Episode 181: Hi Leva shares a sales leader’s perspective
June 3, 2019
Our guest today is Hi Leva, the SVP of Sales at Oasis Financial.
In today’s discussion, Hi shares key lessons learned from his career as a sales leader.
We discuss recruiting a sales team, compensation, the importance of follow-up, CRM systems, how to get the most out of attending a convention, and other sales topics.
You can learn about Hi’s company at oasisfinancial.com
And you can learn more about Hi’s background on his LinkedIn profile – https://www.linkedin.com/in/hileva/
Will: Hello, Hi, welcome to the show.
Hi: Thanks, Will, so happy to be on your show. I’ve been a listener of your show for a while, and very honored to be here.
Will: Hi, what are some of the things that a consultant like me does not know about sales, or that we get wrong, or misconceptions. What are some things that I don’t know about sales.
Hi: Well, Will, you’re a pretty smart guy. I suspect you know a lot about a lot of things. How about I just take the sales leader perspective? When I first started leading and managing sales teams, some little things that were aha moments for me were things like the impact that marketing has on sales velocity and just deal structure.
I always had a purist view of sales and never truly appreciated marketing and the impact marketing can have, both from branding as well as top of the funnel activity. When I started playing in the B2C space, it was much more prevalent. In general, marketing is playing a much more prominent role in the sales process than it did maybe 10 or 15 years ago.
Will: Can you just pause there? I’m still 15 years out of business school, and I still kind of know what sales is, but what do you mean when you use the term marketing? What exactly does marketing mean?
Hi: Sure. Think about marketing in … I guess, let me define marketing in two different frameworks. In B2B, business to business selling, marketing really help things like branding, product placement. It can help with lead generation, help with lead nurturing. It plays a really important role in sales. In B2C, business to consumer, in a purist view of B2C, you can really think that sales is just a natural execution arm of marketing, right? When you think about big brands in the B2C space, sales plays a less important role than marketing in those companies. In either scenario, marketing really is important, and you usually see a divide between marketing and sales in the organization.
Usually, when you think about sales transformation, one of the first areas to look at is, well gee, is there finger-pointing going around? How aligned is sales and marketing, in terms of the goals and incentives? Is everybody on the same page?
Will: Okay, so in terms of misconceptions or what consultants get wrong about sales, not every single consultant, but a lot of us, I suppose … Talk to me about incentives. What are some things that maybe consultants push that are flat wrong?
Hi: Yeah, I can give a couple of examples, Will. This is something that really does keep me awake at night, too, of course, because a sales leader is always recruiting and always trying to make sure we have the right team and the right number of people on the team, and you’re compensating them properly. One of the things, obviously, is you see consultants come in quite a bit and try to re-jig the compensation plan a little too fast, and maybe a little too much too fast.
It’s really interesting, because I’ve seen so many situations where top salespeople will leave. When I’m trying to recruit salespeople, I would say at least half of the time quality salespeople, when you ask them, “Why are you leaving?” They’ll say, “Well, they messed with the comp plan and in addition to messing with the comp plan, the quotas are just not achievable. I’m going to make a lot less money this year than I did last year. I just can’t survive.”
I think that’s the area that … Compensation, obviously, for new salespeople that’s a different story, but when you have an existing, established sales team that has been around for a while, I think too much change with the compensation plan too quickly is not a good thing, I think.
Will: Okay, tell me a little bit about recruiting new salespeople for a team. What do you look for?
Hi: A couple of things. I see new salespeople in two camps, and this is just Hi’s view of the world. I like really junior salespeople that you don’t have to unlearn bad sales habits, right? They’re usually not as expensive, and they’re eager. They want to make money. They really want to get into sales. The problem with that scenario is it takes a while, the onboarding and the ramp can take months or even a year in complex sales scenarios and structures.
