From Silicon Valley to Star Trek to Sales, Ashleigh Early joins Greg Reffner to talk about building a sales process that accounts for variances in humanity. Anyone can be successful in sales. You don’t have to fit this mold of the “ideal sales person” anymore. But where a lot of companies struggle is trying to control what can’t be controlled.
With introverts, extroverts, and all types of personalities now in sales, scripts don’t sound good in everyone’s voice. We need to allow the person to bring their authentic self to calls. Communication can’t happen scripted. It can happen structured, but not scripted.
Greg Reffner 0:02
Everybody, this is Greg Reffner. With the Abstrakt Podcast. We have Ashleigh Early, Head of Sales at the duckbill group and hosting CEO of the other side of sales. Ashley, please say hi.
Ashleigh Early 0:14
Hello, everyone. Thank you so much for having me. This is gonna be fun.
Greg Reffner 0:18
Yeah. As I was mentioning earlier, you’re the first podcast host that we’ve had on our podcast. So excited to have you on board. And, you know, we’re, we have kind of a, I like to call it I think it’s a six letter dirty word script we’re gonna be talking about today and how scripts are used. But before we dive into that topic, you know, I’d love it if gave our audience a little bit of background on kind of where you got how you got to your career. Maybe why you started a podcast, like, who’s actually yeah,
Ashleigh Early 0:56
I’m actually, I can start the script, I go figure, um, I came up in musical theater and music. So okay, my childhood, literally from age, oh, God, I don’t even know, five, I was in my first show, learning scripts and learning music, and then learning how to take that and make it my own and perform. And literally, my whole life, all the way up through college, where I ended up studying opera, and I literally have a degree in opera. So I have this background of Performing Arts, which is not a lucrative career. And I’m very, I have always been very realistic about that in the sense of like, I always do it for fun. It’s a passion project. I adore it. But I never wanted to make it a career. So college was really fun. Because I’m in a, I’m in a music program. Everyone else is stressing out about grad school, and I’m just enjoying the ride. I’m like, I’ve got four years to get as good at this as I can and have as much fun. And then I probably won’t do anything with it. And that’s okay. I didn’t need to my dad gave me the brilliant advice. When I went to college. He’s like, look, no one cares what you studied in college, they just care that you have a degree. So study whatever makes you happy. So, which is fabulous advice and absolutely true. Yeah, I graduated with two degrees, a degree in music and a degree in political science. So I have a Bs and Bs and a BS in archaic, nobody listens to anyone. And then I graduated from college, at the height of the recession, the Great Recession. 2009. And I had no clue what to do with my life. And so I fell into a couple different jobs and after, and trying to survive in Silicon Valley, where the rents increased 400 bucks every year to keep moving to shittier and shittier apartments to try and keep up with the fact that rents going up and hit rock bottom bottom when we moved into an apartment, and literally the day we moved in and made a sign and asbestos waiver. Suite. Sweet. I was like, that’s awesome. This is not working. This is not. Yeah, can’t keep working 7080 hours a week, three jobs. I never see my husband, I’m newly married. This ain’t working. And after, finally, after other panics, called my parents going to do my dad who has been in sales, his whole life was like, okay, Ashley, it’s time you need to go get a sales job. I don’t wanna because you traveled all the time. And I don’t want to do that. I want to be here. And he’s like, yeah, that’s not I was selling telecommunications equipment in the 80s. You will not be traveling. Like that. Don’t worry about he set me up to talk with a couple of his colleagues that I knew. And they echoed what my dad said. So it got through to me in a way that you know, when your parents say something, you don’t really hear it, but then you hear from somebody else. It’s like, why don’t you tell me that that?
Ashleigh Early 3:55
Yeah. Oh, yeah. That’s like I did, like 30 times. Yeah. And I jumped into sales with a company called Arista networks. I was their second SDR hire. And it was literally here, sales force. We’re gonna give you one day a product training, I was selling 10 Gigabit Ethernet switches. I didn’t know what that was. They gave me a copy of networking for dummies and said, start calling. And I was calling you know, VPs of infrastructure and heads of it at Fortune 100 companies and I had no clue what I was doing. I was terrible. Oh, God, I’m so terrible. But what I found I did have was I had this history of of scripting. I knew how to take someone else’s words and make them sound like my own and how to adjust and think about it in such a way that it’s reactive. Because one of the things that I really enjoyed doing, I wasn’t great at it, but I enjoyed it was improv.
