In this edition of Aligned: The Podcast, FitzMartin’s Sean Doyle, speaks with Luke Allen, SVP of Occupational Health Dynamics (OHD) about the challenges and opportunities for marketing in closing more late-stage prospects.

Luke Allen:

The alignment of marketing and sales is one that when you have that shift you can really bring both of those departments together focused on the same goal.

Sean Doyle:

That was Luke Allen from occupational health dynamics. He’s the SVP of Sales and today our guest on Aligned. Aligned does the podcast for executives of middle market companies seeking to improve sales and marketing ROI. I’m Sean Doyle your host for today’s episode. Let’s get to our conversation with Luke.

Luke Allen:

Thanks Sean. Glad to be here. Looking forward to our time.

Sean Doyle:

Yeah, been looking forward to this too. I was reminded a little while ago that we began this conversation at a coffee shop. And we had some ideas about what works and what doesn’t work in marketing and sales and specifically though we ended up talking about late stage sales and marketing efforts. Well really you from your point of view, sales, and me from my point of view. So if I recall you said I was the Boomer and you’re the millennial.

Luke Allen:

Right. Right. The baby boomer generation a two decade explosion of children born in the years following World War 2.

Luke Allen:

We have an interesting dynamic don’t we, so.. Marketing and Sales and then Boomer and millennial. The millennial generation is generally agreed to include people born in the early 1980s through the early 2000s.

Sean Doyle:

So I think you’re really saying I’m old.

Luke Allen:

Yeah.

Sean Doyle:

Well that’s nice.

Luke Allen:

I’ve got gray coming in to so I can’t say much.

Sean Doyle:

Even you millennials get old? I love it.

Luke Allen:

That’s the rumor.

Sean Doyle:

Let’s talk about late stage. What do you call a late stage prospect. How do you define that?

Luke Allen:

Yeah, for us late stage prospect really fits in anywhere where we think a decision is coming on a purchase. So for us if they fall into you know they’ve seen either a presentation or they’ve received some information and we have them in our pipeline to make a decision on closing out, whether it’s with us or a competitor. And we treat those in different ways. You know, through marketing efforts but also through direct sales efforts all based on where they are in that process.

Sean Doyle:

Well let’s talk about who the “us” is. So, today we’re with Luke Allen who’s the SVP of Sales at OHD. What’s OHD do?

Luke Allen:

Yeah, so OHD we’re a market leader in global respiratory protection. So we have..

Sean Doyle:

What’s that mean?

Luke Allen:

Yeah, well we do we have different technologies for mask testing or respiratory protection testing for everyone that’s from people in the workplace all the way to fire departments to law enforcement agencies around the world. Another department are defense groups. So we’re kind of in a niche industry and have a technical background to our business. So we love we love what we do and try to protect people around the world.

Sean Doyle:

So if I get this right, if I’m a fireman and I’m going into a burning building, it’s really important that my mask fits. So I’m breathing oxygen, not smoke.

Luke Allen:

Yeah, for you and the people that you’re trying to save, right?

Sean Doyle:

Yeah sure.

Luke Allen:

So if you’re in the house you’re helping the firemen can do his job properly. Or her job properly.

Sean Doyle:

So you sell a protocol that teaches or tests and make sure that masks fit.

Luke Allen:

Yeah, absolutely. We test the mask themselves to make sure they’re working properly and then also that the person knows how to put it on properly.

Sean Doyle:

Yeah, that’s brilliant. So gosh, warfare, military, fire, police. I guess manufacturing.

Luke Allen:

Yeah, chemical, you know oil and gas. Anywhere where there’s respiratory threats that’s where we play.

Sean Doyle:

That’s brilliant. And yeah, I love Niche. As a marketer, I love it. Anybody who’s niche. I bet you could bore all of us with the details of how masks fit perfectly or dont.

Luke Allen:

Yeah, and that’s something we learned really with from you a number of years ago with really embracing the niche and embracing the technical things that people are gonna want to know about and building that into marketing and sales. So that’s something we really have believed in more firmly as we’ve seen it work. So yeah, it’s great. It’s great to be in a technical niche market, no doubt.

Sean Doyle:

So in full disclosure you and I do work together.

Luke Allen:

Yeah, yeah.

Sean Doyle:

Yeah, I mean I don’t think it’s wrong.

