An interview with Nigel Edelshain, WG’93
It says something about the diverse interests of Wharton alumni, that the Chairman and past President of the Wharton Club of New York, is not an attorney, investment banker or consultant, but a fluent and attentive teacher. It says something about the practical nature of Wharton alumni, that what he teaches is sales. Nigel Edelshain, WG’93, wasn’t always a teacher, or a salesman. His Wharton MBA nudged him out of engineering solutions into selling them.
Throughout the late 1990s, big-ticket technology sales were strong. Despite success, Nigel perceived that he and other salespeople had a growing and fundamental problem. What was implicit in all the best sales trainings and practices of the day was that the salesperson was standing in front of the client, chatting away, product in hand, inside the door. Salespeople’s dilemma was that, more often than they liked, they were outside the door, looking in.
The advent of the Internet was a huge milestone, changing everything, for the worse. Before the Internet, a salesperson had an excuse for getting into the buyer’s office in order to bestow “product updates.” Nigel explains, “Today, buyers can find whatever detailed information they need early in the buying process simply by typing into Google and pulling up dozens of white papers or webinars.”
Fast forward to 2006. After much thinking and writing, Nigel coined the (now popular) term “Sales 2.0,” created his company Sales 2.0 LLC (www.sales2.com), and began teaching salespeople to more effectively connect to customers. Following is our interview with Nigel.
What ’s different about sales today?
Sales is about people. In the end, it’s people who buy things. The larger the item, and the amount of money involved, the more trust we need before we buy. Trust is based on relationships. If there’s one single factor that determines whether you will get in to meet a prospect, it’s relationship. In “old school selling,” salespeople used to spend time developing relationships with buyers at dinners, lunches and on the golf course to develop that relationship. But buyers are simply under too much pressure to deliver results, to spend much time with any one salesperson.
But there is hope. There are new ways to build more relationships and far faster than you could before. These new ways are about using social networks to start relationships with people in your target market — often without even leaving your office. You can build initial relationships through the Web, but you need to get offline at some point and make these relationships “real.” We humans still need voice and in-person interactions to build more than surface-level relationships — not much has changed about that so far.
Can you give an example of how to use a social media tool?
One popular social network for salespeople is LinkedIn. Everybody knows about this website, but it’s not always obvious how to use it to actually sell something. Let’s assume that you’ve figured out your “ideal client” profile and hence a target list of companies. And let’s assume you’ve built up a reasonable number of connections on LinkedIn while you’ve been using it (if not, check out a book like I’m on LinkedIn, Now What???).
Let’s briefly walk through one way you can use LinkedIn to sell. Type in the name of Target Company A into the main search box in LinkedIn (keep the search pull-down menu set on its default of “People”). LinkedIn will then list the names of people in your target company, how many “degrees of separation” they are away from you, and which of your direct (first degree) contacts connects you to that company’s staff. Let’s say that LinkedIn shows that I know a “Person 1” in the target company through someone I know in real life, called “Person 2.” Great! Now, I can ask Person 2 for an introduction to Person 1. I can ask for this introduction either within the LinkedIn system or outside of LinkedIn using good old-fashioned e-mail — or even the downright archaic telephone.
LinkedIn is working as a networking tool for me here. It is telling me who the people I know in turn know. It’s the equivalent of my meeting with all my connections and asking them to bring their rolodexes to the meeting. One other feature of LinkedIn that’s pretty interesting is that people tend to put more personal information on their LinkedIn profile than they do on a corporate website. So, looking at someone’s LinkedIn profile will usually show the schools someone has diver, sky diver, etc.); and the groups he or she belongs to in LinkedIn.
For Wharton alumni who don’t currently use LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, how can they overcome the intimidation of using these new tools?
Personally, I like to dabble when trying something new. Others like to read books. If you need to get training, get training! Whichever way, you do need to make the effort to keep up, in order to be valued in your workforce.
Often, you are invited to connect, even by people you don’t actually know. Should you be selective? Having lots of links is not in itself a great strategy, because the person who you don’t know, doesn’t necessarily trust you. If, however, someone invites you to link with him, and he fits the profile that you want, then ask to have a quick phone call to get acquainted. If he refuses, you can remove him.
If you were to write a book, what would the title be?
I did. It’s an e-book, accessible on my website, called Don’t Cold Call. Social Call™. Are there any websites that you visit on a daily bas is? HubSpot, Twitter. Twitter is used a lot by marketing people — so it’s good for getting information. Most of my peers use it — a kind of “coopetition” — and it’s a great source of articles — like an instant library.
Like inbound research?
Are some social media better than others for different industries?
The platform you use needs to match your goal, and match the people you need to sell to, connect to and learn from. Facebook may be great for selling Rubbermaid’s consumer products, because it has 400 million users, compared to LinkedIn’s 20 million users, but LinkedIn is the king for selling high-ticket business-to-business products and services.
What kind of customers use your service?
We work with technology companies, financial services companies, media companies and a range of business-to-business services companies. The typical goal is to get sales numbers on plan (big surprise!). Our “secret sauce” is that we have found ways to get salespeople in the buyer’s doorway more often than traditional sales methods do. Getting in front of the right buyer is the No. 1 bottleneck for many companies and causes their sales pipelines to crater. The revenue problem starts right at the beginning of their sales pipelines, as they are not meeting enough of the right buyers to ever hit their sales goal.
Can you talk about some other user-friendly and effective tools?
There are both well-established tools and there are newer “Sales 2.0” tools that help you build prospect lists. Whichever tools you use, you are going to have to first figure out your ideal client profile (the type of company and the type of people within that company).
Some of the well-established tools that help you build prospect lists include Hoover’s, Dun & Bradstreet, OneSource and SalesGenie. On these databases, you can download lists of your target companies, some basic demographic data on them and the senior executives of those companies. So that’s a good start. These are great tools to build a foundation for your prospecting efforts. But there are now Sales 2.0-type tools for getting even more information on your prospects.
Jigsaw, NetProspex and Spoke are built on social communities of salespeople. In these systems, it is salespeople who are members of each community who put contacts into the database for other salespeople to use. In my prospecting efforts, I find Jigsaw and NetProspex extremely useful for finding middle managers in large companies who are not typically listed in Hoover’s or Dun & Bradstreet. Another interesting tool is ZoomInfo. This tool takes an approach different from Jigsaw, NetProspex and Spoke. Rather than a community of salespeople putting in contact data to share with one another, ZoomInfo gathers data using “Web spiders” that look at billions of Web pages and suck down executives’ bios and company data into one consolidated database.
What are the essentials to getting your own LinkedIn page up to snuff?
We all get it that a good corporate home page is important, but the game has changed now. As I said earlier, you are a brand now. Even inside a corporation, you are selling yourself, advancing your career, getting your budget approved. So, your LinkedIn page has become your personal Web home page. When people Google you, there’s a very high probability that your LinkedIn page will come up near the top. If they click on that page, what will they see? Who will they think you are? Is that who you want them to think you are? You are your search results now. Make sure your Google results and the pages that come up when you click on them are what you want.