302: Building a Winning Sales Playbook, with Matt Sunshine

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Building a winning sales playbook is no easy endeavor, but we have you covered. This week’s guest is an expert at building them.

Matt Sunshine is a Managing Partner at the Center for Sales Strategy, a sales performance consulting company that helps sales organizations attract, retain, and develop the highest performing salespeople. Matt’s extensive background in the broadcaster space brings a fresh feel to the Conquer Local Podcast. Matt walks us through how to build a winning sales playbook with a three-step process, he shares his tried and tested three key elements for hiring a sales team, and he shares what is happening in the broadcasting space and explains the why they are getting into the digital marketing stack now.

Matt’s areas of expertise include growing sales organizations, finding and developing sales superstars, sales process, lead generation, inbound marketing, and digital marketing, and he is a featured writer for one of the top sales blogs in America and a regular contributor to leading business blogs and magazines such as Inc., Sales and Marketing Management, Sales Hacker, and Entrepreneur. In 2012, Matt developed and launched LeadG2, an Inbound Marketing company that helps businesses establish thought leadership and lower lead costs. LeadG2 has earned the premier Hubspot recognition as a platinum Certified Partner and is the largest inbound marketing company serving the media industry in the world today. He is also the author of “Getting Prospects to Raise Their Hand” and Forbes magazine lists Matt as one of the 20 Speakers You Shouldn’t Miss The Opportunity To See.



George: It’s another edition of the Conquer Local podcast. My name is George Leith. We have this week Matt Sunshine, and Matt and I had the privilege of meeting about five years ago. We were on a panel for the Reign Summit. I can’t remember the city that we were in, might’ve been Vegas. And when I met Matt, I realized this is a veteran broadcast sales executive who has been involved in an organization for quite some time, like 20 some odd years, called The Center for Sales Strategy. And Matt actually took it over as the founding partner back in 2015, and we’re really privileged to have him on the show. One of the things that I’m sure Matt is going to talk about because I’ve seen him speak a number of times at conventions, what he talks about is you don’t just need a guy in a bag going out and doing cold calls and customers.

George: Now you need a more robust sales organization where you might need a team doing lead gen. You definitely still need reps that are out talking to customers. You might need to look at some inside sales or telesales, and you’re going to need somebody looking after client retention. It’s really interesting to see broadcast moving in that direction. I keep hearing it more and more and more as we travel and we speak to executives in the broadcast space. So you’re going to get some radio and some television sales 101, I’m sure, as we speak to Matt Sunshine from The Center for Sales Strategy, coming up next on this week’s Conquer Local podcast.

George: Super excited to have Matt Sunshine from The Center for Sales Strategy joining me on the Conquer Local podcast this week. Hey, Matt, how you been?

Matt: I’m good. How about yourself?

George: I’m doing really well. I was thinking back to when you and I first met. I think it might’ve been around 2015. We were at a Reign conference on a panel together… well, we’ve seen each other in passing from time to time, so I’m glad that you were able to make it onto the podcast. Matt, working and heading up The Center for Sales Strategy, you want to give people the quick overview of your experience and how you ended up here as the managing partner of The Center for Sales Strategy?

Matt: Sure. Yeah. So the Center for Sales Strategy has been around for about 35 years. We’re a true sales performance company. We help media companies, radio stations, TV broadcasters. We help them to make sure they hire the most talented people, give them a system, a process to have sales success a repeatable, predictable process. And then we ensure that they have tactics in place to ultimately drive revenue. So we think of that sales performance formula as talent plus training plus tactics. I mean, my experiences prior to … I’ve been at the company since 2006. Prior to that, I was the group director of sales for Susquehanna Radio for about 15 years. So I’ve been in business a long time and love what I do now at The Center for Sales Strategy as one of the managing partners. And we have great relationships with the clients that we work with.

