Paul Viio – TALKS WITH PETRI
Paul Viio talks about the difficulty of finding good salespeople, why the majority of companies are underperforming in sales and why you should not hire the top salespeople. He also tells about a cheesy meeting in Paris.
Dr. Paul Viio is a leading expert in B2B value-based selling & sales management. He has worked internationally in sales for over 25 years, in addition to which he has a Ph.D. in selling and sales management. He is an entrepreneur, published author/researcher, and the only person in the world holding two professorships in selling & sales management at two top business schools concurrently.
Paul is a sought-after B2B sales keynote speaker, executive trainer, and advisor to companies. He has taught, trained, advised, and helped hundreds of executives and companies globally to improve their sales performance.
(NOTE: The text may contain errors, misconceptions and even comical unintended contexts. Please use it only as a reference to the actual audio conversation from where it has been transcribed.)
Petri: Hey Paul! How are you doing?
Paul: Hi Petri! I’m very well, thanks. What about yourself?
Petri: It’s been quite interesting times and sales is rather hard in the 2020s. I don’t know why. Maybe, you know why? And another related question, which is quite important. Why are most of the people doing sales the wrong way?
Paul: Well, that’s a very good question. That’s a very good observation. Also, the first one that you mentioned that sales has absolutely changed a lot in the 2020s. Thanks to the situation that we are at now. When it comes to why sales is difficult, there are many different points or maybe takes on that. That’s actually the reason why I started studying and doing my PhD in selling and sales management. Because I think that most people are actually doing sales in the wrong way. They don’t really grasp how it should be done and what it actually entails to do sales or to sell and also to manage sales and to lead sales. These are very common things that I observe and also get feedback from my clients and customers that they don’t really know what they’re doing.
Petri: But it is just so simple: there are needs, and there’s someone who actually can fulfil that need. What’s the problem?
Paul: Well, exactly. Those are the points. I’m not going to mention the name but it was a former professional racing driver and he told me, Paul, what’s so difficult about selling? You just go out and sell. That’s it. And I was like, well, I wish it was that easy because most of the people out there, they don’t find it that easy.
There’s a difference between selling and also managing sales and leading sales. if you’re successful in sales, which most people aren’t, so, if you’re successful in sales then usually you get promoted or very oftentimes you get promoted.
And then you look at things from your angle and your perspective. You think everybody else is going to do things as well as you do. When they don’t you get frustrated because you don’t understand what they’re doing wrong. Very few people actually are able to do sales and to be successful at that.
Even less people are successful at managing and leading sales. And those few who are, they think that, okay, this is how you should do it. And they stick to old school models and old ways of doing sales, which have maybe worked if you’re in a different industry or if you were in the fifties or sixties when the situation was totally different compared to 2020.
Maybe that’s a longer story but just to highlight things have changed a lot. It’s not just the 2020s. Things have changed since the Second World War dramatically. Sales has changed. How people act, how they buy has changed a lot. And that also entails changes in how you sell.
If the customer acts differently tomorrow than they do today, and compared to yesterday, you have to adapt to that and you have to adapt not only how you do things, but how you understand your customers. What you should be looking at and how he should communicate to and with customers. What dialogue you should be having with them.
These are things which are really genuinely interesting to observe, to study, to research and also to train customers and also to operationalise. And put those theories and models into action. That’s how I look at things and what I do.
Petri: There’s also this very simple fact, which you mentioned to me a while ago, which is that 75% of companies and people, they don’t have a sales process at all. You’re not even doing the basic steps to do proper sales. Why is that?
Paul: I was referring to a study which was made in the US some years ago. They studied about 1300 companies and through the findings in that study pointed out that 75% of companies are not as successful as they could be. Because the study showed that half of the companies actually have a selling process in place, only half of them. And out of those 50% who had a selling process in place, only half of those, which equals 25% of the total number, they actually follow up on the sales process also. They actually monitor it. They have a sales process and they monitor and they follow up on that. And that maybe sounds interesting as such already but when you think of the take away from that is that 90% of the companies that fall into that 25% bracket, who have a sales process in place and also monitor that and follow up on that they have much better profits or higher profits than those who do not do that. If you have a selling process in place, you’re going to be better off than most of your competitors.
That being said, that’s a good thing if you have one but then following up and monitoring that you actually work according to that process that will increase your market dominance even further or your position on the market, at least. This is what I was referring to. There are many reasons why they don’t do that. But I would maybe generally say that they don’t bother doing the homework and creating a sales process. And also then following up with that.
Petri: How can they actually perform at all? Because usually, you have some sales targets et cetera. You have to project your sales and then you have to reach those targets a bit later on. If you don’t have any process, how can they just cope with their life?
Paul: Yeah, that’s a good question. I’m always mind blown when I see a company which doesn’t have any processes in place. Maybe it’s not as dark as it sounds. Because there’s also another study, which points out that what kind of customer relationship are you going to have or what type of customer relationship do you have and that compared to what kind of a selling process or sales process you have in place.
They were studying about a couple of thousand companies, both in North America and the European Union, mostly in the Western European countries. They came to the conclusion that if you’re going to be a listed vendor, which is the basic, basic, basic relation that you will have with the customer.
Ranging all the way to solutions consultant and trusted partner. That would be like going from low to high. Then they compared that with what kind of a selling process you have in place. You have maybe no sales process in place, maybe have a semi-fixed sales process in place.
Then you have a fixed sale process in place or a structured one. And then you had a dynamic one. A Long story short, it shows that those who do not have a sales process in place, they don’t really become the trusted partner. Of course, in a few cases that will happen but from a statistically significant point of view, not enough companies are going to be in that bracket.
It means that you can sell to customers and you can be successful at that to some extent but you will only reach a certain level as a sales organisation. Then on the opposite side, companies and then sales organisations, which have a dynamic sales process in place, they usually end up on a higher scale of the customer relationship. They don’t really stay at the bottom level of just being a listed vendor. They jump that hurdle very quickly and they get more in a deeper relationships with their customers. They usually are In the box trusted partner and solutions consultant. That’s where you usually find them because they are much further as an organisation as opposed to those organisations who don’t have a sales process in place.
What it actually means is quite funny. Those companies who don’t have a sales process in place. That’s one category. Then there’s the next category who have a kind of sales process in place. What that usually means is that they have a fixed sales process in place but they don’t follow it.
When I asked these sales organisations with people working at these organisations do you follow your sales process? Or the first one, do you have a sales process? Yes, we have. Do you follow it? No, we don’t. What are you putting into your CRM or SFA? That stands for customer relationship management system or sales automation system.
What are you writing in those systems because you have some electronic system for that? What do you do? And they say we keep two parallel systems. One of which is how we work in real life and one which we use for our bosses so that they are satisfied with the results that they see in their CRM system or the SFA system.
That’s mind-blowing. But people go as far as they start cheating their own bosses and the numbers are real. But the data that they put in there might be actually something that they package in a way that makes the boss feel good.
That’s very scary because imagine the amount of resources you will be throwing out the window if you have people working in two parallel ways. One which is for your company and one of which is the one which really generates value for the customer and for your organisation. That’s really scary. That’s a route that I always discourage customers from going at.
Petri: This begs for another question. Why is that? Are the systems so cumbersome that nobody wants to use them and so that’s the reason to go through all the trouble of having two systems? What’s the takeaway from there?
Paul: Absolutely. There are a few reasons. Let’s start with the basics. First, it used to be a couple of decades ago, 10-20 years ago salespeople didn’t want to give out their information. They didn’t want to share their secrets and their real information about their customers because it was kind of a one-man show in most cases. The customers were owned by the salesperson if you will.
The salesperson felt and had the thought that if he or she then puts that information into a system then he or she becomes redundant. He or she is going to be replaced by somebody else because all the data’s already there There was almost a fear of putting in your data into the CRM systems.
I get that. I completely get that. But that was kind of in the old days because nowadays people are a little bit more refined in that they understand or realised it’s not the data that actually does it. It’s not what you have written there. Sure, you can be replaced. But the question of the successful person replacing you is he or she able to maintain at least the same kind of relationship as you did with the customer or even create a better one?
It’s about the relationship really. It’s between people. As long as people do business with people it’s going to be very important how you actually deal with people, how they feel about you. That’s one side. Another point is that as you said, are the systems so cumbersome and difficult to use?
Absolutely. Yes, they are. Most of the systems I have been trying out, so many CRM systems and sales support systems and the SFAS have the same problem. They are built in one way. First of all, they’re usually pretty ugly. They’re not very nice to look at unless you like the look and feel of an Excel sheet or any of these.
