“Design Thinking” A NEW Way Of SMASHING Sales Quotas

Mark Donnolo is a managing partner of SalesGlobe and the founder of the SalesGlobe Forum. He has over 25 years of experience as a leading sales effectiveness consultant with companies such as IBM, Office Depot, LexisNexis, Comcast, KPMG, Iron Mountain, ATT, and Accenture.

In this episode of the Salesman Podcast, Mark explains what design thinking is and how it can help us improve our sales process.

You'll learn:

Sponsored by:

Featured on this episode:

Host - Will Barron
Founder of Salesman.org
Guest - Mark Donnolo
Founder and Managing Partner at SalesGlobe

Resources:

 

Transcript

Will Barron:

Coming up on today's episode of The Salesman's podcast.

 

Mark Donnolo:

Design thinking is taking a different look at the problem. But also a lot of the times what we do, especially in sales when we start out working on a customer problem or what the customer is looking for, we listen to what the customer is saying, and then we interpret what they're saying in our own minds, in our own words, and come back to them with maybe the last thing that we did that was closest to it. So, “Where's the last proposal that I did that was most like what I just heard?” Design thinking is stopping and it's saying, “Hey, let's take that problem and let's tear that apart and understand what's behind it. 

What's the root cause behind that?”

Will Barron:

Hello Sales Nation. I'm Will Baron, host of The Salesman podcast, the world's most listened to B2B show. If you haven't already, make sure to click subscribe. And with that, let's meet today's guest.

 

Mark Donnolo:

Hi everybody, I'm Mark Donnolo. I'm managing partner of SalesGlobe, and I'm what you might call an arts school MBA. So I went to art school years ago, and then went off to business school, got my business degree, and went into sales and consulting. And then I figured out how to put all the creative together with the qualitative and the analytical. So how to do left brain and right brain thinking for sales solutions.

 

Will Barron:

On this episode with Mark, we're diving into design thinking for sales, what the heck that actually means in the real world for us day to day quota-carrying sales professionals, how we can implement it to differentiate ourselves, our brand, our organisations from the competition, because they are definitely not doing this. And I hope there's a tonne of value in this episode, so let's jump right in.

 

What is Design Thinking? · [01:40]

 

Will Barron:

What the heck is design thinking, Mark?

 

“Design thinking is stopping and it's saying, “Hey, let's take that problem and let's tear that apart and understand what's behind it, what's the root cause behind that? And let's come up with something that is maybe a differentiated starting point from what the competitor is going to do.” – Mark Donnolo · [01:44] 

 

Mark Donnolo:

Design thinking is taking a different look at the problem, Will. So a lot of times what we do, especially in sales when we start out working on a customer problem, or what the customer is looking for, we listen to what the customer is saying, and then we interpret what the customer is saying in our own minds, in our own words, and come back to them with maybe the last thing that we did that was closest to it. So, “Where's the last proposal that I did that was most like what I just heard?” Design thinking is stopping and it's saying, “Hey, let's take that problem and let's tear that apart and understand what's behind it, what's the root cause behind that? And let's come up with something that is maybe a differentiated starting point from what the competitor is going to do.”

 

Mark Donnolo:

So if the competitor hears what we hear and they do the same types of things that we normally do, which is just respond with the last thing that I did, by using design thinking you're going to redefine the problem and you're going to come back with something different, because you're starting in a different place. And then I'll talk with you about how we break that apart and what we actually do with it.

 

The Link Between Design Thinking and Sales Success · [02:50] 

 

Will Barron:

So immediately it seems like there's a feedback loop here potentially, which I've never contemplated before. But if our next action on hearing someone's problem is to revert back to a perception or something that we've done in the past, if we weren't very successful with that, we've got a feedback loop of just doing rubbish work over and over. If we are good at what we do, perhaps we have an inadvertent feedback loop of being great at what we're doing, but not knowing why or how it's worked. Does that factor into some of this? Because that seems to be a real logical way of describing the way that some salespeople crush it and don't know how they're crushing it, and some salespeople always get kind of stuck in the middle.

 

Mark Donnolo:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Well, think about it this way too, which is how can I not be just good, but how can I think bigger about what I'm doing? Right? I run into this all the time, which is I go into production mode, I go into operations mode in business development or sales, because I know how to do what I do really well, right? So I just go into that loop, into that cycle, and I'm getting really good results. But how do you pull back and do something differently that's going to maybe elevate you and make you think bigger? So that's always the big challenge, I think, for me and for a lot of people, is how do I get out of my rogue mode of doing what's made me successful and looking at it to do something that's going to be significantly bigger? And that's hard to do. You've got to change your mind frame to do that.

 

Mark Donnolo:

For a lot of people, if you're doing well, there's no real reason to do it. But if you really want to be aspirational about what you really do in terms of significant growth, yeah. So I think a lot of high performers are doing it naturally. I think some high performers do it because they really think about it. And these have to be the opportunities that are really worth thinking about, or how do you change the way you work on all opportunities so you just think differently about how you go to market?

 

How B2B Salespeople can Solve Buyer Problems Using Design Thinking · [04:41]

 

Will Barron:

Got it. Okay. So this initially makes sense to me for someone who is either perhaps a solo entrepreneur, or they're a consultant, or they're providing a service which they can increase the scope of, or decrease the scope of, depending on budget and priorities and that side of things, as they're going through the sales process. How does this look for the B2B sales professional who perhaps has a product that's somewhat fixed, even if it's software and maybe can be twisted and manipulated to the customer's needs on a certain extent? What can they do to think bigger picture, have more scope? What can they do personally to get themselves adding more value in this process?

