Sales is just as much science as art, and Todd Caponi is devoted to the ‘geeky side’ of sales, as he calls it. A leader with more than 20 years of hands-on sales experience across sales training, sales enablement, and executive roles (most recently as CRO of PowerReviews), Todd’s focus includes bringing transparency to the sales process, boosting deal size, and improving relationships. And now he’s turning his sales passions to writing a soon-to-be-released book based on what he calls “The Transparency Sale” (available for pre-order on Amazon today!).
We’ve known Todd for quite some time and have always been fans of how he views sales through such a raw and honest lens — and then passes on his observations. In this Q&A, we dissect Todd’s philosophy of The Transparency Sale, learn how to deliver value to prospects from day one, and see why empathy is a sales professional’s secret superpower.
Tell us about the Transparency Sale. Is it a methodology?
Historically, sales professionals were the source of all content and information — everything was positioned to prospective customers as “feature/benefit” first and foremost. But as the digital age sprang upon us, the responsibility in how buyers make decisions completely shifted.
“One could argue that the Challenger Sale is actually a philosophy vs a methodology: buyers come to you with preconceived notions and, if you’re challenging properly, you’re helping them see something different in problems they’re facing.” Todd explained. “It’s all about finding information.”
But according to Todd, the Transparency Sale is a different way of thinking. It’s giving the brain everything it needs to make a decision. “I was sitting on the couch with my daughter, watching her scroll through princess game options on her iPad,” said Todd. “When I asked her how she chose one, she said she looked at the game’s review score. She made her decision based on feedback — not just features and benefits, so to speak.”
That fascination with ratings and reviews is what’s pushing this next stage of sales evolution: we need to know that not only can our prospective customers see our products, features, and benefits, they can see why other customers like us — and why they don’t. Todd firmly believes that this transparency needs to be part of the equation in selling.
How does brain science figure into The Transparency Sale?
“We’ve been teaching our sales reps to sell based on logic: our prospecting emails, the way we present, the way we sell,” said Todd. “But prospects make about 90% of their decisions subconsciously — we don’t think about that when we’re putting together a slide or crafting a prospecting email. We need to learn more about how the brain makes decisions through the sales cycle.”
What was the catalyst that sparked your idea for a book?
Todd has read dozens of sales methodology books throughout the years and he thought, “I can do that” and decided to begin the process. He explained that one of the things they teach you when you’re going to write a book is to first write a proposal: your goals, your audience, your market plan. About two-and-a-half years ago, he wrote his first proposal…but after reviewing it, he realized it wasn’t worthy of becoming a book, so he ended up sitting on it.
“During my tenure as CRO of PowerReviews, we did a research study about how people engage with ratings and reviews,” explained Todd. “The study revealed that a product actually sells better when it has a 4.2-4.5 rating, rather than a 5.0. After researching the reasons why, I came across all kinds of brain science to explain it. It turns out that imperfect actually wins in the consumer’s eyes as they want to know you aren’t hiding something. I started writing and got so engaged that I left my position as CRO to further research brain science and to focus on completing The Transparency Sale.”
The Transparency Sale appears to focus on data, but is there an emotional side to the equation?
There’s so much in the sales process that has to do with empathy — especially around prospecting and presenting. During Todd’s time at ExactTarget (now the Salesforce.com Marketing Cloud), he and the sales team spent a significant amount of time educating customers on the importance of optimizing the email subject line so that readers would engage. But today, Todd stresses the importance of empathizing beyond just the subject line and into the next 10 words of the email (and well beyond that into the body of the email).
One of the best emails Todd has received was a template that a sales rep sent him that he could use in board meetings. What was so special about the email? It wasn’t a sales pitch — in fact, there was no mention of the company’s name at all, except for the signature line at the very bottom. And that simple fact led Todd to reach back out to the sales rep, because she was adding value to his role as CRO.
“I get more than 200 emails a day, and the vast majority of the prospecting emails have ‘I’ in them,” said Todd. He posed the question “Why start with you? Why aren’t you empathizing with me, the buyer? As soon as I see emails like that, I just delete them. The minute I see it’s about you and not me, I don’t have the time to bother.”
What are the skills a salesperson needs to convey that empathy?
“I used to tell a story of how we should be presenting like reality TV makeover shows,” said Todd. “In those shows, the subject realizes they have a problem, but rarely do they understand how bad their status quo actually is. They need someone to compel them to go all-in on a solution. Reality TV makeover shows are all about the participant — they are never about those that are making them over.”
Todd thinks that reality TV makeover shows aren’t all that different from how the sales process works. He explained that a successful presentation starts with a prospect’s status quo. “As a sales professional, you need to understand their perspective and then help them see their status quo is no longer sustainable. Then and only then can you start to build a path toward leaving the status quo behind, together. The minute you do that, you’ve completely changed the game.”
Most presentations start with “what we do, who we are, where we’re based” slides. Todd cautioned that sales teams need to stop taking that approach immediately. He (kind of) jokes that, if one of the first five slides of a deck is a NASCAR slide of customer logos, whoever put it in is fired. “You can’t make it about you; everything has to be about them. And as a sales leader, you need to constantly coach your team on how to transfer that mentality to calls, emails, and meetings.”
Todd shared a practical example. “On the prospecting side, start by looking at subject line. Ask yourself, ‘would I open this?’ When I see an email that starts with, ‘Todd, I sent you 8 emails and you haven’t responded,’ that just reminds me why I didn’t open the last one. Whatever that subject line contains better be taken through into the body of your email.”
Through the incredible amount of research that Todd has done on the topic of brain science, he’s learned that whenever the brain perceives something that’s a lot of work, it puts up a barrier. If an email has more than 250 characters, for instance, the prospective customer isn’t going to read it. Rather, he urges sales professionals to think in terms of Twitter length.
“It all comes down to this: stop selling altogether in your prospecting emails; If you’re adding value and you’re not selling, then how cool is that?”
The imperfect is an important part of the Transparency Sale. How can salespeople embrace the imperfect?
“We’ve taught salespeople to be perfect, but it turns out perfect is the reason we lose deals,” Todd explained. “As sales leaders, we need to practice transparency and imperfection. Back to that 4.2 – 4.5 rating: I like to borrow Tyra Banks’ phrase and call this practicing ‘flawsome’. It’s being awesome but embracing your flaws at the same time. For example, sales leaders need to work with marketing to share a mistake that was made or something about the product that’s inferior to a competitor’s and openly share why the company decided to focus on another feature instead — one that the company believes is more important for customers.”
A classic example of a company embracing its flaws successfully is Swedish furniture retailer IKEA. Customers are willing to roam through crowded aisles, wait in long lines to check-out, load massive boxes into their cars, and painstakingly put the furniture together by following hard-to-read instructions. But customers are willing to go through the process in exchange for beautifully crafted, modern furniture at a rock bottom price. Truly, IKEA has embraced its flaws while emphasizing the need for those ‘flaws’ in order to keep its furniture affordable.
“Of course, a big part of the transparency process is feedback,” said Todd. “That means marketing needs to help figure out where buyers look when they’re getting feedback, collect it, and develop messaging that hits that 4.2 – 4.5 rating. The imperfect wins.”
Want to learn more about Todd Caponi and the Transparency Sale? Visit TransparencySale.com and be sure to pre-order your copy of Todd’s book today!