What Forrest Gump said about chocolates can also be applied to inbound leads – you never know what you’re going to get. But what you can control is how to convert those inbound leads, no matter how unpredictable they are.

This week on INSIDE Inside Sales, Darryl welcomes one of the world’s foremost authorities on all things sales, the brilliant Tony J. Hughes. Darryl and Tony discuss strategies to convert your inbound leads, such as finding the proper context for outreach, and doing enough pragmatic research so you can personalize content. They also share valuable advice on using inbound leads to get access to key people and quality information, as well as ways to win deals by understanding your buyer. Don’t miss the all-important 3 questions to improve engagement through inbound leads on this episode of INSIDE Inside Sales!




Host: Darryl PraillVanillaSoft

Guest: Tony J. Hughes, Sales IQ Global


Darryl Praill: Did you have a good week kids? Do you have a good week? Talk to me. Was it awesome? Was it remarkable? Was your week remarkable? And if not, why not? And if it was, why? Let’s talk about that. I firmly believe that we do this job for a reason. We only have so many days on this big blue ball in the galaxy that we reside in. How’s that for philosophical? And, you wanna make the most of it. I know I had a conversation not too long ago, you may recall it. If you listened to the episode with Jeff Bajorek. We talked about if you’re not having fun, then you’re doing it wrong. And the whole point, we should be doing our job to have fun. Yes, we’re gonna have good days, we’re gonna have bad days, we’re gonna curse, we’re gonna yell, we’re gonna love and we’re gonna laugh we’re gonna cry, we’re gonna embrace, that’s all a part of the rollercoaster we call life.

Darryl Praill: But in the big picture, if you’re not having fun, then you’re doing it wrong. And I hope you have fun. And that part of the show is to help you have fun. You know what’s fun for me? And this is a selfish fun. Is I get to interview all these really cool cats. I mean, the people we’ve had on the show, in this year alone, are mind-boggling. I never thought when we started this podcast, that we would have the sheer talent of accomplished individuals that we have. And I have a chance to bring them to you. And I get to talk to them and talk to you and bridge the conversation back and forth. And it’s really kinda cool. It really genuinely is selfishly speaking, I’m not lying. I’m doing this because I’m learning just as much as you are. Let me give you an example. When I say that. So my job, you all know, I’m a CMO by day, who happens to do sales, as a side gig, if you will, for lack of a thing.

Darryl Praill: And I will talk to these speakers and they will say, “Darryl, you need to make calls this way? This is the process, one two three four five. Do that and your success rates will go through the roof.” And I’m like, “Yeah.” And then I go on the next piece of content we’re producing. Maybe it’s a show for us, maybe it’s a show for somebody else. It’s a webinar, it’s a podcast, it’s a video. And they’ll say, “Darryl, how do we need to do calls?” “Oh, so I’m glad you asked. You need to do it A, B, C, D, E. ” Now, it sounds like I know what I’m talking about, doesn’t it? It’s cool. But the truth of the matter is, I’m just repeating what the experts said. As you can tell, I’m not suffering from imposter syndrome, because I’m telling you outright, that I am an imposter, and I’m just learning from them.

Darryl Praill: Now, I’m okay with that. Because I do learn and I do apply, and it does work. And then I share it, and it’s credible. And the best part about that is that I’m not making the mistakes on my own to learn it. I’m just learning from other people who have made the mistakes or have figured it out. That’s what it’s all about. And you should be doing the same thing. If you’re listening to INSIDE Inside Sales, then you’re doing exactly that. And I’m gonna tell you right now, that you need to get your colleagues doing the same thing. In fact, I just heard from our podcast producers, that we continue to hit record numbers on the show. It is staggering. The growth is crazy. Our producers are very, very happy. So that’s cool, thank you to you.

