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Radical Transparency In Negotiation with Todd Caponi

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Would you show your cards to the dealer during a game of blackjack? That's what Todd Caponi thinks you should do in your next sale, including your negotiation process. In this episode, you'll learn why it's best to expose your flaws openly, how it'll help you build trust, and how to use radical transparency throughout the sale.


Radical Transparency In Negotiation with Todd Caponi:

Full Transcript

Todd Caponi:
Buyers are trying to predict what their experience is going to be with your products, your services, your technology, and they hear your 5.0 speak. They’re trying to skip to the negatives, right? They’re trying to get to that first. And as it turns out that when we, as sales professionals in a human-to-human environment, lead with the negatives, this kind of limbic filter that says, “Hey, stop selling to me,” it disarms and you build trust immediately and you build a really strong relationship. And as a result, your sales cycle speed up, win rates go up, you work the deals you should be working, you lose the deals you’re going to lose anyway, but you lose them faster and you make it really hard for your competitors to compete against you. That was the concept at its core is transparency sells better than perfection. Leading with our imperfections will sell better than pretending like we are perfect.

Liston Witherill:
That’s Todd Caponi, and he’s absolutely serious about transparency. It’s not every day that I meet someone who talks about sales and says something that seems truly original. Todd’s take on transparency, radical transparency even, stands out as original because it’s not totally self-serving like so much of the advice you hear in sales. Now, I’m all about serve, don’t sell. It’s the name of my business, and it’s something that I believe in my heart, which is to say that our purpose can only be fulfilled when we’re in service to others. That means serving clients even when you’re acting against your own self-interest.

Liston Witherill:
And there’s really strong research that shows trust is accelerated when you expose your weaknesses and vulnerabilities. People think that if you’re willing to deliver the bad news, then the good news you deliver is that much more believable. Todd Caponi spent years researching online reviews, and what he found was that the highest reviews may not lead to the most sales. The key to it all is transparency. In this episode of Modern Sales, I’m talking to Todd Caponi, author of The Transparency Sale, about why transparency is so crucial, how you can use it during your negotiations and why it’s the key to all modern sales.

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 buying decisions. And I am on a mission to change the way 100 million people sell so that buying B2B services can feel as good as a fully stocked freezer after a Costco run. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Liston Witherill:
If you’re listening on Spotify, hit the follow button so that you don’t miss a single episode, and if you’re listening on iTunes or Apple Podcasts, please subscribe and leave an honest review as long as it’s five stars or maybe even four stars. That’s fine. We’ll let that slide. It helps me get the word out for the show so we can together change the way a 100 million people sell. Thank you in advance for your help.

Liston Witherill:
I have a quick announcement on today’s show. This is the first time I’m promoting my own services directly. I’m opening up a workshop to help you close more deals using the highly consultative approach that I promote here on the show. During the workshop, you’ll learn the core sales process work on three skills that’ll help you make every meeting more productive, not just your sales meetings, and make your offers more compelling by telling transformational stories to your clients. The workshop is fast. It is intensive. It only lasts four weeks. There’s a lot of content in there. There’s a lot of interaction between you and other people who will be in this workshop together with you. If you’re interested in joining the workshop, it’s super easy. All you have to do head over to servedontsell.com/workshop to learn more about it. That’s servedontsell.com/workshop for more information and to sign up now.

Liston Witherill:
Now to the show. A lot of people think that sales is mostly about persuasion. It’s not. It’s about trust, and there’s no better way to build trust than to be honest as in obviously honest, like really honest. You can say you’re the best option in the market, and you can say you have the best product or service, but none of that means much. Anybody can say that, but when you admit your shortcomings, you’ll really have someone’s attention. Todd Caponi, my guest today, found that five-star online reviews didn’t translate to the most sales. Neither did 4.9 stars. Neither did 4.8 stars. And the same thing held true for complicated sales. It’s not the best reviews that do the heavy lifting. It’s the most honest reviews. So if not five stars, what’s the threshold for being good enough to drive demand but not so good that it feels like BS? That’s coming up right after the short break.