George: Well, you know why I asked producer Colleen to reach out to you is I heard your name in passing a couple of weeks back at the Texas Association of Broadcasters. I’m like, “Yeah, I need to get Matt on the podcast,” because I’m looking to … I’d like to learn from you a little bit around your unique perspective because you’ve worked with broadcasters for a long time. You’ve been in the broadcast industry a long time. There really, in my sense, seems to be a shift where these broadcasters are really adopting digital sales to local customers. It seems like if you’re not doing it, you’re really missing the boat in this space. Would you echo that? Is that what you’re seeing?

Matt: Yeah, absolutely. And it’s kind of nice. I mean, the reason why most of us got into this business, at least on the sales side, is not necessarily to sell our product, but really to help businesses grow, right? I mean, that’s why. That’s the motivation. We all got into it because, fundamentally, we want to work with businesses, figure out what their desired business results are, and then bring them back a solution that’ll help them to get the results that they need. And so the more resources that we can bring, the more we can help. And there’s lots of research out there. Gordon Burrell has research out recently that talks about people are buying more and more products, right? I mean, they are. They’re not just buying TV or buying radio or buying newspaper, they’re understanding the customer journey, and they’re saying, “You know what, we’ve got to reach people in lots of places, and we have to reach them with the right message. And if one person can deliver that, well, that’s just fantastic.” So, yeah, broadcasters are adopting this quickly and many of them are doing a really good job.

George: So it isn’t something, though, that we saw five years ago. There wasn’t that adoption. Do you think that’s because radio actually was growing in the traditional revenue lines?

Matt: Yeah. Right. I mean, it’s like everyone has a good plan. What did Mike Tyson say? “You can have the greatest plan in the world until you get punched in the face.” And I think that’s what happens. When business is good, people don’t feel like, “Oh, I don’t need to add this so quickly. Business is good.” But then all of a sudden, when business gets a little wobbly or you’re not seeing the growth that you expected, you’re seeing dollars starting to go to competitors that are doing some of this, I think you jump on the bandwagon. You say, “We’d better get in this space.” So, yeah, there are some early adopters that have a little bit of a first-mover advantage, but I think people are catching up.


Building a Winning Sales Playbook

George: Well, I’ve talked to lots of folks in broadcast space over the years, and I echo what you were saying earlier, that the real pain hadn’t been there yet. There was that saying that flat was the new black. They’re just happy to be flat with revenue when you’re looking across the street and the newspaper company had been bleeding. But what I was hoping we could dig into is, you seem to be having an enormous amount of success right now in building out a winning sales playbook for these broadcasters. Is there an easy ABC to what goes into that winning sales playbook?

Matt: Boy, I wish it was an easy ABC. The most simple way to put it is this, it’s two-part, number one is you have to have the best people, and you have to have a system in place for identifying, what are the jobs that we need, what are the must-have talents, what are the must-have experiences, are they a good culture fit, and identify. If you get the right people, you’re off to a good start. The second thing that you have to do is make sure that you’re organized correctly to have success. If you look at sales departments these days, salespeople are maybe going on one new business call a week, maybe two. And that’s not because they’re not working hard. It’s because they have a lot of other things that they have to do. So maybe we need to fix the way that we’re organized.

Matt: Wouldn’t it be great if salespeople could go on three new business appointments a week? I mean, if you have 15 salespeople, they’re all going on one new business appointment a week, that’s 15 new business appointments. Well, what if you had 10 salespeople, but you reorganized yourself and you built the apparatus so that everyone could go on three appointments per week? Now as a station, you’ve gone from 15 appointments to 30 appointments all because you reorganized. And by the way, if someone’s doing three a week, they’re probably being better at it. So I think the playbook is: get the right people, organize yourself correctly, and then install a repeatable, predictable sales process that everyone adheres to. The old days of winging it and just being charming and having good relationships, that’s very 1900s.

George: Well, and you’re going to lose the business at the end of the day because the customer is .. let’s talk a little bit about your experience around customer expectations. And I’m sure that you’ve been talking to people in all sorts of different market sizes, but it’s not just the large DMAs, it’s customers everywhere that are demanding more out of that trusted advisor that they have.