The other [inaudible 00:05:09] that I like, that I’ve been quite successful with, of late, is getting experienced sellers that have relationships that they can bring to the table, and they have domain expertise, and they understand the space. The only thing there is to make sure that they understand the value proposition of words that affirm, they understand the processes, and hopefully build the incredibly successful, but with a more experienced seller, you’ll know a lot faster whether it’s a good hire or not. In terms of the whole recruiting process of how do you figure out whether candidate A is better than candidate B, basic things, right? I know this is stating the bleeding obvious, things like do they know the basics of your company and how do you make money, and where do you position yourself as a firm in your product or your service?
Number two: If you throw in a curve ball question, how do they respond to it? Not necessarily the right answer or wrong answer. How are they composed, and how are they thinking. Then lastly, I think one of the things that people tend to forget with a really disciplined sales recruiting methodology is having the person stand up and pitch their existing product, or talk about something that they’re … give a presentation about something or other, and fielding questions. You can learn a lot about someone through that just 45-minute simulation, with two or three people in the audience.
Will: What are some of the curve balls that you throw?
Hi: Oh, this is one where you and I talked about this a long time ago. Well, I like to ask people, well gee, here it’s Friday afternoon. I have to go out of town. I’m going to be off of the grid. I need to help a friend figure out how can he market and sell and price the only living, breathing T-Rex in the world. How would you go about thinking about this? I tell you, I’ve had people sweat, like literally beads of sweat coming off their face, thinking about this problem. I had a guy call me up at 2:00 a.m. that night with his version of the answer, or plan just embrace the fact that this is a fun simulation and a fun curve ball, and it’s a rapid fire round of answers.
Will: That’s pretty cool, definitely thinking about the souvenir aspect of that. We talked about incentives. We talked about recruiting a little bit. Let’s get to the digital outreach, which is something that a lot of consultants, probably for their own practice, they’re thinking about what’s the right way to do it, as well as when they’re talking to clients it’s a good thing to have a perspective on. What’s your perspective about the whole world of lead generation, reaching out to potential prospects, maybe people that really would like to hear about your service, but people feel a little awkward? Should I email this person? Should I contact him on LinkedIn? Should I, if I contact him on LinkedIn, try to engage in conversation, or do I just slam him with my offer? Talk to me about that whole space.
Hi: Yeah, people are buying differently than they did 5 or 10 years ago. A lot of people go digital, when they’re making considerations of buying or educating themselves on services. Usually, if somebody will come to you, it’d be an inbound request through your website or through LinkedIn or through a friend, it already qualified you, so let’s move that qualified, self-selected group of prospects to the side, and let’s talk about net new. I think some of the practices that I consider to be world class practices in this space would be asking your friends or your colleagues on LinkedIn for the warm introduction and juicing it up, so putting it on a silver platter where it says … You send the email to your friend. Hey, here’s who I am. I’d really appreciate this introduction. Here’s what we do, and not show up and throw up in the email, of course, but enough so that someone knows: A, you’re legit; B, that there is a real desire to help that prospect. Those are golden, right? If you can get a handful of those on a regular basis, you can mine those.
Number two: I see a real rich prospect pool in the conference circuit. A lot of people just go to conferences, and they’ll attend the show, or they’ll have a booth, and not really mine those business cards or those handshakes or those connections that you’ve made. Usually the right practice for that is, before the show, having your strategy. What is it that you want to accomplish? Who is it that’s your target? At the show, do you have drinks set up with someone? Do you have coffee set up? Then post-show making sure that all the contacts that you’ve made are loaded into LinkedIn, and that you have some kind of content strategy on LinkedIn, but you’re communicating to those prospects without them even knowing that you’re communicating to them.
Let’s face it, Will. When you open up your phone in the morning, you get 40-50 emails that you’re probably not going to read, and the first thing you do is you feel accomplishment when you go through all 50 of those and you delete them, right? That’s email blind, email prospecting. That’s where you sit versus when someone goes into their LinkedIn feed, and they see something you’re marketing to them without them even really knowing that you’re marketing to them. That’s powerful.
Then, the last tactic that I’d like to share is just whether it’s email, whether it’s digital, whether it’s in person, the followup is really important. You’d be surprised how many times it really takes to get the deal, and to get some good will, and to qualify a prospect. In the classic B2B space, it takes usually eight touches, whether it’s in person, whether it’s in email, whether it’s in content, whether it’s a phone call, whether it’s text. It usually takes, give or take, about eight touches to really get the deal.