 

Mark Donnolo:

Well, first thing, and I think it applies to all situations, but first thing is when you hear what the customer is looking for, don't immediately respond to that with an answer. So you might call it the problem statement, right? So a lot of people come to you with a problem statement. They say, “Will, what we have right now is just too expensive. We need to cut the cost of,” fill in the blank. Software, furniture, facilities, whatever it might be. “We need to cut the cost of that.” The first thing we think of is, “Okay, I'm going to go back and figure out how to cut the cost of that. Can I lower price? Is there anything I can give on margin? What if they order in quantity? Can we do something there?” So I start trying to solve that problem statement, and I solve it the way I'm usually used to doing that. Now, that'll apply to any situation. It could be whether you're selling a fixed product, or it could be a solution.

 

“The first step is to take that problem statement and turn that into a challenge question. Okay? So a couple of things here. First of all, a question is much more provocative than a statement. So if I can turn that into a question, it evokes thought and it evokes ideas. And there is a difference between the problem statement and the challenge question in that what I'm doing to get to the challenge question is I'm understanding the story behind what's going on.” – Mark Donnolo · [06:23] 

 

Mark Donnolo:

So the first step in this, and there are a couple of really big important steps that can just change the way you think about it, the first step is to take that problem statement and turn that into a challenge question. Okay? So a couple of things here. First of all, a question is much more provocative than a statement. So if I can turn that into a question, it evokes thought and it evokes ideas. And there is a difference between the problem statement and the challenge question in that what I'm doing to get to the challenge question is I'm understanding the story behind what's going on.

 

Mark Donnolo:

So I'll give you a real simple example, and I use this in the new book, which is my daughter, she's in college at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill in the US, and her Jeep broke down about a year ago. And she called me from the side of the highway and she said, “The engine froze up. It just stopped.” We had it towed off by AAA to one of their authorised service centres. And they were all too happy to tell me that the oil had dried up in the engine because she hadn't replaced the oil. So they were just going to have to replace the engine, right? So that's a cool $5000. So, “While you're deciding that, Mark, we're only going to charge you $20 a day to park your car in a lot. But if you want to have a second opinion, haul it off.”

 

Mark Donnolo:

So where this really hit home for me, and this is a really simple example, is I started calling around. Being a typical dad, I'm like, “I'm not going to pay $5000 for an engine.” So I started calling around different shops, going on the internet, and everybody was giving me quotes for rebuilt engines etc. And then this one guy got on, and his name was Jimmy and he had this New York accent. He was out of Welling, North Carolina, which is kind of funny. And Jimmy said, “So tell me the story, Mark.” And I'm like, “What do you mean, tell me the story?” “Tell me the story of the car. When did you get it?” And I said, “Well Jimmy, I bought it a couple of years ago. I think I paid too much for it.” “Why do you think you paid too much for it?” He starts going over the whole story. “So tell me about how you took care of the car, the oil changes and everything?” And he went through the whole thing. And I said, “Well, the last time I got an oil change was,” and I told him the month, and he goes, “Ah, hmm, okay.” And he said, “Well bring it in, and I'll take a look at it.”

 

Mark Donnolo:

So we brought it in, he takes a look at it, and he starts diagnosing backwards. The long and short of it, he doesn't go to replace the engine. He finds a rag in the engine where the oil had been changed the last time by another shop. And I thought it was a plant, but he found this rag, and it turned into this whole thing where we went back to the insurance company and we got a free engine, because the last place had done it incorrectly. But he was asking questions and understanding the story and trying to find the root cause of what was going on, which was just amazing. So car mechanic, tremendous job, you can apply that to how you think, which is if you take every customer problem, or the ones that are really significant, the ones that matter, and you start asking the customers the question, “Tell me the story. So why do you need to lower the cost? What's driving that? Who's involved in that decision? Who uses the product? Tell me about when this started?”

 

Mark Donnolo:

One example I can think of like that, we started diving in with a client of ours, and what they found is it wasn't a cost issue, and it wasn't about the price. They were trying to bring the cost down because they were missing marketing resources, so they were trying to find other ways of getting this thing done. They were missing marketing resources that they had laid off in the organisation because of cost constraints. So we were able to come in and say, “Well, if we can provide you with a marketing solution to help with your product, how would that help?” It was a completely different conversation to what the competitor was having, because they were trying to cut costs.

 

“If you just said one thing and you said, “Let me understand the story behind what it means to this customer, and let me try to restate that in terms of what's behind it. So I want to understand that story.” You will start from a different position. That alone will help you to start thinking differently about the problem, while your competitors are doing the same thing that you would have done normally.” – Mark Donnolo · [10:11] 

 

Mark Donnolo:

So by tearing apart and disaggregating what the story is, you can start to break it into its components and you can start to restate what that challenge question is. So right in that one thing, if you just said one thing and you said, “Let me understand the story behind what it means to this customer, and let me try to restate that in terms of what's behind it. So I want to understand that story.” You will start from a different position. That alone will help you to start thinking differently about the problem, while your competitors are doing the same thing that you would have done normally.

 

Why Design Thinking is Perfect for Understanding the Customer Journey · [10:33] 

 

Will Barron:

How does this interact with the buyer's journey? What I mean by this is perhaps 20 years ago, we would be able to ask these questions at the top of the conversation, before the buyer had done a tonne of research, before they'd made … how fragile the decisions that they'd made themselves are, versus what we can offer them with more information, perhaps, and consulting on that front. But they wouldn't have made many decisions, and they're just looking for the help, right? Whereas now, clearly, we've got all the statistics, that people are further down the buyer's journey. Is this only appropriate if we catch them at a certain point in the buyer's journey, or can this be used at the far end of it, perhaps if they're comparing is with other products and services and they've half made a decision, at least on what the problem is, if not on the end supplier of the solution?

