Episode 99: The Future of Sales for Small Businesses

Join the discuss on how small business owners can take advantage of these changes to be more authentic in selling.


There’s a non-obvious evolution happening in the world of sales. The future of sales is radically transparent. Today, anyone buying anything relies on reviews and feedback shared by strangers and often trust those anonymously posted experiences more than the claims made by the providers of the products or services themselves.
Todd joins the podcast to discuss how small business owners can take advantage of these changes to be more authentic in selling.


Chris Davis: Welcome to the ActiveCampaign Podcast. I’m your host, Chris Davis. On this episode I have Todd Caponi. He is a new author and previous chief revenue officer at PowerReviews, and his time at PowerReviews is where he saw the impact that reviews had, have, and will have on sales in this internet age, and it’s very interesting. I won’t spoil the episode, but it’s very interesting to see how he used the data in his experience, of reviews, to help solidify that the true approach for making sales more effectively and more efficiency in your business, where you have an online component, and an offline or maybe all-online component, the true factor of success is authenticity.
Chris Davis: So, Todd breaks down how to be authentic in your selling to ensure that you’re not being coupled with people’s bad experiences of salespeople that they’ve encountered in the past. It’s all in this episode. Enjoy.
Chris Davis: Todd, welcome to the podcast. Glad to have you on. How are you doing?
Todd Caponi: I’m awesome, and thanks for having me.
Chris Davis: Yeah, you know what? It’s strange … I don’t know if this is strange, but I’m really excited to talk to you about sales, and maybe it’s personally strange, Todd, ’cause here’s why. For the majority of my professional career, I started as an engineer, I looked at marketing and sales as taboo. Just like, “Yuck. Those are the people that call you at ungodly hours of the day, they knock on your door and don’t take no for an answer, you shake their hand and slime’s on it.” You know, I had this terrible perception, but here’s what happened to me.
Chris Davis: I was exposed to someone who showed me how to market the right way, and I was like, “You know what? Marketing is really relationship building.” You know, and the people who were doing it the wrong way, they were the exception. Right? But good marketing is relationship building, right? So as I’ve grown in marketing, I’ve also grown in appreciation for sales, so now it’s good to have you on to talk about the evolution of sales. Someone who’s been in the space doing it the right way, so that’s why I’m personally and professionally excited.
Todd Caponi: Thank you.
Chris Davis: If that makes sense.
Todd Caponi: Yep. That’s great.
Chris Davis: So give our listeners a little bit of incite on your background and what you do.
Todd Caponi: Yeah, so I think at its core I’m … I don’t know if this is a term, but I’ve been referred to as a sales philosopher. You know, I’m a nerd for this stuff. I find it super interesting, kinda the brain science behind how people make decisions, and then try to match that up with the way that we’ve been teaching sales professionals forever, and you know, I know I’ve been the chief revenue officer of PowerReviews here in Chicago. I just left to write my first book that just came out, and I’ve been in sales and sales leadership for 20 years, and I realized a couple of things that were happening in the world of sales, and the evolution of it, that we’re not teaching selling professionals.
Todd Caponi: And I think, for your audience here, I think it opens up your audience to understanding that they don’t need to be somebody they’re not to be successful at sales. So, you know, I guess if we go back a billion years to when the wheel was invented, selling hadn’t changed for a billion years. It was feature, benefit. Like, “I have a wheel. It rolls. Here you go.” There was an amazing thing that I discovered, that … HubSpot came out with an article about a year ago, and it listed the top 20 sales books of all time, and what was fascinating about it, being the nerd that I am, I looked at it and I was like, “Wait a second. There’s something about the recency of these books that I find interesting.”
Todd Caponi: So I looked at the top 20. Five of the books in the top 20 were published between 1982 and 1985, which is weird, but it’s just like one little range in there, and then the other 15 … so, five in that range. The other 15 were all in the last ten years. All of ’em, and so I looked and said, “Well, how is this happening?” And if you think back to like the mid ’70s, the mid ’70s was the dawn of the information age, and so all of a sudden information was available to buyers, and what I believe happened in the early ’80s is that sales people realized, “You know what? I’m not adding value the way I used to. Like, I used to show up and throw up, and feature, benefit all over people, and that doesn’t work.”