Luke Allen:

Right, yeah. Less and less these days.You know, you’re busy and I’m busy doing other things, but yeah, we kicked this thing off.

Sean Doyle:

You’re gonna fire me during a podcast? Is that what you’re saying?

Luke Allen:

No, no. But yeah it’s it’s been good and I think we’ll we’re talking about today we know works and it has a lot of value.

Sean Doyle:

Luke I know you moved up from inside sales into regional sales manager, National Sales Manager, SVP of Sales, but not only in America. Now you’re pushing into the European theater, maybe Asia, South America, international companies. Any sales person looking at your career would go “Wow.” That’s that’s the career I want to have. And on top of that, you’re a nice guy.

Luke Allen:

Thank you.

Sean Doyle:

So that’s that’s neat. You’ve got a great family, a young family. And you’ve accomplished a lot in your career. When we were having coffee and we talked about these late stage sales, one thing that came up that you just started to share and that was how do you identify late stage. Are there other measurements? Are there protocols? Are there triggers? Do you have a process that you teach? How does that work.

Luke Allen:

Yeah, so some of it’s just, you know, Sales 101 with establishing when someone’s timeline is and that can be done whether it’s through marketing and looking at what they’re reading, what they’re downloading or giving you information to have access to. So if it’s an ROI document, things like that. I mean, those are clear late stage decisions. They’re not really learning about a new technology. They’re looking at cost benefit analysis, things like that. And then we marry that with you know regional sales managers or distribution to look at budgets and timelines and these things. So that’s how we begin to bring people into what we call our our pipeline to look at our 90 day pipeline, which is really late stage. So someone that’s going to make a purchasing decision within that time within 90 days.

Sean Doyle:

So you ask a time decision maker a question in your process.

Luke Allen:

Absolutely yeah. And for us it’s critical because we can’t measure our business if we don’t have time windows, you know. And our sales cycles longer. It could be 12 months, 18 months. And you know there’s outliers there like any business obviously, but if you can if you can get a snapshot of your business in 90 days that at least helps you have a feel for what do we have in the pipeline for late stage.

Sean Doyle:

Oh sure, and cash flow projections and a lot of simple but really critical things for business. So that’s great. So you know, you acknowledge you’ve got this 12 to 18 month cycle but you don’t do everything as soon as you get a lead. You’re not throwing everything at them. You’re not throwing the sales people at them. You’re being wise on when they get more involved which is brilliant. I see so many people that, businesses that, make decisions to throw every bit of ammunition they got as soon as they get a lead. They get excited. You’ve probably received some sales coaching on not getting over excited. Do you have a good story on that one? You were smiling.

Luke Allen:

Well historically that’s really been our culture was very heavy, aggressive, which I think is all positive. Right? You know, aggressive sales culture of you get someone that has any ounce of interest we’re going to convert that person and we’re going to pour every ounce of energy and that’s, you know, in some of those context you could say well that makes sense. But what we found is that’s really not the best way to to really mold initial interest at least. So one of the things that we do now is have a very specific marketing structure to where if someone shows a few signs we give them more content. We gate that content and we help them to go through those actions before we really unleash our salespeople on that lead. And so that strategy and structure we found helps customers navigate the sales process and we have visibility of it which is another key that we really didn’t have before. Where our leads came from, how much content they’ve looked at. We had no clue. We just knew as soon as they show showed any signs of life, you know, we were on them. That was it. So that culture change has been just that, a change for us. But I think it’s been a change for the better and the alignment of marketing and sales is one that when you have that shift you can really bring both of those departments together, focused on the same goal.

Sean Doyle:

We have, in our science, we call it Cognitive Marketing and it’s based on the transtheoretical theorem of behavioral change. If you want to get to bed early and go out fast, that’s some good stuff.

Sean Doyle:

One thing it teaches though, the behavioral science teaches, is that when you’re preparing to make changes in your life you’re always going to do it with in six months of a decision. So when you have a long sales cycle people think well that that conflicts with that science but it doesn’t because in sales you might have somebody on your roster, somebody might have indicated interest, but a contract is not going to expire for a year, two years, three years. Or there’s just not a need and maybe a large capex isn’t needed at the time so you’re not going to rush into a decision. You might sit at a marketing stage, a contemplating thinking stage, when somebody moves into that active step of buying in that preparation time, that’s when you start seeing multiple decision makers showing up. So I might be responsible for a purchase but I’m not going to involve my SVP, my president, my CEO, my CFO until it’s getting pretty close. Do you have any story or can you see that or am I just in this stuff?

