Oliver Lopez is founder and CEO of Struct Sales, a sales consultancy firm that works with large B2B sales and marketing teams selling complex products and services over long sale cycles. Typical clients of his company have tried and failed at inbound marketing. They may come to Struct Sales thinking they know what they need as a solution. Often, they’re trying to solve the wrong problem.
Inbound marketing fails when sales reps see little chance of converting what are, at best, lukewarm leads, send the leads back to marketing, deign the inbound effort a failure, and continue only to work with existing customers. Sales reps can be further discouraged when complicated incentive plans fail to communicate the actions needed to earn “rewards.”
Oliver discussed some of the causes of low lead quality: 1) a failure to define and effectively target the ideal customer; 2) poorly defined/unquantified: goals, hand-off processes, and interfaces among marketing, sales, and delivery; and 3) a “language barrier” between sales and marketing.
Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs) are not necessarily Sales Qualified Leads (SQLs). Struct Sales offers a combination Sale Development Representative (SDR)/Business Development Representative (BDR) to generate qualified prospects through cold email, cold calling, social selling, and networking; qualify these prospects; and set up sales-qualified appointments. Oliver notes that statistics show that it takes between 8 to 13 “touches” to actually get a potential client on the phone. Yes, concentrate on the phone, but try a lot of different channels as well, and, as soon as possible, customize your messages.
Oliver spoke at HubSpot’s Inbound 2019 in Boston, MA on Challenge/Change/Control: Turning Prospects into Revenue by Using Emotions. Good sales professionals need to have good marketing skills, lead with value, utilize storytelling, “touch” the potential client where they are, and make their clients “feel something.” Oliver feels that it is critical to always add value before you push your product, present an ROI calculation quantifying the value your company’s products or services can add to a client’s bottom line, and to present a “What if/dire consequences” scenario for failure to take action.
ROB: Welcome to the Marketing Agency Leadership Podcast. I am your host, Rob Kischuk. I am joined in person by Oliver Lopez. He’s the founder and CEO of Struct Sales based in Stockholm, Sweden. Welcome to the podcast, Oliver.
OLIVER: Thank you. Thank you for having me.
ROB: How is Boston so far for you?
OLIVER: It is, as always, terrific. We had a small chat before we started, and this is my fourth time. Third time as a speaker at this event. I love Inbound and everything about it and I love Boston. It’s kind of a small version of New York, which I also love.
ROB: Awesome. Why don’t you start off by telling us a little bit about Struct Sales and what Struct Sales focuses on?
OLIVER: Sure, definitely. I founded this company almost 10 years ago. I have a background in sales, so I would define myself as a sales rep more than anything else, even though I’m the CEO now. We’re a sales consultancy firm. What happened a few years ago was that I understood that the inbound movement and digital lead gen options and possibilities were helping salespeople close more deals and getting face to face time with customers.
What we do is actually everything in between marketing and sales. We help companies align – everybody’s talking about this, and they have for 5-6 years – but we align marketing and sales and we focus on the business we can help them generate. So, we do inbound, like content marketing. We do design. We do social media. But above all, we take the money the customer decides to invest in marketing or sales and turn it into revenue.
ROB: Got it. You’re partly in the lead generation business, but there’s a lot that happens after the lead hits that still needs to be done right to get through to a sale. You’re primarily then in B2B clients.
ROB: Some software, some not? What’s the range?
OLIVER: Software, IT. As long as it’s B2B, complex products and services, long sale cycles. Preferably large sales and marketing teams. That’s where we want to dig in.
ROB: Got it. Where is a typical client at in their own journey when they realize that they need you?
OLIVER: Going back a few years, they would be interested in inbound as a concept. Today, they’ve tried inbound, but they’ve failed. Basically, they’ve done a lot of really cool stuff in marketing. They’ve been doing a lot of social media, inbound, content marketing, generating a bunch of leads which never close and the sales team doesn’t pay attention because the quality of the leads – it’s too low a quality. That’s the challenge they face today.
