Sales Pipeline Radio, Episode 338: Q & A with Spencer Wixom


By Sheena McKinney, Sales Pipeline Radio Producer at Heinz Marketing

If you’re not already subscribed to Sales Pipeline Radio or listening live every Thursday at 11:30 a.m Pacific on LinkedIn (also on demand) you can find the transcription and recording here on the blog every Monday morning.  The show is less than 30 minutes, fast-paced and full of actionable advice, best practices and more for B2B sales & marketing professionals.

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This week’s show is entitled, The Widening Buyer/Seller Gap & How to Fix it“.  My guest is Spencer Wixom, CEO at The Brooks Group

Tune in to hear more about:

  • Why is there still a gap between buyers and sellers in terms of understanding and communication?
  • How has the temperament of sellers shifted in recent years and what factors may be contributing to this shift?
  • What are some successful strategies for engaging with buyers and building trust and empathy?
  • How can sales enablement and marketing teams help sales organizations have more effective conversations with prospects?

Watch the video, listen in below and/or read the transcript below.

Matt: Welcome everybody to another episode of Sales Pipeline Radio. I’m your host, Matt Heinz. Thank you so much for joining us today. We are featuring every episode of Sales Pipeline Radio on demand on LinkedIn, as well as every episode in the history of Sales Pipeline Radio. Past present, Future on Very excited today to have the Chief Executive Officer of the Brook Group, Spencer Wixom, join us today. Spencer, thanks very much for being here.

Spencer: Hey, Matt, wouldn’t miss it. Great to be here.

Matt: People probably don’t know your background– you’ve spent years at CBE which became Gartner and then years at Challenger and are now running The Brooks Group. So you bring a lot of pedigree from the sales methodology standpoint, from a research and consultant standpoint. For those of you in sales, you probably do know The Brooks Group for those joining us on the marketing side, may not know it as well. So just let’s make sure people know what The Brooks Group is first, and then we’ll get into it.

Spencer: Sure. The Brooks Group isn’t a new organization. We’ve been around for about 40 years. We were started by Bill Brooks, who was kind of one of the original sales gurus of the eighties and the nineties. And he unfortunately passed away in about 2007. The business was taken over by his two sons, Jeb and Will, and they continue to be active in the business to this day.

I found the organization just about five or six months ago. Like, like you said, I had had a career in sales development, sales training enablement at CBE and then onto Gartner and ultimately with that great organization, Challenger and just had an opportunity to come into this.

It’s a boutique sales training and transformation company. We’re in the southeast, in Greensboro, North Carolina, but we work all over the US and in the world. I just had an opportunity to come in, lead this organization and we do training, transformation, coaching assessment all kinds of different things to improve the effectiveness of sales people.

Matt: So in your time as a consultant with CEB, your time with Challenger, certainly there was a lot of focus on reducing the friction between buyer and sellers, addressing the fact that buying has become more complicated, sales has become more complicated.

Neither side really likes it, and yet, here we are today, almost halfway through 2023, and we still have this gap. In fact, I could argue that the gap between buyers and sellers is, widening.  Ehy is this still happening and what are some of the variables you’re seeing causing it right now?

Spencer: Well, it’s interesting, because we spent a long time, we did this work at CBE, we did a Challenger Gartner looking at buyer behavior. You know, your friend and my friend, Brent Adamson, has done a lot of work in mapping buyer behavior, buyer enablement type of work, and a lot of those statistics are incredibly relevant today.

They’re very important to consider. They’re scary, right? The amount of time it takes that buyer in the decision making process to engage with the seller, the number of buyers involved in the decision making process… I think we’ve looked at the complexity from that angle quite a lot and that it’s important to look at it from that angle.

Cause if we don’t appreciate that angle, we’re gonna have a hard timeselling to today’s buyers. But I think we also have to look at it from the seller side as well. What’s happening in the heads of sellers as a result of really big macroeconomic and social Trends that have happened over the last few years?

