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Episode 175: Accelerating Revenue Through Value-Oriented Selling—with Brent Keltner

Deb Zahn: I want to welcome you to this week's episode of The Craft of Consulting Podcast. On this episode, we're going to talk about specific strategies and techniques related to selling your services and your products as a consultant by taking your services and products out of the center of the conversation and instead replacing them with value for the folks that you're trying to sell to. And I brought on author and expert, Brent Keltner, who's going to talk about what those strategies and techniques are and a very systematic way to employ them so that you have a higher likelihood of success, so let's get started. Hi. I want to welcome you to this podcast. I have a wonderful guest today, Brent Keltner. Brent, welcome to the show.

Brent Keltner: Hey, Deb. Thrilled to be here. Looking forward to the conversation.

Deb Zahn: So let's start off, tell my listeners what you do.

Brent Keltner: Yeah. We do go-to-market and sales acceleration consulting. We do a lot of work with sales teams, but in the current buyer environment, if your sales strategy isn't connected to your marketing and customer success strategy, you're not thinking about it correctly. You're thinking about it inward. We all have to be really focused on the buyer journey ahead of the seller journey, and so we often do a lot of work with sales teams, but it's got to be a connected go-to-market strategy.

Deb Zahn: That's great. And we're going to dig into some of that in this conversation. You have a wonderful book, which we'll link in the show notes, and we'll talk about at the end. And it's chock full of information. We're going to hit some of that as we talk about sort of those value driven strategies opposed to, hey, here's my stuff selling strategies, which I know you're not a fan of. So, one of the things that you've mentioned and you talk about in your book is the buyer discovery process. And so for the folks who don't know what that is, how do you define that? And why should consultants be paying attention to that.

Brent Keltner: Yeah. I mean, buyer discovery is really understanding what your buyers value enough to take action on. And so you talked about, we always talk about driving, going from product driven selling to value driven selling, authentic conversations. And I would just say it this way, your products in a really noisy environment, your buyers, if it's not connected to their goals, it sounds like wah, wah, wah, wah, wah, wah. Right? Noise we all remember from Charlie Brown. It's like the teacher talking at you, I don't know why it's relevant to me. So buyer discovery is letting them build the bullseye for you, the target and the bullseye before you start talking about your products, so you can link your product to exactly what they care about.

Deb Zahn: I love that. And that's better than trying to build it yourself, where you're like, "Well, that wasn't right. Well, that wasn't right. Well, that wasn't right," in which case, you've got no income coming in. So, there are good buyer discovery processes, and then there are broken ones. So, what's the difference between the good and the jacked up ones?

Brent Keltner: Yeah. Look, to your point, everybody has heard about consultative selling, and so everybody starts with questions. And a lot of those questions can be kind of superficial, and we don't use the information that well. Right? So, the worst kind of discovery is asking a bunch of questions, and I give you a generic product demo. And people are like, "Why did I just spend that time talking with you?" That's the worst kind of discovery. You don't use the information well. The best kind of discovery, we talk about getting to a buyer's success statement or a buyer impact statement. The best discovery honestly helps your buyer envision a more successful future.

Deb Zahn: I love that. And so it's about them. Is that what you're suggesting?

Brent Keltner: 100% about them, and it's about them. And look, we all use buyer pain. Right? What keeps you up at night? What are the biggest challenges you have? But I've been seeing recently, nobody wants to talk to somebody that just drives you through your pain and leaves you there. That's like a therapy session. Right? But you use pain to say, "Well, there is a path to a brighter future." Here are similar things we've said. So for us, good discovery should get to a buyer's success statement.

Deb Zahn: And so I know folks ask a lot of really bad, generic, fluffy, meaningless questions like: What keeps you up at night? Which is the laziest question of all time, and I know you talked about types of questions that lets you truly dig into the value so that they are building that bullseye for you. What are those questions? I know you have three categories of them. And how do those actually work as you're in that buyer discovery process?