 

Mark Donnolo:

Right, right. So they're in the process where they're going through their convergent thinking. So what that means is they've narrowed it down, and they're bringing it down to the answer, right? We can then play into that if we want to, but if we play into that, we're going to be playing the game that they're playing, that they've defined, and that everybody else is playing. So there are going to be a limited number of variables in that game because they're moving to that point. Think about your typical RFP situation, right? We're already going into the convergent thinking when we answer the RFP, because they've already thought about how they're going to structure the problem. I thought of one that we worked with just recently where they had the RFP all defined, they had the timeframe, this was a project, timeframe for the project defined, and we looked at it and we were like, “Well there's no way that can be done.” Well, somebody had helped them to shape the RFP, so we were feeding right into that funnel.

 

Mark Donnolo:

If you can bring them out of the convergent thinking by asking some divergent questions, so think about it as vertical thinking, bringing them back to the horizontal thinking. So how are we going to think about different ways of approaching this problem? If you can bring them back there through provocative informed questions and insight, so there's a role here in understanding about what the customer is dealing with in the questioning, and also understanding what's going on perhaps in their industry; if we can bring them back to that point by saying, “Well, what do you mean by” … so maybe they're going to work on a new sales strategy; “What do you mean by sales strategy? What is that?” And understanding how they interpret it. And in expanding that question, again, you can start to change the terms of the game.

 

Mark Donnolo:

So we do that all the time, because we just don't want to feed right into that same funnel. So, depending on your product, I think, going back to that questioning, just to understand. You think about that old American TV show, Colombo. Remember Colombo?

 

Will Barron:

No, but I know the gist.

 

Mark Donnolo:

Oh, okay. You're a little younger then. But Colombo, he'd be there in that tanned trench coat, and he always seemed like he didn't quite get it. And then, at the end, where you're like, “Well, the criminal's got him stumped,” he'd sit there and he'd go, “Well, let me ask you, Will, just one more question.” And he would ask you these questions, and he would evoke answers that would then lead him to the clue. So you never stop questioning. You have to keep questioning. As soon as we feed into that funnel, into that pipeline of convergent thinking, then we're playing the same game as everyone else.

 

Will Barron:

It sounds like the end of every episode of Scooby-Doo as well. I don't know why that came to the top of my mind, but that cartoon I used to watch as a child was always the same. The villain was always next to them in the room, dressed up as a monster or whatever it was.

 

Mark Donnolo:

That's- [crosstalk 00:13:58]

 

Customising Your Solutions to What the Customer Really Wants · [14:01] 

 

Will Barron:

Right. So I'm going to play devil's advocate slightly. I'm totally bought into what you're saying, and inadvertently I'm doing this with a couple of the partners that we're working with to increase the scope of the projects that we can do with them, versus just a podcast advertising. So I'm bought in. But to play devil's advocate, how do we know when this is appropriate to do from the perspective for what the customer actually wants? Because at some point, Sally must just want the faffing that she's done, all the research that she's done which has led down to a specific problem … she probably just wants to get that problem off her plate, right? So how do we know when we're going into a conversation and we're going to throw up all these other variables, and then Sally's going to hate us for it?

 

Mark Donnolo:

Yeah. Yes. Segmentation. Segmentation. You've got to know when to use this, right? So one solution, one approach, doesn't fit, obviously, all situations. We run into this quite a bit. When we work with buyers, they will tend to value either new ideas, “Help me figure this out. Help me come up with something that is a best practise. Something that I haven't thought of before. So how do others do it?” Or, “Help me think through the problem.” So that's one end of the spectrum.

 

Mark Donnolo:

The other end of the spectrum is, “Look, I need to get this done, and I need the result. I need the ROI. I need the financial outcome from this.” Because usually there's some financial outcome that's tied to any type of purchase or any type of project. So I think you've got to look and you've got to know, “Where are they on that spectrum?” We work with customers, with our clients, and directly with our clients, where we go, “Okay, this one is clearly an ROI functional buyer. They want to get this thing done. Trying to help them disaggregate a problem is going to be useless at this point.” So you can't use this in all situations. We have others that will say, “Look, we need new thinking. We just haven't been able to crack this thing.” This is what we call the ice cream headache, right? We always think we've got a good, sweet solution, we start eating it, and then we get this wicked headache, right? So, “We just haven't figured out the answer to this problem.”

 

“Some people and some solutions are more analytical, more process-oriented. They know what they're looking for. Some are a little bit more strategic, a little bit more creative. So you've got to sense where it is on that spectrum.” – Mark Donnolo · [16:13] 

 

Mark Donnolo:

So think about it in terms of HIppocrates' four humours. I don't know if you remember those. And they were the different personality types, right? Some people, and some solutions, are more analytical, more process-oriented. They know what they're looking for. Some are a little bit more strategic, a little bit more creative. So you've got to sense where it is on that spectrum.

 

The Questions We Should Ask to Suss Out Whether the Prospect is Already in the Buying Cycle · [17:12] 

 

Will Barron:

So it seems to me, when I was selling medical devices, that if I was dealing with a surgeon, they would want a solution. They would want to know what is working in the next hospital. They'd want insights, thoughts, ideas, to improve not just the fact that they want to buy a new camera system and some endoscopes, they'd want to improve the service as a whole and how that all integrated. Whether they can get the pictures for the patients elsewhere in the hospital, all this kind of stuff. But then I'd go to procurement, who also want to buy a camera system and some endoscopes, and they would have an RFP either listed out spec by spec by us, because the surgeon had bullied them into doing it, or by the competitor, in which case we're never going to win. So that, for me, was a logical break between the two individuals and how we'd perhaps approach conversations with them both. But if we're unsure, is there a question that we should ask that allows us to suss out very quickly whether someone is open to going a bit deeper into the discovery and the conversation behind the problem that they're trying to solve?

