Experience Asymmetry – Why your young reps struggle selling to older, more experienced buyers
Author: collin stewart
David Priemer first noticed experience asymmetry when he was 25 years old working as a solution engineer for an enterprise software company. As part of the sales process, he often found himself in boardrooms doing custom coding and product demos for groups of executives in traditional spaces like manufacturing, financial services, and airlines. On one occasion, while he was setting up in a boardroom to give a day-long demo, one of the executives jokingly said to David, for the benefit of his colleagues: “Hey David, I bet we’ve got systems here older than you!” The comment elicited a chuckle from all the executives present and David realized this man was right. Most of the people in the room had been working at this one company for as long, if not longer, than he had been alive. They were probably thinking, “who is this kid? What is he going to teach us about running a business?”
He didn’t yet have a name for what was going on, but what David was experiencing is very common for young sellers in the b2b tech space. In many cases, salespeople are speaking to customers whose jobs they have never done. It’s difficult, then, to put oneself in that customer’s shoes and imagine what they care about, what they think about, and the pains they experience. Additionally, these salespeople are often selling comlex, innovative software solutions that they have never used and that they don’t use within their organization. This is true of salespeople that are brand new to the profession and to tenured sales reps who are new to a job. When they have a sales interaction with someone older and/or more experienced than them they tend to be fearful and think “why should this person listen to me?” – which in turn is perceived by the buyer as a lack of conviction and credibility.
COINING THE TERM
When David was running the small business sales team for the Eastern US at Salesforce out of Toronto he worked with reps based there, in Atlanta, and in New York. The NY reps were young, enthusiastic, and hustled like no one else. They completed the most amount of activities and were always on the go, but sometimes, in spite of that, he had reps with no pipeline. So he’d dig in a little. He’d ask them if they had enough accounts. If they were connecting on the phone. If the tools and tech were working for them. When they said yes to all this, he realized he had no choice but to listen to the calls themselves to see why they weren’t converting. When David was running the small business sales team for the Eastern US at Salesforce out of Toronto he worked with reps based there, in Atlanta, and in New York. The NY reps were young, enthusiastic, and hustled like no one else. They completed the most amount of activities and were always on the go, but sometimes, in spite of that, he had reps with no pipeline. So he’d dig in a little. He’d ask them if they had enough accounts. If they were connecting on the phone. If the tools and tech were working for them. When they said yes to all this, he realized he had no choice but to listen to the calls themselves to see why they weren’t converting.
In listening to the calls, he discerned, not in the reps’ words but in their tone of voice, that they sounded like they were bothering the customer. He likens their tone now to one his three kids take when they’re about to ask him for something that they know he’s not going to give them. Just as he coaches his kids on having conviction, he begun to teach his reps the same.
When someone innately believes in or is passionate about something, you can feel it just in the way they describe that thing. But younger, newer, less experienced reps sometimes lack the level of knowledge about their product that will result in conviction. That is the root of the issue. Dan Pink describes information asymmetry in his book To Sell is Human, and David liked that imagery, so the term experience asymmetry was born.
TOP CHALLENGES FOR YOUNGER SELLERS
1. Because young salespeople have never done the job of the person they’re selling to, they don’t necessarily understand the pains and issues the customer experiences in their day to day.
2. Young salespeople don’t have the life experience they can lean on and say “in my experience” to build credibility
3. Especially in the b2b tech space, what we do is relatively unimportant. We’re not curing cancer, splitting the atom, or feeding children in developing countries. If we did, we’d certainly be able to muster a lot of conviction around what we do. But the things we do are normal and basic. We train salespeople, grow businesses, and build middleware, and our customers can only give a fraction of a percentage of their time to, as David puts it, give a shit about what we do. So, it’s difficult to manifest great passion and conviction about something so seemingly banal.
