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Episode 7

Sascha Rahman

Head of Strategic Marketing & Sales Excellence

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Managing the risk of buyers’ remorse

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On episode 7 of The Insiders podcast, hosts Richard Lane and Simon Hazeldine are joined by Sascha Rahman (Head of Strategic Marketing & Sales Excellence at ifm) who discusses how to manage the risk of customer regret by effectively coordinating sales and customer success. Sascha also discusses:

  • The importance of team composition to deliver the right solutions to the customer
  • Leveraging multichannel approaches to achieve sales excellence
  • Moving from a responsive to a prescriptive approach avoiding information overload

Sasha has a background in business consulting and joined the ifm group four years ago as Head of Strategic Marketing & Sales Excellence. He coordinates the capabilities of product management, strategic marketing and sales excellence, managing market and customer intelligence, as well as sales data analytics and pricing to guide successful and safe growth.

“Success in the B2B tech space is never only about the technical facts. It is about the kind of knowledge and capability necessary to address and solve additional problems for the customer.”

Transcript

Speaker 1:

Hi, and welcome to The Insiders by durhamlane, where we get perspectives from industry thought leaders about strategies that are unifying marketing and sales cycles to help accelerate growth inside your world.

 

Simon Hazeldine:

Welcome to The Insiders Sales and Marketing podcast. I’m Simon Hazeldine. I’m a sales transformation strategist and sales performance consultant, helping my clients to get more sales more often with more margin. I’m also a keynote speaker and author of seven books on sales and negotiation, and I’m your host along with my co-host, the one and only Richard Lane, who is the co-founder of durhamlane, who are an Inside Sales partner that helps businesses to grow their revenue through an integrated sales and marketing methodology. So Richard, great to be back with you and also great to have our guest with us. So, I’m going to hand over to you to do the introductions.

 

Richard Lane:

Yes. Thank you, Simon, and I agree, wonderful to be back, thrilled to introduce our guests, Sascha Rahman, head of strategic marketing and sales excellence at IFM group. I know from our pre-call, we’re going to have a really fascinating conversation today and I’ll hand back to you, Simon, to get us kicked off.

 

Simon Hazeldine:

Wonderful. Thank you, Richard. So, Sascha, what we always ask our guests to do is just sort of introduce yourself to our listeners. Give us a little bit of background and how you came to be in the role you’re in currently, so they can kind of get to know you a little bit.

 

Sascha Rahman:

Sure. Yeah. Thanks, Simon and Richard. I’m happy to join you guys, both. I think it was around four years ago, I was offered the exciting opportunity to join IFM and build some new capabilities in the global function related to strategic marketing and sales excellence. We’re a kind of international interface function in the Holy Trinity of the IFM go to market, so: product management, marketing, and sales. Those are our sparring partners. We have the classical tasks of strategic marketing related to market intelligence, customer intelligence.

On the sales excellent side, we look at sales and data analytics and try to integrate some newish data science concepts and also talk a little bit about pricing and implementing some tools and processes there. Before joining IFM, I was, in my last function, director in the management consultancy, Simon-Kucher & Partners, focusing on top line topics. My client base was in machinery, electronics, paper packaging, so always pretty much in the B2B space, so to say.

 

Simon Hazeldine:

Fantastic. So, they’re keeping you busy by the sounds of things. It would be very interesting. Business development is always a hot topic for anybody in our podcast audience listening into us. So, I’d be really interested from an IFM perspective, how do you approach business development as an organization?

 

Sascha Rahman:

Yeah. We’re privately owned. That means we have a little bit of a longer breadth when it comes to a mission and a vision, and since 50 years we had the mantra “successful and safe growth” and we operationalize those two keywords. Success, meaning we hone in on our bread and butter industries that we are really successful and have a strong fit over the years, food and beverage, automotive machine tools to be named, and we also want to tackle new and let’s say future growth industries for us around e-mobility around water and waste water, the warehouse industry, so that we have a nice balance in our industry portfolio there. And safety, that, for us, is all about customer base, right? Maybe not to be too reliant on too few customers to grow the customer base and offer them our complete solution space in position sensors, process sensors, network and control and software, so increasing a little bit of cross-selling aspects. I think we’re a little bit of a different animal than the classical hidden champion in the mid-sized B2B area, which has a, let’s say, classical T shape, right, T on the side that they are globally active, but in a very niche segment. You can rather compare us with a millipede, with thousand different legs to achieve that stability a little bit more.