Ashleigh Early 4:52
And improv is all about really deep listening and following kind of a set structure of a storyline. So let’s don’t realize if you watch like who’s lying or whatever, they have a structure, there is a rhythm to the jokes that is known in advance. They’re not making everything up on the fly, that would be terrible.
Ashleigh Early 5:12
But figure out how to take that structure and kind of hang talking points on it. I got a lot of success very quickly, which was really exciting. And then I discovered Silicon Valley is highly unstable. And despite having a lot of success, I ended up being an SDR three different companies, and under a year, wow. Then I landed at the time that I landed at FireEye, which was an incredibly successful company, I got to be there during their period of hyper growth, I got to go through my first IPO. I got promoted into management largely because of my ability to build scripts and training for other people to come on board. So they literally shipped me out to Utah to build literally wrote into management moved to another state until hire 15 people. Now, sounds about right. Yeah, you know, and literally the night before, I was supposed to start interviewing people, they booked me for a day of interviews, and I called HR I was like, So what do I ask in the interviews, and HR readily said, don’t do anything illegal? So I’m, like, frantically googling the night before my first day as a manager, what can I ask in an interview, and what can’t I ask? Because I’m so scared of like, doing something illegal,
Greg Reffner 6:24
Ashleigh Early 6:28
And over time, you know, worked at a bunch of different companies, products, data and matter. Mark did several years at Aqua did another IPO with octave, it was fantastic. And I hit a point in literally December, I think, December 19 20, December 19 2019, I was laid off unexpectedly, for the third time in three years. And I hit my breaking point. And I was just like, I’m done with corporate America, I’m done with my income, and my life being dictated by these other people. I’m doing my own thing. And that’s how kind of I moved into consulting and fractional sales leadership. And my timing was very interesting, because I incorporated as a consultant on January, January 17 2020. So that was really interesting time was trying to build a business in the middle of a pandemic. And then in the middle of the pandemic, I also decided, you know, what, I don’t want to live in the US anymore.
Ashleigh Early 7:25
And so my husband and I moved to the Netherlands. So I also throw an international move in there, because I’m apparently a masochist. But one of the things that’s really kind of held true is again, finding this structure that you can hang things on. I’ve done this with a lot of companies at this point. But one of the things that that enables you to do is something that I figured out very early, and it took me years to realize I was one of the people that knew it, which is if you give someone the struck a good structure and a good fundamental understanding of the business, not the product of the business.
Ashleigh Early 8:05
Anyone can be successful in sales. Because what I saw when I went into companies was I walk into floors where no one looked like me. Building a sales process that accounts for variances in humanity Literally, I might be a few women, there wouldn’t be a ton. And none of them of the women at least even love me literally looked like me. You know, they, they they were amazing, incredible women, but it we were all kind of fending for ourselves trying to keep our heads above water. And this led to it conversation in a bathroom with another woman at a sales conference, became one of my dearest friends in my original co founder, Casey Jones. us meeting literally met in the bathroom at a sales conference and started cracking jokes in the mirror about how sales comps is the only conferences we can go to where there’s never a line in the ladies room because there aren’t enough women in sales. And just laughing about that. And a few months later, just sharing this kind of otherness that we always felt in the sales communities on Salesforce that we’d been on and trying to go find we both had this we both had experiences where we were trying to find people who sold like us, because give me a great example. I adore corporate bro, I have the biggest like media crush on him and his work. Oh my god, it’s so it’s so good. It’s so freaking good. But it’s satire. But it’s real though because what makes it so brilliant is I’ve heard 80% of the stuff that he does from sales leaders on the floor. And I can’t sell like that. I can’t hit my numbers like that. I can’t be me like that if that’s not going to work. And I had a ton of success not doing that stuff. So when it came time to look for Okay, who where can I find people who are selling like me? that didn’t exist. So in 2018, Casey and I started, or sorry, 2019, Casey and I started the other side of sales. So it’s a biweekly podcast, featuring basically it’s more devoted to making b2b sales culture truly inclusive. And we do that by having conversations with sales pros from underrepresented groups. So if you’ve ever felt like an other in sales, go to other side of sales comm we’re approaching 100 episodes at this point, we’re going to redo the search functionality soon. But I guarantee there’s someone on there that you should be able to identify with. And if nothing else, you’ve got a good one hour interview with them understanding their story, what made them successful lessons they’ve learned along the way. And at a minimum, somebody can go follow on LinkedIn, get some more content, or just reach out and connect to pretty much everyone who comes on the show was like, please reach out, please connect.