Todd Caponi: And so they glommed onto this set of books, and those became the big ones. The methodologies, kind of the foundation. Obviously, in the 1990s is when the digital age started, and now all kinds of information pervasiveness blew up, and I believe as we get into the late 2000s, sales professionals were like, “Hey, you know what? What I used to do doesn’t work anymore because of all this information available, and so I need to change.” And they glommed onto this next set. When I talk about this concept of the transparency sale, I believe that if you look at what happened in the 2000s, and the early 2000-teens, it’s this pervasiveness of reviews and feedback everywhere.
Todd Caponi: That all of a sudden you can find out not only the features, benefits, solutions and problems, and all that; now, you can found out where we all suck, basically. You know, they can go get … before they’ll go make a purchase, people can go online and figure out what their experience is gonna be like, and so I believe in this next era of selling, it’s about embracing that pervasiveness of reviews and feedback, and knowing that you’ve got flaws, and, in many cases, leading with them.
Chris Davis: Yeah, and that’s where … that’s a great starting point, because this is, essentially what you have described, is the disruption of technology on all businesses.
Todd Caponi: Yes, yes. Exactly.
Chris Davis: Right?
Todd Caponi: Yes.
Chris Davis: It’s kinda … you know what it reminds me of, Todd, is those hospital gowns. When you walk, and the back is out, and now everybody’s back is out, because people can go straight online and say, “You know what? I would never.” Or, on the flip side, they could say, “Oh my gosh, I experienced this, and after I got the product it fixed it.” And if you have that exact issue, you’re that much closer to being sold from a review online as you would somebody trying to call you and convince you. So, let’s talk about that a bit. How can we use the power that technology has given us with direct feedback?
Chris Davis: They don’t have to go through the brand. It is not filtered through the brand or the company. People are gonna talk about your offering, your product offering, directly to other consumers. How can we take advantage of that as responsible sales folks and really leverage it to our benefit?
Todd Caponi: Well, let me start with a stat. So, while I was the chief revenue officer of PowerReviews, who helps retailers and brands collect and display ratings and reviews on their websites, so if you’re on crocs.com or Vineyard Vines or even Jet and you’re looking at a product, we had done a … if you’re looking at a product and you see the reviews there, that was PowerReviews powering that. We had done a study with Northwestern University that looked at the review score.
Todd Caponi: So, the average review score, and what was amazing, and really woke me up to, “Wait a second, we’re doing something wrong here,” was this idea that an average review score of between a 4.2 and a 4.5 sells better than a product that has an average review score of a perfect five.
Chris Davis: Oh, that’s interesting.
Todd Caponi: Now, that’s fascinating, right? It was a 4.2, you’re looking at a pair of shoes on crocs.com, you’re looking and it’s a 4.2, that product will convert better than a 5. And so, what that tells us all is we’ve gotta embrace the negative, and when we’re selling, if we can sell as though we’re a 4.2 to a 4.5, we become instantly more believable, more trustworthy, more above board, more forthright, and we actually speed sales cycles. And so, I’ll give you two quick examples. Number one is something that I think we can all relate with, which is going to Ikea.
Todd Caponi: You go to an Ikea, and you go through this big labyrinth of shopping carts and people to find what you’re looking for. You finally find the product, but there’s no salesperson there to help you, so you actually have to write down the code or take a picture of it, ’cause you’re going to the warehouse yourself, and putting it on a cart that, miraculously, doesn’t have breaks. You take it out to the parking lot, you jam it into your car Tetris style, you drive home with a couple of injuries, and then you open the box and the fun really begins. There’s a hundred parts that aren’t marked, and you gotta put this thing together with no words on the work instructions.
Todd Caponi: Yet, who’s the largest retailer of furniture in the world for eight years in a row? It’s Ikea. Like, wouldn’t you think it would be really easy to beat them? You know, they wear their flaws on their sleeve, and they say to the world, “Hey, listen. These are the things we’re not gonna be good at so we can be really good at giving you modern, Scandinavian-designed furniture that you’re not gonna pay a lot for.” So after you F-bomb your way through assembly of a piece of furniture, you’re like, “Oh, gosh. You know what? We need an end table. Let’s go back.”
