True customer relationships are dependent on value—how the customers perceive the worth of your products and how they are satisfied with your company overall. In this episode, host Mitch Russo guests Jim Berryhill of DecisionLink to discuss customer value for businesses and the customer value management software that DecisionLink offers. Jim talks about his career in the software technology industry and gives us insightful business tips that can help you drive customer value.
Improving Sales Through Customer Value Management With Jim Berryhill
What do you love or hate about my show? Want to tell me? Click the button on every show page that says, “Speak to Mitch,” and I’ll return the favor with an honest and prompt answer. I’ve had voice messages from all over the world and I want you to tell me what’s on your mind. This episode is sponsored by VEA, the Virtual Entrepreneurs Association. Finally a place with all the tools, resources, discounts, education and community to help you on your entrepreneurial mission. Think of VEA as the AAA or Swiss Army knife for business. This is an incredible value. While the price is still low, check out this resource-rich asset that can make you money by saving you money on the things you already buy. For a limited time, you can get your free trial of VEA as well as a copy of Daven Michaels’s new book, The Virtual Entrepreneur. All you’ve got to do is go to VEABusiness.com/mitch.
My guest is a veteran of the computer industry like me. He started in his early ‘80s and we have a lot in common. He was selling computer hardware and I was selling integrated circuits around the same time. He made his first big sale over $250,000 and established himself as a heavy hitter in his first 90 days. It took me fourteen months and I didn’t even make a commission in between then and when I finally landed that big fish. We both learned at the outset that selling value and benefits over features and functions is the way to make money. I promise you this is the beginning of what you’re going to learn.
As a business samurai, he was battling for $50,000 deals until his first $1 million deal, which led to his first $10 million deal. What he learned as a result took him once again to the next level. All was not as it seems. Recessions, setbacks and problems divert him as he figures it out and comes back swinging, which is all part of his journey like yours and mine. He was hired by Siebel Systems and then Mercury Computing where he figured out the essence of closing big deals. He knew and realized it was time to move on to his next stop. I’m going to let him tell you what happened next. Getting a full-blown case of entrepreneurial fever, like we all have gotten from time-to-time, he figured out exactly what he was missing in the CRM market and he decided to fill the gap with his new company called DecisionLink. Readers, I promise you this interview will be one of the best learning experiences you had in a long time. Welcome, Jim Berryhill, to the show.
I’m glad to be here.
My pleasure, Jim. Did you have any idea how much we have in common? It’s ridiculous.
The only correction I’d make is computer software, not computer hardware. The early days were quite heady. My first software company I went to work for was a big company back in the late ‘70s, almost $20 million a year times ten. They were on the big guys. It’s a pleasure to be here and it’s an opportunity to share. Thank you.
We appreciate your time and taking away from running your new company to share with us and educate and help others learn what took you so long to figure out. Jim, when you started, did you know you wanted to be a salesman?
No. When I was in college in the early ‘70s in Tampa, Florida, University of South Florida, I worked in my dad’s data center at night. I was the computer operations manager, a fancy term for a guide that did whatever it took to get reports out. I was offered a job by a software company who I had implemented some of their technology for and I wanted to be a technician. I thought I had low esteem for salespeople and I wanted to learn the technology and so forth. Thank goodness for a guy named Joe Ghanim that said, “You need to go into sales.” I always wanted to, but no. That’s how I got course-corrected, if you will.People buy emotions, but it gets justified on empirical evidence. Click To Tweet
I got to tell you a story, you’ll appreciate this. Talk about shooting low on the scale. My desire was to be a colored television repairman. I went to colored television repair school and when I got to the final term, there was this weird class that no one could figure out why we had to attend. It was called digital electronics and we said, “Everybody knows there are no digital electronics in a TV. It’s all tubes.” This gentleman, I wish I could remember his name but it’s been many years, what he did was he called me up after the first class and he said to me, “I want you to take this book home and I want you to study chapter one and answer the questions in the back of chapter one.” I said, “Okay.” I did that.
I took the book home, studied the questions, answered them, turned them the next day and every single other day he would give me another assignment in the same book. Until about the sixth week, I said, “This isn’t part of the curriculum, is it?” He goes, “No.” I said, “Why are you doing this?” He goes, “Do you realize what you did?” I said, “No.” He goes, “You completed year one of digital electronic theory in our college course. Since you have an aptitude for logic design, I would implore you to forget about fixing TVs and go into the computer business.” This is 1972. He was right, I never fixed a colored TV. You worked in a data center. Did people even know what a data center was back then?