Brent Keltner: Yeah. The simplest way to think about it is, it's always I think helpful to establish: Why are they on the call? What are you working on? What goals or priorities brought you here today? Sometimes people show up and say, "Well, I just want to see a demo," which is a great opportunity to say, "Hey, look. We can spend 10 hours demoing. If you could just share a couple of things that you're working on or are keeping you up at night, it'd be really helpful." So why are they there? What are they trying to work on? And then honestly, the simplest kind of next level discovery, we call it gap discovery is, "OK, what have you tried around that goal? What's working? And what's not working? Where are you missing something to help you move towards that goal?" So, what are you working on? What have you already tried? What's working and what's not working? And then we talk about that third level of discovery is around impact or success is, "And if we were to work on that together, how would you know it was a success? Have you set goals for improvement? Are you being measured against something? What would make you a hero to your boss or your team? What would get you to do a touchdown dance?” So, a bunch of more metric driven, more emotional ways of saying, "Let's think together down the road. You've now made progress on that goal. What would success look like?"

Deb Zahn: Yeah. And in your experience when the buyer's on the other side of it, and they don't know or they're not sure, and so they don't have the bullseye yet, how does that work when you're in the middle of that discovery process and you're in those meetings to use those questions to actually help them build it, or think about their gaps, or being able to say, "This is what success is?"

Brent Keltner: Yeah, great question. And if you think about it, we have both consultative and prescriptive. Right? Sometimes I'm asking; sometimes I'm telling. And telling is OK in a sales context as long as you stop and let them react. And did they actually agree? So consultants should be good at the prescriptive or the telling, which is say, "OK, you're working on this goal or priority, and you're not sure what success would look like. What we see is…people who are working on that often, this is the thing they need to move. And this is the kind of outcome you can expect. Is that how you would think about it? Or would you think differently about it?”

So, a long-term client of ours does fundraising consulting for colleges and universities and hospitals. And they would just...I mean, that prescriptive mode is, “OK, so you want to build a more repeatable approach to fundraising. You want people to message the same way, and you want them to be able to talk about your priorities and initiatives, and then qualify to who is actually going to make a decision. How are your managers currently reinforcing that with their team? Have you done any work on this kind of building? Because managers are usually the key to consistency. And do you have a sense on what percentage of your managers may be doing it in a similar way or different?” Well, I don't know. “Do you have a goal for that?” Well, I don't know. “Well, often this is what we see. If you bring your managers into alignment…some don't like the approach and maybe they move out of wanting to be a manager in this kind of approach. Would that be a good outcome for you?”

Deb Zahn: Yeah. And what I love about that is by asking those insightful questions that show that you actually understand the conditions in which they operate, you're demonstrating your knowledge. You're demonstrating your expertise and your skills, even if their answer at the end of it is yeah, I don't know.

Brent Keltner: Yeah. 100%.

Deb Zahn: Before we get in because I want to talk about the impact statement because I loved how you laid that out in the book. Aside from sort of the meaningless questions, one of the things I love that you talked about in the book is understanding that your questions are leading somewhere or guiding it somewhere. What are the mistakes you see? Because I know you help folks kind of correct those mistakes when they're asking questions that are just kind of all over the place. How do you help them realign that towards you're actually facilitating movement here?

Brent Keltner: Yeah. I mean, look, when often we know this because we experience it. If you ask a bunch of questions, it can start to feel like an inquisition pretty quickly. And it's why it helps to start with the end in mind. I mean, if you think about what are the outcomes, if you think about your best customers, what are the outcomes that you drive for them? So, in our case, a lot of it's around sales, revenue, but that could be because you're helping with the prospecting and more new opportunities, or it could be the sales acceleration from getting a new meeting to a close, or it could be account expansion. Or it could be building more consistency across the team in terms of performance. So, we know how we provide value, so I'm trying to guide them to see if they're working on any of those goals, and what's keeping them from getting to those goals.

Deb Zahn: I love it. And so if they ask all the right...If they listen to you, which they should, and they ask all the right questions, they get to what you called an impact statement. What is that and what is that comprised?

