The State of Small Business Sales with Best-Selling Author Tiffani Bova

Due largely to the COVID-19 pandemic, small businesses have figured out how to adapt and overcome whatever obstacles they encounter, including keeping customers happy and engaged despite their changing expectations. Today on the Atlanta Small Business Show, we’re pleased to welcome back Tiffani Bova, Global Customer Growth and Innovation Evangelist for Salesforce and best-selling author of Growth IQ, to discuss sales strategies, trends, and best practices for small businesses in 2022.

Tiffani BovaTranscription:

Jim Fitzpatrick:
So Tiffani, thank you so much for joining us once again on the show.

Tiffani Bova:
Oh, thanks for having me, Jim. I’m thrilled to be here.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Yeah. The world has changed, I might add, since the last time we spoke so thank you so much for taking the time, as I mentioned, out of your schedule to join us. There’s so much to cover, but today we want to talk about some of the fundamentals in sales and how, from your perspective, they have changed. What sales are you seeing out there today? I should say what sales trends are you seeing out there today that’s working for businesses?

Tiffani Bova:
Well, it’s a great question. As you started this off, that so much is different, but when it comes to sales, interestingly enough, everything really remains the same. Look, customers are looking for value from people that show up with seller in their title, right? Carrying some wares that they want to sell, especially in the B2B world. What is the value that the technology or product or service can deliver to that business to help them be more successful in their business? I think that relationship got strained a little bit in the fact that you had this forced remote selling motion for a year or 18 months, but what it also did during that time was it forced sellers to really show up with these bursts of value in short periods of time. Video, phone call, email, instead of those longer face to face meetings.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Sure, sure. It’s a good point. I think companies have stepped that up, almost in fear of losing their clients or their partners all together. So all of a sudden those zoom meetings were, if not daily, they were certainly weekly. Sometimes companies saw their representatives more than they did prior to COVID hitting. Right?

Tiffani Bova:
Right, and that’s really the point. It used to be, let me come by for lunch, 90 minutes, let me take you to dinner, 90 minutes, let’s go to a golf tournament. All those things are really great, but what customers were saying back is I don’t need that full 90 minutes and it’s hard to get everybody together that I need to get together. Even though it’s a small business, might be three or four people that want to listen in on what is going to be acquired, especially if it’s a large ticket item. So it’s easier to do it in 15 or 20 minutes on a Zoom call, get everybody together, get everyone on the same page, communicate, collaborate, helps the seller get all the decision makers in one place at one time. I mean, I think it was a really transformational moment for sellers to double down on those relationships.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Sure. Let me ask you this. We saw so much of the sales process move online for companies because of COVID and in large part, it has stayed that way. Companies have found that, “Wow, our partners and our customers and our clients are now doing business with us directly online. They’re ordering. We’ve made the web experience,” or I should say the online experience, “Much more customer friendly.” That in mind, is the salesperson as relevant today as they were prior to COVID?

Tiffani Bova:
Oh, such a great question and one of my favorite ones to answer, because look, I am bullish on sellers. I don’t think technology will ever replace the human part of the relationship. But what I do say is that technology can make the salesperson far more effective and productive versus wasting time trying to prepare for a sales call, that they can allow the technology to help them to do that. But I would say also that the end user, the customer, the buyer, they want that combination of technical and human. There are certain transactional products, to your point, that online requires no human intervention, and that’s fantastic. But when your customers are saying to you, “Listen, I have some questions or I need some help,” if it’s not a human, it may be a bot, right? It may be automation. It could be FAQs on the website.

Tiffani Bova:
I mean, I think that’s really where SMBs and very small businesses got a little bit caught flatfooted pre pandemic kind of going into it, that they didn’t have all the capabilities deployed in order to help them in the first six months. But we saw an acceleration of that and I think it’s done nothing but improve the ability for small businesses to be effective.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Sure, sure. I agree. Why are sales strategies more important now than ever before?

Tiffani Bova:
Oh, I’d say this. There is so much more choice out there, number one. Number two, there’s a lot of noise. Number three, there are lot of channels by which prospective customers are potentially finding you. It used to be … it might have been a mailer or a door knocker or a trade show, then it was email, then it was, “Let me advertise on this thing called the worldwide web,” and now it’s TikTok and Instagram and Facebook and Twitter and all kinds of social media. So the challenge for small businesses specifically is which channel do they go to? That’s why sales strategies become far more important. What is your product? How do your customers want to buy? How do you meet them in those channels they want to buy without overwhelming what sometimes is a very small selling organization? That you can’t be everywhere, so you have to make bets where you think you’re going to have the greatest success.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Yeah, for sure. You mentioned social media. In your opinion, should every company be involved in social media? Should they have a presence in social media?

Tiffani Bova:
I would say yes, but varying degrees of what that means. I’m going to go back a little bit of history. I was in Atlanta some 22 years ago working for a web hosting company that also sold domain names. I remember having very early on conversations, “Don’t advertise in the yellow pages, advertise on this thing called the worldwide web,” and getting people to buy the name of their company in a domain name was a big deal. They didn’t understand the value of that. Fast forward 22 years and just think about how many small businesses will send you an email from a Gmail account or a Yahoo account, even some with an AOL account or EarthLink. EarthLink to go back to Atlanta again. Right?