Darryl Praill: Why does all this matter? Why am I rambling? Well, I’m glad you asked. My point being as a marketer, my job is to go make inbound leads. I do that in a multitude of ways, this podcast is one. Many of you will come to me and physically say, “Hey Darryl, I heard you on INSIDE Inside Sales. I have a question for you.” Or, “Tell me more about VanillaSoft.” And that works. But I get tagged all the time on LinkedIn and on Twitter. I get stopped nonstop at the trade shows, and I love it. And I love it for a variety of reasons. I love it cause I’m talking to you guys. I love it because the conversations are really cool. I love it because I’m helping make a difference with you and your success. And I love it that you just are comfortable enough to walk up to me and talk to a complete stranger, a Canadian moron and say, “Hey, dude, saw your stuff. I have a question for you. I want to pick your brain. Thank you so much.”

Welcome Tony J. Hughes

Darryl Praill: All of this activity I’m doing, fundamentally is inbound. I do this so I can take these leads and give them to my sales team. Some of them I call, most of them I give to them. And that’s how I get paid. I get paid to make leads. And if sales closes the deal, I get a bonus. They get the commission, I get a bonus. I get that bonus at the end of the year. And I’m a happy camper. So when sales doesn’t close that inbound lead, I’m not happy. Have you ever dealt with a marketer who’s not happy? It’s not pretty. You wanna avoid us marketers when we’re not happy. Because we put so much time and sweat equity into making content get leads to give to you folks because we have faith in you. We know you’re gonna kick ass and close that deal. And then I get my bonus. I’m as financially motivated as you are. And when it doesn’t happen, it makes me sad.

Darryl Praill: So then I had to sit back and say is the lead good? And they, in sales dropped the ball? Or is the lead bad, and marketing dropped the ball? And the lead is bad, and that happens sometimes. I talk to the team and we figure out how to fix it. But when the lead is good, then I need to go to sales and I say how do you fix it? How do you better follow up on an inbound lead? That’s the world I live in. If I’m living in that world, then so are you. So if I worry about you following up on inbound leads, you are probably worrying about following up on inbound leads cause you’ve got a Darryl Praill in your life there somewhere. So I said, how can I help you better follow up and transform inbound conversations? And that’s when I said, aha! The legendary Tony Hughes is the man. Let’s bring Tony on. Tony, welcome to the show, my friend. How are you today?

Tony J. Hughes: Hey, Darryl, I am well, and thank you for having me on. I love that introduction.

Darryl Praill: Oh, thank you so much. Now Tony is in Sydney, Australia right now. So, where I am, it’s cold, where he is it’s warm. I’m not envious or bitter much. Maybe a little bit. There you go. He’s looking very sun-drenched and tanned. I don’t like him already. Now, if you don’t know Tony, he’s like a legend. I was sharing with him that I was a bit of a fanboy that everybody I talked to says there’s certain people that impacted my life. And there’s one name, literally one name that is a constant. And that’s Tony Hughes. So imagine how excited I was to finally have this live conversation.

Darryl Praill: He is a keynote speaker, he is a best selling author, he is a trainer, he is a provider of knowledge when it comes to leadership. You know his books, Combo Prospecting. Oh my gosh, breaking all records. The Joshua Principle: Leadership Secrets of Selling. All these things are like crazy freaking good. He’s got over 200,000 followers. Number two sales blogger globally as per the top sales world. He is the man. Tony, how did you do all that? And what can I learn from you? And can I hook up with you and just be your little protege? And how did you hook up with Luigi Prestinenzi? Always wanted to ask you that. What blackmail material did Luigi have to get you to work with him?

Tony J. Hughes: Well, it’s funny you asked that. And you mentioned LinkedIn. I’m actually up to about 350,000 followers in LinkedIn now. And we, like most of us, saw each other in LinkedIn first, online and you start to get a sense of what people are like. And I just love Luigi’s passion and energy and he had a vision for changing the world of sales enablement. And I’ve been thinking about the same thing myself for many, many years. And we’ve joined forces with this new business called Sales IQ. Where we’re building a sales enablement platform to help sellers be the very best that they can be. So that was how we met and why we’re working together.

Darryl Praill: Now if you guys have not heard the episode I had with Luigi, you should go back and do that. But they also have their own podcast, the Sales IQ podcast. I don’t wanna give it away but VanillaSoft actually sponsors that podcast. So all one more reason why you should listen to it. And what’s really cool about that, tell me if I’m wrong on this one, Tony, Luigi was sharing with me the other day that the Sales IQ podcast is now being carried by Qantas, the airline. Is that right?