Liston Witherill:
Todd Caponi, welcome to Modern Sales.

Todd Caponi:
Thank you for having me.

Liston Witherill:
Absolutely. It’s my pleasure. Now, in the pre-interview you started telling me that you’re researching the history of sales and that you’re seeing a lot of parallels between what you read in your LinkedIn newsfeed now, bullets that people are posting or ideas or tips they’re posting and articles that were written way back in the 1920s. So are there any new ideas in sales?

Todd Caponi:
There’s new gimmicks, there’s new tricks, but essentially, at its foundation, what I’m finding is amazing that so many of the things that we talk about today, as you’d scroll your LinkedIn timeline, have been talked about ad nauseam for the last 140 years. The one that we were just talking about this morning was there was a LinkedIn post that had three tips to it, and they were literally the same tips that were in a Tractor World magazine article from May of 1921. I was like, “Should I respond to that? I’m going to let it go.” But it’s just funny that throughout time we have not really come up with new ways to sell. The buyer still processes information, makes decision, prioritizes the same way then as they do now. We just know a lot more about the psychology behind that than we did.

Liston Witherill:
Now, are you suggesting this person on LinkedIn had a copy of Tractor World magazine from 1921 sitting around and they just plagiarized it?

Todd Caponi:
It’s funny. So many of these things are obvious too, right? There was a quote from a book in 1919 that said, “If the truth won’t sell it, then don’t sell it.” Right? I just liked that quote. I burst into tears because I thought that was fantastic. But a lot of these things are just obvious, and people recognized it at the time that it was the right thing to do. Now, if you think about the 1920s and you go back about 35 years to the whole concept of snake oil sales, there was a concerted effort across the US to change the perception of sales. It started with what was the first sales conference that is known back in 1916, and it was keynoted by the then president, Woodrow Wilson, talking about how the sales profession is so vital to the American economy and how we need to embrace the truth and the respectfulness that their profession requires to be able to make a really strong American economy. So a lot of the things that you see then are the things we talk about now. A lot of them are obvious. Just said in different ways.

Liston Witherill:
Yeah. So the name of your book is The Transparency Sale, which I love. I love the idea of having a transparency sale, and I don’t know if this comes from some of your background in a company that did reviews and maybe that got you thinking more about online reviews and how does that impact buyers. But when I’ve looked at the history of sales, I think about it in two dimensions because one is you’re right. The fundamentals are not that different, especially in terms of mindset and in how people buy. And I think the reason for that is our operating system, also known as the human brain, the way it works doesn’t change in a 100 or 200 or even a thousand or 5,000 years, right? We make decisions fundamentally the same way, but what does change is the environment in which we make those decisions. And so maybe that’s a good jumping off place to talk about this idea of the transparency sale and what that even means.

Todd Caponi:
Yeah. I mean, you hear the words all the time: transparency, authenticity, honesty, that kind of stuff. A lot of that is cliche, but to your point, my last role I was the chief revenue officer of PowerReviews, which if you don’t know who they are, they’re a SAS technology that helps retailers and brands collect and display reviews, right? So you’re on crocs.com. You’re looking at a pair of shoes, you scroll down and you see the reviews. It was PowerReviews that was helping to do the collect and display.

Todd Caponi:
Now, here’s what happened though. We were doing a research study with Northwestern University here in Chicago, looking at what consumers do when they’re buying online. It seemed pretty innocent. What they found was a couple of things. Number one is obvious. That we all look at reviews today, right? 96% of us will look at a review before we buy something of medium to high consideration, meaning not a pack of gum, but something that matters that we haven’t bought before.