BENEFITS OF HAVING YOUNG SALESPEOPLE
There is more to David’s anecdote about his day-long demo and the executive’s joke about his age. After he completed his demo, another executive said, “You know, if we had some old person coming in here talking about the latest technology, I don’t know if we would believe him.” This is the benefit of having young people selling innovative solutions. They are able to bring a certain passion, conviction, and enthusiasm which is contagious if it is harnessed and coached in the right way. Young people are used to talking about new tech and they’re familiar with innovation, so they can be the best ambassadors for that kind of message.
3 STRATEGIES FOR CONVERTING MORE EXPERIENCED BUYERS
1. Know their pain points. A client of David’s based in Vancouver, BC, has been very successful because of their sales reps’ use of assumptive priming. Assumptive priming is the system they used to come up with 1 to 3 pain points their prospects are likely experiencing based on what they already know about them: their role, their company, their industry, and the systems they currently use to complete a task. Through this simple tactic, the salespeople at this company, though fresh out of college or out of retail jobs, were able to get 4 months tenured conversion rates in as little as 3 weeks.
2. Invoking the credibility of others. Unless you’re Oprah, no one cares what you think. If a young seller says “what I’ve seen” or “what I’ve heard,” the customer thinks “who the hell are you?”. Young sellers are not able to manifest a high level of personal credibility. David suggests that instead, they think about who does have credibility when talking to their prospects. Other customers do – they’ve used your solution to get value and have similar day to day experiences to your prospects. The collective experience of your organization does – you may have been in business for many years. Your founder does. Third party resources, studies, articles, and books do. If young people shift their phrasing away from “I” and instead speak from the perspective of those more credible than they are, they can borrow conviction until they develop it themselves.
Example: “What I’ve seen is…” “What I’ve found is…” “What we’ve seen is…” “What this study from Harvard Business Review shows is…” “What our founder realized is…”
3. Present arguments with conviction. Your prospect/customer can tell if you don’t believe in what you’re selling, the same way David can with his kids. The problem is that we do normal things that are tough to believe in. Instead of talking about the features and benefits, David coaches salespeople to lead with what they do believe in. What is the company’s mission? Why do you do what you do? Why does your company exist in the first place? Young sellers will need training wheels here. One of the easiest ones relating to describing what you do is David’s love/hate method. The love part is the desired future state that your customers aspire to. The hate part is the thing blocking them. Present arguments with conviction. Your prospect/customer can tell if you don’t believe in what you’re selling, the same way David can with his kids. The problem is that we do normal things that are tough to believe in. Instead of talking about the features and benefits, David coaches salespeople to lead with what they do believe in. What is the company’s mission? Why do you do what you do? Why does your company exist in the first place? Young sellers will need training wheels here. One of the easiest ones relating to describing what you do is David’s love/hate method. The love part is the desired future state that your customers aspire to. The hate part is the thing blocking them.
Example for Cerebral Selling: “People love to buy stuff but they hate talking to salespeople.”
Example for Trunk Club: “For men who love to dress well but hate to shop.”
Love and hate are emotionally charged words that can help you anchor your feelings about your company’s mission and help you present with conviction.
WHAT SALES LEADERS CAN DO TO IDENTIFY AND FIX EXPERIENCE ASYMMETRY
David wouldn’t have picked up on the experience asymmetry that existed for his reps at Salesforce if he hadn’t been listening to their calls, so he maintains that this is the most important thing to do. Try to certify your reps on some of the tactics that he has shared, and when you have a rep who is able to use these tactics and manifest conviction, share the recordings of their calls with your whole team.
Experience asymmetry can be a silent killer for young sales reps whether they’re opening opportunities on cold calls or trying to win deals with older, more experienced buyers. If you’re not addressing it – you’re missing out on improving conversion in a big way. By listening to your reps’ calls and having them follow the steps outlined above, you can help eliminate that experience asymmetry – or at least help them fake the conviction until they can summon it up themselves.
David’s book: Sell the Way You Buy
More on reversing the hatred of talking to salespeople: Social Selling and Reversing The Hatred of Salespeople
And more on building and maintaining credibility: How to Keep Your Sales Team From Killing Your Brand & Your Bottom Line
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