Ashleigh Early 10:49
Because the way to count our other nurses with connection. And that’s what we’re trying to facilitate a little bit more so that everyone can be successful, because this is the the best career in the world that can literally change lives, if you can get the proper support, and there’s no reason to stay in job or not support it. So
Greg Reffner 11:08
I appreciate that. Well, three comments to that. In seventh grade, I played a witch and Macbeth,
Ashleigh Early 11:15
and Double, double toil and trouble. That was my
Greg Reffner 11:19
line that was actually by line. And from that point forward, I swore I would never get on stage again. Because that wasn’t miserable. So I do not share the same appreciation for theater and improv.
Ashleigh Early 11:34
What was I got to do lady Macduff in Macbeth, which has like this great death scene, like I got to do a full operatic death scream on stage was so much fun. So much fun.
Greg Reffner 11:45
I’m glad you enjoyed that. Second thing my dad does everything he possibly can to this day to talk me out of a career in sales. Because he thought that it was the worst job ever. And I would end up selling used cars for the rest of my life.
Ashleigh Early 12:03
And I think the stigma we face as a career is something we’re gonna have to reckon with in the next 1015 years, like people hear sales, and they think, smarmy, use car salesmen or Glengarry Glen Ross, or Wolf of Wall Street. Yep. Yeah. I mean, I’m not gonna lie. I have. I have seen drugs on the floor. That’s not okay. I’ve seen it. It happens. But it’s so rare. Like what I saw, I was like, Did that just happen? Did
Greg Reffner 12:29
the exception not the norm to do that? Yeah. And third, I don’t share this a lot of people. But I’ve always kind of felt a little out of place in sales. Because I’m very much a hardcore Introvert, the thought of being surrounded by other people is absolutely terrifying to me, it drains my, my energy, if you will. And so, inside sales, being able to kind of like be by myself in a lot of ways has been so helpful, because I’m not forced into that kind of like, boiler room environment. And so tech sales has been a natural kind of, I think, path for me. So I appreciate the fact that your podcast kind of focuses on kind of diverse groups of people that don’t fit that stereotypical kind of mold that everyone thinks a tech sales rep is supposed to be. So appreciate you focusing on that.
Ashleigh Early 13:25
And that’s so important. I call this out before if I think of like the top five best salespeople I’ve ever run into, in my life. Three or four of them are hardcore, and are introverts. Like this idea that you have that a lot of sales leaders are starting to wake up to, like this idea that you go out and you hire the loudest person who’s the most impressive, but that’s not really necessarily the right thing to do. In fact, a lot of cases, that person is going to really struggle, like I can get like, something that made me very successful early on is I am a hardcore nerd. Super Geek.
Ashleigh Early 14:05
I have seen every episode of Star Trek. Four or five times at this point in certain episodes of tng, I can recite from memory. It’s it’s a thing. I’m deeply into all things sci fi, a lot of fantasy, all those things. So I get along very well with engineers, and with it people who are also super nerdy, and we can I can make jokes and geek out and have fun. Yeah. And that helped me get along with them really quickly, really easily. Where some of my colleagues really struggled because they’re coming in and they’re using all the classic sales plays, and it’s just turning them off. They feel it as very, they this persona is very skeptical, and especially because early microbes selling into security, they’re doubly skeptical. So they’re skeptical from a personality standpoint that people who go into that field tend to be a little more introverted. little more cautious, but then their career itself makes them paranoid.