Todd Caponi:
But here is the thing that literally caused me to quit my job and do all the research and write a book. It was this idea that 82% of us go to the negative reviews first. Now, again, this is when a website is acting as the salesperson, but 82% of us go to the negatives first, so we skip the fives, go right to the ones, twos, threes, and fours. And that when a product has an average review score between a four, two and a four, five. And again, this is all across all product categories. Some skew higher, some skew lower. That is the optimal average review score for purchase, meaning a product that has an average review score of a four, two will sell better than a product that has nothing but fives.

Todd Caponi:
I looked at that and thought, “All right, that’s when a website is acting as the salesperson. What happens when a human is acting as the salesperson? Does the brain do the same things?” And it turned out that absolutely yes. Buyers are trying to predict what their experience is going to be with your products, your services, your technology. They hear your 5.0 speak. They’re trying to skip to the negatives, right? They’re trying to get to that first. And as it turns out that when we, as sales professionals in a human-to-human environment, lead with the negatives, this kind of limbic filter that says, “Hey, stop selling to me,” it disarms and you build trust immediately and you build a really strong relationship. And as a result, your sales cycle speed up, win rates go up, you work the deals you should be working, you lose the deals you’re going to lose anyway, but you lose them faster, and you make it really hard for your competitors to compete against you.

Todd Caponi:
That was the concept at its core is transparency sells better than perfection. Leading with our imperfections will sell better than pretending like we are perfect. And here’s a kicker is the fact that there’s this proliferation of reviews and feedback and everything we do buy an experience anyway, and that goes into B2B. We can’t hide our flaws and expect to get away with it anymore anyway, so it works. The four, two to four, five is important. I’m not telling anybody to go out there and go, “Hey, this is why we suck.” That’s not what we’re doing, but embrace your imperfections. And when you do that, literally magic happens, and it happened when I started trying it, and I had to go run to publishers and go write this book.

Liston Witherill:
I agree with you, and I’ve written quite a bit about trust. That seems like a fairly repeatable way to build trust is to say something that seems like it wouldn’t be in your self-interest to say it because it exposes some vulnerability in the armor that you display typically as a salesperson. But what is too much honesty? You say don’t go overboard. Well, what does that mean? At what point am I too honest?

Todd Caponi:
I mean, it goes back to that [Alfred Dunn 00:12:50] quote that I talked about, “If the truth won’t sell it, don’t sell it.” And that was from 1919. The point is that if your product sucks, you probably shouldn’t be selling it anyway. It’s probably time to go find another job. But when we talk about embracing our vulnerabilities, just think about a crazy B2C example is our favorite retailer in the world, IKEA, right? IKEA they embrace the fact that there’s not going to be a salesperson to help you. You’re going to have to pick super heavy boxes and put them onto a cart yourself in the warehouse. You’re going to have to jam it into your car tetrastyle. You’re going to have to drive home with an injury. You’re going to have to open the box and find 150 parts with no instructions on anything. You’re going to have to F-bomb your way through the assembly. And then you get this endorphin rush and you’re like, “Gosh, we should have bought the matching end tables with this bedroom set, right?”

Todd Caponi:
IKEA has been the number one furniture retailer in the world for nine years in a row, and it’s because they say, “Hey, listen, we’re going to give up certain things so we can be great at our core, which is giving you modern Scandinavian design furniture that you didn’t pay a whole lot for.” I think we can look in each one of our organizations and say, “All right, what are we not going to be good at so we can be good at our core, the thing that we want to tackle our ICP, our ideal customer profile, with and get right every single time?”

Todd Caponi:
At PowerReviews, it was ratings and reviews, collect, display retailers brands. If you’re a travel site, we don’t do travel sites. We’re going to fall down on that, so no. If it’s add-on technology like ad retargeting, hey, that’s not something we do, but one of our competitors does it great. If that’s going to be important, go to them, but we’re going to focus on our core. Just like IKEA, if you want feng shui apartment and design and help and deliver it assembled, go to Room & Board, go to Macy’s, go to Crate and Barrel. They’re not going to pretend, and that’s the point. Embrace what you’re great at. Don’t hide it because you’re not going to get away with it anyway. And when you embrace what you’re not great at, it builds trust instantly, and that’s when the magic happens.

