You have a vital mission as a sales professional–to generate revenue for your company and ensure its continued success. In today’s selling landscape, buyers are more educated than ever, and you need a way to cut through the noise and navigate new complexities.
In their new book, Insight-Led Selling, Stephen Timme and Melody Astley introduce you to a sales method that stands the test of time. Insight-Led Selling is an approach that provides practical ways to adopt an executive mindset, build credibility, and communicate with impact. You’ll hear from top executives from companies like AT&T, Coca-Cola, and Georgia Pacific as they share their expectations of the sales professionals vying for their business.
Whether you’re new on the job or a seasoned seller, this book is your first step towards sustainable success.
Drew Appelbaum: Hey Listeners, my name is Drew Appelbaum and I’m excited to be here today with Dr. Stephen Timme and Melody Astley, authors of Insight-Led Selling: Adopt an Executive Mindset, Build Credibility, Communicate with Impact. Stephen and Melody, thank you for joining, welcome to The Author Hour Podcast.
Dr. Stephen Timme: Thank you.
Melody Astley: Thanks.
Drew Appelbaum: Let’s kick this off, can you each respectively give a brief rundown of your professional backgrounds?
Melody Astley: I have always, always been in sales. Different companies but always in sales. I used to sell computer hardware, then computer software, then outsourcing services, so the whole gamut of that. The thing that I like most about it, always have, is really getting to help clients solve their business problems. So, I’ve taken this CRO role at FinListics, have been doing this for gosh, now eight years. It has been having fun leading the revenue engines.
Dr. Stephen Timme: Yeah, my background, in a former life I was a professor of finance at Emory University here in Atlanta, Georgia where I live. As a part of that, since I’d believed that being a professor is not taking voluntary poverty, you got to do consulting. I was fortunate enough to consult for a number of Fortune 500 companies, see how they worked internally, always helping them build certain models around cashflow improvement and those type of things, and almost by luck, I ran into a person that said, “Hey, have you ever thought about applying that to sales?” which I had not.
The thought was, “Well, if companies, if this is how they do things internally and look at value, why wouldn’t a seller be doing the same thing?” With that, I started FinListics to help sellers really show what I like to call the real value of their solutions.
Now Is the Time
Drew Appelbaum: You both have been in the industry for a while, why was now the time to share these stories in the book? Was there an “aha moment”, something inspiring out there for you or was it something as simple as people kept coming up to you two and saying, “You need to write this down.”?
Melody Astley: Gosh, we have been threatening to do this, Stephen and I, for years, right? Because there is a lot of good content and we do see people who use FinListics, we do see the improvement, so there has always been a ton of good stuff. It was just something that would come up and we didn’t have time. So, the impetus for all of this is we got to the point where we said, “We’re either going to do this or let’s not ever talk about it again.”
Well then, our friend COVID hit, and we found ourselves out of airplanes and out of airports and in front of our desks, so we thought, now is the time. We made it the time, a little COVID project.
Dr. Stephen Timme: Yeah, I agree completely, I mean, people have asked us before, “Do you guys have a book, how can we apply this?” Those types of things and life just happens. COVID came along, as Melody said, we weren’t traveling as much and doing other things, and so we said, “Okay, now let’s just turn this into something positive,” which we have.
Drew Appelbaum: Now, a lot of times, authors have the idea of the book rattling around in your head, “Okay, I’m going to put this pen to paper, I’m going to write this down.” During the writing process and by digging deeper into some of the subjects, there will be some major breakthroughs and learnings. Did you have any of these major breakthroughs and learnings? Maybe digging deeper into a subject or doing some subsequent research along your writing journey?
Melody Astley: One of the things that was most interesting to me, Stephen had an outline, right? We had some clear ideas about where we wanted to go but how it rounded out and changed was a little bit different. One of the most valuable things from my experience with the book was, as part of the book, we’ve interviewed a little more than a dozen executives from Fortune 500 companies. Executives who have sat in front of many horrible sales calls but yet had the budget and authority to make a decision and they chose not to.
We were able to really pick their brain and understand their different perspectives, and they all said the same thing, though they said it in different ways with their own style. That was just validating and also enlightening to hear from the executives.