Matt: That’s exactly right. We need humans. I do think we need humans, and I do think relationships are important. But I think as a business owner, you care if your business is getting the desired business results that it needs. And what I’ve seen happen recently is relationships be flipped on people so that you hear business owners say to someone, “I’ve known you for a long time. You understand that I don’t need … I can’t buy you on this one. I need to go with these guys because their solution is actually going to get me the results I need. And I know you don’t understand because you and I have such a good relationship.” Business owners love relationships just like everyone else, but they also have a responsibility to their business, and we got to be in that business. We got to be in the business of helping business grow.

George: So for our group that subscribes to the podcast and listen to us every week, we’ve got salespeople and sales managers and VPs from all over the planet, and I’m very privileged to have this audience. I was hoping that we should get some words of wisdom from you, Matt. What are some of those key tenants that you are teaching sales leadership when they’re out there looking for the right talent? Because that first thing you came up with it, I’m glad you did because I really think that that’s one of the big hallmarks that we need to address, is we need the best and the right talent. So what are we looking for when it comes to talent in this space?

Matt: So I think we need to get better at defining what we’re looking for. Most of the time, this is how the conversation goes. I’ll get a call from a sales manager or VP of sales, and they’ll say, “Hey, Matt, I’m looking for a salesperson. Do you know anyone?” And I say, “Okay, well, tell me what you’re looking for.” They’ll say, “You know, someone like a good sales guy.” And I don’t know what that means. Let’s define what we’re looking for. Is this person going to have to be calling on a lot of retail accounts? Are they going to be working with ad agencies? Are they going to be the type of person that’s going to be doing more customer service work? What type of operation do you have? Do you have someone who does lead generation, or do they need to do their own lead generation?

Matt: So number one, identify what you’re looking for. Then we have to say, “Okay, what are the required talents, skills, and experiences that someone will have to have in order to have success?” We have some clients that love taking on people that have no experience because they have a good onboarding system. They have the time to train them. We have other clients that, honestly, they don’t have enough time to do that. So they need to hire someone with experience, and that’s okay too, but know what you’re looking for. So understand what you’re looking for. Get a really good job … we call it job analysis. Do a really good job analysis. And that would be, what does the person have to be able to do around here to be successful in plain English. Then identify the talents, skills, and experiences that you need for that position. We would tell our clients to use a talent assessment. I think those are really important, but then also look at the skills and experience and don’t settle. Don’t bring someone in. And the other thing is, I’d make sure that they’re a good culture fit. Do they fit with your environment?

George: Well, I know the risk there, and I am glad that you brought it up because the risk there is you sacrifice your culture to put a warm body in the chair, and if it’s not a good fit, and especially if you’re trying to up the game in the talent that you do have in the organization. So I agree with every one of those points, and thanks for bringing it up. I think they’re very, very valuable. But I run across sales leaders and organizations that are saying, “Well, I’ve got all these people that have come in. They’re probably younger, it seems, and it seems I have to teach them how to build a relationship.” Are you seeing any of that, where they may be really good tactical and they understand the space and they’re technically savvy, but they just don’t have those relationship-building skills?

Matt: Yeah. I don’t see so much the relationship like you’re saying, but here’s what I do hear, which is similar, that they don’t have the business acumen, and they don’t have the, and this is a buzzword but we all know what this means, they don’t have the executive presence. And I think that’s kind of sums up what you’re saying. And you got to practice with them. You got to role-play. And role play… I wrote a blog article once, and I said the worst four-letter words in media sales, role and play, right? Because it freaks everybody out. But it’s just practice, and you’ve got practice with people.


Practice Makes Perfect

George: Well, it’s interesting. When I arrived at a SaaS software company years ago, coming as an old warhorse in the media space, I remember that I was taught very early in my sales career, which is when you think back to 1989, 1990 the training programs weren’t that robust in broadcast. You basically just got the yellow pages thrown at you in a one-sheeter and said go get them. But I do remember I had a really great sales leader that kind of took me under my wing and he said, “When you’re driving to the sales call, practice the sales call over and over and over again because it is a little intimidating to practice inside with a room of your peers.”