Well, it’s the same, in my opinion, if you look at Facebook, for example, their graphical user interface or Google’s graphical user interface, they are just mind-blowing how little emphasis they put on that. Same goes with Amazon, for example. These are just ways of doing things which work for them. It’s very productive or producer-oriented in that way, I would say.
But if you look at what a salesperson really needs to have in a CRM system. It can be very different from case to case. That’s one thing, and it can be very different from what the producers or vendors of the software systems or solutions actually think that the salesperson should have. Because the situations are completely different.
Let’s take a basic sample. If you’re working in a business-to-consumer at a B2C industry, or if you work in B2B that’s business-to-business, or a B2G business-to-government, the public sector, is going to look very different what kind of knowledge, data and information you need to have for you as to become successful at selling and managing that sales and customer relationship and building on that and then managing that account and so forth and so forth.
Then it comes also to the point that sorry for dragging out on this answer but I think these are important points. If you look at any product, any product at all. I don’t care if it’s a hard product, a tangible or intangible product, software or computer or whatever it is if it’s made so that the user will find it difficult to use, he or she will not use it at least not optimally or he or she will even try to find another solution.
That’s also an important point when you think about what kind of systems you should have in place. Most companies are still in the old era where they produce systems, solutions, software, components, whatever it is from their perspective. Most companies still do this. As opposed to looking at how and in what shape and form and experience the customer rep should like to have it.
These are reasons which drive salespeople going maybe sometimes even berserk about their sales processes and why they don’t feel like using them or they divert and they use some other alternative ways instead, which works better for them. There is also another dimension to that if you allow me to add on that.
People are very different. Some people want to work in a very organised fashion in the way that they want all the data set in one specific way or system. Whereas other people are more than artists type of people who are able to comprehend things in a different, more abstract way maybe.
And they need maybe a different system. Within the same sales organisation, you might have very different people, different types of people who work in different ways. Trying to enforce a system on them is going to prove difficult. But that’s a fact we have seen that we continue to see in organisations.
Petri: Now we are coming to the point where we actually say that most of the people don’t know how to do sales. There’re only a few really good salespeople. All the systems suck. Should we start to build another world where we say that, okay, I have a new company. I have a startup. Maybe I already have a product and I need to start to do sales.
I need to find customers. We are at that point. If I can start from scratch, how should I do that? And if I’m the CEO, I need some salespeople. I need someone else. What’s the optimal way of doing that?
Paul: You’re looking for a silver bullet, of course, as everybody is. There’s no one right way of doing things. But how I would start it is that, and I encourage people and companies to do that now I actually train them to look at your customers first. Let’s imagine you have no customers in the first place. You have an idea.
As opposed to making that idea complete at first and then going out to the market, I would say that keep it at the idea level first. Go out to the market. Talk to potential customers or partners, alliance partners that you might find and try to get a sense of what they need, what’s in your domain, what’s in your capability and competence that you were actually thinking of doing.
Then look at what the market is actually needing. What do they need? I’m not only talking about the needs that they are aware of but also unaware needs that they don’t know about really yet. Or they might even have some thoughts or they might even have a dream and a wish how things could be. Look at that angle instead. Don’t go and compete head-to-head with other competitors who have something similar but try to look at different avenues.
Once you grasp that. Okay, this is what the customers might want to have. They feel what is important for them. What would drive them further. What would drive their business. Or if they’re not doing business, what would drive their life or situation, what would improve it. And that’s something that you can help create value in.
You’re helping your customer reach that point or that target what they’re aiming at. Then I would go back and look at it. Okay. How do they go about it? How do they buy things like this? Or in this category that I’m trying to promote or sell or propose to them, and then I’ll get an understanding.
This is how they go about purchasing that kind of solutions and choosing them. And what kind of purchasing processes they have in place and what type of categorisational purchases do they use. Then I’ll from there derive how my sales organisation should be working and how my sales supporting functions should be supporting the salespeople out there or sales teams. That’s how I would actually plan them, build them. Now, I understand what the market could need. These could be the customers. This could be the prioritisation of that. This is how they work when they purchase those.
How they screen, select or shortlist and then select, categorise, actually purchase these kinds of solutions. And then I would build from that. I would actually go backwards from that point on and then see, okay, what does it mean for my sales organisation? What type of people do I need? What type of competencies do I need? What type of capabilities? What type of support people? What type of processes should we have in place to make that work in a coherent way? And by a coherent way, I mean that it shouldn’t differ very much for the customer if they contact me or if they contact my salesperson. If I’m the sales executive, for example, if they contact me, or if they contact my salesperson that worked my sales supporting person, my technical expert, whomever or customer complaints service.
They should have a coherent experience for all that. They recognise, okay, we’re dealing with this company, with this supplier. And that should not differ very much between the salespeople in the sales organisation either. We can talk about that a little bit later.
Petri: It starts to sound like a customer experience you’re talking about. It actually doesn’t matter are you even talking with a support person, are you talking with a marketing person, are you talking with anyone in the company and you basically get the same experience.
Paul: Absolutely. Absolutely. You should. This is one interesting thing. Let me rewind it a little bit. With companies that contact me. They oftentimes contact me. I train sales organisations and executives and so forth, study those and then train them and help them become more successful at what they do.
Oftentimes, there’s the CEO or CFO or CSO, chief sales officer, or someone up in the organisation calls me and says, Paul, we need your help. And then I ask, okay, so why do you need my help? That’s usually my first question. When to say, well, our salespeople are not performing well, so we need someone to train them how to sell.
I say, okay, that’s nice. That sounds good. That seems like my ballpark. But, do you know how to manage and how to lead the sales organisation? And they go, what do you mean? I asked how do you actually look at your business? How have you built it? How are you guiding your sales force and how are you supporting them?
That’s where it usually starts to crumble the whole story, because they realise, okay, it’s not just about our salespeople are performing well. Usually, a sales training organisation will be thrown in and they will say if you want double your sales, don’t make 50 calls a week but do 100 calls a week.
And that will ramp up the sales. Sure. Yeah, of course. It probably does at least to some extent but the problem is, especially in the European context, if you look at Europe, which is very much B2B driven, in terms of sales and purchasing, if you look at North America, the US for example, their B2C market is so much bigger. That’s where the most money comes into companies.
In a B2C scenario, it’s easy to just call more customers or potential customers. You find them and then try to persuade them to buy your stuff whatever you’re selling. But in a B2B scenario, maybe you’d only have a few tens of customers globally.
How can you double your sales just by calling more contacts? It’s not going to work. It doesn’t take off like that. That’s one side of the story and the other is that salespeople in organisations are very different. Of course, we have those phenomenal salespeople.
I used to have that too in my organisation when I was driving sales and leading sales. They are very excellent at what they do. They know exactly how to do sales and they are the perfect salespeople but that’s just maybe 10% of the people in your sales organisation. Maybe 20 % if you’re lucky. You have studies pointing that maybe 9-10 % are the top salespeople. Then you have 20% of the salesforce that is still very good but not excellent. And then 70 % of the sales organisation people are mediocre to laggers.
Petri: Who hired those people?
Paul: Exactly, fire that person, right? If you look at it this way, 70% of your sales organisation, in general, when looking through organisations across the industry, are mediocre to laggers.
Their performance is not in line with what the companies are looking for. Those people are usually the ones that companies get rid of. And then they try to find new ones and they try to build a sales organisation which would only have excellent salespeople. Everybody wants that.
But the problem is if you look at how those people work, I talked to executives, I looked at these organisations and I asked their executives: what makes your top salespeople, top salespeople? And they say, Paul, I don’t know. I say, what do you mean you don’t know? Whichever number I give them, they bring it in and they overachieve even that target that I give them. I just let them do their magic. I don’t want to bother how they work. I don’t want to mess with them because if they feel intimidated or they get frustrated because of my stupid questions or something, they might leave the organisation. And I say, sure, that’s one way of looking at it but how on earth are you ever going to replicate your sales success and hiring successful salespeople if you don’t even know what type of people they are and how they’re built and how they think, how they work, how they act, how they deal with customers, how they build that success?
And that’s usually what we stumble on in those sales organisations. The executives tell me, okay, let’s do the training. But usually, I do the training for the executives first, and then I do it for the sales organisation and then for the support organisation. But looking at it from a salesperson’s angle, I always study them and I research them beforehand so I know who these top salespeople are. Very quickly, I will also see that this is that person, these are the mediocre ones, these are the laggers. The point with the sales training is not to bump up the whole organisation and to make them excellent salespeople. That’s not the point.
