• Shawn Rhodes, author of “Bulletproof Selling,” compares sales to war. In stressful or unexpected moments, you can’t rely on hope to survive. That’s why he believes in having tested systems in place that will drive more prospects to close, and — bonus! — give you more time to be creative.
  • Too many reps inadvertently lose leads at key turning points in a campaign. Shawn describes how to prevent prospect attrition — ensuring that no one just “floats off” without follow-up.
  • The only difference between high-level sales executives who have groundbreaking ideas and SDRs is how they spend their time. If you want to up your game, you should use as little time as possible for everyday tasks and free up the bulk of your time for innovation.

Those of us who are old enough to remember the ‘80s know that “love is a battlefield.” But as tough as romantic relationships can be, they’ve got nothing on the cutthroat stakes you’ll encounter in sales.

If you’ve been in the industry for a while, you know what I mean.

There’s one person who understands this analogy better than any of us: Shawn Rhodes. He calls himself Chief Sales Sergeant of Bulletproof Selling, and there’s no title more apropos for this former war correspondent turned sales guru.

Shawn recently released the fantastic book “Bulletproof Selling,” which prompted me to invite him to be a guest on an episode of the INSIDE Inside Sales podcast.

In this episode, Shawn discusses the danger of using hope as a sales strategy, why templates are your best friends, and where most leads leak out of the pipeline.

If you’re struggling to make your numbers, his methodical approach can help you release the pressure.

Winning on the battlefield of sales

As a war correspondent who studied performance and systems, Shawn witnessed a lot of real-time combat scenarios, both good and bad. He paid special attention when things went well and started to notice a pattern.

The teams that achieved their missions were the ones that had precise standards in place. They drilled themselves so many times on the potential of a dangerous moment that they didn’t have to think when it actually happened.

Bulletproof sales

“I realized these folks were essentially bulletproof, and not because they were brilliant. They weren’t Mensa members. They didn’t have superpowers. They were covering all their angles … because of all the times their predecessors hadn’t been bulletproof,” he explains.

But what do battle tactics have to do with sales and your job?

Most people think of sales as a relationship-based industry — and it is. But it takes more than being a “people person” to keep up with the volume of deals you’re likely responsible for.

You need to have a blueprint for how you’ll close the leads you’re already communicating with and generate a steady stream of new ones.

And, as Shawn points out, hope is not a blueprint.

Systems to the rescue

Successful business owners often identify the implementation of systems as their biggest catalyst for growth. 

In sales, it’s no different — even if you’re not the one running the show yet, you can build processes that ramp up your close rate and accelerate your career.

The thing is, systems aren’t necessarily going to be laid out for you. You may not have been given a guide for what works and doesn’t work in your industry … but what if you created one?

If the premise sounds exhausting, take a moment to think about how much time you currently spend on menial tasks: deleting emails, entering contact info into a CRM, taking notes after a call, prepping for meetings. 

Whatever your habits are, there’s a good chance some of them don’t make sense, and they’re taking up way too much of your valuable time.

Why processes carve out a path to the top

Time out! Let’s take a moment to talk about the most common objection Shawn and I hear when we advocate for sales reps to set up systems: “That’s not how I sell.”

Contrary to what it sounds like, using a system doesn’t mean you have to agree to cramp your own style. In fact, Shawn argues, taking a prescribed approach opens the door for creativity.

“The less focus you have to place on what you’re doing at any given moment, the more you can rely on your systems — and the more you can innovate,” he says.

The people who end up sitting in the cushioned ergonomic chairs across from you are making big, important moves because they no longer waste time on routine responsibilities.

Just like the soldiers Shawn watched who stood outside unfamiliar doors with rifles, reacting automatically (rather than emotionally) to anything that came their way, you can be less overwhelmed by the task at hand and more focused on the big picture of what’s coming next.

Templates: The how of system-based selling

None of us would recommend that a soldier go to battle without a weapon. By the same token, Shawn would consider you weaponless if you went into a sales conversation without a template.

You don’t need a plan that dictates every word, but you do need a roadmap. You can, and should,  revise that roadmap as you encounter new challenges and unexpected objections.

A template saves you time, prevents potential embarrassment, and — most importantly — erases the need for thinking in the midst of a difficult moment. It’s a no-brainer for any SDR looking to prevent that Q4 panic.

A lead is never dead — You let them go!

One thing a template can’t help you with is a lost lead.

Shawn sees a lot of reps letting prospects slip through the cracks. In a multilevel pipeline, especially if you have a large team and use a CRM, there tend to be quite a few routes your prospects can take. 

Because each of their paths is unique, you may not be accustomed to checking some corners of your pipeline. Before you know it, those pipelines have run dry.

Shawn notes that a systemless approach contributes to frequent prospect attrition at three moments in the typical sequence:

  1. Before the sequence starts (if the person is lost in your CRM)
  2. Right in the middle (leaving the ball of communication in your prospects court)
  3. In the follow-up phase (when auto-sequencing ends and you’re not tagged for more outreach)

This attrition doesn’t have to happen. When you master bulletproof selling, you can seal those leaks and pass leads continuously from one campaign to another — no matter if they seem to have gone cold or not.

It’s a huge mistake to assume a lead is dead. Even if they’ve been distracted by a competitor’s shiny new product, they’ll be back if you do your job right.

You’ll know you’ve done that when “no one ever just floats off because you forgot to reach back out to them,” says Shawn.

Ready to go to war?

When I started out in sales (which may have been more than a few years ago), the sales manager threw me a list of leads and a territory and sent me on my way. There was no training whatsoever. I was left to my own devices, and — not surprisingly — it wasn’t pretty.

Had I had resources like Shawn’s Bulletproof Selling podcast and combat-inspired advice, I might’ve had a fighting chance of making a commission on a few of those ancient photocopiers.

Luckily, now you do have the tools you need to set up bulletproof sales systems, free up your time and energy to innovate and repair your rusty pipeline. 

What could you achieve if you were to work like you never knew when the next bomb would drop?

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