342: A Buyers Journey, with Jeff Koser

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For marketing agencies and salespeople alike, we must put the local business first. We have to be able to present a buyers journey to a client because whether we try to empower them or not, they are always in charge.

We have Jeff Koser, the spirited founder and CEO of Zebrafi, who is at the helm of the podcast this week. Jeff and George dig deep and analyze how the customer journey is shifting into a buyers journey. Jeff is the award-winning co-author of Selling to Zebras – How to Close 90% of the Business You Pursue Faster, More Easily, and More Profitably. It is a sales book written by Jeff Koser. 

Jeff has more than 25 years’ experience in leadership roles in operations, sales, and marketing. In 2010, he was recognized as one of the best sales authors of all time in the book, The Sales Gurus. Zebrafi is the Guided Selling Cloud for the Enterprise, where sellers are guided to great fit prospects, armed with presentations that are automated and collaborative on a live platform that guides both the buyer and the seller, leading to value-based and business-issue focused discussions.

Keep the conversation going in the Conquer Local Community, and expand your knowledge and learn for industry experts in the Conquer Local Academy.



George: Conquer Local, with Vendasta. Here’s George Leith. Welcome to the latest edition of the Conquer Local podcast. Very excited this week to bring you a career sales genius. I don’t say that very often, but after interviewing Jeff Koser, the CEO of Zebrafi, award-winning co-author of Selling to Zebras, you could tell that this gentleman has been doing this for a long time and he has come up with a great prescription for success. After 30 plus years in the sales business and what he calls the science of selling, we’re going to dig into that big brain and bring you some takeaways to make your organization and you specifically a better salesperson. In fact, Jeff’s slogan is changing the way the world sells. Jeff Koser, the CEO of Zebrafi and award-winning author coming up next on the Conquer Local podcast. 

George: We’re gonna dig right into this episode. Jeff Koser joining me, the CEO at Zebrafi. All the way from the beautiful state of Wisconsin. Jeff, thanks for joining us on the Conquer Local podcast. Love to hear a little bit from you around your background and your organization.

Jeff: Sounds good George. Thanks for inviting me. I enjoy your show. Why should you listen to me? Well, I’ve been doing this long enough. I’ve made enough mistakes but I’ve stuck with it so I’ve figured a couple of things out. How’s that?

George: Listen, grizzled up old sales veterans like you can I can say things like that, so that’s great. That’s why we love having you on the show. We wanna learn a little bit about Zebrafi and your book, which Selling to Zebras. The thing I love is this statement that you’ve made. You’re trying to change the way the world sells, so tell us about Zebrafi, the book, and that slogan because that caught my attention.

Jeff: Well, it’s something that everybody that works here is pretty passionate about because we feel that if everyone called on a zebra, which is the profile of that perfect prospect for you, it mirrors your best customers. If you stuck to those types of customers and you approached them with a verification because you did your homework that they have the problem you solve. In other words, you know they need you. And if you were able to quantify the value of solving that problem for them and you stayed there, you stayed with companies that would get exceptional value from your solution, the world would just be a better place. People would feel better about sales. They’d feel better about sales people. They’d feel better about granting everyone an appointment, so the world would be a better place, and that’s really what Selling to Zebras, the book is all about, and that’s what we’re all about as a company.

George: And interesting, I think what you’re calling out here is where an organization stretches their buyer persona in order to gain larger revenue, and it may not be an exact fit. Am I reading between the lines there?

Jeff: You are. It’s where you bring more value that anyone else and also you’re a better decision than buying virtually anything else they might wanna buy because it’s not always a decision to buy you versus the competitor, right? It might be you versus a forklift, for example.

George: Yeah, no I have x number of dollars to spend and I’m gonna spend it on some things, and the competition might not even be apples to apples, so I get that. How big of a problem is this?

Jeff: It’s a huge problem. In fact, research shows that one of the main reasons, it isn’t just because of the web that executives don’t wanna grant us an appointment anymore today. It’s because 85% of the time we’re trying to call on the person who isn’t even the right person to make the decision for the solution we’re selling. So, 85% of the time we’re wasting that executive’s time as we target them with a phone call, a marketing automation message, or even something that we might send them in direct mail, for example.

George: Well, it’s really interesting. It’s almost like this was planned. The stars aligned. Earlier this week I was talking to a sales organization and I said, it’s not about you folks getting more leads. You are burning leads like crazy. It’s about getting better at working the leads that you have today. And this idea of scope creep is really what I like to call it, where you’re, oh I think that my solution might work over here. I’m gonna try that out, which could be a waste of time. And then the other thing is I think you’re talking about what SaaS software calls product market fit, and really honing in on that persona or where you have that product market fit, and then knowing everything about that funnel and knowing the stages. Is that really what you’re professing?