 

Mark Donnolo:

Yeah. Camera systems and endoscopes. Good example. So if you're already in procurement, it may be too late to have those kind of conversations until you can get back to the buyer and the presentations that you might have. If you're talking to the surgeons, you're not going to just fulfil a need. You're going to say, “Well tell me, how are you using this? Why do you need a new system? It's not just about cost.” Usually for them it's not about cost, right? It's probably about some type of performance, or something that they're looking for that it will do. So understanding how they're using it, what they're trying to solve for. Is it just the use of those cameras, or is there something more about the whole process that they're using, how they actually conduct that particular procedure or that type of operation? And you're obviously an expert in that area. If you understand those things, you can probably talk about the process they go through. So you're changing that conversation by understanding, again, the story behind how they got to the point where they need this.

 

Understand More About the Customer’s Problems Using Design Thinking · [18:24]

 

Will Barron:

Are there any standout questions we should be asking in general through this process? I know the answer is it depends, subject, individual, all that kind of stuff. But are there any questions that can be asked regularly that have potentially profound answers when we're design thinking new solutions, as opposed to just shoving a product pitch down someone's throat?

 

“I think the first thing to start with is obviously knowing you are an expert in what you do, but always start with humility. So no matter how much I learn about something, I'll always ask the customer or ask the client what they mean when they're talking about something. What it means to them. What are they running into? So I think the first thing is breaking it down and not taking the position of, “Oh, I know the answer.” Right? I want to break it down, and I want to say, “Well, let me understand more about the situation.” – Mark Donnolo · [19:00] 

 

Mark Donnolo:

I think it's around the big Ws, Will, and you can work off of those, I think, to learn and to help position yourself. So I think the first thing to start with is obviously knowing you are an expert what you do, but always start with humility. So no matter how much I learn about something, I'll always ask the customer or ask the client what they mean when they're talking about something. What it means to them. What are they running into? So I think the first thing is breaking it down and not taking the position of, “Oh, I know the answer.” Right? I want to break it down, and I want to say, “Well, let me understand more about the situation.” 

 

Mark Donnolo:

So when I say the big Ws, it's, okay, what is it you're trying to solve for? Probably the biggest W, once you ask the, “What is it you're trying to solve for?” Is why. And why runs at a few levels. Why runs at, “Well, why do you want to solve this small W,” which is, “Well, there's something that's not working with what we're doing now.” Then there's the bigger why; “Oh. Well, as an organisation, we want to be able to accomplish X.” Or, “As an executive, I want to be able to accomplish something.” So the bigger why can open up a lot of questions. When. When did this start to happen? Who was involved? And then turning those questions from the diagnosis level. So we're trying to understand the story; turning those same questions to the solution vision. 

 

Mark Donnolo:

And what I mean by that is you take the Ws and you just turn them in the other direction. You go, “Okay, well what is it that would like success for you 18 months from now?” Or whatever that time frame might be. “Why would that be a success? Who would be involved? How would you roll that out? Would it be something you would just use right away, or is there some other process that has to fit in with it?” So we start to create a solution vision. So, “Oh, okay, so what I'm hearing, Will, is it's really these two or three things that are coming together that matter, right?”

 

Mark Donnolo:

So I'm just using some basic questions about understand the problem and then turn it the other way and start to articulate what the vision might be for what they're trying to do. And you're having that conversation with them, and you're probably having a conversation that competitors are not having, if you're having those kind of conversations. But the only way you can have those conversations if if you approach it from, like I said, an attitude of humility and curiosity, right? “I really want to learn something about what you're doing, Will. I don't want to just tell you what I think the answer is.”

 

Using Design Thinking to Address Buyer Issues in a Face-to-face Meeting · [21:33] 

 

Will Barron:

And how does this look in a … I'm trying to drill it down and make it overly obvious and practical here, because I think there's some nuance to this conversation. How does this look very literally in a meeting? Is this we sit down, we ask a bunch of questions, we make a tonne of notes, and then we say, “Right, I'll speak to you in a week. I'm going to go back, speak to our team, our product specialists, industry experts,” whatever it is, and then we present them something? Or is this something we are working on ad hoc in the meeting, and then we come up with a rough solution at the end of it?

 

Mark Donnolo:

I want to capture them in the meeting. Because I want to think with them. So if I go away, if I take all this information, squirrel it away, and then I go away and I come back with something, what am I doing? Well, I'm taking a guess. I may or may not be right. I may not even be close. But if I talk in the meeting and I work through the thinking with them, and it's genuine, live thinking. I'm not sitting there trying to pretend I'm thinking. It's genuine, live thinking, and I'm reflecting back what they're saying. Then I can sense whether I'm on track or not. Again, they're probably not having those conversations with others.

