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The Truth About Motivation with Justin Welsh

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Can you motivate your team to reach new levels of performance, or are differences in motivation just genetic? Justin Welsh, former VP of Sales at PatientPop, talks about his approach to motivation, and what you can (and can't) do to keep your team motivated. Justin also reveals his formula for selling anything - one based on copywriting! - and discusses the differences between selling products and services. 

Up next…

Check out the four sales fundamentals every top performer masters, how to use value-based selling to increase your leverage, and how to improve your remote selling skills as the world becomes more virtual. 

For more information on remote selling and a complete list of links mentioned in this podcast, visit this remote selling article on our website.


The Truth About Motivation with Justin Welsh:

Full Transcript

Justin Welsh:
I take people through a framework that I really like, and so that framework is actually a copywriting framework. It’s called The P.A.S.T.O.R Method by Ray Edwards. Generally, what I do, regardless of whether I’m selling a product or a service, is I want to understand if someone has pain. The P in pastor is pain. As soon as I can understand whether someone has pain, I like to amplify it. I’m probably giving away my tricks. Like now I know Justin’s doing our calls. But the amplification of pain means making pain existential. How do you make someone really feel the pain that they’re feeling for the longterm? How do you make it an existential threat to either their business or anything else? S is telling the story, the story of how I work or how my product or service works, the T is just showing people that have transformed using my product or service, the O is making my offer, and the R is asking for a response.

Liston Witherill:
Welcome to Modern Sales, a podcast that’ll help you sell more by understanding how people buy. I’m your host, Liston Witherill, founder of Serve Don’t Sell, and I dig through academic research, interview people inside and outside of sales and nerd out on psychology, economics, and neuroscience to figure out how people make decisions. I am on a mission to change the way 100 million people sell so that buying B2B services can feel as good as a hug with a friend after quarantine. Wouldn’t that be nice? If you’re listening on Spotify, hit that follow button so that you don’t miss an episode. If you’re listening on iTunes or Apple Podcasts, please subscribe and leave an honest review as long, of course, as it’s a five star review. It helps me get the word out for the show so we can, together, change the way 100 million people sell. Thanks in advance for your help. Now onto the show.

Liston Witherill:
How in the world can you stay motivated, better yet, even with your motivation at an all time high, how can you stay resilient? Because we know there’s going to be ups and there’s going to be downs no matter what it is that you’re selling. No matter your track record, no matter your ability, no matter the lightning strike of market timing, it doesn’t matter, you’re going to win some and you’re going to lose some. So how do you stay motivated and resilient? This was a question I had for my guest today, Justin Welsh, Founder of The Official Justin, Former VP of Sales at PatientPop, and someone who I know as one of the most active and influential people in my LinkedIn feed.

Liston Witherill:
Justin has amazing things to say about sales, about the sales mindset, and I wanted to bring him on to talk about motivation and resilience, especially as he’s experienced it both as a sales leader and as a business owner selling his own services. This is an interview I’ve been to have for a while, I think you’re going to get a lot out of this conversation, and my interview with Justin Walsh is coming up right after this short break. (silence). Welcome to the Modern Sales Podcast, Liston Witherill, and I am here with a very special guest who I’ve been stalking, I think it’s safe to say, on LinkedIn, which I didn’t mention to you in the pre-interview. But I’ve been following you on LinkedIn, I’ve emailed you half a dozen times or so to get to this point, and so I’m really excited to have you here. Justin Welsh, thanks for being on the show.

Justin Welsh:
Listen, really great to be here, man. I’m sorry if it took multiple emails. Sometimes I’m nonresponsive, but I’m glad that I’m here. So thanks for being persistent.

Liston Witherill:
This is the way of sales isn’t it? Is you [crosstalk 00:03:44] just have to keep going. So why don’t we start with you telling us a little bit about your background. Who are you and how’d you get to where you are?

Justin Welsh:
My name is Justin Welsh, and right now I’m the founder of my own consulting and advising firm, and I work with SMB SaaS founders that are usually early stage looking to grow their business. But my background is I’ve been in sales for almost 17 years now, and the first six years of my sales career… Some folks may have heard me tell this story before. But the first six years of my sales career was pretty terrible, from 21 to almost 28, I got fired from my first three jobs. I didn’t make a sale. I don’t think I ever made a sale or hit a quota in the first six years of my life, and at 28, I had sort of lived in every lonely small town in America, trying to find the next good job for me.

