About the guests
Steve Maul is the founder and managing principal at The Semantics Group. He brings nearly 40 years of successful marketing, sales, performance improvement and management experience to the clients with whom he works. Having a career in direct and channel sales, sales management, marketing, finance and as an executive in companies both large and small, Steve grasps quickly the challenges faced by his clients and works to clear the hurdles that prevent revenue growth and predictability. His passion is not only helping his clients GET customers, but also ensuring that they can deliver the expected value so those customers will establish loyalty and repeat buying. Steve has authored dozens of performance improvement programs for sales, marketing, consulting and customer service professionals and worked extensively with world-class companies such as SAS Institute, CenturyLink, Cisco, FinListics, Fiserv, Mansfield Energy, Oracle, SAP, and others.
Announcer: [00:00:02] Broadcasting live from the Business Radio X studios in Atlanta Georgia. It's time for Atlanta Business Radio, spotlighting the city's best businesses and the people who lead them.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:16] Lee Kantor here with Stone Payton, another episode of Atlanta Business Radio and son this can be a fun one.
Stone Payton: [00:00:21] Hey, this is going to be a lot of fun. I have been looking forward to this for such a long time. Please join me in welcoming to the broadcast, and back to the Business Radio X microphone with The Semantics Group, Mr. Steve Maul. How you been, man?
Steve Maul: [00:00:38] I've been great. It's always great to see you guys. I really appreciate you having me in today.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:41] Well, Steve, before we get too far into things, can you tell us about The Semantics Group, and how you're serving folks?
Steve Maul: [00:00:47] So, you know, we started about seven years ago now. And the focus within the business is really very straightforward. It's all about helping our clients in both the getting customers and keeping them because, you know, you talk a lot about a lot of people talk about sales effectiveness or sales technique, but the selling process doesn't end with the contract. So the whole idea of keeping customers becomes really important to our clients as well. That is, by far one of the most costly things to do, if you're not paying attention to that along the way, you have to then re acquire customers. And that becomes expensive. So we focus on getting and keeping customers for our clients. And the idea behind that is looking at the processes they use, the methodologies, the techniques, the skills, all of those things that are required to do those things, and making sure they're optimized, making sure they're easy to execute, and making sure they're effective. And that's so within the organization and as they go customer facing in their world.
Lee Kantor: [00:01:50] Now, what's your background? Were you always involved in sales and sales effectiveness?
Steve Maul: [00:01:53] My original background is that of an accountant, which I learned very early in my career was not the right job for me, you know, I love things that balance, so balance sheets, and profit and loss and all that kind of stuff was really helpful. But I got involved in technology very early on in my career with the implementation of software to help do accounting. And that led me to go to work for a software company that did that. And that led to a career in sales. And since then, I've never looked back, I could never go back to being an accountant. Selling's in my blood.
Lee Kantor: [00:02:27] So in the accounting industry, though selling, that's not usually part of their DNA, you must have stuck out a little bit.
Steve Maul: [00:02:36] Well, I've always been a little bit of an odd fellow, I have no problem saying that. Yeah, it's one of those things where, it's a hybrid thing, because I do, like I said, I like puzzles, and I like making things balance and finding how they fit together. Which helps on the process development side of what I do today, but sitting in a room with the green eyeshade, and you know, the number, right, the 10 key and all that kind of stuff that that grew boring pretty quickly. And when I started with customer interaction, and understanding what they were trying to do in their business, and looking at how we could help them accomplish those things. That's what makes selling fun.
Stone Payton: [00:03:15] Those were the puzzles you wanted to solve.
Steve Maul: [00:03:17] That's the puzzle I want to fix.
Stone Payton: [00:03:18] Now did sales come easy to you right out the gate? Or did you struggle with it at first?
Steve Maul: [00:03:25] Well, well, there are two sides of that. So interacting with people has always been an easy thing for me. I'm a naturally outgoing individual, but the process of selling was a struggle in my early years, it's understanding how you do things, and it's not just going and telling them what your product can do, or your solution can deliver. It's about making it real for them, it's about understanding the connection, they have to have to it. You can think it's wonderful all day long. But until they see that solution connection, nothing's going to happen. So that's the part that was hard to learn. Because it's really getting inside the motivations behind their desire to purchase or the outcomes they hope to seek to achieve. Not just that they need this particular product, or they're asking about this particular product. And far too often people you know, there's the old saying, 'Telling, ain't selling'. And for a lot of, especially new or early career sales professionals, that can be a daunting thing: to get over and overcome that telling part of it and getting into the selling part.