Luke Allen:

Well no. I think every good salesperson has the horror stories of of not identifying the different decision makers in a process because that will kill you. Not every time, but it’s a threat. And most good salespeople try to identify those different decision makers, and as you said, they might not show up in season one or two in the process but best believe in a legitimate business deal, they will appear in one of those pieces and forsure by action stage. Whatever you guys referred to, assure you know for us that final decision period of action stage is going to be where you see more of the stakeholders show up, whether it’s a financial person or someone that’s over purchasing or whether it’s someone in a vice president role or whatever your business is. So that’s a key, key piece of sales and marketing is the having the content available for these people that you might not know who they are to have access to download these pieces of content or learn about your product without you knowing who they are. But yes, some of the horror stories are you think you’re going to get a deal and then you find out later that well so-and-so decided that we’re going to go a different direction and we never met that person.

Sean Doyle:

You’ve done all your best stuff. You did your best pitch your best consultative sales, and there was just one person who wasn’t involved. Yeah I felt that pain.

Luke Allen:

Yeah exactly yeah. Every person in sales of any sort says probably felt that pain

Sean Doyle:

I think that behavioral science is supported by that six month trigger, so we see or recommend when there’s multiple decision makers involved in a buy, until you know who all the decision makers are and until they are all involved, that’s the key, they’re physically spending time. So again, I’m gonna go back to this leverage of my personal respect or my equity in a company right. I might have a salesperson and a meet with a sales person but it’s only when I bring the boss in to meet with you. Now I’m leveraging myself my personal reputation. Well if I’d brought my boss in to hear a pitch for something we’re not going to buy for a year and a half, I’m getting in trouble right. Not the sales guy. Yes it’s me. So it’s a great insider tip to start seeing when are your prospects bringing in their peers, maybe even their higher.

Luke Allen:

Yeah. One thing I’ll say to that to that I’ve found is the buying signal or needs, if you will, of these different levels of people within an organization could be different. And another mistake that salespeople will make or even marketing is they think that what your interest or need or your benefit of this solution is the same as the person that’s bringing in the room and that is another big mistake. Great sales and marketing has to help identify that for each decision maker because it will be different. And you’ll also find that people that are, and this is probably true in any organization, the higher up you are in an organizational chart with a lot of decisions that you’re brought in on, you might not have as much interest or excitement about that. So you’ve got to really find what that person benefit would be for them if they’re part of the decision and that’s something again that you can miss if you’re not looking for those signs or really building your marketing and your pitch. It can bite you.

Sean Doyle:

So this is really, this is so crucial. We’ve been talking about sales and insights to sales so if you’re an executive listening to this dialogue or you’re a marketer listen to this dialogue, the question is, well the promise of this podcast was about marketing and sales and how do they work together. So it’s so natural for a salesperson to talk about sales and it’s so natural for a marketer to think their job is done once that lead is over to sales.

Luke Allen:

Right.

Sean Doyle:

So they’ve I’ve nurtured them for you for these 12 to 18 months. Hey there’s some triggers, we’re seeing those triggers, I’ve thrown the lead over. You’ve put your best sales guy on it. Individual, your sales individual. And now we’re in this activegame and the marketers disappear.So I think there’s two things that happen and I want to get your opinion on it. One, does the marketer disappear because they don’t know what they’re doing? They’re unprepared? They’re ill equipped? Or two, is sales stiff arming marketing because they don’t want marketing to mess up their deal? Or both.