Tony J. Hughes: Yeah, it is. I was on a flight to South Africa a couple of weeks ago and I came across the podcast on the airplane. So, hearing yourself on an airplane on a podcast.

Darryl Praill: It’s bizarre

Tony J. Hughes: Unexpectedly pretty weird.

Darryl Praill: I know, I understand the other day was somewhere, and in another room, I could hear this voice. I’m like, that sounds like me. And you go, you’re like, what the hell is that? You go in there and they’re like someone was playing something that had me on it. It’s the freakiest thing. But that’s cool. I mean, you had to be feeling pretty smug though, right? You’re sitting there, and you can hear yourself playing. And you know that on that plane, there’s other people listening to that at that moment in time, and they have no idea that you, one of the principals of the company are right there in that seat. That’s kinda cool.

Tony J. Hughes: Well, Darryl, I gotta tell you, when you said in your introduction about imposter syndrome, I think all of us suffer from imposter syndrome at some level. I don’t think I’m that great at all. I just think it’s a real privilege to have had this amazing career in selling and sales leadership. And you also said this in your introduction, I believe that life and success is all about making a positive difference in the lives of others. That’s what selling is all about, making a positive difference in the life of your clients, professionally and personally. So it’s a privilege to be able to do it and just share a little bit of knowledge about what I’ve seen work.

How to convert inbound leads

Darryl Praill: Okay, well, then, let’s start with that as the setup. So I talked about how I do all this work thankless. Sales just don’t appreciate me nearly enough for all I do for them and I bring in all these inbound leads and I go to them with my chest puffed up and my bucket full of leads and I say here I have provided for you. And sometimes, they don’t do such a great job on those inbound leads. Nothing personal, I understand that. But it makes me sad. So, talk to me about inbound conversations, inbound leads. What do the reps who are listening to this podcast need to know. I’ll just open it up that way.

Tony J. Hughes: Okay, so I’m gonna move quick. So for those listening to this, you may wanna take some notes or play this again. But, the first thing I want to share with you is that the context determines everything when you’re creating a conversation as a salesperson. And the number one biggest mistake that salespeople make when I find them having pipeline creation conversations, is they try and answer the unasked question of why go with you rather than your competition, rather than get to the most powerful issue, which is why is the customer considering change at all? So why are they considering change is really, really key as opposed to why should they select us. So when you get an inbound lead, especially if it’s been generated by marketing is it’ll typically be in the context of they watched the video, they requested a demo, they downloaded a white paper or some kind of content, they went to an event.

Tony J. Hughes: So you need to make sure that your outreach is in the context of that and that you go pragmatically, we can’t be boiling the ocean with the amount of research we try and do this. You’ll never get the volume of activity needed. Is the other thing that’s really important is to do some pragmatic research to personalize the conversation? Buyers today have three expectations of us, they expect us to truly know them. Based on knowing them, they expect us to personalize or tailor the conversation and content. And then the third thing that they expect is for us to be mind readers and anticipate what would actually matter to them. And when we go back to that first one of knowing them, they expect us to know them at four levels. So know their industry, not ours, their company or organization, their clients that they’re seeking to serve, and them in their role.

Tony J. Hughes: So it’s a pretty tough gig, and it’s why selling into verticals is really important cause we can get a baseline of information. Next thing I wanna share is that if you get another type of inbound lead, another type of inbound lead where they’re evaluating the market. At any given point in time out in the marketplace, only 3% of the market is in that buying window, where they’re looking to buy. If they’re researching they’ll be pre that phase, they’ll be earlier. But here’s the problem when inbound leads come to us and it’s really difficult for us as salespeople. Is when the lead comes to us, the buyer is in there really annoying for us, but valid in their mind mode of asking us their 99 questions. They’ve got all of their questions that they want to ask us. They may even say, “Hey, I’m gonna email you a spreadsheet with 1327 questions that I need you to answer and give me your price.”