 

Simon Hazeldine:

And so the millipede, which I love what a wonderful, wonderful concept. That’s definitely a first, Sascha. So, I strongly recommend you copyright that or whatever as soon as you possibly can, and that’s helping you to reduce that reliance.. It often happens to organizations… We become very reliant on the old parade 80/20 principle, a small number of customers delivering most of the revenue. So, you’re actively attempting to disrupt that typical percentage, then, by the sounds of things.

 

Sascha Rahman:

Yeah, it’s a tough job, of course. On the one hand, we want to balance where we are coming from and still tap into that bread and butter business, but continuously pushing also our sales colleague, our sales team, to look at these newer areas. It’s, in that sense, of course, not easy to tackle new challenges in maybe newer industries and fight to a better fit, but that’s definitely something that we’re aiming for, and if I look at, again, this trio product management, sales and marketing, in those instances where all of us free entities have really worked closely together, then that has always been formula for success, also protecting new areas.

 

Simon Hazeldine:

And Richard, from your perspective at durhamlane, this getting the right balance with the sales team around servicing customers where you know you’ve got a strong proposition and you understand them and forging into new territories. What’s your thoughts and your perspective on that?

 

Richard Lane:

Yeah. It’s interesting, Simon. I think Sascha has described really eloquently the ability to grow within your base, but also the need for new. I think salespeople often go where they find the easiest revenue. I think the trilogy between product management marketing and sales has to be successful if you are going to successfully cross an upsell into your account base. Where customers typically come to durhamlane is when they want to accelerate into the net new. That is a different skill. It’s a different sales process. Typically, in terms of you’re having to forge into a new market, you’re going to have to create noise and awareness in a space where maybe you don’t have the brand recognition or reputation or base, usually. So, that’s where we typically get involved, Simon, but I would love to explore more with Sascha how you are able to tie those three pieces of the triangle together to create that success. Sounds fascinating.

 

Simon Hazeldine:

Yeah. Give us your perspective on that, Sascha, your insight into those. You’ve got the product, the marketing, the sales, and you talk about getting those connected and working together. How’s that? How do you go about achieving that? Because that’s quite a challenge for most organizations.

 

Sascha Rahman:

Yeah. I think what definitely helps is putting, at the end of the day, if you visualize that triangle, one thing in the center of it, and that’s the customer, what I do have to say, also from my experience from other companies, entities working in our area and in the product management, they are really close contact, working quite in depth with accounts, and we have this outside-in perspective when also developing new products, really looking into the customer needs quite in detail, and there’s not, let’s say, a lot of interference points when it comes to that, but really close contact one-to-one customer to product management and ideally also to marketing to achieve that kind of customer focus.

 

Simon Hazeldine:

Fantastic. Thank you, and just to loop back to something you mentioned earlier, you were referencing your complete solution. So as an organization, how are you addressing this transition, which a lot of organizations face, what we might call component selling, I think you described it in our pre-conversation as a system stroke solution selling approach?

 

Sascha Rahman:

Yeah. I think our strong bench that we have in our sales team, right? The function at IFM, they’re called sales engineers. We have also a little bit of focus on the second part. So, we do have the strong advantage of 50 years in depth application knowledge on the shop floor of our customers, in depth knowledge together with the maintenance management team of our customers on what works and what does not work. So, that’s a good foundation, definitely, to evolve a little bit. Also, our sales team, I think we’re really working also on the skillset, so being able to multichannel when you are a sales function, so not only being over-relying on the onsite presence, but being able to engage online or on the phone in a good and promising manner and working on your discovery skills, so really listening to the customer and being able to finally attune and at tailor your recommendations coming of that.