It’s not going to happen. You might nudge the organisation a little bit forward but the top salespeople, what they get out of it is that they finally realise… And this is what happens in trainings that I do for companies. The first hour or so the salespeople, the top salespeople are leaning backwards in the chair and they’re a little bit like, Oh, what am I doing here? I already know how to do sales. I’m already perfect at this. I don’t need this mumbo-jumbo here. Okay. And those are usually the ones at the end of the training of one or two-day session that come to me and say, Paul, this was the best sales training I’ve ever been to.
Then I ask, okay, that’s great. Good to hear. So what did you get out of it? And most of they say, Now, I finally understand what I do and what other salespeople are not able to do. They’re able to put names and concepts and models, put the names for those things that they actually do intuitively already.
That’s very powerful when you see that. It’s like mind blown when you see people understanding what makes them different from those who are not successful. That’s one takeaway for them. They are better able to support their colleagues, the next best category in becoming as good one day, as good as they are.
Then for the people further down the line who are not as successful, the mediocre ones, you could bump them up somewhat. For the people who weren’t up to a sales job, they themselves, as well as executives, might realise and oftentimes I even suggest this to them if I continue working with them: what if we move these people to not do the first-line sales but to support the sales organisation instead?
Because they’re the perfect ones in sales support. They’ve done it. They tried it, they found it hard but they know what’s needed. Why don’t we use these people to support the rest of the sales organisation? This work in very nice ways and the outcome can be just beautiful if you do it right.
But as I said, there’re many organisations and many ways of doing it. I think as many ways as they are organisations, too. It’s not like one right answer. This is exactly how we should do it. But along those lines is what I would do for if I had a software company or whichever startup. And, I would start building the sales for those.
Petri: I have so many questions. One of them is that, can you actually teach anything to those guys who are really already brilliant and how do you find these people?
Paul: There is a combination of things. First of all, many people tell me that either you are a salesperson or you’re not a salesperson. That’s the old jargon that we hear that you’re either born as a salesperson and you’re a natural salespersonn or you are not.
I think there’s some truth to that. You can be born to become a racehorse, or you can be a donkey. A donkey will never become the most successful in a horse race, I guess, or if you’re a working horse.
Petri: That’s not fair for the donkey, it’s not a donkey race!
Paul: Exactly. Why not use a donkey for something else instead?
I don’t think that you have to be born as a salesperson. Because at the end of the day, what is a born salesperson? If you are born as a salesperson, probably it means that when we studied these people and then we’d look at what makes people successful, it’s usually that they are persistent in the way that they’d not give in.
They are resilient. Resilience is one word that has become very popular in the last few years and used in many different ways, even used wrongly. Successful salespeople are probably resilient, more resilient than other people.
In approximately seven out of ten calls you’re getting no on the phone if you call someone. That’s usual. It might be even up to 90% of the calls are going to be a no. No, thank you. We’re not interested. You need to be resilient about it and stand up again and learn from your past experience.
What should I do differently? Not just repeat the same old mantra that you’ve done with the next potential customer and try to get whatever you’re trying to get. Is the first step to get a meeting with them, or is the first step to have them buy something from you on the phone or over email, electronically, whatever it is, you got to know what the next step is going to be.
Being very goal orientated, persistent, resilient, have empathy and be quite quick to learn things, and also curious. You need to be genuinely curious and interested in people. As long as we deal with people that’s very important that combination in that mix of the perfect salesperson is to be interested in people and curious.
If you look at it this way, if you’re not interested in people, it’s very difficult to make a good impression on people in a genuine way. Because people will see if you’re just faking it. That’s one thing. And then of course people ask me, okay, can you train people, mediocre salespeople to become very good salespeople or become better, very good and excellent at some point? Yes, you can. My definitive answer is yes, you can. It’s going to take a little bit longer time probably. They have to repeat maybe things quite a few times. They have to change and they have to adapt to how the customer works and they have to change maybe how they work, not who they are but how they work.
Those are things that are needed because there’s a catch to it. Where can I call, for example, to find these salespeople, these excellent salespeople? Imagine you have a startup. Okay. You establish a startup. And you try to find a sales organisation. You need 25 people in sales for global sales for your startup. What’s the risk of employing 25 top salespeople from different organisations? The difficulty is going to be you’re going to have most likely 25 people who work in their own ways, in different ways compared to each other.
How on earth are you ever going to manage and lead that organisation? How are you even going to know how they work? It’s going to be very difficult to understand what they do that makes them successful in order for you to replicate that way of working.
Because that’s what you’re looking for. When you scale your organisation for 25 people, up to 50 people, a hundred people up to 500 salespeople globally at some point, if you’re becoming real successful then you can’t rely on finding those excellent salespeople. Because first of all, they’re going to work in different ways.
The second point is it’s going to be almost impossible for you to manage and lead them and guide them and monitor them. The third part is it’s going to be very expensive. It’s going to be so expensive because those people in that bracket of 9-10% of salespeople globally in organisations who are the top salespeople they can name their price. That’s why sales executives even tell them that, okay, I don’t want to mess with them.
I don’t want to question how they work, or I don’t want to be micro-managing them and so forth because they’re afraid that they will leave. Those top salespeople, they don’t need to look for a job. They get calls every week, most likely from competitors, from head hunters and so forth, who asked them, would you be willing to work for us?
We’ll raise your paycheck and do this and that and give you these and these benefits and bonuses. And they do what they do because they like it. And they stay in those organisations because they like the organisation. If anything happens, usually we see this when we change the incentive system or model or reward models.
If they don’t like it, they leave and they just need to pick up the phone next time somebody is calling them and they say, okay, well you called me a couple of weeks ago. Now, I would like to hear your offer. The next day they are gone. And your sales might plummet in your organisation if you lose these couple of salespeople.
That’s a long story why it’s going to be difficult and I even discourage people from trying to look for the excellent salespeople and hire them because it’s going to be difficult and expensive.
Petri: Now I’m really confused. It’s like mission impossible. If you want to have only the excellent people, they are all cowboys. You have a bunch of cowboys. You cannot manage them. If you want to have a sales team, which is co-operative and you know what’s happening and you have processes, then you have just the regular mediocre people. Then there’re no cowboys anymore. Can we just do marketing and forget the sales?
Paul: Exactly. Let’s all just move to social media and post things on Twitter and do Facebook advertising and so forth and so forth. And just let’s forget about the salespeople!
Petri: Now I understand why it’s a complex and nobody does the processes. They don’t work. Nothing to be done. It’s all just a huge mess.
Paul: Exactly. Yeah, no, it’s not that devastating really. The truth is that you need to look at it as any part of the organisation. Let’s take product management. If your product is faulty, it has some errors in it. The quality is subpar. What do you need to do about it?
You need to reverse engineer what you’re doing. You need to look at, okay. How do we do things? How does it turn into this garbage that comes out of the pipeline and then to fix those things? The same thing we should do in sales. Look at sales in the same fashion. What are we trying to achieve here?
Let me step back here a little bit. If we want to build a company, which is based on helping our customers succeed, which I think is the long-term plan that we should be looking at as opposed to the short-term profits that we can generate from quick and dirty tricking people and forcing people to buy stuff from us.
If we’re looking at the long-term plan, then we should also look at how our sales organisation works. And if that is in line with how we actually want to help our customers create value for their organisation to become successful in their market space. Assuming that, then we should look at our sales organisation and start looking and finding out, okay, how do we work in a more optimal way that our sales organisation as a sales organisation not as individuals works in line with how we want to be performing in the market space for our customers. Then we’ll look at, okay. They might even be top salespeople who are not up to the test who are maybe just pushing products, who are used to high-pressure selling and who do not want to look at the benefit and the value creation for our customers.
So it might even be, this sounds harsh, and this sounds maybe counterintuitive to someone. It might even be that we have to let these people go or to let a top salesperson go. Don’t let them all go otherwise your company will probably go bankrupt. But to change things if they are willing and able to change, which they usually are because excellent salespeople are smart people. Okay. They are really smart. They can really quickly grasp what does this change mean for me and for my organisation, for my personal bank account. What does it mean for me, for my revenue generation capability, ability and also for my paycheck. The idea is that the whole organisation works as a whole and you will need these excellent salespeople.