Liston Witherill:
One side point about IKEA is there’s this thing called the IKEA effect, which I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, but basically it’s been duplicated. If I put my labor into something, I’m going to appreciate it much more. And so the fact that you build the furniture from IKEA means you have a greater affinity for whatever you built even though some people would look at it and say, “Oh, what a cheap cabinet.” You’re like, “But it’s my cheap cabinet. I helped to build that.” And that’s actually been duplicated in studies of animals, so a pretty well-known effect.

Liston Witherill:
I want to touch back something you said about PowerReviews. Your core target was not a travel site. And so if a travel company came to you and said, “Can you do reviews for us?” Do you say, “No, we won’t work with you,” or do you say, “That’s not what we focus on. However, we could help you in these ways?”

Todd Caponi:
No, what we do … I’ve got a side gig where the managing director of an early stage tech incubator here in Chicago focused on just sales and revenue, building the revenue, the sales foundation. I’m a pound-the-desk on extreme firmographic focus. And what that means is that you’ve got customers … And I heard your recent podcast with Andy Paul where you guys talked about this where you got to have customers that you always say yes to, you’ve got to have a set that you always say no to, and then there’s this gray area in the middle, which is the, “Hey, maybe we can go left or right here, but we’ve got to have criteria around that.”

Todd Caponi:
For us, as an example, if we had a travel site and, let’s say, Travelocity or Priceline or something like that were to come to us, we had criteria where we would look at it and say yes or no. And then we would go to the customer and say, “Hey, listen, this is something that we want to experiment with. It’s not an expertise that we have. We have no travel customers at all. Hey, Priceline, you use a 10 point scale. We use a five point. I don’t even know how we would fix that. If that’s cool with you, let’s keep going. If it’s not, I totally get it and we’ll move on with our lives.” And that’s part of that gray area that if we as an organization wanted to open up a new vertical, we would go with cards face up, just throw it on the table and say … And that’s what I teach these startups to do.

Todd Caponi:
If you’re a startup and you’re going and, let’s say, you’re selling to Walmart, the first thing you got to tell Walmart is, “We’re a startup, right? We have no customers. We have three customers. We have no customers that are of your size.” Make sure you’re embracing that upfront because you don’t want to throw six months of your life into this and then they go, “Wait a second. You don’t have any customers. What are we doing?” And then you just lost six months of your life. That’s the core concept here.

Liston Witherill:
In this example you just gave, the startup selling to Walmart, how do you balance the idea of, “On the one hand, I need to build value because maybe there is something I can really do for Walmart. On the other hand, if I reveal I have no customers, that may scare them off before they get a chance to even see what my value is?” How do you balance those two?

Todd Caponi:
Again, I’m going to tell a separate story, and it just happened three weeks ago. I had an individual reach out to me who was out of a job due to all the craziness going on. And he was interviewing for a new sales role with a larger technology company. The job description said, “Requires five years of SAS technology experience.” This guy had none, zero, yet he was being brought in as a finalist to go before a panel. And so he called me up and he was like, “Hey, Todd, I’m nervous about this. I really want this job, but I’m woefully underqualified if you look at the job requirements. How would you suggest doing this?”

Todd Caponi:
And what I told him was you got to attack the elephant in the room first and walk in and just tell him, “Hey, listen, I appreciate that you’re spending the time with me here. Can we talk about one thing that if I was in your shoes I would want to understand? Can we start there? And it’s this idea that you’re asking for five years of SAS experience, and you can all see on my resume that I have none. If that’s going to be a game-breaker, let’s talk about that,” and just throw it out there and see what happens. And in every case everybody was like, “Yeah, let’s talk about that.” And then it allowed for when he did deliver the, “Hey, this is why I’m here, and I’m excited about this role. And here’s how my other sales experience, I think, applies.” And it resonated.

