Impact Pricing Podcast

Ep149: Value over Sales: What Defines a True Sales Professional with Mark Cox

 

Mark Cox has been fortunate enough to have sold, structured, and negotiated some of the largest single-sale transactions in North America (including a billion-dollar transaction with a top-10 U.S. bank). He founded In the Funnel (ITF) with the mission of dramatically improving the performance and professionalism of business to business sales teams. He accomplished this via (1) Public Sales Workshops for salespeople and sales managers and (2) Sales Enablement Consulting.

During this episode, Mark discusses how it is crucial for salespeople to focus on selling value instead of price. The company would benefit from this move economically, ensuring long-term profitability.

Why you have to check out today’s podcast:

  • Learn how your capability to communicate as a salesperson contributes to your customer’s desired business outcome
  • Uncover top 3 business leader’s desired outcomes for each sales transaction to help you lead the sales conversation with value rather than pitch
  • Learn the ‘common sense revolution’ every salesperson needs to achieve top-tier results

              

Don’t give a price until you understand the impact of the solution on the customer. 

Mark Cox

           

Topics Covered:

01:19 – The economic impact of selling on value versus on price

02:39 – Talking about the crisis in professional sales

05:44 – Understanding the customers’ problems and the desired outcome they want to achieve

09:00 – What should transpire in a value conversation

14:28 – Breaking the wall that often goes up in an encounter with the salesperson

16:41 – Talking value in terms of communication not so much in financial exchange

19:37 – Overcoming fear in outbound demand generation

21:50 – Professional sales compared to performance art and a professional sport

23:38 – How to capture that value proposition in twenty minutes

25:05 – Pricing advice that gives a great impact on one’s business

25:49 – Understanding ‘solution selling’

         

Key Takeaways: 

“Let’s get a little away from trying to persuade and control and trick and do all of these crazy things. Why don’t we just actually help buyers buy, help them make great decisions, help them get to a better future? And the more they believe we’re sincere and authentic in our desire to do that, the better off we’re going to do.” – Mark Cox

“The near version of a salesperson to trick somebody into doing something, nobody wants to get persuaded to do anything.” – Mark Cox

“People don’t buy software; they actually buy what it does for them. The one thing I will kind of call out that I’d love to see a little more up today in professional sales, we’re trying to help. The big job though is, we do really need to understand that customer we’re reaching out to.” – Mark Cox

“This is why we identify this ideal customer profile really, what are they going through? What are they trying to do? And so instead of selling my product when I’m talking to a client or prospect, the first couple of conversations are: just let me understand you and your business and your environment and what you’re trying to achieve. “– Mark Cox

“The whole sort of system right now in professional sales is a little bit broken. And that’s where we’re coming at it with just saying, let’s just have this common-sense revolution here. Let’s start to sell the way somebody actually wants to buy and start to sell the way you want to buy. And also go at this whole thing so you can be proud of what you do for a living.” – Mark Cox

             

People / Resources Mentioned:

                 

Connect with Mark Cox:

                    

Connect with Mark Stiving:   

                          

Full Interview Transcript

(Note: This transcript was created with an AI transcription service. Please forgive any transcription or grammatical errors. We probably sounded better in real life.)

Mark Cox 

Don’t give a price until you understand the impact of the solution on the customer.

[Intro]

Mark Stiving 

Welcome to Impact Pricing, the podcast where we discuss pricing, value, and the persuasive relationship between them. I’m Mark Stiving; today, our guest is Mark Cox, and here are three things you want to learn about Mark before we start. He has been in sales and sales leadership for the first 20 plus years of his career. Eight years ago, he launched the company In the Funnel, a sales coaching consultancy, and I could probably use this so badly; and he is a hockey goalie, but he still has all of his teeth, at least I think they’re real. Welcome, Mark.

Mark Cox 

I’m not actually going to answer that third question, Mark. You’re going to have to make your call as to whether these are my teeth or not. But thanks so much for having me on the podcast.

Mark Stiving 

Hey, it’s going to be fun. So instead of asking the normal first question, how did you get into pricing? Let me tee it up with how important do you think pricing is when we work with salespeople?