ROB: Wow. They must be pretty low quality for a salesperson to reject an inbound lead. [laughs]
OLIVER: You would be surprised. As soon as they accept the lead, they need to turn it into a meeting or at least an opportunity. So, they prefer to reject because then they don’t need to take responsibility.
ROB: Then are they just working completely cold leads, or are they trying to work existing – you said long sales cycles, so maybe they’re just focused on investing in existing relationships rather than the lukewarm leads?
OLIVER: Yeah. We could have a podcast on sales reps and the way they interact or don’t interact in the new era of selling. That’s not the podcast. [laughs] But yeah, if they don’t feel that the lead is of good quality enough, they don’t focus on it and it’s basically sent back to marketing. So, the inbound initiative obviously is seen as a failure.
ROB: You mentioned people have tried inbound and failed when they’re talking to you. What are some of the common factors that people are failing at when they’re doing inbound maybe not so well?
OLIVER: The alignment part – everybody talks about sales/marketing alignment, but what does it actually mean? To me, they haven’t really defined the ideal customer profile. Who are you trying to target? Is it every company in America, or is it a niche focus of companies? Number two, do you have an agreement and understanding between marketing, sales, and delivery? Who’s responsible for what, and to what extent – how many leads should be generated per month? What is a good or bad lead? Who in the sales department should actually convert the lead into a meeting and into a sales opportunity?
I did a talk a few years ago here at Inbound where I had a glossary. This is what marketing people say, this is what sales people say. They mean the same thing, but they use different wording, and this is where it goes south because they don’t understand one another. They want to, but they don’t succeed in doing that.
ROB: It sounds like you’re saying that there may be a challenge even in defining what is a marketing qualified lead, what is a sales qualified lead. Why do you think that is such a challenge to define? Is it an incentives problem, is it a vision problem?
OLIVER: Could be both. Incentives – we’ve done a few workshops or we’ve been working with a few clients in Stockholm, where we’re based, where we never took a decision that we were thinking about to maybe give marketers part of the pie. In the end if you close a deal and marketing has been involved, maybe they should have – not commission as a sales rep, but something to elevate them and to show the rest of the organization that hey, this is actually because marketers did a really good job. So that’s another thing.
Within sales today, incentives is one of the areas where – I’ve spoken to a lot of sales managers where they just removed it. Like, “This is a flat fee salary, and this is what you get as a sales rep,” because there are so many challenges in terms of – mainly, most sales reps don’t understand the incentives because it’s too complicated. They send you an Excel sheet and you need to calculate if you’re going to get any bonus at all depending on five, six, seven different parameters.
ROB: It seems like a challenge of that would be that potentially, if you’re going to more of a salary structure, the absolute best people in the market are not going to want to do that. Maybe. I don’t know. There are different cultural factors as well. But if someone can be that President’s Club top sales rep, they might not want to be in a flat comp structure. How are you seeing acceptance of these ideas?
OLIVER: This has a lot to do with what kind of services you’re offering and selling. The more complex the service, the more risk for the client, the more investment it’s about, the less focused the sales rep is actually on commission.
So, it all ties together. The bigger the deal, the more focused – because it could take 18 months to close a deal. If you’re like, “Hey, I’ll give you $1,000 in commission if you do this and that,” I’m going to be doing this for 18 months with a team behind me, with marketing, with delivery and whatever it might be. So smaller transactional deals, I think this is where salespeople are more, “If I close this tomorrow, I’ll get a commission for that, and I’ll close 10 deals this week.”
But again, it’s pretty complicated because in some way you need to show people – and salespeople love money, so you need to show them, “Hey, you’ve done good. Here’s a fat bonus check for you.”
ROB: As you mentioned, in a long sales cycle, you can understand – you can’t be on a base cycle for that long sales cycle. I know reps who are in Salesforce, Oracle, or in the education space, and I can’t imagine trying to measure a sales rep in that environment because of the sales cycles. Are they good or are they not good? It’s maybe harder to put metrics around it.