Todd Caponi:
He was up against five different individuals that had the experience, and guess who got the job. He did. And so he called me on that Saturday saying he had just accepted the role, and I pumpernickel around this house like a guy that just scored the game-winning goal in the Stanley Cup like it was my job. I got nothing for it, but it’s that idea that when we address the elephant in the room first, then when it’s time to come back say, “Hey, this is why we’re spending time on it. This is why we think this could be a great opportunity for you. But if you’re not going to be able to get past that one point, we can all save each other a lot of time.” It’s incredibly trust-building, incredibly disarming. And from a brain science perspective, we can see why it speeds decision-making.

Liston Witherill:
So what I’m hearing there is a construct that I would use based on what you just said is asking for permission, identifying the weakness or vulnerability or maybe slight misalignment and then explaining why you still think that there’s a fit and value for the person.

Todd Caponi:
Nailed it. Yeah, that’s exactly it.

Liston Witherill:
Great. So you mentioned this idea of negotiating with your cards up. What does that mean? What is transparency negotiating?

Todd Caponi:
Yeah. This actually happened during the recession in 2008 where I was the VP of sales of a tech company that was based in California. And I was brought into a last minute negotiation where their head of procurement was like, “Enough of dealing with the rep. I need the decision-maker, right?” To take a step back, one of the things that always bothered me about negotiation and sales is that I always felt like it required a different personality. I don’t know if you’ve felt that, but it’s you build relationship all the way to the close. The customer says, “Yes, I want to buy from you.” And you say subconsciously, “All right, I’m going to start lying to you.” You go to Google and you look at the top five tips for negotiating, and it’s things like aim high, start with an extreme position, or give the customer the illusion they have control to truly gain control. And I’m like, “That’s all lies.”

Todd Caponi:
We were selling a SAS technology, but I walked into this negotiation and it wasn’t just this one person. There was four or five others, and one woman was looking at me like, “Oh yeah, negotiation time.” The highlight of her week was to beat somebody up. And so instead of going through that traditional ping pong game where they say, “We need 30% off,” and instead you go, “Well, I can give you 15,” and then you go back and forth, and so maybe you end up in the middle, and what you just gave away is just charity to their bottom line.

Todd Caponi:
What we do instead is to say, “Hey, listen, before we get started, can I just share with you the four things that matter to me and my organization? Because I think they’re going to be important for this discussion. Number one is volume, so the more product, services, technology you commit to, the better it is for us and the more we’ll pay you in the form of a discount. The faster you pay, so timing of cash. It turns out we like money. The faster you pay, the more we’re willing to pay you in the form of a discount. Length of commitment. The longer you commit, the better it is for us to resource, to plan, to get investment, so we’ll pay you for a longer commitment in the form of discount. And the fourth one is the timing of the deal, meaning our ability to forecast our business is super important also for resourcing, but I’ve got an obligation to our investors, and so we can mutually align around when you think you can get this done. And obviously, I’ll give you a little buffer. I’ll pay you in the form of a discount to hold to it.”

Todd Caponi:
And so as the customer then says, “All right, we need 30% off.” You don’t play ping pong. You say, “Hey, I think we’ve got a path to get you there. Commit to more technology, product, services, pay faster, commit longer, help me forecast my business.” You get customers that start to negotiate their own deals. It builds trust to the goal line. And if you’re in a business that has renewals or anything like that, you’ll find that customers are actually negotiating their own renewals. They’re coming to you saying, “Hey, I would like to renew for three years instead of one.” It’s amazing how it works. But in that instance, with that five or six procurement people at a big oil services company in Houston and $4.5 million dollar deal, they essentially negotiated their own deal, and we got something of value in return for every dollar we gave away in the form of a discount, and for us, it was accelerated cash and a predictable deal.