Dr. Stephen Timme: I’m building on Melody. Yeah, we had the outline, we already saw this stuff in workshops, and webinars, it’s been vetted by our various clients, but it was really the interviews that I found to be the most insightful.
One of the biggest takeaways was, “Hey, tell me something I don’t know.” Having worked with a lot of executives, they’ve already got a lot of resources, they’re very smart people, and for them to be asking salespeople, “Tell me something I don’t know,” was one of my major takeaways, and really changed the way that I think about what we do in the business and working with our sellers.
Drew Appelbaum: Now, when you sat down to write the book, in your mind, who were you writing this book for? Is this for CROs, is this for sales folks early in their careers, can they have takeaways here as well?
Melody Astley: This book is for any seller who wants to–B2B sellers, let me clarify that–B2B sellers, B2B sales leaders, whether you’re early in career and want to start your sales practice off successfully, whether you’ve been doing this for years and you’re looking for new ways to better engage with your client, if you’re a sales leader and you’re responsible for the learning and development and effectiveness of your team, this is for anyone who is in B2B sales, who wants to be more effective with their customers.
Dr. Stephen Timme: Some of it, it’s a team effort. For example, when we talk about the need to know your industry, that’s definitely a team effort. An individual seller is not going to put together a playbook for an industry, but when we talk about things like tailoring the message for different lines of businesses or looking to your client’s financial statements, those types of things, we wanted it to really be a very practical handbook both for the individual and then teams so that they could be more relevant to these executive buyers.
Buyers Are Smarter
Drew Appelbaum: What is happening out there in the sales world where smart, well-trained people who are working hard are coming up short of their sales goals?
Melody Astley: Gosh, well a lot of things. Quotas aren’t being reduced, right? Businesses are always incented to grow and so they pass that along to the sales leaders’ budgets of course. That is the way that they grow. You have the continuous focus on growth but bigger than that, the dynamic has changed.
The buying dynamic has changed. Buyers are smarter, they’re more educated than they’ve ever been, just because of the wealth of information that’s available to them. They used to have to go to their sales teams to try to learn something they didn’t know. Now, they have research and peers, consultants, lots of people to give them more information. They’re better educated and they’re further down the sales cycle. They have an opinion about your solution before you bring it to them, most likely.
The other piece is, there are just more stakeholders than ever before. Gardener has come out with fantastic research that says, it used to be that there were seven stakeholders in a major buying decision. Now that number, over the years, has crept up to 11.1, which I don’t know how you have 0.1 person, but the point is, there are more people giving scrutiny to these deals so it adds complexity and makes it harder and it extends the sales cycle. It’s not easy, right? If sales were easy, everybody would be doing it.
Dr. Stephen Timme: Yeah, a couple of things is that different surveys, including some of our own, have said that the majority, and I’m talking about almost 80% of executive buyers say, “These sellers just don’t know my business.” Where before, maybe you could sell using feature functions, “Ours is faster, look, the screen’s blue and everything’s nice,” and all this other kind of stuff.
Now, they’re really saying, “Tell me something I don’t know,” but also, “You’d better be aligned with what my goals, strategies, and initiatives are.” That’s where a lot of sellers really fall down because you’ll say, what does the company have in revenue? What are their top three goals? If you break it down into one of those buying groups that Melody talked about, you’ve got the chief marketing officer aligned with this enhanced customer experience, what are they trying to get done? You’ve also got distribution logistics and how they are measuring success.
It’s become more complex than in the past. I keep getting back to this, “Tell me something I don’t know, and you better be aligned with what I’m trying to get done. Otherwise, I just don’t have much use for you.”
Walk in the Customer’s Shoes
Drew Appelbaum: You talk a lot in the book about helping sellers to see their products and services from the buyer’s point of view, as you just mentioned. How do you teach a seller to walk in the customer’s shoes and how to speak their language?
Dr. Stephen Timme: We start off by focusing on a given industry, and we focus on the buyers within that industry. We ask, “What’s a day in the life of a chief marketing officer? What’s a day in the life of a chief operating officer?” One, teach them what the industry is up to.