Brent Keltner: So, I'll answer the question then I'll tell a story that may be helpful. We think of it as kind of a two to three sentence summary of how your buyer has expressed that you can point, you help them get to that more successful future. And the reason it's two to three sentences is ideally you can share it in an email. Ideally, you can use it in your next call with them, or if you go to a buying group. My understanding from the first call is there was an individual, Samir Husni, who was an account manager. And he was an account manager for years, and he did OK, but not great until he just saw, “I've got to stop pitching my product, which was valves, filters, control systems. And he just started asking, so go to account, it was about a valve. What else are you working on? What is that valve connected to? And what could we work on together that could make you more successful?”

And people started telling him about their challenges, about production reliability, or plant maintenance. The line would just go out, or supply chain issues. And so he just got in the habit of thinking about the purpose of the call is not to share my product. The whole purpose of the call is to figure out how I can make my buyer more successful, and which parts of my product will do that. And so once he did that, he's like, "OK, I'm going to show up in the first 10 minutes. I'm going to start discovery to a success statement, or things change between calls, I'm going to confirm and go deeper. And I'm going to write my emails differently. It's not just going to be, here are all the products we talked about. It's like, "This is what I understand your goal for the conversation was." And he started to write his decks differently. He would start with discovery to date.

Deb Zahn: That's great.

Brent Keltner: This is one slide, what we've talked about so far that is why you're talking to us. Is that still correct? So when you think about getting to a buyer's success statement, it shifts your mentality for every interaction. The first thing I want to do is confirm that why, confirm that I'm tracking on how they think I can help them be more successful. And you always go back to it because things change, or new people come into the conversation. But that really is the holy grail or the North Star of any deal. If you don't have a strong buyer success statement, you're probably not spending your time well.

Deb Zahn: Right, right. Or you could drift, your or the client drift. So if you go back, let's say you go back a second time and you're trying to confirm, and the buyer is like, "Well, we have this new problem, or well we're a little off target," what do you do then? What do you encourage folks to do?

Brent Keltner: Yeah. We always encourage broad discovery is not bad. “OK, so tell me about that new issue that's come up that we didn't talk about on our first call.” Or you may proactively say, "Hey, there are other things that we solved for that we didn't seem to get a great hit on one and two. There's another thing we solved for. Is that something you're working on?"

So, it's not a bad thing, but then you need to just ask them to prioritize? And a few times it's like, "Hey, of the three things, knowing everybody's busy, and we can only take on so many priorities at once, what order would you put those things that we talked about?"

So in our case, we've talked about the expansion, sales to success expansion motion. We've talked about kind of working with your sales team on just anchoring value better and qualifying their deals. We've talked about compressing working with managers for more consistency and performance across our teams. “Is any one of those most important for your revenue achievement? How would you prioritize those? What should we go deeper on? What should we try and get funding for first? Which fits into a known priority?” So, we have to constantly I think help them reprioritize why they're talking to us.

Deb Zahn: That's great. And you give them value in doing that because you're probably organizing their thinking.

Brent Keltner: Yeah.

Deb Zahn: I love the term that you used, which is, here are some of the things that we solve for, which is flipping the script from, here are the things I sell, the products, or here are the services, here are the things I do. And that's sort of I would imagine a change in both mindset and language. And so when you're trying to help people figure this out, how does that factor in, in terms of you've got to think about it differently in your head?

Brent Keltner: Yeah. It's a great point, Deb. We have been talking a lot recently about starting with your buyer why, not your product how. And your buyer is about them and what they're trying to accomplish, and it's in their own language.

Deb Zahn: You mean not your language.

Brent Keltner: And it's probably a version of your language, but you know this. As a consultant, how much credit do you get when you actually, somebody has an initiative and you name that initiative back to them?

Deb Zahn: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. They love that.

Brent Keltner: It means you're listening and paying attention.

