Richard Smith, Adam Zais, and Mark Ackers Discuss How Refract is Improving Sales Conversations

Sales Effectiveness Radio - Richard Smith, Adam Zais, and Mark Ackers

About the guests

Richard Smith is Co-Founder and Head of Sales for UK SaaS company Refract. He has a passion for helping sales people become more successful through coaching, personal development, and better understanding the science of sales.

Connect with Richard on LinkedIn and follow him on Twitter.

Adam Zais is VP of Sales North America with Refract.

Connect with Adam on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Mark Ackers has worked in sales for 10 years, predominantly with SaaS start ups. Currently with Refract, Mark is an a dual role of Business Development and Sales Coach Consultant where he carries a quota but also works with current clients, collaborating with sales leaders, sharing best practice and enhancing their approach and execution of sales coaching.

Connect with Mark on LinkedIn and Twitter.

About your host

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.

Follow The Semantics Group on Twitter and Steve Maul on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Episode Transcript

Announcer: [00:00:02] Broadcasting live from the Business RadioX Studios in Atlanta, Georgia, it's time for Sales Effectiveness Radio, brought to you by The Semantics Group. Now, here's your host, Steve Maul.

Steve Maul: [00:00:16] Hey, welcome to another episode of Sales Effectiveness Radio. I had an opportunity this last weekend to attend the 2019 Partner Conference for Objective Management Group up in Boston. And for those of you who don't know, OMG is the premier sales talent and skill assessment tool in the marketplace. And I use it pretty regularly in my business. During the conference, I had an opportunity to meet with some people from another OMG partner called Refract. And with me today are Richard Smith, Adam Zais, and Mark Ackers, who are going to tell us a little bit about Refract and how it helps us improve sales effectiveness.

Steve Maul: [00:00:53] Richard, tell us a little bit about what Refract is.

Richard Smith: [00:00:56] Yeah. Thanks, Steve. Happy to be here. So, Refract is a software-as-a-service company. We exist to help organizations have better conversations. We do this by giving companies and organizations technology, which analyzes the conversations that their salespeople are having with customers and prospects, giving them data on what their top performance, top sellers do differently when they're in conversations, and helping them spot the mistakes and blind spots that salespeople are making, which is holding them back. So, yeah. So, everything is driven around conversations but, also, helping sales leaders to coach their people to be more successful.

Steve Maul: [00:01:39] So, I mean, recording sales calls has been something, particularly in the inside sales world, had been around a long time. So, what makes Refract different?

Adam Zais: [00:01:48] I think the difference is in its intent and execution. So, the recording, I think people have become familiar with call recording almost as a backstop around compliance or safety nets, if you will, for potentially going back in to see something later on. Our mission is really to take that to the next level and use those recordings as a way of driving development and different outcomes for individuals, and then collectively for sales organizations.

Adam Zais: [00:02:29] And so, it becomes more actionable. The data becomes -- well, actually, it creates the availability of data set that's never been really available to sales leaders until now. And some of that has to do with, you know, how the conversation went. But most important, at a high level, it's to try to model what good actually looks like as a way of coaching and training.

Steve Maul: [00:03:04] So, thanks, Adam. And what I've seen of the product, the reporting back is what is really making it powerful. The ability to kind of parse through that conversation with the artificial intelligence engine behind the product. So, how does that work? What are some of the results that come out of that?

Mark Ackers: [00:03:27] Yeah. So, in every conversation, we can give you insight into what's happening. So, we can show you your sales reps in terms of how much the conversation are they dominating, what's their talk versus listening percentage. We show you how engaging they are with their prospects, how many times they're opening up the conversations to get a detailed, meaningful response. We show you their questioning, where they're asking questions. Are they front loading their questions -- I'm sorry, front loading their calls with loads of questions, or are they spreading them out evenly to create for a meaningful conversation?

Mark Ackers: [00:04:05] We also take a look at the language used. So, that can be the filler items. Every rep has them. And filler terms, on the whole, they're okay.

Richard Smith: [00:04:12] So, the uhms, the uhs, the-

Mark Ackers: [00:04:14] The fantastics, the brilliants, the obviously, the definitely. And filler terms in the wrong place can be damaging. And people don't know what they don't know, so we're making that visible for them. And, you know, it's the key language used as well, the key words that enhance those conversations, and potentially the words that damage those conversations. And we make that all available in a snap for a sales team to see individual calls, group calls, and selections of calls to really understand what is happening in their conversations and what leads to success.

Richard Smith: [00:04:47] I think, a key factor here, as you rightly point out, Steve, the practice of recording calls has been around for a long time. What we discovered is that there is, often, so many recordings out there within a sales organization that sales leaders don't even know where to begin in listening to those conversations, which are the most critical calls that they should be listening to, where the common mistakes are being made that are holding back sales success.