And finally, it’s also a bit of a sales organization challenge, right, that you have to think about a good team composition, maybe of generalists in your team, but for certain special tasks, to really being able to put a specialist on a product, be it a industry specialist in food and beverage or automotive, or being it a technology specialist in the camera technology that we are offering to really provide some in depth expertise for our customers.

 

Simon Hazeldine:

So that’s kind of like selling as a team sport, rather than an individual sport, perhaps, which is a whole skillset in itself, I think, for salespeople who are, if I could be a little bit generalist for a moment, are more like the lone warrior maybe than the team player. Is that a perspective you are seeing, as well, Richard, from durhamlane, this need for this team, more of a broad team approach?

 

Richard Lane:

Yeah, it is. It is, Simon, and I wonder whether that lone wolf analogy is sort of quickly becoming dated. I think that still does exist, but I can’t see how you could really be successful, truly successful these days, by trying to do everything yourself. I think as Sascha has already explained, you have to have different, not just individuals, but functions of a business, working together to create the right success and the right outcomes for your business. So, yeah. We still see that, and certainly with some of our clients, we see that is there’s… We have a number of people that don’t seem to want to engage with anyone else, but are very good when they get in a certain place, but I think that’s becoming a little bit two-dimensional in today’s 3D world.

 

Simon Hazeldine:

Yeah, definitely. I mean, I think it’s bringing in your subject matter expert sometimes as to very early stage of the process might be earlier now than we might have thought about traditionally. Right?

 

Richard Lane:

Well, and maybe one thing to think there is how technology has facilitated that process, because rather than having to get someone on a plane to go to a customer meeting, you can just dial them in, and now it’s normal and it’s not seen to be a sub experience or an inferior sense of time. Is it?

 

Simon Hazeldine:

Yeah. I mean, certainly, I would say with my clients, they’ve certainly reported over the last two years or so, okay, accelerated something that was already happening, anyway, with COVID was, it’s just easier to get those stakeholders and multiple people onto a virtual meeting and providing your sales team have the skills to manage those virtual meetings. That’s a fantastic opportunity for you. So, yeah. It’s a good thing, I think, for people to be focusing on. Sascha, you’ll be very familiar, the data, the research has been around a while. The CEB research that, some years ago now, B2B buyers like 57% of the way through their way to a buying decision before they want to engage with sales. What are you doing to help your customers to learn and engage with IFM at an earlier stage?

 

Sascha Rahman:

I love CEB, to be honest, Simon. I find it super inspiring research. One additional point, which was mentioned there, is that this kind of problem set that with more information, customers actually feel much more uncertain and stressed out. So, it’s a fantasy to think that they’re at ease with their purchase decision, and I also found it interesting that in B2B, the number of stakeholders involved continuously is going up right on average. We now have, I think roughly it was seven or eight stakeholders involved in these kind of purchase decisions, and if I just make an analogy in my private life, and you probably can all relate to that, if I go traveling, so to say, on a private trip and in the past, I would arrive through a catalog and been able to select a hotel quick and easy.

Now, when I went to the Algarve with my family during Easter, I had the feeling. I looked up every single hotel online before I had a good, strong feeling of making the right decision. So, that’s definitely a mind bender, but what does that mean for our customers at IFM? I think we need to kind of manage their risk of regret and loss of purchase ease and support them a little bit, and for us, that would mean to go a little bit away from a kind of responsive approach to more of a prescriptive approach, rather than offering them a complete array of the complete options available, maybe listening to them more closely through discovery and offer them a little bit more tailor-made, bespoke solutions coming through the full breadth of our portfolio.

And how would we operationalize that? I think online, you mentioned. We work heavily with our learn more pages online where you can really educate yourself properly and come to a first good idea there, and offline in a sales approach, it’s quite important, I think, to just speak their language, to know that in food and beverage, one of the key issues at the moment is end product quality that puts a strain on production processes, or be it in warehouse automation, where we are completely moving away from rigid conveying to AGVs and autonomous mobile robots doing that job completely flexible and all of the challenges in the process steps there, and I think when we can tap into that knowledge and then offer a bit more of a tailor made solution, that’s the first right step in a good direction there.