Todd Caponi: So I think as business owners, and as sales professionals, we need to embrace the things that we’re not good at, because it builds trust, it builds loyalty, and people go in eyes wide open. You know, the second piece of that, the second little example is I took that to sales world and said, “Alright, how … ?” A client comes to us, a client call that was an apparel manufacturer up in New York that called, and again, this is a PowerReviews example, but they called and said, “Hey Todd, we’re starting an evaluation of you versus your competitor. Tell us how you’re better than your competitor.” And I stopped him and I was like, “Hey, why don’t I start with why they’re better than us? And here’s why: there are things that they’re better than us at, and if those are really important, we’re gonna save everybody a lot of time.”
Todd Caponi: And it disarmed them. Like, our brains are wired to resist being influenced, which is why the 4.2 to 4.5 works better than a 5, and so I started with a couple of things that they do better. It disarmed them. When I then went into what we’re really good at, the sales cycle sped up at a level that I’d never imagined before, and again, I was like, “Alright, I gotta write a book about this.” But, a sales cycle that for us was typically six months closed in six weeks, and this individual actually showed me his physical budget with the line item for what he had set aside. I’ve never had anybody do that.
Chris Davis: Wow.
Todd Caponi: So I think my short answer comes from Tyra Banks, of all people, and you know, she talks about this concept of being flawsome, which is go to the world knowing that you’re flawed, but knowing that you’re still awesome, and I think that’s a funny little word, but it encapsulates the way that, as small business owners and sales professionals, we should all be thinking is, “We know we’re imperfect.” That information is now pervasive, our customers can find it. It’s pretty easy. When we lead with it, we don’t drive them to actually even have to go do that homework, because they’re getting it from us. We control sales cycles, and it’s amazing how it works.
Chris Davis: Yeah, it speaks to authenticity, right? And if people were to sit back and think … I even have friends now, when they find out I’m in marketing, their guard just goes up. They’re like, “Chris, don’t sell me anything.” It’s like, “I’m not trying to sell you anything, I just told you what I did. I still wanna have a regular conversation.” Right? But it’s just that natural defense mechanism, because they’ve experienced so much inauthentic pushing, in marketing and sales, of people. But what I hear from you, if I were to relate it to what I’ve seen in marketing, one of the strategies with online marketing that we see is when someone is talking about the money, right?
Chris Davis: The, “Hey, we did this, and this is the amount of money that we made in 30 days.” Right?
Todd Caponi: Yep.
Chris Davis: If anybody, all the listeners, if you pay attention, the number is never round. It’s never like, “We made $10,000 dollars.” It’s always like, “$9,768 dollars and 13 cents.” Because that number looks closer to what somebody’s bank account looks like, right? So it’s more believable.
Todd Caponi: Well, yeah. I mean, there’s a whole field of neuromarketing that exists. There’s a author, Roger Dooley, wrote a book called Brainfluence where he goes into the psychology of numbers, the psychology of pricing. I mean, it’s fascinating stuff, how to disarm the brain and drive that authenticity. I think the thing to be careful of is the pendulum swing, where we’ve been taught to sell as though we’re perfect, and when I come out, talk about, “Embrace your flaws and lead with them,” I’m not saying to start any conversation with, “Hey, this is why we suck.” You’re taking it too far. This is a case of embracing negative reviews on your website, for example.
Todd Caponi: But, selling as through you’re a 4.2 to a 4.5 instead of a perfect 5. ‘Cause you know you’re not perfect; you can’t be, and the minute you start coming across as being perfect, you’re driving your buyer to go do more homework, and to find out how you’re not. So, I just think you’ve gotta embrace it, control it, and lead as though you’re flawsome. Not that you suck and not that you’re perfect, it’s kind of the in-between, and you’re gonna find the results are fantastic, and for entrepreneurs and owners, man, you don’t need to put on the gold chains when it’s time to become a sales person. You’re right, the word authenticity, you’ve gotta embrace that, be yourself, be human, but know that you’re imperfect because your buyer knows you’re imperfect.
