An interview with Smart Selling Tools founder, Nancy Nardin
“I’m a salesperson by training and by enthusiasm,” says Nancy Nardin, founder of Smart Selling Tools and co-founder of Vendor Neutral. “I believe in sales, I love salespeople, I love the art of selling. It’s difficult and anyone who can get up in the morning and face rejection time after time is a superstar in my book.”
These days, Nardin’s love for salespeople translates to helping their organizations identify and implement the right sales technologies to support their work. She is well known in many sales circles for her role in developing a popular “sales tech landscape” graphic that organizes many of the current sales technologies graphically into categories based on their position in the sales process.
Nardin says her passion for sales technology started in the 80s, when she worked as a salesperson for the world’s first laptop computer.
“It’s crazy to think of it now,” she says, “but people wanted to know why you would even take your computer on the road. The decision in those days was ‘who should even have a desktop computer?’ Well, that first laptop actually, in a way, gave birth to CRM and other sales tech, because it was the first time salespeople had a mobile computer to take with them.”
We caught up with Nardin recently to talk to her about the state of sales technology, and her latest endeavors. Here’s that interview.
Q: Why is there such a huge focus on technology in sales conversations today?
NN: Many organizations started with marketing tech, which has gone from 300 solutions a few years ago to more than 6000 solutions today. Along the way, marketing has figured out how to measure success, and what tools work, and what they really need to be effective. Sales is just at the beginning of that whole process, and organizations are just beginning to realize it.
The problem is, there’s really no one in charge of making decisions regarding sales tools, so a lot of the talk is unproductive.
Q: Who should be in charge of making those sales technology decisions?
NN: It’s going to be different for every type of company. What I’m seeing right now is that there’s an army of people getting involved. So there may be a salesperson, or it may be a sales enablement leader, or a sales VP. Sometimes marketing gets involved, IT gets involved, and you know what they say about decisions by committee.
I believe in alignment, but it’s hard for companies to go through that whole process and still at the end of the day want to make a decision. Often, so much time goes by that they lose interest or decide it’s too complex.
So it’s a bit of a mess right now. My advice is to make sure, first, that there’s budget allocated to someone, or at most two people, within an organization. They should spearhead it and have the right to make the decisions on those techs.
Second, make sure they do involve all the stakeholders, getting feedback from them, but ultimately make the decision themselves.
Third, make sure there’s executive support, so people don’t ignore it until it implodes.
Q: Where in the sales cycle are you seeing the most interest currently in technology?
NN: We did some research on that in a sales tech benchmark survey, asking what was driving sales tech decisions-top of funnel, middle, etc. For the most part, it was all focused on the top of the sales funnel. Which is the right place to start, because it dictates success farther down the funnel.
If you don’t already have that nailed, if you’re not selling to the right people, if you don’t know who they are, or how to qualify them or what your total available market is, then everything else you try to do is going to be less efficient. So that’s where we’re seeing the most interest right now.
Q: Are you seeing any tech falling short of expectations?
NN: CRM is the classic example of that! CRM was positioned as a tool that would help salespeople, and it does a bit, and we need it, but it’s not a productivity tool. It doesn’t help them do their job faster or easier. In fact, salespeople have to make the tool work for them, versus the other way around.
And that’s why we hear about people being disappointed in their sales tools, because they feel that they’re not getting enough value or they feel like it’s more of a management tool and not really doing anything for them.
Q: Are there any sales tools that aren’t having adoption problems? That salespeople actually love and wouldn’t want to live without?
NN: There are a few. One that comes to mind is Membrain. It allows a sales rep to actually plan out their process, who they need to sell to, and how. Those are things that salespeople already do all the time, and they’re not facilitated well in most sales technologies. If you’re a really good strategic salesperson, you need that ability, and the ability to follow up on the strategy, and Membrain does that.
Another one is sales call recording solutions. Products like Gong or Refract, which we’re using today. These are great solutions because when you hear yourself talking, you can notice what you’re doing, and it’s a great self-learning tool. Salespeople like it.
Another is e-signing. Because you get people to sign things faster. I remember checking the fax machine and picking up the phone to make sure there’s a dial tone. Asking, ‘Where is that order?’ and waiting on a fax. You don’t have to do that with e-signatures.
Q: Sales call recording is great as a coaching tool too, isn’t it?
NN: Yes, and it’s also great for marketing! You can discover through voice analytics how many times a particular competitor is mentioned, and get insight into the types of questions that are common, and where salespeople aren’t understanding messaging, and where you need better playbooks and cheat sheets and battle cards.
Q: You recently co-founded a new endeavor called Vendor Neutral. Tell us more about that.
NN: I’m so excited about Vendor Neutral. On the Smart Selling Tools side, we offer free resources for sales and marketing leaders making sense of the technology landscape. Things like webinars and videos. But a lot of people don’t want DIY, they want us to come in and help them understand how to prioritize their challenges and find the right mix of sales tech.
That’s what Vendor Neutral does. Through online assessments and one-on-one calls, we use our proprietary knowledge base of 500 solutions to help clients plug the solution gaps inside their companies. We’re able to go in and quickly identify what to prioritize and which solutions are the best technologies for them.
Traditionally, what organizations do is they see something interesting, or they talk to a sales rep for a technology at a trade show, and go with that. What we help them do is step back and figure out what are their most important challenges, prioritize them, and look for the exact right mix of tech. And there’s a lot of overlap among solutions, so you want the right mix with the best functionality at the lowest cost.
We help them navigate the jungle of solutions. We think of ourselves as the machete that cuts through the jungle.
About Nancy Nardin
Nancy Nardin is a nationally recognized thought leader on sales and marketing productivity tools. Her firm, Smart Selling Tools – of which she is the founder and President – is dedicated to helping marketers and sellers apply process and technology to drive revenue.
Before launching Smart Selling Tools in 2006, Nancy served in sales leadership roles at leading analyst firms such as Gartner Group and IDC. She worked closely with many of Silicon Valley’s leading venture capital firms and the portfolio companies in their charge. She has, at one point or another, worked with more than 30 of the largest high-tech, and telecom firms in the country.
Connect with Nancy to learn more about Vendor Neutral, or Smart Selling Tools. Or connect with me to find out why Membrain is one of her top suggestions for “technology salespeople actually love to use.”