 

“If I go into that meeting, and this is a technique we use; you go into the meeting, you don't bring any collateral. I'm not bringing my brochures, I'm not bringing any of my stuff that I have on my iPad. What I'm bringing is I'm bringing a pad and a pencil. And what's that doing? Well, it's showing that I'm receptive and I'm open to the conversation. I'm thinking.” – Mark Donnolo · [22:33] 

 

Mark Donnolo:

If I go into that meeting, and this is a technique we use; you go into the meeting, you don't bring any collateral. I'm not bringing my brochures, I'm not bringing any of my stuff that I have on my iPad. What I'm bringing is I'm bringing a pad and a pencil. And what's that doing? Well, it's showing that I'm receptive and I'm open to the conversation. I'm thinking. And then what I'm doing, and this is a technique that we teach a lot of salespeople to do, is I'm taking the complexity. As I'm asking those questions, there are a lot of things coming out. A lot of issues coming out. And I'm taking that complexity and I'm codifying it into something that's simpler. So if I can help a customer or a client take all this stuff that they're trying to deal with and I can bring it down to a couple of elements, and I say, “Will, it sounds like you're talking about a couple of things, and there's usually some dynamic relationship between those. So it looks like this relates to this to this. And that probably captures a lot of what you're talking about. Right, Will?” “Well yeah, I hadn't thought about it that way.”

 

Mark Donnolo:

And so we start developing a common way of thinking about this new idea. Then, when I go back and put together the proposal, I've already started to align with them. So I want to do that development with them, right on the pad of paper, or on a flip chart. I don't want to be pulling out a brochure and showing anything. I just want to be having a conversation. Now, this takes some skill, right? You have to develop this. But this is a differentiator when you can have those kind of conversations.

 

Mark and Will Role-play an Ideal Design Thinking Buyer-Seller Scenario · [26:01] 

 

Will Barron:

So if you had either a pad of paper, what would be the headings that you'd be working through as you go through the conversation? Or if you had a flip board, what would be the heading of each piece of paper before it got flipped over?

 

Mark Donnolo:

Well, maybe the best way to do that is if you could maybe play the role with me here. So maybe tell me. So okay, you're the customer, and I've walked in. So really my first heading is just listen, right? I just need to listen to what you're saying. Okay? So if you're the customer, what kind of thing … I'm not sure what I'm selling you-

 

Will Barron:

Well, you're selling me an accountancy service, because I've just changed accountants, and I'll tell you why. And I don't expect anyone in the audience to be pitching me software, because I've just bought it and we're all set up. With that in mind, Sales Nation, I'll buy from you for anything, but I've solved this problem already. So, my accounts are terrible. The bookkeeping is all over the place. I've been a solopreneur up until … well, still at this point, but now having a small team beneath me. I haven't had to do payments or anything, so it's all worked fine by me doing one spreadsheet a year and trying to amalgamate it all. Now I'm having to pay VAT, there's different taxes, we're due different tax breaks on things, and so it's getting more and more complicated. And so, I need selling some kind of software and accountancy firm solution. That's what I'm looking for.

 

Mark Donnolo:

Ah, good, good. So tell me, Will, where are you heading as a business? Are you thinking of expanding, or are you going to stay about the same size you are right now? What do you envision over the next year or two?

 

Will Barron:

So revenue is essentially doubling every year. Looking at employing people, which means PAYE here in the UK, which I've no idea how to do. I can pay myself using dividends and stuff like that, so that's quite simple, but that's got to come into it. And then overall monitoring cashflow with employees is obviously going to become important, because if I'm skint or the business is skint right now, I just eat beans on toast for a week and we sort out the cashflow. Clearly I've got to be able to project things forward so my future team has the employability and their wages are secure moving forward.

 

Mark Donnolo:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). And so what's been happening to this point? It sounds like you started out pretty simple, but it's just the complexity has increased as the business has grown.

 

Will Barron:

Very literally that. Just everything's getting more and more complex and taking more and more time. And clearly, my time should be spent elsewhere, as opposed to the accounting.

 

Mark Donnolo:

Yeah, yeah, yeah. So what I'm hearing is that it's not just an accounting solution, but you've got to do something to enable you. Because what's happening is it's really a productivity question for you and for the business, right? So you're doing a lot of functional things, Will, when in fact you should be doing the big thinking. You should be thinking about where the business is going, and you should be able to conceptualise the creative work, right? So you might need an accounting solution, but you might also need some resources, as you mentioned before, to get that done, right?

 

Mark Donnolo:

And so you can do the same things you've been doing before, and you can automate that. Or you could say, “Hey, I need some help to get it done.” Some intelligent hands to get that done. Bigger picture, you might want to understand where the business is heading just in terms of your strategic plan, because there may be some better ways of thinking about how you're growing your business. How you're structuring your business, are you thinking about future shareholders? Is it going to allow you to expand in those areas? So there are some strategic tax planning things you may be doing that software is simply not going to have, and your run of the mill accounting firm's not going to know that. You need probably some strategic advice.

 

Mark Donnolo:

It really just depends, Will, on how far you want to grow and how big you want to think in terms of what your role is.

 

How Salespeople can Set the Scene with Questions that Demonstrate Their Competence and Expertise in Solving Problems · [27:55] 

 

Will Barron:

Love it. Love it. Let's cut it here, because there's three things I wrote down. And again, I don't know if you do this consciously, or whether you're just that legendary at all of this, Mark, that you do it subconsciously. So tell me if you're doing this consciously or not. You said, “What I'm hearing,” and then you kind of gave it back to me, I guess to clarify. Is that right? 

 

Mark Donnolo:

Right. Right. Yeah, conscious. Yeah.

 

Will Barron:

Good. Then you said, “You should be,” and depending on, I guess, the stature of the individual, the person that you're meeting with and all that kind of stuff, maybe we could word that slightly differently. Obviously in our conversation it's appropriate. But you said, “You should be X, Y, Z.” I guess this is painting the picture, right? This is setting the scene?

