C. Lee Smith is the founder and CEO of SalesFuel — a Columbus, Ohio-based firm that leverages critical insights to enable the acquisition, development and retention of top employees and customers.
Lee is recognized as one of the Leading Sales Consultants in the world by Selling Power magazine. His company is also recognized as one of the Top Ten Sales Enablement solutions providers by the publication.
Welcome to the Use Case Podcast, episode 213. Today we have Lee from SalesFuel about the use case or business case for why his customers use SalesFuel.
SalesFuel is a leading sales research firm that enables our clients to attract, grow and retain their best customers and employees with certainty.
Give the show a listen and please let me know what you think.
Show length: 23 minutes
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Music: Welcome to RecruitingDaily’s Use Case podcast, a show dedicated to the storytelling that happens or should happen when practitioners purchase technology. Each episode is designed to inspire new ways and ideas to make your business better. As we speak with the brightest minds in recruitment and HR tech, that’s what we do. Here’s your host, William Tincup.
William Tincup: Ladies and gentlemen, this is William Tincup and you are listening to The Use Case Podcast. Today, we have Lee from SalesFuel and they released a new product called TeamTrait, that we’re going to be talking about. I can’t wait to learn about it myself and also learn about the business case or the use case for why people purchase TeamTrait. Without any further ado, Lee, would you do us a favor and introduce yourself, SalesFuel, and then this new product, TeamTrait?
C. Lee Smith: Thank you for having me on, William. I really appreciate that. I’m C. Lee Smith. I am the CEO and founder of a company called SalesFuel. We are a sales research firm. We’re a multimillion dollar company based in Columbus, Ohio that I founded back in 1989. We have some very reckonable, noticeable names as clients whether they be probably your cable company, your daily newspaper, your local television station, you name it. We have a lot of media and communications and agencies as clients, as well as real estate agents, home builders and the like. Hospitals, et cetera. Our company is all about sales research. What we do is we help salespeople become more credible in the marketplace, be perceived as more credible by their prospects and their accounts by being helpful and not acting like every other salesperson that’s out there.
So, what led us to do TeamTrait was you don’t run a company for 30 plus years without making a bad hire along the way. One of the things that we found, not only for our sales but also a lot of our clients since we work with sales departments is, that sales is really the hardest position to hire for because salespeople have the gift to gab. They can spend numbers, they can make it look like… Everything that a salesperson will tell you is their personal highlight reel. You never see the ups and downs or anything like that. What happens is sometimes is that they end up selling you and you end up falling in love with a candidate.
Really, what we needed was some checks and balances, and we thought that data would be the way to go with that. There are other assessment platforms that are out there but they didn’t give us really what we wanted to see and what we wanted to know about a salesperson. Specifically, we wanted to know more about, do they have the knowledge of the craft to be good at it? Because we do the same thing with IT people, right? We want to make sure they know how to code and know about systems and everything like that. Same thing applies to sales.
And yes, we definitely wanted to know… Yeah, the behavioral assessments are out there. That’s fine and it’s a good first step. But we wanted to know more about not only how they behave but also what their work tendencies are like. How they perform under pressure? How to motivate somebody like that is extremely important in sales and marketing roles. When it comes to marketing, how creative can they be? So, sales and marketing is really our wheelhouse and that’s why we created TeamTrait to really help people hire, promote, and really optimize their talent in those areas.
William Tincup: I love that. You know what? I love it because it’s a natural extension of SalesFuel, of all the things that you’ve learned through these years. You’ve basically said, “Okay, let’s actually look at not just the skills. Let’s look at some of the behaviors. Let’s look at personality. Let’s look at what makes a great salesperson and qualitatively, quantitatively. Let’s actually do this objectively.”
It gets people out of making those poor decisions just based on falling in love with a candidate, which we all do. But if you do this, like you said with developers, there’re all kinds of great assessment tools that assess the skills of developers and engineers. So, let’s just jump right into TeamTrait itself. Now, we know what the Genesis of why it was built and what it does. How are people using it?
