Think Outside the Marketing Box: Communication Skills to Build Sales Relationships

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  • In recent years, we’ve witnessed the rise of the sales and business development representative role, usually as an extension of marketing. However, SDRs and BDRs don’t have the same skills and nor the same relationships as account executives in sales teams. 
  • Sales communications and training expert Jeff Molander says “marketing is an expense item” – often the first to be cut during tough times. That’s why sales pros shouldn’t rely on marketers’ messages or tactics.  
  • Jeff shares unconventional but timely tips for improving communication skills specific to the art of selling.

Selling is a lot like dating. Think about it: cold calling is like making the first move; clients might “play hard to get” at first by quibbling over details; and trust is essential to move to something longer term.

In these socially-distanced times, we’re more likely to match on Tinder (or LinkedIn) than meet at a crowded party. But as in any era, good communication is always key. We have to use the right words at the right time – in an authentic way. 

That’s why sales training and communications expert Jeff Molander says salespeople need to hone their skills instead of relying on conventional wisdom – especially that of marketers.

He worked in marketing for a decade before realizing that it’s “the first thing to get cut during difficult times.”

And though Jeff enjoys marketing, he came to admit that it’s not nearly as challenging as sales, which is why top salespeople are paid as much as doctors or lawyers. 

“I wanted some of that,” he says. “I wanted to be challenged; I wanted endless opportunity. And I didn’t want to get cut. I wanted to become a valuable part of a company.”

He found that spark in sales – and later, in entrepreneurship. He started his own consulting firm, Communications Edge, in 1997; two years later, he co-founded a company that eventually became the Google Affiliate Network. Today, he uses his expertise to train sales teams on the Spark Selling methodology he created.

On an episode of INSIDE Inside Sales, Jeff shares his top tips for honing your communication skills to stand out in a fast-paced sales environment – and in an unpredictable world.

Stretch beyond the ledger

There’s often a war of sorts between account team leaders and inside sales teams, says Jeff. 

It may be waged “silently or openly,” but it’s always damaging. When he tries to broker a treaty, he’ll hear SDRs being called “a bunch of glorified meeting setters” or “virtual assistants.” 

Jeff thinks that’s not entirely wrong.

In tough economic times, layoffs happen. And SDRs and BDRs are usually aligned with marketing. But people who have sharp communication skills and reliable contacts, like account execs, are in much better shape than those who just do “commodity tasks” like scheduling demos and other meetings.

“We’re seeing this play out right now,” Jeff adds. “Marketing is an expense item. Don’t be part of an expense item. Be part of the growth engine.”

Don’t play ‘marketer’

In order to make yourself indispensable, it’s crucial to build a skill set that proves your unique value.

Some organizations are helping their sales teams do that by “really empowering and upskilling their SDRs and BDRs,” says Jeff. “That is the future.”

But if you’re a sales or business development representative spiraling into panic mode right about now because your organization isn’t that future-minded, Jeff has some advice for you.

“Stop listening to marketing when it comes to formulating your outreach,” he says. 

He admits it’s “unconventional thinking,” considering how we’ve spent the last 10 years or so boasting about the importance of building your own personal brand. 

But he disagrees with the blurred lines between marketing and sales. 

There’s a world of difference between sales and marketing copywriting, especially as it relates to scripts for LinkedIn messages, email, and voicemail. For instance, the “Challenger Sale” method and the concept of “transactional analysis” offer psychological frameworks for understanding how to write language specific to sales.

But “the big don’t-do is: Don’t let your marketing team develop those scripts and hand them to you,” says Jeff. 

Axe the ‘hacks’

Marketing messages are an easy, almost irresistible shortcut for salespeople. But we need to stop using any shortcuts, Jeff says. 

That includes Googling creative cold email templates and how to respond to “not interested,” which he sees as “hacks” that backfire.

The search results usually come from software companies responding to a (SEO-) demonstrated need for guidance. But they’re all the same, they’re overused, “and everybody knows it.”

Add in the influence of venture capital (read: reliance on proven but stale formulas), and we find ourselves in an environment that’s so homogenous it’s stifling to both innovation and interest.

“Stop being like everybody else, because when you sound the same, you truly are a commodity,” Jeff says.  

Pay your own way

The best way to break through sans hacks is to “upskill yourself,” says Jeff. 

effective sales communication strategies

He notes that, in many organizations, SDRs and BDRs are expected to learn from account executives – who usually “have absolutely no incentive to train them.”

Plus, those AEs are often pressed with the company’s sales-training burden. And both sides of the sales battlefield are subject to “crappy sales training that’s completely outdated  – that talks about using templates and stuff that doesn’t work anymore,” Jeff adds. 

So you must invest in your own skills development to earn more money. 

If your employer provides professional growth opportunities, that’s great. But if they don’t, you should take the initiative to read, train, and level up – even if it’s on your own dime.

Ditch the CTA

A marketer speaks to a prospect differently than a sales development rep or an account executive speaks to that same prospect. That’s natural; we all have different roles (and they’re all valid).

But we all have to work together in three-part harmony to create a total customer experience that feels fluid and natural. 

As prospects move through the sales funnel, it’s especially important to change the way we talk to them. 

Calls to action in particular are a marketing construct, says Jeff.  

Looking forward to hearing back from you. Are you interested? Let’s book a meeting. Here’s my calendar link.

Such CTAs are “an attempt to remove choice,” he explains. “They’re not an attempt to empower the reader to make their own choice.”

Spark their interest

Without a CTA, how can we persuade potential clients to take the next step?

We shouldn’t, says Jeff. When we attempt to persuade prospects to do anything, whether it’s read our InMail or sign a contract, we’re prioritizing our needs, not theirs

sales engagement

We need them to book a meeting. We need to gain their trust. 

So we default to talking about ourselves: our solution, our customer list, what Gartner says about us. But it’s not an effective strategy.

“Think about going on a first date,” Jeff says. “That’s what an SDR’s job is.”

And if all you do on that date is talk about yourself, you’re not giving the other person an opportunity to talk about themselves – or even to become curious about you. 

Just like in the dating world, the best way to get someone’s attention is to “spark their curiosity and earn a response,” he argues.

Your real call to action should be provocative. Try making a statement that leaves them hanging. Ask them to look at something that makes them think: I don’t understand exactly what you’re getting at, but it sounds really important. 

Then, they’ll naturally want more and ask: Can you take me a little bit further into that? I might be interested in talking to you. 

And hopefully, they’ll swipe right.

Get your sales communication right

Remember, selling is like dating. Good communication is a key ingredient in both if you want to be successful at it. Apply these tips and see how your sales results change.

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