George: But when you talk about building that culture, wouldn’t you rather have a culture of people who, after salesperson X gets off the phone with a prospect, salesperson Y leans over and said, “If you just said it a little bit differently, the customer would understand what you were saying. You kind of got bogged down in the …” Offer that advice as teammates. So it used to be we’ll just build a sales team and just put systems in place and have them slit each other’s throats until we get a winner out of it. And having that more collaborative culture, do you see that being something that’s really a recipe for success so you can build that environment where they can practice?

Matt: Yeah. So here’s my advice on how to make practice a reality. And when I introduced this in media companies, radio stations and TV stations, afterwards, everyone always likes it and salespeople actually like doing this. So here’s what we do. First of all, you got to remember salespeople, their experience with role-playing has been this, you’re not doing your job correctly. So you need to role-play, right? It’s almost a punishment. Because you’ve done it wrong, you must need to role-play. So we need to get rid of that thinking, and we need to make practice part of our culture. Just like your favorite football team or baseball team or soccer team, they practice every day. We need to practice every day. The second thing is that when we practice, what we get feedback on is what we did right. And we get feedback on what we did right. I’m talking a ratio of five to one. Five things you did right, and one thing that you could do better.

Matt: And our criticism needs to be specific. Generic feedback is the worst type of feedback. “Hey, Matt, you did a great job with that.” That means nothing. Tell me what I did a great job with. Give me specifics. Give me five really good things that I did, and then you say, “And you know what, here’s something you could do a little bit better.” Well, now I’m listening. But if all you do is tell me all the things I could do better, well, then I feel awful and I don’t ever want to do this again. The last thing about role play, it’s never a sneak attack. It’s never, “Hey, Matt, can you come in my office and sell me this pen?” I mean, we’re not doing that. We have to be more professional. We need to say, “Hey, every Tuesday in the sales meeting, we’re going to role-play. You’re going to … I’ll tell you a day in advance the type of business you’re going to be calling on and what part of the sales process we’re going to practice.” It’s got to be more professional and less personal.

George: Well, and I also think that salespeople and sales managers that are listening to the podcast need to be understanding that the groups that are eating your lunch are doing professional training and coaching and development pretty much on a daily basis. And what I mean by that are all the inside sales teams, and it’s primarily right now coming from the SaaS space, where they’re phoning into your auto dealer customer 10 times. They’re getting a ton of calls every week from different companies that are trying to sell to them. And it’s a very professional process, and they’re listening to the calls, and they’re coaching. And so we need to get that into the environment. I’ve found that organizations are very open to it.

Matt: We work with a company that has an inside sales team. They do practice twice a day. They do practice in the morning before the day gets started, 8:30 to 8:50, 20 minutes of practice in the morning. And they do it after lunch at one o’clock, from like 1:00 to 1:30. They practice role-playing objections. They practice role-playing how they open a call with someone. They practice role-playing how they finish the call. They practice every day, twice a day, every day.

George: How important is it when we develop up this winning sales playbook to be an expert in the products and tactics that these reps are selling? Because you mentioned earlier that our customer base is asking for more products and buying more products, so I’m in. I’m the sales manager or the sales rep, we’re in. How well versed do they need to be in the products and tactics and solutions?

Matt: Yeah, I think, so part of the sales playbooks that we build for people, that’s part of it, right? It’s not only what the play is, but what are the products? So they have to be expert in it. I mean, if they’re not, then they’re going to look foolish. Knowing your product is table stakes. Now, the problem that we get is once people get so focused on their product that they’re more focused on pitching their product than they are at solving a solution. I have seen some broadcasters where they have some products that are more complex, more complicated, and they have an expert on staff and that person’s available to do an assist, go on a four-legged call. That’s a good short-term solution. But truthfully, you’re limiting your capacity to do business to the amount of calls that that person can go on.