Liston Witherill:
I work with mostly professional services firms. And typically I say, “Let’s not negotiate on price. Let’s leave that last,” because there’s all these other factors as you point out: terms, volume, length of commitment in services, access to me or whoever is on your project, what sort of resources can you command, what is our response time. There’s lots of other things that would go into it that would be beneficial to the client beyond price. At the same time, as you know, one of the KPIs for a lot of people in procurement is how much they were able to shave off the initial proposed estimate or quote. Do you feel as though you have to come into negotiations if you’re dealing with the procurement department with the expectation that you’re going to have to give them some win on the price?

Todd Caponi:
What actually happens in these cases is many procurement organizations, you’re absolutely right, their MBOs are around getting dollars off, so discount percentages. And in many cases it’s getting terms too like termination for convenience or some of those types of things thrown in. And what I found over time is that the timing of cash is not something that they’re measured on typically, commitment lengths. I mean, obviously, every organization is driven to commit to as little volume as possible, pay slow, commit to as little a period of time as possible and sign whenever the heck they want, but they understand that both organizations are in business to make mutual magic happen. Otherwise, you’re going to sign a contract with a company that’s not going to be around because we just did a terrible deal with you.

Todd Caponi:
That example was a perfect one where they literally had … They didn’t care about the timing of cash, and we were able to give them 10% off of a big contract for them to pay the entire three years upfront. It was an oil services company in 2008 that had literally $16 billion of cash on their balance sheet. They didn’t care about that, and they were happy to take the 10%, right? So I think in those cases, when we’re dealing with procurement, those levers work out really, really well with them too because there are elements they don’t care about, but the four levers becomes so simple to deliver. And again, it’s like running a marathon. That negotiation could be seen as an event, but if you show up at an event marathon that you haven’t laid all the foundation for, your toenails will be popping off by mile marker four, right?

Todd Caponi:
You’ve got to share these levers when you first talk price. It’s got to be clear in your proposal so that when the negotiation happens they see it and it becomes a collaborative effort to get procurement what they need, get the CFO what they need, get whoever the sponsors are, get them what they need. And especially right now in this downturn, I’m seeing many VCs and private equity firms that are encouraging their CEOs of their portfolio companies to trade terms for dollars right now, so I think it’s even more important for companies right now to be thinking about instead of companies coming after him going, “Gosh, we’re really hurting. It’s renewal time. Give us 10% off.” Instead of going, “I’ll give you five,” now you can say, “Hey, listen, we might have a path to help you get there. Commit longer. Commit to more technology and we’ll trade you in the form of payment terms.” With those types of things, it’s even more important today.

Liston Witherill:
So you mentioned four negotiation levers. When you were selling that thing that you sold with those four negotiation levers, did you alter what those levers were? Did you sometimes come in with three that were different than the four, or did you mostly have a set negotiation standard that you would bring into these negotiations maybe updated a little bit but not really customize it per client?

Todd Caponi:
No. For the most part, they typically stay the same. I mean, if we think about what most organizations care about, they care about buy a lot of stuff, pay fast, commit long, help me forecast. Those four are consistent across product sales, services, so many things. Now, I did go in and I bought a new car about 15 months ago. I tried to put myself in the shoes of the salesperson to think what their levers are, and their levers are not necessarily commitment, but they want financing and they want warranties, right?

Todd Caponi:
I think in most cases those four levers are pretty consistent, and I would say that sometimes people ask me, “Well, what about a case study or marketing as a lever?” And I try to advocate against that because I think that if we contractually obligate a customer to a case study and they don’t like us, do we really want them to be contractually obligated? And then vice versa, if they’re not contractually obligated and it turns out they love us and we ask, they might want to do it anyway. I just think that is that something we’re willing to pay for in the form of a discount pretty often now? So the short answer is those four are pretty consistent, but I could see certain types of industries maybe needing to alter them a little bit.

Liston Witherill:
So let’s turn for a second to another form of transparency, and that’s using transparency in order to remove friction from the buyer’s decision-making process. What are some key pieces of friction that typically slow down a decision for a buyer?

