Rini Das, CEO, PAKRA

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Agility and personal touch gives a technology company their biggest differentiator in the marketplace: Conversation with Jeff Eskow, Account Executive at LinkPoint360

As a veteran sales leader at Linkpoint360.com and gamer, Jeff Eskow is passionate about enhancing customer experience and having a trusted advisor relationship with prospects and customers. He has helped small to medium enterprises grow. Prior to LinkPoint360, he sold variety of products and services for companies such as All-State LegalUltimate Office, and Paige Box Company.

RD> Jeff, thank you for taking the time to chat with us. We met on LinkedIn and over time built this wonderful relationship of being a mutual trusted advisor. What are the biggest differentiators for Linkpoint360?

JE> Our customers say that our ability to listen and respond to customer needs quickly (i.e. agility) and the personal touch behind all forms of interactions (whether it be chat, email, phone, web self-service or social) helps us acquire and retain customers. Our customer base includes large enterprises such as CocaCola, Dell, Adobe, Prudential to individual sole proprietors. Our company has done extremely well in creating the importance of personal touch.

For example, when you buy our products, an automated email goes out to the buyer, but I follow up with a personal email providing my availability and contact information and how we can help them configure and set it up correctly. Also very early on, our company recognized the value of being agile in responding to the changing needs of the marketplace. The product development, sales, implementation and customer support works hand-in-hand with complete feedback loops and no visible bureaucracy to the customer.

RD> I completely relate to what you just said. Lately you and I have been discussing on LinkedIn, how consumers or users like you and me are finding customer experience to be really so bad that we feel lucky whenever we actually experience something seamless and trouble-free.

JE> It just continually amazes me that in this economy and with all this technology, how companies accommodate sales reps or customer service reps, who don’t return phone calls, and when you call them, they say, “we will get back to you” and proceed to give a scripted non-answer” — all with an attitude “good luck with that”. It really does not take that much effort, to say, “I don’t know the answer to that, let me look into it. I will reach out to within X hours. What would be a good way to reach you?”

Sometime ago, I was installing a sprinkler system for my new house. The salesperson drove to my house to collect the payment. Then few days later, construction came to a halt because of the malfunction of this system. It took more than 5 different calls and call transfers and hours before they could find someone to talk to me. When it comes to money, they were all there with their personal touch but when it came to answering a question, it took such a long time with impersonal touch.

I see a lot of discussion about sales versus marketing misalignment. That is not the debate. The question should be, how can your company have a single-point of accountability in the entire customer experience, i.e. viewing it from a customer’s perspective. It is customer relationship in CRM not sales relationship.

Every bit needs to be aligned from buyer going to your website and calling you, to negotiating sales, to selecting you as a solution provider, to implementing/launching your product or service, to receiving customer service, to having questions answered, to having issues resolved and continuing to buy more from you. From user’s standpoint, you the vendor have only 1 face (not 10 different faces, not 5 different departments). Accountability does not end with signing that contract and meeting your own sales quota. Best part, having this 1 face, is neither hard nor a costly effort. It is what agility-driven companies (and mind you, not dependent on the size of the company) can do very well and very effortlessly.

RD> I could not have said it better. This brings me to something you wrote on your LinkedIn profile: “Hunter or Farmer? My belief is you have to be both, and I have a long and strong career record of bringing in new business and new clients while maintaining and growing relationships with existing ones.” Do you easily find salespeople who have such a balanced will and skill? And what do you do as a manager do to cultivate that balance?

JE> I, very strongly believe for a salesperson to be successful, they must understand customer’s pain points and/or needs they have; what other competitors are doing to address those needs and who needs help in the first place. These make it a requirement that the salesperson be good at both “hunting” i.e. prospecting and nurturing the lead, and “farming” i.e. managing the account.

Most salespersons will come with one of these as their strong suite. The first step is to recognize, which of the two, the salesperson is comfortable and does easily. The sales manager then can require, that they build that other skill. For example, if a salesperson has a strong experience as account executive, i.e. farmer mind-set, then the first few months, they must be given the coaching reinforcement, on-demand skills training and be forced to set aside 30% of their time to

(a) target new prospects,

(b) start conversations with new prospects and

(c) analyze successes and failures as those happen.

Sales managers should reinforce that discipline. If you a great hunter, make sure that you make few calls to your existing customers per day to learn what’s new with them and how things are. If you are a great farmer, make sure that you reach out to X number of new prospects a week. Build upon on your skills. This approach helped me and folks I manage.

RD> What are the must-have skills for a successful salesperson?

JE> Irrespective of where in the sales process the buyer or customer is and irrespective of what you sell, first and foremost, the must-have skills are:

Active listening.

Asking good questions.

If you ask good question, in order to understand what the buyer wants to achieve, and then listen to their answers, and then respond accordingly – that’s what makes a good interaction. But there are other less popular skills, that I think are also important.

Recently, I was part of a debate on LinkedIn about whether “being nice” is a must-have skill for a successful salesperson. I believe very strongly, that one must build rapport with the person at the other end. No one will do business with you or your company, if you cannot build that rapport. One does not have to be phony nice but one has to figure out and have the right demeanor.