Justin Welsh:
I got lucky. I got hit up by a company called Zocdoc in New York city, which was just 10 employees deep and one sales guy deep at the time in 2009, and I became the second sales hire at that company in December of 2009. For some reason, the energy of the city, the people who worked on that team, the product that it was representing, and maybe my own maturity, I think, all intersected at once in 2009, and for some reason, overnight, I went from being someone who had never made a sale and hit a quota to the top salesperson at that company.

Justin Welsh:
I spent the next five years in that company, moving across the country four times, opening markets, managing small teams, then really large teams, and after five years, I got recruited away to be the VP of sales at a local LA company called PatientPop, which was also a sub 10 company at that time. Over the last five years, I grew that business from zero to 60 million in recurring revenue before jumping off on my own and supporting founders. So that’s where I’m at today, and I’m doing it from my home here in LA.

Liston Witherill:
Okay. So let me rewind back to Zocdoc, because you said something really interesting, which is, you didn’t make maybe not even a single sale for your first six years in sales. So funny that it took each of those companies two years to fire you without making a sale. Or maybe you left of your own accord, I don’t know. You say, for some reason, you all of a sudden just became very good at it. But what changed? In retrospect, what do you think changed you or your approach? Or maybe even the product, what was it that was different?

Justin Welsh:
To shed some light on those first three jobs, I was in things like pharmaceuticals and also long sales cycle med devices, so I kind of was able to hide for a really long time. That was like, I guess, what you would call helpful, but probably harmful in the long term for my career. But I think when I got to Zocdoc, the thing that really, really stood out for me was the team. So in my previous roles, I was always on an Island. I was a field sales person working by myself. And when I got to Zocdoc, it was the first time I had ever gone to an office before. I went to this office, it was young people, there were just 10 of us, everyone was staying up late, eating pizza, drinking beer, trying to solve problems, and I really fed off of that energy.

Justin Welsh:
So that, I think, was the first indicator, was like, I got this really incredible energy from this business, incredible energy from the city, and I understood the product. It was a product that allowed patients to make online appointments with doctors, and that blew my mind. That didn’t exist in 2009. It’s not like it is today where there’s a million different services, it was the first one. I was like, “This is cutting edge,” I got really excited. And then I think the catalyst, the ultimate thing that changed me was I went on my first day with my boss, Ryan Stam, and I went to 95 University Place in The Union Square in New York City, and I signed up an orthopedic surgeon on my first day of work.

Justin Welsh:
I was like, “Whoa, I just went six years without making a sale, and on my very first day at this new job, I just made a sale.” I was so hooked, man. I was so, so hooked by that feeling, and that was like an addiction for me. So that kicked it off, I think.

Liston Witherill:
So Zocdoc, faster sales cycle, PatientPop, it sounds like faster sales cycle than what you were used to previous to that. I want to touch on that for a second. So in a longer sales cycle, so if I’m selling very expensive things, whether it’s a product or a service, and particularly the more complicated, the more implementation, the more change that needs to happen, the longer that cycle is going to be. Looking back now, how do you think about the feedback loop being so slow and using your intuition and making judgements about making changes to what you’re doing when you don’t really get feedback for six to 12 or 24 months?

Justin Welsh:
I think you have to be really self-analytical in a long sales cycle. I think if I were to go back in time and rejoin a long sales cycle business, I would start to look at the commonality between all the things that were going well. So if you look at… I didn’t close any deals, so I didn’t have anything to look at. But if you had five closed deals, I would want to look at those deals and say, what are the commonalities between these deals? What are the indicators that are, these deals are moving in the right direction? I think you have to motivate and understand… You have to motivate yourself and say, “I didn’t close this deal, but I moved it from indicator number one down the road to indicator number two, and I know this deal is moving in the right because of that.”