Mark Cox 

Oh, well, I think it’s massive. And I’ll take ownership for a portion of this, Mark. I think that salespeople, too many of them today, actually try and sell on price. Nobody buys on price. They, as you aptly point out with a great podcast, they buy on value. And I think in the world that I live in these days, we’re trying to focus on coaching salespeople to get more collaborative when they’re working with buyers to really understand the economic impact of the value of the services that they provide. But I think they default to price. And when they do that, they get commoditized and squeezed. So, I think it’s massive. And of course, a 10% increase in terms of price is all even. It goes right to the bottom line. So, it’s so critically important for businesses today to stay profitable and invest in the future. So, I think it’s a very important topic. And I think there’s a lot of education for us in the professional selling world about this topic.

Mark Stiving 

Great. Okay, so now here’s the biggest softball of all, tell us about In the Funnel, and how you think about the sales process? And if you could at all compare, contrast that to some of the other sales processes that we see or may know of?

Mark Cox 

It’s great. Well, you know what I simplified this way, Mark, there’s got to be a common-sense revolution in professional sales. So, by all meaningful metrics out there today, the sales stack is increased exponentially. There are 500 technology platforms to help us sell better. The reality of it is our productivity as professional salespeople are dropping. So, we’re getting worse. Fewer of us are actually hitting quota; more and more of us are turning jobs. But most alarmingly, you know, recent reports say the buyers see less and less value from the salespeople they’re interacting with. So, I think actually, there’s really this crisis in professional sales. And where we think about it is trying to get to this point where you sell the way you’d actually want to buy. So, let’s think about, you know, we run training workshops, and this kind of stuff margin, a lot of times we, okay, who’s in professional sales, 50 hands go up, who likes dealing with professional salespeople? Forty-eight hands go down. And so, I think there’s this common-sense revolution that says, let’s get a little away from trying to persuade and control and trick and do all of these crazy things. Why don’t we just actually help buyers buy, help them make great decisions, help them get to a better future? And the more they believe we’re sincere and authentic in our desire to do that, the better off we’re going to do. By the way, that means you’re not going to win every deal. Or somebody else might be a better alternative for them. That’s okay. You’ll like what you do more if you go at it with that approach rather than thinking, boy, I’ve got to be some false version, you know, the near version, speaking of my broken teeth, the near version of a salesperson to trick somebody into doing something nobody wants to get persuaded to do anything.

Mark Stiving  

Yeah, everything you just said resonates immensely with me. Oh, wow. I love the idea that says my job as a salesperson is to help my customer figure out what problems they have and how they’re going to solve those problems. Now, from my perspective, as a pricing person or as a value person, I’ll put it that way. I think the first step or one of the key steps as a salesperson is helping a customer understand how much value is really there. Yeah, I think customers have problems, but they don’t know our product that well. So, there’s no way they know how much value they get if they use our product. Our salespeople know our product really well. But we don’t know that customer situation. So, there’s no way we know how much value that customer is going to get. And so, if the two of them work together, having what we like to call a value conversation, then we can actually figure out, is there value in this for you or not? Should you proceed with the purchase or the acquisition? And by the way, if it’s someone, even halfway low in the organization, now we’ve given them the tools they can use to sell up in that organization up the hierarchy. So, I really loved what you said; oh, thanks.