Richard Smith: [00:05:21] And, ultimately, sitting and listening to calls is time-consuming. It's maybe one of the barriers to managers investing more time coaching than they do today. So, for us, it's about taking a lot of the heavy lifting out of that process. It's about taking them to listen to the right calls in the first place. And it's about speeding up the access to the relevant coachable moments in those conversations, so that they're getting more bang for the buck essentially when it comes to their coaching time.

Steve Maul: [00:05:50] I can see what you mean there because if you look at the typical call center, maybe there's 20, 30, 40 people in there. They're doing outside telesales, business development, lead generation. And I know that having known some of the sales managers in those settings, they're monitoring calls periodically. They're listening in unobtrusively. You know, they're spot checking the calls. And I also know they go back to the recordings if, in fact, there was any kind of customer event or customer complaint about the particular call. But I don't know anyone who routinely listens to eight hours times 30 people, 240 hours of phone calls, with any degree of completion.

Mark Ackers: [00:06:31] I think you're right. and that's just not possible. And we're making that scalable, but we're actually helping people take a sensible approach to this. I spent a lot of my time speaking with sales leaders, people that head up call centers, as an example. And when I ask them how they focus their time, what conversations they pick, they tend to either rely on the rep or the agent to send them their calls, and that, of course, just means that they get a biased view at all, or and the most common answer is they say, "I'll just pick a call based on length, 10 to 15 minutes.".

Mark Ackers: [00:07:04] What we're doing is helping people actually find the right calls. So, we've got a call radar. And that gives you the ability to find conversations based on content that was or was not said, helping you land to valuable conversations, and at the moment in those conversations.

Steve Maul: [00:07:22] Let me read that back and make sure I understood what you said because I think that's really meaningful. If you're relying upon that randomness of "I pick a call that's 10 or 15 minutes long," the chances you get something meaningful is there, but it's probably slim because of the random nature. The self-selection process is a rep or an agent who says, "I think, this went poorly," and they're begging for coaching, or they're thinking, you know, the let me burnish the apple on my chest and go, "I think I did a really great job. Could I fish for some kudos please?"

Steve Maul: [00:07:57] But what I'm hearing you say is you can identify the words, or the phrases, or the attributes of a call that you, then, predetermine wants to be reviewed, and that will direct to the manager the calls that are going to be most meaningful. Did I understand that correctly?

Mark Ackers: [00:08:15] Yeah, pretty much. What we give the manager is the ability to create their own search terms. So, they can you can enter in words and phrases. So, the key phrases. It may be competitive mentions, maybe key terminologies around their offerings and their platforms. And they can scan all of their call recordings, find conversations where those phrases or words are mentioned or maybe not mentioned. And that, therefore, gives them a list. They can be dropped off into that conversation and at that specific call.

Mark Ackers: [00:08:47] So, what we're enabling you to do is to just rapidly find the right conversations, and just picking up what you said there, you know, randomly picking calls. It's just the same as randomly sitting next to someone for an hour. You cannot guarantee an hour you are not going to hear anything but gatekeepers, dial times, voicemails. It's just not an effective way of doing it. We allow you, if you have an hour, let's say, to spend that time listening to the right conversations.

Steve Maul: [00:09:11] What about the sales managers though who either don't know what specifically they're looking for, what search terms are going to be the most beneficial, or the environment is changing such that the terms that are meaningful or are going to be most impactful have evolved, and they're trying to find out what those new terms would be? How would that work?

Adam Zais: [00:09:33] I think it's an interesting question. And I don't know if there's an easy answer to it other than to say when you begin to understand at scale the conversations around sales, the possibility is to create an evolving, sort of, lexicon. But I think it really goes down to it's not just this whole AI or, you know, machine learning technology is not meant to remove the human from the equation. And it's more of an amplification of not only her time or his time but, also, ways of generating that kind of evolution.

Adam Zais: [00:10:22] Wait a minute, I'm seeing it this, and I might calibrate this against my CRM or other signals in the organization, marketing or product development even, to make it a more collaborative exercise around how do we actually take that journey to put the right understanding around topics or phrases that we should, now, sort of, retrain, if you will, the engine or the system, so that that can then turn around to where we're going to retrain individuals. And that'll manifest itself presumably. Our theory is that it manifests itself and improve conversations over time.

Steve Maul: [00:11:03] Great.

Mark Ackers: [00:11:04] Just to add a little story here, what I'm not saying is that you can just sit there and find these words and phrases. You know, people still need to be listening to conversations to truly understand what's happening. At the end of day, revenue is won and lost in the conversations. And to think that you don't need to listen to those calls isn't the message I'm trying to give here.