 

Simon Hazeldine:

Yeah, and I think it’s interesting that almost my interpretation is, you’re guiding the customer in a certain direction, and I think your perspective on that CEB research, it almost is: okay, they’re 57% of the way through, and yeah, they’re doing a great job and they’re really happy. Actually, they can be pretty stressed, overwhelmed, confused, or misinformed, or perhaps think they know actually more than they do. Right? That can… some false sense of confidence. Richard, is that something you’re experiencing in interactions with your folks?

 

Richard Lane:

Absolutely. Again, from a personal point of view, I think back to Sascha’s thoughts about the hotel, I often think, why can’t there just be three options to choose from? So back to the psychology of buying. I mean, we’ve talked before, Simon, about being the sense makers and the storytellers, and I think at that discovery stage, we have a responsibility… and that’s where most of my team spend their time, is what we call find and create, and then define, understand as part of our selling at our high level methodology, and that discovery phase that Sascha has mentioned a couple of times is so, so important, and our job is to listen. Our job is to learn. Our job is to offer advice and tell stories of previous experiences, which we think might help and to make sense of some of the challenges that our potential customers have.

I think it was Brian Tracy said that we offer free consultancy to qualified prospects, and I love that idea because our job, really, even if it’s the very front end of the sales process, if we can be thinking as a consultant, if we can be thinking as a strategic resource, then the worst that we can do is be helpful. So, I think that that’s a really good way to think of your practice as being: Can I be a strategic resource from day one? No, but can I think like one from day one? Yes. I think worst case, then, is you’re going to add a bit of value.

 

Simon Hazeldine:

Yeah, which is never going to be a bad thing to do for a customer. I know from my research, when I was looking at applying neuroscience to sales is like, confused brains don’t buy, right?

 

Richard Lane:

Absolutely.

 

Simon Hazeldine:

If you’re confused, you hit the pause button, and Richard, you mentioned three. My good friend, Graham Jones, is an internet psychologist. Apparently, three’s the optimum options to help people make a decision.

 

Richard Lane:

Yeah.

 

Simon Hazeldine:

One is no choice. Two is a binary, and three, apparently, is the optimum. So, how about that for our listeners? There you go. There’s a bit of added value, we hope. So, Sascha, when we were talking previously and I’ve taken a look at your website and looked around, you talk about being customer focused and “IFM close to you”. Now, lots of organizations will say they’re close to their customers. Everybody’s got it on their office wall or on their website, and yeah, we are close to our customers or customer focus. Right?

 

Sascha Rahman:

Yeah.

 

Simon Hazeldine:

How do you make that an actual reality? Because I know you’re doing some really great stuff from our pre-conversation.

 

Sascha Rahman:

Yeah. We gave that question even back to our customers, to be honest, too. So, the ones we’ve been engaged for quite some while and asked them even that question, “How would you define the “close-to-youness” of IFM?” What we just got back there was topics like the responsiveness and the agility of working of our sales engineers direct. So, going maybe the extra mile installation and commissioning, being there quite long onsite, even off business hours, et cetera, to really go into that partnership with our customers together, responsiveness also of our service center. We bench them in, let’s say a number of minutes, in terms of responsiveness. That’s minutes and not hours or days, basically as a benchmark.

What they also mentioned as a kind of hard factor, and that’s pretty much industry benchmark, is our five year warranty on our products where the norm would be one or two years where we absolutely offer in case of breakdown, et cetera, the full support, and I do know from experience even in product areas where it’s tough and if we’re very honest, like for like, our peers in our industry are offering similar products, we were able to kick them out or attack market shares just based on those soft effects, all around “close to you”. So, it seemed to be a kind of tangible value at the end of the day.