Ashleigh Early 15:04
They have to be it’s what makes them good at their job. Yeah, if you start doing any sort of manipulation or overt trying to, you know, create situations, they’re wise to it. They can smell quota breath, like you wouldn’t believe. The only people I think who smell quarter breath more than security people are VPs of sales. Yeah, because sales, they don’t smell the quota breath they have the way they like to be sold to. And they have no problem telling you if you’re not doing it the way they want to be sold to. Which is like you have to kind of guess which, alright, so which are you a Sandler? Are you a challenger or Okay, which method am I going to use here? So that you don’t get mad at me for doing it wrong.
Ashleigh Early 15:51
But yeah, it’s this. And that’s the thing is the best salespeople match. And can again, you have a structure that’s the same every time, but they’re matching their words, they’re matching their sequences, they’re matching their mannerisms, to between where they’re strong and where they’re going to create connections with their buyer. And so
Greg Reffner 16:11
that doesn’t either. I think introverts, we’re going, I promise you, we’re going to go off on a tangent, Ashley. And here we go. I think introverts by sheer nature of the fact that they like to listen and observe, are naturally better at picking up on how to connect with people that match body language, match tone of voice and do that mirroring, because they’re more focused on kind of taking in the world around them, as opposed to kind of be that focus of the world. And that situation. So
Ashleigh Early 16:49
I think it goes even deeper than that. They’re super comfortable making the client the star. Oh, yeah. They’re super comfortable. It’s almost second nature for them where I am an extrovert. I have to actively check myself in a sales process to make sure that I’m not over talking to make sure I’m I’m to double, triple quadruple checking.
Ashleigh Early 17:12
Because I can by my instinct is to be effusive and outgoing and put everyone at ease. But that can steamroll if I’m not very careful. And I’ve learned that the hard way I have loved I have absolutely alienated people and then had to go back and do damage control. Yeah, you’re gonna if you’re gonna hire extroverts, you got to be ready for the bull in the china shop and accept the consequences. In a lot of ways introverts bring a lot of strength, especially early on, especially in highly detailed process based prospecting. Mm hmm.
Ashleigh Early 17:46
And extroverts gonna be trying to break that process every chance they get an introvert. Yo, tell them where to go. They got it.
Greg Reffner 17:54
Yeah, yeah, I love what you just said they kind of I can remember back when I was selling. There was always uncomfortable for me when people would be like, Hey, why are you? Why is your company better than everybody else’s? I hated kind of getting that attention. And I would do everything I possibly could to flip it around and bring it back to the prospect to make them the center of attention to make, you know, let’s dive into why you’re even asking that question in the first place. So that’s a thing. I’m gonna write a blog post about that. So thank you for that inspiration on that topic. Ashley, love it.
Ashleigh Early 18:29
The other side of sales.
Greg Reffner 18:30
I will well, I’ll make sure Claire does our backlinking for us and stuff like that. Make sure we tag all that. Back on topic scripts. So guy who started in op or theater, opera improv, and I love that you’re kind of alluding to this idea of you have a framework, you have a roadmap in place, and you essentially just build guardrails for people, here’s kind of the lanes, you can stay in how you navigate those lanes and how you kind of shift your, you know, your, your processes back and forth. That’s up to you. Right, I’m gonna let you bill be you. But here’s your guardrails.
Greg Reffner 19:07
Here’s your your roadmap on how to get there. I have my own thoughts as to why more companies don’t take that approach. But I’d love to hear from you. Since this is kind of the world you live in. Where How come there is so much emphasis on? Here’s your script, follow it, as opposed to here’s kind of the the box of Legos, you know, go build it how you want it.
Ashleigh Early 19:33
Yeah, um, there’s a few factors in place and I work with these days, I’m predominately focused on smaller startups. So we’re talking teams like entire sales organizations in between one and 50 at most. But in my career, I’ve worked with a lot of companies. I’m doing some email or with a client right now that’s got 150% SDR team.
Ashleigh Early 19:55
Okay, so Gambit, all depends on the situation. The more name recognition you have, the more people understand about your product coming into the call, the easier it is to get to tighten those guardrails and you want to tighten the guardrails so that the client experience is consistent. That’s important, that makes sense.
Ashleigh Early 20:18
Where I think a lot of companies struggle in their early days, especially with scripting is a desire to control something that can’t be controlled.