You know, there’s something really interesting in some research that we’ve been doing recently. So we’ve been evaluating DISC profiles of salespeople for 10 years now, and we do thousands of these every year. And so just recently we said, it would be really interesting to see if there were a trend or a change, like a fundamental shift in seller DISC profiling.

Even more recently, like since the pandemic, and here’s what’s really interesting, we didn’t see anything shift in any statistically significant way. For a number of years, like from 2012 through 2020, not a lot of shifting, but then since then, in the last like three to five years, we’ve seen a decline.

And a statistically significant shift in those DISC profiles. So in particularly the one that is typically high for salespeople, which is Influence, right? It’s getting in front of, it’s connecting with, it’s having a relationship with your buyer that has gone down. But what’s interesting is compliance another element of DISC has gone up.

Our ability to kind of manage systems, backend processes, diligence. Like analytics, things like that. So it’s indicating to us there’s this like just basically fundamental shift in the temperament of sellers. We’re becoming less inclined or capable of engaging, more inclined and capable of analyzing.

And a lot of that I think is this idea of digital intermediaries between sellers and buyers. I think a lot of this is doing the job much more virtually or remotely, but you know, we’re just starting to see this trend. But it indicates to us like something’s going on, sellers aren’t as comfortable getting out there and making a human connection with buyers as they used to.

Matt: I think you could probably have some people arguing both sides of that. To me, I hear that, and I think that’s a problem, especially in enterprise sales, especially in highly considered purchases where you can have all the information in the world, you can have virtual demos, you can have all the literature about case studies and everything else but I still kind of want to hear from someone. I still kind of wanna learn and talk to a human being. And I think even as the rise of AI, I think until we get robots buying from robots, I think the ability for people in the selling role to be able to connect, to build rapport, trust, empathy, in a way that a case study can’t do in the way that a virtual demo can’t do in the way that any number of sort of digital tools can’t do. What are you guys seeing in the market, especially with some of your more successful clients still doing, you know, sort of predictable enterprise sales?

Spencer: Well, yeah, it is a balance, right? It’s not being afraid of, of embracing the technologies where they make sense to improve efficiency, improve your clock speed. You know, I mean, the AI platforms are really good at sharpening up, like trimming down, like giving you the information you need and the moment you need it.

They’re really good at doing that. But you cannot let those muscles of getting out there and engaging with people, taking the time to build that solid, trusting relationship with them. You just cannot let those atrophy. And I think there’s a couple of ways in which we’re finding this.

Look, the biggest shift or the biggest benefit we’ve seen from organizations who really spend the time and the effort to develop on this is a benefit to much greater, like, call it discovery, probing understanding of customers what we’re seeing when we measure sales skills across any given kind of process, skill process is the weakest point. Is that discovery point, is that like critical questioning point right now? But when you really focus on it, you can actually make that weakest point of your strongest points. And we’ve seen that in the data where we’ve assessed individuals with scenario testing prior to development, and then we’ve retested it with scenario testing after development. That’s been the biggest shift in their performance.

Matt: Talking today on Sales Pipeline Radio with Spencer Wixom, who’s the CEO of The Brooks Group. And despite the rise of AI and automated tools and, you know, buyer enabled, shop yourself, check yourself out. We’ll, we’ll watch the intent signals of you from there.

I think what this is reinforcing is that the human connections and the attributes we have as humans connecting with other humans is really important. I’m curious what you’re seeing on the buyer side, because we’re seeing a lot of data indicating that millennials, gen Z folks are becoming more and more prominent as part of the buying committee.

So we’ve got this gap between what the buyers understand, but then the sellers continue to be frustrated and having trouble. I mean, so the buyers being frustrated about the buying journey, sellers being trouble, having trouble communicating value. Are there changing needs based on the changing nature of the buyers? We need to be cognizant of here as well.

