Does the first call decide the fate of the sale? Is the closing call becoming due diligence?
This week on the Conquer Local podcast, we are joined by Nick Roshon, VP of Sales for Neil Patel Digital. Nick shares his knowledge on discovery calls, pipeline management, leveraging sales technology, and his three-legged stool analogy for finding great sales talent.
George: It’s the latest edition of the Conquer Local podcast and we’re continuing our special episodes recorded at the Conquer Local Conference in San Diego this year, and coming up next, the Vice President of Sales for Neil Patel Digital. It’s Nick Roshon and he will be with us in just a moment right here on the Conquer Local podcast.
George: We’ve got Nick Roshon with us here in our mobile studio at the Conquer Local Conference at the beautiful Hotel del Coronado. It’s cloudy today, Nick, and yet it’s still beautiful here. San Diego is amazing.
Nick: Yeah, I’m a local and I’ll never leave. I started in Ohio and San Diego is just the best place I’ve ever lived. It’s great here.
George: Well, welcome to the podcast. I’m excited to have a veteran of sales to join us and we want to, first let’s talk about, you’re the VP of Sales for Neil Patel Digital. Tell us what Neil Patel Digital is.
Nick: Neil Patel Digital, we are an online marketing agency. We specialize in SEO and paid ads. Neil, many of you may know if you don’t, he gets about 3 million visitors a month to his website. He has a podcast, a YouTube channel. He was named by Obama as a top entrepreneur. He’s got a wealth of accomplishments, but what he’s really known for is being a growth hacker.
Nick: He’s at the bleeding edge of marketing, trying new things, crazy experiments, just always out there doing really cool stuff. He created this agency to help bring some of those visionary ideas to anyone from an SMB to the Fortune 500. My job is to help translate all the fun, crazy stuff Neil’s doing into actionable and replicable strategies for our clients.
George: Well, I was very familiar with your organization. I wanted you to educate our listeners, but a friend of mine, Kelly Shelton, moved over to run Utah for you.
Nick: Yeah, Kelly’s phenomenal, we are lucky to have him. He previously worked at Boostability, knows the SMB space really, really well. Just a super nice guy.
George: Interesting seeing, I’ve known Kelly for a number of years in his time at Boostability, because we partner with Boostability. I would classify him as one of the smarter people that I’ve ever met. Is that the quality that you’re looking for in talent inside the organization?
Nick: I hope so. Neil has the advantage of already having the brand and people really trust Neil, because he’s been out there for 10-plus years. What Neil really cares about is less making money and more about, how do we make sure everyone gets a great experience and they’re in good hands? If we didn’t have really smart people, there would be a huge disconnect from what Neil is saying publicly and what we’re doing for our customers.
George: I think that in the world that we live in today, the business clients that we’re talking to on a daily basis are looking to be educated or to have somebody that knows what they’re talking about or is on the cutting edge.
Nick: Yeah. From a sales perspective, we’ll say the challenger sales methodology, right, of teaching people commercially, but Neil’s been doing that accidentally without that framework forever. How do we turn things on their head, state things in a different way that gets people interested and curious? Even the Fortune 500 are coming to us saying, “All right, I know the importance of these things, but the rest of my organization doesn’t, so help me sell this through and help me teach my organization why I need to care about things like Google reviews or title tags and all these things that are otherwise boring to the C-suite and business owners.”
Teaching and Training Are Vital for Success
George: It’s interesting, I’ve been selling for quite some time and I have noticed that all of the podcast episodes that we’ve had with guests in the last probably 14 months, the word teaching comes up. In sales today, if you do not have an element of being able to teach and coach the prospect or the account, you’re just lost, aren’t you?
Nick: 100%, yeah. I mean, I think the biggest rap I see sales reps make is on that first discovery call, they ask a bunch of questions and they make the prospect do all the talking, and then they don’t educate or share a point of view or give them any reason to be excited. So the prospect leaves that call saying, “Hey, I just volunteered 45 minutes of my time and information, I got nothing back in return.” They’re probably not going to follow up with you and stay in your sales funnel, whereas, if you start in that first call delivering value and teaching them, they’re hooked. They are looking forward to that next call and they don’t feel like, “Hey, I just spent all, I invested all my time in you and got nothing in return.” It’s at least a reciprocal relationship.
