The Insight Track with Nancy Nardin: Setting the Record Straight on Sales Technology

July 9, 2019

Technology helps sales reps get the job done. From longtime fixtures like CRM software and email prospecting to emerging approaches using artificial intelligence, machine learning, and predictive analysis, modern sales reps rely on a suite of digital tools to fill and convert pipeline. 

But, according to sales technology stack expert and Smart Selling Tools founder Nancy Nardin, we shouldn’t be focusing so much on these tools themselves. Rather, it’s about what we do with them.

Successful sales reps know that nurturing buyer relationships and winning deals requires more than a suitable CRM system. When it comes to effective selling (and teaching), Nancy reminds us that nothing beats listening and asking the right questions. The most effective reps get to know their buyers on a personal level, using empathy and personalization to move conversations forward. 

Read on for an inside look at the “four pillars of a sales stack,” the pitfalls of CRM dependence, her favorite recent sales book, and more.

Nancy Nardin Shares the Insight Scoop on Successful Selling

What does your role at Smart Selling Tools involve? What inspired you to found the company?

I saw this movement toward SaaS-based solutions as a window of opportunity for those who wanted to create innovative software aimed at sales organizations. CRM has certainly been around a long time. Many people thought of it as “all you need.” Then, solutions aimed at specialized areas started popping up. Sales enablement is one example. Another is scheduling software.

I could see a need to catalog the options, understand the trends, and educate the market. At Smart Selling Tools, we provide free resources to learn about sales tools, featuring the top solutions. I spend a lot of my time in product briefings, conducting go-to-market strategy sessions with vendors, hosting educational webinars, and producing videos that review sales tools.

Which tools do you think are most essential for today’s seller?

Our first SalesTech Benchmark survey found that there were four solutions favored far and above others: CRM, Online Meetings, eSignatures, and what we call lead/list building (you can think of it as finding prospects to sell to). We asked about 26 different types of tools and those four solutions were above the others by a wide margin. As a result, I call them the four pillars of a sales stack. We’re conducting the 2019 SalesTech Benchmark survey now. If people participate, they’ll get a free copy of the results.

Your sales career started back in the early ’80s, selling laptops before anyone knew what a laptop was. What’s the biggest change you’ve witnessed in sales, at a macro level, since then?

CRM is not enough. CRM is an important element, but it doesn’t facilitate a lot of the things that salespeople do on a daily basis. It doesn’t find new leads for you. It doesn’t keep track of activities like phone calls or meetings (unless you manually log them). It doesn’t tell managers what works on sales calls. It doesn’t do a good job of prioritizing high-volume prospecting. 

CRM was the first sales app born from the needs of large field organizations who were just beginning to arm their sellers with laptop computers. Back then, it was referred to as Sales Force Automation or SFA. It was followed soon after by a digital slideshow solution by GRiD Systems, the laptop company I sold for. It wasn’t until around 2005 that the world began to see new types of sales tools come to market.

“CRM is not enough. CRM is an important element, but it doesn’t facilitate a lot of the things that salespeople do on a daily basis.” — Nardin

Do your habits and tendencies as a sales professional ever cross over into your personal and social life? Any amusing examples to share?

Interesting question! I admit, I do expect more from salespeople I encounter in my personal life. I notice when they’ve asked a good question at the wrong time. I have to keep myself from wanting to coach them as they’re selling to me!

From your view, which effective sales tactic is most overlooked or underutilized in the profession today?

It’s a tie between listening and asking good questions! Salespeople often listen just long enough to start talking. They’re not really listening or responding to what the buyer says. In that vein, they often ask a question and use the answer as a jumping off point to pitch. Step back and really hear your prospects. Comment on their answers and ask another question.

“Salespeople often listen just long enough to start talking. They’re not really listening or responding to what the buyer says.” — Nardin

What are some personal traits that you feel make you a more effective salesperson and teacher? 

There are a couple things. For one, I’m empathetic. I also don’t take things personally. I’m good at what I call informed persistence. I don’t give up, but I try to offer new information or ideas in my follow-up – not just the same ’ol “checking in” message. It’s important for sellers to be confident without being arrogant and to be patient without being weak.

Are millennial buyers different from past buyers? What guidance would you offer to sellers as they engage this new wave of decision makers?

I’m afraid I can’t answer that question. I haven’t sold to enough millennial buyers. With all the talk about millennials, I’d say they share these things in common with other generations: they don’t want you to waste their time, they want to be respected, and they’re looking for ways to make a difference.

What's your stance on the ever-thorny topic of "cold-calling"?

Well, I just did a webinar on cold-calling with Natalie Severino of Chorus. I enjoyed our conversation! We talked about whether it’s dead or alive (it’s alive), the right ways to get people to engage, the anatomy of a good opener, pitch, and close — and more.

What’s the best book (sales-related or otherwise) you’ve read recently?

The most recent book was The Path Made Clear by Oprah Winfrey. It was good to step back from all the business books I read, take a deep breath, and remember the big picture. Honoring your calling, as Ms. Winfrey calls it, is not just about success but of significance.

I have to mention a sales book as well. There are so many of them. One of my favorites is the recent book by James Muir called The Perfect Close. You can get a lifetime’s worth of sales education in this one book. To help you put it into practice, he’s published a step-by-step workbook. I can’t recommend it enough.

Which emerging technology (AI, machine learning, predictive analytics, etc.) do you see as most promising for sales at large? 

The ones that help salespeople reduce the FAT in their sales process. AI holds great promise because of its focus on doing things that people can’t do, or can’t do fast enough. The F in FAT stands for “fetching.” Salespeople do a lot of fetching (like finding information, contacts, insight, collateral). A stands for “assessing” things like “who should I call next?” or “what needs to be done to advance a particular deal?” And T stands for “task-doing.” Tasks can be things like entering meeting notes or call dispositions into the CRM. Those are all things that AI and machine learning have the potential to help with.  

What’s the most obnoxious habit you see prominently from salespeople these days, and how would you advise them to alter that behavior?

The “set-it-and-forget-it” prospecting approach. Sales tools make it possible for sellers to put outreach cadences in action. The problem is, they often do it in a way that is too formulaic and impersonal. It goes like this: Email 1 – Pitch, Email 2 – Bringing this to the top of your inbox, Email 3 – I’ve been trying to reach you, Email 4 – Break up. That’s a whole lot of wasted activity.

Who is one up-and-coming salesperson to watch, and why?

Anyone who graduates from Dr. Howard Dover’s program at the University of Texas, Dallas, or Dr. John Peterson’s program at Northern Illinois University, or Joël Le Bon of The Johns Hopkins University - Carey Business School. Their students are amazing!

Set It and Go Get It

Technology has come a long way since the debut of personal laptops in the early ’80s. Today, innovative tools are transforming the way sales reps conduct business. But, as expert Nancy reminds us, nothing can replace thoughtful communication, strong conversation, and a personal touch.

To succeed in today’s vast and ever-changing sales industry, reps have to think beyond sophisticated CRM systems and get back to the heart of every successful transaction: relevant, valuable, and personalized connection. Emerging new tools are designed to augment, not replace, these essential selling mainstays.

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