Jeff: It is. Product market fit is a great way in the SaaS world to define it. And SaaS is a great marketplace to prove it because it’s easier to adopt a solution in the SaaS world, but it’s also easier to shut it off, so we have to continue to demonstrate and prove that we’re bringing value or they’ll churn. That’s the major problem for SaaS companies.

George: You know, you’re absolutely right and you can’t outsell churn. Famous line from one of our guests on the podcast couple years back, Mr. Jeff Folckemer.

Jeff: I like that one.

George: Let’s get into talking points here that we discussed that we really wanted to touch on, and I think the most important one for our audience today is we’re going back to business because of this major event that everybody is aware of. Not gonna give it anymore air time than it already has ’cause it’s gettin’ a lot of air time, but it really has become a forcing function I’m finding. We’ve been professing to business owners, don’t care if they’re small, medium, or large, that you need to make some sort of a digital transformation. We’ve been doing that for years, and now we have this forcing function where business owners were sitting at home on their hands not able to work, whether they weren’t able to open their brick and mortar store or they didn’t have the tools to be able to continue on remote work, we now are forced to move down the road of that digital transformation. So, what does that look like in your eyes and with your experience? Because I smell opportunity from a challenge and I believe that you have some very strong thoughts around this.


Digital Transformation

Jeff: I believe you have to be compelling. More so, I think it’s been the case for quite some time, but more so now because the only dollars that are gonna be spent now are on a compelling solution where you can demonstrate that the problem you solve or the value that you create is worth spending versus every other way they might choose to spend that same dollar.

George: So, from a compelling value proposition is what I believe you’re referring to, and I think the idea is there’s more competition for less dollars, even though we probably are going to have some fallout of the number of people that are playing the game, because I think there’s gonna be some people that just throw their hands up and say, you know, I’ve saved some money for my retirement. I was hoping to maybe exit this business, but I don’t even know what the hell I have anymore for value, so let’s just retire. Let’s just walk off the earth and go do our freedom 55 thing. I believe you’re gonna see a lot of that, but then there’s also the folks that didn’t heed the warning of you should have a couple of months’ backup in your bank account in case some crazy stuff happens and I think part of that is when you look at the stats there were a lot of business owners and individuals that were living month to month because unemployment was low. We were able to get jobs. We were able to continue to bring that cashflow forward. Then we have this thing that came out of left field. It’s unprecedented where the government just shuts down the economy, and I believe this might be controversial but I’m gonna say it anyways, now that it’s happened once, it will happen again. In the drop of a hat it will happen again, in my opinion. So, you better be ready to work remote, and to your point, you better have a very strong value proposition. And yes, it’s always been the thing. I’ve been working in the marketing business for 30 years. Marketing has always been the biggest challenge of businesses, the thing they pay the least attention to and it’s the most important piece to fill that funnel. But then your point is really, really poignant. It’s around that value proposition because as you said earlier, you may be competing against the forklift purchase with that limited budget that exists at that end customer.

Jeff: Exactly. And you also have to be positioned so that you can collaboratively agree on and create a business case with that prospect. Very often, you’re well-read, you’ve read the books. I’ve listened to your podcast. You’re talking to people current and you’ve been a student of sales for a long time, as I like to call it, so you know that today most sales people, even today when you say to a salesperson you have to have a compelling solution. You have to be able to present a business case, they still don’t realize that that has to be collaboratively agreed to with the prospect. They have to be the ones to opt in or opt out of your sales cycle, and that’s what they want from you. They want to be sold to that way. They want to buy that way. In fact, flip it around, they wanna experience a buying cycle, not a sales cycle, which means they collaboratively work with you, they agree to the next step, and you paint that into a picture that fits them and feels good to them.

George: Well, and I read an interesting stat the other day. We’ve been doing a bunch of research in one of our divisions around the enterprise sales cycle and never before have you had a more educated buyer. And now we have to have a buyer’s journey that works with that. They wanna read the white paper. They want to attend the webinar. They want to do their due diligence without having someone feed it to them, and I believe that if you have the right content online, you actually can move through some of those stages in the pipelines. I wanna vet that with you. You are a sales expert. Secondly, I love the zebra thing. I’m gonna use that. But in your opinion, how effective are most organizations in embracing this modern buyer’s dream?