Lee Kantor: [00:04:34] Now in your work, is your firm doing the actual selling or you're giving tools to your clients so they can be kind of self contained and they can do it this themselves?
Steve Maul: [00:04:45] It's all the latter. We don't rep for a client or anything like that our job is to sit down with a client and understand what they're trying to achieve from greater effectiveness inside their organization. And that could be revenue growth, it could customer loyalty, it could be salesperson retention, keeping their key performers. So we look at four major areas of how an organization could in fact, or how we could help an organization and that's everything from assessment of their current staff, processes, techniques, methodologies into the strategy that they're trying that they might want to undertake, in order to improve those outcomes that they're looking for. Then we talk about how we're going to implement and help that organization learn. And I don't mean just the people I mean, the organization, organizational learning. How do processes need to adjust? How do people interact with one another? How do we make it the internal practice of selling easier? How do we how do we apply that lubrication within the organization to make revenue generation, customer retention more effective? And then lastly, it's the coaching, it's the ongoing performance enablement, the perfect performance support. Because once an organization, anytime anybody learned something, it can fade. And so it's that repetition, it's the support necessary, it's the continuous improvement, the refinement of all the initial work that that is what allows us to stay with an organization clearly in a smaller, typically a smaller role. We're not doing as much but we're checking in with them over time to make sure that what they decided to do is having the right impact, making adjustments as necessary. And continuing that refinement and improvement over time.
Lee Kantor: [00:06:32] Like this is a tactic this is kind of a holistic strategy that the whole organization has to kind of participate in order to be effective.
Steve Maul: [00:06:40] Well, yeah, so it was, I was saying this to someone earlier. You know, a lot of people think of sales enablement as a job function. And what sales enablement is, is a corporate culture. And if it's not, then you're making your salespeople work a lot harder than they need to, if that function of enabling the sales process is limited to a group of people than the rest of the organization doesn't understand what they're trying to do. It's not that they intentionally put up roadblocks, they just happen, and they don't understand why it's a roadblock. And they don't understand why that change is necessary. So you're correct. It's completely holistic. If the organization is not behind it, we may not even engage because that will that there will just be too many internal inertia elements to overcome.
Lee Kantor: [00:07:32] There's friction in places there doesn't have to be. And if everybody's working together, everybody's kind of singing from the same choir sheet.
Steve Maul: [00:07:40] Right. And friction in and of itself, not a bad thing. I actually like friction in the process. Because, if you think of a race car, the reason race car tires are flat is because they want as much contact with the road surface as possible. And cars only move forward because of friction, those tires grabbing the road is friction. And if you think of the best race cars, they have great friction, so they have traction and they're able to react. So traction and reaction are what helps you win a race. And if an organization can undertake that and that says, "There's no one person that has the best idea", we can come in from The Semantics group. And just because we suggest something doesn't mean it's necessarily the best, we are open to the dialogue that will lead to the better outcome. And it's that sharing of ideas, the sharing of practices that we've seen work elsewhere, what their concerns are about those, that's the friction that helps us gain the traction.
Lee Kantor: [00:08:35] Right? But you don't want the pit crew each guy doing something different.
Steve Maul: [00:08:38] That's correct. You know, yeah, if I come in, if I come in for an oil change, right? If I come in to repair a tire, I don't want you...
Lee Kantor: [00:08:45] They have to be very, kind of, aligned.
Steve Maul: [00:08:48] It's not time to change out the spark plugs, right?
Stone Payton: [00:08:51] Well, the reason I was smiling when you guys were talking is I, I've been on several sales teams and I had a colleague that used to refer to part of the organization as sales prevention.
Steve Maul: [00:09:01] Right? Exactly.
Stone Payton: [00:09:03] And he was not all together wrong about it.
Steve Maul: [00:09:05] That happens more often. You know, that's a very prevalent feeling among some sales organizations. And like I said, it is not that they are intentionally undertaking that. But that's the perception that the field can get and through communication comes understanding. And we hopefully can get them all understanding what the mission and there are clearly things that have to be done within an organization for compliance, regulatory compliance and other things that have to be done for ethical and legal reasons. But that doesn't mean that, you know, that they should not be adversarial against one another inside the business.
Lee Kantor: [00:09:43] Now, are there industry's you work in? Or is it across the board? Or it sounds like you primarily started in software and technology?