Mark Ackers: [00:11:23] And to share a very quick story, new customer we recently onboarded, they were looking for a specific phrase around marketing. So, they provide a number of services. And the gentleman said to me, the sales leader, "One of my reps - let's call him John - having a look here, and I can't see that he's mentioning our marketing services.".

Mark Ackers: [00:11:44] I took a look, I listened to four of his calls, and that's because he was using the word advertising. He was. And because he didn't listen those conversations, he got the wrong impression. And it just shows you the disconnect, sometimes, when you're not hearing conversations, you're a busy sales manager, and you're out and about. What we're doing is giving you the ability to do this in a far more effective way and really learn what are the right things you're listening for.

Richard Smith: [00:12:08] I think on a macro level here, Steve, piggybacking on what Mark just said there is the context this conversation so far has largely been around companies who are already recording calls and listening to calls to some extent. The big problem that exists is that so many companies aren't doing this. They're not recording calls. They're not listening to the conversations their reps are having. Those conversations are happening behind the metaphorical closed door.

Richard Smith: [00:12:31] And as somebody who experienced this myself in my last company, I would always wonder why there were people who were doing better than me on the team. They were selling the same products. They were selling to the same prospects and profiles. But those conversations were happening in meeting rooms and in demo rooms. And I could never figure out. They must be doing something differently that's making them more successful whether it was the questions they were asking, whether it was how they were structuring their calls, whether it's the value propositions, whether it was their pushbacks and challenges.

Richard Smith: [00:13:05] And listening to how our reps are selling, observing how they sell is key to (1), understanding how we can fundamentally improve them; but (2), is actually beneficial for the salesperson level how they can start to understand what top performers, more successful sellers are doing in the team and starting to extract some of those insights for their own personal development.

Richard Smith: [00:13:32] And it's a bit of a crying shame that so many companies aren't actually investing the time observing that. And so, as Mark says, it's all guesswork and there's big disconnects taking place.

Mark Ackers: [00:13:41] Just to add to that. So, I worked at the same company with Richard, but this is a problem that spreads across all organizations. You know, what Richard is saying there, top performers. When I ask our sales leaders what their top performers do differently in their conversations, people sometimes choose to miss the phrase in their conversations, and they always say they're more experienced, and they work harder.

Mark Ackers: [00:14:05] And the reality is I'm not trying to downplay experience, and networks, and the fact that you work harder, but a lot of it comes down to what they're actually doing in their conversations, how they handle objections, how they build rapport, how they ask questions, when they ask questions, when they shut up, when they listen. And that is locked away for so many people. And we're making it accessible and scalable because you can find what works and share it.

Adam Zais: [00:14:32] Can I piggyback on both of your comments?

Steve Maul: [00:14:33] Yes, please.

Adam Zais: [00:14:33] A little vignette that I'm going to, sort of, dredge up from nearly 40 years of doing this. In my experience, if you ask the top performer - and I've often been the top performer, but not always - what they do as opposed to what they say, it's a very different answer. So, imagine if you had said, "Adam, what do you do?" I would probably say I don't know because it's not the doing.

Steve Maul: [00:15:06] Well then, people get to that level of unconscious competence.

Adam Zais: [00:15:11] Great [crosstalk].

Steve Maul: [00:15:11] They have so much experience that they've developed the right habits that, and it's never that they're blind or on autopilot, but it's natural to them. It is the habits they've created over time, and they have repeated those things that they know work, but they're not doing it at a conscious level.

Adam Zais: [00:15:30] Right. It's so intensely personal. It's so intensely, like you say, unconscious fluency or capability in what they do. But if you say, "What are some of the things you say?" If you just modify the question. And that's not a scalable way of collaborating around an organization. So, if you do ask, if if I say to you, "What do you say?" And we've just been at this conference talking about, what do you say in certain situations? So, it's really about the conversations, not what activities are you doing. It's not about activities. It's about the conversation. And Richard said-

Steve Maul: [00:16:08] And that distinction is really meaningful, I think.

Adam Zais: [00:16:11] Yeah. The last point is that there's, I think, a trend towards embracing. In organizations that are beginning to shift their culture from a more, sort of, militaristic or authoritarian kind of approach to a more development-driven approach, they're embracing the idea of it's not just the sales manager's role to move the middle of the pack to the front of the pack. It's the role of the organization itself at an organic level to almost self-correct.

Adam Zais: [00:16:46] So, we at Refract, every week, have a coaching session where every conversation and any conversation is fair game. And every time, it's illuminating. Sometimes, the observations come from Richard. Sometimes, it's from a colleague, or even more junior BDR. That's how an organization becomes, you know, from top to bottom, not just the top rank where most people will focus, but you've got everyone else in the organization too. So, how can they help each other to improve?