Assuming you’re able to actually convert and change a little bit the way how they work and to learn from them what makes them successful. If those methods are ethical and methods that you want to have your salespeople use. And then learn how to use them in a more broad fashion in your sales organisation.
Let’s look at it this way. I mentioned that the top 10% of the sales force is actually being consistent with top salespeople. Those ones can be perfect for mentoring even the next category. The next 20% are very good at sales but not excellent. And then that category people in that category can then mentor the mediocre salespeople to become better at how they do sales. That’s how we can build these mentoring systems. We should avoid the trap that many of us think that, of course, this is how we should do things. Why not have the excellent salespeople mentor the mediocre ones, and they will think that they will quickly become excellent.
The cat theory is that those two categories are too far from each other. The excellent salesperson will become frustrated when mentoring a mediocre salesperson, because he or she will not understand how on earth this mediocre salesperson is not able to do these things and learn as quickly as he hopes that he or she would learn.
That’s one side of the thing. The mediocre salesperson will find it very, very intimidating and negative to work with an excellent salesperson because the excellencesalespersonn’s teaching and mentoring will feel so far off for him or her. He or she can not even relate to how this person’s working.
This is what studies show. This is how we should build up these mentoring systems also in organisations. This is again an answer to your question, where we find them and is it impossible to change organisation? No, it’s not impossible at all. We just need to go in a certain methodology about it.
That’s why when I train sales organisations it’s not just about, okay, this is a new slide set, and this is how you should enforce it on the customer. This is how you present it. This is how you should overcome the obstacles or the projections that customers might have and force them to buy from you and then close the sale and then get the signature and get sent the invoice and go to the next customer quickly. This is not the way you should do it. Especially not if you want to build a business, which is based on customer long-term success.
Petri: Let me ask you a very simple question, which might be the hardest question. How do you define sales?
Paul: That’s a question that I usually ask my organisations when I start training them, I ask them actually, what’s the difference between marketing and sales? Now the common way of looking at things is that marketing… I mean most textbooks and in marketing and most managerial books and most organisations also got this understanding of marketing generates the lead or that’s the lead generating machine and then sales takes over from there and then starts working in a consistent way to transform that potential elusive customer lead that they have got from the marketing side and then out the pipeline comes to the customer who has bought from you. Then it goes into account management.
Petri: To be a bit of nasty and take a simple approach: so it’s basically just a subset of marketing and just implementing what’s already in there?
Paul: Not really, no. I said that that’s not my view of things. That’s how organisations usually look at this. As you know and we know and all the older people out there know that things have changed a lot. I mean, marketing, there are companies who are telling: we don’t have a sales organisation. We just have marketing. We have marketing. We have social media. Do you put those in different brackets? No, I would not. I would probably put marketing or social media as part of marketing. Then again sales and salespeople also do social media marketing and create an online presence for the company, for the products, for the services, for themselves, for the whole team.
It’s not as simple today anymore. But for textbook clarity, we like to keep it that way maybe sales is not under the umbrella of marketing. I would say it’s definitely not but I say they collaborate. Marketing usually has a cost budget. They rarely have a revenue budget or revenue targets. They might have that, of course, in terms of conversion and so forth nowadays but traditionally they have had a cost budget. Whereas sales, they have a cost budget also but they’re the most important thing is the revenue stream coming inbound from the markets.
But in my view, sales has to do with finding whatever that means through social media marketing, be part of that, or you’re personally in trade fairs like in the old days or through different events or personal contact networks. So finding potential customers, working on those and finding out, okay, what, what makes sense?
Who can we help? How do we prioritize the potential customers that we might have there? And then have a dialogue with them to understand their business models and the situation, and then to help them achieve that. And of course, for our selling organisation to also make money on that along the way.
You can also say, okay, is there a difference between sales and selling? You might argue, no, but sometimes you might argue, yes, there is. And from my perspective, there is. Sales is more the function, the sales function and the whole area. The domain is sales. If you’re a sales executive, you’re responsible for that domain within the organisation. Then selling is more the verb, the doing of things. Hence you might have a sales process, which is looking at it from a sales leadership or sales executive perspective. And the selling process would then be the steps a salesperson and sales teams conduct when doing sales. This is about terminology. I don’t want to become too academic about it but these are things that you should at least have the vocabulary in your own organisation so that you understand what is marketing, what’s their responsibility, what’s the responsibility of sales and selling. And where does social media fit in?
Is it done in collaboration between marketing and sales, or is it the third area? This differs still, and I think this will differ because organisations solve these in different ways.
Petri: And there’s also the aspect that, who is the one who really understands the customer needs? Is it the marketing? Is it the sales or is it actually the R&D, the people who are building the products? Because all of these people should actually understand what the customer needs. That’s basically the whole organisation’s purpose of existence.
Paul: I totally agree on that. In the old days, it was a little bit in the textbook, for example, if you look at it 10-20 years ago, textbooks oftentimes proclaimed that a salesperson is the one who brings in the feedback to the organisation. This feedback from the market and customers is fed into the R&D system.
Then they are able to refine the product and so forth and so forth. To some extent but in today’s day and age, an organisation which wants to be successful, as you said, Petri, everybody in the organisation has to understand what the customer is looking for. They have to have at least a basic understanding of what is the customer looking at.
Let’s say you are HR. HR is basically not in touch with the products, nor is it in contact with customers really. Not first-line at least. But in order for HR to perform in an optimal way, they have to know what type of resources are needed in the company.
Either you hire them or you use other types of solutions like hiring freelance or then outsourcing things and so forth and so forth. You need to know what type of capabilities, what type of competencies are needed in order to solve and in order to meet and in order to exceed those customer expectations so the customer feels that it’s worthwhile working with you in the first place as an organisation. They come back to, they want to come back to you as an organisation and a supplier. Definitely, even HR, I’m not saying that even HR as if it would be so far off from the customers but it’s kind of the best, maybe the best example that I had at this instant here.
Everybody needs to understand what the customer really wants and needs and what makes them tick and what’s the customer experience, what it’s built on. Even the janitor in the company… Imagine you have a customer walking to your premises or next to your premises and your janitor walks out the door and he or she does not greet but instead maybe grumps at the customer who was outside of your premises. That will have an effect on the total experience that the customer will have only by this one small encounter. If it’s really negative, it might have an implication that this person thinks I don’t want to work with this company anymore. It can be as simple as that.
Petri: And usually it is. It’s those tiny things. It’s something you have omitted to do. If your process is not working or the delivery process is not working and you’re not saying that, Hey, actually it’s coming tomorrow. Hope you are okay. If you don’t do anything, you are already irritating the customer.
Or if the delivery person is saying, Hey, I don’t want to come up one floor to your place. Can you come downstairs and pick it up from my truck? Yeah, so it’s tiny things or it’s customer support. Customer’s always right. Hey, there’s something wrong with your invoice. And they say, no, there’s nothing. And that’s the end of the discussion. These are actually three examples from my life in the last month. So I think it matters because I have stopped doing business with some of these organisations just because it feels like they don’t need my business.
Paul: Exactly. The classic example that we have now from the last 10-15 years is that it’s become so widely used solution to outsource your customer complaints or technical support or any call centre functions to another country. Let’s say and I don’t want to finger point at any organisations or countries or similar but I think I’m sure you get the grasp here that if you give a support line in English.
You have international customers calling in. Let’s say you have people from Scandinavia, for example, calling a customer centre, which should speak English, understandable English, and then it’s outsourced to a country somewhere far off where they speak very different English and you might not even understand what they say on the phone. This is really annoying to not understand what the person is saying.
This happened to me and my wife. My wife was calling one of these organisations. It was a flight ticket. She had a problem with a flight ticket that needed to be rerouted. This was obviously last year. This year we haven’t travelled much by air as most people have not.
She called the support line and she had to tell the person, please just stop. Just stop. I need to get my husband on the line. She walked to me and gave me her mobile phone and said, can you talk to this person? I don’t understand what she’s saying. It can be really that small incident that put her off from that airline because she said, I don’t want to call that support line anymore.
I don’t want to fly on this airline. Sure the airline can think that, okay, it’s just one customer out of a million customers per year. But gradually it’s going to eat up, slowly but gradually, it’s going to eat up your business. This is what happens.
The classic example, look at Uber. Why did Uber succeed so quickly? Many people say because of their business model because they were cheaper and so forth and so forth. I don’t think that was the whole truth, because looking at it from this angle. We all remember how many taxi drivers…
Petri: You want to mute them but you don’t find the mute button!