Justin Welsh:
But when I was young and in these long sales cycles without a real boss around or a real good analytical mindset at the time, I didn’t understand that. So I didn’t actually know how to say to myself, “Is this deal with this hospital system that’s supposed to take 12 months? We’re in month three, is this going well or poorly?” I never was able to really understand that, and because I was unable to understand that, I failed. Looking back, that was 15, 16 years ago, still to this day, if you plop me down in the middle of a really long enterprise sales cycle, I probably still wouldn’t be able to figure that out. When I transitioned into the SMB and the high velocity sales, for some reason, that just really clicked with me, and I understand how deals are moving. But I just sit in awe of long sales cycle salespeople, and I really appreciate how challenging and how difficult that is, because I’m so bad at it.

Liston Witherill:
Well, one thing I’ve talked about quite a bit on the podcast is contrast the differences between selling products and services. Since you’ve recently done both… Traditionally, you spent your whole career selling products, which I know PatientPop has a real service layer to it as well-

Justin Welsh:
It does.

Liston Witherill:
… but you don’t have… You have your LinkedIn course, but basically the bulk of your revenue, as I understand, it comes from consulting and advisory services. How do you think about the difference between the two, selling product versus selling services?

Justin Welsh:
For me, it’s interesting. I know that there are distinct differences, but the process in which I go through is still relatively similar. For me, and I talk about this on some other podcasts but I want to kind of bring it here, is, I have a framework that I really liked to follow. I think when you’re in a really short sales cycle… And by the way my advising and consulting, one call, two calls, we decide if we’re going to work together. It’s very quick. But I take people through a framework that I really like. So that framework is actually a copywriting framework, it’s called the P.A.S.T.O.R Method by Ray Edwards.

Justin Welsh:
Generally, what I do, regardless of whether I’m selling a product or a service, is I want to understand if someone has pain. The P in pastor’s pain. As soon as I can understand whether someone has pain, I like to amplify it. I’m probably giving away my tricks [inaudible 00:11:15] founders. Like now I know Justin’s doing our calls. But the amplification of pain means making pain existential. How do you make someone really feel the pain that they’re feeling for the longterm? How do you make it an existential threat to either their business or anything else.

Justin Welsh:
S telling the story, the story of how I work or how my product or service works, the T is just showing people that have transformed using my product or service, the O is making my offer, and the R is asking for a response. It’s like this very simple framework that I use, regardless of whether I’m selling a product or a service. I think with service is though, one thing to be aware of is, it’s a bit more nebulous, where product is a little bit more concrete. You can go through a product demonstration. It’s hard for me to demonstrate my advising or consulting services, so that’s why I use a lot more testimonials, a lot more transformative stories. Those are the things that sell to me in the services when I talk about my business.

Liston Witherill:
Interesting. By the way, you’ve posted about the P.A.S.T.O.R Method on LinkedIn, so you’ve already given it all away, my friend. One thing that I always focus a lot on in a services sale is two sides of the same coin, one is trust. How can you increase your prospect’s trust in you so that they believe what you say? The second thing is risk. So I think with services, because they’re less tangible, the buyer takes on a disproportionate share of risk, at least relative to products. How do you think about de-risking your services? Or if you were advising another firm, what would you tell them about reducing risk throughout the sales cycle?

Justin Welsh:
I think with me, with risk, most of the alternative options are far riskier. So here’s what I mean by that. I think most of the companies that I go and advise for are usually pretty early stage, so what they’re doing is they’re looking at either myself, as an advisor or a consultant, to come in and help put them on a path to scale their business successfully, or they’re generally looking at a stretch, VP of sales or revenue, to do the same. So for me, reducing risk actually becomes quite natural, because I think the riskiest thing that businesses do is they put the foundation of their revenue and their scale in the hands of someone who has never had that responsibility before, and to me, that’s an enormous risk.

Justin Welsh:
So the way that I generally talk about my services is, if you look at my track record, it immediately reduces risk, especially because when I work with clients, I don’t take clients outside of my comfort zone. I won’t say yes to someone if it’s a long sales cycle, I won’t say yes to someone if it’s a huge average contract value of hundreds of thousands of dollars. I’ve really niched myself down where when founders come to me, if they have a 15K ACB, if they’ve got a three week sales cycle, I’m going to have a conversation with them. If they don’t, I usually won’t even take the conversation, and I’ll hand it to someone who’s much more of an expert in that.