 

Mark Donnolo:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. So what I'm doing is I'm confirming that I'm hearing what you're saying, but then I'm also aligning with you by saying, “What I'm hearing, Will.” So I want to make sure that I'm stating it in the right way. So then we're aligning together as we do that. And then, when I say, “You should be,” or I could also replace that with, “You know, businesses that we work with like yours, Will, have done these kind of things.” I might not want to be quite as forceful about that. But what I'm doing is I'm starting to demonstrate competence and expertise to show you that I know what I'm speaking about. So I'm not just taking information in and saying, “Well, we've got a product, Will.” I'm saying, “Well, here's some best practises. Here's what you might want to think about.” And then what I'm trying to do there too is I'm trying to appeal to your aspiration. So you're saying, “Well, I want to grow the business.” “Well, Will, maybe you might want to be doing some different things with your time, right-

 

Will Barron:

Well, that's the other thing that I wrote down which I thought was really good. In my opinion it doesn't really mean much, but I thought it was good. You said, “You could do X.” And then you said, “Well, this, and you could do the same thing and automate it.” And even the way you were saying it was slightly laboured. You're hinting that the problem isn't really being solved, there's a better solution. And then you said, which again painted a picture in my mind, like visually, and then you said, “Or, bigger picture, X, Y, Z, X, Y, Z.” And immediately, if we had scales with the status quo answer on one side and then the bigger picture on the other, the bigger picture was more weighty, more visual, and even though I've solved my problem, hopefully, I should have probably asked you and had this conversation two weeks ago. I was getting more excited about the bigger picture thinking side of things, and perhaps I do need some bloody strategic advice, and I've made the wrong decision. So you're immediately unsettling my prior decisions and prior purchasing decisions on all of this.

 

Frameworks for Getting to the Root of Buyer Problems Instead of Proposing what You think is Right · [30:30]

 

Will Barron:

So again, is that the framework of we go, “Okay, well you could do this. Or here's a bigger picture scenario”?

 

Mark Donnolo:

Yeah. And it really depends on what your mind frame is. What your view is. Because you might say, “No, I just really want to get this accounting thing done, because I just want to solve this functional thing.” Or, if I appeal to your aspirations, you might go, “You know what? You're right. I really shouldn't be doing this. And there's tax planning stuff I probably don't know about, because the laws are changing all the time, and I could be missing out on something big here.” And I might give you a couple of examples, that, “Will, are you actually doing accelerated depreciation on your company-owned vehicles? You could be saving X thousand pounds a year on those.” And you might say, “Wow, I hadn't thought about that. Tell me more.”

 

How to Position Yourself as an Expert But Have a Conversation Different to the One Your Competition is Having · [31:23]

 

Will Barron:

Yeah. Good. So how much of this then … because I feel like we're building up a bit of a framework here, which is good, which translates to the audience, hopefully, and makes it applicable for them. How much of this is framework, knowing that we should, or even just having the permission in our own minds to ask these questions? How much of it is that side of things, and how much of it is truly being an expert in our industry and in our space? Because I don't want to make it out that this is a quick fix, if that's a big element of this as well.

 

Mark Donnolo:

Right. I think you've got to assume that there are a lot of experts in your space, right? The people that your customers are talking to are also experts. So then I think if you assume that level of expertise in the competition, then we're looking at the framework as a way to have different conversations and come up with different answers. So if I go through the big basics, take the problem statement, turn it into a challenge question. Then, and we haven't talked about this, maybe that's another episode, let's take that challenge question and break it apart. So when you say, Will, your challenge question is, “How can I make my accounting process more efficient and enable me to do bigger things?” I don't know, maybe something like that. Let's take the word efficient, or let's take ‘bigger things', and let's take each one of those and talk about, well, what does that mean? Now, I might not do that with you as a customer directly. I might go back and say, “Well Will, you're talking about doing bigger things. Here's some ideas on things you might be able to do.” And so we're just trying to expand the different key parts of that challenge question, because that will evoke ideas.

 

Mark Donnolo:

So you can imagine, I could do this dynamic conversation with you. If you were a really big firm, I might go back with my team and say, “Okay, let's take this, because I want to come up with some different ideas for Will.” And we might come up with three different ideas; something that's kind of radical; “Well Will, we could outsource the entire thing and do blah blah blah,” something that's pretty conservative, and something that's in the middle. Because we took apart that challenge question, or that problem statement.

 

Mark Donnolo:

So there are different steps in the methodology that'll keep expanding the thinking. Then we bring it back in and we show you those options and you go, “Wow, I hadn't thought about all this. You guys actually think different than the other people I'm talking to. I'd like to talk more about this.

 

Why Salespeople Should Develop the Skill of Presenting Radical Solutions to the Buyer · [33:40] 

 

Will Barron:

For large accounts, Mark, is that something that we should be doing by default? It's something that I certainly don't do by default. Again, by default, forcing ourselves to at least think up and present a radical solution, probably where we know everyone's going to go, even if it is slightly more out of the box, and then the conservative solution that everyone else is pitching. Is this a good exercise? Maybe even if we don't present it, is this a good exercise to practise this skill and develop it over time?

 

Mark Donnolo:

It's a good exercise to practise, because when you develop the radical solution, it will create pieces or byproducts that could be used in the more conservative or middle of the road solution. And if you don't think in those terms, you're probably not going to find that.