Todd Caponi:
First of all, we were talking about transparency. I think that’s the big one. Gartner … It was actually the corporate executive board in 2017 who’s now owned by Gartner. They had done a study that looked at how buyers spend their time in a consensus sale, meaning more than one buyer’s got to make the decision. And what they found is that the bulk of the time that the buyers spend is doing homework beyond the claims of you, your competitors or the conversations they’ve had with their internal buying teams. It’s like 61%. And that’s because typically sales professionals hide the truth, right? They give nothing but 5.0 speak.

Todd Caponi:
I think tip number one there is when we lead with transparency, we’re actually reducing the amount of homework that the buyer needs to do. Consensus selling is always hard, but picture it now. Picture consensus buying now where buyers don’t just get to go like, “Hey, Charlie, we’re going to sign this contract. Are you cool with it?” There’s none of that. Every effort that a buyer needs to make to gain consensus is now a Zoom meeting, so we need to do everything we can to remove friction. I think transparency is number one. Now, there’s a couple of non-obvious ones. One of them is transparent negotiating too, or give them the tools to negotiate their own deal. That removes friction.

Todd Caponi:
One thing that I see a lot of times companies do is they deliver contracts that are filled with one-way terms, things like auto renewal language that at renewal the price goes up or, “Oh, by the way, if you don’t tell us 90 days ahead of time, the contract auto renewals,” those types of things. I’m just a believer that in times like this where buying is really hard, consensus buying is incredibly hard, looking at your contracts and remove any one-way terms. Do that right now. Contract process does not need to be hard. Lawyers are people too. I think there’s opportunities to remove friction from your contract process. But, I mean, there’s tons of ways.

Todd Caponi:
I think right now every sales executive should act like a buyer in their organization and understand like, “Do we have too many steps? Do we separate qualification from demo? Why?” Give the customer what they want. Remove steps from the process. Look at all of the elements from a buyer’s perspective, and I think consensus buying will at least tip the scales a little bit back versus how hard it is today dealing with the fact that we’re all remote.

Liston Witherill:
Yeah. Do you think that competitive comparisons or additional research … I always think of that as being one of the things that takes the longest in a consensus-based sale is they’re trying to really understand the landscape. And I’ve done a series on this podcast called buyer’s insights where I interviewed people and had them … They’re not salespeople. They’re buyers. And I said, “Tell me how you bought XYZ thing that you bought.” And the process is so long. Usually, one of them said, who used to work at IBM, she said that she put together a list of 27 companies, basically every competitor in the marketplace. Put together a spreadsheet, compared them across the line. I mean, as someone in sales, is that something you would advocate your team do for the client?

Todd Caponi:
Yeah. I think that 27 is insane, right? And there’s so much intricacy that goes into the way you deliver that because it’s … I mean, obviously, if I were to walk in and say, “Hey, you’re considering these three companies. We’re one of them, and I’ve done all your homework for you.” They’d just be like, Right.”

Liston Witherill:
Exactly.

Todd Caponi:
We still as human beings make our decisions in the feeling and emotion center of our brain and back it up with logic. I’ll give you a quick example, and we talked about it really briefly before, but it was when I discovered that this was going to work. I was in New York. Again, I was CRO, and I had a afternoon open and my VP of sales texted me and he’s like, “Dude, Calvin Klein just came in as an inbound lead.” Calvin Klein’s a great lead for us. Retail brand come together. And so I called them and I was like, “Tell me about it.” And he walks me through that “Hey, they’ve explained that they’re going to issue an RFP. They’re then going to narrow it down to a couple of finalists and bring us up to New York and do a presentation.” And I was like, “New York. Oh, that’s right. They’re here in New York. My afternoon just canceled. Is there any way you can have the rep just text their head of eCommerce or call them and just say, ‘Hey, Todd’s in town and would love to grab coffee with you.'”