Embracing Modern Buyer’s Dream

Jeff: Not very. I love your theme of being a local expert. That’s what a buyer wants from you. They want to know that you have answers to questions that they don’t even know to ask so that you can keep them out of trouble. And the only way you can do that is if you know your prospect. You know the individual you’re calling on. You know the business. You know what they face competitively. And you bring a solution to them that is specific to their requirements and you can prove it. But you have to give them that, like you called it the buyer’s journey. I like to call it a buyer’s journey because they’re always in charge. Whether we try to empower them that way or not, they’re always in charge, and if we also work to empower them to get on their side of the desk and create materials, present materials, offer up materials and even free solutions that don’t benefit us but do benefit them, I think then we are creating an environment where we can become, in their eyes, the local expert.

George: So, when we talk about the profile of an organization’s perfect customer, we call them a zebra, and if we focus on finding those buyer personas that we are a perfect fit for and give them the right level of content so that they can discover on their own, because that’s the journey that we like to go through in buying. I’m wondering if you could validate this thought. I find that when we articulate to an organization, when we’re training an organization or we’re making a digital transformation saying you need to adopt these new ways of doing business, to give them an analog of think of the last thing that you bought. And I have yet to have this bite me in the ass. It’s think of the last thing you bought and how much research you did. And usually you’ll get some sort of answer around, yeah, you know, I bought these new pair of shoes or I bought tires for my vehicle. And I’m not even talking about a big purchase. I’m talking like $300 or $400 or something. I’m not talking about buying a new home or buying a cabin at the lake or a boat or something like that. I’m talking about even some of the smaller purchases, the level of research that we are doing on every purchase is massive.

Jeff: That’s a really good analogy for a word picture. I just bought a lawnmower. My lawnmower died and I did a lot of research. I checked out who I was buying it from. I checked out the product. I watched videos. I read reviews. It’s exactly like you just portrayed. I did my homework. I did my best to buy local but with the current situation I couldn’t actually find the model I wanted locally because they aren’t able to get product right now, which believe it or not, even that’s tied in with the world economy and the global supply chain. Your point is well-taken. People have access to information. They’re gonna check you out and they want to. In fact, like you were talking about research before, I think you’ve probably heard this one. They say that 60% to 70% of the buying decision is done before they ever even contact you. That’s what they prefer. Whether you’re one of those that does a great job of providing them the information in the context and in the place where they’re looking for it or not will determine how well you do. But then once they do contact you, you have to execute that much more flawlessly because there’s less time to have the impact versus what you might have had before as an individual contributor sales person.

George: I’d love to get your opinion on this but I really believe what you’re talking about when it comes to zebras is something that is getting a lot of air time, and that’s that buyer persona concept. I love how people are taking your zebra thing and saying, oh I got this new idea. We’re gonna come up with buyer personas. Could we talk a little bit about, when you talk about zebras though, I believe that it’s not just one. It is finding those perfect customer profiles, but it’s not just one, correct?


Finding Perfect Customer Profiles

Jeff: Correct. Yeah, it can be multiple profiles based on a solution, it could be based on a vertical. Very often they’re different or maybe a combination of products that you sell to a given marketplace. In fact, all of our clients have multiple zebras. What we’ve done with it recently, well in fact the guy who coined the term zebra. I’m not even the guy that coined the term zebra. What he challenged us to do, and he’s still a friend and he’s still a business advisor, and what he challenged us to do after he read our book was he said, Jeff, you’ve got the seven attributes of the zebra that we use to grow businesses and it takes a little time to put it together and you need the organization to participate so it’s cross-departmental. He said, that’s a lot of work. Can you automate this? And I thought we never could, frankly. But what we’ve done recently is we’ve created from our database of knowledge of other customers and the scraping that we’ve done in the last two years to create this product, all you have to do, if you’re a Salesforce user you go to an opportunity and you say, this is a good customer or this is a prospect that I’m about to close or this is one I know I’m gonna close. Any of those scenarios you just say, this is a good one. Maybe you don’t even know why. And you click on a button that we put inside of Salesforce for you. It will go out and it will find up to five companies that look and feel just like that one.

George: Well, to every sales person listening, that’s music to their ears because we can never have enough prospects. You’re taking a page from the Facebook lookalike audience it seems, using the data to identify five other opportunities. Is that correct?

Jeff: That is exactly right.