Tony J. Hughes: And we try and say things like, “Oh, who’s making the decision? Have you got a budget?” So we tend to use these qualification acronyms. Depending on your industry, you might use something as simple as BANT, Budget Authority Need Timeline. You might use an acronym like MEDDIC, there’s NUTCASE. There’s all kinds of these crazy acronyms that people try and use to qualify deals. But here’s the thing, no buyer wants to be qualified by a seller and nor do they want to be given the Spanish Inquisition by a seller. So they’ll contact us feeling like they’ve done their research, that they’re in control, and we need to play ball with them and just answer their questions. And that’s a really disempowering place to be. So, what I’d like to do is to give you three questions that you can ask that I regard as transformational. And the reason these three questions are so important is that a deal is only truly qualified for us as sellers, not based on our answer to BANT or MEDDIC or MANDACT or NUTCASE or any of these other qualification acronyms.

Tony J. Hughes: It’s truly qualified with the degree of engagement that we have with the buyer. It’s the degree to which they engage with us that determines whether it’s qualified. And the way we know that they’re engaged is they’ll give us access to two key things. They’ll give us access to key people, and they’ll give us access to quality information. That access to other people, this is never gonna go anywhere. There’s always somewhere between three, five, maybe up to seven people or groups of people in an organization that need to form a consensus, before they’ll change. And that’s our biggest competitor by the way, when leads come to us, is depending on your industry that you’re in, or the industry you’re in between 25% and one-third of those deals that come into your funnel will get lost. Not to traditional competition, but to the client just deciding to do nothing, to stay in status quo. So it’s the level of engagement that we get that can help move the needle on that particular deal risk. So here’s the three questions when the lead comes to us.

Darryl Praill: Wait. You’re on fire, you gotta breathe man. Take a breath once in a while. You’re doing great. He’s all smiling. But the sponsors, the sponsors they need their time in the sun. All right. So, with that don’t go anywhere because when we come back, he’s gonna give us the three questions. All right, stay there. We’ll be right back.

The three golden questions

Darryl Praill: Okay, we made it back. You guys have never been so excited as to not have to listen to me ramble. This is brilliant. Before we go into three questions is, I almost was ready to slice my wrist going, what’s the point they’re in control. They’re gonna let me know, they know they wanna ask me all these questions. They don’t want me to do anything around qualification band, et cetera. What role do I play here? But I’m gathering, I’m gathering Tony, your lead up with these three questions are going to change all that and make me able to actually qualify these people, determine if they’re legit or not. Is that a fair statement?

Tony J. Hughes: Yeah, this had better be good, right? There’s a lot of build-up here.

Darryl Praill: There’s a lot of build-up here. I mean, I’ve got a kick-ass audience they’re really smart. My reputation’s on the line with them, Tony, everybody I’ve talked to says you’re the best. So don’t let me down.

Tony J. Hughes: Well, here we go. Before I give you the three questions, you need to be aware of something. When we’re selling, people are not looking for another friend, right? So they don’t wanna be qualified by you. They don’t wanna be given the Spanish Inquisition by you. And they don’t want another friend in their life. They’re actually busy and stressed and wanna get home to their families. Big organizations are looking for fewer suppliers or vendors in the stack, not more. The way that you can transform engagement, and it strongly positions the process of competitive differentiation, is you ask these three questions, you say, “Hey, Mary, absolutely, I’ll fill in your spreadsheet with the 1367 questions. But do you mind if I ask?” Here’s the question. “What’s happened inside the organization that’s caused you to be looking at this right now?”

Tony J. Hughes: Now, what you don’t say is, “Hey, what’s happened in the organization to cause you to think that VanillaSoft would be the best solution for you?” You paint yourself as a seller if you use that phrasing. Don’t use any language that paints yourself as a salesperson. Just say, “What’s happened inside the organization that started you down this path, or that’s caused you to be looking at this now?” And if they refuse to answer this question, you’re not getting engagement. Which means you should probably qualify out. Now, don’t do it brutally. We need to be mature and nuanced in how we do this. If they go well, I don’t know why you’d ask. So we’ll look. I’m just trying to understand what the business case would look like for you internally. Obviously, if there’s 1367 questions in your spreadsheet, you and I are gonna do a lot of work together, in your process of evaluating whether we’re a good fit or not.