Steve Maul: [00:09:51] Yeah, I started in tech. And just because I know more about that than others, that's where I have tended to gravitate. Although we do have clients in other industries, not a ton of them yet, but we're... the industry is less important. The key to us when we consider forming a relationship with a client is are they doing business to business selling, so we're not in the consumer market, I can't, I don't have the expertise and I'm not going to add it to the team to help you do better consumer marketing, better shelf space optimization in the retail environment or something like that. But what we can do is apply what it's like to sell a business solution to another business. And, and because the buying entity regardless of the industry, they're in, still is looking for one of those business outcomes. And when you think about business outcomes, you are thinking about revenue growth, cost reduction, profitability growth, market expansion, customer loyalty, customer satisfaction. The business outcomes are the same. So we can apply our expertise to those functions, whether we have specific industry experience myself as an example, I don't, I don't have all the industry experience in the world. But I've sold to virtually any industry, I understand what they're trying to accomplish. And I can get, I have a very vast pool of talent and resources to bring to bear, I'll find somebody in that industry, if that's what they need.
Lee Kantor: [00:11:23] And then the pain points that these people are having are in those same areas, right? If they're having customer acquisition or process of the team's not talking to each other. Those are the pain areas that they're having, where you guys come in?
Steve Maul: [00:11:36] Well, like so many things, the presenting problem is not usually the business outcome they're seeking.
Lee Kantor: [00:11:42] Right.
Steve Maul: [00:11:42] Right, they'll come to us and say, well, you know, the sales cycle is too long, or our win rates down. The presenting problem, the challenge that they're facing is, is often the symptom, not the disease. Right. So what we need to do is dig in on the disease is, and figure out what the root cause of that is. And then the presenting problem in and of itself doesn't mean that an organization is going to spend money to fix it. We've all seen where an organization has a problem they wish they could fix, but when you go to get budget for it, they say no. Because it's not high enough of an anticipated return on that spend. So if there's not enough business impact, nobody's going to fix the problem. So part of what we do is understand the challenge that they face, the functional problem they're expressing, the impact on the business and how it's preventing that ultimate business outcome. Because if all three of those aren't there, if you can't make the connection, you're not going to get the funding you need in order to make the change necessary. You're not going to get, forget money from it, you're not going to get the internal cultural impetus to change that is often necessary in order to achieve those outcomes within the company.
Lee Kantor: [00:11:57] Right. So then the higher ups aren't seeing the problem the way you see it?
Steve Maul: [00:13:01] Or they see the problem, but they don't think that that challenge will fix it. Or it's not a big enough, it's not a front burner issue, right? It's like, yeah, talk to me about that this time next year. Because right now, what I'm focused on is something else.
Lee Kantor: [00:13:15] This fire.
Steve Maul: [00:13:16] Right. Or this more strategic imperative. You know, if a company is trying to, as an example, I was talking to somebody who came with the problems, and we went and talked to the executive saying, "No, no, no, right now what we're focused on is acquiring another firm in the business. After that, we'll talk about that. Then we'll talk about how we're going to fix the sales process." Because if you've ever been through a merger, there's a lot, you're not going to fix the process before that, because it's going to get broken no matter what it is.
Lee Kantor: [00:13:44] And then, so that's where you guys come in, to have a conversation. So it might not be a conversation that's going to lead to a sale today, but you're there as a resource down the road.
Steve Maul: [00:13:54] Oh, it usually won't lead to a sale today. It's one of those things where I'm not in the business of selling my services. I'm in the business of helping customers buy. And what that means is, it's understanding what they're trying to accomplish, and telling the story and helping them in any way I can along the way, until they're convinced that engaging us will add greater value. And that means that you have to live in their world, you gotta get to what they're trying to accomplish. And until that, there will be no sale. And so that's.. I never look at a meeting a conversation as an opportunity to sell, I look at it as an opportunity to understand. And that will help us build a relationship develop trust, and eventually if it's the right thing for both of us to do, then we'll engage.
Lee Kantor: [00:14:44] Now when you're when you're talking to these firms, and they're all over the country, right? You don't work primarily here, we're in Atlanta, right?
Steve Maul: [00:14:51] They're all over the world.
Lee Kantor: [00:14:51] All over the world. And then say that hypothetically, they have that "Oh, it seems like our sales cycle's creeping up." Like it used to be six months, and now it's nine months? Are there kind of similar answers to why that is? Or that could be just about any reason?