Secondly, the buyers in those industries, the big decision makers, how do they think about life? What are their primary goals, strategies, and initiatives? We start off by doing that. We don’t jump into the numbers right away. Then we think about, “Okay, so that’s what they’re focused on. How do they look at the world from a financial perspective? How do they look at the world from the point of view of what they are trying to get accomplished?” We really walk them through a day in the life.
And then we talk about, “Well, what is it that your solution does to improve forecasting?” If your solution can help improve forecasting and help a merchandiser at a retail store increase sale through rate, well, that’s exciting. Forecasting in itself, even though you got all of this cool technology, isn’t so exciting. We really break it down by industry, buyers, strategies, and initiatives. Ultimately, how can your solution help?
Drew Appelbaum: You also mention in the book that what’s inside the book itself is not a sales trick. It’s not a sales process, so can you go into a little bit more detail about the title of the book and what you teach in the book? What exactly is Insight-Led Selling?
Melody Astley: Insight-Led Selling is really the approach to take with your customer in mind first. So if we go through the ABCs of Insight-Led Selling, adopt an executive mindset. Stephen just talked about that and you’re not going to ask them what keeps them up at night. You will be thrown out. But how do you really understand what is top of mind to them? How are they measured? What do they care about and how can you address them?
Building confidence–so many times we have these numbers of sellers get to a point where they understand it but they don’t understand how to talk about it, how to present it in an effective way. We give tips and frameworks that will help you form that conversation that will help you to build confidence.
Then communicate with impact. We teach you how to distill these numbers into insights around the customer, around the customer’s industry, around that customer’s functional area, and communicate it in a way that really resonates with them, and present it in a way that really resonates with them.
Everything from the initial conversation, the whole way down through the business case, how do you make that as impactful as possible? That’s how we break it down throughout the book.
Dr. Stephen Timme: Throughout the book, there’s a number of activities because this isn’t just, “Read the book and wait for divine inspiration.” It’s more about that you’ve looked at a certain chapter on the book, for example, adopting the executive mindset. We’ve got different aids to help them, “Okay, now here’s a framework or here’s the industry, get to know your industry.” Well, guess what? We’ve already done a lot of research in the industries.
We can help you get started. We just don’t want people to read the book and think, “Oh my gosh, this is going to be a lot of work.” We really help them get through a lot of that and I agree completely with Melody in terms of the thought process of when we wrote the book, as well as what we want people to do with the book.
Drew Appelbaum: Now, you mentioned earlier as well that you interviewed a lot of executives in the book, a lot of executive buyers and you took in their perspectives and have them in the book. Can you talk about those interviews and maybe point one out that was really the most impactful or insightful?
Dr. Stephen Timme: There were a lot of them that were insightful but just as an example, we talked to Candy Conway, who is the former senior VP of global operations for AT&T. She said, “Look, you know I want someone to come in here and understand what I’m trying to get done but also be able to flex.” For example, if you’re coming in selling analytics or whatever it might be and you’re convinced this is how you’re going to help her, and then she says, “Well, actually I just got my budget cut 10%. How could you help me?”
Be flexible and at the same time, no canning others, especially when they’re talking about the financial performance of the company. They don’t want you to come in there and say, “Oh did you know your profit margin has dropped from 12 to 10%?” Of course, they know that. What they want you to do is build credibility by saying, “I noticed your margins have dropped and I think I’ve got some ideas about how I could help.”
A big, big takeaway for me in interviewing the executives is one, what they wanted from these sellers, and two, they don’t want this very, very complex proposal. We heard that time and time again, “Make my life simple, do something that’s easy for me to understand and serve my colleagues.” Melody, what are your thoughts?
Melody Astley: I agree with that. The thing that I saw that was striking is all the executives said the same thing but in different ways. It is, “Tell me something I don’t know. Understand my business. Don’t waste my time. I don’t have much of it, I don’t like to give much of it away. If you make my time with you valuable, you’ll get more of it, and guess what? You might even become the buzzword that everyone uses, a trusted advisor or a strategic partner,” and that is the Holy Grail for where sellers want to be in strategic accounts.