Paul: Oh, yeah. That’s yeah. Yeah. That’s one thing. And I look at it this way. If you get subpar service, you think that, okay. Bummer. I would rather ride with somebody else but then you find that, okay. Maybe the other taxi company has maybe just like this one or the taxi driver in the other car is probably the same.
We got used to a certain level of service. Then there comes this one company that provides a service, which is different. We think, thank God. Finally, I don’t have to ride in a normal taxi anymore. We find this interesting to have the silence maybe in the car as you said to have the mute button on the person. The person asked you do you want it to be for yourself or you want to communicate and so forth? It’s much more of a customer experience that I get when riding. It’s not just Uber in other companies similar to those. It’s almost like a touch button in the car, the invisible one, or you can actually have a dialogue with the person. You can get to know about the city if you’re there for the first time or you can just push the mute button. And you can sit there and look at your slides, or you can look out the window and just be in total silence.
The whole payment thing is just super easy. I remember the first time I used this kind of solution was in the US and I went to the airport. I was super busy. I was about to miss my flight and I started fiddling around with my wallet. And I was like, Oh my God.
Now, I have to wait for him or her in this case him to take out the credit card payment thingy and he’s not even making a move and I’ll wait for him on the credit card already. Then I realised when we would get to the airport. He just opens the trunk and it says, we’re here, sir.
And I’m like, right, exactly. I don’t even need to pay here. Everything happens in the background. It’s that kind of experience that we’re looking for. Traditional taxi companies missed out on that. That’s a small customer experience thing that can deteriorate your business. I think that’s one of the reasons why these alternative solutions have grown as quickly as they are.
Petri: Yeah. For example, that muting example comes from those five stars. You have to be sensitive to the customers because there’s a rating system. Previously, there was no rating system for taxi drivers. Usually, there was probably some way of complaining if something went really badly wrong. But usually, there was no way.
Now, the drivers know that if they’re not checking what’s the vibe of the customer, what they want, do they want to talk? Do they want to do work or how they feel it will be impacting their ratings. And sometimes they will be kicked out from the system, totally.
Paul: Absolutely. This is funny. It goes both ways. I learned this the hard way. When I was travelling, and I think it was in Minneapolis, I was travelling there and I stayed at an Airbnb apartment. The person, the landlord told me, looked at me when I came to the door and greeted me, of course, and was very friendly.
Then we went upstairs and he showed me the premises and everything. I had the total floor there for myself in a two-story building. It was pretty great. Good experience. He told me, I was a little bit worried about accepting you as my guest. I said, what do you mean by that?
Because you’ve been a little bit critical when it comes to some apartments that you’d be staying at in different parts of the world. And I say, yeah, I like to give feedback. I like to be honest about this feedback. I’m not nitty-gritty. I don’t want to downplay things and I don’t want to raise some negative things to unnecessary proportions but I just want to highlight if it’s dirty in the corners or on the floor or wherever the bed is not made or something like this.
Of course, I want to highlight this to people so that we get a system that actually works. But he said, yeah, because we want to keep our… he wants to keep his Superhost badge. So I can’t afford taking customers who are not giving me a five-star rating. And I thought, wow! Think about this, Petri.
The whole system is wired that way that those ones who want to have higher ratings also want to choose their customers. This puts the pressure on both sides. This is good and bad, of course. But in a bad way, it is that you don’t get rewarded for really being honest about things. This can also twist things. This basically just shows them how you can actually misuse the system. It actually goes against the whole intended way to how things are going to go. The system might twist the whole reality. That’s also one thing but it just shows that, okay, these small incidents can have an effect on the customer experience but it can also have an effect on the supplier, in this case, the Airbnb host, the supplier experience.
Petri: What is the dark side of customer relationships? When you say no when you need to be picky and say, no, I don’t want to have you as a customer?
Paul: That’s a great question. The dark side of close relationships that actually was a study that was made in 2005 by two researchers, Sandy and Jeff. They studied and they started this stream looking at customer relationships that turned sour.
The dark side of customer relationships, and that means that you can sometimes have customer relationships, which actually turn against you. It’s not always the intended result that we should always give, give and give and give to the customer and make the customer feel super happy all the time.
Because at the end of the day, looking at this way, you also want to make a profit, assuming you’re not an NGO or nonprofit organisation. Assuming that you want to make a profit, you should do that also. Then you just start looking at, okay, what type of customers are worthwhile building a relationship with, which generate a positive result for us, a profit that is per the customer account.
Then there are those customer accounts where we pour in a lot of effort and love and passion and compassion and empathy and all these things. We make everything we can but it just doesn’t pan out. It’s too difficult or the customer doesn’t want, or it works beautifully for a while but then it turns against you because the customer becomes, or actually the customer might even be subsupplier, becomes cosy and lazy. People are in general, quite lazy, actually, we as human beings we are wired to be a little lazy. We’re not always as efficient as we proclaim to be in as we want to be. That can turn against you so that somebody is taking who you build a customer relationship with or supply relationship with that close relationship turned sour because the other party starts taking advantage of you and of the situation.
It might be intended, or it might be unintended but anyway, the result is that they’re taking advantage of it. You get less than what you’d actually give or what you pay for. There was an example in this particular study and again, I don’t want to finger point to any countries or any people but it’s out there.
It’s knowledge that is out there. There’s a car manufacturer who used an Italian car paint company to paint the cars, the chassis of the cars. They were supposed to put a couple of layers of the paint on the car. I don’t remember the exact number but let’s say it’s three layers of paint.
They did that in the beginning but then they started cheating because they thought, well, we can cut costs by just putting two layers of spray or colour of the car. They did that. They went with two, so they saved one. You can just imagine if you have thousands, tens of thousands of cars, even more, and you save one round of paint on each of the cars. It aggregates. The numbers get big very quickly.
They were caught for that. So, they got caught and then they admitted. Yeah, sure. Yeah, we did this. Of course, the customer relationship turned sour. They were not chosen anymore to continue the contract and so forth. They lost the contract. This just shows that even in an intended good relationship, things can turn sour if there are enough loopholes and the person or the organisation thinks that we can get away with it. This is the dark side of relationships. As said, it can go both ways. It can go that the customer becomes too cosy or complacent or just wants to cheat and take advantage of you. Or it might be that the supplier does that.
It depends on. There are also measures on how to actually go about this. I know there are a few methods how we can avoid this situation. It’s not as dark as it sounds that we have to run this risk but we can also avoid these risks but it’s possible.
Petri: Trust but verify?
Paul: Trust but verify. Yeah, I was referring to the methods of how to do that. One, for example, is that you have a mutual agenda that you have mutual targets set out there and written down so that you actually know exactly what you’re supposed to be doing. Then both are more invested in that. It can be, of course, the output-based model.
What you get out of the business both profit from that. That’s another way. A third way is reporting and monitoring. You said that you trust but you do monitor it. You need to have certain visits. It might be that you agree in the contract that we will do visits to your facilities. And, we don’t have to report about it in advance. We just pop in and we do basically a raid on what you’re doing. This is one method on the brutal side but very efficient. There’s also personal relationships so that we don’t rely on a few people doing the business because they might be working and collaborating.
When we have the larger part of the organisation involved in this, that we have different kinds of layers and different people who are also vested in this decision and in this methodology and processes, working models so that we can better ensure that we don’t skip any important steps or work in a subpar manner.
These are just some very basic things about how we can do things. Investment models can also be used for that. You buy up a chunk of that company and they get more savings from that company, for example.
Petri: How do you make people want to buy from you?
Paul: I think it’s quite easy in the way that if you are looking at the customer value. Many people talk about the customer experience. Let’s just differentiate between two different things here. Customer experience is the total experience that you as a customer get from dealing with someone. That can be through marketing, social media, as we said, the janitor on the premises or what the executives are saying in the media, or it can be how the person is treating you on the phone, email, whatever channel that is. That’s the customer experience and that will then result in some customer or some value for the customer.
There’s some value attached to what type of experience you have if it is a negative or positive, or if it’s actually tapping into your personal values also. That is probably going to be stronger. If we will help through the customer experience through the customer interactions, which are part of that total customer experience, if we through those instances help the customer create value for them and succeed better or solve their situation what they’re aiming at then the customer might and probably perceives us as meaningful for them, for achieving their goal for achieving their wishes for achieving their deep dreams. We’re at least getting closer to those and that in itself can then create a platform for success for us.