Steve Maul: [00:15:06] Well, there could be any number of reasons. And there could be things that we need to still explore. But we would start to look at, you know, changes in their customer situation. So, is something going on in their typical customer base that is slowing down the decision process or the evaluation process? Is there something going on in their industry that is causing hesitation? Is there something wrong in their sales process where they're not leveraging the right kind of either solution elements or influence or qualification, or any of those things that could lead to a slower close rate or a longer sales cycle? So we don't know. We don't jump to a conclusion of what the answer is. You can't give me one presenting problem and I go, "Oh, I know the answer to that." Because I don't until we ask some more intelligent questions and dig in, then we can figure that out.
Lee Kantor: [00:16:01] o it doesn't matter, whatever their challenge is, you're going to start by just saying, that might be the starting point where you start exploring. But that's not where the answer may lie. The answer may lie somewhere totally different, right? Dig in a little bit.
Steve Maul: [00:16:12] Exactly correct.
Lee Kantor: [00:16:14] And then when you start digging in, how long is that kind of discovery period?
Steve Maul: [00:16:18] How long is a piece of string? It depends, you know. If we can figure out the root cause quickly, and we can start an implementation, it can happen fairly fast. If it's a multinational organization that's got cultural changes, and everything else is undergoing or they're, they're under some sort of business transformation themselves, it may take longer to figure out. We might be able to kind of divide up the use cases, the problems that they're dealing with, and start to focus on some things first. And know that that will either reveal more, or will prioritize. We can address this this issue first. And we'll get to the others later, once we figured out how, you know, their time frame and their best approach to doing that.
Lee Kantor: [00:17:02] And then in these kind of complex organizations, you typically come in with one champion or do you have to kind of get to a board level in order to really implement the change?
Steve Maul: [00:17:11] It can be either. It's generally scope dependent. So if you can get a leader who understands the outcomes they're trying to achieve, and you can have a really collaborative discussion about what the causes of those are, and you get that buy in and that alignment fairly quickly, then it can start, it can happen fairly quickly with just one person.
Lee Kantor: [00:17:34] Is there anything that you can share that's kind of, I don't say, maybe tips or some solutions that they might have at their disposal, that maybe they're just not aware of that you are because you deal with this all the time?
Steve Maul: [00:17:47] Well, the first one, the universal tip that I think I would encourage everyone to ask themselves, or think about when they describe a problem inside their business is to think of two things around that: what do they think is causing it? And if there's more than one, they should just list them out. And, kind of, what are the things that lead to that because it's not always the same thing. And it could be more than one thing. And then the second question is, well, how does that really impact our results? How does that affect our desired outcome? Because if it doesn't, or if it's not a significant impact, then they have to realize it's going to be harder to get mindshare and attention and money in order to fix it.
Stone Payton: [00:18:32] Yeah, I can't take it anymore. I want to talk about... I want to talk about this radio show that we're gonna do. I mean, obviously, I can tell from the way you describe your work, you find this incredibly rewarding. You love doing it.
Steve Maul: [00:18:47] Yeah, I can't imagine doing anything else.
Stone Payton: [00:18:50] And I can't take it anymore. We want to talk about this show that he's going to do. All right. So you.. we're going to let the cat out the bag here. You're going to be doing, on a regular rhythm, a radio show, and you're going to be talking to people about some of these topics, right?
Steve Maul: [00:19:04] Yeah, we decided we want to do what we're calling Sales Effectiveness Radio. And really appreciate the opportunity to work with you guys further. So we're going to do a monthly show where we're bringing in two or three industry experts about sales effectiveness. And some of them will come from the vendor community. What we really want to do, though, is get people within organizations who struggle with or deal with, or have had success with sales effectiveness. And so we want to... I don't, that's really the parameter we're talking about. I don't want to start to limit it to, you know, specific parts of the sales process or specific sales operations or even specific roles. What I want to have is a dialogue about what are the things they're seeing happen? What have they been a successful in doing to improve the sales effectiveness within their own organization. And the whole purpose of having this is to start sharing that information to the audience, to the to the community as a whole. Because we shouldn't all have to reinvent the wheel, you know? If it's round and flows downhill under the force of gravity, let's call it a wheel. Let's borrow it from somebody else and share this stuff. Because there's no one person who has, like I said earlier, no, one person has all the answers. And what we need to do is, is have a place where we can share those things. I want to get sales leaders in, I want to get sales people in the conversation. What can make this job better? How do we improve the effectiveness of those in the sales professional profession, and those who support sellers so that we can make it better for everyone, including the customers.
Lee Kantor: [00:20:41] So now the guests you see are those sales leaders that can come from any industry?