Chris Davis: No, that is a great point, and you have me thinking. Right? We’re talking about going to the market, understanding you’re flawed, understanding that you’re not gonna be perfect, let that resonate. That’s huge, right? Especially, you know what I’ve found, Todd, is that the more we get comfortable and invite technology into our personal space, and as a primary means of connecting and engaging with one another, the personal becomes even more important. Right? That handshake and look in the eye is more valuable than a LinkedIn InMail, or a Facebook private message. Right?
Todd Caponi: Yes. Yep.
Chris Davis: It has not taken away from the human interaction and engagement. In fact, it’s enhanced it, and our desire for it. Right?
Todd Caponi: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely, you’re right on that.
Chris Davis: So now I look at the opportunity, and here’s what I mean by … you know, let’s take a step back. I look at the opportunity now in sales being a huge misunderstood opportunity for small businesses, because instead of going towards it, and embracing the flaws and the in person interaction, everybody’s now hiding behind sales pages and e-commerce products. They’re moving away from that sale process, so talk about the small business owner right now that is struggling with sales, whether they could be good at it or not, but that person that’s just like, “Oh, I hate that. I just wanna get my message out. I don’t wanna come off sales-y.”
Chris Davis: How do you help them to start thinking healthily about sales?
Todd Caponi: Yeah, that’s a great question. I think there’s two paths, right? To your point, a lot of businesses are now just online and digital, and e-commerce centric, and the first thing that I tell people is, “If that’s gonna be the way that you’re gonna go to market, who’s the salesperson? It’s your website, it’s your e-commerce site.” And so, I think that instead of going to bed at night having looked at a negative review on your site, or about your product, and crying yourself to sleep, there’s an opportunity to embrace that and learn from it, and to lead with it. Because if one customer’s thinking about it, then there’s probably others thinking about it, first of all, but second of all, a lot of times those negative reviews are so unfair and don’t make sense that, when other people come to look and they read it, they can see that.
Todd Caponi: They can see it’s crazy, right? I think, as your listeners, think about when you go to Amazon, or you go anywhere, and you’re reading reviews. What the data shows is that 92% of us look at reviews before making any purchase of substance, and 86% of us purposely seek out the negative reviews before making a purchase, and so often when I think about that in my own world, I’m like, “Yeah.” I look and I read a couple of negative reviews, and if those aren’t me, then, alright. They’ve been forthright, I trust the site, and I know the negative is not gonna impact me, so I’m buying.
Todd Caponi: And so that’s number one. And I think number two, “How do you embrace sales if you’re gonna go out into the market?” I think there’s a lot of things to think about, there. Number one is to just embrace being yourself. You don’t suddenly need to take on a new persona to be a salesperson. A lot of people hate it because that’s what they think needs to happen, that they suddenly need to get into Johnny Cheese mode and start talking with a different inflection and all that stuff. That’s not the case. You be yourself, you be authentic, you embrace your vulnerabilities, you embrace the struggle that it’s taken for you to get there.
Todd Caponi: If you’re selling something new, things have broken. You know, it’s funny. When I was at PowerReviews, we had offered up this thing, it’s called sampling, and basically what sampling is is a company would come to us and say, “Hey, we’ve got a new product. What we wanna do is distribute a hundred of those new product to a bunch of people that wanna get them, and all they have to do in exchange is write a review.” And so we had a company that sold trampolines, and so they were like, “Hey, PowerReviews, do you have 100 people that would wanna test out a trampoline and write a review?” And we’re like, “Sure.” So we sent out the 100, and it turns out that we missed one big step.
Todd Caponi: Sampling was new for us. This was a few years ago. It turns out we forgot to ask people if they had a backyard, and when they looked at this trampoline, they’re like, “Yeah.” They thought it was a little inside exercise one. No, these were big freaking backyard trampolines. We sent out about 40 to people that lived in an apartment, and so, you know, that’s the kinda thing, when we present our sampling offering, we started talking about that story to start. ‘Cause it’s really disarming, it’s really funny, it’s really vulnerable, and it shows people that, “Hey, listen. We’ve learned through this process and we mastered it. We’re gonna make sure that the audience for your products is the right ones before we do that.”
Todd Caponi: I think we can all do that, and it’s funny, and it’s personable, and you don’t need to be Johnny Salesperson, “Wee, wee, wee, this is how great we are.” You present as though to talk to the client about how great they can be, instead.
