Episode’s topic: Why You Should Stop Trying to Sell to Everyone - The STRONGMAN process at Experian
In this episode, David Mason joins host Shahin Hoda to talk about the methodology they use in sales at Experian to identify and qualify the right prospects, based on the STRONGMAN process.
Together, they clear some common misconceptions around sales and explain the fundamentals to achieve success. Thanks to David’s experience, you will learn why trying to sell to everyone can be counterproductive to your organisation.
This episode’s guest:
David Mason, Director of Marketing Services at Experian
David has nearly 20 years experience in sales across the United Kingdom and Australia. His focus has been around data analytics and marketing in different roles and verticals.
He is currently leading the sales businesses for the marketing services arm at Experian for Australia and New Zealand, and helps clients better understand their customer base to drive results.
As a leader, he is passionate about helping people develop and grow, since he believes in the importance of delivering engaging experiences not only to clients, but within your own team as well.
Connect with David on LinkedIn
Conversation segments on this episode:
- [00:47] About David's background and what Experian does
- [02:48] Understanding the fundamentals on how to be successful in Sales
- [04:43] Why activity is still critical and why is reducing the pipeline critical, too
- [07:43] The challenges of the psychological attachments to the pipeline in Sales
- [12:50] The STRONGMAN methodology at Experian
- [15:30] What indicators to look for when reviewing the pipeline
- [18:38] The culture of challenging the customer at Experian
- [21:29] Learning from past mistakes
- [25:00] David gives credit to the value added by Sales
Resources mentioned on this episode:
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Episode Full Transcript:
[00:24] Shahin Hoda Hello, everyone. Welcome to another episode of our podcast. I'm Shahin Hoda with xGrowth, and today I'm talking to David Mason, Director of Marketing Services at Experian about the importance of why you shouldn't try to sell to everyone and how that can be counterproductive for your organisation and your team. Now, on that note, let's dive in. David, thanks for joining us.
[00:46] David Mason Hi, Shane. Thanks for having me.
[00:47] Shahin Hoda Absolute pleasure, David, for some people who might not be familiar with yourself or experience, can you can you give us a quick background intro?
[00:56] David Mason Yeah, of course. I'm David Mason, I run the sales business for the marketing services arm of Experian in Australia and New Zealand. My background is been in sales for nearly 20 years across the UK and Australia starting off as a salesperson, selling in London, selling software, and then progressing through over the years, different roles, different verticals, different capabilities, but primarily around data analytics, and marketing has been my primary focus.
[01:27] David Mason More recently, I've been running the sales business in the Australia business for a marketing division and also the product business where I've been trying to work out how to effectively help marketers communicate with customers in a personalised manner. And Experian been investing in that for a number of years in a number of markets. And we're very, very lucky to have a high-profile customer base.
[01:51] Shahin Hoda Gotcha. And for some people who might not be familiar with Experian, can you tell us a little bit about Experian as well.
[01:56] David Mason Yeah, of course. Experian isn't as well known as a brand in the Australian market, globally it FTSE 100 business, so turns over 5-6 billion dollars a year. But it's most well-known in the US and UK market to the credit bureau, where it helps consumers manage their credit profile so they can effectively get credit from financial institutions at a good rate. However, about a quarter of our business globally is a marketing division, which uses the same philosophies of aggregation of data but for the purposes of marketing, insight and intelligence. So whilst we don't really use any of the bureau data for that purpose, we still use all the same methodology and techniques and technology to enable marketers to understand who their customers are, target them in the right channel with the right message in an effective manner. And we've been doing it in Australian market for 25 years.
[02:48] Shahin Hoda Thanks for that. That's amazing. Now, let's dive into this topic. And the idea of not selling to everyone right and and why that's counterintuitive. And why should people be aware of it?
[03:02] David Mason Yeah. So, you know, when we talk to our sales teams, or when we talk to our salespeople, we start at the basics. So we all have quotas, and we've all had quotas, you know, throughout our lives. And I guess that's part and parcel of being a salesperson or a sales leader. And I wouldn't actually know anything different. And the way that we help our teams break down, you know, how their quota can be achieved, and ultimately over achieved is understanding the fundamentals of what is required for them to be successful. And when you boil it down, it's pretty interesting math. We talk in our sales team about we typically like to meet 20 companies a month but don't need to sell to all 20 of those organisations to hit the monthly and quarterly quotas.