George: We go back to the old-school sales training where it’s say you should only be talking one-third of the time. I don’t know if there necessarily is a mathematical equation that you can put against that first call anymore, because you have to be leading the call, but you do need to get some information out of the prospect.
Nick: Yeah, we like to say, “Wow them on every call.” A discovery call, I mean, how excited would anyone be to say, “Oh, a discovery call, that’s going to be awesome”? No one wakes up every day and it’s like, “I can’t wait to get on discovery calls with a sales rep,” but how can we get closer to that? That’s our thing. Whether it’s a wow statement upfront or it’s throughout, how do we blend that? We use a technology called gong. Have you heard of that?
George: No, I haven’t.
Nick: It automatically joins all your calls and transcribes the entire conversation and then produces analytics at the end, so I can tell if a rep talked 75% of the time. I can tell how long it asked. It can even have code words to say, “They talked about price in the first five minutes.” I don’t listen to all my reps’ calls, but I get alerts, and if they talked too much or were leading with price rather than value, I automatically know and I can coach them and to say, “Hey, that sounds like it didn’t go very well. You should go listen to your own recording. Give me your notes, and I can do the same if you need more help.”
George: My background is from the radio space, and I spent about 15 years in the radio business doing play-by-play hockey and morning shows, and then I always held an account list. The air check that was done with the program manager, and I did a lot of air checks with program managers in the early part of my career, and then I started doing the aircheck. All of those skills have come back around because we’re able to record the calls of our salespeople and we’re able to start to look for problems. Is this something that, as VP of Sales of Neil Patel Digital, is this something that you’re teaching your sales managers on a regular basis?
Nick: Yeah, I’m trying to, and it’s great. Neil makes it really easy. If you just listen to his podcast, YouTube, you can get sound bites to repeat, but everyone, we’re always talking about, how do we lead with value? Another quote I like to say is, “If you can restate the customer’s problem better than they can, then you’ve just won them over.” Doing that means you have to understand them first, but then be able to apply a framework or a teaching methodology to restate their problem in a more compelling way.
Navigating the Pipelines and Prospects
George: Well, I was excited to get you cornered here, so we could talk sales. I’m already gathering this can be a great conversation, so let’s talk about pipelines and the stages of pipelines. I see a lot of times where a rep is trying to rush things through the pipeline, because we’ve been doing a lot of work with media companies and it was very transactional sale. Get in the client, get the deal closed, move on to the next one, but when you’re dealing with a stage sale and maybe a higher value sale with lots of digital marketing solutions in there to solve problems, if you rush it through, you might miss out on capturing more value from the customer or misaligned expectations. How often do you see that?
Nick: All the time. I like talking about what we screw up more than what we do right. The biggest mistake we made early on was, we would get these really hot leads. They were like a friend of Neil’s or someone that’s like, “Hey,” in the first call would just come out and say like, “I really want to work with you guys.” And so we were like, “Great, this is a ‘layup.’ I’m just going to jam them through. I’m going to send them a proposal right after the first call and, boom, I’m going to get my nice commission check and move on.” What we found is that, when you got too excited and you tried to speed it up, you lost those layups.
Nick: There’s nothing more embarrassing or painful than bricking a layup, to use the sports analogy. We’ve actually, I put in almost hurdles or roadblocks for my sales team, so the hotter the lead is, the more important it is you slow down. Make it so this is the easiest decision they’ve ever made, which means they have to go through the same rigor as everyone else, get the same level of care, if not more, and if you give that 10 X effort on the “layup,” there’s no chance they’re going to miss that. Whereas, if you get excited and let your expectations get a hold of you, there’s a chance you get sloppy and everyone loses.