Mark Cox 

Oh, thanks, Mark. Well, right back at you, by the way, when you start to think of, you said, somebody lower in the organization, that the higher up in the organization, and we go more of those people make decisions based on Excel. And by that, I mean, they’re going to look at a business case, what’s my investment, what’s my return, all of us are the same, right? We just have these three desired outcomes as business leaders or executives, pretty simple: I want to increase revenue, reduce cost, or reduce risk. At the highest level, those tend to be the three biggest triggers of value. And so, and by the way, I think this is widespread in terms of an issue, we work with loads of companies, loads of sales leaders. I think we end up defaulting after being in business too long, to, hey, I’m just going to get the product in front of them, I’m going to pitch it to somebody, I’m going to get them to a demo. I mean, the number of times we push somebody towards a demo where we have no idea of the desired outcome they actually want. People don’t buy software; they actually buy what it does for them. The one thing I will kind of call out that I’d love to see a little more up today in professional sales, we’re trying to help. The big job, though is, we do really need to understand that customer we’re reaching out to. So, you know, whether we sell to a technology company, a law firm, a manufacturing business. And by the way, I find people who sell in traditional industries like manufacturing; they’re really good at this, they understand the whole lifecycle of the client they’re speaking to. So, when they’re trying to sell somebody or pick somebody about patio doors, into a third party, you know, window fabricator who sells to large condominiums to actually understand those businesses very well that they’re selling to, and the whole how their product or service fits in the whole lifecycle of how that business makes money. And who that business is competing with. And the challenges and trends in the industry that they’re facing, the more we know those things, we can actually work with a buyer. So, we actually have a point of view as to how we can get them to that better future. Because they may not know, as you point out, they may not know what our product and service can do. But we need to have this point of view to say, listen, we think if you’re like most clients, you’re trying to do A, B and C, we’ve got something that might help get you but does A, B, or C resonate? You know, you’re trying to do for 2022?

Mark Stiving 

Yes, I liked, I used to work for a company called Pragmatic Institute, Pragmatic Marketing. And they defined market segments as companies or individuals with a common set of problems. And I just fell in love with that definition. Because in a lot of ways, it describes what you just said to me. And that is if I’m a salesperson, and I expect to have business acumen so that I can help my buyers figure out what’s the value of my product, it makes so much more sense to say, well, look, I’m going to sell to people who have this type of problem. And now I can understand the business acumen and work with them and help them figure out the value of our products. So, I think that was spot on.

Mark Cox 

Well, thanks, Mark, you know, the, when you think of it, by the way, I really need to know that. We call that the ideal customer profile. But once I understand my value proposition for my solution or offering and I’ve created my product market focus, I need that ideal customer profile because those are the people who have the highest chance of engaging and then helping. If they don’t have the problems we solve for, they’re not going to buy your solution. Or you know, by the way, and this is what happens when, oh, I pitched it to them and so and so went silent. They’re not returning my call; there was no value conversation. There was no compelling reason to move forward. So, this is why we identify this ideal customer profile really; what are they going through? What are they trying to do? And so, instead of selling my product when I’m talking to a client or prospect, the first couple of conversations are just to let me understand you and your business and your environment and what you’re trying to achieve that’s getting in your way today. But you have to do exactly what you just said; if I don’t have business acumen and knowledge and a point of view, and actually value in the conversation, they’re never going to open up to me. They don’t want to talk to a talking brochure.

Mark Stiving 

That’s exactly right. We have to listen to them and understand the problems. I get the feeling. In fact, in my five or so years of sales, failed selling. Absolutely, I’m absolutely positive that I had this problem. And that is that I would simply show up and throw up, right? I know my product so well; I’m going to tell you about my product. And my hope is that you hear these features, and you say, oh, that one resonates with me. But that never happens, right? My job as a salesperson, now that I’m much older and wiser, my job as a salesperson has to be first to understand your problems. And then I can talk about my product to say, oh, here’s how we might be able to help solve your problems.

Mark Cox 

It’s exactly, by the way, you know, when you say it that way, Mark, it doesn’t sound like rocket science, does it?

Mark Stiving 

It doesn’t.

Mark Cox  

You know, you kind of okay. And you’ve got examples in your life; you’re a business leader, you know, you’ve had companies sell to you really well. But I’ll be honest with you, be shocked to realize with the number, you know, one in two kids graduating college or university right now, they will end up in professional sales in their career, according to hug one in two. So, we’re throwing gazillions of people into professional sales; they’re not getting the coaching and the training required to be effective. Although people spend a lot of money on training, it’s just not resonating. And everybody’s getting pitched that you’re getting pitched out, by the way, digitally, they’re getting just pounded digitally. And then when we get somebody on the phone, it’s the lowest experienced person within that sales organization, an SDR, BDR, sales development rep. And they’re scared to death, and they’re pitching a product. And so, you know, the whole sort of system right now in professional sales is a little bit broken. And that’s where we’re coming at it with just saying, let’s just have this common-sense revolution here. Let’s take another look at this, and start to sell the way somebody actually wants to buy and start to sell the way you want to buy. And also go at this whole thing so you can be proud of what you do for a living.

