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Is Your ABM Strategy Really Just Sales Roulette? with Jill Rowley

I did a spot of gambling this last weekend, in the truest sense of the word. In Vegas to see a fight on Saturday, leading up to the event, I found myself bopping from table to table, testing the fates.

I rarely play games, be it card, board or video, they just don’t capture my attention for very long. This attention deficiency combined with my love of adrenaline and risk you know there’s only one game for me when it comes to Vegas – that’s right, the dumbest game you can ever play, the zero skill, house loaded, swing filled table game of Roulette. What a terrible idea.

To make matters worse I don’t play roulette like most people do: by the numbers. I only play the outer board and in amounts that ensure those adrenaline levels stay up. I don’t recommend this strategy to a friend. It’s not smart and the odds are not in my favor.

So, why am I detailing this in a post about ABM that features an interview with Jill Rowley, the industry’s seminal social selling evangelist?

Well, because I’m not sure that many things in modern day sales and marketing are done in a much different manner than the haphazard “see what falls” nature of a game dating back to 18th century France.

For a quick primer on why I feel this way, you only need to do a spot of quick research about what’s not working in sales currently. According to IDC, nearly 57% of B2B prospects and customers feel that their sales teams are not prepared for the first meeting. That’s an incredible amount of waste. In fact, we experience this all of the time, most recently in our search to implement a new sales engagement tool. I won’t name any names here, but we spoke to the top five vendors in the space and none of the initial conversations were what I would deem prepared. So, I think that IDC stat is actually a bit rosier than reality.

A few months ago I was asked by the team over at Flip My Funnel to be an ABM Professor and while I’m not quite sure what that means yet (details forthcoming at #FlipMyFunnel Boston), it immediately sparked my curiosity. Curiosity in terms of the ABM IQ of the average sales pro.

To teach something you first have to understand where the class is starting. I needed a benchmark.

Enter Jill Rowley

I decided to reach out to Jill on Twitter, primarily to feel cool. Twitter is how cool people “reach out.” I really don’t like Twitter DMs, I feel like it’s for celebrity and sports star hookups. But regardless, I did it. We soon coordinated a time where I could tap into her knowledge on the state of sales skills. And who better? Jill jet sets from SaaS sales team to SaaS sales team evangelizing “social selling” and its tenets – leaving teams of indoctrinated sales pros in her wake.

The undertow of Jill is powerful. To speak to Jill is to feel bowled over by enthusiasm for sales, something that is traditionally a four letter word. Jill has accepted the challenge of making sales a role that actually helps buyers rather than leaving the buyer with a desire to kill.

Jill has her work cut out for her

For all of these reasons Jill was the perfect place to answer some of my big questions about the state of the union when it comes to sales skillsets and the general preparedness of sales for technology enabled processes such as modern ABM.

When we spoke I went right for my big looming question, “Are we treating strategies like ABM and social selling a bit like roulette?” Meaning of course, that we are hoping for the best, but not recognizing the vast chasm of change which must be bridged.

Jill speaks in anecdotes, examples of successful connections that led to relationships that led to a successful business transaction. Our call lasted over an hour and during that time I think she got through two stories which is to say that these are not one and done analogies. It is very evident that social selling takes time – it’s not transactional.

Jill’s stories often begin with very simple movements like an introduction. She enjoys connecting (ABC – Always be Connecting) and when she talks about it you get the inherent sense that she knows how to do it well, unlike many of the bad actors who dole out superficial Twitter mashups and LinkedIn dates. Jill’s connections are, well, intentional. She curates relationships that make sense, and for everyone involved. Immediately I start to think about how hard this is going to be to teach.

Moving past “connecting” the story continues to take shape. She outlines how she begins consuming the online content of one of the execs whose organization she finds interesting. Watching YouTube videos, reading blogs she begins to adopt the lexicon of this executive.

Only now, probably thirty mins into this talk do I realize she intends to sell this exec something. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still not straight line but I start to see a general direction.

Lexicon in hand Jill then crafts a message to this exec using many of the same phrases and terms she discovered online in her research. The message has no direct call to action of benefit to Jill, the value is all centered around the executive. This is key.

All of this research. All of this planning. Yet the focus is always on the buyer. What do THEY get?

This alone lets me know that ABM has a long road ahead when it comes to educating the sales reps of today and transitioning them into the sales pros of tomorrow. 

Establishing a rapport with someone today is incredibly difficult

Think about all that we do to avoid being sold, consciously at least. Sales reps have become inhuman and in many cases non-human. Look at companies like Atlassian who brag about their lack of sales staff. Make no mistake about it, this is due to the negative connotation of “sales.” With equal honestly, let’s all admit that sales did this to themselves. On my way into the office today I deleted no less than 50 sales-focused messages, draped in faux rapport and transparent in the fact that they provide zero value to me.

An email from a sales development rep I’ve never spoken to, who’s website I’ve never visited, hoping that I appreciate his persistence. I don’t know one does. The push has become the pull when it comes to modern day sales (read ABM, read Social Selling) and the pull is driven by rapport and ultimately trust. Trust is incredibly volatile and therefore the skillset of the modern sales pro must be one of we would normally attribute to other functions of the organization. The executive team, the customer service group, even the advisor. If you’re reading this and disagreeing, then you’re part of the problem, friend.

Back to Jill, who is now an hour deep into this story

By now she’s received an intro from the executive she engaged through many interactions over email over to a point of contact that would love her services. The same point of contact she had actually met and mentored through a past sales training engagement. A motivated champion is the life blood of traditional sales relationship building – and still 50% of the time the deal doesn’t get done. A champion with executive backing, now that makes all the difference. Tell the truth, how tempted would you have been to enter an org through a known champion in the dept. you intent to sell to? Be honest.

Don’t shoot me Jill, but I think the term social selling terrible. Things need names. Jargon drives familiarity and that drives consistency. Anyone at any of my companies will tell you that I am perhaps the greatest offender of constantly injecting new and often terrible terms and phrases into our lexicon. I get it. The “buzzy” nature is not why I dislike social selling. I dislike it for the same reason that many dislike ABM, social selling is not limited to social and ABM is not limited to marketing – without a doubt however what Jill does and teaches is a fundamental tenet of ABM. Her methods are intelligent, intentional and highly personalized. They take really well trained, self-aware professionals to execute well.

I see we have a long way to go to elevate our ABM and sales IQs, overcoming decades of uninspired routine and reliance on luck. I see that we ABM have our work cut out for us. Because based on the state of my inbox and LinkedIn InMail each morning, a lot of reps are more than comfortable putting a couple grand on the outside and letting it ride.

Ready to rock with ABM? Download Monsters of Funnel II: Back to Stack. You’ll get the ultimate tech stack (and tactics) to achieve face-melting success with account-based marketing!

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