Build Your Sales Tribe with Steve Schrier

The art and science of selling is at the heart of every job, and yet the world of sales is undergoing massive change. In this Thinkers50 curated session, Steve Schrier takes us into the concepts of his book Build Your Sales Tribe: Sales in the Information Age.


Build Your Sales Tribe book coverSteve has held multi-national commercial roles for over 25 years. Steve has run global sales team for large and start-up companies in the tech world. His journey has taken him from start-up to exit several times focusing on high growth through proven commercial engagement techniques. You can read more about Steve’s career here.

Steve believes that there is a problem which is going to get worse as the Information Age accelerates, particularly in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. Sales is the differentiator for many companies and they will continue to face serious challenges for a successful commercial approach. This book contains the framework and the tools he would like to share with any company looking to take their business on a high growth path in modern times.

Build Your Sales Tribe with Steve Schrier Thinkers50 Curated Session Transcript

Stuart Crainer:
Hello, I’m Stuart Crainer, co-founder of Thinkers50, the global platform for management ideas. One area, which is repeatedly overlooked in the field of business is the art and science of selling. Sales is marginalized and sometimes trivialized, but it is at the heart of virtually every job. We all exist by selling something.

Now the world of sales is undergoing a massive change. The world is getting smaller, data is becoming bigger, communication is becoming easier, and buyers are empowered as never before. I’m delighted therefore that I’m joined today by someone who can make sense of this changing landscape is Steve Schrier.

Steve is author of Build Your Sales Tribe, an essential guide to sales in the Information Age. He’s worked in sales throughout the world and knows what makes it tick. Steve, the virtual stage is yours.

Steve Schrier:
Hi Stuart. Thanks very much for having me on. Nice to meet everybody. So yes, my name’s Steve Schrier. I’m going to talk to you about sales and successful sales in the Information Age. My company’s called Sales Tribe Limited and I’m based in the UK.

So this is me. So I’ve had senior multinational commercial roles for over 25 years. I’ve worked all over the world. From the UK to the bay of San Francisco, and I’ve done the journey from startup to exit several times generally in the tech businesses.

And then I’ve had lead roles in larger companies running global teams. And I focus on high growth through proven engagement techniques. Today I’m the CEO of my own business, and I work with companies on deal making and helping others scale. So I’m actually at the coal face doing it, not just talking about it.I’m also a musician and a drummer.

So yes, I wrote this book. The book is called Build Your Sales Tribe. It was released a couple of months ago and it’s under the Thinkers50 moniker. I wrote the book because part of my role, I was to talk to a lot of entrepreneurs, but also people in large companies. And I saw a major change in the… For management which has been accelerated by the pandemic. But also previous to that, I wrote the book previous to the pandemic and that is with business models changing. And a lot of people seem to be unsure how to scale and adapt to business. If you don’t know how to do it successfully, sell in the Information Age and products and Information Age.

So my book is a playbook. It’s designed to help management and management teams to scale their businesses and to adapt to those changes. And I wanted to talk to you about some of those changes today. Since I release the book, I’ve had some nice reviews and some [inaudible], so I’m very happy about that.

What’s happening in the world of sales is basically on the business world in general is simple sales is disappearing as far as sales people are concerned. So basically there’s a gap. There’s a gulf between simple sales and complex sales. And what’s happening is simple sales is being automated generally through digital marketing or various marketing techniques. And there is no requirement for sales people anymore. But as the world is getting smaller and data is coming into the world, actually a lot of things are becoming more complex and a lot of businesses are doing more complex things. And there’s new business models and various other challenges that come about for those businesses. And for those businesses, that is a world of complex selling. And so basically what I’m talking about is about deal making, and that world it’s about deal making.

It’s not around a lot of people don’t seem to want to call themselves sales people anymore. People call themselves business development corporate development, et cetera. But for me, it’s all selling, it’s all deal making. And there’s this kind of tarnished view on like the Wolf of Wall Street or you Glengarry Glen Ross, these kind of films, great films. But the reality is very different. And some of the best CEOs out there within the world are great deal makers. So this is about deal making.