Justin Welsh:
So that is generally just a simple story that I can tell folks is, here’s how you de-risk it. The simplest way to actually de-risk it fully is to bring me on as an advisor and match me up with your stretch VP. Then you have someone with experience who can teach someone that’s learning for the very first time. So that’s how I think about taking the risk down.

Liston Witherill:
I want to turn to motivation. So this is something I think about a lot. I’ve run a business development program, I’ve run a marketing program. I haven’t had a room full of people dialing all day. That’s not my background. One thing that I’m curious from you about is, how do you think about keeping people motivated versus maybe, what is their intrinsic level of motivation, and how much can you give them?

Justin Welsh:
I don’t believe you can motivate people. I’m in this really interesting camp of, you can get short term bursts of motivation. Don’t get me wrong, I can go watch a really exciting movie like Rocky, and for two hours, post movie, you’re motivated. But after that, you don’t become a changed human being, for the most part. There are certain things that can flip you into being more of a motivated human being. To me, motivation is intrinsic. It is inside of you, and you can lift it in short term bursts. But when I think about building a team that’s motivated, for me, I hire and recruit for that very intrinsic behavior.

Justin Welsh:
If I think about my previous team at PatientPop… And I may sound non empathetic to say this, but it’s not my intention. The most motivated folks on my team would often come to me and point out other unmotivated people and say, “Why are those people still here?” We built a motivation factory. Everybody in our sales team was highly intrinsically motivated. So I think the first thing that I do is I try and create a team that way that’s going to permeate the entire team, and then I think that will naturally take the team to the point where they’re doing all the right things for your business.

Justin Welsh:
Now, there are going to be really difficult times in your business, I’m sure lots of businesses are having difficult times right now, and that’s where you have to combine intrinsic motivation with short term motivation bursts. Usually, when I do short term motivation bursts, it’s not pump-up songs, it’s not thumping the chest, it’s not getting up and stumping for [inaudible 00:16:37] work really hard. I think what it is, is aligning everyone around the same goal and making that goal really challenging. To me, intrinsically motivated people love stretch goals. They love to say… It’s for someone to stand up and say, “I don’t think we can do this, but this is the team that if any team is going to do it, this is a team that’s going to do it.”

Justin Welsh:
So oftentimes, what we would do is we would just say, “Hey, the whole business is counting on us right now. We need to put this business on our backs, and we need to take them to the next level.” That’s when intrinsically motivated folks band together very naturally, give them a stretch goal and push them, and to me, the combination of those two things is so powerful, but it starts with hiring and recruiting.

Liston Witherill:
So let’s talk about that. Because personally, I work with services firms, and one thing I see there in a lot of expertise driven businesses is they’re elevating people who are very good at delivery. I think you see a version of this in sales, which is the best salesperson becomes the manager, whether or not they’re good at managing-

Justin Welsh:
That’s right.

Liston Witherill:
… different story potentially. So when you’re looking for motivated people in the hiring process and that’s core to what you’re looking for, what are some ways that you go about figuring out, does this person have a high natural level of motivation?

Justin Welsh:
I think it’s really hard, but I think it’s tethered to another personality trait that’s a little bit easier to measure. So to me, the most motivated folks also happen to be naturally curious. To me, those are very tethered personality traits. The reason that I say that is because when someone asks a lot of questions or is hyper curious, they are generally so because they want to figure something out. When somebody wants to figure something out really, really badly, to me that often translates into, they are motivated.

Justin Welsh:
So, curiosity in an interview process shows up to me in many different ways. The first way that it shows up is how well prepared they are. I like to go and greet each of the individual candidates that I was interviewing or that my team was interviewing because I wanted to hear them say things like, “Hey, oh, great to meet you. I was recently looking at your profile on LinkedIn and I saw X.” Or, “Oh, this is so neat. I love the office space. I was taking a look at your company’s Instagram and I saw that on the Instagram account.” I want to know that they’ve done their stuff. Or I want them to say, “Hey Justin, so great to meet you. How are you guys doing? How’s your march going? What do you guys have to plan? What’s been really challenging for you?” I just love people that want to know information, want to consume information.