 

Simon Hazeldine:

But I think it’s a theme that we’ve had a number of times from guests on The Insiders podcast, is ask the customer, rather than mind reading the customer. What do we think the customer wants is sometimes as profoundly simple as saying, “What do we need to do to be close to you? What is your definition,” as I think is to paraphrase what you were saying and then finding out what actually it is that they want, rather than what we might believe they want and make an assumption about it.

 

Sascha Rahman:

Yep. So, absolutely. The typical, let’s say purchase decision criteria set that we kind of experienced, was third, third, third, third product, third sales skills upfront, third service skills. So, it’s never only about our technical effects in B2B. It’s really about a knows factor and capability to really solve and address additional problems, which come up during the purchasing process.

 

Simon Hazeldine:

And I must ask, specifically, how many minutes was the response time from the customers? What was the minutes?

 

Richard Lane:

4,800. I mean, that’s a whole podcast in itself, isn’t it? Because…

 

Simon Hazeldine:

Yeah.

 

Richard Lane:

… for me, it’s so obvious. Someone is getting in touch because they’ve got a problem. It’s front of mind. They need support. They don’t need it in three hours time. They need it now. So if you can get that response to 15 minutes or under, then you will stand out from the crowd. That’s a great example of “close to you”. It’s a really, really great example.

 

Simon Hazeldine:

I think, also, as well, Sascha, you’re like us. You’re in the B2B space, but all of our customers are business to consumer people in their private lives, and they are used to being able to get an answer really quickly from chat or to find what they want very, very quickly, and also Amazon, et cetera. You never wonder where your order is. You are always and rapidly updated about what’s going on, and that definitely is influencing their perceptions about what they want from their B2B suppliers, as well, and speed is the need, right? It sounds an awfully trite expression, but like Richard’s saying, I have a problem now. If I can find somebody who can solve that problem now, you’ve probably got first mover advantage against your competition, as well.

 

Sascha Rahman:

And that’s, let’s say, one of the core philosophy aspects from us that we do want to try to cover the value chain in its entirety, right? So, from R&D to production, to logistics, to sales and service, that’s all on a string homegrown IFM, so to say, and through that kind of capability, of course, that leads us to be able to upfront in front of the customer, then also to respond fast and also to tackle certain challenges directly in house.

 

Simon Hazeldine:

Wonderful. Thank you. Thank you very much. It’s just great to get an insight from somebody who’s actually walking the talk, I think, rather than just something that’s laminated on the wall of the office or on the front page of the website. “We respond quickly.” Four hours later, somebody comes back to you, right? It’s just…

 

Richard Lane:

But also, what’s great about that is that you are responding to your customers, but not just to your prospects, that you would like to be your customers, and there’s often, in B2B, a lot of emphasis put on speed of response to people that aren’t your customers yet, and then when they become your customers, they go into a different cadence.

 

Simon Hazeldine:

Yeah.

 

Richard Lane:

Well, actually, you are delivering that superior service or that front of mind experience to your customers, which links back to your successful and safe growth. So yeah, it’s a really nice story, Sascha.

 

Simon Hazeldine:

Yeah, and I think we can all, in our private lives, relate to being the difference between being an existing customer and a new customer and the red carpet appears to be rolled up and disappeared, doesn’t it, once you move in, which is… Then you start to feel neglected and guess what? That prompts you to go somewhere else.

Sascha, you’ve got a big organization. So if I recall correctly, and correct me if these numbers are wrong. You’ve got about 1,200 salespeople selling to 161,000 customers in 180 countries with a direct presence in 45 countries. That’s a pretty impressive set of metrics. How on earth do you create joined up consistent communication with such a large number of all customers and also such a diverse group?

 

Sascha Rahman:

Yeah. I would even bump up that number slightly. So customer facing, it’s roughly 2,000 people.

 

Simon Hazeldine:

Oh, gosh, okay.