[03:49] David Mason So when we do the math, looking at average order values and conversion rates, now we realize that it's only actually probably two of those companies that we need to sell to out of the 20 to hit our quotas and to grow our business at a pace that we want to grow it. And that then creates a really interesting perspective. Because then the challenge changes from trying to convince 20 companies that the services that you're offering are critical to their business problems, to looking for the two or three or four or five, that have business problems, that they actually want to solve, and that contact is committed to investigating. And it completely changes the way that our people invest their time and energy, and allows us to get deeper into sales engagements and offer better service and experience to those customers.
[04:43] Shahin Hoda Right. Yeah, because in a lot of situations, salespeople are trying to show a "fat pipeline", right? To convince a sales manager that hey, you know, because the sales manager has to report up to that and they want to look good that you know, they're on track to hit those numbers. And sometimes, you know, some of those are made up. So it's interesting that you kind of preach the opposite of that of, you know, we don't need to do that. And we got to really find the people that are in need and have a really struggling rather than trying to sell to everyone. I mean, what's the problem of trying to sell to everyone or trying to sell to all 20 of those?
[05:25] David Mason Well, firstly, you know, what I wouldn't say is, if any of my team are listening to this. What I'm not saying is, you can't, you don't have to go out into market and have a level of activity that allows you to identify five. It still requires you to speak to 20 companies typically in our industry anyway, to find the five that you want to invest your time in. The activity pieces is still critical. And if for no other reason other than it, you get to practice your pitch. You get to get some more feedback from the market in terms of how our services are viewed and also you can't be perfect every time. So, activity is still critical, there's no question about that.
[06:06] David Mason But the way that we approach it from a pipeline perspective is your right, pipeline is typically over inflated. And that goes up all the way into the business. And when you realise that, you know, when I report into my MD, and he reports into Singapore, which is our head office for APAC, we can't afford to have over-inflated pipelines for budget and forecasting purposes. So what we do is, we look at our pipeline on a monthly and quarterly basis.
[06:34] David Mason And we get into a cycle where at the beginning of each quarter we do a culling exercise, where we have some methodologies that we have trained our people on to identify which prospects or which sales opportunities are best place for that quarter, and our job is actually to reduce the pipeline. We're actually trying our best in our engagements to remove and give opportunities, the chance to come out of our pipeline. And what we find is by approaching it that way, we almost get a resistance from the prospects or our clients who actually want to buy from us do not actually want to want to stay in this engagement. And they're the ones that we're kind of looking for.
[07:43] Shahin Hoda You mentioned before, when we previously spoke, it's more of a psychological thing, right? Because it's hard to, to culler or reduce pipeline. The salesperson has a certain amount of attachment to that pipeline. Do you see that as a challenge? Or, you know, and if you do, how do you go about addressing it?
[08:37] David Mason Yeah, it's a massive challenge. You know, and I think back to my days, you get emotionally attached to your deals, especially under the high-pressure situations as sales. So you know, there is a comfort to having a large pipeline, but there's a few psychological things that we notice. Firstly, it's inherent, that you're not honest with yourself in your pipeline, and you just can't afford to lie to yourself. So if you're telling yourself that there's an opportunity here, when you deep down know that there isn't, it's a big issue. And what you'll end up doing is you'll actually get into a spiral where you're engaging within an organization that doesn't actually want to engage with you, and your confidence will go. So what we typically do in that scenario is we use our colleagues and our managers to help us qualify our pipeline, because we want impartial views, and to help us maintain that honesty. So that's kind of the first one.
[09:38] David Mason Second one is we look for people who want to buy. So yes, that may be the greatest opportunity in the world that you know, client may have a problem, but if they don't want to buy, then what you're going to do is you're going to enter into an engagement where you as a salesperson, they're going to keep pushing, pushing, pushing, and you not going to get the progress that you want, and that has a massive impact on confidence. So we know we have this saying in our businesses of salespeople that want to buy, and you're trying to find the people that want to buy. So it's a very, very difficult skill.
[10:10] David Mason And what we've noticed over the years is the most successful people in our businesses aren't the best sales people, are not the best industry people, are not the people who typically have the best pitch. They're the people who are the best at qualifying as early as they can in the sales process, whether or not that prospect has the potential and appetite to engage in the process. And then what they can do is they can have a more productive engagement with less organisations. And I know from my experience, I run up so many deals in my life where, you know, in hindsight, I should have killed them after a month or so. And I've ended up 18 months of slow torture where I'm kidding myself. There's something that isn't naturally there.