Spencer: Look, I don’t think the one thing fundamental has changed with buyers that they just want to be heard. They want to be understood. And if they’re not getting that from a salesperson, if they don’t sense that that individual wants to hear them and to understand them, then they’re not going to, they’re not going to engage.

They’re gonna just take their second-best option, which is to learn on their own. And it’s interesting because I think so you ever see the movie Field of Dreams? I’m sure you have. So there’s that famous scene where Ray Kinsella is walking through Fenway Park with Terrence Matt, right? James Earl Jones character, and they’re just kind of walking through the concourse and he stops and they’re having chit chat and he stops and asks “what do you want?”.

And you’ll remember the Terrence Mann character, just like unleashes this diatribe of, “I want people to leave me alone. I want people to think for themselves. I want them to have their own ideas”, right? He just like bears his soul in that habit. And then the Ray Kinsella character goes, “no, what do you want?”. And it like pans out and it’s this concession stand, right? He’s like, “oh, dog and a beer”. You know, why is that scene so funny?

Matt: I think it’s because you open up and ask someone how they’re feeling. Yeah. How’s your day going? Some people are gonna really tell you.

Spencer: They, are, but so what’s funny about it’s counterfactual, right?

It’s like, you wouldn’t expect somebody to answer the question that way. Because that’s the way we’ve kind of tuned ourselves to answer the question. When you say, “what do you want?” It’s like, “what do you want to buy? What do you want me to give you?” Right. Not “what do you want to do? What do you want to have happen in your life?”

And I think the reason buyers are so reticent to engage with sellers is because they assume sellers are gonna ask though, “what do you want question”, hoping to get the quick answer of like, “what do you want to buy?” Not like really. “What do you want to do? What problems do you have to solve?” And that’s the depth of conversation I think we need to get to, right?

Nobody ever needed to buy something unless they wanted to do something, and you gotta figure out what it is that they want to do. And if they don’t trust and see any value in a conversation with you to understand what it is that they want to do, then they’re gonna just take the easiest path or path of least resistance to figure out what they need to buy.

Matt: I don’t want to say, “Hey, thanks, downloading the white paper. Would you like to see a demo?” I probably also don’t want to say like, “Hey, Mr. Prospect, what keeps you open night?” Cuz then I might get the peace, love, dope answer from games. So how do I get to a middle ground right where I could engage in, evaluated conversation that helps me understand the fundamental needs of the prospect, but also provides some value for them in the process? Helping them discover this, like I’m thinking in my brain, I wanna think about commercial insights and reframes, like stuff you’re very familiar with. So, and I guess the way I wanna count this question is If I’m in a sales enablement role, if I’m in a marketing role, how do I help enable my sales organization to have these conversations better?

Spencer: Yeah. Well, your firm does a lot of work around this, Matt, that I think is really great, which is, ideal customer profiling, customer mapping, customer understanding, understanding of circumstances that customer organizations find themselves in which then arms the seller to be able to have very purposeful, very context oriented discovery.

I agree with you. Like complete, open-ended discovery is frustrating to clients because they don’t feel like you’ve come with any particular point of view. But if you do have a point of view around their circumstance, if you’ve done enough homework in your initial investigation to understand this is the situation, this organization is… this is likely the problems that they’re encountering based on what I’ve seen in other organizations.

Then you can tune your discovery to that. But I think discovery is so much deeper than just, I understand how to say open-ended questions. I understand that I need to ask questions. I understand that I need to listen more than I speak. Those are good rule of thumb tactics. We’ve gotta be very purposeful in the way we conduct these dialogues. We’ve gotta practice doing these dialogues to really get good at getting to that deeper layer.

Matt: We don’t give a professional actress a script and expect them to run out on opening day. We don’t give  a musician a new score and say, “go out in Carnegie Hall”. But we do that with salespeople sometimes. We’re like, “here’s your new pitch. Like here’s the new angle we want you to use. Start calling your prospects”. And so I wonder if that’s partly where some of the lack of confidence and call reluctance still comes the fact that we’re nervous about actually having a live conversation.