Luke Allen:

Or option 3. I mean, maybe I’ll pose to you, you know , my opinion would be there might be some gray area there. So it’s not so much maybe will marketing mess it up or to sales want to stiff arm, but are they aligned? Do they know what role they each play in that part of the process and I think that’s a weird baton pass because you have two groups of people that might be really talented at their craft. You know, marketing and sales, and so if you can find a way as an executive and if you’re listening to this podcast and you’re in an executive role and you’re over sales and marketing, as I am currently, really one of the big executive questions is how do I get marketing and sales to be together and have messaging from the very front end all the way through the close. And if you can achieve that you’re going to grow sales and you’re gonna grow profit because you’re going to execute more deals at higher profit margins. So I would say that the big thing is the grey area in the middle is how do you make sure that marketing is connected to that lead through the whole place. They see the victory of the closed deal, and the salesperson needs to understand the work that went into the strategy and the development of those leads to get to them. And I think salespeople are normally very short sighted and in our business where we’re a very quick killer type deals. We’re always looking for new deals, new deals, so they might not have the perspective of what went in to develop that lead. The merchants and the content and the workflows that I’m aware of now, that when I was in an inside sales role, in a regional role, I had no clue. So I would say it’s probably a different answer in that you need that clarity and the alignment between the two departments.

Sean Doyle:

Interesting. Yes so this could go so many ways. We could talk about attribution, you know, as a marketer it drives me crazy that you sales guys like last touch attribution because you roll us out. As a salesman, you’re thinking well marketing attribution is crazy because look at all the work we did. We really closed the deal, and you do. But anyway, that’s not that’s not for today. But I think it would be interesting to talk through. And anybody who’s a fan of sales also saw something when I asked you two questions. I was doing an alternative close on you. And you as a trained sales killer..

Luke Allen:

I pivoted.

Sean Doyle:

You did. Killing me.

Luke Allen:

Yeah that’s my that’s my nature.

Sean Doyle:

Okay. Now that we’ve thrown a third ball of wax and to juggle let’s talk about how that grey area could be, we’ll go down your path, that’s what a good salesman do, right?

Sean Doyle:

So going down that path, we’ll call it an early late stage prospect. So we were talking to sales, they’ve been through that marketing attribution model. They’ve hit the scores that say it’s time to go to sales. So sales is meeting people and learning people and they’re listening. They should be listening. They should be provided a lot of business intelligence by marketing and we think, well I think, my philosophy is that there’s three different aspects of the sale that marketing can contribute to to support and help the sales people. So the buyers looking for and can only move forward if they’re emotionally excited about what’s going on, their interested in that. Rationally, we call it rational arousal, like that’s a neat rationale. That’s great. And those are fairly marketing obvious, right? Let’s get you excited rational and emotionally. A quick test when we audit people’s sales and marketing efforts is we look for that because often, for example, if you’re in manufacturing we tend to lean way on the rational side and you say emotion has no bearing. But you read studies that say even B2B decision making is emotional. So it’s most often found that you’re missing the emotion. If you’re going to have maybe more of a retail setting, like banking, it tends to be all emotional. Like you could retire and live in a sailboat.

Luke Allen:

Yeah, right.

Sean Doyle:

There’s no rationality to that, at all. But there’s this third tool that is effective and I think very few agencies work on it. And this is what I would like to focus on and that is this commitment stage. So how can marketing provide tools to create private and then public commitment. So I want to dive into that. It’s obvious what marketing can do to create emotional arousal and the salespeople should use those rational arousal salespeople should use those. But what do you do with his private, then public, commitment. We’ve seen over the years the most effective sales people are making one to one relationships, consultative relationships, call it what you want.

Luke Allen:

Absolutely.

Sean Doyle:

But I’ve got to get you to make a commitment to me and I’ll make a commitment in turn to you and it’s an exchange relationship right we’re giving a nod to the cash that we want to change later. Cash for services. Cash for goods. So what effective ways have you seen salespeople create private and then public commitment and let me define that shift to public. You know, if I was meeting with you Luke, I’ll do the ROI statements for you we’ll do some initial consulting work we’ll give you a study and I’ll pay for that if you’ll bring in all the decision makers to the meeting to share the findings. Would you be willing to do that? That’s a private commitment that you could make to me. You’re at no risk right. Your boss doesn’t know if I’m a total goofball right. You can just get rid of me quietly right. Shovel me under the carpet. But if it works then, what I want is to get infront of all the decision makers. Have you seen good models for that private and public commitment? Have you seen agencies provide that? Have you seen it? What advice do you have around that?

Luke Allen:

Yeah, from a sales standpoint, I think in today’s age especially, and I’m putting my millennial hat on now, but you know, we’re in a time in our world where relationships have selling-wise have gone down and I think that makes it even more unique.You know, I was reading some articles about how handwritten letters are even more appealing to people now because they’re so rare.

Sean Doyle:

How could you text a handwritten letter?