That means if somebody finds that, okay, I get it. I get value out of this by working with Petri, for example, and his company. Okay. And, he works in a way and they as an organisation work in a way that I think is a good way for my company, for my needs, for my wishes. Then I want to go back to you and say, okay, I want to continue working with you.
That’s a great platform for success going forward. Of course, assuming that does not generate profit yet but it generates a platform. It creates a platform for success. And that means if your organisation then does things in a nice way that I think this is the way we should be working together, and you’re able to articulate the value that I get out of working with you and through the use of the services or products or solutions that your company produces. And I then understand that, and I can also put a price tag on that. This will help me do this and this quicker, save time or generate more money or make me feel more secure if it’s a security solution, whatever it is.
Or make me live longer, for example. Then I’m willing to probably pay for that or to give something in return. It can be that I give my data. That’s the money that you make money on then. That’s the currency that you make money with, or it might be that you pay something for that.
And once the payment, which form or shape it is, if that payment for the services that creates value for me is in line with that level of value that I feel that I’m getting out of this. If that’s on a good level, then I’m willing to pay for that. But again, if you underpromise and overachieve as an organisation then your company is actually leaving money on the table.
This sounds very harsh and the reversals also apply. If you overpromise and underachieve that I, as a customer, and the one who is missing out on things. So you’re overcharging it that way. They should be in some kind of balance that is close enough and usually if it’s a good balance and the customer wants to come back if they feel that they actually get a little bit more value than they paid for. And then it’s up to your organisation or the seller’s organisation to see that we don’t burn the money along the way before it then translates into the profits for the organisation and maybe the shareholder or so, whatever we have.
That’s how we actually can make customers want to come back. We need to be attractive. We need to be known as the go-to organisation and each and every person in that organisation, optimally, should be known as the go-to person for whatever responsibility that person has. Whether he or she is a product manager or, project manager or delivery person or service person or a salesperson or marketing person, whatever it is that the customer is looking for at that instant, in those very specific customer interactions. Each and everyone optimally should be the go-to person that the customer comes first in mind is that I want to work with this person.
And that happens to be the person in your organisation. Then we have a good shot at the customer wanting to come back. I wanted to go with that that way. You see that I have maybe a softer approach in things but there’s a profit, of course, attached to that. So a profit expectation is attached to that value generation.
It’s not just about giving, giving, giving but we give and give and then you have to be able to also get in return. As opposed to forcing people to buy from you…That’s the worst scenario we can have. We force people to buy from us because we think that we have a lock-in situation or we actually have a lock-in situation, or we are a monopoly company, or we have a dominant market position and we force customers to buy from us.
Well, guess how long they will be willing to come back to us? Only for as long as they have to. As soon as they have an alternative as we discussed it with the taxi business, then they might jump ship. So you might end over overnight losing 20-30% of your business, or even more as soon as there is an alternative.
That’s why I proclaim and think very highly of looking at the customer end of things, the customer experience and customer value.
Petri: You were not always academic. Before you were actually doing sales and building sales organisations. Can you tell us something about that? Before we go into that story, there’s something funny. You just mentioned to me that you were in France, in Paris and something happened while you were with the customers. Let’s have a bit of fun and then go into your personal story.
Paul: Let’s do that. It was a funny story. It was happening already in the late nineties. 1996 it was in France, in Paris. We had a meeting and I was working for an organisation at that point in time. Before my academic career, I worked 15 years in selling and sales management in the area of B2B and B2G (business-to-business and business-to-government).
I was representing Finland where I was based at that time. We were eight people representing different countries in Europe. We met up in Paris for a meeting and we went to this nice hotel. Of course, the host was the French director.
He took us to this restaurant and we went there and we had a great dinner with French wine and French food and French everything, which I liked very much. But I didn’t know how it works. After the main course, they come and ask: any dessert, anyone? I was a big fan of cheese.
I like different kinds of cheese and so forth. It goes well with wine and the French executive told me that, well, why don’t you take the cheese platter? And I was like, yeah, I’ll do that. I ordered that and the waiter comes back after a moment with a small cart filled to the brim with cheese.
I was, Oh my God. He really understood that I really, really loved cheese. Oh, there are all kinds of cheeses there. And he brought it next to me where I was sitting at the end of the table. I thought, wow, this is going to take awhile. I started eating and I kept on eating the cheese and then the waiter comes back and is grabbing the cart. I asked, please don’t take it yet. And then he came back, he came back and the French executive looked at me. You really like cheese, Paul! That was a hint that I didn’t get it. And I said, yeah, I love cheese.
And then I continued eating. I continued eating. I’m about to explode. And the fourth time the waiter came back.
Petri: Fourth time?
Paul: Fourth time the waiter came back.
Petri: You don’t take hints!
Paul: Exactly! When he came back and I said, I really sincerely apologize but I’m so stuffed. I can’t have any more cheese. I’m sorry! I can’t have it all. And he said that’s okay, sir. And he took the cart, wheeled off and I was a little bit like, okay, well, at least he didn’t take it as an offence.
Then the French executive, he tapped me on my shoulder and whispered in my ear and said, Paul, you were just supposed to take a few bites of the cheese on your table.
Then he would bring it to the next tables, the rest of the cheese, because as you see all the other tables are looking at you. And I think we’re actually waiting for the cheese, which you have almost like eaten up already.
That was me being in the deep end of the pool in France when it comes to cheese and I was not able to swim there. This is a bit of an embarrassing story but it’s fun when you look at it years back.
Petri: Did you close the sales?
Paul: It was more of a strategy meeting that we had there still but we did succeed very well in that company. At least, it generated money with what we were doing there in Paris. That’s a nice story, I think.
Petri: Did you start with sales? Did you do something else before? You’ve also been working in startups and building sales organisations. Can you tell something about your early days and then why did you come to do what you do now?
Paul: There’s a story to that, too, as to almost everything. When I studied, I studied economics and international marketing and business. In those days, there were no courses in selling and sales management at university. I did my masters of science in economics, majoring in marketing and international sales or international business and finance actually.
Then I started working for an automotive company and that was a company I was working for also when being in Paris, which is just explaining. Then I moved from there to Germany. It was a sales position that I was in. I wanted to work in sales from day one when I left the business school at the university.
I decided I want to work in sales. The reason for that was that my dad used to work in sales. Now, he has passed away but he used to work in sales. I learned at a very young age that if you work in sales, you can travel a lot if you want to. If you were to work in international sales, you have to travel.
I just happen to love travelling. It was one of the things that I liked about my job and also the freedom to make choices. I mean, big choices also when it comes to selecting customer accounts and working on those and being able to talk to different level people in the organisation. You can talk to the CEO. She can talk to anybody. In the strategy department if you have that compelling story. You’re probably going to talk to everybody from purchasing and logistics up to marketing, up to their sales, up to their product management, up to their C-level and so forth.
It’s almost like being a consultant. Of course, I was working on the more complex solutions and so forth. Complex solution selling, you might call it. That gave me an opportunity of working at different levels and really creating business for companies. I was quite successful at doing that.
There was one company I jumped in. They hired me and I was number nine when I entered. I think we’re just short of 100 people when I left the organisation. We were building sales and being quite successful at that. When you are there then other people start saying, okay, Hey, could you do the same for our company? I was involved in about 16…
Petri: Let’s pause for just a quick question. Paul, are you a cowboy?
Paul: Well, I was a semi-cowboy. I was a semi-cowboy in the sense that if you’re referring to being successful?
Petri: Yeah. You were the top salesperson?
Paul: Yeah, I was.
Petri: Who took once the call and then the next day you were gone?
Paul: I was that and it worked out very nicely. I can say…
Petri: For you.
Paul: For me. Yeah. But that’s why I said semi-cowboy because I also didn’t just think about my profit generation mechanism and how I profit from that. But I always have been looking at, okay, how can the organisation and the shareholders of those organisations profit from what we’re doing.
I’ll always try to keep the bigger scope and also foremost look at, okay, what does what’s in it for the customer? That has been the determining factor for me to succeed in different companies because I don’t have a one model fits all. Well, maybe the one model would actually be that I’m looking at the customer and what makes them tick and what makes them successful and then derive the way I’m working with different organisations from that point.
I’ve always been very keen on building a team around me. Knowing who to contact when the customer needs something, or even as customers, I never left up to the customer to find the person in their organisation. I always did almost like headhunting in their organisation to find who’s responsible for this, who’s responsible for that. Who can help us further in that?
Back in the days when I was working in the telecom sector, I was helping at least 16 startups. Startups in the sense that either they were startups in Europe or they were established companies in the US but did not have any substantial operations or any operations in Europe.