Tony J. Hughes: And I’m just wanting to understand what your business case looks like. Because what I find with clients that we work best with, is we help them secure the right level of funding for the initiative so that the project is really successful. So what’s happened inside the organization? Once they start talking about that, you quickly move to the second question. And the second question is, “Hey, Mary, if the organization was to make the investment in this, what better results would they expect to get? And also what better results would you expect to get in your role?” Right, so what results are they expecting to get from this and you specifically expecting to get from this initiative in your role?

Tony J. Hughes: So now what you’ve done is, you’ve uncovered what the trigger event was or the issue, the opportunity, the problem inside the organization. It’ll give you clues about who’s typically involved in this and making decisions. It’s a much more intelligent way of finding out who’s involved in the approval process rather than saying do you have the authority to make the buying decision yourself? Who needs to approve it? For those things turn people off. But this is a nuanced way of starting to find this out. And then you’re starting to find out what results they would expect. Because the big question is, unless there’s a strong business case, the issue is, they may not do anything at all. So as a seller, the thing we need to realize is that between opening and closing is the middle. And the middle is where most deals go to die. And they go to die for two reasons.

Tony J. Hughes: They die because there’s either not a strong enough business case or not enough commercial value in change, especially to offset any risk of change. And the second reason deals die is there’s a lack of consensus in the organization. So those two questions will really start to identify business case and who’s involved. Now jump to the third question, if you get engaged from around those two questions, what’s happened? And what results would you expect to get? The third question is, “Where do you see the risks in getting this implemented successfully? Where do you see the risks?” And again, if she says, “Well, why would you ask?” Say, “Well, I’m really wanting to help you de-risk this initiative.” This depends on what you sell, right. “But if this is true, this is obviously a change program within the organization.

Tony J. Hughes: And I’ve got some ideas on how you can de-risk the whole thing, I can help you build a really strong business case to make sure this gets funded at the right levels. And I can help you make sure that you get consensus in the organization with all of the key stakeholders. So that it doesn’t just get approved, but you got proper executive support to really make sure this is successful. And I’ve also got some ideas on where I think your critical risks are in getting this done well. When can we get some time together?” So what’s happening is, you’re now going from just providing value in talking about your company and product. Which in their mind, they can get from looking at the spreadsheet or looking at your website, you’re going away from that toward providing genuine insight and value around business case, business outcomes, and risk management.

Tony J. Hughes: And what all of the research says, I’ll finish on this, what all of the research says is that people win deals based on the fact that they conveyed to the buyer that they best understood them. That they were the lowest risk for that buyer to get their result in the initiative. And that there was cultural alignment. They felt that the teams would work well together. They’re the things that create differentiation and the way that we open a deal determines whether we’re ever gonna get to try and close it. The way we open dramatically impacts close rates. A lot of people focus at the back end of the sales process trying to close but if you open well with strong commercial alignment and political alignment, and provide some genuine insights, outcomes, and risks. That’s how you set yourself to be in the winner’s box seat for any deal.

Darryl Praill: So one of the questions that was coming through my head big time was, your opening question was, “Hey, Mary, what’s happened inside the organization that’s caused you to be looking at this right now?” But that presupposes because it’s an inbound lead, that there was a question beforehand, which was, and this is where I’m looking to you for guidance, Tony. Hey, Mary, this is Darryl from VanillaSoft. I saw you were on our website, looking at webinars and downloading white papers. So help me bridge that so I can ask that first question.

Tony J. Hughes: That really feeds into this whole thing of how do you drive effective outbound? So something’s happened. That’s given us some context around some outreach. So they’ve downloaded a white paper. So what we need to do is pragmatic research. And based on knowing them in their role and that industry, we need to call them up with a point of view. I think calling up and saying, “Hey, Mary, I noticed you downloaded the white paper, can I organize a demo for you? Or was there any other information that you wanted?” I think that doesn’t provide much value for the potential buyer at all and is too passive.