Justin Welsh:
And then during the interview process, what I like to see is oftentimes to start… I’ll turn the interview over to them in the beginning and say, “Hey, before we get started, what types of questions can I answer for you about the company or the role?” Oftentimes, people have no questions, or they say, “I’ve already met with two other people and I’ve gotten most of my questions answered.” I think to myself, “I’m a different person in a different role. Don’t you have any relevant questions for me?” But when I see young ladies or young men who come in and say, “Actually, I do. I have like 15 different questions written down here. Do you mind if we start there?” And then you answer the questions, and your first answer doesn’t suffice, and they peel the onion back and dig deeper, and if you give them a bad answer, they want to know why. Those people are what a lot of managers call annoying. Right?

Liston Witherill:
right.

Justin Welsh:
And I can appreciate that. They’re the guy or girl that’s raising their hand and training and asking a million questions, and I know that can be annoying. You will love it when they are doing it to your customers with the same veracity. So I highly encourage you to hire the annoying, question-asking, hyper curious person because to me, they tend to be the most intrinsically motivated.

Liston Witherill:
Incidentally, that’s probably how my mom felt the entire time I was a child is like, why does he ask so many questions? You mentioned this idea of stretch goal. So this is related to motivation really closely. I think quotas are an interesting topic in sales in that we know from research for sure that they improve performance, but we also know very few people ever meet them across an industry or across averages.

Justin Welsh:
Sure.

Liston Witherill:
Maybe it’s different from company to company. When you think about a stretch goal, on the one hand, it’s good because if you don’t get there and people are motivated to get there, you’re still happy with the results. Maybe it surpasses what you maybe thought the average result would have been. But it can also be de-motivating if people aren’t ever meeting their goals. So how do you think about the proper way to set that?

Justin Welsh:
When I think about quota, I want to make sure that quota is attainable, but challenging. That’s always been my thought. Like, if you go on LinkedIn today and you read a lot of sales 2.0, it’s like everyone should hit quota and Oh my gosh, and it’s like… I’m just not a sales 2.0 guy. I’m an empathetic dude, but I’m not like, everything’s got to be fluffy and great all the time. It’s just not how I think about sales. I think sales is hard. So I like quotas that are attainable, but challenging.

Justin Welsh:
When I’m talking about stretch goals, that’s usually when I’m going into the pit or I’m going in with my VPs and directors on my team and I’m actually saying, “Your quota isn’t changing. Your quota is the same, but I need extra gear. We need to kick it in specifically just to carry the company on our backs. Jim, Liz, Derek, your quotas are all the same, but I need to ask you for 30% more right now, and here is the reason why I need to ask you for that.” To me, it’s not about failing to hit quota, it’s about banding together as a team for something much greater.

Justin Welsh:
For instance, let me use an example, in basketball, the ultimate goal is to win the NBA championship. That’s the ultimate goal. Yes, teams are disappointed when they don’t do it, but we would consider a team that makes the playoffs and goes a couple of deep rounds a really good team. If a person has a really great year and they’re an all star, they’re a really great player. All of that stuff is… You’re still good, you’re still great, but winning the title is what I want. So I don’t want my team to just be good or be great, I want to always put the stretch goal out there and let them know, “Hey, if we don’t hit it, that’s okay, we’re not failures.”

Justin Welsh:
But ultimately, the best teams band together to win the championships, and I always consider my teams championship teams. So we put up these really big, huge stretch goals. “Hey, we’re supposed to deliver 3 million in quota this month. Let’s go do 4 million.” I don’t think about it being tied to quota as much as I do being tied to pride, for lack of a better way to describe it.

Liston Witherill:
Do you find ever when you set those stretch goals… whether it’s just a team revenue goal or maybe a company wide revenue goal or a goal for an individual, do you find that you lose some people in that process?

Justin Welsh:
Yes, I lose people that I don’t mind losing. I know, by the way, people are going to listen to this and I’m going to get kind of dumped on for some of these points, which is totally fine by me. But I like to see the true interior of someone. I think about building a sales organization and building a company as one of the most difficult things that you can possibly do. I don’t think people realize how hard it is to really stitch together a big business from scratch. You want the folks around you that are ready to go with you. So when you put a stretch goal up on the board, there’s going to be certain people that start high fiving one another, slacking each other, “Let’s go, let’s do it. Let’s hit this.” And then there’s going to be certain people that are going to roll their eyes and say, “This is too hard and that’s too…” And that’s fine. There’s a good sales role somewhere else for that person, but the teams that I build, I want to see highly, highly motivated individuals that aren’t just self-motivated, that are also company motivated.