Steve Maul: [00:17:23] Well, and that openness, and that vulnerability, and trust that's required is one of those things that is actually going to be the topic of a future cast because if teams don't understand or can't embrace that openness and that willingness to be critiqued with a positive intent by their colleagues, then it really shuts down growth.

Steve Maul: [00:17:48] You guys, we've kind of talked about the inside sales. Rich, you started talking about the behind the metaphorical closed door. And what does this mean? How do people or sales organizations that have largely road warrior team members, they're out there talking to clients in their offices or from a remote location where the recording isn't an automatic thing, can Refract help there?

Richard Smith: [00:18:16] I think it's a great question. On the concept of recording telephone conversations, it's almost been around for a long time. A lot of people are very comfortable with it. The recording of those conversations, with minimal face-to-face setting is a new realm that we're kind of going into.

Richard Smith: [00:18:33] And there's a lot of distance to be traveled there before, I think, we're in a place where people are naturally kind of comfortable and embrace that. But we are definitely seeing this happen in customers we work with, and that they are literally using their smartphones. They're just, you know, recording the conversation like we are today in a face-to-face environment. And, you know, taking that conversation and analyzing it afterwards.

Richard Smith: [00:19:00] And the reality is I think when it's positioned the right way with their prospects and their customers as to why they do that is whether it's because they know that they openly share that it's to help them improve as salespeople, I think that gives them a lot of credibility with their prospects, but also, you know, as a way to enable them to be focused on the actual person in the conversation rather than taking down meeting notes that may not make sense the day after.

Richard Smith: [00:19:29] So, yeah, I think, there's some distance to be traveled there before that becomes a lot more, in the world, culturally kind of embrace, but we're definitely seeing the shift to that to happen.

Mark Ackers: [00:19:41] I completely agree. And what I would say is there's a little bit of an accelerant to that distance to be traveled in the form of the sales workforce beginning to skew towards younger folks who almost, naturally, they embrace technology as a service.

Steve Maul: [00:19:58] Sure.

Mark Ackers: [00:20:00] So, they will, at some point, be on both sides of that conversation. It won't be a young sales rep and an older prospect or customer. You know, they're both going to be millennials, or digital natives, et cetera. And so, I do think that yes, it's not a bridge too far. It's not right here, and it is a behavior change, but it is accelerating. And I think that trend of just the younger salesforce is an accelerant to that.

Steve Maul: [00:20:30] But if I understand the way that the application works, I'm just trying to visualize this. And that's just fired in my own brain about when you're talking about that because I'm old enough to remember that when you'd write on a whiteboard, you'd say, "Boy, I wish I had a picture of this." And then, printing whiteboards came out, and were ridiculously expensive, and very few people had them, so that after you write on the whiteboard, you'd press a button, and this piece of thermal paper would spit out your image.

Steve Maul: [00:20:57] But, nowadays, we take pictures of whiteboards as a way of capturing our notes, and we still scribble furiously about notes. But if I recorded the conversation, in addition to the coaching behind that conversation, I've got built-in meeting notes. Did I just capture something that I hadn't previously realized?

Mark Ackers: [00:21:19] Yeah. I mean, personally, I try to record every sales conversation, every sales interaction I have. At this conference I've sat down with a few people, and I've said to them, "Do you mind if I record this?" And you know, I've got bad handwriting, and that's coupled with bad memory. But, you know, in every conversation, there's tens if not hundreds of thousands of words being exchanged. And yeah, we can sit, and make notes, and not be looking at each other, and lose concentration, or you can sit and know that it's safety being recorded.

Mark Ackers: [00:21:48] And it's best practice, not just I, everyone at Refract. You know, our conversations are recorded. Ahead of the next conversation, we listen back to that. And you'd be amazed at how much you realize you've missed. And it's not just nuggets of information that you can throw back, it's actually just the words and phrases they used, how they approached, the emphasis they made on a particular problem. And that just helps you set up and structure for that next meeting.

Mark Ackers: [00:22:15] And the amount of times we get compliments of, "Wow, you were really listening. Wow, you really do remember that. "And it's like, "Well, yeah, I was listening because I was fully concentrating. I wasn't making notes. I wasn't sort of trying to process this. I was there living in the conversation."

Steve Maul: [00:22:30] And even if I'm not an auditory learner, if I don't want to listen back to it, if I can read it, I'm still getting that insight, and the words they used, and the words I used, and the question I did or did not ask. And all of that's then captured.