The Sales Forecast
Drew Appelbaum: You know, I think people from the outside and even some salesmen themselves, they really question, “What’s the big deal about a quota?” In reading your book, I read that publicly traded companies in particular have these aggregated quotas that are really close to their budgets, so they’re not really just arbitrarily made. Can you talk more about what happens when sales numbers and quotas aren’t hit?
Dr. Stephen Timme: People get fired. Being a finance-type, I can tell you right now that when they’re coming up with earnings per share numbers, they’re depending on the sales forecast. They’re depending on, “Okay, here is where our cost structure is going to be. Here is what we’re going to invest for the year,” and a company just needs to be off their earnings per share by a penny, which may not sound like a lot, but investors, they turn and say, “Well, who’s running that company? I mean, do they know what the heck they’re doing?”
Sales quotas are so important because, without sales, the rest of the earnings per share and everything else just doesn’t exist.
Melody Astley: Sure, heads will roll like you just said Stephen but also, there are tradeoffs. You’re making your strategic planning around these numbers, and when companies don’t make their numbers, they have to cut back. They have to make tradeoffs, they have to not do things that will accelerate their business, so it’s just hugely important to make it. As we said, it’s not like when quotas are set, they’re putting in a buffer of 30%. It doesn’t happen like that.
Drew Appelbaum: You mentioned earlier that you go in-depth into the subjects that you talk about. Do you have other resources in the book or outside of the book that you can offer for readers and listeners here?
Dr. Stephen Timme: That’s what I was mentioning earlier. In the book, what you can do is go to our website and we’ve got different templates and different information about the industries just to help people. I mean, they could dig it out on their own, but we’ve been doing this for years and years and years and have a research stat. It’s really just to help them get started.
Melody Astley: When readers purchase the book, they will receive a code that they can come to our website and download the materials, download the graphs, download the frameworks. This is a storybook, although there are stories in it but bigger than that, it’s a book that you can apply and so these resources on the website will help sellers be able to do just that.
Drew Appelbaum: Now, when someone gets the book, they read through it, what steps do you hope readers will take after finishing the book?
Dr. Stephen Timme: Go apply it. This is all about helping them to generate more sales and then talking to us if they need additional help, but we want them to apply it. This is one of the things that–having been at universities for a number of years, no longer now, I left a good while back, but that was always my issue with executive education. It’s great stuff, I had great colleagues, great students, but the question always is, “Well, do they go back and use it?”
If not, it’s just a complete waste of the money of their companies. We are very passionate about people being able to look at this and immediately start to apply it, and then if they need additional help, they can contact us at [email protected].
Drew Appelbaum: Well, Stephen, Melody, we just touched on the surface of the book but I want to say that just writing a book that has a smart approach and a new approach to selling, it’s no small feat so congratulations on having your book published.
Dr. Stephen Timme: Thank you.
Melody Astley: Yeah, we’re excited about it, thanks.
Dr. Stephen Timme: Yeah, it was fun.
Drew Appelbaum: I do have one question left for you before you go, it is the hot seat question, so be prepared. If readers could take away only one thing overall from the book, what would want it to be?
Dr. Stephen Timme: Mine would be, know your client’s goals. What are they really trying to get done? Their perspective, not yours. What are their goals? Then thinking about how your solutions can help them achieve those goals?
Melody Astley: We’ve talked about it but it’s so true, using all of this information, going through the insights, applying your company’s story or your solution’s story to that, and as a result, telling the executive something that they do not know. That’s a big one.
Drew Appelbaum: Well, this has been a pleasure and I’m excited for people to check out the book. Everyone, the book is called Insight-Led Selling and you can find it on Amazon. Stephen and Melody, you mentioned your site before, and of course, besides checking out the book, where can people connect with you?
Melody Astley: Well, you can come to our website, it’s finlistics.com, we’re on LinkedIn, we’re on Facebook, we’re on all the channels so come and find us.
Dr. Stephen Timme: Yup, just reach out to us either on our website or [email protected]. Love to talk to you.
Drew Appelbaum: Wonderful, well, thank you both for coming on the show today, and best of luck with your new book.
Dr. Stephen Timme: Thank you.
Melody Astley: Thanks so much.