Justin Welsh:
I think I get that from Zocdoc. Cyrus Massoumi, the founder and previous CEO at Zocdoc, built a team of people across three offices in the world, over 700 people of some of the most motivated folks, some of the most company-centric folks that I’d ever worked with in my entire life, and I like to think that I took that and I brought some of that to PatientPop, and bring that to my clients as well.

Liston Witherill:
So when I think about motivation, of course it’s very important, because we know for sure we’re going to hit some bumps in the road, we’re going to hit adversity. Generally, we’re going to do more learning losing deals than winning, right? That’s just-

Justin Welsh:
Sure.

Liston Witherill:
… part of the game, depending on how qualified your leads are, of course. But I think about resilience as a really, really important thing here. The way I would define resilience, at least in a sales setting, is the time between when we hit adversity to the time we bounce back and we’re ready to behave as that didn’t even happen. Is there anything you do to help build resilience in people, maybe change their mindset or help them adopt a mindset that would help them become more resilient?

Justin Welsh:
Yeah. I think during times of challenge, what happens to salespeople and sales leaders often is all their motivation and all their resilience gets tied to quota. I think that’s a mistake, because I think you can actually have a month or a quarter where you don’t do very well as a salesperson or a sales leader or sales manager, and most people would say, that was a bad quarter. If you are resilient and you shine a light on things that went well during that bad quarter, things that you learned during that poor quarter, oftentimes, those quarters are actually not problematic. You come out of them with an incredible amount of learning that you can apply moving forward.

Justin Welsh:
So in order to stay resilient, I think one of the key things that I like to do is shine the light on what’s going well during challenging times. I can think of a young man on my team at PatientPop who’s an insanely good salesperson, bombed a couple of months in a row and he was really frustrated. But when we sat down with him and we shined a light and I said like, “Hey, you didn’t close as many deals, you didn’t hit your quota, but look at these three deals that you did close. Look at how fast they moved through the sales cycle, look at how well you handled these objections, look at how much you mentored your peers.”

Justin Welsh:
If you only tether motivation to hitting quota, you miss so many good things. It’s on leadership, from the top down, to make sure that they are helping people be resilient by focusing on the things that are going well, by shining a light on the learnings, and by celebrating all of the things that people have gotten better at even during challenging times. It’s hard to find those things. That’s up to leadership to do.

Liston Witherill:
So I want to change gears here, and actually it’s very related to what you just said. You said in the pre-interview that one of the things that you really think about is balancing the quantitative with the qualitative. So sales, the more it’s become professionalized, the more technology there is. There’s tools like Outreach and Chorus, and we can measure, especially for an inside sales team, pretty much everything. How do you think about balancing this ability to measure with the very real human part of sales where it is relationship-driven?

Justin Welsh:
I think there always has to be a quantitative aspect. Again, I see sales leaders who are like, “Oh, who cares about the numbers as long as you get the deals?” You’re building essentially a machine when you’re building a business. So you have to be able to be predictable and scalable, and a lot of that comes through the numbers. So I never want to say that you don’t measure against the numbers, you have to be quantitative. But at the same time, you also have to understand all of the collateral impact that people have on those around them.

Justin Welsh:
So oftentimes, I might sit down with someone and look through their numbers, and again, maybe they missed, maybe they went 85% to quota, but I also want to understand, what other impact have they had on the business from a culture perspective, from a positivity perspective, from a coaching perspective, from a training perspective? There are so many things that are often unmeasurable or more difficult to measure. The way that I do that is I stay involved. I’m not a back-office VP. I don’t sit in my office with the door closed and not participate with my team. Yes, I’m looking at numbers, but I’m also walking the floor, I’m also doing office hours, hosting a senate meeting, which gets elected by their peers, meeting with teams doing skip levels. I want to understand what’s going on qualitatively across all of my different teams, so that I don’t just look at people like they are spreadsheet.