OLIVER: Yes, it is. And it’s all about team effort. Again, how do you know if marketing did their part or sales or whoever it might have been opening and closing the client? Definitely reps are closing the client, but there is a long way before they actually close, and a lot of that is digital and online and has a lot to do with your online presence and your personal brand as a sales rep.
ROB: Right on. If we rewind a little bit, what led you in the first place to decide that Struct Sales should be a company? What made you say, “I want to go start this”?
OLIVER: That’s a good question. I worked as a sales rep, as a sales manager. I started with selling stuff over the phone, pushing products out. This was like 20 years ago. Then I moved into B2B, and then I moved into larger deals where I had Central America, North America, Latin America as my region. I speak Spanish. One of the reasons why I had the opportunity to work in that region was because I spoke the language.
So, I traveled a lot. I did really big, complex deals. Eventually I decided that I don’t want to go from sales to becoming a sales manager in a large organization, becoming the CEO, and doing the corporate ladder way of developing. It wasn’t for me. So, I decided, hey, why don’t I help other companies to be better at sales? Because I think I’m really good at this.
Also, I had two employments with two smaller companies where the CEO was pulling one way and I wanted to go the other way, and he owned the company. Twice. Then I decided, hey, if I want to do it my way, I need to do it by myself and start my own company. So, I founded the consultancy which is today Struct Sales. I started consulting in sales, like coaching salespeople, training salespeople.
ROB: Considering where you started in phone sales, I imagine one of the challenges you may see generationally from a rep perspective – I don’t know, is it a problem that people don’t want to pick up the phone? Is it okay? Can they get away with it?
OLIVER: It is a problem. We’re at Inbound now, so it’s like, stop cold calling. Let the customer make the decision. This is a mantra I’ve been pushing for many years. I do speak at Inbound, but my talk is “Challenge/Change/Control.” It’s about challenging the client. It’s about making them change and control the process.
Picking up the phone is the foundation in sales, because inbound is really good – Jim Keenan, he’s going to speak here as well. He attended one of our podcast episodes in Sweden, and I asked him, “What do you think about inbound versus outbound?” He said, “Inbound is a gift. We need to understand that it’s a gift.” It’s a gift we’ve been given, but it’s not the solution to every problem. So yes, I see this every day, and specifically younger reps, they don’t want to pick up the phone because they’re used to – like, “Hey, you know you can use the phone to call people?” No, they’re texting and they’re emailing and WhatsApping and whatever that might be.
So, no, it’s a real challenge. I think the ones that actually do this are going to stand out from the crowd even more.
ROB: What still works? My phone will ring all the time, I’ll tell Google to screen the call for me, so on and so forth. What is it that still works on the phone? How are you reaching people, how are you getting them to pick up and stay on the phone?
OLIVER: It’s a fact that it’s very hard to reach people on the phone today. That is a fact. So, what you need to do first is not only focus on the phone, but maybe have five, six, seven, eight different channels, ways into the customer. You could do LinkedIn. You could send text messages. You could do email. You could do phone. You could do social media. Try everything. There are statistics today saying that roughly between 8 to 12 or 13 touches, you need to try to reach a customer roughly between 8 to 12 or 13 times before you actually get them on the phone and can speak to them.
When you do get them on the phone, it’s really important that you don’t use a traditional pitch for everybody. It’s not about you. It’s about them. For like 15-20 seconds, if you can tell the potential prospect or customer something they are thinking about, a challenge they have, if you can refer to other persons, other titles in the same industry who you have helped with the same challenges, you might get a meeting.
ROB: Right. The names and the references, that’s building trust. The speaking to their challenges actually helps you – your talk title involves turning prospects into revenue by using emotion. You’re actually showing that you can be resonant with their problems.