Chris Davis: Yeah. Oh, man, and sorry to cut you off, Todd, but you got me excited for a second, here. And here’s where the excitement comes. I’ve been doing these study halls, it’s where we go to a different city and do a workshop for small business owners, and what just resonated with me with what you said, and what I’ve been telling them, is that be authentic piece. Right? Like, “Be yourself. You don’t have to become this different persona.” And I think this is really the challenge of the small business owner today, is that they see so many other businesses that appear to be successful. Right?
Chris Davis: They see all of these pictures, all of these images, and now, since they don’t have that, or they don’t have that perception, they feel like the short cut or they feel like the only way to get to it quickly is to start becoming some of these things that they dread, and then it becomes, “I’m in business because I have to be, not because I enjoy to.” And I tell ’em all the time, I say, “Hey, look. Some of you CEOs will never be able to build an automation. You’re not good at technology. That’s okay.” Right? Like, that’s fine. So it sounds like it’s the same with sales. It’s like, “Hey, look. You’re never gonna be that person that stands from the stage and gets 1,000 people to sign up. That’s okay.”
Chris Davis: Like, as long as you can get on the call or meet somebody at Starbucks or a local coffee shop, shake their hand, talk to ’em, connect with ’em, do some discovery, understand what their needs are, and it’s a perfect fit, and make the value apparent, and walk away with the deal. That’s fine.
Todd Caponi: Exactly. I mean, it’s just like … I just think that, you know, I work with a number of small kind of seed stage and Series A-type technology founders, and what I just continue to press on them is just empathy. Like, “What are the types of people and individuals you like interacting with? You go to a party. Who are you attracted to in terms of the people you wanna have a conversation with, or have a drink with? And then who are the ones that aren’t?” Like, we all know that the cheesy guy at the party, that you’re just like, “Ah, that dude’s here.” You don’t need to become that person. Be you. Be authentic. Be the attractive person, and people are attracted to that, and that’s what you’re trying to do as a business owner, is be attractive to your market. And it doesn’t take being somebody that you’re not.
Chris Davis: Yeah. Absolutely. Absolutely. So, tell me about this. Where do you see the future of sales, and how can we start to position ourselves to take advantage of it?
Todd Caponi: Well, yeah. I mean, it’s funny. There is this … my book, The Transparency Sale, I believe embraces this non-obvious evolution that’s happening in the world of sales, and it’s this embracing your flaws and selling as through you’re imperfect, but there’s another thing that happened about ten years ago, and it gets kinda nerdy, but it’s in the neuroscience or brain science world. These neuroscientists have figured out exactly how the brain makes decisions, and a lot of that hasn’t made it into the sales world yet, and so I think that evolution that’s happening right now are those two things. It’s, “How do we optimize the buyer to make a good, quick decision that they feel really good about?”
Todd Caponi: And the main part is doing it with this embracing of our flaws and being transparent. All the talk, the obvious evolution, is AI. Artificial Intelligence. But I think we’re still a few years away from that really having an impact on the way sellers add value, and marketers add value, for that matter. Like, that’s coming, but I think right now the future is transparency and decision science, those two things kinda meshed together, then get ready for AI. ‘Cause it’s coming.
Chris Davis: Yeah. I would agree with that. One of the things that we see that has really shifted the landscape for those who do embrace sales, and take full advantage of it, is the opportunity of collecting data. Right? Like, years ago, I mean you had to be a really good salesperson, because you’re operating on limited data, if any, before you make your initial, like your first touch, or your quote outreach, where now you have tools that can show people what webpages they visited, what blog posts they’ve read, what videos they’ve watched. So you can kinda create a profile of the person before ever talking to them, thus being able to make a personal connection a lot faster, and really as you mentioned, optimize that buyer’s decision making process by leading with, “Hey, look. When I first started, I can’t believe I did this, but I was making the same mistake.”
Chris Davis: You know, like just being willing to, and saying, “I don’t know.” Right?
Todd Caponi: Oh, of course. Yes.
Chris Davis: Like, not promising the world, like, “Oh yeah, my product will do that. Oh yeah, we can do that, too.”