[11:02] Shahin Hoda We're all, well I guess we're all guilty of that but you mentioned something interesting you said you know sell to those who want to buy, which is kind of goes against the mantra of oh I can sell ice to an Eskimo right where you go and in high pressure environments and the analogy of hey, sell me this pen. So what do you mean by that? Like, you know sell to those who want to buy. Are you saying that you know, a person can sell ice to an Eskimo analogies is not right?
[11:36] David Mason Yeah, I don't buy into that methodology. You know, however much The Wolf of Wallstreet is an interesting and fun film. I don't, we don't set ourselves businesses up with that mentality. We're not here to try and trick people. We're not here to try and, you know, have a one upmanship to show you that we can manipulate someone thinking who wants to buy our services. What we're actually looking for is good fit. There are situations where there are people out there wanting to solve problems and have problems that need solving.
[12:09] David Mason And all we're trying to do is look for those problems to ensure that if we do have a solution that fits the need, then we have a high chance and high probability that the solution we deliver would actually deliver value and then a positive engagement and then a long term future partnership. So we do not, we absolutely do not go down the mantra of every single person wants to buy our products and services at any moment in time. Typically, there's a spectrum of, do our services meet that industry? And is it the right time for that organisation to take our services, and if those two things can align, then we know we're in the best position to use our resources to deliver high quality service and experience
[12:50] Shahin Hoda And that's so important. I mean, you know, you see that quite a lot in sales departments where you know, sell to everyone. One and not every right, not everyone is open to buying and not everyone, you're a good fit and you waste so much energy on pushing that deal through the pipeline. Now, previously, we spoke about a methodology that you have implemented to the company. And you follow and you touched on it a little bit during this, this conversation where the strong man qualification method. Is that right?
[13:26] David Mason Yeah, exactly. Yeah.
[13:28] Shahin Hoda Can you tell us a little bit about that?
[13:30] David Mason Yeah, absolutely. So we as a business, so a global business. There's someone out of the UK, who built this strong man methodology. His name's Ed Bell, and he's worked with the Experian business for probably 20 years across the UK and Australia. And it's very specific. The way we use it is very specific. It's about qualification of your pipeline. And it's about identifying who in your pipeline is serious about working with you. And therefore, the job of strongman is to not necessarily change the way you sell, but to increase the percentage point chance of you converting a deal. So again, it's not a silver bullet. But it's basically saying if I follow these processes, my chance of this deal closing or this opportunity becoming a long-term project for us increases. And that's all we're looking for.
[14:23] David Mason We're looking for incremental increases, we're not looking for silver bullets. So we use methodologies in our business to identify business problems, you know, we've things that probably are a billion of them. The one that we've used the most in the past has been spin, about understanding, you know, an explicit need and need that the customer says, that is a problem. And it's a problem that's sufficient enough for me to solve. But once we get to that point, we then use strong man and strong man is built all around.
[14:54] David Mason Has the customer expressly said to you that they want to solve this problem? Have they expressly said to you that they believe your solution meets the need? And there's a few steps in between which are about are you getting introduced into the right stakeholders? And are they showing you that they're as engaged in the process as you are, it's not just you pushing all the actions. It's them showing that they're involved and invested in the process and illustrating that they're willing to push this forward as hard as you are.
[15:30] Shahin Hoda I imagine, you have to put some really clear indicators there because like what you said, showing if they're interested could sometimes turn into a, if there's no strong indicators associated with it could turn into a kind of fluffy metric, right? Where people could make it up and say, yeah, they're totally engaged. So I'm guessing there's some very clear indicators that this box needs to be ticked in order for us to say this person has been engaged, is that correct?
[16:00] David Mason Yeah, that's right. Yeah. So if you think strongman is an acronym, you can go into Amazon, you can buy the book, we know it very well. All proceeds to the book, he donates to charity, but strongman is an acronym. And it's quite a long acronym. So what we do is, it helps us, like chunk it down a bit. So the first thing we do in strongman when we're reviewing pipeline, so, you know, pipelines can get quite large as you've mentioned, so you have to have a very quick way of going through a pipeline without having to go through the whole acronym.
