If I’m working with a prospect who unexpectedly decides to hire a different company, it might sound impossible, but it’s possible to close a deal with a prospect who goes with your competitor.
David Adley is an outbound sales manager at Bonfire, a digital platform for selling custom apparel. Bonfire works with nonprofits, influencers, and anyone who wants an easy solution to selling an awesome shirt online.
David started selling knives door-to-door during college and he discovered he had a passion for it. When you’re succeeding, you’re having fun.
He worked as a sales rep for a music company, and because he was a music major in college, he assumed it would be the perfect marriage of two things he loved. He was playing in a band at the time, and he had to make a decision about his priorities, so he picked music over sales.
For almost four years he gigged with a band before taking the job at Bonfire as a customer success rep. He was basically making ends meet while doing the rock star thing.
David grew into his role. Because the CEO knew he had sold knives in college, he invited David to take a shot at growing the sales team. He took the leap, and that’s where his journey began.
Bonfire operates in cause-based fundraising as well as the influencer space. Early in David’s career, he worked with a big client named Crusoe the Celebrity Dachshund. He’s a big deal in the animal influencer game and he has hilarious content.
He’s also the big fish in David’s story, which is about learning empathy, timing, and persistence, three things that sellers need if they are looking to up their game. The company was still small then and he didn’t want to mess up the opportunity.
He asked the CEO for help, and together they conducted discovery together. The CEO, Brian Marks, shared wisdom with him, and they discovered that Crusoe wasn’t actually a great fit for the platform at the time. They weren’t equipped to give him everything he needed to have a successful apparel campaign.
The company was geared to fund-raising at the time and wasn’t really built for influencers.
Brian advised David to provide pro bono graphic design work to Crusoe and then told David to recommend that Crusoe sell his designs on a competitor’s platform. Typically custom graphics take about three days, but they turned this one around same-day because it was such a great opportunity even though they couldn’t work with him.
David said he couldn’t imagine sending a potential VIP seller to a competitor, but this is where he really started to learn persistence. After they sent Crusoe away, it was still his responsibility to keep Bonfire top-of-mind for him. He did that by actively checking in during opportune moments, like when he won an award for best animal content creator.
David congratulated them and checked in with his manager frequently.
They developed a great rapport despite the fact that they never sold anything on Bonfire’s site to this point. Eventually, when Bonfire relaunched its site with more accommodating features for influencer clientele, the timing was perfect.
Crusoe’s manager got back to them during a periodic check-in and was anxious to give the company a shot. The new website was officially about three days old at this point, so David was still a little nervous about bandwidth at this point.
Eventually, the account was the highest-selling campaign on the site up to that point, and it pushed the company to its brink in those early days. He calls it a thrilling experience for everyone involved.
Nurture the relationship
Almost two years passed between the time when David sent Crusoe to his competitors and then welcomed him to Bonfire as a customer. He did it by nurturing the relationship and staying in contact with his managers. He let them know about the changes at the company, and eventually, it made sense for them to work with Bonfire.
Crusoe never forgot how the company hooked him up in the early days. As a young rep, David had been so focused on closing that he couldn’t fathom making this kind of decision. The CEO, on the other hand, was looking out for Crusoe’s best interests, and he did what a good sales rep should do: he empathized.
He wasn’t so hungry for a deal that he tried to close something that wasn’t a good fit. He put himself in the client’s shoes and did what was right for the client. Then the client paid it forward. He never forgot the solid favor the company did.
It was a long, remarkable lesson that resulted in a relationship that still exists today.
When sellers build value, loyalty results as a natural by-product. Very often we get shortsighted because, in the sales space, we tend to focus on what we need right now. We don’t allow ourselves to think about the future. The result is that we often think only of ourselves. Many new reps especially get so quota-driven that we lose sight of our customer’s needs.
David said he’s thankful he was able to learn the lesson early in his career because it allows him to detach himself from deals and to teach his reps to do the same.
Bonfire measures success as a campaign that sells more than 200 apparel items. The Crusoe campaign sold more than 3,000 items, which is about 15 times more than the typical revenue.
David’s realization that you can’t simply scale a team by taking your own personal success and applying it to everyone was his biggest challenge as a sales leader. He isn’t data-driven by nature but operates more by the seat of his pants. He uses a throw-it-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks approach. Then he repeats what succeeds. And while that worked for him in a young startup environment where there wasn’t a blueprint, it doesn’t work to scale.
He had to develop a data-driven approach because not everyone can sell like he can. He had to overcome the notion that everyone should do what worked for him. The truth, as he discovered, is that there are lots of awesome personalities and skill sets that can sell effectively. Diving into the data to discover why those personalities could sell effectively was huge.
They started by establishing a baseline metric for success. Once you’ve determined what your team is doing every day, you can hone those skills to arrive at the place where you’re closing more deals or launching more campaigns.
David once operated according to a gut-feel to determine how many messages to send out, but they couldn’t rely on that. They needed to establish a number of new outreach messages a day. In this case, it was 25 new outreach messages a day, with the intention to convert 35 percent of those into demos. If 10 percent of those convert to launch campaigns, a BDR can launch three a week and be set up for long-term success.
The key was drilling down those numbers to figure out what needed to happen at each stage of the pipeline. Telling new reps what they need to do in order to be successful makes a big difference. If they hit those benchmarks, they can feel really good about their trajectory.
David said he wouldn’t have learned the lessons about empathy, timing, and persistence if he hadn’t been willing to ask for help. Many new reps want to put their heads down and prove themselves. He said that the best reps ask tons of questions and aren’t afraid to fail. Success occurs when you put yourself out there, ask for help, and then apply the lessons you learn effectively.
“How To Close A Deal With A Prospect Who Goes With Your Competitor” episode resources
You can connect with David via email at David@bonfire.com. You can also connect with him on LinkedIn and check out Bonfire.com. Find his music at Griff’s Room Band. You can also connect with his mom, who is a professional storyteller, at Characters By Kim.
Connect with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This episode is brought to you by the TSE Certified Sales Training Program. I developed this training course because I struggled early on as a seller. Once I had the chance to go through my own training, I noticed a hockey-stick improvement in my performance.
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