 

Mark Donnolo:

So, a couple of points. One is you've got to earn the right through competence with your customer to present that radical solution. So they've got to know that you can handle the standard solution, so you're proposing something radical, so they're okay with that. The other thing, and this will, I think, help people a lot in terms of the thinking process, is getting outside of your own head. So what I mean by that is this is not something that you have to do all by yourself. And you can certainly do it with the team, but we like this concept of this person called the outsider. And so what the outsider is is as I've been working through this process with my team, Will, you're in the office and you're one of the senior guys, and we say, “Hey Will, can we schedule a brain trust session with you? And we want to bring you in, and we want to tell you the problem we're trying to solve for this big customer. And you know the content area. You're an expert in what we do. But you don't know the whole customer situation.” So we present you the challenge question, Will, and here's what we're trying to solve for. And then we show you a couple of the ideas that we're coming up with.

 

Mark Donnolo:

But because you're the outsider and you haven't been deep in it like we have, you go, “Wow, well have you thought of this?” Or, “Why are you doing that?” And so we proactively invite the outsider in to help us where usually, by our human nature, we don't want the outsider. Because we've been working on this really hard. Will comes by, Will puts his head in the door, and we're like, “Oh no, he's going to start mixing things up. He's going to take us off track. We've got to finish this by tomorrow.” We don't like that usually. But if you invite that person in, they will help you churn up more ideas. So that element can be very important in the process too.

 

Will Barron:

It's interesting you should say this. Have you read the book, Outsiders?

 

Mark Donnolo:

No, I haven't.

 

Will Barron:

So I'll send you a copy. I'll jot it down in a second to do so. I'm really enjoying it. It's essentially about CEOs of organisations that are not from within the industry itself. So it uses, as an example, Elon Musk. He is a software engineer building cars and spaceships. Or you have … I thought it was less good of an example, but still a relatively decent example, of Steve Jobs. Isn't a computer nerd programmer; he was more on the arts and the business side of things. And so that's how he could put his spin on a nerdy computer that nobody wanted and create something beautiful like the iPhone and the iPad. That type of things. And there seems to be a good trend of last-moving organisations coming in and wiping up old markets by being led by an outsider to that industry. So the market somewhat develops, and then someone else who has a spin on it comes in and sweeps it all up. So a book recommendation for the audience if they're interested in this.

 

Why Salespeople Should Start Consuming Content from Fields Parallel to the World of Sales · [37:15] 

 

Will Barron:

But yeah, it kind of ties it all together. And from that perspective then, if we're in sales for the next five, 10 years, if that's genuinely our career, as opposed to something that we've just fell into, which makes up probably about 99.7% of salespeople, rightly or wrongly, should we be reading books about subjects that are parallel to ours? If we're selling accounting software and we're a sales professional, should we be reading books on finance, or books that a CFO, for example, would be reading? Is that a good use of our time as sales professionals, to be not necessarily thinking completely out of the box, but to be in the vertical or the space next to where we spend a lot of time?

 

Mark Donnolo:

Yes. I mean, that's a very simple yes, but you bring up a really important word, which is parallels. Which is a word that we use. And the idea behind parallels is there are parallels in other businesses, other industries outside of business, that we can bring in, and they're almost like analogies or metaphors, to help us solve our problems. So we can say, “Oh, this is like they did over here,” but it's obviously a different industry, different elements.

 

“Salespeople should be creators. They should be problem-solvers. If you're going to be a good problem solver, you've got to have latitude, and you've got to be able to combine elements. We can't be problem solvers by going down a single path, because what we do is we put together combinations. That's how we come up with ideas.” – Mark Donnolo · [38:34]

 

Mark Donnolo:

And so I would say as salespeople, yes. More importantly, as creators, yes. Because salespeople should be creators. They should be problem-solvers, right? If you're going to be a good problem solver, you've got to have latitude, and you've got to be able to combine elements. We can't be problem solvers by going down a single path, because what we do is we put together combinations. That's how we come up with ideas. That's why, when we're in the shower, or we're out in the garden, it all of a sudden comes to us. That eureka moment, right? Because what our mind is doing when it's idle like that is it starts going through a look/seek function and it starts combining elements. So to combine elements, you have to have knowledge in other areas. 

 

“The more well read you are, and the more you can put in other sources of information, the more possible combinations and parallels you can pull up.” – Mark Donnolo · [39:29]

 

Mark Donnolo:

So I like other business books. I also like history. History is really important because, number one, business books are boring. But history teaches us so much about life and organisations and countries and what happens. So the more well read you are, and the more you can put in other sources of information, the more possible combinations and parallels you can pull up. So I think that's a really important point that you bring up.

 

The History Books Mark Would Recommend for Sales Nation · [39:40]

 

Will Barron:

Any books on history or anything like that that you'd recommend? Not even necessarily related to sales. Just an interesting book for people to pick up.

 

Mark Donnolo:

Oh gosh. That's a great question. Well, there's a book I'm reading about Churchill. I've read a couple Churchill books that are tremendous. There's a book called Founding Brothers. It's about the founding of the US, and it's a very different angle towards history in that it takes all the founding fathers and it looks at all their relationships and how they worked together. So I can't really think of any others off the top of my head at the moment, but I'm always reading different types of books like that. But as they say, history repeats itself. That's largely true. So we can learn a lot from that. But especially business history.

 

Will Barron:

Sure. And we'll wrap up this with something that I consciously do. And I can't remember who told me this. Someone told me on the show. Whenever I have a strong binary opinion on something, so for some people, especially in the US, seemingly, it might be politics. It might be gun control, which isn't a thing here in the UK. Or what would be in the UK? I don't know. So I'm looking at getting a dog. There's different ways of training dogs, and people are seemingly staunched in one camp or the other. Someone mentioned it on the show a little while back and it's something I'm consciously trying to do; read a book, get the audiobook or whatever, of the completely opposing view. And nine times out of 10, you go, “Oh, I'm actually in the middle, now that I understand all this a little bit more.” And whether you're listening to this podcast, this is the worst advice for a business owner to give to his audience, but you should perhaps try other sales podcasts and see if there's dynamics there, if there's things that you can learn from other shows as well. Or if you only listen to podcasts, maybe you should try books. Whatever it is.