Richard Smith: [00:22:46] Let's not forget that the key here, the reason why we are analyzing conversations is to help us improve as salespeople and of high-quality conversations. So, even if it was in a face-to-face setting, the ability to be more aware of how much we spoke as a salesperson versus the prospect, making sure we have the right balance there is absolutely crucial. And it is often the thing that many sales people are just totally not self-conscious and aware of, and they may think that they talk far less than what the data actually shows. That's a key point.

Mark Ackers: [00:23:24] I've got a good story here. So, this is quite some time, but we're running the clock back a couple of years ago. And at this point, Refract didn't show you filler terms. And I was having a discovery call with a sales expert, a published author. I asked him to listen back to a recording, give me some feedback, and he was open to doing that. And he pointed out to me, in the first 15 minutes, I used the phrase "in all honesty" five times.

Mark Ackers: [00:23:51] And his feedback was, "I don't distrust you, Mark. I believe you're being honest with me. But just the word's demise, that is something that could be potentially harmful." And now, I've eradicated that from my game tape, my sales conversations, it's gone. And the reality now, what Refract does is actually makes you aware of that. We've got that for the term built in, and that come off the back of that conversation.

Steve Maul: [00:24:15] Yeah. It's one of those things where I say, "Well, to tell you the truth," and immediately, in your mind, you go, "Well, what have you been telling me before now?".

Adam Zais: [00:24:23] That's why they are crutches. And everyone has them, and it's not meant to be, you know, an object lesson, except as a way to internalize something that you probably wouldn't have embraced with the same degree of -- it happens really fast. So, it doesn't take nine months to get the behavior change.

Adam Zais: [00:24:50] And it can be those sort of situational personal aha moments like I had four demos one day last week or something like that, and I couldn't remember what I actually promised to do after. At the end of the day, I'm going, "You can edit this out. Holy shit, I can't remember anything. Guess what? I can go in. So, okay. Now, I can send that thing." It's little things like that to really the big things.

Adam Zais: [00:25:22] Let's uplevel it to the organization. When a sales leader, it's the Sales Effectiveness Radio Show, right. So, at sales, you're fond of this because one of our favorite people is Josh Braun. You know who Josh Braun is?

Steve Maul: [00:25:39] Yeah.

Adam Zais: [00:25:39] And he had a conversation with Mark. And I know that you've internalized this because it made a big impact on you. And here's what he said, every sales organization really wrestles with -- you boil it down, you're really wrestling with two fundamental issues. One is to onboard better. And better means faster, get them to productivity quick and so forth. And the second one is move the middle of the pack to the front the back. When you put it in those terms, those are fundamentals. These are like the base of the pyramid kind of issues that a sales leader is dealing with. Well, how do you do that becomes the problem. How do I onboard it?

Adam Zais: [00:26:27] Well, let's create a library of brilliance, as well as what to avoid. And that becomes something that doesn't -- it's not, now, some kind of arbitrary or in-a-vacuum kind of statement by the sales leader, "Become better." But here's now how. Here's how we can. It's a -- I used the word game tape. It's, "Here's the playbook."

Adam Zais: [00:26:56] And the other one is that it gives sales leaders, sort of, a framework that they can , "You know, now, I can ask better questions not of prospects but of my organization, so that I can do what I'm supposed to do now as a sales leader," which isn't to sell, it's to coach.

Steve Maul: [00:27:17] Well, I'm a huge -- you don't have to spend much time with me to know that I'm a huge fanatic over the whole concept of responsibility, personal responsibility, and segregating responsibility from fault. Yeah, just because something goes wrong, it doesn't mean it is your fault, but it might still be your responsibility to deal with.

Steve Maul: [00:27:37] And so, I always admire sales leaders who are going to undertake that responsibility to coach. But that does not excuse the sales professional from getting better on their own. So, one of things that -- and that's just Steve Maul's philosophy. So, you know, people can take it or leave it however they like.

Steve Maul: [00:27:53] But one of the things that I'm intrigued by is how Refract might help a salesperson do that because if, in fact, they feel passionately about their own self-betterment and their own self-improvement, it sounds like this is something they could do on their own, even without the sales coaching, to go back and do their own call analysis. Is that something you're seeing happen?

Richard Smith: [00:28:14] So, increasingly, you know, where we've traditionally been selling this to sales management, sales leadership, we're actually getting sales contributors coming to us directly saying, "I want this technology," because these are people who take pride in wanting to perfect and achieve mastery in what they're doing.

Richard Smith: [00:28:39] And it's really refreshing when that actually happens because, I think, traditionally, sales, it's described as the sales profession, but people haven't necessarily treat it as that. And profession is something that you're an expert on, that you're always wanting to refine your craft, that you practice, that you want to get better. But I'm seeing, I'd say there is still a big minority of individuals who truly want to improve.