[16:32] David Mason So our first step when we look through pipeline is we try and put the pipeline into two buckets. We put them into either research or review. And the big difference between whether an opportunity is in research or review for us is that concept that the client has said that they want to solve the problem. And it may sound nuanced but there's a massive difference between, I've got a problem and I want to solve the problem. Because I've got hundreds of problems, like literally hundreds in my life, but I only solved the ones that are a priority to me, because I just don't have time to solve them all.
[17:08] David Mason So our biggest first step is have they expressly said to you that problem is something they want to solve, only then will they move into review. And then a few other things that help us get it into review. Like, are they introducing you to a wider stakeholder group? If they are, if they're the only, if you're just working with one contact, then typically we say that's a research phase. That's someone trying to gather information, whereas if they're introducing you to multi-stakeholders, and they go, right, okay, they're now looking at you as reviewing you as a service. So I'd say though, those are the really quick qualification process that we go through, and it helps us then just culler a whole bunch of opportunities to then start building a bit more detail around the ones that we feel, have those aspects.
[17:56] Shahin Hoda Yeah, that's, you know, that's so important. We say an example that I usually give people bad, hey, I have a problem, but I'm not looking at solving it, you know, my, the lid of my kettle in the kitchen is broken, right? And that's a problem. Now I can get by. I'm not looking at solving that problem. I know it's a problem. And no matter how hard you try to sell me on new kettle, I'm going to go and say, you know what, it's fine. It's doing the job. It's alright. Yeah, it's a bit inconvenient, but the pain is not great enough to go and try to solve it for me actively. So that's a very interesting way of separating the research and review stage.
[18:38] Shahin Hoda I also know that you have a very strong focus on kind of challenging the customer, right? So it's not just about, hey, we're going over there and presenting something to them and they kind of look at it, and they tell us, hey, make these changes, or this is what I want exactly. There's also a culture of challenging the customer at Experian. Can you tell me a little bit more about that?
[19:02] David Mason Yes, it's related to identifying the problems. So, and we're not perfect at this, right? And we're always talking to our teams around how we can help them challenge customers in a professional manner. So, you know, to your point, you know, is an interesting concept. You know, you think about all the problems you have in your life, and then think about the ones that you actually end up solving. And then think about why you solve those problems. It's the same in the business world, but the way that we get to that is through challenging our customers.
[19:35] David Mason So for customer... but what we find inherent is salespeople are worried about challenging their customers. Because either they feel like their customers don't want them to challenge them, or they're worried that they're going to hear a no and they're going to qualify pipeline out, when in reality is the absolute inverse. So every customer that I speak to and you know, I do post deal reviews where we win and lose opportunity, every single one without fail, wants partners to be walking into their business with an opinion. Whether it's about their industry or about their business, and they want to hear about solutions that they've got for problems that they already know about, but they actually want to hear about solutions to problems they don't even know about, that are probably coming. So it's very difficult to do that if you don't challenge a customer.
[19:48] David Mason And they've got a very one typically, you know, a very limited view of our world because they're not an expert in our our business. So my business is an expert in describing consumers. Whereas if I talk to a telco, their expertise in delivering services, telco services across the business. So what we find is the most engaging and the most kind of progressive meeting the ones where there's been an element of challenge, where we've had to put an opinion forward based on in our experience. And the way that we do that is we try and get the salespeople to think about how much knowledge they actually are imparting in a sales engagement, but they're the expert. So instead of think, feeling that they're subservient to a prospect, they should be walking in there and going, I do this every day of my life. So I've got something of value to offer you here. So why wouldn't I share that with you? And if we both come to an agreement that there's no opportunity then so be it. But I'm walking in here for you to value just by meeting you.
[21:29] Shahin Hoda Gotcha. Now, very interesting. The last point that I want to touch on David, is around mistakes that you've done in order to kind of get some of these concepts, right? Because we talked about it before, some of them sound counterintuitive. And we have to kind of stumble and make those mistakes in order to really grasp the concepts. So when you kind of look at your own career in sales, and think about some of the mistakes that you've made and how you've overcome them. What comes to mind?
[22:07] David Mason I've made an enormous number of mistakes.
[22:11] Shahin Hoda Give us the top two or three that come to mind.