Justin Welsh:
I can’t stand when you get in a room with your finance team… This isn’t a bang on finance. They’ve got their job to do as well. And salespeople become rows on a spreadsheet. Like, you can’t measure, “Yeah, here’s Jim on the spreadsheet, and he did 75% of quota and that stinks.” But what you don’t see on that spreadsheet is that Jim is the shoulder to cry on for three of his teammates, he’s the guy who gets his team pumped up, he actually ran three trainings that made three people 30% better last quarter. I want to know that stuff. That’s how I think about the blend between qualitative and quantitative, and it’s super important in building a great sales team, but also having a great culture.

Liston Witherill:
So is there a time or a moment when you know that you should ignore the numbers, or are you always looking at the numbers plus everything else?

Justin Welsh:
Always looking at the numbers plus everything else. I think you have to take the numbers into consideration. Ultimately, I care about people, and I care about leadership and culture, and I care about the impact that people have. But we are building the company, we are building a business that has goals, it has metrics that it has to hit, and so we have to be cognizant of that. But I’m also the same on the flip side. I can think of a performer in my tenure at my last business that she was a top performer for over a year. Unfortunately, on the other side, there was culture issues, culture problems, negativity. To me, that also won’t cut it. That’s going to get you cut faster from my team than missing numbers for a few months, because you can’t coach attitude, in my opinion, you can only coach skills. So you always got to have the numbers in, but there’s a huge part outside of the numbers that I like to take into consideration.

Liston Witherill:
So in terms of hitting quota, I think one interesting thing we’ve seen in SaaS in particular, and I know that’s been your focus, is for 20 years now, the CSMs, customer service support, success, fill in the blank, managers are coming in and basically taking the role of account managers and every other service business, and they’re spending time to make sure essentially from the business perspective, that clients are getting what they want out of the software, realizing the value and stay on and sign again. What do you think about… When we talk about optimization and hitting quota, it can come at the sacrifice of the longterm. I may be able to hit my quota by selling to people who aren’t a great fit, and I know that, but I need to hit my quota, and then I’m going to lose them downstream. How do you think about the ultimate success or the ultimate fit of a client and how that should impact who we sell to?

Justin Welsh:
I think in the beginning of your company’s history, you have to make some assumptions and a little guesswork around your ICP. You’re going to think, “Hey, this is what I think my core customer is.” And then over the course of time, what I think you have to do really well is measure churn by cohort and as soon as you have churn by cohort… Like for us a PatientPop, we might look at the different specialties of physicians. Do dermatologists stay on longer on the software than primary care physicians or chiropractors? That’s one way for us to look at churn. And when I say us, I’m talking about my last executive position.

Justin Welsh:
But one thing that’s really important is you start to pull back the opportunity to sell to customers that aren’t a good fit. I think that businesses that grow really fast selling to all the wrong people end up having a really, really leaky boat. So I want to whittle down the ICP over time to make sure that my sales people have no choice but to talk to someone who’s a good fit. When we talk to people who are better fits, integrated customers, the right specialties for PatientPop, the retention rate is so much stronger.

Justin Welsh:
And then downstream, I like to have separate implementation, separate customer success, but I am very much also in the camp of having specialists that align with your customer success folks to deliver products into your install base that help your customers become even happier. To me, that shouldn’t be done by your frontline sales team, that shouldn’t be done by your people who are supposed to be taking care of the customer’s happiness and needs, and to me, that’s a totally separate thing. So I like to get really specialized, kind of like Aaron Ross talks about in his books. That’s how I think about it, but it has to come in the forefront. You have to have the right ICP, and that ICP should really get more focused over time.

Liston Witherill:
Last question here. It’s March 28th 2020 when we’re recording this. We’re almost three full weeks into a lot of the stay-at-home orders for coronavirus and COVID-19, and I saw you post on LinkedIn the other day, don’t sell anything right now. Actually, it was in all caps. I forget exactly what you said. But you repeated it three times, just in case they didn’t get it the first or second time. I really agree with you. At the same time, when I asked people, I surveyed my audience both through LinkedIn and a webinar I did, what’s the number one thing you’re focusing on right now? People said, build pipeline, win more deals and keep existing clients. But build pipeline was by far and away the winner. So how should people approach building pipeline right now when their clients are scared to death and they have a million other things on their minds, but we know we should be building pipeline in order to be ready to move into a sales posture eventually?