Now, we’ve all had a one-call close. Those are far, few, and between. You don’t get those every day. You can’t be that on a continuum, but I think having the discipline and some kind of a technology platform that will remind you or even automate some of those touches. You can’t automate 100% of those eight touches, but to a certain degree some of those can be automated.
Will: Yeah, I want to talk about that, but first, let’s go back to the conferences. If I recall, several years ago, you and I had a conversation, and you gave me some tips on conferences of they often will … For smaller ones, they often have, publishing ahead of time, a list of who’s attending, right? I think that you did some smart stuff around that.
Hi: Yeah, well, I was working in a startup, and we didn’t quite have a lot of budget. What I did there, obviously, was having the list of attendees and loading them. Personalized introduction is always important in LinkedIn, by the way. Just the boilerplate one just will never move the needle, just a very small, cute, clever introduction. Hey, love to have you part of my network. Do you have room for one more in your network? That’s all. All right, and so load them all up, invite them all, and by the end of the week of the conference, you have a bulk of the conference attendees that are important to you, not 100% of them, but ones that are important to you and interesting to you, loaded up in LinkedIn, so that they’ve already had a touch, hopefully in person or in passing at the conference. They’ve seen you on LinkedIn.
Then the strategy obviously is sharing some content that’s relevant to your followers in your LinkedIn network, or creating a blog or a podcast maybe even, so that people remember you. You’d be surprised how I’ve actually had prospects come to me after a few of these posts, saying, “Hey, I do remember you. We should really talk, because I think that you guys can help us with a problem,” right? We’re just staying top of mind without having to really cold call.
Will: Yeah, and when you do that connection request, I imagine that you would put in there like, “Hey, I see that you’re on the attendee list for this conference, and I’m here, too, this week,” so that they know that you’re actually at the conference.
Hi: Yeah, that’s a really good … Sometimes you get the list in advance of the conference. Sometimes you get it at the conference. Sometimes you get it after the conference. If you’re before the conference, it totally makes sense. “Look, love to meet up for a coffee if you have time on Tuesday afternoon, love to learn a little bit more about you. Does that work for you? Here’s my number.”
Will: Yeah, okay, cool, so getting those lists because that’s … Then trying to visit their booth or catch up in person while you’re there. Then, on the digital part, tell me a little bit about what you’ve seen successful with these automated followups. There’s various different email tools out there, where you can send an email and have it programmed that if the person doesn’t reply in so many days, that it sends an automated followup. What do you think about those kind of tools? What do you think is best practice? What do you think is things to avoid?
Hi: Sure, so let’s, I guess, go through the logic tree here, Will. First of all, you have to really think about the target. There are clearly some personas and some targets that don’t respond well to email, right? The propensity for email response is not very good. There are some personas or industries that you’re selling to where email is the main form of communication, so that’s the first filter. You really want to make sure that your targets will respond to email. That’s something that you should be able to figure out relatively quickly.
Assuming that they will respond to email, and again, the ones that will respond to email are obviously financial institutions, technology as a whole, attorneys. Those type of folks will respond to emails, et cetera, et cetera. Obviously, having a show up and throw up, I think doesn’t really work, especially if, A, they’ve never heard of you; B, you’ve never met them. I think having a first piece be a little bit of education, no real call to action.
Second piece, have a soft call to action. “Gee, would love to schedule a call with you on Thursday at 1:30. Does that work for you?” I think having a specific time gets a little complicated, because if you send out 500 emails with that specific time, and you have four people that come back to you and say, “Yeah, I’ll talk to you on Thursday at 2:30,” that can be a little complicated, so sometimes maybe having a smaller pool of emails that go out, or you have set one and set two, right? Two different times with the email template.
Then the third cadence sometimes that can work and is successful is just leveraging FOMO. “Gee, I’ve helped in the past 60 days clients like you with A, B, and C. Would A, B, or C help you in what you do and in achieving your goals?” That’s all. Then you’d be surprised how irrational humans are, humans who value their time at $500 or $1000 an hour, if you … The ultimate message could be, of the pool of 500, the ones that have continued to open and go through the drip versus the ones that abandoned you or didn’t even open or just deleted.