Ashleigh Early 20:25
So I see this with a lot of founders, I see this with a lot of, I’m calling this out more and more, and it’s gonna get you in trouble one of these days, with a lot of VC backed companies, they bring in someone who writes a script, and they tell everyone to stick to the script. And the script is fine. But the script is not going to sound good in everybody’s voice. So this is not, you know, with acting and stuff like that with with theater, your characters created by the script. So that’s why it sounds natural. We’re not playing characters and sales. We’re not trying to be somebody else. In fact, all the data from Gong and every other possible, like research, you know, and I’m sure abstract has this data to, I suppose a broad 100 competitors, who’s doing research on this stuff says that relationships are built better, and sales happen faster.
Ashleigh Early 21:22
When people bring their authentic selves to calls. You can’t bring your authentic self when you’re reading someone else’s words. So I think it’s a desire to control the can’t be controlled. And I think it’s a lot of just misconceptions about how communication happens. Communication can’t happen scripted, it can happen structured, but it cannot happen scripted. So one of the things I’ve worked a lot with people on I have people come to me like, hey, help us build a script, like, great, we’re going to build a script. But let’s quickly define how I use scripts because I will build scripts, but they are not, say this sentence, then this sentence in this sentence, it’s okay, here, let’s talk about one of the things I do with all my clients is I build what I call a value prop nine box.
Ashleigh Early 22:07
So we picked three personas, we pick three, either use cases or industries. And based off that we, with every single every single new hire goes to the process of learning how to take a base value, prop and adjust it for each one of those nine situations, those nine situations should accompany should encompass at least half if not 75, or 80% of your calls. So you’ve got a targeted value prop to the person on the other end of the line. That’s your start, then we’ve got a bunch of basically either facts about the product, we’ve got a bunch of specific response, you can have two objections, we’ve got a bunch of questions that you can answer one of those common things, new sales reps, and especially as our struggle with is they don’t know what questions to ask, let alone what to listen for in the answer. So again, you do that general, how does the business work? Not just what does the product dude? Yeah. And you give them all these things in bullet point format. So when I’m building someone a script, it’s bullet points. It’s here, it’s pick a value prop. If they have an objection, here’s all your objections and your responses. And you just drop things in. So it’s like a menu on the table in front of them. And you just pick and pull as needed.
Ashleigh Early 23:22
Yeah. And go from there. And even a lot of the sentences that are on there are either very short sentences, or their phrases. Yeah. So a lot of objections, especially for dealing with competitors and stuff like that. You need to give specific responses to things. But it’s like it’s a phrase or two. Yep. You know, it’s not like, there’s a lot to say about this competitor.
Greg Reffner 23:43
Yeah. Claire, did we just leave Ashley?
Ashleigh Early 23:59
So even when you’ve got a competitor that comes up on a call, you still need to you have very specific, maybe legal approved things that you can say about this customer, but you still put it as like bullet points as much as you can, unless there’s a very specific thing that needs to be said. In which case, explain to your team why they need to say it that way.
Ashleigh Early 24:17
Even if the answer is just legal says to do it this way, that’s fine, but give them a reason. So they understand the context behind it. But by giving people bullet points, they can string it together in to make whatever it needs to be. So for example, he talked about the box of Legos. I want my SDRs to be able to build within reason, guardrails, but whatever sort of house that client needs to move to the next step. Do they want a one bedroom, a two bedroom, tons of Windows, no windows super modern, Classic cottage?
Ashleigh Early 24:48
What do they want, and then be able to build that the more narrower those guardrails, the more narrow the customer that’s going to fit through them. And if you’re an early stage startup, you want all the conversations you want. every single conversation is more valuable to get that Intel even from deals that you don’t win than it is to have someone fall out and you just don’t know anything other than they said no.
Greg Reffner 25:12
So first things first. A little disappointed you didn’t talk about Legos maybe building like Star Trek Enterprise with Voyager.
Ashleigh Early 25:20
My husband. My husband does these all the time. We have the Ghostbusters Ecto literally another room Ecto I hadn’t I refused to do the Millennium Falcon just because I don’t have any space in my tiny European apartment to do it properly. Okay, where we put it but yeah, no. Yeah. All the yeah, those are that’s my husband’s Christmas and birthday present every year at some new giant Lego thing.