Deb Zahn: Yeah. And they will feel seen, and they will feel cared for, which is a huge thing, and that's valuable to them. Yeah, there's something that came up in my membership recently, where people were defining sort of the value proposition and the value statements that they can make about what they do relative to who their actual buyer is. And the easy thing to fall into is to flip into your language and what you truly believe the problem is. And some of the advice I gave is, "But does your buyer know that's their problem?" So if they think the problem is they're losing revenue, you solve for poor sales processes, if they don't know that's the problem, if they haven't ... And I love your expression, let them paint the bullseye, then you're describing a value that is going to pass by people that you could actually truly help.

Brent Keltner: Yep.

Deb Zahn: So that's why I think a mindset shift from the perspective of the client, from the perspective of the buyer.

Brent Keltner: Yeah. And sort of build on it, they start with their why, rather than our how. But here's the thing, we talk a lot about you know in the book, authentic conversations, and I've started to talk about this more and more, is the best selling, or account management, or customer success, you've really got to come back to your buyer three times. It's not about you. It's not about your actions. It's not about your process. You've got to come back to them three times. Do you have their success statement that says this is what they're trying to accomplish? If you ask them to confirm that they see you as part of the solution because a lot of times, we talk about a product and people are like, "Yeah, I like a lot of stuff I see." You've got to ask, “Which parts of these products would help you solve that goal? Which would you use first?” And then you have to ask them to take action.

“OK, so I understand that if you're in legal consulting, I understand that you're trying to sort of do better case research. I'm just making that up…and enabling your team to do that. And you don't think you have the caliber of talent, so you want to get some outsourced support to do that. Do you hear the product suite that I described and some of the reasons? Does it feel like it would solve that problem? Or from the product suite I described, are there one or two things you can see you would use immediately? OK, so something you're trying to solve for, you see me part of the solution. All right. Out of this call, I'm going to send a summary. I'm going to send those resources, what I understand you're talking about. Who would you need to get involved in the call next and why? When will you talk with them next? And could we get some time scheduled to debrief that call, or time with those people?” So, it's buyer success, buyer confirmation, buyer action.

Deb Zahn: I love it. And one of the things you said that seems so simple, and I know it doesn't happen in practice. What you said in the book is a lot of times consultants will go in and they go all the way to the end of the meeting. And they're still chatting and they're still asking questions and they're still doing what you talked about, saving that time at the end to be able to do the things that you've just described. So it's not like, "Oh, I've got to go to another meeting." Well, this has been great.

Brent Keltner: Yeah. We call it the last 10 minutes. And two techniques that we recommend that we've seen are hugely helpful in deal velocity is you start with an agenda which says, "Hey, we recommend, I'm going to do a quick overview on us because we asked for the meeting." So 60 to 90 seconds about us and what we do, and then I want to go deep on what you're working on, things that we solve for. And based on what I hear, we can then talk about our capabilities that align, share some stories, potentially of other similar client examples. And then I want to make sure we hold time at the end to see where you're seeing the most fit, and what actions we might take together.

Deb Zahn: I love it. And you use the term deal velocity, which I know you use in the book, so connect that with what you just said. What does that mean? And how does that relate to what you just told folks to do?

Brent Keltner: Yeah. That agenda, when you set up that agenda, you basically by the end of the meeting, you know if that's a qualified deal or not, and how much more time you should spend on that deal. And so you should set up at the beginning. “Hey, at the end, we're going to stop and just see where you're seeing the most value and what we might want to do about it.” And then as you're coming to time, and we know you manage a lot in a sales call, but you have to say, "Hey, we have about 15 minutes left. We agreed we'd save 10 minutes just to see where you're seeing the most fit and what actions we'll take next."

And then you've got to hold the 10 minutes because the things that matter honestly the most is not the dialogue about your product, but it's at the end, again. “Where do you see the most value? What's the first thing we could work on? OK. It's X or Y. OK, who would you think about? Who would you need to pull in next on your side? Why? What roles are they going to play? And if you're doing well on that, then how does this timeline, how does this compare to other initiatives?” And there's soft ways to ask about the budget. You don't say, "Is this budgeted for?" You say, "How are similar things funded?"