C. Lee Smith: For salespeople, they’re using it then to assess, yes, the skillset of the salesperson but also then the behavior, the motivation, the critical thinking, leadership skills and also, emotional stability of the salespeople. The thing that we’ve learned obviously, is that job history tells you where they’ve been but it’s their mindset that tells you where they’re going. They might have been a great salesperson four or five years ago, but life events have happened and changes in priorities and anything like that. COVID happens, for example. All kinds of things like that happens and maybe, they’re not the same salesperson they were when you looked at their LinkedIn profile. Assuming that their LinkedIn profile is totally truthful which is another matter for another time.
But really, what we wanted to do there is combine those assessments and to get full comprehensive picture of who that salesperson really is in terms of their skillset and their mindset, and applying that toward the job going forward. So, how people use this then is to help them hire better salespeople, yes, but also once they have them hired, how do we optimize them? How do we get the most out of them and help them through slumps, for example. Then from there… I mean, another interesting use case that we’ve seen lately is because of talent shortages, particularly in sales, because the younger generations are not really crazy about going into sales for multiple reasons, is that we’re seeing a lot of HR people, for example, use us then for promoting from within. Finding good people maybe in customer service, in marketing and public relations operations, people in other departments that are really good with dealing with other people and maybe, considering them for a sales position. They’re using our tool for that as well.
William Tincup: As you’re assessing for the salesperson’s skill level, are you also looking at sales management? The reason I ask this is a common mistake that I know you’ve seen, I know I’ve seen-
C. Lee Smith: I know where you’re going here.
William Tincup: … is Jimmy’s just killed it on quota, always kills it on quota. Let’s promote Jimmy to manager and Jimmy fails miserably. Are we also looking or do you see a future path to also evaluate whether or not someone has the attitude or aptitude for management?
C. Lee Smith: It is a key part of the TeamTrait product because management is a completely different skillset than sales.
William Tincup: Right.
C. Lee Smith: Yeah, you have to have that confidence, positivity, problem solving ability and everything like that in both roles but the traits that we look for, we combine all those assessments and actually come up with 120 different professional and behavioral traits. But the traits that you look for in each sales position is different and certainly, when you are looking at different marketing positions, that’s different still. But then when you combine that then with those positions compared to management level things, totally different skillsets, so we look a lot at leadership traits. How they are at developing people, for example, and leadership, delegation, empathy and things like that that become… Agility, problem solving of course, is still very big up there that we look in managers and leaders. But a big way in which people have used us also as well is before they promote that star salesperson into sales management, they actually take a look at the TeamTrait profiles.
What that allows you to do is that if you make a bad hire there, the problem of it is that if you try to demote somebody who that you’ve promoted to management and they’re just not working out, for the salesperson, that’s a blow to the ego.
William Tincup: Right.
C. Lee Smith: That’s not going to happen. What happens is, you’ve lost one of your best salespeople and you still have to fill that manager position all over again.
William Tincup: What is the old way we used to classify salespeople? There was harvesters and farmers or-
C. Lee Smith: Farmers? Yeah. So, you have farmers and hunters.
William Tincup: Farmers and hunters. First of all, is that true from the way that when TeamTrait, when you look at this, is that the dichotomy between the two? Do you see that play out?
C. Lee Smith: It’s a little bit more nuanced than that, right? It’s one of those things where these days, for example, we used to have inside sales and outside sales. Now, since COVID, everybody’s in inside sales. Seventy-five percent of sales calls are being made inside, not outside-
William Tincup: Good point.
C. Lee Smith: … even if you’re outside sales. To that end, you will have certain positions that are definitely hunters, your sales development reps for example, and you’ll have certain positions though… Like account managers, they are more farmers and then you have some that are hybrids of both. I don’t know that everything really fits in neatly into the categories of hunters and farmers, and we’ve had several clients that have tried to do that and it hasn’t really worked out all that well. You really have to look at each individual position and the responsibilities for that, and then apply then the mindset traits, behavioral traits and skillset then for each one of those and make your evaluation accordingly from there.
