.
Yeah, and it’s interesting you talk about your sort of sales, the sales process. And as you know, we’re really big advocates at SalesStar of having, you know, a robust sales process and milestone, you know, a milestone centric process. You know, all these things that you talk about in terms of, you know, engaging the decision makers, helping the buyer come to a decision. I really love that love that phrase. What do you think is puts off sales leaders actually really getting stuck into this and, you know, embracing having a milestone centric sales process? And, you know, really understanding that understanding the buy or do you think they’re just stuck in an old fashioned way of selling?
I think a lot of sales people and sales leaders. Might have this perception that you cannot. It’s not like baking a cake. Hence, you cannot – they think a sales process is like a recipe like A B C D E F G and you’ll get the exact same outcome. And of course, selling is not like that. But that’s how that’s the pushback I hear a lot is that you cannot have a sales process because sales is not like a recipe. You cannot just follow a process and then get the same outcome. But but then that’s just a misconception I think of what a process should do for you. But that’s what I hear the most. It’s like there’s no need to have – like the leader you you mentioned previously on this call. Like they have the magic sauce, and you can never put that into a process. So I don’t need a process. But of course, if you don’t have a process and I try to stay away from the word processor, actually because of this, a lot of sales leaders I’ve met just hate the word process because, yeah, they think every deal is a snowflake. And it’s true. I mean, every human being is different, so every sale will be different. But there are still milestones and ways people make decisions that you can align with, and the process is great for that. And without a process, we’re back to not having any measurements, right? You don’t have any way of saying, what’s our win rate? What’s the sales cycle length on average? How are we doing on improving deal size? If that’s a goal, we’d have no idea if we don’t really have a good process.
Yeah I mean, you’ve mentioned some really interesting sort of things that should be measured, particularly the length of the sales cycle and the win rates. I think a lot of sales businesses and sales leaders are measured on what we term as lagging indicators. So that’s the financial success. And so a business can be doing well, but it’s not an accurate predictor of future success. So do you think it’s maybe wider than just the sales leader? Maybe the way that the finance director or the CFO is measuring success. So there may be looking at the financials and not looking about whether that’s, you know, scalable and predictable as well. Because again, you know, using, you know, we use Membrain internally and you know, it allows us to look at the length of the sales cycle, the win rates, and we use it as a coaching tool. And you mentioned before about, you know, embedding training that you’ve received. So actually, you can more accurately predict if a deal is actually going to land and coming back to the point you made, you know, helping by come to a decision in those milestones. Do you think it’s the way we measure things as businesses and we’re not focusing on the leading indicators that are going to predict future success?
Absolutely And I think it’s the lead sales leaders need to take more responsibility. I think in this, because CFOs might not understand what effectiveness means in selling. So they just see quotes and revenue booked, you know, they see what they want to see and want to measure. But if you look at a pipeline, what’s in that pipeline? How do I define or how do I figure out if it’s qualitative and what, what makes a sales team effective versus efficient? This is also something that I find a lot of people get confused about. There’s a lot of focus on efficiency, like do more faster.
And technology, I think it’s really used for this a lot like I was mentioning before automations and a lot of emails make a lot of phone calls. But really, if you want to be effective, it’s about how well do you actually conduct yourself once you get on a phone call with a customer? How are you providing value in each interaction? I thought Neil Wakeham said, well, I believe he said something like if you leave a meeting and the customer is willing to pay you for that meeting, you’ve done a good job. So really, if you want to be effective, you want to measure things like win rate because if you have a win rate of, I don’t know, it’s hard to maybe benchmark without any definitions, but let’s say you have a 10% win rate in your pipeline. That’s really low, but you might have a lot of stuff coming into the pipeline because you’re spending millions on marketing. But are you being effective? Maybe not. And instead of spending more millions on the marketing, maybe you should be looking at those the right leading indicators and the effectiveness measures.
Yeah, I love what you’re saying about effective and that comment from Neil rukavina. If you leave a meeting in the customer’s prepared to pay for it, that’s been a successful meeting. I think what I hear a lot, you know, when we’re coaching, say, sales leads and sales managers and salespeople, you’ll hear a lot of the comments. Oh, George, I had a great meeting with that prospect. And yet the salesperson can’t actually find what a great meeting is for me. You know, if I do a discovery, meeting a great meeting, have I come away understanding the prospects? Challenges all the pain points, and have I got a commitment to the next steps, but we hear all the time. There’s lots of great meetings going on and that’s maybe just to satisfy the sales manager or the sales leader. I don’t know. Have you come across that as well in your work where, you know, people say, I’ve got great meetings?