Greg Reffner 25:42
Okay, well, if we’re going to talk about billion box of Legos, let’s at least kind of follow the theme of let’s nerd out a little bit, at least that’s talked about, like, you know, science fiction, spaceships, we just kind of agree on that moving forward. Cool. Second thing. Um, I love that you kind of talk about just bullet points. And they’re more just reminders, right? It’s because you don’t want it to sound like a robot. If we wanted robots, we would hire robots. And we could probably find robots to do our jobs. And ultimately,
Ashleigh Early 26:10
it was really well, every time you call your bank trying to get an update on your account, you get the freakin robot tower that’s really doing well.
Greg Reffner 26:17
And so why would you want that as a sales motion? Like you don’t want that. And so you have to, there’s that there’s a there’s a delicate balance that companies need to need to find. And I think ultimately, you mentioned like VCs. And so I’ve been a part of a company, where top down from the VC firm, there was, here’s your sales script. Yeah. And I got it. And I was like, you know, it’s three months into my job. And I was like, how the hell do these people know how to sell our software?
Greg Reffner 26:50
What, and the entire team base that crumbled it up, threw in the trash and was like, Okay, we’re gonna go back to doing what we know how to do. And so there’s just such a disconnect between kind of this top down, we know how to sell, we’re gonna kind of control something that isn’t controllable. shouldn’t really be controlled. It should be kind of monitored. I did. I did. Yeah. So I guess, if I’m a sales rep, and I actually had a company, and I’m feeling like, I’m having a script forced down my throat, like, what should I be proud to be able to get in for a new job, but be how might I try to convince my leadership that there’s a, maybe a better way of going about achieving the results we want to get?
Ashleigh Early 27:40
Oh, okay. So if they’re, honestly, even if you go to a company, and they say, We have a great script, just follow the script, the hairs in the back of my neck start standing up. And it’s a big red warning flag. For me. There are situations where that’s the case, great. They’re very much the exception. So that’s one, if you’re going into a company, if you’re in a company, and you’re doing the best that you can, and they come at you and say, Nope, we want you to use this script going forward, and nothing else.
Ashleigh Early 28:09
That situation where I’m a huge fan of the best and having been in leadership for a while, this is kind of my pro tip to any IC, if your boss has asked you to do some New York pretty convinced is going to hurt you. It’s not gonna let you hit your numbers as well. Commit to their system so much that it’s painfully obvious that a you really tried and to that the numbers don’t lie. So if you been not using a script, and they give you a script, use that script as best as you can, according what they tell you to do. And then look at the numbers and go hi, I was averaging two meetings a day before now I’m using your script, I’m managing half of meeting a day, can I please go back to making you money? That’s option one.
Ashleigh Early 28:52
Always data doesn’t lie. So really looking at okay, before and after? If you’re coming into a company wants to use a script, try to negotiate a test, hey, I will commit to this. I will use this for one week. Can I even have a week to adjust it? I’ll follow the tone. But I’ll use it as talking points instead of literal. I’ll do my own thing with it for another week. Maybe two, probably longer if you can get two weeks, but start with one. And then can we compare results. And see which way is the best way going forward? Most managers will be okay with a limited scope experiment like that.
Ashleigh Early 29:26
Especially if you can show it’s going to be data driven. Or it’s like hey, let’s see which week I can get more meetings with. Yeah, great. Most managers are going to be okay with that to a point as long as you put parameters on it and you offer to do their way first and commit to it. What a lot of managers will not approve of is if you go to them and say I don’t want to do this. It’s not gonna work. I want to do it my way. Yeah, it’s not gonna work. Exactly like it kind of again, it’s commit to the system committed this commit to the system so hard, it breaks. Yeah. And then change can start happening. That’s really the best way to do it. In terms of getting things through leadership, because especially if it’s coming top down, you’re not gonna you’re not gonna change their mind.
Ashleigh Early 30:06
It’s okay to speak your mind and say, Hey, I really I’m, I’m not comfortable this everything in I can’t even explain why just everything in my guts, this is a bad idea. Yeah, I’m going to commit, I’m going to give it everything I can and hold me accountable to that. But if I commit for a week, can I get your commitment back? That if I can find a better way to use it that gets us more meetings, I can try. If it doesn’t work, I will happily use the script. Because then I know that the date is good. Or the script is good. But if I can find a better way, why would you not want my better way?
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