Luke Allen:

Yeah, exactly. And I’m still trying to figure that out which, you know, I wish Harvard Business Review would give us an update on that. But yeah, so things like that but I think relational selling is a similar type line where you have people that if you can find ways to get commitment in a personal type way it really goes even further in today’s world because it’s so much more rare in our world where you can order this and click that and get it here and your price shopping or what not.So in our business some of the ways that we do that are we hire technical salespeople but that already have relational skills to to go in and build relationships with end users and to also find what those drivers are of what they really need. So rather than just selling a product, we’re looking for application. We’re looking for how we’re going to deliver on training. How we’re gonna deliver on end user technical support and those things, I think, allow a buyer to easily give you their personal commitment and then make that commitment public and then even goes into a further stage which is referrals, which are very important to us. And the only way you really get to the referral stage is you have to build the relationship stage. Even if a customer buys a product from you to help their personal needs, the referral stage is when they extend that trust and that personal relationship or even commitment out. And I think the only way you achieve that is through clear relationships of understanding their need, their application, and really understanding that and then executing on what you promised and what you will do.

Sean Doyle:

Go back to referrals for a second. So in my head I have two ideas of what referrals could be. That would be marketing design, deep case studies. That could be testimonials are a dime a dozen. I think it’s a big error in most of marketing to create these long in-depth case studies that are presented to early stage prospects. It’s not an early stage prospect needs, right. But at this point I love telling our clients to build some deep case studies that give really insight that is beyond what anybody can ever hear. Hearing that third party, that customer, that person who made the decision that’s a referral to me. I also would say if I’m looking for references, like can I call a couple of your customers, we always recommend you push that back to this stage because if you ask for it too soon you’re really you’re wasting your best customers time right. And so we withhold them. We’d like to say we’d be glad to do that but let’s first get through this consultative step. Let’s make sure this is a fit. Then we’ll be glad to open those doors up, so when you say referral what are you talking about?

Luke Allen:

Yeah. When I say referral we lean and focus heavily on on user referrals for new leads and new opportunities. We have customers all the time that will say you know who are the agencies that are using your technology. Can we speak to someone and like you said, we we try to protect those customers because that can be overwhelming. When I mentioned referrals really for us at the end of the buying cycle and you’ve built the relationships, you’ve gotten the personal commitment, you’ve closed the deal, however you want to refer to it, those people when you’ve done that well and you’ve done that the right way, they will be your best advocate to refer you to other people in their industry. Other people within their company. Other locations. Other people within their city. It’s crazy for us. We do such a good job of building relationships we’ll have a fire department say, hey do you do you know the chemical company down the road? You need to call on them and I don’t know anyone there but they do they have a ton of masks and all of that comes out of they don’t have to do that. They do that because we’ve done the personal commitment and we built this relationship. They could have just bought our product and it benefited their needs and it check the box and they’re good to go. But when you’ve done this cycle the right way, now you’ve built an advocate and a real, I don’t really like the word cheerleader I’ve seen that some of the marketing books lately, but in a sense you’ve built a person that’s going to advocate for your technology. And so when I say referrals, we simply say, hey Sean do you know anyone else in the area within your company that would benefit from this technology? And we get so many qualified leads from that. It’s really, it’s huge for us.

Sean Doyle:

So when you say that sentence I think about is is the idea of a young financial planner who’s called me when I was 20 and he was 20 and then, you know, hey you know give me 10 names your best friends.

Sean Doyle:

I was like oh, I just cringed. But this is somebody whose body and they get it. They love your product. Yeah it’s interesting. Yeah I see our producer waving his hands desperately getting us to shut up, which is hard to do with the two of us.

Luke Allen:

Right. Exactly.

Sean Doyle:

So maybe we should take a break. Do you have time we could maybe get back together?

Luke Allen:

Absolutely.

Sean Doyle:

Do another late right before the deal. Right before the cash exchanges. And I’d love to get your insights absolutely on what that might look like.

Luke Allen:

Yeah, I would love to.

Sean Doyle:

OK good. Thanks for your time today.

Luke Allen:

Yeah. Thank you Sean. Enjoyed it.

Sean Doyle:

So the conversation continued and it was really interesting. Luke had some great ideas and some good insights on closing those late stage sales deals. So come on and checkout the next episode of Align as we continue our conversation with Luke.