Those were companies who contacted me and said, we would like you to build a sales organisation for us and create a salesforce. That’s what I did. Those were startups, usually, in the software and telecoms industry. That’s how I know quite a lot about how to build startups and how to build organisations that work and what you should focus on. Especially, if you’re on the innovative side of things, where you have an innovative product.
An Innovation, which you then try to bring on the market. There are many hoops and loops you need to get through. One of them is how far do we productise it before we go with it on the model in order to make it still able to flex that and to adjust it according to the market needs and so forth.
There’s a balance there. That’s what I did. I ended up recruiting a lot of people in these organisations because my job was to start from scratch. Usually, I was the first person, the first cowboy to work for them. Then my job was to take ownership and responsibility for that operation in Europe.
My job was to create a strategy. You look at do they have a strategy? Should that be tweaked or completely revamped or what should we do about it? Does it work, the same strategy that they have in the US, for example, North America, does it work in Europe or should it be changed?
Many times it needed to be changed. I did the strategy part first. Then it comes to bring those ideas and concepts, and sometimes even products, if they are ready, to friendly customers that I knew in the telecom sector or software industry or large enterprises, or even smaller enterprises and try them out and find out what could be the market for these? Who could be interested in? Why should they be interested in and what could that generate them and how should we price it? What could the business with a painted bottle be, et cetera, et cetera? I hired the salespeople for those organisations. Of course, not every organisation was successful. Some of them, I had to turn them down to say, okay, I did screen about 100 companies per year that I was looking at when they wanted me to work with them.
There was a lot of inbound companies coming and out of those were 16-17 companies filtered out that I worked for. Usually, I worked with two companies concurrently because they were in different stages so that was possible. When I hired salespeople from those organisations to build their sales team and then hand over the accounts to them that I had assigned and won or developed, and then they continued with that.
At the end of the day, I replaced myself with an executive, hired from another company from the market. I had one common problem in these organisations. The problem was finding salespeople. Finding the right type of salespeople. And that’s why I thought that, well, I’ll do the shortcut.
Why don’t I just go to universities and business schools who have selling and sales programs and contact their alumni and find good people there? I went to different schools and different countries or contacted them. And I asked, well, do you have a sales program? They said: no, we don’t.
Every university basically turned me down and they said we don’t have that. And I said, how could that be? This was back in 2008. How can you have business schools still today who don’t have a selling and sales program? How is that even possible? I mean, Petri, think about it.
You have your finance, your HR, your organisation theory. You have bookkeeping. You have everything. You have marketing but sales is not there!
Petri: Who needs sales?
Paul: Exactly! Exactly my point. Exactly. Who needs sales? Why bother? Nothing had really changed since the days when I studied it at the university level. I thought that maybe somebody should do something about it.
Petri: That sounds like an entrepreneurial approach.
Paul: Exactly. It’s a problem-solving approach. What do we do about this? Or we should fix this, right? That’s what I did. I contacted a business school in Finland, where I knew the professor a little bit from 15 years before when I had taken a course there. I called him and said: is it true that your business school doesn’t have a selling and sales program?
That’s right, Paul. We don’t. I was like, well, shouldn’t you have? He said, yeah, I totally agree with you. We should have. That’s when I said, okay, well, what if I did a PhD? In my naivety, I didn’t know what it actually entails but I asked him, so what if I did a PhD in selling and sales management? Could that maybe inspire somebody in the organisation, in the community to do something about it and start creating a program for that and start creating courses for that, then doing research in that and then making that appealing for the students?
He said, well, it could, yeah, sure. And then he said, why? I said, well, let me fly there next week. I flew up to Finland to meet with this person in question. And within two hours I’d explained to him what I could do a PhD on. What would the problem area be, and so forth and so forth.
And he helped me to reroute and redraft it. Then he said, okay, so, if you have the time and money for that. Money, of course, in Finland is not an issue in terms of education because education still does not cost but he was referring to the alternative cost of not doing my profit-generating work but rather spend some of my time on doing a PhD thesis and the courses related to that.
I said, sure. Yeah, I think I can do that. I’ll just take a sabbatical from my work and then do that.I thought that it would take one year or two years or something like this maximum. Naive as I was, so the second year is approaching its end and I’m like, wow, I’m still not even close to being ready.
Then I thought I have to ditch the projects that I’m working on. I’m not going to take on any new projects. I’m going to really focus. The third year, I focused completely on the PhD. The fourth year then I was almost finished. So four years after entering the university or business school I was ready with the PhD.
I thought that was very slow. I mean, of course, for an entrepreneur and people being entrepreneurs and fast money to business, we want things to happen yesterday. I thought this was quite a slow pace. And I said, well, maybe it’s because I was working half halftime to two first years.
Then somebody told me that, Paul, you’re obviously not aware that it takes about 5.8 years for people at this business school to get their PhDs. I was still about two years ahead of the average person as a PhD there.
Petri: What’s the number usually done for full-time students? So, 5.8 full-time and you did it only with one year full-time and two years before just part-time?
Paul: Correct. Yeah. That’s part of the equation. Yeah, it is.
Petri: And, in the beginning, you say that this is the shortcut to recruit people!
Paul: Exactly. I did. Little did I know because I was travelling. I was living in Southern France at that point in time and I was travelling there. I had to buy an ice hockey bag in Finland. I went into a sports goods store and I bought the biggest ice hockey bag I could find. And do you know what it was for?
Petri: No idea. I don’t even want to guess.
Paul: For books. I had about 30-40 kilos of books and articles printed in my bag that I was carrying around Europe when going from place to place to visit some clients and reading the books. Yeah. For real and reading the books in the evenings and reading them on airplanes, and so forth.
Petri: Talking about cabin luggage! Travelling light, you know? Yeah. I just have these t-shirts. No, it’s the books!
Paul: Lufthansa caught me once. It was when I was leaving Finland I had again stacked up some books in my bag. That was a bag I had as sports goods always in my luggage. Then I had a regular check-in back and then I had my cabin bag.
Then I have my laptop bag also with me. I had four bags that I was carrying around, the ice hockey bag weighing the most. At one time at the Helsinki airport, they actually stopped me when I was checking in the bag and I had the bag tag already printed and everything ready to go as usual.
They said, sir, would you be kind and open the bag? I said, ohh, you want to see my ice hockey things? They are pretty smelly. It’s stuff like sweaty things in there. Yeah. But sir, we need to see what it is. Reluctantly, I opened the zipper and the person is like this is not ice hockey material here.
I said: Oh yeah. I have some books here and they looked through the bag and they only found books there and binders of articles. They said, sir, this is not what sports goods bags are for, for transporting books. And I was like, yeah, sorry, I’m in the middle of my PhD thesis here so I need to carry these things. I can’t do it otherwise.
I was nice to them and they got the problem and so forth, and being a salesperson sweet-talking things and so forth. And they said, okay, we can write off so-and-so many kilos from this but for the rest, you have to pay.
I think it was 10 years per kilo that I had to pay extra for that. It became a little bit of an expensive bag for me to carry around but this was luckily in the latter part of the dissertation period that this happened. I had to carry that I don’t know how many times across Europe and it always worked like a charm. At this time I got caught and after that, I started paying attention to how many kilos of books I carry around.
Petri: You’d throw in some skates and a towel there as well.
Paul: Exactly. Some sweaty undies and so forth to just distract them from the whole fact. But yeah, as you said, it was a long route to finding people and then it didn’t stop at that. What happened was that at the business school they have their MBA school. It’s the Hanken School of Economics in Finland. Their MBA school asked me, Paul, could you do a selling and sales management course for our executive MBAs. I said, sure. Yeah, I can do that. I can put it together but who’s going to give it? Well, we thought you would. Well, that’s a little bit a lot to ask but, okay. I can do it one year. But then you have to find somebody to replace me on it and continue with that. And now it’s like the seventh year or something that I’m giving that course. They did find a replacement but I’m still looking at finding a replacement for myself so I can actually focus more on business even in the future.
Petri: Are there now more sales departments and are there more people doing sales?
Paul: I don’t want to mention the name but there was a very promising doctoral student that I had. Actually, the first at Hanken School of Economics focusing on selling and sales management but she was recruited to a company.
Petri: That’s the reason. They are all recruited away, the good ones.
Paul: Even master’s students who take my… I give some courses at Hanken at least until the end of this year. I have had two professorships in selling and sales management. One at Hanken School of Economics, and one at the rival university, the other big university in Finland.