 

A Non-binary Approach to Sales Success · [41:35] 

 

Will Barron:

I just think, and tell me if I'm totally off track here, because I respect your opinions in general, Mark, but is being less binary with our thoughts and opinions perhaps an advantage in a world where everything seemingly is binary?

 

“I think being binary limits thinking, but it's our human nature. It's our human nature to classify, because that's how we survived and didn't get eaten by sabre toothed tigers. It's like, “That's dangerous,” right? So I think that's our nature, to do that. And it also draws less on our prefrontal cortex. The more we can pre-classify things, the less we have to think and the less work it takes us, and so we like that. We like to work less with our minds.” – Mark Donnolo · [42:07] 

 

Mark Donnolo:

Yeah. Yeah, I think that's the irony of it all, right? So when we think of customer segmentation, we have all these different segments. But I think where things get binary is opinions, politics, things like that. I think being binary limits thinking, but it's our human nature. It's our human nature to classify, because that's how we survived and didn't get eaten by sabre toothed tigers. It's like, “That's dangerous,” right? So I think that's our nature, to do that. And it also draws less on our prefrontal cortex. The more we can pre-classify things, the less we have to think and the less work it takes us, and so we like that. We like to work less with our minds. So I think that's hard to do, but I do agree; I think that's necessary. I think you probably have to consciously challenge yourself on your assumptions. “Why do I think that? Why do I believe that?”

 

Mark’s Advise to His Younger Self on How to Become Better at Selling · [43:00]

 

Will Barron:

And I find myself doing this more and more when I hit a plateau of some sort. Usually it's me being an idiot and not seeing something that's in front of me. And so hopefully that's useful for the audience. And so with that, Mark, I've got one final question, mate. It's something that I've asked you in the past and it's something that I'll probably ask you 55 times in the future in other episodes as well. And that is, if you could go back in time and speak to your younger self, what would be the one piece of advice you'd give him to help him to become better at selling?

 

Mark Donnolo:

I can't remember what I answered the last time. Maybe it's because it's been a while. The one piece of advice? Probably move with purpose, but also know that it's going to be okay. Because I think I've spent a lot of my time worrying about things. They talk about, “A coward dies many deaths, but a hero but one.” So sometimes we tend to be a little hyper-diligent and we're a little overly concerned, especially when we're building businesses like you're doing and like I'm doing. We're always watching out, like, “What's the next thing that's going to kill me?” So I think settling back and going, “Okay, we're not building bridges here. We're not doing brain surgery. We're doing sales and marketing. It's okay. Everything's going to be fine.” I think that settles the thinking down.

 

“You can't be aspirational when your pants are on fire. So if you can settle your mind, then that allows you to actually think creatively and think bigger.” – Mark Donnolo · [44:12] 

 

Mark Donnolo:

This coach that I have is fond of saying, “You can't be aspirational when your pants are on fire.” So if you can settle your mind, then that allows you to actually think creatively and think bigger.

 

“Keep thinking bigger. Because we tend to limit our thinking. And in order to think bigger, we need people to prompt us to think bigger. So find big-thinking people around you that can challenge you.” – Mark Donnolo · [44:25]

 

Mark Donnolo

That's probably the other piece I would give myself as advice, which is keep thinking bigger. Because we tend to limit our thinking. And in order to think bigger, we need people to prompt us to think bigger. So find big-thinking people around you that can challenge you.

 

Parting Thoughts · [44:40]

 

Will Barron:

Love it. Well, with that, we've covered a lot of ground in this one, so I appreciate it. Tell us where we can find more about you, Mark. And then you've got a book coming up and you've got a bunch of books that will be great resources for everyone who's listening as well. So share a little bit about them with us.

 

Mark Donnolo:

Right. So you can find more about us at salesglobe.com. And we've got links to all sorts of content. We've got a new book coming out called Quotas!, with an exclamation point, Using Design Thinking To Solve Your Biggest Sales Problem. So that's great for people that are doing quota setting for their organisations, but the secret, Will, is that it's a great book for people that are in sales positions, because you can see what all the levers are that you can pull to get a better quota or negotiate a better quota. So if you know the workings behind it, that'll help you as well. So I've got a lot of great research in there, great interviews. That'll be coming out in the fall, and that'll be on amazon.com and in bookstores as well. So check that out. I think people will enjoy it. And I'd love to talk more about that if people have questions on it.

 

Will Barron:

Good. Well, we'll talk more about that in the future when it's out, because I'll have you back on. Because I didn't even know, and maybe this is me being stupid and half of the audience will be laughing their heads off at this, I didn't know it was appropriate to even think about negotiating my quota. I've always just accepted it.

 

Mark Donnolo:

Sure. Sure.

 

Will Barron:

And I've accepted it knowing that my quota is more difficult to hit than other people's, because perhaps they're new, perhaps I've got a better territory, which doesn't mean anything. So that'll be a really interesting episode to cover in the future. And with that, Mark, I appreciate your time on this, I appreciate you hanging on as we went down some rabbit holes towards the end of the show about philosophy, history, and a whole lot more. And with that, mate, I want to thank you for joining us on The Salesman podcast.

 

Mark Donnolo:

All right. Thanks, Will. Good talking to you.

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