George: We live in an amazing time, in 2020, all this access to data. I wanna talk a little bit about the book because I really enjoyed Selling to Zebras. This book in 2010 was recognized as one of the best sales books of all time by sales gurus, and you were identified as one of the best sales authors. I could see that just by speaking to you in this short period of time. You definitely know what you’re talking about, but what was the impetus of the book and obviously you accomplished the goal of getting your message out there. Congratulations with all the success.


Jeff Koser – One of the Best Sales Authors

Jeff: Oh, thank you. We were humbled actually by the awards. We applied for four awards and we were finalists for all four and we won two of them. And we’re really not authors, my son and I are not authors. We just applied what we had learned. I actually gleaned a lot of help from a lot of other books that I had read. And as you know, a good sales process, there’s a lot of good sales processes out there. There’s certain components of a good process. Most good books talk about the same thing relative to good sales process. But what was different about ours was what you talked about on a previous podcast that I just listened to that you put out there about churn. Oftentimes we don’t contact the customer. After we built this fabulous value proposition for them, we don’t stick around to make sure that the value proposition and the promises that were made even by the buyer to their own organization are actually fulfilled and achieved. And that’s what we closed the loop on. It’s making sure that you, we call it forced success. It’s a key part of what we do, so when you sell in creative business case that prospect is going to expect to actually achieve it. And a lot of times they’re their own worst enemy. They get in their own way so we have to find out and we have to figure out ways of helping them gain adoption, get the value that they promised their organization, crash through that, and then we’ve earned the right to ask them for the business again, meaning we’ve asked them for the right to renew. We’ve asked them to expand with us so we’ve created a perfect platform for land and expand and it breeds its own success.

George: This is an interesting thing and I really wanna interrogate this a little bit more because I think you’re really getting to the core of a successful relationship with a long-term customer. I believe that you could tell enough lies and you come up with a value proposition. You pretty much sell anything to anybody once if you’re good at talking and positioning but that’s not the win. The win is getting the repeat customer that you’re able to, and to your point, you put a value proposition out there, a brand promise to seal the deal, to get that initial signature, and then we never go back to the value proposition until we need to either save the deal or we’re moving the position to an upsell. It’s an enormous challenge that organizations face and I see some companies starting to adopt this idea of we’re gonna use social selling principles, whether it be demand gens for email marketing, texting, smoke signals, whatever it might be to get that customer into our funnel, but then it doesn’t just stop at the close. I find that it is a very difficult discussion to have with a marketer that you need to stay involved in the sale after the sale and into the retention and growth of the customer. How did we get to this point where marketing, all they’re concerned with is getting the lead and they don’t understand that their job is to provide air cover to the brand promise throughout the entire cycle of that customer into the adoption phase, and they should be using some of that bloody budget to get the lead to continue to keep the customer, ’cause it’s way easier to upsell and retain a client that you’ve been working with for three years than it is to go get some new joker that may not be a zebra. May just be a zebra imposter.

Jeff: You’re absolutely right. It is a lot less expensive. You can just call them up if you have a relationship. And if you did achieve the promises, you probably still have the relationship with the person we call power who’s the person that can buy originally, even without a budget, and who can buy more from you if you’ve established yourself and your relationship continued to grow as a result of actually achieving the business case.

George: The one thing I wanna highlight and I want sellers to understand this, and I am calling out marketers so if there are some marketers that would like to take on that challenge and tell me that I’m full of it, please reach out to us on LinkedIn with that comment, but I do find it’s a real challenge. But the other thing that I wanna speak to is churn is happening because the competitor is coming in and talking about the value proposition that you promised out of the gate and you haven’t highlighted that you are delivering that value proposition. So, the minute that you make the sale, you’re under attack. And it’s everyone else that is going, oh, that’s my zebra too. I’m gonna come in here and I’m gonna do everything I can to take that business away, so we have to have a love for success because for success is where you’re calling out you came to us for x, we delivered x squared so we over-delivered and now we’re positioned to continue to solve more problems for you even though there’s all of these forces that are attacking that customer trying to steal it away.

Jeff: And the competitor, like you said, is coming after them with their best and brightest, where very often as companies we move that sale over to a different group in the company that isn’t as equipped, either to preserve it or to deliver on the promises, which is another classic mistake.

George: I wanna point at that for a moment. Do you believe that the problem is, is we don’t pay customer success as much as we should be paying and we’re just paying the hunters. When we go into sales organizations we look at the comp models, you’re paying a lot of money to get that lead and to get it closed, and then you don’t have A players. And it’s not that the people aren’t great, it’s that the organization isn’t investing in them and giving them the tools and the budget to keep that customer and make them successful. It seems like we’re shooting ourselves in the foot I think.