[22:14] David Mason So if we think about what the topic we're talking about today, there's a couple of projects that I've had in the last five years where I've invested probably 18 months to two years in something that in hindsight, never actually existed. You know, it was an absolute pipe dream. And while I was getting a level of engagement from the client, and they were willing to talk to me and meet me, it was because I had a level of credibility. It was not because I was helping them solve a problem that they wanted to solve. So I am as guilty as anyone and I am consciously, I am constantly conscious of working on projects that I think a useful versus working on projects that I have asked and have qualified and continue to qualify are of value to the customer. So that would be one.
[23:05] David Mason The other big mistake I've made in these long sales cycle projects is things change. I know now, you know, as I've got more senior, and I have to make decisions for businesses, how quickly and how frequently and how drastically things change. So even sometimes when you get a need and the client says, yes, that's the priority. One of the mistakes I've made in the past is that I've been assumed over the next six to seven months that priority is still a priority. Whereas what we should be doing is, we should be constantly validating it. Like, almost like, you know, at a start of a meeting, hey, last time we talked about this. You said it was a massive priority because of this. Is that still the case? Is there anything change before I carry on rather than just jumping into the PowerPoint presentation and go right we talked about this a month ago, right? Where this is what we need to do next?
[23:55] Shahin Hoda Yeah, a lot happens in a month huh?
[23:58] David Mason Yeah. Oh, especially in these environments.
[24:00] Shahin Hoda COVID happens in a month. COVID happens in a week.
[24:05] David Mason Yeah, we're noticing it. We track consumer sentiment and consumer behaviors, and it's changing all the time. So any assumptions we make today are irrelevant. And you know, it's happening in the consumer, the consumer leads businesses, it's happening in business. So that is something that I don't think I'll ever perfect, but it's something I'm conscious of, and proactively asking question myself on.
[24:29] Shahin Hoda Yes, fascinating how we because we're not involved, we sometimes assume that things have been constant in the past month that we haven't talked to someone. So now those are two really good examples. Now. Look, before we wrap this up, do you think there is anything else on this topic and the range of topics that we discussed today that I haven't covered that you think our listeners would get value from?
[25:00] David Mason I'd say the big thing that we take from the strongman methodology as much as it is a framework for us to qualify deals. it's just said that our role as salespeople in helping organisations meet their objectives and their growth ambitions is more important than sometimes we give ourselves credit for. And I think if, as a salesperson or a sales manager or leader, I think what we've worked really hard at is instilling in our people that as they walk into meetings, they are adding value.
[25:34] David Mason And as such, that value should be recognised in their behavior and the way they approached deals. And they should be proud that they can walk into a business, whether it be a tier one telco, or, or a charity, that they actually got something to offer that business to help them progress. And it's a massive change in a psychology, because you then change from, I'm thankful for your time to actually it's a bit more of an equal footing here. So I want to progress and partner on this opportunity. So, you know, if I if there was one thing that I would add is you need to know your value that you're adding both personally and as a business.
[26:13] Shahin Hoda Yeah, that's a really good point. And, you know, I've been I've been involved in conversations with sales leaders where they you know, they would go and say, You know what, you're the prize when you're talking to someone you have to think of yourself as the prize and that's the way you can you can convey the value of what you're trying to sell or show to the client and it's not about being arrogant or you know, having a negative attitude, but it's, it's more about having that mentality in order to better present and make the customer understand. That's an amazing point.
[26:48] Shahin Hoda Well, David, I really appreciate I very much enjoyed this conversation, and I'm sure a lot of our listeners are going to gain a lot of value from all your points. And again, thank you very much for coming on the show, David.
[26:59] David Mason No problem. And thank you for having me. And as I say, this is a constant challenge that we face, and we're always improving. So by no means do we think we've got it nailed. So I look forward to hearing what other people have got to add. And we're always looking for ways to improve our business. So if this helps anyone else, then I'm pretty happy.
[27:19] Shahin Hoda I love it. Now, if anyone has more questions or want to know more about Experian or yourself, what's the best way for them to go about that?
[27:27] David Mason You can find my my LinkedIn profile. So it's probably the best way to get get in touch with me. No doubt that we can connect through you. So all the Experian website. But these days, it's not hard to find people. You can't escape otherwise.
[27:44] Shahin Hoda LinkedIn is the place to go. That's right. No, that is that sounds great. David, thanks so much.
[27:50] David Mason Bye, cool. Thanks Shahin! Speak soon.