William Tincup: When we look at TeamTrait, we’re assessing for all kinds of fun stuff. Is there a skill around closing? Is it a multitude of skills or a combination of skills, or is it something-
C. Lee Smith: Yeah, absolutely. See, the thing about closing that a lot of people don’t know is they think it’s about asking for the order, overcoming objections and all of that. But the reality about good closers is that it really begins at discovery. Because if you ask smart discovery questions and you get the information right up front, you’re getting their answers to those questions. Then tell you what they’re thinking is and it gives you the ammunition to overcome objections in and actually, to be a better closer. Really, closing is really not a stage. It’s part of the sales process. I don’t want to say, always be closing, because that’s trivial for those of us in the sales industry. But really, closing really starts at the discovery stage.
William Tincup: I love that. That’s a nugget right there, Lee. When folks use TeamTrait, are they looking for a skill? Is it personalized? Were they looking for a particular skill or can they stack rank and say, “Okay, these are the things that are important to me.” Or is it not… I mean, is it standard like, “Okay, this is what a good salesperson looks like.”?
C. Lee Smith: Yes. You can use it however in any of those use cases that you just imagine. One of the things that we have that makes us different is the four fit simulator. Four fits. The idea that with sales and marketing, we look at four fits. We look at job fit, then we look at manager fit and I really want to talk a moment about that real quick. We look at company fit, not company culture but company fit. Then we look at customer fit. All of those things together then actually give you a good score, yes, but on the job fit. We have pre-programmed 20 different types of sales jobs. We have 10 different types of marketing jobs. Then we have management jobs, company leadership as well. Then of course, we have the ability then for you to create your own positions then because we’ve had other people that say, “We really love this stuff. We want to be able to use this in other departments.”
So, we will allow them to do that as well but really, our specialty is sales and marketing. But the four fits is really what makes us different. The manager fit is fascinating because we don’t just assess then the candidate but we assess the manager as well, and we look for potential problem spots. The manager knows what they’re getting into and if the manager feels like, “Yeah, I can manage that and be intentional about that, and navigate that.” Then, that’s great.
But if they find, “Nope, that’s a non-starter for me. That’s going to be a constant headache or thorn on my side.” That allows that person then to know that from a chemistry aspect of it, a compatibility issue or whatever, might just be too big of a hill to climb. That’s something that sometimes gets overlooked, that we look so much to the job fit and we don’t really look at the number one person that can cause that person to resign or that number one person that can cause that person to flourish, which is their direct supervisor.
William Tincup: I love that. Now, in a B2B versus B2C, do you see certain skills get highlighted more in one of the other?
C. Lee Smith: Yeah, absolutely because in B2B, it’s a longer sales process. B2C or whatever tends to be very short. A lot of it is done online. I mean, a lot of B2B is also being done online these days before a salesperson even talks to them. A lot of work’s been done online but even, you can actually make the full purchase and everything like that on B2C online. Or it’s more inbound, let’s put it that way. Whereas sales, it can also be more outbound. You have that but it’s a longer process. It takes a longer period of time, so it really requires you to be very intentional, consultative and also then credibility becomes a really big issue for salespeople when we’re talking about B2B.
Credibility is basically who can provide me, who do I trust to provide the guidance and the information that I need to be able to make smart decisions in my everyday life. If a salesperson is known, are they likable? Are they trustworthy? Most importantly, are they helpful? They can demonstrate that. Then that’s super important in B2B where you really don’t have time to form those types of relationships sometimes in B2C.
William Tincup: Someone that wants to own sales and marketing could be B2B or B2C. Do we have a way to assess whether or not they can because they’re different clearly, right?
C. Lee Smith: Yeah.
William Tincup: Do we have a way to assess whether or not someone has the capability? Again, you’re looking at aptitude and attitude. Do you have an ability to then suss out the people that want own marketing let’s say, but maybe don’t have the skills to own marketing?