Todd Caponi: Well, yeah. And it goes beyond that. I think, you know, the brain science stuff tells us that we, as human beings, make decisions with feeling and emotion, and justify it with logic. To the point where there’s this author, and he’s a neuroscientist, Antonio Damasio, found that people that had a disconnection in their brain to where they literally couldn’t feel emotion, and there are people like that, they literally lost their ability to make decisions, which is amazing. They couldn’t even wake up in the morning. Like, they’d lay in bed and they couldn’t decide whether they should get out of bed, and their whole worlds crumbled around them.
Todd Caponi: So it’s that feeling that drives decision making, so my advice there is, so often, we’ve taught sales people to lead with logic, and data. Data meaning ROI, and features, and benefits, and, “You will save this amount of money.” But it’s the feeling that will actually trigger it. Logic polarizes people. They use logic to reinforce the initial feelings that they’ve already had, and so that’s why, I think to your point about … you can do all this research, it’s out there. The data’s out there. And the data, actually, and you don’t wanna cross the line into creepy mode, but so many human beings today are putting their whole lives online. On Facebook, and Instagram, and Snapchat, and all of these different … and LinkedIn, obviously, too, and you can really create a profile about people before you reach out to them, and then embrace this authenticity to create a feeling of warmth and being genuine, because you’re gonna find that that really speeds things up.
Todd Caponi: If all you’re doing is spraying out data about how great you and your company are, you’re gonna find that the results are nowhere near as good as if you’re creating a feeling and an emotion in people.
Chris Davis: Yep. No, that’s really good. One sentence that has stood out as I’m listening and being a student on this podcast, of sales, and just how to approach it the right way, have the right mindset and everything, is, “Authenticity in sales is what sells.”
Todd Caponi: Yes.
Chris Davis: You know?
Todd Caponi: Yeah, exactly. It’s the non-obvious future of selling. Like, if we’re not embracing authenticity and we continue to go down this path of Johnny Salesguy that’s all perfect and all data, that’s no longer working today, and certainly in the next two to five years, it’s not gonna work at all.
Chris Davis: Wow. Well, I love it. Todd, I wanna thank you for coming on. If people wanna find out more about you, your book, connect with you on social media, where should they go for a website and for your social media?
Todd Caponi: Yeah, so my website is transparencysale.com but I bought all the URLs around it, so thetransparencysale.com, transparency … like, they all go there, and so there’s some information there about the book. I actually put the inside flap of the book description so that you get an idea there, and I did the website myself. I think it’s okay, but it’s certainly not perfect, but on Amazon, anywhere you buy books, The Transparency Sale is the name of the book, and you can also follow me on Twitter at @tcaponi.
Chris Davis: Great, great, great. Well, Todd, thank you so much for coming on the podcast and educating us on how to properly position ourselves and set the right expectations to really capitalize on sales in this new era, and going forward.
Todd Caponi: Well, thanks for having me on. This was a lot of fun.
Chris Davis: Yeah, I really enjoyed it, Todd. I’ll see you online.
Todd Caponi: Alright, thank you.
Chris Davis: Thank you for listening to this episode of the ActiveCampaign Podcast. I really enjoyed talking about sales from the perspective of authenticity. A lot of times what I’m seeing in the space is that, when someone puts on their sales hat, they take off the authentic clothing, and they become somebody that they don’t even recognize. And that pressure to be someone that you don’t even know, and to do something that you’re already uncomfortable with, really hinders, and it paralyzes you.
Chris Davis: It paralyzes business owners, so I’m glad to hear Todd echo those sentiments that you don’t have to become somebody that you’re not. You don’t have to be perfect. You can be flawed and awe, and still be very successful and effective at sales. It’s all about connecting at the human level, everybody. Understanding the needs, the dreams, the aspirations, and effectively mapping and meeting those with whatever your product offering is. So, if you feel pressure to be a quote-unquote salesperson, and you have this fear of coming off sleazy or anything, just know, if you’re authentic and you let that show through, you can never be sleazy.
Chris Davis: You can never come off as pushy. It will come off as authentic, and that will go further than you could ever imagine with your audience. This is the ActiveCampaign Podcast that I would like to invite you to, if you are not already subscribed. We’re in iTunes, Google Play, SoundCloud. Wherever you can subscribe to a podcast, we’re there. Type in the ActiveCampaign Podcast. I want you to be a listener of this podcast, and a potential guest.
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