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Mark Stiving 

And I think it needs to be genuine. I think that’s part of the issue is that sometimes a salesperson says I’m going to do consultative selling, and they come in with their list of questions, and I feel like they’re trying to trick me into buying their product. Or if I get him to say this, then he has no choice he has to buy. And what we really want is someone to work with us to try to figure out what is the real problem and what are the best solutions, but that’s hard, right? It’s hard for me to trust a salesperson. So, it’s hard for a salesperson to get over that lack of trust when they talk to their customers.

Mark Cox 

Yeah, there’s a real wall that goes up when you’re dealing with a salesperson. And, you know, funny aside, I’m kind of a nerd in terms of the history of selling and processes and methodologies. Great guy, Philip Squire, wrote a great book. He’s trying to get sales recognized as a profession in the U.K. But he wrote a great book, and I forget the dates but back in the 1800s, the first article written about sales wasn’t how to sell. It was a warning. It was an article warning you against traveling salespeople who low moral fiber. You know, so we’ve been kind of Gil from The Simpsons has been the, you know, the sort of image of the professional salesperson for way too long. So, we got some ground to cover. I just think it’s, by the way, it’s just so easy to stand out, given that, because everybody’s pitching, everybody’s trying to cajole, I think you have to get to this point; first, you have to believe what I’m trying to do is actually help somebody, you know, get to this better place is better future. I have a process for getting there; I got to earn the right for them to share lots of information with me. And maybe every time I interact with them, let me figure out how I add some value, even if there’s no immediate expectation of commerce.

Mark Stiving 

Yeah. So, what’s the trick? When I think about the way I run my business today, I’m lucky in that I never do outreach; someone reaches out to me first. And my sales process is really simple. I spent a half-hour on the phone coaching you and helping you figure out how to solve your problems. And then you realize, I know way more than a half hours’ worth of work. And you’re like, I need more of that. Okay, got it. But it’s all helpful. It’s not, I need to convince you to hire me to spend money or something like that. I couldn’t sell if I had to do outreach and convince you, you need to hire a pricing person or a pricing expert. So how, let’s pretend that I wanted to do that. How do I overcome the, ‘Oh, my God, he’s reaching out to me, fear? Hmm.

Mark Cox 

Well, you know, again, he’s reaching out to my value, right, so we always go at this thing. And so, the value, not in terms of the financial exchange value in terms of the communication. And so clearly, given your experience, Mark, you got, at this point of view that says, hey, if we’re working with a mid-sized company, that’s, I’ll pick a number, you know, 10 million in revenue software as a service, if they actually increase the price by 10%, the profitability goes up by 40%. So, you know, and you probably have in your back pocket three or four good stories or examples of that. And so, one of the ways you might be reaching out is not about you, but just reach him saying, listen, let’s say you’re calling me Mark, you know, it’s Mark reaching out, I’ll tell you why we’ve worked with a lot of companies exactly like In the Funnel. And we found that by slightly managing their pricing strategy, we can increase their profitability by 30 to 40% over a 12-month period of time. You know, give them we’re exiting these turbulent times, I wanted to reach out to you to get a 20-minute conversation to share a little bit about how we’re doing that. And so that’s it. I didn’t talk, you know, I’m just saying, hey, there’s a better future out there, I’ve done it for somebody else, there may be a reason for my reach out. And I might have to be a little bit professionally persistent to have that conversation. But to me, you know, I think what people do today is they’re going to capture that message and go, you know, am I interested in that kind of the desired outcome, and is the person who reached out to me credible in any way? And so that’s what when it’s not an inbound lead when we’re reaching out, right? Companies do this in volume, and there’s some digital ways that can absolutely help. We can’t default to digital, but they can be part of the process. But I think we need this point of view. And so, instead of trying to sell sales training, we sell revenue growth. You know, what would it mean to you if you could get, you know, three of your largest customers, three more customers, like your largest customers today? What would be the three-year impact on you and your business? Starts to become a pretty big number for most companies. So that might just trigger the conversation.