George: We’ve done a massive survey of the audience that we have of the Conquer Local podcast, the salespeople that we have logged into the platform, and then our followers on LinkedIn. What we found, it was really interesting in the data, was salespeople that have between one and five years worth of experience express that presenting and closing were two of the skills they had a big problem with, but as soon as we moved into those people that have been doing it now five to 10 years, 10 to 15, 20 years beyond, those weren’t even an issue anymore. So, when you onboard a new salesperson, how much time are you spending on those two pieces?
Nick: Almost none, crazy enough. My best sales rep, his name’s Andrew, he’s phenomenal at discovery calls. What he always tells me and told me when I first met him was, “I win or lose that deal on the first call. How I set things up, how I frame things to them, how I get to know them. The rest of it becomes really, really easy if we have a connection and I understand their problem. If I don’t and that first call goes badly, then I don’t care how great the pitch is going to be. I’m now chasing a lost cause.”
George: Wait, what you’re saying then is, let’s focus on the first call, getting the right information, discovering the real problem, and then the presentation, and that really takes care of itself?
Nick: Right. Yeah. I like to say there should be no surprises in the presentation. At this point, you’ve already primed them. You’ve told them what they’re going to get, our methodology, how we think, so then it’s just the payoff. It’s the formal dog-and-pony show, because everyone feels like they need that. It’s part of their “due diligence,” but by the time they get there, we’ll have at least two to three discovery calls.
Nick: On the SMB side, maybe one or two, but they’re still having enough touch points that nothing’s going to wow them, or not wow them, but not surprise them. They’re going to know what to expect and everything … There’s no cognitive dissonance. It’s like, “All right, you gave me exactly, you tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them what you told them.” So the pitch is really the tell them what you told them.
George: When we get to that pitch, maybe I’m reaching here, but if we do the correct discovery calls, we gather those nuggets, could we just programmatically design the presentation based upon certain questions being answered a certain way?
Nick: To an extent maybe. We’ll actually send out questionnaires and make sure we have a lot of information. There’s definitely a formula or a playbook or a starting point, but those little touches go a long way. I mentioned we record a lot of our calls. I’ll have the reps go listen to that first call, and remember little things like a pain point they mentioned, their kids, their favorite sports team, what have you.
Nick: If you can find little ways to pay those off, it’s really, really powerful, because then it shows … The other feedback we got when we lost deals was, “I felt like you didn’t understand my business as well as the other guys.” It wasn’t about, “You didn’t understand SEO or your presentation was ugly and had too much clip art,” or any of the things that people get hung up on, it was, “You don’t understand me and my company well enough,” and that happens in discovery. It doesn’t happen in the pitch.
Knowing the Business and a Personal Touch Make All the Difference
George: I really appreciate you bringing that up, because I believe in younger salespeople that they believe, “I’ve got the right solution for this person.” We are going to get Re-challenge Yourself. That’s the only sales book you ever read. You’re going to have a really rocky road because there is that rapport that needs to be built and people want to do business with people that are likable.
Nick: Yeah, 100%.
George: So, when you were talking about the kid’s birthdate, things you remembered about the business, are you finding that that’s something that you have to teach?
Nick: It’s one of those things I think when you’re hiring sales reps, it’s better to find someone who naturally gravitates towards that, is an empathetic person than to try to teach it. It’s generally people don’t care about others, they’re probably not going to do very well as a sales rep. So either you hire experienced people, and if they’re high performers, they probably didn’t get there without developing that empathy and that curiosity, but if they’re new and young and fresh out of school, look for that. See if they take an interest in you in the interview.
Nick: Maybe they LinkedIn stalk you and realize, “Hey, you’re from Ohio originally, I saw this movie that took place there.” They go out of their way to show a little bit. Or the other interview question I love is, “What book have you read? What podcast have you listened to recently? What’s something that inspired you?” If they can’t give me anything that they’ve done to go out of their way to learn and improve, then maybe they don’t have that natural curiosity or spark that they’ll need in sales to be successful.
George: Well, how important do you think being competitive and wanting to be at the top of the leaderboard is today?