Todd Caponi:
And so I thought there was like a one in a hundred shot that this guy would be available for that, but he did. And the guy said yes. I go to Calvin Klein’s office. I check in, I go in, he meets me at the elevators, brings me into his office. And again, I’m under the guise that we’re just going to get to know you. As soon as I walk in, he points at the wall, and there’s a monitor sticking out like an arm monitor, and he’s like, “You can plug in your laptop there for your presentation.” And I was like, “Presentation? Where’s the coffee?” I look to my right and people are wheeling chairs in. They literally wheeled seven chairs in, so we’re in this tight Manhattan office, and it was like a 100 degrees. There’s nine of us in this guy’s office, and they’re all expecting a presentation. I’m expecting coffee. And so I just decided to lay it out.

Todd Caponi:
And so this guy was in New York in the best way possible, meaning there was no small talk. He came right out with it and he was like, “Todd, we just had one of your competitors in here, your big one.” And there was only three companies in our space. He was like, “We had a big competitor in here. We have UN. How are you better than them?” Everybody’s all geared up, and I was like, “Hey, can I just start with how they’re better than us? Because they just released an add-on technology that their first customer, their beta customer, is the Gap, right? So apparel. And not only do we not have it, but it’s not even on our roadmap. And so if that’s going to be an important consideration, can we talk about that first? Because if I’m in your shoes, they’re probably pitching that hard. And I’d like to understand that if you’re sold on that, I’m going to save you 45 minutes of your life, and I’m going to save my team filling out RFPs and flying out here.”

Todd Caponi:
They all started laughing and then they’re like, “Oh yeah, go ahead.” And so I explained this technology, how it worked, Gap was their beta, they just released it. And they all looked at each other and they’re like, “Yeah, that’s not interesting to us. We wouldn’t go to a reviews provider for that type of technology.” I’m like, “All right, cool. Speak now because I’m about to have a bunch of people engage in your account.” We kept talking. Literally 15 minutes later the guy kicks everybody out of his office and opens a folder that has his budget on it. I’d never had a customer show me their actual budget, and the fifth item down was ratings review, software and a dollar amount. And he said, “Can you hit this?” And we have that discussion. 10 days later they threw out the RFP, didn’t have us come up, decided to go with us. And then it took us four weeks to negotiate the T’s and C’s. But we got the deal in six weeks versus six months.

Todd Caponi:
That’s essentially what we’re talking about is I knew that that competitor and us were the only two that could handle apparel at their level. And so I presented as though I was the competitor. Their add-on I knew it was going to be a big deal. It completely disarmed the group, and it sped the sales cycle from six months to six weeks.

Liston Witherill:
And when you talked about the add-on, did you also … I assume your next step is to talk about why strategically that was not on your roadmap and why you weren’t going in that direction.

Todd Caponi:
It’s just like IKEA, right? We’re not going to help you pick it, pack it, jam it and assemble it. But we’re going to be really great at modern Scandinavian design furniture that you didn’t pay much for. That was essentially it like, “Hey, listen, that’s an ad retargeting technology. That’s not our expertise. We want to be world-class at delivering ratings and reviews, and our focus is only retailers and brands. And if that’s the thing that’s important to you, I think we’re going to be great. We work with brands like yours and retailers like yours. But if ad targeting and the circle that goes around is going to be important, call them back. That’s it.”

Liston Witherill:
Love it. A true transparency sales story. I love that. So Todd, thank you so much for being here. If anybody listening to this wants to learn more about you or follow up with you or contact you, what should they do?

Todd Caponi:
You can follow me on LinkedIn or connect with me on LinkedIn. I’d appreciate it if you put a little note as to where you heard. And if you’ve got questions, I’m always answering questions for people on LinkedIn. I love doing that, so that’s a good place to start. The book, The Transparency Sale, it’s available anywhere books are sold, on Amazon, on everywhere else. And then transparencysale.com is also a good spot to find more info. And I write a blog sharing all kinds of nonsense around behavioral science, decision science, and now I’ve suddenly become a sales history nerd too.

Liston Witherill:
It is not nonsense. My friend, thank you so much for being here. I really appreciate it.

Todd Caponi:
That was fun. Thanks for having me.

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