I had concurrently two professorships in selling and sales management at those universities. That just shows that there is a demand for that but there was too little supply. I was chosen to be that to two rivalling schools at the same time.
That just shows how much interest areas. Of course, few salespeople come back to academia. I’m one of the stupid people, one of the few in the world who had actually done that. I still sometimes ask myself…I’m not so sure it was the most intelligent move that I had ever done in my life.
But it has certainly given a lot to those hundreds, maybe a couple of thousand already students that I’ve actually taught through the years in selling and sales management. The positive side of things is they get good jobs. They’re really quickly hired. Organisations contact me and say, Paul.
Could you maybe pass on our information that we have a job opening at this area to your students, for example or your previous students with whom I have quite good contact with at least some of those, not all. This has worked nicely on a higher level, from a social perspective of my part. From my microscopic view, I’ve helped, maybe the industry has become a little bit better in terms of selling and sales management through the output of the students that I’ve actually been teaching. And also, hopefully, the research that I’ve been doing in this area. I’m going to focus more going forward now on, again, working with companies and getting involved.
I’m sitting on a board of a very interesting company. My area of what I’m looking at is how they develop their sales and how they could perform better and how they can become more customer-focused and focusing more on customer value. These are kinds of things that I’m gonna work on more going forward.
It is maybe a sneak preview of what’s coming next year and so forth years after that. I would probably keep one foot in academia but it’s getting less and less because I have more interest in working in the business area.
Petri: What is your favourite word?
Paul: My favourite word, or maybe a name is loppan. That means flee in Swedish. That’s how I call my daughter. She loves that. That’s a very common word in Sweden. If you go to playgrounds and they are kids and their parents usually call them loppan. That’s such a sweet word and very catchy when it comes to small children. I love that.
Petri: What is your least favourite word?
Paul: It must be greed. Greed, like Gordon Gecko said in the film that greed is good. I think greed is not good. I think there needs to be some target orientation but greed is not the thing in my vocabulary. At least, not the favourite ones.
Petri: What turns you on creatively, spiritually, or emotionally?
Paul: Creatively, it’s water. It doesn’t matter if I’m taking a shower or if I’m swimming in a swimming pool or a lake or in the sea, or if I’m surfing the waves somewhere in Bali sitting on my surfboard. Usually, when I’m on the surfboard or riding it, then I don’t have time to think about anything.
When I’m sitting there waiting for the waves, that’s where things come into my mind. Maybe it’s because that’s a few occasions where I can really let go within. That’s also a spiritual experience almost. I mean, not taking a shower but surfing. That’s what I would say that that’s a spiritual and also emotional experience.
One emotional experience was actually in Colorado, training executives there. I was up and looking at Sawtooth Mountain. Sawtooth Mountain, that’s up in the hills, up in the mountains. And it was just such a beautiful evening and the clouds were just phenomenal.
Lighting was perfect. And there was only the wind that I could hear. That was the most spiritual experience that I’ve had. I mean, an earthly experience that I’ve had from a spiritual point of view.
Petri: What turns you off?
Paul: It goes together with greed and stress. Certain type of stress is good but if I see that the stress is either greediness or unmeaningful then I think that really turns me off.
Petri: What is your favourite curse word?
Paul: Fan. A Swedish word, which means damn. Maybe not the most powerful words in terms of cursing but that that’s gotta be it. Yeah.
Petri: What sound or noise do you love?
Paul: When my daughter comes next to me early in the morning and she whispers in my ear and says, daddy, are you awake? I think that’s the most beautiful sound that I like hearing. Apart from that, it could be the waves.
Petri: What sound or noise do you hate?
Paul: It’s scooters. Living down in Southern France, you know the story you’ve been there yourself. You have lived there yourself and you know the amount of scooters out there.
Petri: And we are not talking about the e-scooters now.
Paul: Definitely not. We are talking about the old school, smelly petrol fumy horrible scooters. Those driving uphill next to your apartment that just drives me nuts.
Petri: What profession, other than your own, would you like to attempt?
Paul: That’s a difficult one. I have hobbies. That’s one thing. But turning hobbies into a profession like photography, for example, or surfing? Not that I ever imagined that I could compete with Kelly Slater and the guys, and be successful at that, at least, not winning them. I’m a little bit trying to evade the question, maybe in the sense that I know what I do.
I’m good at what I do. I know what I do. I’ve read the things that I do. I’ve studied them. I think I’m pretty good when it comes to my own profession but so I want to stick to that. I don’t want to become something that I’m not very good at. Maybe, it has to do with age. I get a little bit more careful with it by age that I try to stick to my guns.
Petri: What profession would you not like to do?
Paul: I don’t really know if there’s any profession that I would not like to do. Maybe work in a coal mine. That’s probably going to be one of those areas. Any profession, which is hazardous or dangerous, and which I cannot make sound judgment or decisions on. Any of these and monotonous work. Sorry for anybody doing that out there. Doing something, for example, driving a taxi, we spoke about taxi before driving a taxi, for example, just make me to go nuts.
Partly because of my back. Because I have a little bit of a bad back, sports injuries. It doesn’t allow me to sit so much. I try to avoid that. The same goes for airline captain, for example, or pilot. I couldn’t do that either because of that reason. That would be nicer but at least you get to travel. I guess I won’t do that.
Petri: If you could be a co-founder of any startup in any era, which one would you choose?
Paul: It could be Amazon back in the days when Jeff Bates started. That could be it. I think it was such a brilliant story of how he came up with a whole business and changing from what he did before that to changing into what he did with Amazon.
Now, of course, it has grown a little bit out of proportion. That I would like to run it. Back in the early days, I think that could be one of those. But I’m not saying that it would be the only one. But it probably could be one of those companies.
Petri: Any final words for the audience?
Paul: We’ve been talking about startups. We’ve been talking about corporations. Many people say that or at least I keep hearing this that okay but the difference, Paul, what you do and what you teach and what you train and how you advise companies to work, it works nicely in corporations but it doesn’t work for startups.
And, I disagree with that. Because looking at it this way, they both are usually looking at the same types of customers. It might even be exactly the same customer that you’re approaching. It doesn’t differ that much if you as a vendor are a startup, a small company, even a one-man show, or if you’re a corporation with 50 000 employees. Because at the end of the day, the customer has the challenge.
They have something they want to get sold or they need something. Understanding that avenue and embracing that idea of we’re in it for the customer and for creating value for the customer. The one who creates the most value for the customer is probably going to be the one who wins the deal.
My advice is that regardless if you’re a corporation or a startup. The executives in your organisation whether it’s you and your dog or it’s you and your C-level people need to embrace the whole idea of customer value creation if you’re in it for the long term. Of course, if you’re deciding on we just want to compete by having the lowest price.
Well, good for you for as long as it works for your company but the day might come that somebody else offers something cheaper. Then you are in the game or having to choose your strategic route again. Oftentimes, we come back to the point that, okay, customer value creation is the most important.
Then you need to understand your customer. Understand your customer. That will be the second bullet point on my list that I would say. First, understand or embrace the whole value concept, then understand your customers. And then from that, you can then derive how you work.
What’s the approach gonna be? What’s the strategy going to be or strategies that you’re applying in your company? What’s the process going to look like or processes for different customers types and software categories? What are the actions and activities that we’re going to do as an organisation? That will be the third one. The fourth one will be to have the support and guidance system. All the CRMs, the reporting, everything should be aligned with so that you actually create value for the customer and appropriate value for your organisation. That is, get value back for your organisation. So, don’t just leave it at that level that, okay, if we now have the process, we have the activities but you should follow up. Just like we spoke about that only 25% of the companies in the study that I referred to earlier had a selling process in place that they were actually monitoring. They were the ones who are the most successful ones.
You need to do that. You need to follow up on things and need to have a support system that helps your organisation work in the intended way and the intended direction. And then, each one in the organisation and who’s facing the customer either directly or indirectly to wanting to become the go-to person in his or her specific domain and field of competence and role. These are all important. These five bullet points are really, really important regardless if you’re a startup or if you are a global operating corporation. These are the same. That would probably be it.
Petri: Thank you, Paul. There’s so much information here and hopefully, we reduced a bit of the chaos and confusion and complexity in sales, but I have a feeling maybe we increased it a bit as well.
Paul: Maybe we did. Things aren’t always as simple as we want them to be. We need to understand first. When we have looked at it enough in detail, we get the clarity and then we see through the whole problem. Then that’s how we know, okay. This is how we should do it.