George: Well, we like to call those barnacles. And I just actually had a lobster in New Hampshire this weekend that had a barnacle on the claw, and it reminded me that we coined that phrase, you’ve got the expert, and then the rep won’t learn how to do it for themselves.

Matt: Exactly. Right. It doesn’t work. It’s a short-term bandaid, but actually it causes more problems down the line. Salespeople need to know their products.

George: So what you’re saying to me sounds a lot like we’ve got to up our game from a sales management coaching standpoint.

Matt: Yeah. And I’m a big believer in the sales playbook, that way everyone is consistent and we know what we’re doing. It’s not fair if someone goes out and does it wrong, but they were never told the right way, shown the right way to do it. It’s not fair. But, yeah, we need to up our game. I mean, managing people is complex.

George: Well, and we constantly need to be learning on that, and that’s why we have resources like this. And that’s why we’re great to have guests like you. One of the most successful examples of inside sales has to be the Townsquare Media Group. And at last year’s Burrell event in New York, Tim Pirrone, the guy who runs that whole thing and built it from the ground up, spoke that they’re getting close to $50 million run rate. I’m sure that you work with lots of organizations that are attempting inside sales. Do you think that inside sales is one of those revenue motions that broadcasters need to look at?

Matt: Yeah, and we work with Townsquare, so I’m familiar with that situation.

George: Well they’ve been very, very successful.

Matt: Very successful doing it. And we have a few other clients that have inside sales going on too. If you set it up the right way, it’s a really good addition to an outside salesforce. I don’t think it’s an either-or, I think it’s an and.

George: And what about the salespeople that say, “Well, I just don’t know if that client has the kind of budget as far as building out a lead gen team.” Is that another area where we take some of that headcount and we move it into some different revenue motions that you’re recommending? I’m kind of reading between the lines here, but you mentioned lead gen earlier.

Matt: Yeah. So I look at a sales organization. I say, “Okay, we need to have dedicated resources to customer acquisition, and we have to have dedicated resources to customer retention.” Right now, we kind of all employ the lone wolf style where every person does everything. But I think that if we thought about it as, are you in the customer acquisition team or the customer retention team, we would be better off. And if we looked at it as a customer acquisition team, then we probably would say, “Okay, we need a lead gen team to supplement the leads coming in it.”

Matt: Let me say it this way. If we were calling on a business that had a really, really good product and had a really good success rate of helping their customers use their product successfully, and they even had really good salespeople to sell the product, but the only thing that they were struggling with is their salespeople didn’t have enough face-to-face interactions with potential customers. We would recommend to them that they do marketing. We would say, “Oh, you know what you need to do? You need to do some marketing, some advertising.” Yet, when we look at our business and we say we have really good products, people that use our products get really good results. We have really good salespeople, yet they don’t have enough new business appointments. We say, “Oh, you know what you need to do? You need to go and cold call more.” It just doesn’t make sense. We need something at the front end to help.

George: Well, and I used this with a broadcast group here recently. They had a station in Waco, Texas, and I said, “Why don’t we go online and look up SEO expert in Waco, Texas, to see if you guys rank?” And they’re like, “Oh, you should put in radio station.” And I’m like, “No, not if you’re going to sell digital products and services. You need to be ranking for SEO expert because that’s what the businesses of Waco, Texas are looking for.”

Matt: Right. Exactly. We just need to eat our own dog food. We just need to do what we would tell our clients to do. And I’m not saying that salespeople should be relieved of finding their own prospects or getting referrals. I think they should do all of that, but we should be able to supplement it with a lead generation program because that’s part of customer acquisition.



George: Well, we always like getting people like you, Matt, that are working with organizations throughout the US and Canada on a daily basis. And I’ve always been bullish on the broadcaster space, maybe because that’s where I came from. But one of the reasons that I’ve been bullish on it is we always … in the broadcast space you had to think outside of the box, and you had to be creative, and you had to solution sell, especially in radio. That was the way that it was just done. And I’ve been waiting for the moment that radio stepped up to the plate and said, “I’m going to start to add other products and services into the mix.” And it’s good to hear that you’re validating what I’ve been hearing on the street, that that movement has been started. And for some people, they’ve been at it for, like the Townsquare folks, they’ve been at it for a number of years, and they’re seeing the fruits of their labors. If people want to get a hold of you and learn more about how you might be able to help out their broadcast organization, how would they go about doing that, Matt?

