In this week’s BabelChat, Business Development Manager Lily-Francesca Bristow makes the case for a different, less conventional way of looking at sales.
Deals closed. Month’s end. Reward. Commission. As business functions go, sales is one of the more results-driven. Naturally, this attracts a certain type of person. Someone who plays to win. As much as she enjoys the feeling she gets when a deal closes, there’s another, more energising aspect of the role that she loves more: the “infinite game”, and everything that comes with helping leaders to solve their challenges in a world with no shortage of problems.
Although she is one of the youngest members of the team, Lily has worked with us for several years now. Looking even further back, she’s always been a salesperson. How has that background informed the way she manages our business development today? What’s unique to the way she handles her deals? And why does her perspective of sales as a game that never ends help her to deliver a more meaningful experience for her prospects?
Thomas Brown: What do you love about sales?
Lily-Francesca Bristow: Helping people to grow their businesses by pointing them in the direction of what they need to solve their problems. Not everyone looks at sales in that light. In many circles, “sales” is a pesky word. Buyers have been stung by disreputable sales tactics. But the landscape has shifted since then. The way people buy has changed. Today, the buyer has the power. They’ve already got all the information they need at their fingertips.
The sales persona has also had to evolve. Instead of hoping to sell, the best salespeople today help people to buy. I listen to my prospects and turn what they say into questions that help them to figure out what the underlying problem is that they’re trying to solve. Because most of the time they don’t know that underlying problem exists yet, never mind what it looks like. With every deal, I learn something new, and so do my prospects. Simon Sinek famously coined it “the infinite game”, which I absolutely love. Whether a deal is closed or lost, my prospect wins, because they understand their business a little better, too.
How do you know when you’ve hit on the real issue?
The lightbulb moment. “I’ve never thought about it like that before.” That’s what I want every prospect to say in a discovery session. Most of the time when they pick up the phone or jump on Zoom, the problem they think they have is just the tip of the iceberg. They have all this information but they’re not asking the right questions.
This journey, or one like it, is what my prospects are going through every day. That's what I love: helping people to think differently. Because it sparks interest and genuine connection.
How important is that sense of connection to you?
It’s so important. I get my energy from talking to people. There’s no better way to build a connection. When you meet someone and you click with them straight away, how does that make you feel? It feels warm and you want to go and do it again. That’s what drew me to sales positions in the first place, as far back as my first role at Ralph Lauren in Bicester Village. When you’re used to thinking about sales in the context of B2B, it’s easy to forget that those retail roles are in sales too. I was the highest performer when it came to selling our store cards because I was the only person who asked the qualifying question: "would you like to save 20% today?" That got me results where a lot of the other sales assistants were either scared of asking or didn’t care enough to. Why wouldn’t I ask?
Did you learn any sales lessons from your time in retail?
I learned to start reading people. Their tone of voice. Eye contact. Body language. It’s a powerful tool that a lot of people don't use in sales. You don't get that so much when you’re selling virtually, but it’s still there. The way that a person sits. How they respond to your questions. How open they are to sharing information with you.
Can you tell me more about your approach to sales at BabelQuest?
I was hired as a business development representative, which essentially meant listening and asking questions to qualify the opportunity. You're meeting people at the threshold and welcoming them in. People would offload their challenges to me. I could feel their frustration but there was always a positive side to it because I knew I was helping just by being able to talk through their problems with them. It was a demanding but rewarding role, one which ultimately opened a door for me too. Now, as a business development manager I identify and take people through our sales process. It means working much more closely with our delivery teams to figure out the best route for each prospect and which services or packages those routes touch on based on what we’ve uncovered throughout the discovery process.
As for my approach, I just try to seek to understand. Because people buy from people who can provide value to them, if there's no value then there's no sale. For anyone working in a dealership, reseller, or solutions partner network, I think that’s really important. There are over 6,000 other HubSpot partners out there. We're in competitive situations every time a deal comes through, but on the surface of it we’re actually all pretty similar. We all get similar training, we're all offering similar services on HubSpot, all our costs fall in a similar ballpark, so how are our prospects supposed to choose? In situations like that and many others, they're going to go with their gut feeling. Who they think they can work with. It's all about relationship-building so being able to connect with my prospects and help them to understand the value this can provide.
Given our wide variety of prospects, have you recognised any common challenges facing HubSpot users today?
With HubSpot, you don’t know what you don’t know. By that, I mean HubSpot is vast. It can do so much but it can be difficult for businesses to keep up to date with all its features and functionality. Off the top of my head, last month alone they dropped around 100 new updates. Our prospects are HubSpot users but they also have other responsibilities requiring their attention. Teams to manage. Budgets to monitor. They have day jobs of which HubSpot is just one part. So being able to keep on top of the platform and take it to the next level is a real challenge.
That’s where solution partners like us come into our own. We can help them to utilise more of HubSpot, sometimes overnight. The time to value can be almost immediate. In the same breath, if you think about how that value compounds over the course of a three to five year relationship with us, it’s huge. We can offer real, long-term, strategic value to anyone who wants to unlock the full potential of the platform and grow a better business using it.
For our typical customer, what might that look like in practice?
With something as flexible as, say, our support package in place, our entire team is effectively on speed dial for when a prospect needs us. There are so many scenarios and use cases in which that level of rapid response and expertise availability is invaluable. Let’s say the monthly HubSpot product update has just launched. Instead of spending two hours/days/weeks trying to get your head around what those updates mean and how they apply to you, we can cover off everything in a fifteen-minute phone call. Perhaps you’ve onboarded a new system and you need support integrating it with HubSpot CRM. Or you’re taking a new offering to market and you need a standalone series of interview articles with your head of product, CEO, and biggest customer to launch it. Whatever the challenge, technical or creative, a standing support package puts our experts in your pocket.
What does being a good business development manager mean to you?
Being a good person and having a good moral compass. Wanting to be a force for good. If we go back to the idea that salespeople are seen by some people as being pesky then you've already got the preconception that I’m going to try and sell you something. Yes, that’s my job, but it’s not my motivation. As a first port of call, I'm actually looking to see if — if – we can help. And if we can't, I'll happily explain that to you. When people are in pain they feel vulnerable, and the last thing they want is the Big Bad Wolf of a sales representative to come in and sell them everything they don't need. It’s about being honest and true to the way you should service people. That’s what makes a good business development manager.