Tiffani Bova:
So I would say that there is still some room that’s owning branding and having the ability. Remember, this is about being where your customers are looking for information about products and services that you sell. If they’re looking online, you should be online. For a minimum you should own your company name and a domain name and have your email set up appropriately.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Yeah. Boy, that’s for sure. From your perspective, and you’ve been around small businesses and big businesses for that matter, and worked with so many teams out there, what should business owners be focused on today?

Tiffani Bova:
First, I’d say people. I’d say the people who work for them are their number one stakeholders at the moment. We just finished doing some tremendous research looking out there about the importance of delivering compelling customer experience and we found that the employee experience was that overlooked link that allows you to provide those compelling and meaningful customer experiences. Look, the fastest way to get customers to love your brand is to get employees to love their job. So I’d say start with your employees. Are they burning out? To your point. They’re more productive. They’re doing more. They’re able to work from home. The companies are like, “Wow, this isn’t so bad,” but your people are feeling that. So let’s make sure we take care of our people first and foremost.

Tiffani Bova:
Then making sure that you give them the tools, technology, training, career development, and investments in them so that they want to not only be committed and engaged in your company, but serve those customers that you have and work together more effectively. I’d say start inside your walls because that’s really where you can build a strong foundation to be relevant and effective outside your walls.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Yeah, for sure. Great points. We hear so much, you can’t turn on the news or pick up your phone and look at news flashes or what have you throughout the day, where the price of gas and inflation and interest rates are going up. What kind of an impact is that having on small business and what do you recommend to small businesses that are seeing that media and dealing with that on a day to day basis? If not in real time, they’re dealing with it mentally to say, “Is there a recession coming? Should I back off? Should I push forward?” What should they do?

Tiffani Bova:
I’ll start by saying I admire small business owners and entrepreneurs. I am not one. I talk about what you need to do to be successful, but if that ever was something I’d have to do, I think I would not be very good at it. But I would say that we really want to try to help companies get back to basics. There are things that … sort of the blocking and tackling of investments that either hadn’t been made, optimizing the existing business, looking for ways to get rid of those overhead expenses that may not be delivering you the kinds of results you’re looking for. It’s kind of a retrench, get back to basics, make sure you have everything you need and then start to double down. I mean, you can look at the last recession we had and those businesses that made investments during that time came out the other side of it stronger for it.

Tiffani Bova:
So I don’t want to say I want you to pull back and don’t do anything. I want you to do a little bit of both. You do need to pull back to optimize and look for ways to improve performance, and technology is a great way to do that. But also, again, don’t forget about your people. Secondarily doubling down on, “Okay, what was working when we went in to this? What do we think is going be working coming out the other side of it?” and that’s where you start to place your bets. Test those things, get customers together, get partners together, get your employees together, come up with ideas of things to try. This is the time to make sure that 12, 18 months from now, whenever this may … whether it happens or doesn’t happen from a recession standpoint, at the end of the day, you want to make sure you’re prepared either way. I think what COVID taught us was we were not prepared for anything like that, but we have gone through recessions before and so look to those best practices as ways that you can help yourself prepare.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Right. Great suggestions. Now, you’re a global customer growth and innovation evangelist for Salesforce, but in addition to that, you’re an incredible speaker. We had the pleasure of watching you speak. Your presentation blew everybody away in the room and there was probably 1000 people there. So if anybody’s out there looking for an incredible speaker, I don’t know what your calendar looks like Tiffani, try to get her in your group there. But in addition to that, you’re also a best selling author. I know you probably have a book either you’re working on or coming out, so A, do you have one, and when can we see that hit the stands, as they say?

Tiffani Bova:
Yeah. As you mentioned, I have a book called Growth IQ, which is a great roadmap and framework for businesses to look for ways to improve growth and performance. It’s a timeless book, so it’s a couple years old, and now I’m working on a new one that’ll be coming out in May of next year, around the power of employee experience, driving these better customer experiences to accelerate growth. It’s been exciting to dig into a topic that I didn’t spend a whole lot of time on. In Growth IQ, I had 10 paths to growth and in full sort of transparency, I missed employee altogether. So since the last six years I’ve been here at Salesforce, I really see the power of culture, not only internally here, but within our customer set and realize that that was an untapped way to accelerate performance for businesses. So we went out and did some primary research and sure enough, it came back that was, in fact, the case. So I’m super excited to share that. That’ll be coming out next year.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Well, we would love to have you on. We’re certainly going to have you on before May when the book comes out. We want to have you on to have maybe a launch party when it comes out. Because I know it’s going to be another best-selling book. So Tiffani Bova, global customer growth and innovation evangelist for Salesforce. Thank you so much for joining us on the show. We very much appreciate it. I know that our viewers and subscribers get so much out of your visit with us. So thank you.

Tiffani Bova:
Thanks, Jim.


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