And in this environment, every deal is a strategic one. To succeed you need to set up your company for those sales people to thrive. And that’s what the book’s about. And basically, it’s about partnering as a total company with your customers. And this whole exploitation and this kind of view of sales people because really, that’s really going away. And in this environment for those people, sales is the differentiator to scale businesses in this complex world.

That’s because sales people are people who allow you to create intimacy and personalization with your customers. They carry your message, your culture, and your philosophy to those customers. And so therefore they’re the differentiator for how you do business with those people or with those companies.

So for me, this is all about your people, and it’s all about the people you have within your organizations who go out and look to engage with your customers. And so that’s very important to get those people right. Those people need to be connected with the rest of your organization. This is not something that’s done as a standalone activity, which you often see pushed out on the edge of something. In addition, it’s very important to hire for skills and not for talent. Talent generally has the shortage by the nature of it. Because if you hire people who are doing the same thing intrinsically, that means that there’s going to be a talent shortage.

I believe that you can with the right techniques and right management, basically hire for those skills and create the best people to go out and really engage with your customers and bring in and scale your businesses around that. I also think this is at the forefront of diversity and inclusion principles, mainly because you need to match your market. And you need to have the people who are talking the right language and talking to the right people and saying the right things in the right ways to be able to match to your ideal customers and do business with those people. So this is at the very forefront of that too.

Then it’s about what kind of attitude and approach your people have. So again, there seems to be this kind of [inaudible] Information Age. So there seems to be almost a kind of spray of information and a large amounts of data being pushed out all of the time. I don’t think that’s really the way to do this. I don’t think that everybody’s your customer.

So I think that basically some of the core principles of your attitude and approach that you need to get into your people is to find that ideal customer, to find the right people that you need to have those conversations with. And those are the people rather than just kind of spraying it around and the Information Age makes much more easy to do that. Then you are finding the right people to have those conversations with, and you’re more likely then to be able to go forward and take a deal forward.

And as globalization makes the world seem smaller, this is increasingly more important. I also think there’s an intelligence persistence that needs to be brought to bear around this. I think what I’ve seen in my career is people give up far too easily when they should be persisting, but not expecting for it to be something that happens quickly and easily. This is something that happens. And people who play the longer game are generating the people who succeed in that.

One of the other core principles that I’m putting forward is that there is really no hack. Again, we’re in an age where people seem to want to write about how you cut corners or at least find hacks to certain principles. Unfortunately in my world, there is no hack. The top people work very hard. They’re very busy and they need a lot of energy to bring about this whole philosophy and to go out and create and craft these good deals for companies and for individuals alike.

So I think at the forefront of this is empathy and empathy within the organization. So again, I think there’s too much pitching and pitching really doesn’t take into account the people on the other side. And so I think you can turn empathy into a strategic asset for a business like this.

So the first thing around that is being able to ask the right questions and asking questions is a really good skill for people who wanted to succeed in this area. Then of course, listen to the answers. And I think we’re kind of losing the ability to listen to an extent which needs to be a very important skill. But in the Information Age it seems to be more about bombarding than listening, and this listening which needs to become a very important skill in this area.

And then I think a large amount around, especially now after a pandemic is about, de-risking doing business with people. It’s usually risky for a buyer to change or people to change what they’re doing especially in a company or an organization. And so why should they do it? Unless you are making it a fairly risk-free activity. Now that’s not always possible. And there are various different ways of doing that. And those are different for many different businesses, but there are ways of de-risking doing business with people. And the more you focus on that, the more you can actually provide an empathetic way to go out.