Nick: It’s a great question. I don’t really know, other than correlation wise, pretty much everyone I’ve worked with is hyper-competitive either with themselves or with the other reps, myself included, even on the dumbest things, I’m competitive about it. It definitely helps. I mean, I think it’s the blend.
Nick: If you’re strictly competitive and you don’t care about the relationship and the empathy for others, then you’re going to be that lone wolf rep that no one likes working with and burns out eventually, but if you’re too touchy-feely and caring and not at all competitive, then all you’re going to do is really build a lot of great leads and none of them ever convert.
Nick: So it’s a bit of a three-legged stool, you got to have the three attributes to succeed, the relationships, the competitiveness and the subject matter expertise and having two of the three you can get some results, but it’s going to be limited.
George: Thank you for bringing up lone wolf. I love that analogy. The lone wolf never becomes an excellent sales leader as far as a manager then. They end up selling used cars at 50-some odd years old.
George: We’ve seen that a million times. A phenomenal salesperson hits their quotas, sometimes they’re up, sometimes they’re down, but they just cannot make that transition to leading a team of people.
Nick: Yeah, it’s tragic. I think the biggest warning sign for me is, you just have to be coachable and I think you have to be your own harshest critic. If you are constantly thinking about, how do I do that better, there’s a book, Extreme Ownership, it’s Navy SEALs mentality. If you think about, even if it was out of your control, what could you have done differently, if you have that kind of a mindset, you’re always going to get better as a sales rep, and you’re always going to think about ways to get stronger. If you’re always like, “Oh, that prospect was wasting my time,” and blaming other people or taking that lone wolf approach, your results are going to be limited. If you have all that raw talent to make it as a lone wolf, think how much better you could do if you just took it that next step.
George: Listen, did you pull out the Extreme Ownership by Jocko and Leif, because we are just down the street from the Navy SEAL training base here in San Diego?
Nick: Well, I live here in San Diego. It’s a huge military town. My wife actually works for the VA, so I am steeped in that culture to an extent, but I also love just reading about people that push the boundaries of what’s possible. That gets me excited. Competitive with themselves, another Navy SEAL story is David Goggins. I don’t know if you read about him, but his main mentality is the 40% rule. We have this guy, Jesse Eisler, his wife is Sarah Blakely of Spanx, but Jessie’s also done some amazing things. Had him go do as many pull-ups as he could. I think he got about 40 in, then David Goggins said, “Great, we’re not leaving the gym until you do 100.”
Nick: So he would do one pull up, walk around, do another one. They stayed there for like eight, 10 hours, something like that until he got all 100 done. And he said, “Here’s the lesson, when you think you’re at your maximum capacity, you’ve really only used 40%. You’ve got to grind it out for the remaining 60%.” That’s an extreme example, our sales reps aren’t doing 100 pull-ups on a day, but when you think about, “All right, let me do one more call today. How do I just like, I think I’m tapped out. How do I go just a little bit further?” Because every other sales rep is saying, “Oh, I’m doing the max I can do in a day.” So that one extra step, that one extra pull up differentiates you from the other company, the other sales rep, that’s only taking it so far.
George: Well, I’m definitely going to read that book. I bought 15 copies of Extreme Ownership and handed them out to all of our leaders in the organization about two years ago. Thanks to John Jordan for introducing me to that book, another guest on the podcast. Digital marketing, presenting these solutions to customers, what’s the one thing, if we were just to pick up one thing that salespeople could be better at that you’ve seen across your organization?
What Can Salespeople Be Better At?
Nick: That’s a great question. I think it’s really learning the craft of digital marketing because there’s thousands of agencies out there. A lot of them are, from what I’ve heard, the sales stories are pretty undifferentiated, “Oh, I pulled some tools. Your rankings are no good. They beat the customer up. Here’s why you’re terrible. We’ll help fix it all for you.” Everyone’s got a little bit of that same story. If the sales rep can show that they’re able to think a little differently, actually explain technical things in an easy-to-digest manner, then they can win over that trust a little bit more and say, “This guy really knows what he’s talking about,” or gal.