You could say, “Well, gee, for the first 10 people who schedule a demo or a call, we’ll offer $25 Starbucks gift card.” That sometimes is just enough to get 5 or 10 people to actually get on the phone with you. You can talk to them and engage with them, and it’s real valuable time, and you have a great conversation.
Will: What are some ways that you can identify that set of potential people to do that cold outreach to, and what’s your view on the different tools out there to find people’s contact info and so forth?
Hi: Yeah, it depends on the specs, right? In the B2C space, you can’t do that. It just is a lot of privacy laws, so you have to be really careful.
Will: Of course.
Hi: In the B2B space, you can always have your top 50 target list and say, “Well, gee, who are the right people in those organizations? Can you go on LinkedIn and find their names? Can you go on LinkedIn and maybe add them? Can you go online to their website and find their email addresses?” I’ve found Spokeo, tools like them, to really figure out things like someone’s address … Are they in California? Are they in New York? So you understand the time zones, because you don’t want to call someone in the wrong time zone. You can find people’s mobile numbers online, as well, by using some of these services.
I’ve been incredibly successful, and again, it’s not something you can do every day, but you have a prospect where you just know that you can add value to them, and that your service and your offering is the right fit for them, and after a few work calls on their business lines, or after a few emails, they’ve ghosted you, I’ve successfully found a mobile number online and called them and closed a million dollar deal. You have to use that selectively. You can’t go and stalk someone, everybody, because A, you don’t have the time for that; B, you just have to know that it’s the right prospect, and then it will work.
Will: Those are people that you had already interacted with, to some degree, but then had stopped responding?
Hi: That’s right. That’s right, so just finding a different way, a different avenue, of communicating with them.
Will: Let’s talk a little bit about the broader tech stack, so take a step back. Walk me through … There’s so many different tools out there now. Talk me through your perspective on different technology tools that people should be thinking about using in a sales environment.
Hi: Yeah, there’s often the … The big question for sales is, gee, do you need a CRM? CRM has really morphed into so many different definitions. Obviously, the big player in the room is Salesforce. Maybe five years ago, it was the only viable player in town, in the market. I would say that, depending on your industry, depending on your size, there are obviously other viable solutions out there that would be either more cost effective or a better fit for what you do. I’ve talked to startups that use HubSpot, for example, to really understand who’s interacting with them via email or on their website or digitally on their platform, and enriching that data into a little CRM.
I have talked to people who have used other platforms, like there’s the Microsoft platform called Dynamics, which is great, and it’s functional. It’s sometimes a little cheaper. I know that people who are in smaller firms have really just leveraged LinkedIn, because LinkedIn, you can start social listening, and you can create campaigns, both email as well as on LinkedIn, and those are successful, as well.
Second to all that, of course, is, and you addressed this a little while ago, is how do you come up with these lists? That’s really a trial and error, kind of an iterative, process. In some instances, you can buy a list. I have never been too successful in actually buying lists. Sometimes there’s just emails that are not really valid, that just don’t make sense.
Other times, where I have been successful, is when you use a service that can actually curate a list, to give you a very specific list, based on criteria or panels or per industry-specific list. Where I have been really successful is in scrapers, so having someone in-house, or having someone offshore, build a web scraper to actually mine lists to give you a very good, clean prospect list of name, email, phone number, and using that in drip campaigns and in marketing automation. That’s been very successful for me.
Will: What’s the typical cost of that per name, per email?
Hi: Yeah, it depends. If it’s offshore, it’s not very expensive. It’s a few bucks an hour for every hour of effort. If it’s onshore, anywhere from pennies to dollars for each email address. In some instances, it can even be per each instance, if it’s onshore, that it’s done. Every time you use the email address, there’s a cost. It just depends on your business and how many contacts do you need?