Richard Smith: [00:29:07] And our sales people and companies, we are in such a competitive marketplace. And our products that were selling, they're very similar to the next competitor selling a similar product. You know, we have to wait until those products get developed before we can go out and sell those improvements and enhancements. So, what's the thing that we can do for ourselves as sales people to make ourselves better today?

Richard Smith: [00:29:39] And, yes, it's working hard. Yes, it's doing a bit more. But it's also about understanding how we actually speak with our customers and prospects, and improving our conversation. And until we start to listen back to how we do that, until we understand how we can make improvements, then we aren't getting better.

Richard Smith: [00:30:01] There's a lot of companies out there where, unfortunately, the salespeople aren't receiving that element from their management. They're not getting the coaching that they perhaps crave. So, this is something that salespeople can take into their own hands and a way to, you know, take their own responsibility, as you say, to help themselves improve.

Steve Maul: [00:30:21] That's fantastic.

Mark Ackers: [00:30:22] I think, a missing piece here as well, just to really add to what you're saying, Rich, is, yeah, absolutely, you can accountability for yourself, and you can learn, and revisit, and review. But we spoke about this quite early. I was keen to get this in when I could. But we spoke about unconscious competence, which I think is a great phrase.

Mark Ackers: [00:30:39] One of the things you often hear when you're asking about how they're upskilling their current team or new hires is, "Oh, they sit with a top performer. They shadow," but that unconscious competence, it's (A), very difficult to actually share and what you know; and (B), let's call it as it is, some people don't want to. What we are doing is giving the ability for you to take action and, actually, learn from these recordings what is making for better sales conversation. And whether that'd be your game tape or that'd be a colleague's game tape, someone who is more experienced.

Steve Maul: [00:31:16] Right. If I show you what works, and you choose not to do it, you're making a choice, and that's absolutely okay. We can't force you to get better, but your unwillingness to advance yourself speaks volumes. But we have to enable people to do that. We have to give them the arrows and the quiver necessary to make that move forward.

Adam Zais: [00:31:36] If I could go on sort of piggyback on what you just said, Steve, is that, you know, taking responsibility is a phrase that I think is hard for people to really get their heads around, to a degree. And one of the key points that we're making is that when we move from the land of opinions and memories, and how many times have you heard this little exchange. "So, Steve, tell me how the call went. How'd it go?"

Steve Maul: [00:32:08] Great.

Adam Zais: [00:32:09] "Great." So, of what appropriate value is that exchange?

Steve Maul: [00:32:13] Zero, right.

Adam Zais: [00:32:14] So, typically, when salespeople are asked to describe their conversations, that whole exchange doesn't leave anyone changed. The manager doesn't know more than the sales rep. It's just, sort of, bad. When we're armed with more objective data, both parties can improve their own sort of lot. The manager gets better at being a manager. The sales rep gets better at being a sales rep.

Adam Zais: [00:32:52] But, also, because of that exchange, moves from a more fraught, conflict, anxious place of trying to spin a tale or make something, put lipstick on a pig to, "Wait, we don't have to ..." It's not about a value judgment or blame. It's, now, "Hey, this is quite obvious that there's something that's working here," or "Mark, you're brilliant at this. Rich, he's brilliant at that. And, now, I can see what he did. What a beautiful thing that I heard him say that I had stuck in my head." I'm going to give you a little a little pump here.

Adam Zais: [00:33:33] And you probably you probably recorded this call. He came to the end of the conversation, and the person said, "Oh, this is a no brainer. I need to think about it." So, Rich said, "Well, if it's a no-brainer, why do you need to think about it?" I have more experience than Rich, but I've just learned something. Now, it wasn't specifically because of the technology, but those are the kind of moments that are possible now with this kind of technology, bringing things to life in a data-driven fashion because I know you're a big fan of them.

Richard Smith: [00:34:12] Right. Because if we have any kind of experience, anyone has any kind of experience, hearing that phrase, "It's a no brainer. I need to think about it," is something we've heard hundreds of times in our selling career. And it's just that it's kind of like glossed over. We don't even stop to think about what they just said. And it's that bringing to the consciousness of the actual sentence used or the words used that allows us to react differently.

Richard Smith: [00:34:38] One of the things that I experienced when coaching salespeople is you do get some who will say, "Yeah, that call went great," but you also got a lot of salespeople who say, "I don't know. It was sort of good. It was sort of -- you know, it could have been better." And, you know, traditionally, when we try, and diagnose, and make sense of what that means, we ask reps questions. And you know, that still requires an element of guesswork and interpretation. And, often, salespeople don't really understand whether that conversation was any good.

