Avenue Talent Partners founder Amy Volas has built her 20-year career on her passion for sales. Amy has served every role in a sales organization: individual contributor, director, and everything in between. She founded Avenue Talent Partners in 2015 to help startups develop and scale their own sales and client success teams.
“Sales is a language I speak fluently,” she said. Her career revenue-sold figure of $100,000,000 is proof – but she prefers to focus on results she gets for clients, not her own successes. “So many people swirling around the internet have really big egos. It turns me off. You can be successful without being a jerk.”
In our conversation with Amy, we discussed improving the sales process by seeing it through the eyes of the buyer. Amy also laid out the qualities that make a great sales professional, the best practices to consistently improve the sales process, and the importance of deferring to the buyer and letting them lead toward the close.
Getting started in sales
Amy’s career in sales began as an alternative to recruiting. In 1999, Amy worked as a technical recruiter at a company she loved. But following the September 11 attacks, the business was heavily impacted. “We put all eggs in one basket,” she recalled. “We had one huge client that was ninety percent of our business.” The company’s CEO, eager to keep Amy on, encouraged her to join the sales team.
She had to see past her own biases of sales and find the connections to her recruiting skill set. Her ability to be flexible paid off. “I was thrown into the deep end with no training, and I was going after global enterprise accounts. But was incredibly exhilarating. And the rest, as they say, is history.”
Foundational skills for developing salespeople
Amy believes that deep and active listening is key to becoming a successful sales professional. Active listening gives a salesperson the opportunity to:
- Understand what makes a person tick
- Understand what makes a business tick
- Pay attention to the space in between what’s said
- Identify whether you can truly help the prospect
“If I can’t help you,” Amy said, “I don’t care about the number I have over my head – it’s my professional reputation at stake. My clients that have been most successful are repeat customers. I shoot them straight, I know their business, I know my business, and I never sell them anything I don’t believe in.”
How buyer experience can save (or kill) a sale
The sales cycle of a software product can be long; that makes the buyer experience an essential element of a successful deal. But too many sales teams aren’t delivering – and it’s affecting the way people consider the competition.
Amy recalled, “I was looking for a specific software product. I knew of a few different options. I went to this particular company, and an inbound rep took my call and we scheduled a time to talk. I went to their website, I chatted with somebody, and they couldn’t answer my questions without scheduling a time to speak with me.”
Amy was frustrated by the company’s seeming inability to simply provide her with the information she needed to make an informed decision. “Why make it difficult for me and make me go through hoops, instead of having the information on a website?” she said. But, a week later, Amy had a great 30-minute conversation with an SDR at the company who explained how the product might help her. However, seeing the product in action, Amy was told, would require scheduling a demo. Another call.
That’s where the sale fell apart.
“The SDR had spent a lot of time talking about me, what I needed, and why I needed it,” Amy said. “I was excited to dig in because I felt he understood where I was coming from. And I get on this demo call and he’s not on it. The first thing the AE says to me is, ‘Why are we talking today?’”
There had been no clear SDR/AE handoff: the salesperson didn’t have any chat history in front of him and was leading the call totally blind. “I politely got off the phone and pulled the trigger with one of their biggest competitors,” Amy said. A seamless buyer experience coupled with a great product, in this case, gave Amy the incentive to buy. “They immediately engaged with me, I dealt with one person from soup to nuts, and we got the deal done in three days.”
Leveraging software to enable sales teams
The most effective teams use technology to help create a better buyer experience. The right solutions can make SDR/AE handoff cleaner, keep salespeople on a clear outreach cadence, and offer valuable metrics and analytics. But solutions have to be chosen, evaluated and implemented well; otherwise, they go unused.
The best sales solutions remove friction from a salesperson’s job and instead enable them to focus on the buyer experience.
“Leaders try to figure out the best software to invest in, but they end up overburdening the team,” Amy said. “Why make sales harder for your reps? You want somebody to sell, you don’t want them to be an administrative assistant.”
Amy also suggests solutions that bridge the gap between sales and client success teams, to encourage retention. “It is so much harder to find the right new customer than it is to take care of what you’ve worked so hard to get in the first place,” she said. “Why are we getting in the way of ourselves by making things unnecessarily complicated?”
Learning from mistakes and setbacks
The world of sales focuses almost solely on success, but it’s important that sales professionals learn from what goes wrong as much as they do from what goes right. Amy shared the story of losing a client with whom she had a strong relationship, and what she learned from the experience.
“It was heartbreaking,” she recalled. “We genuinely liked each other and it was a huge opportunity for me to do a lot of business. But a year and a half in, we discovered that fundamentally, we weren’t speaking the same language.” She said there were key things she missed; that realization led her to refine her already thorough discovery process.
How sales leaders can improve the buyer experience
Amy believes the solution to improving the buyer experience is simple: spend time with the people that have been through your process.
- Do a “post-mortem” with all your clients to learn:
- What did they like?
- What didn’t they like?
- What would they recommend changing?
- How did the rep shine?
- How did the rep let you down?
“I want you to be raw and unfiltered,” Amy asks of her clients. She level-sets each client conversation by asking for complete candidness and honesty. “Shoot me straight, I won’t get defensive, you are in a safe place, and this feedback is going to be invaluable.” Sales leaders that invite that level of feedback should prepare themselves to accept it and use it to make positive changes and iterate on successes.
Being specific and getting details on the entire sales cycle is important. “Ask your customers to tell you their experiences, from the time they engaged to the time they closed. What did they like? If there is a pause at that point, was it because we made it hard for them?”
Still, sales leaders should use customer feedback as just one element of making updates to the sales process. Talking to buyers is the first step; talking to sales teams is the second. Salespeople on the front lines of the buyer experience know what’s going on, and can fill in the gaps customers may have.
Resources for sales leaders
Amy’s list of resources for sales leaders spans the range of sales strategy, marketing, and entrepreneurship:
Sales Hacker – A great resource of articles, podcasts, and other content.
Gaetano DiNardi – A marketer, but sales and marketing are closely aligned. Amy learns something from each of DiNardi’s webinars.
Jill Konrath – Amy just bought Konrath’s new book, More Sales, Less Time, which covers many of the topics we discussed in this interview
Rand Fishkin – The Moz CEO and author of Lost and Founder provides an excellent sales perspective in relation to startups and sales.
HubSpot Sales & Marketing Blog – An incredible resource for sales and marketing professionals alike, featuring highly-respected contributors.
Ready to Learn More?
For more information on best practices of great sales leaders, check out the Costello resources below. If you’d like to see Costello in action, request a personalized demo of our real-time sales playbook software.