Deb Zahn: Yeah. I saw that question; I loved that question. I sometimes ask, “Are there any parameters, if we're actually talking about a potential deal?” I'll say, "Are there any parameters that I need to know about?" And I don't actually say budget because I don't want to have them think, "Oh, yeah, I should say budget," if there's not really a problem. But I love that. And that's again some of the details, very specific details you go into the book that I think are enormously helpful. So value discovery and getting up to that point where there is a next step towards a viable deal. I know you have steps after that, and we can't go through all of them in detail here. But give us a quick little teaser about what those are, and then people know why they need to go out and read this book.

Brent Keltner: Yeah. So if you think about that basic motion, I've got to figure out what you value. I've got to confirm that you see me as part of the solution. I've got to ask you to take action. So buyer value, buyer confirmation, buyer actions, really your sales process is just repeating those through the sales process. And different people on their side are typically entering. We start on the first call with a champion. Got to get somebody that's motivated to spend time, spend some political capital. But the Gartner research says there's six to eight people that are going to get involved, so I've got to get that group aligned around a buyer success statement and agree that we're part of the solution. And so there's different tools and strategies you need to use.

And then I need to close, typically I'm closing on economic value to somebody writing a check. So now I've got to go back to buyer value, ideally quantify it in some way, so that I'm saying, "Hey Mr. or Mrs. Economic buyer, here's the business problem we're solving for you. Here are our capabilities to do it. Here are our steps to sign a contract and begin implementation." Here's what I need to do to kind of move this forward.

Deb Zahn: And given that you might have, if you're lucky, you've got the CEO in front of you. They can make decisions, boom, you're done. But that doesn't always happen. It usually, often will be other people involved who care about different things. And so me talking to the CEO versus the CFO who is hiding the checkbook somewhere. How do you switch up what you do to make sure that the value discovery, and the confirmation, and all of that checks all the boxes for the different people involved?

Brent Keltner: Yeah, it's a great question. We know there's multiple personas, and they all have slightly different things that they value. What we encourage is to think about two people you've really got to hone in on that are going to help you manage that frictional element. And that's kind of your champion, well, it's somebody who's going to be the first user, or that implements the thing. And it's somebody writing a check.

Deb Zahn: Yep. You can't forget about them.

Brent Keltner: Can't forget about them. So you have to think about those...Actually, for velocity is, OK, I've got somebody really motivated to use this. I've got somebody really motivated to fund it. And the reality is you might start with either and then get them...It could go either direction. It's usually better if you start with a business buyer and go the other direction. But you can work up with a compelling business case. So those are the people you need to work with. And then you work with them to manage others' objections because if you try and individually manage six different people, you just create a mess.

Deb Zahn: Yeah. And you take up a ton of time and energy for something that might die on the vine. So if you were in front of some consultants and you were to say to them, "Please never do this," what would you say to them?

Brent Keltner: Yeah. I would say two things. One, we talked about it, never undersell your expertise because that's what people are buying, so don't. We know it's a delicate dance, but consultants have to be confident in their approach and not defer too much like, "Hey, I don't know your market." Never say that. “You're going to know your market better than we do. Look, you run your business. You know your customers in a different way. We have an external perspective that's probably different and will add value.” So never undersell your expertise, and the flip side of that is never tell your consultant, your client, how to run their business.

Deb Zahn: Ooh, yeah.

Brent Keltner: Literally, we had some people doing some outbound consulting for us, and they wanted to put this term random in an outreach sequence. And I said, "Our whole brand is about being intentional." Get the hell out of that. I mean, literally, I asked them four or five times, and they put it in an email outreach. I know the CEO well, otherwise, I would have fired him on the spot for breach of contract. It's not your go-to-market strategy. It's my go-to-market strategy. But I've had a couple of experiences like that, where it's just don't do it.

Deb Zahn: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Nothing is more insulting and condescending than that. So you got the same consultants in front of you and you're going to tell them to always do this. What would that be?