They didn’t. I’m a second-generation computer person. You talked about the aptitude that you demonstrated in those tests. When my dad was in the service during World War II, he was aptitude tested. Although he barely graduated from high school, he showed to be off the charts in math and logic so they put him in the fledgling. I don’t even think they called it computers at the time but then the electromechanical accounting area, I grew up around them and it was like the magical mystery tour. They were different and mysterious and unknown and what do they do and so forth. I was fortunate that the US Armed Forces figured my dad out. He provided a path for me and my two brothers as well into the technology world. You work in a computer center, what’s that? It’s different.
How did this end up getting you to your first sales job?
There was a software company and we had acquired software solution that I implemented and they offered me a job. I wanted to be a systems programmer, but I said, “No. We’ve got a sales training environment and so forth.” I grew up in Tampa, Florida, fifth-generation on my dad’s side of the family there and I couldn’t wait to get out of Tampa, got to move to the big city of Atlanta and join this new industry. I left school at the beginning of my senior year of college and joined the software industry.
You join the software industry in sales or as a sales rep?
As a sales rep. They put us through 3 or 4 weeks of product training and said, “Here’s your territory. Go figure out where the computers are.” The way we did that, this was before computer intelligence and IDC. We got phone books from every town in our territory and looked in the yellow pages for banks, insurance companies, computer service companies, so forth. That’s how we figured out where the computers were. We had to figure out if they had IBM computers and then we had to figure out who and what. It was a Lewis and Clark kind of prospecting and it was all about product feature function, speeds, feeds, dials and knobs. I got to tell you, I wasn’t good at that part of it, but I was able to figure out pretty early on about what I was providing might impact somebody’s job, function, business and so forth. That got me over the lack of technical knowledge. I’d have been one lousy system programmer.
Sometimes faith saves us from ourselves. What ended up getting you to the point where you realize that either you liked sales or had an aptitude for it?
This was around 1980. At this point, I don’t think you had a heck of a lot of choices. You have a job opportunity and somebody who’s going to write you a paycheck and you’re going to pay the rent and buy groceries. I’m an ancient Neanderthal, whatever. The whole notion about buying something you love and you’re passionate about it and live your passion. I love that idea but that wasn’t my reality. This was something that would make a paycheck and when I got my first big commission check, I liked it. That was the tipping point. Candidly, I was looking around at friends of mine. I was making three times as much money as they were and I said, “Maybe there’s something here. I like it.” Some of it is out of necessity. It’s like, “Here’s a job. You need to pay your bills.” They like what you do.
I remember telling my dad that I wasn’t going to go into his business. Instead, I was going to go into the electronics business and he looked at me with a puzzled look and said, “Why would you do that?” I said, “Dad, because I love electronics.” He goes, “You love electronics? If you love it, why don’t you do it in your spare time? You got to make a living. Come into my business. I already have a business all set up for you. It’s a showroom in New York with your name on it. Come on.”
My dad was in the custom jewelry business and I said, “Dad, I’m sorry. It’s not for me,” and off I went. Your story is a lot like all of us. We’re told and taught to follow our dreams, but sometimes we got to make a living. Readers, I want you to know that it’s okay. As Jim explained, your love can come later once you perfect it and start making money. It’s funny how much you love something once it’s generating a whole lot of cash for you every month. Isn’t that right, Jim?
It is. I did 125 consecutive quarters carrying a number for publicly traded software companies and for about 80 of those, it was a big enough number that it moved the needle on whether that company made us numbers or not and there was some oppression in that. I struggled for some period of time in finding the balance. It wasn’t so much about making a lot of money, it was about providing for my family and doing some other things I cared about. The balance between that and feeling like my head was in a vice every 90 days. That’s the way it was.
I saw that you were a little slumped over from carrying that big load every quarter. I know what you mean. When I was running my software company, there were times that it was 48 hours before the end of the month. We were only 50% there and we had to make our number, but we did it every time. It was amazing how sometimes that pressure makes stuff happen. You ended up getting hired eventually by Siebel Systems. Tell us what that was like.
Before Siebel, I have had so much good fortune in my life and in my career. I went to work in 1980 for a company called Applied Data Research that was founded by one of the greatest gentlemen that I’ve ever known, a guy named Martin Goetz. He’s the father of the software industry. When ADR was almost nothing company, he sued IBM. He’s the guy that forced them to unbundle software from their hardware and created the industry we’re in. After and outside of my dad, getting to work for a high principled, brilliant, visionary gentleman was a blessing and good fortune to me. I was a green sales rep, but I got the taste of value selling for the first time there and eluded to it in the introduction.
It was funny, I was getting thrown out of the guy’s office because I was irrelevant. I didn’t have anything to offer, but I found out that they were getting ready to have a $10 million on budgeted capital expenditure and I had a way to mitigate that. It became clear to me rapidly that all the speeds, feeds, feature and function I was taught, what the reason companies spend significant money in in all through force and so forth.