Steve Maul: [00:20:46] Sales leaders, salespeople who deal with the sales operations, functions. Salespeople, anybody who has a perspective on sales effectiveness, I am absolutely open to considering as a guest.
Lee Kantor: [00:21:00] And they can come from anywhere or primarily starting in the Atlanta area.
Steve Maul: [00:21:04] I want to focus on Atlanta, because I want them to be able to come into the studio. Now, that might go as, you know, west over to Birmingham, or Montgomery. And it might pull from Athens or even, you know, parts of South Carolina. Anyone who's in the general community who can make it to Atlanta. But sitting here in the room and having the conversation is what I really want to focus on. Well, you guys know that the difficulty of doing it over the phone is there's... it's less personal and I want to have a conversation not just in an interview kind of thing.
Lee Kantor: [00:21:36] And then the listener is anybody in sales in the organization and the leadership of the organization, so this listenership goes beyond the salespeople, right?
Steve Maul: [00:21:44] Absolutely. The leadership. I even want to get some customers into the conversation in the coming months.
Stone Payton: [00:21:51] That's a great idea!
Steve Maul: [00:21:52] Who can talk about what it's like to be on the other side of the conversation, on their side of the table. What would make it more effective for them from a selling professional. The customer's voice is paramount.
Lee Kantor: [00:22:02] Now, why is it important for you to to take the time out of your busy schedule to invest in this kind of education for the community?
Steve Maul: [00:22:10] Well, two reasons. Like you said, I'm passionate about this. And I love this. And I believe in collaboration and sharing. To try and keep all the knowledge in my head is not the way I work. It is a community and we all learn. I have learned over my career from countless mentors, professionals, people, colleagues, who have been generous with their giving of knowledge, insight, performance improvement, all those things. I couldn't be where I am today, without the gifts I have received along the way. I want to make sure that people in, at least in our listening area, have that same opportunity to hear from others who are dealing with the same issues, who have either... so they either feel like there's camaraderie in the challenge, or there's a solution they might consider looking at for their own organization.
Stone Payton: [00:23:06] You and I are going to learn a ton just hanging out during this thing. Just imagine in a matter of a few of these episodes, the thought leadership and the content that's going to be in the can that people can tap to address these issues will be fantastic.
Steve Maul: [00:23:23] That's my goal is to make this so that it's a resource to the profession. This isn't about anything other than that. I want to make sure there's an opportunity to get voices heard, who may not otherwise have a forum.
Stone Payton: [00:23:37] And we're going to broadcast live, like the second Tuesdays at 1pm Eastern and people are going to want to tap into that. But like so much of the material on this network anyway, it's going to be available on demand. Yeah, we'll tap it whenever you want.
Steve Maul: [00:23:50] Yeah, you guys will host that. We're going to have to put it out as podcasts on our site so that they're available on demand, no charge. I mean, we want to make sure people have access to this. This isn't about anything other than that.
Lee Kantor: [00:24:02] And March 12 is the kickoff and it'll be on a rhythm of second Tuesday of the month.
Steve Maul: [00:24:07] That's right, that's right.
Lee Kantor: [00:24:09] And if somebody wanted to learn more about the show and your firm we're sending them to your website.
Steve Maul: [00:24:18] www.semanticsgroup.com. S-E-M-A-N-T-I-C-S group dot com.
Lee Kantor: [00:24:22] Good stuff. Well thank you so much, Steve, for sharing the story. And to your point Stone, I bet you that this information is going to get... we'll share with some of the professors in the colleges around that could be part of the curriculum at some of these schools.
Stone Payton: [00:24:35] Oh yeah would you be open to that? Maybe sharing this with the universities?
Steve Maul: [00:24:38] Absolutely! And I'd love, you know, Kennesaw has a great program on sales professionalism. I'd love to get somebody from the faculty or even some of the students, the grad students who are in that program to come on over and talk to us about what they're seeing.
Lee Kantor: [00:24:50] Right, because you want to get it, this is information from the horse's mouth. This isn't theoretical, hypothetical stories. This is the real stuff that's happening in real time.
Steve Maul: [00:25:00] Exactly.
Lee Kantor: [00:25:01] Good stuff. Steve Maul, The Semantics Group. Thank you so much.
Steve Maul: [00:25:04] Thanks again for the opportunity to come in today. I really appreciate working with you guys.
Lee Kantor: [00:25:07] Alright, this is Lee Kantor and Stone Payton, and we will see you all next time on Atlanta Business Radio.