The other thing that’s critical in this environment is to really establish value and to bring value. And value is a very important aspect because it helps you hold your pricing. And that seems to be, again, something that seems to be lost in the kind of price wars, et cetera. But if you are bringing values and you are crafting great deals through bringing that value then you’ll end up with longer, better situation and you’ll be able to hold your pricing better.

So I think that’s around when you are engaging with people telling compelling stories and not bombarding again, but actually creating a headline value, knowing what to do now, I mean, being leaders in the market or being leaders in a situation is very important that you show that, especially in times of complete disruption like we’ve been through now.

The process must have value for the prospective customer. You see too much of it again where that doesn’t have the same value on both sides. And so just engaging with people should give them value whether that deal is created or not. And that value of course helps you hold that pricing and take it forward.

And then demonstrating expertise is the foundation of this. So there are a lot of complex markets these days and becoming the navigator for those markets is what sales people and the organizations behind them really need to be.

And that establishes this headline value because it’s very confusing for a lot of people. There are a lot of nuances in a lot of the deal making today. And I think that that means that if you can provide the navigation for those areas, then you are really creating the value that you need to take something forward.

And then a lot of business now is not really about doing a deal and then moving forward, or doing a deal and moving on. There is a lot about recurring revenue streams and modern business models that have changed the whole approach. So I talk not about closing deals, but about opening relationships, open the deals, because these are things that really should last and not really something that you should just end on once you’ve signed a contract.

And then you need to deliver disproportionate value. This is how you compete, and this is how you beat your competition in the world today. And that will be different for many different businesses, but adding that disproportionate value will really help you sustain these relationships over the longer term. And that means you need your best people who should be doing this. The companies needs to be about this. It should be part of the culture of the company. And that means that focusing on that will really yield the best value for the company and really enable scaling of this kind of operations and adapting to this, the world we live in today by working with your customers.

Also listening to your customers is the first way you learn about the big changes and things that are happening in your market. And again, I don’t think much of that is being done today or being done different levels across organizations.

So I guess people look at what’s happening with sales people. Again, you can call people who do deals what you like, but I call them sales people. And I think the future is very bright for sales people. We now live in a world where IBM Watson is able to predict cancer better than most doctors. And a lot of automation is coming to many different areas. So a lot of professions are going to be significantly affected by that. But for sales people, I think there is a very bright future because as long as the business is being done between human beings and human beings, which I see happening for forever pretty much, I see deal makers being really important parts of that, whatever you call them. And when you look at the things like AI or automation, the AI can’t really form the questions that are asked.

It can’t really listen to all the answers without thousands and thousands of data points. So whilst it’s important to use the information and to use technology, and by the way, I don’t think sales people should be selecting that, but I think it’s an organizational thing to support that function by using the technology. And there’s lots of great technology around now, again being very disrupted. I think the future’s very bright and I think sales people can be assured of a good for situation. So that’s a fundamental overview of my ideas. And I look forward to any questions.

Stuart Crainer:
Thanks a lot, Steve. I mean, I think it’s really interesting that sales is clearly so important to organizations. And also from what you say as well, how few great sales people there are. Because it’s a heavy mix of skills, isn’t it?

Steve Schrier:
There is a heavy mix of skills. I think… I mean, you meet good sales people all the time, but they’re called different things in different places. And they don’t actually often know that they are good sales people. But I also think that, like you said, on the top of the session here, it’s not given over as a skill and not focused on in that way. But it is the culmination of lots of different things to bring to bear, and it’s become much more complex. Normally nowadays it’s about negotiating, at least understanding a lot of the legal aspects, as well as the actual fundamental aspects of the product, the market, the competition, and lots of different other inputs into that area.

Stuart Crainer:
And I think the humanity and the psychology of it is really underestimated. I mean, that’s what you were emphasizing, the human empathy. The willingness to listen is all-important. And I think our stereotype of somebody in sales historically has been somebody with all the answers rather than all the questions.