Nick: Whereas, if you’re taking that sort of, “Here’s what the tool said, here’s what my subject matter experts said,” it starts to feel a little cookie cutter. So to me it’s equal parts marketing and sales, Neil’s podcasts, I’ll plug that shamelessly or anything else, like watch HubSpot blog, Moz blog, doesn’t really matter, but the reps that are going out there to learn the marketing side of things as well, they’re going to be the ones that are successful, because they’re able to lead with ideas rather than with sales pressure or sales tactics or the perfect clothes or something like that.
George: I creeped you before we came into the podcast and-
Nick: I thought about that.
George: LinkedIn is my favorite place to do that, because I think it speaks to whether somebody really understands digital space. Now, I didn’t just look at you, I looked at some of your colleagues as well.
Nick: Okay. okay.
George: Is that something from a corporate standpoint that is mandated or is that you guys are just smart enough to know that you need to be really locked up on LinkedIn?
Nick: Great questions. I wouldn’t say it’s mandated but highly encouraged. LinkedIn’s a powerful tool and HubSpot will pull in a lot of other data to figure out what blog posts are read by Neil, where they converted, what they put in the form. So the more research you do up front, obviously the better you’re going to be prepared, even simple things like looking at the prospect’s website, their about us page, their history, little tidbits like that.
Nick: If you’re asking “straightforward” or easily findable answers on their website in a discovery call, you’re going to turn them off. They can be like, “You should have done this before.” So getting to know that. And then we also have a psychographic data where we can try to pinpoint someone, are these a relationship buyer? Is this person highly analytical? Is this person really competitive? And then you know what points to touch on in your presentation and elsewhere.
George: Some personality profile, like a disc or something like that?
Nick: Yeah. Exactly.
George: And teaching that to a young salesperson. So, of course, let’s put them through it with the rest of the team to see it, but then for them to be able to take those questions out and sit across from that prospect and say, “Okay, I’ve got a pretty good idea what this person’s all about and I know how to approach them.”
Nick: To the best of our ability, there’s definitely a psychological component to all of it, and that’s where I think discovery can be done well. Again, I’m harping on the first call so much, but you can, if you’re really actively listening and not just jotting down the notes, you’ll pick up on the way that they present problems and how they speak and the things that really matter to them beyond just the immediate pain point of today.
Recruiting Top Talent: A Step-By-Step Process
George: As you build out the sales organization all over the United States, what’s been some of the challenges in recruiting top talent?
Nick: Oh, it is the challenge. There’s nothing harder. We have great recruiters, most of our best reps though have come through our network. Folks that we worked with in the past, but to me, it’s finding that three-legged stool analogy. It’s hard to find all three, so we started to figure out, “All right, maybe they don’t know the marketing space as well, but we can train them and pair them with an SME to help scale.”
Nick: That’s really, really hard. I think the other thing that’s hard is just, the hyper-competitive reps, they want to get ahead, they want to move to the next rung of the ladder really, really fast, but there’s no better way to get good at your craft than spend the time and really perfect each level before you move to the next one. So some of it’s aligning.
George: How many interviews are you using right now to determine if that’s the right person?
Nick: We’ll do a screener interview with a recruiter and she’s looking at things on paper, making sure they check all the boxes. I’ll typically do a 45-minute interview over the phone where I’m just making sure that this is a good fit for what they’ve done in the past. They need to be as excited about it as we are for them. Then, we’ll usually do an assignment. I’ll maybe give them a fake lead, or a real lead sometimes, and say, “Hey, let’s have a discovery call. I’m going to roleplay as the prospect, you’re going to role play as a rep here. Make stuff up if you don’t know on our agency, that’s not what I’m trying to figure out.”