Matt: Best way is just to email me directly at mattsunshine@csscenter.com, and I’m happy to talk to anyone. I’m passionate about this subject and I want to be a resource and be helpful to anyone listening to this podcast. I’d love to do that.

George: Well, and if you ever see throughout any of the organizations out there the named Matt Sunshine and The Center for Sales Strategy speaking at one of these conferences, that is a session you don’t want to miss because Matt brings real tangible insights from the field and from groups that he’s working with on a daily basis. So privilege having you on the show, and we’ll let you get back to the beautiful city of Nashville, Tennessee, where you are today as we record this podcast. It’s one of my favorite places. So go enjoy that. Get yourself some ribs. Enjoy it.

Matt: Thank you very much.

George: Well, Matt is great at laying out that strategy on how to build a winning sales playbook. Here it is again. You need the best people in place, and that is figuring out what the best experience is, are they the right culture fit, or what culture fit are you looking for, and then what job do you want them to do? Because there’s more than just the job of a sales rep with a bag, going out and seeing a customer inside these organizations. And that brings us to number two, which is organizing the sales teams the right way. There are certain individuals that are better at account management then are at acquiring new customers, so why reinvent the wheel? Why not just build those specific teams and have those people do what they’re really good at and what will help your organization, and the individuals in it, win?

George: And then look for a repeatable, predictable process. And we’re talking about this for broadcast organizations. I’m loving it. It’s all the things that we’ve been pontificating about over the last few years coming true. That in this world that we live in, in 2019 and soon to be 2020, we can build predictable, repeatable sales processes if we just follow a few key tenants. And he really spoke in that episode about key elements for hiring, and we haven’t really talked a lot about that on the podcast, but I think it’s so true. We define what we’re looking for, figure out what the talents are and the skills and the experiences necessary to meet the objective of the position, and then don’t ever settle. Don’t ever bring in somebody that might be good enough. Make sure that you keep looking until you find that person that is the perfect culture fit.

George: Now in a lot of broadcast organizations that aren’t big enough to have HR departments, that’s going to fall on you as a sales manager, you got to take the bull by the horns and do your recruiting yourself. But if you are working with the HR department, make sure that they very clearly understand what you’re looking for and what problem you’re trying to solve in the hire that you’re making. I find that even in my day to day, if we work very closely with HR and not see them as somebody who’s trying to block us, we’ve developed a relationship there, we might just get a lot better talent in the pipe. So another great episode. There are key takeaways for everyone, regardless of the space. Matt was specifically talking about the broadcast space because that’s where The Center for Sales Strategy has been anchored, but they also work with magazines, newspapers and cable co’s. Everybody else is talking to local.

George: For those of you that are in other industries, I might point out that there’s another group of people out there banging on the doors and they’re good. There’s a good group of salespeople out there that are learning some new tricks. So just keep that in mind, that you need to be constantly improving and upping your game as there’s never going to be less competition than there is today, I always like to say. It’s just going to be more, so put that expectation of one day there’s going to be less competition. We are always looking for great comments on the podcast or even suggestions on how we might be able to improve. I can take it. I got broad shoulders. So keep reaching to us on LinkedIn. We had some great conversations with folks over the last couple of weeks that are discovering the podcast for the first time. We’d love your referrals.

George: And when producer Colleen does her thing on a weekly basis where she posts our weekly podcast, we would welcome your shares on social media. If you could share it on LinkedIn or on Facebook or on Twitter so that other people can find the Conquer Local podcast where we’re helping salespeople all over the world conquer that local day-to-day sales with SMBs. My name is George Leith. I’ll see you when I see you.