Brent Keltner: The thing we talked about earlier, I think recap your buyer's problem and share related experiences. It's great selling any kind of product, but it's necessary selling in consulting because we have an intangible product. And very quickly, if it sounds like abstract stuff you're going to write on a whiteboard or write in a final report, people will check it out. So when we recap, what we're hearing is their problems. You need to be ready to say, "And when we worked on a similar problem, this was kind of what it felt like in the process."

Deb Zahn: Yeah. Oh, I love that one. Yeah, I have found that to be very powerful, and then confirm, "Is that what you've been experiencing? Is that a similar result that you're hoping to get?" It opens up the conversation. I love that. Well, again, I do encourage people to take a look at the book. Tell us about the book.

Brent Keltner: It's called The Revenue Acceleration Playbook. And it's basically how we've kind of productized our own consulting to help sales and go-to-market teams. And I think what you'll find, I've actually had people, lawyers read it, and economic consultants, and say what's usually valuable to me. And these kinds of abstract, IP oriented consulting businesses, what it does is just kind of breaks down the buyer journey and creates actionable plays on our side to always think about how we're connecting our product back to buyer value. Every interaction, we lead with buyer value to create simple plays for doing that.

Deb Zahn: And I will tell you it is worth it for the diagrams alone. I was thinking those should be temporary tattoos people can get, so they just pull up their sleeves, let it go, yeah, that's what I should be doing. That was worth its weight in gold. The whole book is great, but I found the diagrams so clearly described here's what you should be doing and really encapsulated the why behind it, so those were extraordinarily well done.

Brent Keltner: Cool. Thank you for that.

Deb Zahn: So where can folks find you?

Brent Keltner: Yeah. So if they want to just put in their browser,, it will actually redirect to our company website, but it'll bring them to the book page. They can download the preface and the first chapter for free, so I would encourage them to come if they want to check out the book and download a free sample. They're welcome to do that. Would love to have people connect with me on LinkedIn. There's only one Brent Keltner.

Deb Zahn: That's amazing.

Brent Keltner: Or they can email me. I answer emails all the time. I do a lot of mentoring with startups. I want to give back to a community that's been good to me, so anybody's welcome to email me at B Keltner, B-K-E-L-T-N-E-R at Winalytics,

Deb Zahn: That's great. And we will have all of that in the show notes. So let me ask you this last question. You know it's all about balance. You know we're going to talk about it. You told me you have three strategies for balance. And I am prepared to be dazzled by these. So what you got, Brent?

Brent Keltner: There's nothing dazzling about it. But I'm a person of faith, so my church community is huge, active practitioner of meditation. I meditate five times a week. Man, everything is so much better. And I need to work out. I do karate with both my kids, and so I need to work out four times a week just to stay in the flow. And so that's it, kind of mind, body, spirit stuff, but I need to do it consistently.

Deb Zahn: Oh, that is fabulous. And that's a great three to keep you on track. Well, Brent, I so much appreciate you coming on and sharing all of this with us. And again, we hit the tip of the iceberg with some of what was in that book. I was impressed by how detailed it was, so thanks so much for coming on and sharing this with us.

Brent Keltner: Deb, really enjoyed the conversation. I love how you think about consulting. Clearly add a lot of value for your community.

Deb Zahn: Thanks so much. Thanks so much for listening to this episode of The Craft of Consulting Podcast. I want to ask you to do actually three things. If you enjoyed this episode, or you've enjoyed any of my other ones, hit subscribe. I got a lot of other great guests that are coming up and a lot of other great content. And I don't want you to miss anything. But the other two things I'm going to ask you to do is, one is, if you have any comments, so if you have any suggestions or any kind of feedback that will help make this podcast more helpful to more listeners, please include those. And then the last thing is again, if you've gotten something out of this, share it. Share it with somebody you know who's a consultant or thinking about being a consultant. And make sure that they also have access to all this great content and all the other great content that's going to be coming up. So as always, you can go and get more wonderful information and tools at Thanks so much. I will talk to you on the next episode. Bye bye.

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