The other skill that was critical for my own success and must-have for all salespersons: “be organized”. This means, you must continually research the customer, you must plan an outbound call, and you must follow-up when you agreed to follow-up. It does not matter whether you have all the bells and whistles of a CRM like Salesforce at your disposal or you still use a Rolodex index cards. You must be organized and follow a process (linear or non-linear). Newer tools like google alerts, social channels and CRMs help you to have the reminders and information. But a successful salesperson must use the intelligence and simply do it.

I have a great example. We integrate with Salesforce. It has all these add-ons, features, bells and whistles. But if you don’t do the basic data entry: where you log interaction notes, you schedule interaction, set reminders and follow-up. All the add-ons and bells and whistles will not give you the results, unless you do the basics for prospecting and closing sales. All those salesforce reports are meaningless without data.

RD> Being organized also means that you research and plan each interaction. Correct?

JE> Absolutely, we use data.com, LinkedIn, Google alerts and other social channels to learn whether or not

(a) you reached the right person

(b) you know what they do and the company does

You find out as much as possible from publicly available information and determine the potential needs. Next, you plan what you want to discuss. Then define what the goal or “ask" is. This is all part of the “solutioning” piece.

You have to be ready to show with conviction why your service or product will be important for them.

RD> Great definition of “Being ready”: conviction and confidence. That means, owning the learning or sales intelligence, not just pulling up that information. Do you agree?

JE> Oh! absolutely. Critical-thinking skills and ability to learn and filter information is a skill every salesperson must develop.

RD> You are an active user of LinkedIn. How have you leveraged LinkedIn and other social channels to help with meet your sales goals? What measures do you have in place?

JE> I live on LinkedIn. But, first let me talk about the other channels.

My colleagues use Twitter and Chatter. These are radars about our products and services. We learn, what people are saying about us, what customers are talking about, how can we quickly meet their needs, such and so forth.

For me, LinkedIn is the best source for prospecting and for opportunity management. I have informal steps. For example, I found a CTO from Australia asking a question about a tool. I went ahead and connected with that person, and then in series of quick email conversations, I asked few questions and recommended some solutions (including ours). Many times, if someone downloads our free-trial from our website, and I determine that the person is an end-user and not really the decision-maker, I will go to LinkedIn and find the decision-maker and connect with a message that "your company’s users are exploring our products and would you be interested in talking more etc etc." It is very targeted.

I think that most people misunderstand social channels. Any channel you use for broadcasting, you will not be able to get the value. I am very personal and very targeted. Granted I reach fewer people but I am reaching the right people and most often at the right time. It still takes 6-7 touches as you would do to get on a phone-call. But it is faster sales cycle and a visible cycle. It helps us scale faster.

If I can figure out what drives 2% -5% points increase in my conversions by looking at the data, then the data becomes very valuable. So! Yes, we are looking at basic revenue metrics and the drivers. As far as metrics goes, we look at connection ratios, conversion rates, revenue drivers from all social efforts and inbound enquiries. Being small and nimble, we are tracking informally

- the steps

- the occurences

- what messaging is working and what messaging is not working

This way we can adjust faster and improve.

RD> How do you learn?

JE> See it. Try it. Ask Questions. It has to be "personal".

I don’t perform well in a lecture-room environment or these training events that large companies or training houses conduct. It has to be hands-on.

By the way, I played PAKRA’s games on freetraininggames.com

First it was fun. Then throughout I kept asking – “Am I learning?” I was learning. Anyone trying to acquire a new skill, will find this learning experience to be fun, engaging and a great practice of reality. Also these are very fast-paced practice. I think repeatedly playing is when they will acquire the skills. To remain high-performing, there should be atrophy-prevention and these games work very well for that too.

Also, there is a need to have an informal learning and tracking system, where a manager reads an article or book, then applies what they learned and share that learning with their team, such that skills are always at "refreshed" level. Games and tools that teach “solutioning”: what questions to ask to find the pain-points and how to address that – are very much needed. It is not enough to say, that I sell a widget for this price. The minute you position the value, in my experience you are more likely to lose the sale. That’s why LinkedIn and such tools are so important to use for research and then games like PAKRA's teaches one to leverage that information to a sales conversion.

RD> We have human-capital management SaaS add-on that exactly captures that informal learning reinforcement and tie it back to sales metrics.

Talking about games, Jeff: Are you a gamer?

JE> I play a little Xbox with my son. But I really love PC-based games that are simulation-based, such as a war or a business simulation. I am an avid player of Civilization. Also since my childhood, my big vicarious indulgence is pro-wrestling. I watch, follow and now got my son hooked on this. I love all the clichés and all the associated make-believe and role-playing. There is a game called Extreme Warfare. It is a simulation where you run a wrestling company, then you have to shape an organization and grow the company globally by creating rosters, promoting carts, working with whole bunch of valuables and hosting matches and making money. It is just an awesome game. And by the way, any one wants to know anything about Pro-WrestlingAsk me?

RD> I saw that on your profile. That vicarious indulgence is just awesome. Thanks so much for your time. Let’s go make some sales.

JE> Great talking with you as well.

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