C. Lee Smith: Yeah, we do that. For example, in sales, we have separate categories for retail sales that then we do then for B2B sales. Because we have some retail sales chains, if you will, as clients, so we’ve been having to do that. I think what’s really interesting about the question you just asked is that sometimes, we might find that someone wants to go into sales because… They go into sales for the wrong reasons because they can make a lot of money and everything like that. Whereas they have a great mind for marketing but they are not necessarily had that thrill with the sales game. They don’t either have the hustle, they don’t like the rejection, they don’t like… Sometimes, the way salespeople are treated due to all the other previous salespersons that a buyer has encountered. They don’t like the quotas, that sort of thing, and so we find they might be a better fit for marketing.
That’s why we combine it to, because it can go both ways. You could have somebody that’s really good in marketing, understands brand messaging and can personalize that for an individual. Then that they might have a career in sales because sales these days does not require an extrovert. Introverts. There’s never been a better time for an introvert to get into sales.
William Tincup: BDRs. Tell us a story about the skills that make fantastic BDRs.
C. Lee Smith: BDRs require a lot of hustle, a lot of initiative, a lot of resilience because you’re going to… This is, I’m speaking directly to your heart here, I think. That’s where I got started, too. I got started off in new business development, so new business is something that I love doing. This is really going after new accounts, bringing them in and it’s really about… First again, it starts with the credibility, so that when 63% of people will check the LinkedIn profile and do a Google search on a salesperson before even agreeing to take a call or a meeting. Before we can even do the discovery process, for example, and find out what problems they need to solve or what goals that they need to accomplish, it starts with…
First and foremost, credibility is the number one thing that a BDR needs to have. Again, that is not a personal trait. That is something that is different with every account that’s out there. We can measure whether someone has a natural inclination to be credible but that’s going to vary from account-to-account and prospect-to-prospect. But certainly, positivity, high drive… It’s not about just identifying the problems, we need to be able to solve the problems and then from there, it gets very role specific and very company specific as far as what they look for and what they’re selling. Because if you’re selling a product that’s very technical or medical, or has a lot of regulations and like that, you really need to be a lifelong learner and you really need to be very detail oriented. Whereas if you’re not selling that, then there are other traits that come into play.
William Tincup: I can see TeamTrait being a screen-in, screen-out, and potentially, even a retention tool.
C. Lee Smith: Absolutely.
William Tincup: Right. When you are talking to folks and your team is talking to folks, how do they position it with folks?
C. Lee Smith: It is certainly a screening tool. We recommend that we price the tool on the enterprise level than to give you unlimited number of profiles. We do that so that you’ll use the tool then before you do the interviews because why wasting HR person’s time, a sales manager’s time and another person’s time doing interview with people that you’ll never going to hire. Time is the most precious commodity that everybody has these days, especially with labor shortage or people being short-staffed. We definitely sell it in that way and most of the incoming leads that we get are from people that are looking for that? But definitely, the team optimization is really important when it comes to team chemistry and how teams work and play well together. How can you coach somebody in your one-on-one meetings then to be able to speak to not only their strengths accentuating those, but how can we then improve their areas of development or weaknesses, as some people would call it.
We look at the team chemistry but we also look at the one-on-one coaching and provide guidance for that. We also provide guidance to managers then when they have situational difficult conversations, whether it be… Praising, there’s a certain way that you praise certain people so that you’re heard and that it resonates and gets the best effect. But if you’re going to have a difficult conversation, you take a look at all those factors in their proof. “Customer, we actually give you guidance then as far as what not to say, what you should say and also, give you some advice that’s specific then to… Whether or not you are correcting somebody or incentivizing somebody,” et cetera.
William Tincup: Three questions left. One is around sales leaders in particular. It’s been my experience that you’ve got sales leaders that love data and they are just kind of data wonks. They love technology, they love Salesforce and all of that stuff. And you’ve got sales leaders that are more intuitive and they trust their gut. Less about data. They’re more kind of, they know their craft almost innately. Data, they’re not afraid of data. They’re just, that’s not their thing. How have you been [inaudible 00:20:02] TeamTrait been received by sales leaders?