I’ll also say, Will, that having a contact list that is large enough, not just 50 and clearly not 50 million, but it has to be statistically significant, because cold emails generally will give you half a point to two or three points of response rate, all right? Just having 50 or 100 emails usually is not going to be enough for you to move the needle.
Will: We talked about CRM, and I’d add a couple tools there. You probably are familiar with these for smaller firms. Pipedrive a lot of people use, I know.
Hi: Yeah, that’s a good one.
Will: Insightly … I’ve heard some people using Insightly for a smaller firm that doesn’t need all the bells and whistles of a Salesforce.
Hi: Yeah, I’ve heard of both of those, and heard really good things about those tools. I’ve never used them, but I’ve heard good things.
Will: Beyond the CRM system, are there other tech stack, tech type tools, that maybe they’re apps or just other plug-ins or extra tips and tricks around technology that people should be familiar with?
Hi: Sure, there’s … When you’re starting up, or if your email is technical … usually built on … Your email platform is built on Google, and these days a lot of these extensions work with Outlook, as well, things like Nudge, Nudge AI … I don’t know if you ever heard of Nudge AI. Nudge AI mines your … It’s free. The basic version of it is actually helpful. It mines your contact list and tells you, well gee, here are the top 10 people you communicate with on a regular basis. Then it’ll tell you basic things like, well, these are the people that you used to talk to a lot, and you haven’t talked to them in a while.
Then it gives you some level of social listening, so if some of your contacts are on … If they post something on LinkedIn, or if they post something on Twitter, that’ll highlight in your regular email that they give you, so you’ll know what’s happening before you call someone. If you hover over their name, you get just a little more information, which is sometimes really good. “Hey, I saw that Twitter post. That was really interesting. Can you tell me a little more about that?” Then there are obviously other plug-ins that are a poor man’s version, but a very effective version of a CRM that you can get, that can do a lot of these email campaigns and the drips and the one, two, three, cadence built in, right out of your Google Mail or your Outlook.
Will: Any ones in particular you want to mention?
Hi: Yeah, there was one. I believe it was called Cirrus. We used that a few years ago, and it was really, really snazzy, because you could basically send, use that extension, and then you could go back in and say, well gee, I sent … Whether it’s a manual email or an automated emails, you can figure out, well, how many times was it opened? Was it forwarded? You know, Will, if you sent 1000 emails in a campaign, these are the people, at the very top, who looked at it or forwarded it a handful of times, so you know that there was some interest there.
Will: Talk to me a little bit about how you, as a sales leader, spend your time.
Hi: Yeah, so there’s … Let’s talk about just, not me, but let’s talk about a sales leader. If you’re a frontline sales leader, you’ve got to spend your time always recruiting, always creating conditions that will make your sales team successful. That’s a broke statement, but it could be sales enablement. It could be coaching and training. It could be pipeline development, pipeline coaching, understanding where in the sales cycle or in the sales process is your sales rep struggling, right? Not everybody’s created equally, of course. Some people might struggle with prospecting. Some people might struggle with the contracting. Some people might struggle with qualification. Quite often, a lot of people just forget to spend enough time closing. That’s when you’re the most vulnerable is at the close.
Will: Then is there some of each week you’re always recruiting? Because you’re always going to have turnover on your sales team, so you’re always out there looking for new team members. What about, in terms of the coaching and training? Tell me a little bit about that, about how you spend your time, or how you have spent your time as a sales leader.
Hi: Yeah, it’s probably the most important thing that you do, second to recruiting, as a sales leader, is really spending time with your sales rep or reps. The rule of thumb, usually, is it’s the rule of three hours a month. If each of your sales reps get three hours of structured, unstructured, one-on-one or one-to-many or many-to-one, training/coaching development a month, then they’ll have breakthrough results. They’ll make their goal/quota, make and exceed their quota.
Things like the field ride, being able to … If you’re visiting clients, visit with your sales rep, and then afterwards doing the curbside coaching. What could you have done better? Where did this go? Were you prepared? Did you have a next step? Did you have a firm commitment for your next step? Do you have that calendared? Having team meetings, where there is a training or a coaching component … A lot of sales teams these days use, whether it’s Chatter or Yammer or Slack, having a specific channel on there, where everybody shares how they dealt with a competitor, and how did you dispel the threat? How did you position yourself against the competitor? What are some common objections, and how can you capture those and coach them and develop a culture that is comfortable being uncomfortable and getting a little bit better every day.
