The Wisdom of the Sales Manager

Russ Thau is the VP of Sales at Intercom, which makes a customer communication platform.“I think selling is just one of those things you just have to learn over time,” he says. “You just have to experience it yourself to learn it.” Here are some of the things that Thau has learnt.

Sales is politics

Thau sees his job as helping AEs to prioritize and navigate deals. “I think a lot of sales comes down to politics, “ says Thau. “That’s what sales is really all about — managing personalities and politics — and how to connect the dots. Sure they could be adopting the product, and you could have collected all the right discovery criteria, but the person you’re talking tois not in a position to buy anything. Or the person you’re talking to we just found out is going to be quitting in a month. No Machine Learning’s going to pick that out.”

Keep it personal

The human touch is also essential when it comes to the biggest challenge for any sales team: manufacturing urgency. You can offer a deal or have a trial expire but Thau says the relationship you have with a prospect is just as important in creating urgency. Everybody at Intercom is trained in establishing a good rapport with a prospect and keeping it personal.

“A lot of times you can just create urgency just because there’s a relationship there,” says Thau. “Just be like, ‘Hey listen, can you do this for me now? It would really mean a lot if we could get this done before the end of this month.’ I mean we all know the job of a sales person.”

Handling huge customers

At the opposite end of the scale from establishing relationships with individuals, is dealing with large customers. “What we do is basically just say no,” says Thau. “We’re trying to build a successful, profitable company. You can’t come in and bark demands that other customers don’t get. You can have access to our API’s. We’re happy to hold your hand. But we’re not going to build a specific feature for just you.”

Outbound is expensive

If you are specifically targeting large customers, do you need an outbound sales team? “If you’re selling bigger deals, then go for it, “ says Thau, “But I think what most people don’t realize is just how expensive it is.” Thau wrote a whole blog post on the cost of cold calling alone.

Thau thinks there is an alternative. “If you could identify all the companies that could use your product, why not target the crap out of them? With marketing. That way when I become interested in your product I will visit your web-site. On your site you can offer a low friction, non-intrusive way to message with me. This is a much better experience than receiving an annoying cold-call. That experience is what Intercom is all about.”

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Ciara Byrne
Ciara Byrne
Lapsed developer, current tech journalist, would-be media mogul, Ciara is fascinated by how new technology can help create a better world.

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