Why Honesty in Sales Wins More Deals with Mixpanel’s Stephen Morse
I wrote this piece a couple years ago for Salesforce.com, discussing how transparency and authenticity is a winning sales strategy.
With more than 20 years in sales leadership roles at Salesforce, Box, and SAP across the globe, Stephen Morse is deeply rooted in Silicon Valley technology sales and how it rolls out around the world. As vice president of global sales engineering and technical success at Mixpanel, he now oversees all aspects of the solution sales process and architecture for the company’s analytics and engagement data platform. He is also charged with building a methodology for onboarding customers and helping to facilitate technical solutions to their pain points. In a recent chat, Morse shared the evolution he has seen in technology sales and why honesty and a laser focus on value can help you increase sales.
You’ve had an incredible career in sales. What keeps it interesting?
I love the endless diversity of customer interactions and situations. It's very addictive to work with customers, particularly when you have a great product that really solves a need and moves the ball forward in the industry. I also get deep satisfaction in helping to develop people, giving them opportunities to grow at an accelerated pace as part of a successful and integral organization. And finally, I love continual learning, particularly around evolving best execution practices that incorporate the proven success of the past with new approaches and insights generated from the market, the technology, and the younger generations of high-caliber people.
How have you seen sales change over the years due to technology?
Selling of technology has evolved as the technology itself has become faster, easier, and more pervasive. There are tectonic moves, from on-premises solutions to the cloud, from the cloud to mobile. We’re now seeing the next move to ubiquitous connected devices and new interfaces of engagement. This will affect sales cycles and how humans will interact with everything, from their CRM system to their customers. On a more human note, what's also changed rapidly is that a lot of mystery has been taken out of the evaluation of a technology itself. I think this generation of new buyers is just used to the model of ubiquitous cloud technology and access to competitive information, and is both already adapted or keen to adjust to accelerating change. All of this will naturally change the way sales processes take place.
What has stayed the same?
What hasn’t changed is the need for technology to achieve value realization. People buy value, and they also buy from human beings. It’s really about identifying where people’s motivations and inclinations are in the sales cycle and mapping how a given solution will solve a business or a technical challenge. Vendors need to help customers understand and negotiate the accelerating digital transformations. You need to know the person, spend time listening, and find out how the solution is going to meet their specific needs — and frame it in their words. In high-velocity sales we frequently cut these corners. But it's a proven fact that win rates will go up if we recognize that we're going through a journey with our customers to help them realize a value or fix a problem.
Any predictions on what’s next for the space you sell in?
I think we are on the cusp of another major technology evolution. A lot of times people think, even in a cloud era, that "this will go on forever." The reality is that every 10 years, things start to change, and we are already seeing the beginnings of it, even as we are at the deepest point of cloud transformation in the IT industry. The new paradigm that is emerging is the era of ubiquitous devices and streamlined interfaces. Billions of new connected devices, from watches, cars, robots, and households, spin off billions of points of data and connected information, much of which is ingested and crunched by AI and machine learning services and rendered through emerging interfaces such as bots and chat services. This will find its way to complement and even supplant many of the ways we work with mobile apps and web applications today, and dramatically expand the ways in which software will be used in our lives.
Do you have a take on the whole idea of salespeople as trusted advisors?
Definitely. If you think about the attributes of the word “trust” itself, it means that people believe you for the words that you speak, not for some ulterior motive. Obviously it's a delicate balance when you're asking for financial investment; but if you don't have the trust of a prospect, he or she isn’t going to buy from you. So honesty, despite the fact that it may not put you or your solution in the best light, is really important. Honesty engenders trust.
How has that honesty mentality made an impact on your career?
I have won more deals than I've lost when I've told my customer point blank that we don't do a certain thing or we should be looking at things in another way for something to work. I’ve won a large number of opportunities when I’ve been honest about poor fit — which opened up a level of trust to discuss other mindsets and approaches that might engender success. Or if it truly wasn’t a fit, this allowed both the vendor and the prospect to move on with integrity, and prevent a future customer satisfaction issue or churn. People respect and appreciate when you say no, or say "honestly, that's not what we do."
How do you approach hiring for your team?
Outside of the requirements and minimum experience for the job, an important component is raw intelligence, and examples of how applicants have leveraged that intelligence to do interesting things. I look for people who are passionate, curious, and open to learning. But let’s face it. We're in a talent war right now. While you can't guarantee long retention of any of your employees, character is really important. It helps to maintain the integrity of your team and create the kind of working environment that keeps employees longer.
What’s gone into building your sales culture?
From my Salesforce days, I still use a V2MOM (Vision, Values, Methods, Obstacles, and Measures) model where we talk about a yearly vision and what values are important to us. I actually believe in a pretty rigorous, data-driven practice. So I like to define what our mandate is. Why do we exist, and what are we seeking to do? We're here to differentiate our products, secure revenue, onboard correctly, and create lifelong customers. What does that mean? We want to distill it into a set of operating principles from discovery all the way to close. We instill a blueprint of systems, cadences, and tools. We always evolve it with the changing times to infuse new ideas into it, but we don't let up from the rigor of that.
If you could measure your sales success by one metric, what would it be and why?
Retention of good people is probably high up there, as are results. If you hire great people and retain them for a long time, you're going to get those results.
Do you have a favorite sales book?
It's not necessarily a sales book, but Mindset by Carol Dweck. There are so many opportunities to keep a growth mindset in a sales organization, and in life.
If you weren’t in sales …
I would be working toward a cause that improves the environment or the lives of people, especially in terms of awareness and mindfulness.
Similar to a walk-up song, do you have a closing song?
One of the favorite songs that my 7-year-old daughter and I like to sing is “Keep Your Head Up” by Andy Grammer. It's good as a closing song, especially in sales, considering that through the ups and downs, you’ve got to keep your head up.
“What hasn’t changed is the need for technology to achieve value realization. People buy value, and they also buy from human beings.” STEPHEN MORSE | VICE PRESIDENT, GLOBAL SALES ENGINEERING AND TECHNICAL SUCCESS, MIXPANEL