Steve Schrier:
That’s absolutely right. Yeah. And I don’t want to be the guy with all the answers, because I’m learning too still. But yes, I very much agree with that. And I think that’s the real change that needs to happen in some cases because this kind of baked-in sales methodologies that have been around for many years and lots of places are no longer really working that well. And it’s really about adapting that to the organizations of today and then making those things work within your organizations, your [inaudible] and call them whatever you want is really the name of the game here. But I don’t… That’s your first question on that. I also think you can be very surprised where that skillset might come from and how you are able to bring that through your organization.

And the last thing I’d say on that is I also see it as a management responsibility. I don’t see it being purely at one individual, one set of individual’s doors. I think it’s something that needs to work across the organization in order to really do it well.

Stuart Crainer:
I mean, the CEO should be a salesman or saleswoman.

Steve Schrier:
Well, some of the best CEOs I’ve ever worked with have been great deal makers. And if you look in the wide business world, some of the top people you meet are the best deal makers,. Again, whether they call themselves that or not. Certainly a lot of the very successful ones.

Stuart Crainer:
Yeah. I mean, I’ve interviewed lots of CEOs over the years. And what was interesting I think is a lot of them have direct selling experience very early in their career. I interviewed the CEO of Visa card a few years ago. And his first experience in working was selling dog food from the back of a car. And I spoke to a number of other CEOs and their formative experiences have all been about selling directly to customers and being able to get on with people.

Steve Schrier:
Yeah, no, I totally agree with that. And I think these are skills that you develop. At that age, you can develop any time in my view. But yes, I think a large part of that is about listening to people and then reacting to them. And that becomes the principle of selling rather than these kinds of, you read about these kinds of methodologies like assumptive closes and all this sort of stuff, which is for me I’ve never worked like that. And these are things that don’t really work in that way. So I think, yes, it’s a much softer skill than maybe people give it credit for.

Stuart Crainer:
I mean, at the heart of sales, the way you map it out is that intimacy and personal communication with customers. And it seems to me that a lot of organizations that they’ve almost delegated customer relationships to the technology they’ve taken the humanity out of it.

Steve Schrier:
No, that’s exactly what you see. I mean, you see a lot of the kind of bots and things that you go on. They don’t really ask the right questions and the responses are slightly odd. So I think, again you can buy a house, a car, or lots of different things without even interacting with a human now. And that’s the change that we’re seeing. And I think there’s a Gartner report, for example, that says that I think 33% of or sales even in a B2B environment will be without a human being very soon. But I wonder whether that’s at the cost of really having those relationships. And I think with a little bit of effort and energy around creating this activity, I think you can turn a lot of that function of business into something that really differentiates you from the pack. And relying on technology is a good thing in certain ways. And it’s [inaudible] a lot of things, but I don’t think it places human interaction in a lot of other ways, depending on the business, obviously.

Stuart Crainer:
And your book’s called Build Your Sales Tribe. What do you mean by a sales tribe? Is everyone [crosstalk].

Steve Schrier:
Yeah, well, so I think what I was thinking when I was writing this is, well, what’s in this for me? Not me as me, Steve, as me as the person reading the book, the reader. And so the idea is it’s a playbook for people who want to be good at this. I try to focus on how I build that up and create a book which can be referred to when situations arise by people in different teams and management, et cetera, but in order to really build a good sales function. So from that perspective, I would say the sales tribe is the people within an organization who go out and engage with the customers. But in addition to that, it’s the people who look after your existing customers which is critically important I think, in this age.

Stuart Crainer:
So when you meet people or interview them, recruit them, what are you looking for? What characteristics, what are the characteristics of people who really get this?

Steve Schrier:
Okay. So, I mean, there’s a whole chapter on this in the book. But basically the… I love for people who are A and for the kind of hard sort of sales people, people who can deal with rejection because obviously there’s a lot of rejection in that, but people who are also empathetic as we talked about, people who can listen, people who can understand data quite quickly and really sort of regurgitate it, people who can absorb it.