Sometimes I think something that’s underappreciated – you’re still going to whiff. A lot of potential ideal customers are just not going to have your problem or not resonate – and I think it’s easy to get discouraged if you get four people on the phone and three of them say, “I don’t have anything like that problem.”
Something I’ve learned, even, in sales, is you underestimate how they don’t have that problem right now, and they may completely ignore you now, and in 6 months their hair is on fire and they need you. They’re going to respond when they didn’t respond before.
OLIVER: Exactly. This is where inbound and social media is very powerful. Instead of calling them every single week for 25 weeks, you’ll be posting stuff on LinkedIn. Your company will be posting things connecting with the challenges they have, and eventually one of them or a few of them will be more open to discussing the challenge because of maybe things happened between when you spoke to them and today, which is 3 weeks later or 3 months later, but they’ve been aware that you actually do this and help people with the same challenges on LinkedIn or on your website or wherever it might be.
ROB: As you get into this talk a little bit, what are some of the other emotional factors that we should be considering when we’re looking at prospects and getting them to turn that corner to wanting to work with us?
OLIVER: A shift has been happening for the last few years where B2C and B2B, in many ways, are pretty much the same thing. By selling on emotion, what I mean by that is that you need to think of the customer as somebody you throw into a tumble-dryer and you make them go up, down, left, right, and feel things. If you present a spreadsheet or an ROI calculation, this is the entry point where everybody needs to do these things. If you don’t have an ROI, you’re not going to be able to even get into the door.
When you’ve done that, you need to touch them and focus on – and my take on this is you should scare them more than you should praise them. “You’re a sales manager, you have 10 salespeople; what would it look like if the development would continue as it’s been doing for the last 6 months and you have to fire three of your salespeople? Would you then make quota? No, you would need to recruit somebody new and everything. What if you could turn them around instead? What would that mean to you?” Just paint the picture of a really bad future.
ROB: Man, what are you going to do? That’s tricky.
You mentioned a variety of channels. It gets hard to know what to do with all these different sales channels. How do I use LinkedIn? I have their cellphone number; when do I text message? What’s too aggressive or not aggressive on LinkedIn? You see people griping, “This person connected with me and then they pasted five paragraphs of sales pitch.” How do you think about the level of aggression that you recommend? And does it vary somewhat with personal style?
OLIVER: It has less to do with frequency than content. If you communicate value in every single interaction, you won’t be perceived as aggressive as if you were pushing your product. The challenge most salespeople – and marketers, but most salespeople have today is that they put themselves first and they think inside-out and they push their products and solutions.
Again, it happens to me all the time. When I do keynotes and talks on LinkedIn, I do this sometimes, like how to use Sales Navigator, for example, for salespeople. I have a really good hack for them. If somebody connects with you and they push their product two minutes after you accept the connection, just go to the contact, choose “Remove/Block,” and then you’re done. It’s as simple as that. They don’t deserve anything else.
If you haven’t done your research and if you’re just pushing the same message to like 50 people, it’s too obvious that you’re just there for selling, and it’s not working. So independently of channels, it’s the content which is the main challenge we’re seeing today.
ROB: I was just thinking when you were talking about the content, when you say – and it makes sense to say with each contact with someone, you should be adding value, adding value, adding value – but suppose you walk in the door of a business and they’re looking for your help, and you add value and they’re like, “We don’t know” – two possibilities. They may feel like they have nothing of value to share, or they may feel like they don’t have enough information about how to reach that particular prospect in a way that’s meaningful.
What do you say to someone who feels like they don’t have the resources one way or another to add value at each step?
OLIVER: It takes maybe 10 minutes to look a person up on LinkedIn, to visit their website, to do research in terms of the revenue and the turnover of the company, and to find out trends in the industry. Ten minutes. If you can’t give a prospect 10 minutes, don’t call them.
ROB: You’re asking for more than 10 minutes from them, right?