Steve Maul: [00:35:13] Or even recall exactly the words that got you.

Richard Smith: [00:35:16] Yeah, or they can't remember, you know, is this prospect someone who's a genuine buyer or they're best off investing their time elsewhere? And you know, I've often kind of made the drive that people talk about CRM as being a source of truth, and it's all a load of bullshit really because a CRM is only as good as the notes that a salesperson will actually type into it. And so, ultimately, until we actually listen to the conversation and truly understand what's actually going on, then it becomes incredibly hard as a coach to actually, you know, make those recommendations, give that feedback, and diagnose.

Adam Zais: [00:35:57] I want to tie up awesome points on the back of that. I wanted to say something I think also ties back to the intent of this radio show or the podcast, which is it's about effectiveness. So, it's not about ratings. It's not about, sort of, is it a good, bad, or indifferent call? It's, what happened in the call? You know, how did it end?

Richard Smith: [00:36:23] How did we move forward?

Adam Zais: [00:36:25] Now, we're talking about facts, not feelings or-

Richard Smith: [00:36:28] Right, perception.

Adam Zais: [00:36:30] You know, perceptions, or whether that's for oneself, or feeling like I'm now in good standing with my boss, or something, or my colleagues. We, now, have the opportunity to change the landscape, to change the lens through which we look around what happened. And if the only way to get that behavior change is through that understanding, which is illuminated by looking factually through a-

Richard Smith: [00:36:58] A timeline, very much so.

Mark Ackers: [00:37:00] Yeah, no, perfect. I'm going to set Rich up for a story there, a really timely story. So, rich, I want you to explain two scenarios. One, where the call was recorded, which it was. And one where it wasn't. So, couple of days ago, Rich and I, we're at the airport, getting ready to head over to the States. Rich, a colleague of ours said to you he just had a call. It went well. You've reviewed that call, but tell me what happened, first of all, if that call wasn't recorded, and then the reality.

Richard Smith: [00:37:25] I said, "It hasn't been recorded," I said, "So, how did that end?" "Oh, well, you know I've got a call next weekend and hoping for there to be a decision." "Okay. So, tell me, you know, what makes you feel that way." "Oh, because, you know, it was a really positive conversation. I've uncovered some compelling reasons to buy. And, you know, he's got a budget." So, ultimately, that is kind of the extent of me, maybe with one or two more questions, to try and understand how good was that conversation. And-

Mark Ackers: [00:37:58] Rich, it's in the CRM, though, right?

Richard Smith: [00:38:00] Yeah, exactly. It's in the CRM. That is the action points that I've put in. It wasn't until listening back to the conversation that we figured out that there was no decision maker being identified. This person hadn't actually said whether it's his budget. It was not uncovered whether he had the authority to sign off the budget. There was no compelling reason why he needs to get this in place this month. There was so many facets. It wasn't about conversation, but that just showed the disconnect and the risks that exist between simply going off the perception of the salesperson versus the reality that actually will happen.

Steve Maul: [00:38:42] And it's almost impossible in today's day and age for sales managers to do the ride-along calls that they used to do, especially in the more larger or more complex organizations where your salespeople are remote. You're not going to get on a plane to go on a on a sales call, especially in early sales call with a sales rep. So, this kind of gives you the opportunity to be in the room without being in the room. And as long as the intent is upward, and sort of just going back to responsibility and blame, blame is external and historical in nature; whereas, responsibility is personal and forward-looking. And if we're giving sales reps and sales managers an opportunity to be responsible for success, this is a good thing.

Adam Zais: [00:39:24] I was going to say that I have maybe a contrarian point of view as it relates to what people think of as something that's good, which is right along.

Steve Maul: [00:39:34] Oh yes.

Adam Zais: [00:39:36] Or joint sales calls with one's boss. I can't think of something dumber to do.

Richard Smith: [00:39:42] As a sales manager.

Adam Zais: [00:39:42] Right. There isn't anything that is going to destroy the ability for that rep to do anything. It's going to undermine how she rolls or he. And it's immediately the power -- the manager sucks all the air out of the room. It's the dumbest thing that they can ever-

Steve Maul: [00:40:07] It shifts power to the sales manager. The behavior exhibited by the rep is not their natural behavior because they know they're being reviewed. And it's all of those things.

Adam Zais: [00:40:16] It is all those things. And sales managers think that's coaching.

Steve Maul: [00:40:20] Exactly, right.

Adam Zais: [00:40:22] Just a funny story, a very relevant story. I'm a big believer in everything that's just been said, but I was guilty of going against my beliefs. A few months ago, I went to a face-to-face sales meeting with my salesperson. I said, "I'm going to let you control this. I won't let you run with the meeting." I'm there in an observatory support role. And 10 minutes into the meeting, what happened? Boom, I've taken over the meeting.