And then I also look for people who are interested in money, for example, because you think you need that element to it. That’s a human thing as much as anything else. I also think that there’s a slightly difference between the kind of hard sort of hunter type sales person and the people and the kind of more empathetic customer service or customer relations type people, account managers, those kinds of people. I think there’s a slightly different skill there and they need to be slightly different people.

And I also talk about what I call business development, which is really sort of people who have the strategic relationships with other companies. A lot of companies these days bring lots of different suppliers together to create their products. And there’s some very famous examples like Apple, et cetera, who are doing this. And there’s a lot of complex relationships there. And somebody needs to establish those relationships and manage them too. And I think the lines between those activities, those strategic deals and the kind of sales thing, that’s where the blurring is really happening. And you need a certain type of person who’s able to play the longer game in that area and really create those relationships all the time.

Stuart Crainer:
I like the phrase moving from closing deals to opening relationships. I suppose the thing with closing deals is that it’s sexy and it’s kind of eye catching, isn’t it? Well, although relationships as we know need a lot of work.

Steve Schrier:
Yeah, no, I agree with that. So I mean yeah, it’s very true. But I mean, I just think it’s a mindset thing that management need to have now rather than go out and bring something back and then it’s kind of that then move on to the next one, onto the next one. I think there is an element of that that can be bought to bear in selling. But you need to know what happens then. So it may not be the same individuals that take it on further, but you do need to have to think about the whole piece to be very successful into scale this. And what was happening is I was meeting a lot of people who’d maybe raised money for products and services, et cetera, were creating really quite great businesses with great things that they could bring to the market, but they didn’t really have any understanding of how to then really get that out there and really talk to the right people about that. So that was a key reason that I wrote the book.

Stuart Crainer:
Yeah. There’s a lot of semantics, isn’t there? Around sales. I mean, the word growth is used and it’s virtually synonymous with sales really. And you talk about deal making, which is also synonymous with sales. So in many ways these semantics are kind of getting in the way aren’t they? And- [crosstalk].

Steve Schrier:
They are.

Stuart Crainer:
… and holding it back an understanding of it perhaps.

Steve Schrier:
Yeah, they are. And it’s not held by films like Wall Street and those sorts of things. But I mean, they’re great watching aren’t they? So I think there is a real legacy. There is a real legacy kind of image of the salesperson I was talking about that again in the beginning of the book. And that’s a problem for a lot of people, and a lot of people wouldn’t ever want to call themselves sales people now. But like you’ve mentioned, I think we need to treat this slightly differently going forward, because this is a real skill, no doubt. In big B2C firms and big areas, there are like that. Lots of automation is happening and lots of things are happening where there isn’t the intervention of a human being at that point. For better or worse as we discuss. But I mean, I think some people need to realize it’s not a marketing function. Really marketing is a different thing at that level. This is about more complex situations, and that this is the differentiator.

Stuart Crainer:
I mean, sales really is the intersection of technology, customers, and people. But another thing to throw in the mix is cultural differences. You can- [crosstalk].

Steve Schrier:
That’s right. And that’s why I mentioned it. I think it’s the forefront of diversity and inclusion characteristics, because traditionally it’s been this kind of like this idea of a boiler room where there’s kind of a bell when someone gets a deal and someone hits the bell and that happens. But I think those things are very old-fashioned now. And now you need to have the right level of culture, the right intelligence, the right people, the right viewpoints, et cetera. So you need to match your market and you need to really fully demonstrate that expertise and be real true experts in your market to differentiate yourselves from your competition and really work well with your customers. And I think if you focus on those things, I think again you become almost an irremovable part of your customer’s ecosystem. Which is what a lot of these things are becoming right now.

Stuart Crainer:
Well, there’s kind of an irony here in that in many ways the very complicated technology led environment of the moment is actually leading us back to the fundamentals of selling, which is about building relationships with customers.