ROB: Nobody does a first call – very few – shorter than 10 minutes, unless they get hung up on. So, having done this for a little while, what are some things you’ve learned in the process of building Struct Sales that if you were starting fresh tomorrow, you might handle a little bit differently?
OLIVER: It’s a good question, because we’ve actually started fresh since the summer. Not that we’ve repositioned the company totally, but we do have a niche now that we didn’t have before. I should have done this years ago.
What we do today is we’ve moved from – again, we do inbound marketing stuff. We’re kind of an agency. I like to call ourselves a sales consultancy firm. We do sales training and coaching. What we do today – you probably know what an SDR and a BDR is.
ROB: Absolutely. These are folks that are banging the phones, banging the email, getting the leads.
OLIVER: Exactly, yes, and converting the leads.
OLIVER: Qualifying. What we do is we help companies to actually convert the MQLs into opportunities and meetings with the help of an SDR. What you can do now is get in touch with us at Struct Sales and you could ask for – we do SDRs for hire. Basically I’ll give you one of our BDRs/SDRs for like 6 months, two days a week, and this guy will help you to set up your ideal customer profile to define the service level agreement between marketing and sales. This is a salesperson with marketing knowhow. We place this guy in marketing, but it’s a sales guy.
So, what happens? Well, let’s say that you’re in sales and you have 10 customers you want to reach. You’ve been banging the phone, you’re not reaching them. You’re sending a lot of emails. You talk to the BDR or the SDR and you ask him, “Hey, how can we reach these clients using marketing and additional stuff that I’m not doing as a sales rep?”
This BDR then goes to marketing and says, “Hey, I’ve got 10 potential prospects. Actually, I’ve got 50 because I have five salespeople, same kind of prospects. How can we get these 50 potential prospects into a campaign where we can market using account-based marketing, inbound marketing, content marketing, social media, to make them more mature so it gets easier for me as a BDR to book the meeting with them?” Because the thing is, the BDR or the SDR is going to book the meeting for the sales rep.
What this does is bridges over the challenges between marketing and sales, because having a human being in between who’s qualifying and doing additional qualification on the automated leads makes all the difference. We have metrics and statistics which actually show that this is – I don’t know why everybody isn’t doing this. Probably because they can’t find these people because it’s a pretty complex role.
ROB: Yeah, it’s like having a referee and a counselor in one person.
OLIVER: Exactly, yes. If you hire one of our SDRs for 6 months, we’ll help you with the processes, with the recruiting criteria and everything, so after 6 months sometimes they don’t cancel. We’ve been with one of our clients for 2-½ years. Same BDR, because it just works. It’s like 100 meetings booked and $3 million in revenue directly connected to the BDR’s work.
ROB: Do more of that.
OLIVER: Yes, definitely.
ROB: You are based in Stockholm. What geographies are you active in?
OLIVER: Nordics. We don’t have any clients in the U.S. now, but we’ve had one or two earlier. Inbound makes it easier to cross borders. But it depends. The SDR/BDR role can also be a remote role, so you don’t need to be based in the customer’s office. But 90% Nordic countries.
ROB: If you’re not from that area, that sounds simple, but that’s actually – how many different languages?
OLIVER: Swedish and English.
ROB: So, you’re doing English outside of Sweden, not getting into all of the . . .
OLIVER: Exactly. We have a few pretty large clients in Sweden where English works as well. But normally Swedish in Sweden.
ROB: Got it. I know that can get complicated up there. Surprisingly, a lot of people from where you are in that region come here to Boston for Inbound. I’m surprised ceaselessly. It’s like, oh, more people from Norway, more people from – it’s awesome.
OLIVER: I don’t know why, but I think we’re pretty developed in digital marketing and sales in the Nordic countries.
ROB: Why do you think that is? Culturally there are some countries that are a little bit more analog and traditional, even though they’re very sophisticated countries.
OLIVER: I don’t have any scientific answer to that, but I guess being a small country, we have a lot of Spotify, Skype was founded, we have ABBA and whatever.