Nick: We’ll go through the call. If I like what I hear, I’ll say, “Great, let’s do an hour and a half interview.” We use the Who methodology, another great book, and really go into each position, what they’ve done, what they struggled with, what they enjoy doing. If that all looks good, we’ll sort of figure out internally, where do we still have blind spots and that’s where references come in. Or maybe we’ll give them a last assignment like, “Hey, now that we know you can do a good discovery and you’ve got good experience, pitch us, sell us something.” I’ll either give you a presentation or just use whatever you’ve used in the past. It doesn’t really matter.
George: You’ve now identified the top talent. You took him through a rigorous interview process, which is fantastic by the way, I love that you’re doing that. Long to hire, long to fire. I always say, but then we go to put them on the street. What does the onboarding look like?
Nick: It’s interesting, we have a unique problem in that Neil’s got a lot of leads, so we try to just get people into the mix rather quickly and learn by doing, with supervision of course, but after about a week or so of just, listen to the recordings of the other reps, look at the scripts, go through the presentation. That’s the other reason I don’t teach the pitch in the first week is, you’re a couple of weeks out to building that pipeline to actually have pitches lined up, so focus on one thing at a time.
Nick: Drinking from the fire hose is really hard when you’re trying to learn 10 things, but if you’re really focused on great discovery calls and getting to that first advance, then we’ll build on that from there. So I just really focus on, here’s how you’re going to research a lead, here’s how you’re going to open a call. Here’s how you’re going to handle the discovery call. My scripts are pretty loose, so it’s like a recommended, here’s the order, spend 10 minutes on them, 10 minutes on the company, 10 minutes on the marketing challenges, and then maybe 10 minutes on qualifying.
Nick: Then here’s some sample questions, but it’s a choose your own adventure. The worst thing you can do is wait for them to finish their answer, shut up and then ask them the next question. Listen, drill down, engage with them and not worry about the script in terms of, did I get the sequence right or did I ask all the questions in the right order?
George: Is there a milestone that they have to reach before they’re able to go out and start writing orders?
Nick: Not necessarily. If you’re joining as a NAE account executive, generally we’re hiring people that are pretty experienced with the hope that they can hit the ground running. If you’re joining as an SDR, BDR, yeah, then there’s a bit more of a couple more hoops you got to jump through.
George: I got a feeling we could go on for hours. I really appreciate you giving us this brief 20 minutes or so of your time. Thank you for coming to Conquer Local. Nick Roshon is the VP of sales for Neil Patel Digital. I hear that name everywhere. Congratulations on your success and good luck as you continue to grow that business.
Nick: Thanks for having me. It’s been a great event. I love what you guys are doing here and I would love to come back any time.
George: Well, as you could tell, Nick and I love talking sales, and we were able to dig into some real interesting stories around bringing onboard new sales talent. Nick is doing a lot of that as he continues to build out his sales organization. They’ve got that great brand, the Neil Patel Digital brand, but now they need to staff it with a sales force.
George: You’ll notice that Nick is a real big believer in teaching and coaching the prospect, and the onboarding of those salespeople is that most important window where if you get them onboarded properly, they bring their customers on properly, you’re able to have a happy client that then continues to stay with the organization and, hopefully, grows their revenue as you work with that customer. Great having Nick on the show this week, Nick Roshon, the VP of Sales for Neil Patel Digital on this week’s episode of the Conquer Local podcast.
George: The Conquer Local community is live and it continues to grow pretty much on a daily basis. It’s really cool to watch this thing. It’s just got a life of its own. You can join by going to conquerlocal.slack.com. We chose slack as the framework to host this community. It makes it really easy for you to spin up a channel if you want to talk about, how do I sell to veterinarians? You could do that inside the Conquer Local community, or you might find a channel that’s already been created.
George: There’s a great channel in there with sales memes, or there’s another channel where we talk about how to compensate your salespeople and the members of the community are weighing in. It’s just great to get that feedback from salespeople all over the world that have already joined the Conquer Local community. It’s early, we’re in the early innings, but it’s looking good as the Conquer Local community grows on Slack. So tell your friends, get on there, conquerlocal.slack.com. My name is George Leith. I’ll see when I see you.