I think, really, training and coaching and development has got to be a big part of any sales leader’s weekly routine. Usually the school of thought is two or three half days should be spent with one-on-ones or with the team or on the field or listening to calls, for a sales leader.
Will: Are there any beliefs about sales that you have now, that have changed over the past couple years?
Hi: Yeah, I think sales is a lot more sophisticated than it used to be, of course. I think that salespeople who really embrace the technology … It doesn’t matter what space you’re in, as long as you can embrace technology and change. Those people usually do really well. If you think about corporate innovation, Will, the finance department has had its innovation with FASB and [inaudible 00:30:08] and whatnot a decade and a half ago. You’ve been [inaudible 00:30:12]. You’ve had … In product lifecycle, of course you’ve had [inaudible 00:30:17] and development and taking the product to market, and marketing has had a lot of innovations.
Sales is the last bastion of corporate innovation. It’s one of the least understood. It’s usually the last in a transformation that really gets a facelift, and it’s usually one that’s accelerated, and it’s the easiest to measure. You can’t hide. Either you’re making your number, or you’re not.
Will: For somebody who wants to improve at sales, what resources do you recommend? Any books, any online courses, any kind of practical tips on how to get better at sales?
Hi: Yeah, there’s some great podcasts out there, depending on what type of selling you’re doing and what part of the sales process or cycle you need to improve. There’s some great podcasts. I’m an avid reader of blogs from an organization called SBI, Sales Benchmark Index. It put out a body of work that is just out of this world, really user friendly. You can basically consume small pieces of content and start implementing. They give you worksheets and all that, too. There’s some great books out there, of course, but it just depends on the space you’re in and the type of selling you’re doing.
I would encourage every salesperson or sales leader to constantly read. Have an idea journal. I always travel with a journal that, when I’m listening to a podcast or reading a book, have an idea, I find a way that a competitor does something or something that I can implement quickly, just jot it down, right? It’s the Richard Branson way. He writes everything down. I’m clearly no Richard Branson. My hair’s not that nice, don’t have that many zeroes in my bank balance, but book ideas, really the idea book is a really good practice.
Will: I love that, the idea book. Do you do that digitally, or do you have a paper and pen kind of thing?
Hi: It’s a little journal. It’s a little journal that I travel with. It’s obviously career stuff. It’s anything that’s not related to my current job, so that it can make me, as a professional, a little better, and just jot the ideas down. It just doesn’t take long. Quite often, the older you get, you start forgetting things, right? You read something, and that was really interesting then, but six months later, if you didn’t think about it again, you’re not going to remember, and you probably won’t even remember what book that was, so writing it down in an idea book makes sense. It works for me.
Will: Yeah, I’m totally on board with you for that. I’ve been doing paper and pen to-do lists for a long time. I recently read this … It almost seemed too trendy, and I try to avoid the stuff that’s too trendy, but I read this Bullet Journal Handbook, and I’ve started that about a week ago, and I’ve found that that is a really fantastic tool and recommendation, so I’ve been doing that now, and already seeing some benefits. You mentioned podcasts. Are there any particular podcasts on sales that you really like?
Hi: Yeah, Sales Benchmark Index had one for a while that was really, really great, and it was updated on a regular basis. I would say things like … There’s advanced selling. There’s an inside sales one. There’s sales secrets, sales questions, sales coffee, sales gravy. Those are some of the ones that I really … sales secrets. There’s some B2B ones that are really great. To me, it’s as long as the podcast is not three hours long, and it’s 20 to 30 minutes long, and while you’re on the treadmill you can get a few tidbits and go back to your Idea Book and write it down.
Will: Hi, that is awesome. I wanted to thank you for being on the show.
Will: This has been a really fun discussion. Great to catch up with you and hear about all these tips and tricks. Thanks for joining.
Hi: Thank you, Will, for having me on.