ROB: You write all of our music anyhow. You write all of Taylor Swift’s music, Katy Perry and all that jazz. Not you personally, but regionally.
OLIVER: Exactly. I think we have pretty creative people. And we have darkness like 10 months per year, so people tend to work more than not work because it’s cold and dark. [laughs] Might be a reason as well.
I just had a discussion yesterday with another HubSpot partner from another country – he was based in Florida. You’re in Atlanta, so you know what I’m saying. It’s cold and dark. For just 2-3 months during summer we have sun and real summer, but the rest of the time it’s focused on working and producing. [laughs]
ROB: That’s awesome. Sitting where you sit at this juncture of sales and marketing, what is coming up, what’s next in sales and marketing that you’re excited about? Either generally or particularly for Struct Sales.
OLIVER: Conversations like bots, moving more discussions and decisions online, even in B2B. HubSpot just announced that they’re going to launch a “buy now” functionality in calendar meeting bookings and email send-outs connected to – like B2C focused, but moving into B2B. I think people want to have as frictionless an experience as possible when they do want to make a decision.
I think the trends are definitely making it easier to buy, lowering the friction both internally for a sales team and the way they work, but also in the communication with customers.
Having said that, by no means do I think that the customer has all the answers and the customer is always right. I would say the opposite. They think they know what they need until they meet with a sales rep who can actually make them understand that they’re trying to solve the wrong problem.
So, I think that automation, bots conversations online is going to be huge. But I also think that what we’re doing right now, sitting face to face, having a discussion, we could have been doing this on Skype. But to me this feels more personal. We had a chat before, we said hi, we prepped a lot of different things. I think that’s not going away in the near future. I think the ones who actually can combine automation and know exactly when to put a human being into the dialogue are the ones who are going to survive.
ROB: It ties right back into your talk, right? The chatbot is great. How do you use it to turn the corner into a real conversation? I think that’s a legitimate and direct question worth diving into. A lot of people coming in on the chatbot are very, very transactional. When someone’s coming to your website, it’s like “Tell me this about your pricing. Do you have feature X?”
ROB: In this interaction where they can get their answer and leave, how do you take that conversation to the next level? What’s working there?
OLIVER: Basically, you need to know when to – another thing with the chatbots is you put a chatbot up and everybody knows it’s a bot. But if nobody jumps in and has a conversation with you and you’re still discussing with the bot, you’re going to get annoyed because eventually, depending on what you’re looking for, you want to speak to somebody.
But from a provider’s perspective, as soon as possible – I mean, you could use the bot to qualify, to disqualify people. “What are you looking for?” “I just want to have a price.” “OK.” Same thing as in a sales dialogue. You could use questions to disqualify, like “How much would it cost me to work with you guys at Struct Sales?” I would say, “What do you want to do with us?” They would say, “I want to generate more better leads.”
If I feel that they think investing in a tool is too much money, they’re very immature, they don’t have the money, I would give them a figure which scares them away. Then I would be gone and focusing on the next potential prospect who actually is invested in this way of thinking. So as soon as possible, use the bot to disqualify.
The ones who actually answer in the correct way, jump on a call. Send them a meeting link, a Zoom link, have a 15 minute dialogue, and then move into the next phase of the sales process.
ROB: Part of getting to emotion is getting to human interaction. Makes sense.
ROB: Awesome. Oliver, when people want to find you and Struct Sales, where should they go to find you?
OLIVER: They can find me on Twitter, @oliverlopez. They can find us on structsales.se, which is where we share valuable content. I have a blog on oliverlopez.se as well. It’s in English, actually. I write a lot of blog posts. You’ll find me on LinkedIn by googling my name as well. Yeah, you’ll find me if you google me.
ROB: Perfect. Oliver, thank you for coming on the podcast and sharing some sales knowledge with us.
OLIVER: Thank you for having me.
ROB: I think it’ll be helpful to everyone.
OLIVER: Thank you.
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