Steve Schrier:
I would absolutely 100% agree with that. That’s exactly what I’m saying.

Stuart Crainer:
I wonder where we lost it.

Steve Schrier:
Well, me too. But I mean, I think sometimes people want to overcomplicate things. But it is complicated because like you say that you’re bringing together all these other elements, and it takes quite a lot of energy to really get out there and maintain this over a longer term. And that is difficult for people. And I really do sympathize with that. That’s why it’s good to have a really solid strategy. And a lot of other people don’t even realize what it really is they’re trying to find to do. And so that’s what I’m trying to kind of bring to the forefront to an extent,

Stuart Crainer:
Doesn’t everyone believe they’re good at sales? Number of people I’ve encountered who think they’re really good at selling, but I suspect they’re not.

Steve Schrier:
Yes. I think you meet a mix of people who are A, think they’re good and some people who think they’re absolutely no good when they actually are. Because as such, there are so many different skills that come to bear. So it’s a real mix of the people you meet and the characteristics around that. So hopefully, and one of the other things obviously that’s important today is developing confidence. And I talk about that in the book because these are things that need to happen, but confidence often is about making mistakes and learning from those mistakes. And I think again, management has got to create an environment where mistakes can be made because everything’s changing especially over the last year, 18 months. Everything has changed so massively that you have to be listening and people are… Not everyone’s going to have all the right answers, but they need to be able to go and make those mistakes and actually adapt at the time. And that is a real strategic asset for any business that enables that in my view.

Stuart Crainer:
I know things are changing. Are people taking sales more seriously now, do you think?

Steve Schrier:
With the companies, I work with, yes. I mean, there’s a bunch of people who realize that’s [inaudible] how they need to scale their businesses. In a lot of other cases, no. I don’t think people do realize that that’s what they need to do and they call it other things when actually what they’re doing is really that. And then that’s… Hopefully, I can help with that to an extent.

Stuart Crainer:
So what excites you then about the sales function at the moment?

Steve Schrier:
What excites me is the amount of… So there’s a lot of sort of game-changing technologies that are coming into it too, which there’s this kind of social networking side of things. I think the pandemic has brought a lot to bear on the fact you don’t really need to travel. You can establish these great relationships without doing that to an extent. I think a lot of people wouldn’t have agreed with that a year or two ago. And that’s obviously to change the game. But I think I’d be cautiously optimistic with that because I think there’s a lot of things like CRM systems and stuff, which have come with these [inaudible] methodologies, which I don’t really believe in has all the answers. I think you kind of need to work all this stuff out for yourselves, but I think there’s so much technology around now, which can really make this very different.

And then I think the pandemic has meant that there are a lot of opportunities that maybe weren’t there before for bringing new business into different sectors and areas. And that needs a different level of thinking. And I think sales people should be at the forefront of that.

Stuart Crainer:
So the book’s out now, Build Your Sales Tribe published by Unbound, along with Thinkers50. Where does your work go next? You got another book in the pipeline? Surely

Steve Schrier:
I’m not sure about another book. It was quite a mountain to climb. I’m very busy. I’ve got a successful business in my consulting side as well. So that’s what I’m doing for the day job. But I’m also looking to really get the book to as many people as I can and the message along with that. So lots of activity around that and got quite a few plans in the pipeline.

Stuart Crainer:
And where do people go to find out more about your work, Steve?

Steve Schrier:
Salestribe.co.uk is the main site and then a salestribe blog, which is [inaudible] I’m talking about the messages again from there. And that’s the best place to reach out.

Stuart Crainer:
Steve Schrier, thank you very much. Steve’s book Build Your Sales Tribe is out now. I mean, I do believe that selling is one of the most underestimated and abused terms actually in the business world. And if you really want to find out more about the new realities of selling in the Information Age, check out Steve’s book. Steve Schrier, thank you very much.

Steve Schrier:
Thanks for having me on. Thanks Stuart.

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