Jeff: We are. It is that simple. We don’t give them the tools. We don’t even give them the transition properly, generally, from the sales’ success to the client success team so that they understand the persona of the customer, the business case, maybe where their strengths are, where their weaknesses are, what help they’re gonna need so that they can actually achieve it. And we certainly don’t give them the, like you were calling out marketing before, we don’t give them the marketing air cover to give them tools that will help them retain that client.

George: Well, I’m sure that you and I could continue to go on and on and on and talk sales for hours. I really appreciate some of these insights. I do have a couple of, I’m looking for a couple of takeaways. Our audience are sales professionals. They are budding business owners that are thinking about starting their first business. They are seasoned executives that have been involved in organizations. We try to cover off all of those personas when we put together the content for an episode. Could you give us just a couple of takeaways, regardless of which persona you are. If you were to give some advice and say here’s two things that you could do to see some immediate improvement in your organization or in yourself, what would those two tips be?


Advice From Jeff Koser

Jeff: The first one would be to ask and get an answer to what business problem do you solve for the customer? Very few companies actually know the answer to that. When you ask them, even executives, they’ll launch into stories about what their product does versus what business problem prompts a customer to buy. And the way you do that is you go back to your customer base and you ask them from their perspective the reason that they bought. What problem did they buy your solution to address? And then you also ask them what quantifiable value was created? And you’d be amazed, many people think that their solutions out there, especially software, have this esoteric value that you can’t measure. And we’ve yet to find a solution that can’t be measured and can’t be differentiated. And that’s the second question I would ask. After you understand what problem you solved, what is your differentiation? Why is it that you do it better than anybody else? And I would, again, verify that through your customer so that you have customer testimonials to back that up, because as sales people, as sales organizations, as marketing organizations, prospects are gonna divide by us, meaning they’re gonna believe less of what we say but they will believe what our customers say.

George: Those are two very compelling takeaways for our audience from this great 20 some odd minutes of amazing content. I knew that it was going to be a great episode. So Zebrafi, how do I find out more about Zebrafi? And also, where could our audience get a copy of Selling to Zebras?

Jeff: If you go to Zebrafi.com, Z-E-B-R-A-F-I, right on our website you can click and you can get a free copy of our book. And if they wanna contact me, it’s simple. It’s jeff@zebrafi.com.

George: Well Jeff, thanks for being a great guest. I’m sure that we’re gonna get some really good feedback from our listeners on this episode and enjoy the day.

Jeff: Thank you George.



George: Well, now you know what a zebra is. It is the perfect customer persona for your product, service, or offering. And Jeff has done a great job of building out this concept of the zebras and really moving to rather than a product-dumping type sales process into a more how do we solve the problem? We’ve talked a lot about that on the podcast, but I think Jeff brought it into a new light where he talks about the problem that sales organizations have, the way to solve it by using this methodology of finding your zebra, and then really understanding how you solve those problems. It also is important to note that he calls out something that I believe we’re going to experience over the next six, eight, 10 months, and that is you’re just gonna have to be better in order to win business because there’s a lot more competition for less budget, and having that very compelling buyer’s journey. Not a sales journey. It’s a buyer’s journey. How does your zebra buy your product or solution? 

George: An interesting stat from all the work that Jeff has been doing through Zebrafi is that 85% of the time sales executives are not speaking to the person that is the decision maker. It seems to me that that number is higher than other studies, but I think it might just be a part of this idea that we need to find the zebra, we need to position our product in that buyer’s journey to the various influencers, but then rather than wasting our time with those influencers, and not that all the time that we’re spending them is a waste, but as we start to move to the bottom of the funnel we need to get in contact with the decision makers, so some great insights there. The other piece is that whole, and you can tell how I really leaned in to the piece where he talked about we make the sale and then we don’t talk about the value proposition until we have a problem and we’re trying to keep the customer, or we need to upsell them, or we find an opportunity to upsell them. 

George: And I have really been a staunch proponent that we need to do a better job of adoption. We need to do a better job of getting that buyer to some sort of an adoption motion or a habit where they are using the solution or they’re interested in investigating whether the solution is working or not, so I’m glad that Jeff helped us validate that that is definitely something that he’s seeing as he works inside sales organizations. Thanks for joining us for this edition of the Conquer Local podcast. I hope you get a chance to read the book Selling to Zebras. It’s a fantastic read from award-winning co-author Jeff Koser. My name is George Leith. I’ll see you when I see you.

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