Yes and it’s one of those fun, fun things you hear is like, OK, so what was the outcome? What was the expectation of the person you met when you came into the meeting? Because I think that’s like we have our own outcome in mind. But how often do we understand what the buyer is, is there to achieve? There’s something called the trust equation, and maybe you’re familiar with it. And I really like the concept of it because it takes all the good things you need to do. You need to be knowledgeable, you need to be really reminded top of mind. But but but it divides it through your level of self-interest, so you can be very knowledgeable. You can be relevant. But if you’re just in it for your own self-interest, then nobody will trust you. Right so I think that trust formula is a good one to Google and learn because you need to be there in the meeting to be curious about the customer and how you can help the customer. Because that’s what selling is about. But sometimes we just listen to speak and we listen to get our outcome instead of really, really helping that buyer to get to the next step in their decision making process.
Yeah, it’s interesting, your reference, listening and, you know, staying in the moment and lots of salespeople are just listening to respond. They’re thinking about what they’re going to say rather than true listening. And you mentioned before about, you know, it’s important to be important to be curious. Do you think of sort of sale? Do you think sales leaders find it difficult to listen to the team and truly listen to what’s going on?
I think there needs to be a mind shift once you if you I mean, a normal career path would be that you’re a good salesperson and then someone promotes you to become a sales manager or a sales leader. But unless you actually want to now help others succeed, it’s going to be difficult to be a sales leader or a sales manager. And I think sometimes people are promoted without really having sort of that motivation to help others succeed. So, so that’s the main problem. I see how sales managers is that they’re not really driven or motivated to help others succeed. They’re still in sales mode where they want to be the hero and they want to sell. So they sometimes just jump in and do the work for their salespeople instead of really coaching their people and helping them grow.
And do you think that?
Do you think that might be related to financial pressure from the CFO where the sales leaders have got to, you know, really deliver results? Or, you know, if you’re coaching your people, the medium and long term benefits of coaching are without question because, you know, you’re creating a culture of sales excellence. But in the short term, if you are the sales leader. And you’ve got your number to it, the temptation might just be to dive in and take over.
Yeah, of course. And also in a smaller company where you have that divided role, you also need to be a performer and you’re a sales manager, then of course, it complicates things. But I think mostly from what I’ve seen, it’s more of a mind shift that needs to happen that I need now understand that, OK, if I’m a manager now, I shouldn’t be the one bringing all the deals in. I should be helping my people to bring the deals in. And unless you actually want that and that is something you aspired to do and do well, it’s going to be difficult. So and this is a leadership thing you shouldn’t. – It’s promoting your best salesperson into a managers just because it’s just not a good idea.
Yeah well, it’s a bit lacking in professional sports. The best players don’t always make the best coaches or managers. So a couple of final questions. George, what’s the one tip that you would do you would give to a sales leader to make them help them make them more successful, you know, in the challenging sales would we now live in?
To truly dive into how their customers make a decision. I dislike the word buying journey, which is being used a lot because I don’t think people are in depending on what you sell, but in the world I live with complex sales and long sales cycles and multiple stakeholders involved in decisions. And they it’s something they buy quite rarely like. What we sell is CRM. You don’t go out and buy a CRM once a week. It’s something you do quite rarely as a buyer. So and that comes down. A lot of services and products are like that. So you have to really understand how does my potential customer make a decision to buy something like what I’m selling?
And usually I think that the main problem I see is that we underestimate the complexity of them making such a decision because it’s very rarely the case that it’s one person who makes such a decision, but there will be a lot of people involved. So how do they think when they have to come up with that decision. Really sort of be a fly on the wall and understand, OK, they have to do this. They have to explore different solutions. They have to just come to a decision if they should solve this without bringing in an external supplier and they go through all these things internally that we might not think about at first as sellers or sales leaders, but truly understand how your potential customers make a decision to buy whatever you’re selling. I think that that’s what I would focus on.
And George, if people want to reach out to you and find out more about yourself or Membrain, where would they go to?
Yes, I’m on LinkedIn. Quite active there. So just Google my strange last name there and you’ll find me connect with me there and check out Membrain blog. I write there every week and we have a really good guest bloggers.
OK, fantastic. Well, George, thank you very much for being our very first guest on the Crearting SalesStars podcast. Hopefully, you’d like to come back in the future and be interviewed again, but thank you very much for your time, George.
Thank you. Thank you for inviting me.
Thanks for listening. This podcast was brought to you by SalesStar and hosted by Pete Evans. For more information about what we can offer you head to our website at salesstar.com/UK. You can also find us on all social media platforms just by searching for SalesStar UK.
Presenter and Producer: Pete Evans
Special Guest: George Brontén
Producer and Intro/Outro Voiceover: Oliver Eaton
Podcast Editor: Alex Mullen