Justin Welsh:
I don’t think that was me, just so you know, because I have been an advocate for selling through this thing. But I know that there’s an argument on it right now. Some folks have said do not sell, other people have said, you got to sell. I am actually in the camp of selling. To me, it’s about problem solving. I think some people are going to say like, “How dare you sell during this crisis?” I’ve got a client right now that does patient messaging and telemedicine, and their sales have just spiked. Why? Because patients are scared and they don’t know how to get in contact with their doctors, and doctors don’t know how to run their practices and they don’t know how to get in contact with their patients. So both of those groups are scared and have high anxiety levels. Meanwhile, this company I’m advising for has a solution to connect those two parties and be helpful, help people be safe.

Justin Welsh:
So for me, it’s all about finding your niche inside of this challenge, and your niche has to help people. It has to be truly helpful. It can’t just help your company, it’s got to provide help to folks that are scared, it’s got to provide help to folks that don’t know how to run their business, and there are some companies that simply cannot do that. There’s some companies that are selling marketing to hotels, and hotels aren’t filling up right now. So if you don’t have a product that you can sell to help your customers, you either got to pivot and you got to spin one up and you got to launch a product and you got to do it fast and get it to market, or you have to find a different way to satisfy your customers.

Justin Welsh:
Everyone’s talking about be empathetic, be human; those are all things you should be doing anyways. The idea that some of these sales teams are pivoting to empathy and being human beings, to me, is silly. If you’re not doing that already, you likely don’t have that good of a sales team anyway. To me now, it’s just about getting creative, finding out how to help your prospect base and also talking to your customers. The key is actually probably with your customers. I know if I’m using PatientPop as an example, I could probably call 10 doctors and say, “Hey, it’s really hard to sell marketing software to physicians right now, but if you were to get a call from the sales person that was trying to sell you marketing software, what would resonate? What would you want to hear? What would key talking points be?” Interview 10, 15 customers, find the common answers, and turn that into a new talk track so that you’re speaking their language during this challenging time. There are so many different ways to do this, it’s all about getting creative.

Liston Witherill:
That’s interesting, that you would just go to your customers and say, “Teach me how to sell to you right now.” Rather than like, “What are some new things, new uses of our product that you’re experiencing since this happened?”

Justin Welsh:
You can do both. This was just one example. But like, “Hey, this is our current solution. You may not want to buy this right now. What would the solution need to have for your ears to perk up right now? What would get you really excited? How should we talk about it? What kind of voice would you want to hear? What kind of talk track would make you most comfortable?” If you have a business with good customers, your customers should be your advocates. My last business, there’s a hundred plus customers I’d call on the phone and say, “How would you want to hear from me today? What channel, what time, what sort of talk track?” I don’t know, man. I think a lot of companies are in panic mode, but they’re in panic mode internally. They’re heads down internally trying to figure out on their own. There’s a lot of answers out there in your customer base.

Liston Witherill:
I agree. One thing I’ve been telling a lot of folks is that even if… First of all, I’m tired of hearing people say, “No one’s buying anything right now,” because that’s clearly demonstrably not true.

Justin Welsh:
Not true. Right.

Liston Witherill:
Maybe they’re slower to make a purchasing decision, maybe they’re more reluctant to make a longterm change. Sure, yes, granted. But I do think people are making plenty of purchasing decisions. I also think we’re in this period of freezing right now, and we’re going to see a thaw period also, because companies are going to say, “Okay, this is normal now.” How do we proceed? Because we have to start making some decisions, and I want everybody to be prepared for that, I think is my main point. So it wasn’t you who said, don’t sell, you’re urging everybody to sell, but just do it in a way that’s relevant given the change in context? Did I get that right?

Justin Welsh:
You did. Yeah. You nailed it. I’m a big fan of being a guide and being helpful and helping my customers make great choices.

Liston Witherill:
Fantastic. Well, thank you for being here. I really appreciate it. If anybody wants to learn more about you, get in contact with you, what should they do?

Justin Welsh:
Easiest way is to follow me on LinkedIn, it’s Justin Welsh, W-E-L-S-H. I’m on Twitter a lot, JustinSaaS, Justin S-A-A-S, or you can visit my website at theofficialjustin.com.

Liston Witherill:
Fantastic. Thanks for being here.

Justin Welsh:
Awesome. Thanks for having me, man. A lot of fun.

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