 

Sascha Rahman:

Yeah. When we include also the service center in those numbers there. I think what you just mentioned just is a hot topic, right? It’s a quite contentious one heavily discussed. Probably at the end of the tunnel, there is the holy grail of being able to shift your customers from a push to a pull situation, when it comes to demand and joining up the communication and the way we are tackling that is to really work, also, on the basics together with our team and truly understanding and mapping out the customer needs that are underlying and particularly production process optimization, world class manufacturing, as you will, and then thinking about brackets and global themes, where we, as IFM, can provide hard and tangible facts and legal pieces to, let’s say, of our solutions.

When you do that, you draw dotted lines between individual components and manage to be a little bit more clearer, more concise, or it feeds into our marketing communications then on the one hand side, but also even then to the solution selling space that we, yeah, really can say, for example, we pay into the topic of inventory reduction in your warehouse through solution X, Y, Z, based on certain aspects in our certain components in our portfolio.

 

Simon Hazeldine:

So, we’ve rather wonderfully gone from millipedes to Lego pieces, as well. So, loving the analogies, and Richard, I know at durhamlane, you have multi-language capability because you are supporting clients who are selling across different geographies and different areas, and what do you do to ensure for your clients that there’s that joined up communication?

 

Richard Lane:

Yeah. I’m not going to give you stats because they will seem so insignificant compared to Sascha’s and IFM, but yeah. We operate multilingual, I think to be a UK- and European-focused business. That’s really a must. I think there’s a lot of value there for our customers, as well, because not only can we represent them in different countries, but we can present a one voice back to the customer.

So, big learning for us was, it’s not just about having native tongue speakers, the sales execs doing the prospecting, but you need to have native tongue speaking and understanding coaches and team leaders. So, we’ve worked hard on that, and then we try and bring that all back into a one view from a customer success reporting cadence, whether that’s weekly, monthly, and then QBR quarterly reviews. So, seems to be working well. We find some areas more and less complicated, and that coaching piece is key because if you don’t understand what someone is saying, you can’t coach them. It sounds obvious when I say it out loud, but actually, we learned that the hard way. So, that was a good learning point for us on our multilingual journey.

 

Simon Hazeldine:

Fantastic. Well, just conscious of time and making sure we don’t overstay our welcome with you, Sascha, so thank you. Thank you very, very much for those fantastic insights. I mean, the transition to that complete solution piece was fascinating, and I really enjoyed your commentary on that CEB research. Yeah. They might have been doing the research, but it doesn’t mean they’re there yet. Right? So, I mean, I think that’s a key skill for modern salespeople to work out where that salesperson is in that information gathering journey and maybe correct any misinformation, right? Because as any doctor will tell you, Doctor Google does not always diagnose problems correctly, on behalf of my son, who is a doctor. “Hey, I’ve got this problem.” “No, you haven’t.” Right? And that’s a gentle persuasion, I think, going forward and wonderful – I think about your ability of your organization to genuinely get close to its customers, I think, will be a real lesson for our listeners to learn from. Richard, any closing comments from you, sir?

 

Richard Lane:

Yeah. I’ve really, really enjoyed it, Simon and Sascha. So, thank you, as always. A few notes that I made successful and safe growth. The difference may be between being private and equity backed was interesting. We didn’t really have time to talk in that in detail, but we could maybe revisit another time, selling as a team sport, and I love the phrase manage the risk of regret, which is another really interesting and probably under thought about sales skill, which is important in the handoff between sales and customer success.

And then finally, I think a big takeaway for anyone listening to our podcast, wanting to improve their sales skills is just think about timeliness. Respond rapidly, and people will think you’re better, and we talked about discovery and all of those other areas. So, yeah. Great to have you, Sascha. Thank you so much from durhamlane and from The Insiders podcast for being our guest.

 

Sascha Rahman:

Been a pleasure. Thanks a lot, gentlemen.

 

Simon Hazeldine:

Wonderful. Thank you very much, and thank you to everybody for listening into this episode. Please make sure you subscribe to The Insiders podcast, and you’ll be notified of new episodes, which are being released on a regular basis. So, thank you very much for listening in, folks.

 

Speaker 1:

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