Tony J. Hughes: I’d be saying, “Hey, Mary, I noticed you downloaded the white paper,” and depending on their role, if they’re a CFO, “We work with CFOs in the fast-moving consumer goods industry. And I noticed that your company is…” and then you play back in attributes that you’ve noticed about them or a trigger event that you think is relevant. “I’ve got some ideas on how I think you could get this result and in a way that achieves…” then, a secondary thing. And that will get the conversation focused on business values. So don’t focus on the low-level thing that they did that created the inbound lead, obviously acknowledge it, cause that’s context for the conversation. But the role of all salespeople is to keep elevating the conversations to business value. Talk the language of leaders. Results in terms of dollars, percentages, a key metric that they measure company or organizational results on. And then how they can manage risk and actually getting those outcomes. That’s how we elevate and don’t get delegated away.

Darryl Praill: So, I love it. You’re giving me context, you’re giving me relevance. And you’re personalizing it based on the research and everything else you’ve done. My role, I’m in, and I love those points you’re making about what it was. I mean, I was typing so fast. Know them, tailor the content. Understand that they want you to be a mind reader and anticipate what would matter to them. All of that is tying in to everything you’re just saying there. I’m already saying to myself, that I’ve already have this. But as I was listening to your content, I’m like, I can listen to this again. Because there’s so much substance with what you’re doing. Luigi was wrong about you, he said you were shallow, but I think you’ve actually got some substance here. Okay, so we’re almost out of time. But I know one of the things we talked about before we get going on this. So how does deal progression tie into inbound?

Tony J. Hughes: Yeah, so, let’s go back to the first principle in this conversation, and that is that it’s the degree of engagement that we get with the potential buyer that determines how well qualified it is, not our qualification acronyms of BANT. We then want to ask those three questions as soon as we can in a natural, nuanced, conversational way. And if we get good engagement on that, then we need to think about this third thing, which is, how do you create progression? It’s so easy to have what feels like a positive conversation with a buyer as a salesperson, and then that call ends. We go back and revisit the person four days later or a week later, and it was as if we’d never spoken. So you lose momentum. So the thing that anchors momentum is the strength of the business case for change, and then emotional resonance to that business case for that person in their role.

Tony J. Hughes: So there’s gotta be some personal win around their own KPIs or the key result areas, the key metrics that they’re on the hook for. Whenever you’re selling, think about what do I want to have happen next to create progression rather than just experience continuation around the same and same issue every time I talk with them. Who are the people I want access to? What’s the information that I need? You wanna make sure that there’s an ask of the buyer, the degree to which they’re giving us information is determining the likelihood of winning. Not how much information we’re sending to them. Information sharing has to be bidirectional, and almost equal if you are going to have a high probability of winning a deal.

Darryl Praill: Okay, so as you know what happens every single week, kids, we run out of time, and this is another example. So here’s what I want to tell you to do. Follow Tony, if you don’t already, I know you probably already follow him. Who doesn’t follow Tony? But if you haven’t followed Tony, follow Tony, LinkedIn, everywhere else he’s there, Twitter, you got it. Go buy his book. If you haven’t read already Combo Prospecting, do yourself a favor, invest in yourself. Learning is earning. We’ve hit this up too many times. Go do it, you’ll thank me for it. But in the meantime, check him out, go consume his content, his blogs. Come on. We’re out of time. Tony, thank you so much for your time today. Any, one final word of wisdom for the audience? What would it be? One final piece of advice.

Tony J. Hughes: When you’re selling focus on conveying the right intent, don’t convey the intent of that you wanna qualify them and sell to them. Convey the intent that you wanna make a positive difference for them in their role inside their organization. And you’re just trying to establish whether we would be the best fit for them. That creates great alignment with people and they’ll lean into the conversation rather than pull back.

Darryl Praill: Said another way he’s basically making it about them and not about you. They will lean into you if you do that. And it’s so easy to forget that because we all do. Anyway. We’re out of time, I’m sorry. We’re out of time, what can I say? But we’re gonna do it again in another week’s time. In the meantime, my name is Darryl Praill, and this is INSIDE Inside Sales. You guys take care.