Mark Stiving 

Yeah, so what I like about what you said is if it sounds more genuine than most of the emails that I get from sales organizations and probably all the emails I get from sales organizations. And so first off, kudos in that you can make what I would picture as an email sound more genuine, more useful. So, I’m very thankful I don’t have to reach out though, because that just makes me uncomfortable. I don’t know why. And maybe that’s why I was not a very good salesperson.

Mark Cox 

You know what, I think he’s human. I don’t think there are too many people, Mark, who loves doing outbound demand generation. At least there are not too many people. We want to have, you know, we want to be hanging out watching the hockey game with over a beer. Do you know what I mean? So, I think it’s pretty natural, and there’s, you know, lots of stuff written about fear. I played hockey, and even, you know, I’m not a big guy, like I’m six-foot-tall and 160 pounds soaking wet, but I was a goalie, I’m going to say reasonably safe position. But I will tell you that during the game, you know, there were some other people on the other team that was reasonably dangerous at certain levels that I played. And so, when they’re on the ice, no matter what I was doing, I’m keeping my eye on. So, I got to know where they are, no matter what’s going on. And that’s just because, you know, the fear center of our brain is huge. That’s how we survived, as you know, a species; the brave ones got eaten by a saber-toothed tiger. It was those who were paranoid that actually survived, safe with the community. So, it’s pretty reasonable to feel that way when we’re reaching out a little bit of vulnerability. Nobody likes rejection. But again, I think you can work through it; if you go, I know these six examples really helped companies. I am going to reach out to investigate whether they’ve got the challenge we solve for. And if I do get somebody live, and I have this live conversation, I’m going to make sure in my back pocket that I do two or three things exactly what you said you did. You give value. Now we start to feel good about what I’m doing. The people who feel terrible only know their product. So, when they get somebody on the phone, they just start pitching. And eventually they don’t last. But it becomes a pretty short-term tour of duty in sales when you do that, because it just becomes too unpleasant. But it’s very natural to feel that fear. Everybody does.

Mark Stiving 

Okay, I am so impressed with salespeople who do the job well. Because when I think through me trying to sell, even what I do, it’s hard. There’s no doubt about it. So huge kudos to you and your team.

Mark Cox 

Hey, listen, huge kudos to the entire entrepreneurial community out there and people in all businesses, you know, it is hard. So, I know when we’re doing a little podcast here, and we talk about a quick little roleplay, oh, it sounds so easy. But this is a really tough thing to do. It’s performance art; it is like a professional sport; you got to be good at the moment. And so, you know, it takes a lot of those things a lot of us don’t do professionally, Mark. It takes a little bit of rehearsal, takes preparation, you know, it takes some strategy and work. And then you see in professional sales, like the people who are good at this, and the people you work with today that you know, are very collaborative, truly collaborative. You know, I loved how you brought up consultative selling just feels like a different trap for the buyer, right? And you feel that way you feel like you’re being persuaded; nobody wants to get persuaded. They don’t. So, you know, there’s got to be this way, a different way of having this conversation where it’s always about them. It’s about them; it’s about them. And on the clients, you’ve earned, and everybody who is listening to this, you know, the companies they’ve earned. That’s where the company really saw you as being collaborative and somebody who’s more interested in helping them as a client than you are putting money in your back pocket. We’ve got to make sure we brush our teeth so we don’t have commission breath. As soon as somebody thinks that we’re in it for us, a wall goes up.

Mark Stiving 

Yeah, that’s interesting because I think the reason, I don’t like the outreach isn’t the rejection, because it doesn’t bother me if people reject me. It’s the, I don’t want to be bothering people. Yeah, because I get bothered so much with stuff. It’s like, no, I don’t want to be that person. Right?

Mark Cox 

Imagine, right? You’re the CEO. So, you’re getting pounded. I totally get that too. And that’s why one of the things we like to think about is it sounds like it’s a script, but how do you capture that value proposition message in about 20 seconds? Because as soon as you, as a CEO, kind of pick up that phone and you realize I’m a salesperson, I’ve got about 20 seconds to capture some attention and interest, or you’re just going to you’re either putting up a wall, or you’re hanging up. Yeah. Yeah, no.