We’re worried about the mistake we might make versus; “you know what? I’m just gonna hide behind this perfectly written 400-word email and hope that gets something across”.

So what are some of the keys to creating more confidence, more comfortability? For your best reps to leverage their skills and gifts to go have those conversations?

Spencer: It’s practice, it’s experience, it’s acumen. One of the things you think you wanna do is really screen for that acumen and understand where your sellers are right now.  We run a really interesting assessment, and I don’t have a lot of time to go into all the geeky details about it right now, but it’s called The Hartman Value Profile, and it basically measures an individual’s, mental clarity, how clearly they see the world outside them and how clearly they see their role in that world.

And you can derive from a Hartman Value Profile a lot of personal skills and an individual’s capability around those skills. And some of the ones we’re looking at really closely right now are things like problem solving, like flexibility, resiliency, the ability to influence others, lead others, because we know that inside of a lot of those skills are the keys to having these, this depth of conversation. And you know, the scary thing is we’ve only seen since the pandemic, those skills, they’ve all trended the same direction and that’s down. Like those muscles are aging and we’ve gotta practice them in comfortable environments. We’ve gotta coach guide, give people a mentor example of how to do that kind of discovery well.

Matt: So if I’m listening to this and thinking, okay, the mean is decreasing, we’re getting worse at this as an industry, I hope that people will look at that and think this creates an opportunity for me and for our organization to fairly quickly create a greater gap between what your prospects hear from your competitors and everyone else and what they experience and benefit from you. And that takes some work. But, like when we hear those data, I just think opportunity. I think of that positive gap that can create for people.

Spencer: You’re absolutely right. And you know, you talk about that, finding competitive advantage. We can search for our competitive advantage in our features and benefits or we can search for our competitive advantage in the ability of our solution to solve problems for customers.

And we want it to be that ladder and if you can build the capability of your people, really invest in that to understand that and, and to speak to that competitive advantage. I think, like you said, it is a tremendous opportunity cuz everybody’s a bit outta shape right now.

That’s what we’re seeing. We’re not as good a shape as we were five, seven years ago in a lot of these areas. And that’s not just the manager’s opinion assessing people, that’s not just people filling out their own like self-assessment survey, that is an actual Diagnostic that’s testing people’s mental clarity, that’s testing people’s scenario judgment, and we’re not as good at doing it as we used to be.

Matt: I love listener Blake’s comment saying, “you can have a great script, you can have a great strategy, but you have to put in the work, you have to practice this”. And I think practice isn’t just familiarity with the message. It’s comfortability and confidence in your ability to deliver that message.

Part of the reason an actor wants to memorize the script is so that the words become second nature so that they can act versus worrying about the words. If you know your message, if you know your approach cold, you’re more likely to listen to the prospect, you’re more likely to hear what they’re talking about and engage with them appropriately.

We’re almost out of time. I get a lot of benefit from the content that your team produces on a regular basis. If you’re not subscribed to it already, make sure you get The Missing Sales Link it’s a biweekly newsletter from The Brooks Group. You can subscribe on LinkedIn.

Spencer, where else should people learn more about and get more of your content?

Spencer: Yeah, we’re, we’re putting a lot on LinkedIn. We’ve got it on our website as well. Number of blogs there. We do webinars once a month as well. Michelle Richardson, who is our head of research, is always finding compelling, interesting voices to do webinars with and a lot of the research that I talked about in our conversation here we’re putting that together for publishing soon. We’re really excited to get that out there in some white paper forms so people can understand a little bit behind the data.

Matt: Awesome. We look forward to that. Well, if nothing else find The Books Group, Brooke Group on LinkedIn.

Subscribe to the newsletter. I’m sure they’ll be promoting it there and elsewhere as well. And Spence, thanks so much for taking time with us today.

Spencer: Matt, been a huge pleasure, man. Have a great afternoon.

Matt: You too. Thanks everyone for joining us.

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