C. Lee Smith: I think it’s interesting you put them into two buckets. People that love data, love our data. They want to get down to the actual numbers. They want to take a look at the grades and everything like that, and to consider all of that. They are the people then that want to integrate us into their lever system or their applicant tracking system. They want to look at that.
The sales managers though that are the seasoned veterans that are into it, they go with their gut. Why they go with their gut? Because they have a lot of experience. They’ve been burned in the past and they’ve also hired some great salespeople, and they’ve learned from those experiences. What’s challenging for us basically is getting them to understand, “Hey, you can use this as a tool then to reaffirm what your gut is telling you.” Or, “If your gut…”
Your gut is not always 100% correct. When we come to a hiring decision, today’s bad hire is tomorrow’s performance improvement plan. Nobody wants to deal with that, so why not then take a moment to actually look at the data and they see if that squares up with what your gut is telling you. Because if you’re a veteran, you’ve been at it for a while. Let’s not discount the importance and the benefits of having that experience. It’s useful but you need a checks and balances and actually make sure that you’re not being led astray.
William Tincup: I like that. I see a lot of that in HR and recruiting where it’s data-driven decisions but not at the expense of your experience and your intuition. You do both. It’s an art and science.
C. Lee Smith: These two things really go together. You should never use a profile, whether it’s a psychometric profiles or aptitude test basically, as a sole reason then for hiring or even interviewing somebody like that. It really needs to be a blend of both your personal experience, your personal connection, and also then what the data is telling you.
William Tincup: I love that. Second question was around benchmarking. Do you advise or do you see a value in walking into an organization and having all their current salespeople take TeamTrait and sales leadership, everybody. [crosstalk 00:22:17] Just to see what they’re about. What works-
C. Lee Smith: Absolutely, because that’s where the coaching aspect of it comes in. That’s when you can take a look at like, “Hey, someone’s got some talents here that are being underutilized or whatever. Perhaps, changing job responsibility or the roles on certain teams.” That’s what a team optimization aspect comes into play. But also then, if you can take a look at then who your highest performers are and take a look at what they have in common, those benchmarks allow you then to hire better. But the other things is that, and then speaking of hiring, you can actually take a look at a candidate then and where they score, compare that into the benchmarks of the people you already have. And tell it’s like, “Are they going to improve my team’s abilities or skills in these particular areas or are they going to have a negligible effect? Or is it just really more of the same?” Actually seeing how that person’s going to contribute to your team and make your team better is a really good reason for doing that.
William Tincup: Last question, and this is going to be around diversity and inclusion. Practitioners wise, how do we use TeamTrait to help us with our pipeline in terms of a diverse slate of candidates and just having a more diverse frontend of the funnel, if you will, and also, placement? How do you see this being used to help them forward their DE&I goals?
C. Lee Smith: We have unconscious bias, we have confirmation bias, we have recency bias and everything like that that go into it. This is where you really need to use the data as a checks and balances against those types of things.
William Tincup: Right.
C. Lee Smith: Again, this is where it goes hand in glove. I also say that the assessments that are being used to create the profiles, they have all been validated to make sure then that certain classes of employees are not being misrepresented through the tool. It doesn’t matter whether a male, female, Black, white, Hispanic, you name it from there. Age, anything like that. All of that then has been scientifically valid and to make sure that the tool is being equal and fair to everybody. Again, I think a good way then that the tools can be used to neutralize any unconscious bias that might be there and also, to make sure that everybody is taking the same test, the same assessments being administered the same way so that everybody has the same opportunity.
William Tincup: I love it. Lee, thank you so much for your time. This has been absolutely wonderful. I love the product that you all built and I can see it being super helpful for folks hiring salespeople. Thank you for coming on the show.
C. Lee Smith: Thank you for having me, William.
William Tincup: Absolutely, and thanks for everyone listening to The Use Case Podcast. Until next time.
William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.