Mark Stiving 

So quick little story, not really related to our conversation. You said I was the CEO. I am. But I originally called myself the CEO. And do you know, you get multiple LinkedIn messages daily when you’re the CEO? So, I changed my title to Chief pricing educator. And the number went down dramatically.

Mark Cox 

Yeah, great. Good. See what people do to avoid professional salespeople today and the whole engine, you know, so it’s not funny. And that’ll do it, too. Right? So, now you’ve come off a whole bunch of lists.

Mark Stiving 

Yes. Which is very helpful for me. Very helpful. Mark, it’s really been fun, but I’m just going to ask the standard last question on the spot. What’s one piece of pricing advice you would give our listeners that you think could have a big impact on their business?

Mark Cox 

Oh, fantastic. Don’t give a price until you understand the impact of the solution on the customer. And they understand it.

Mark Stiving 

Nice. So, what you’re saying is, yeah, essentially what you’re saying is, let’s make sure that we’ve communicated value to our customers before they understand how much they have to pay, or before we tell them how much they have to pay.

Mark Cox 

Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. Yes.

Mark Stiving  

So just for kicks, I want to push back on that a little bit, just because I find these fun.

Mark Cox 

Yeah, please, please.

Mark Stiving  

If I walk into a retail outlet, there’s a pair of Levi’s, and it has the price on it. And nobody’s told me the value. Why is that okay?

Mark Cox  

Well, number one, I don’t think most of us are not used to negotiating in a retail outlet. And it’s a commoditized product, completely commoditized product, and in most instances, and it is, you know, it is what I would call a solution sell. So, you know, the person who’s selling me those Levi’s doesn’t often start with, what are the pants have you got in your wardrobe?

Mark Stiving 

What problem are you trying to solve?

Mark Cox 

Okay, by the way, we’ve got a guy, you know, who kind of helps me with all you’ll ever need help with, you know, clothes and business clothes and business attire, and I bought from him for 15, 20 years? Because it’s all, he does. You know, he knows what’s in my wardrobe. So, he comes in, and when I go and grab the red jacket that looks cool and put it on, he goes, you’re never going to wear that. It’s going to look good in your closet. It feels good today, but you never wear, and I go, why would I wear and he’ll say because everybody knows it’s a red jacket. You know, even if you wear it twice a month, it looks like you’re always wearing a red jacket. So that’s why we don’t do it today, I don’t think we have this perception that we can negotiate. But in a B2B format, I think every buyer out there today thinks that they can negotiate. And I think a lot of sellers give them the impression that they can negotiate. And particularly in technology, we taught everybody in the world not to buy until the last couple of days of the quarter because, you know, we’ll sell a loved one, you know, to get a deal done at the end of the quarter because that’s what technology companies do.

Mark Stiving 

Absolutely right. Another reason you see prices listed at retail, and we don’t do that in B2B, although we often see prices on our web pages, is that in retail, we pretty much know the value of a pair of Levi’s. So, we don’t really have to have someone explain that to us. In a lot of B2B sales, the buyers don’t know the value of our product yet. And so, it really takes a lot of work on our side to make sure that we communicate that.

Mark Cox 

Actually, you know what, that is a great explanation. That makes a lot of sense to me. You know, there isn’t, and in most retail outlets, the person interacting with you is not interested in that value conversations or just getting in sizes and being friendly.

Mark Stiving  

Yep. Doing the transaction. All right. Mark, thank you so much for your time today. If anybody wants to contact you, how can they do that?

Mark Cox 

Just through LinkedIn, Mark. So, first of all, thank you very much. What a pleasure being on your podcast. Really enjoyed this just great conversation. And if anybody wants to get in touch, it’s Mark Cox on LinkedIn. And the company name is In the Funnel. But it’s M A R K and then C O X. What a pleasure being on your show. This was awesome.

Mark Stiving  

Oh, thanks, it’s been great. And we’ll have your LinkedIn link in the show notes if anybody wants to grab that. Excellent. Episode 149 is all done. Thank you for listening. If you enjoyed this, would you please leave us a rating and a review? And if you have any questions or comments about the podcast or pricing in general, feel free to email me at mark@impactpricing.com. Now, go make an impact!

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