Steve Maul: [00:40:49] You've got the whiteboard marker.

Adam Zais: [00:40:52] I was answering the questions. I was kind of holding them back because I knew I could give a more compelling response. And at the end of it, I was kicking myself because I was thinking how much the salesperson actually learned. Even if they've been on the sales meeting and been a disaster, but they made the mistakes themselves that are mistakes that they're going to learn from. And all it became was a meeting where I took it over, and they took a backseat, and probably made them feel like, "What was the point of me being there?"  And that was a kind of a lesson for me in sticking with my beliefs and understanding that approach just doesn't really work. We've all done that, and I-

Steve Maul: [00:41:33] On both sides of those conversations, right?

Adam Zais: [00:41:37] I sure think about those things as well. And it comes down to, do we want to really empower or do we want to enable?

Steve Maul: [00:41:43] Right, I agree.

Adam Zais: [00:41:44] We're taught to do that. And when you look at it a game on TV, whether it be American football or-

Steve Maul: [00:41:54] Or the rest of the world football.

Adam Zais: [00:41:56] The actual football, the coach is on the sidelines. Is coach playing? No, the coach isn't playing. There may be times where there are examples of coaches saying things-

Steve Maul: [00:42:08] Or owners, yeah.

Adam Zais: [00:42:09] Or owners.

Steve Maul: [00:42:09] Jerry Jones is on the sideline. He's in there if he could.

Adam Zais: [00:42:11] At some point, sales management has to understand that, "The sale, I have to let them play. My job is not to try to outsell them. My job is to let them get to the best place that they can be," you know.

Richard Smith: [00:42:27] And my job has to be observational, and encouraging, and skill building.

Adam Zais: [00:42:33] And you know, this sounds all idealistic and so forth, but it's real, in my opinion, that this is the aspiration, that this should be the aspiration of every sales organization. They don't have the tool. They don't have the right tools. The stack that they have is still slightly misaligned with that aspiration.

Steve Maul: [00:42:57] The ideal is always our target. It's the journey towards that that we're looking for enablement on. So, I want to thank each of you for participating. This has been a remarkable conversation. I really appreciate the gift of both the insight and your time that you've provided here. How do people learn more about Refract?

Richard Smith: [00:43:15] If you go to our website, You can connect with any of us on LinkedIn. Richard Smith is as it is. And yeah, it would be good to connect and hear any thoughts that may have been generated as a result of you listening to the show.

Steve Maul: [00:43:34] So, along with the show and the podcast that follows, we'll give you their direct connection information. I'm also going to point you to a video I watched yesterday where Mark is actually coaching a 10-year-old to become a sales development rep. And in the course of a day, this talented, young man actually got to the point where he could successfully arrange meetings for follow up and has actually led to good business being closed. So, if a 10-year-old can learn how to do this, I think there is hope for salespeople everywhere.

Adam Zais: [00:44:11] If I may just add to that, yes, the 10-year-old brought an awful lot to the table, but so did Mark. Mark brought skill, and compassion, and support, and insight. And it's a wonderful example, frankly, of what the dynamic can be between rep and manager.

Steve Maul: [00:44:35] And that's coaching. That's talent development. And that's what we want people to be able to do.

Richard Smith: [00:44:40] Yeah. And I think just the final point there was that was a great example of the technology didn't make the 10-year-old better by itself. The coach didn't make the 10-year-old better by himself. The two combined was the recipe for success.

Steve Maul: [00:44:56] Exactly.

Richard Smith: [00:44:57] What Joe had, so, Joe, you know, he's a 10-year-old lad. He had what we all, as salespeople, used to have, and the elites still have it, and it was Joe had no self-limiting beliefs. He had loads of confidence, loads of enthusiasm, and a willingness to learn. You know, Joe couldn't have done anything. I could have given him all the advice in the world. Without those key attributes, he couldn't have been coached. And the technology just helped me do what I did in just a far more quickly and effective way. He went from eight pages of notes, never making a cold call. Two hours later, when we reviewed the conversations back, I've given him that feedback, coupled with all those key attributes he had, he managed to book a meeting at the end of the day. I mean, 11 in total but with just one cheat sheet.

Steve Maul: [00:45:47] Thanks guys for all that information. As they mentioned, if you'd like more information on Refract, go to For more information on The Semantics Group, hit us up at, where you'll find, not only information about what we do for our customers, but also more episodes from Sales Effectiveness Radio. Till next time. Steve Maul saying have fun selling and let's change the world.

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Published by
Steve Maul
April 9, 2019
June 6, 2019