I was at a private research for almost ten years. They were acquired by Computer Associates and I spent eleven years there. I managed about a quarter and for a CA through a lot of growth and a ton of stories there. When I left CA and went to Siebel Systems, I went to work for one of the smart, incredibly focused guys in business, Tom Siebel. His name was on the building, on the company, on the products, and he cared about it. He was the hardest tech guy to work for, but it was because he demanded excellence. That was a great experience for me and it was also the genesis of my company, DecisionLink.Find something you love and you're passionate about, and live it. Click To Tweet
At Siebel, we had a team of fifteen value analysts that built the business case content for the largest opportunities we worked on. If you boil it down, if I’m going to ask somebody for $1 million, I want to be able to tell them what they’re going to get for it, how much money they’re going to save, how much they’re going to make, what risks they’re going to mitigate, the efficiencies, competitive advantage, etc. That team did that work. It was labor-intensive, costly expertise, but it was magic.
In the selling cycle, they could produce about 400 business cases a year. I had half of America’s 200 sales reps. I met every one of my reps, got one, per year. My way of thinking is, that’s the way you ought to do everything is based on customer value. That was the genesis of DecisionLink was to say a number of years later, “Can we build an application for this and do what the production assembly line did for the automobile?” If automobiles were built by hand, experts, engineers and mechanics, 3% of Americans would be able to have an automobile, but they’re not and everybody can afford them. That was the genesis, “Can we build an application for this business function that was valuable at Siebel Systems?”
If I’m understanding what you’re saying, you started DecisionLink to create a software-based system that builds value propositions automatically in a sense, on a per-client basis. That’s a little too broad. Maybe you can get a little deeper?
There are a couple of parts to it. One is that a value proposition for a particular business is going to be complicated and snowflakey. There are five dynamics that are associated with the company: the industry they’re in, the used case that they’d be putting their geographic region, the role of the person you’re talking to, who you’re competing with and mix of products. If there are five things like that and each has five values, that’s over 3,000 combinations. That’s why it took one of these high price experts, 2, 3, 4 weeks to put one of these things together to deal with all the variability. Our target was to build an application where the complexity could be buried in the application. If the salesperson, could produce a quality and directionally correct hypothesis of value based on doing what they already do with what they already know.
They know what industry it is. They know the mix of products. They use case like probably who they’re competing with, who they’re calling on, what the location is and to be able to interact with the system, have all the variability complexity built into the application, but shielded for me, the salesperson that, “I want to spend ten minutes and produce something where I can go have an intelligent conversation with a prospect or customer about what they care about instead of my speeds, feeds, features, functions and all that stuff.” That was the premise. I want to spend ten minutes to put one of these together, not two weeks of a guy that costs a couple hundred thousand dollars of your time and it’s a big task but that was the objective and what we built and what we call the Value Cloud.
If what you say is true and you have built this, I know it’s true because you have clients using it, then you have probably saved sales people thousands of hours in preparing for a sale. More importantly, you’ve probably increased the close rate of many thousands of sales people as well by using your software in your system. Let me ask a simple question. What happens when a small business person would want to take your software, your system, and use it for what they might consider a relatively simple sale? Would they be able to utilize this tool? Do you think their close rate would increase?
We’re the smallest DecisionLink customer. We got three salespeople and we use the Value Cloud before every sales call and in every sales opportunity pursuit. The principles are timeless and they’re not applicable to complex or simple. If you’ve got pure commodity stuff, it’s not relevant. Size is not the issue, it’s communicating with the customer prospect based on what they care about and what motivates them and what helps them. Here’s what we do as salespeople, it’s not our fault as salespeople. We tell them what all our stuff does and we put it on their plate to figure out whether it will help them or not. That’s not fair. That’s the target. To that end, we sell business-to-business, medium to large size customers been in the second half of 2020. We’ll be releasing a subscriber version of the Value Cloud that’s targeted for individuals and small businesses to be able to stand this up.
I don’t want to get on a soapbox here but I was a sales manager for 25 years and 25 times I came in and had a sales kickoff for my sales team. I gave them a little bit of product training and I gave them their territory and I gave them their quota and I said, “Go make executive relationships and build business value in what we do and understand their businesses.” I’ve got to tell you, I always felt like a chunk because I didn’t give them the ability to go do what I was asking them to do. The top 10% or 15% or 20% of most sales organizations, they’re doing this. They’ve got the acumen and the experience and whatever to do so but the other 70%, 80%, it’s not fair. Part of what we’re trying to do is to help sales people, customer care people and account manager people to do what we ask them to do because we don’t prepare them effectively.
It sounds almost like magic, but I will say this. The world has changed a lot. I’m still getting used to it. The world has changed in this way. Thirty years ago, many people went and got jobs and it was at that company that they learned about business and about sales. Many people don’t get jobs or get jobs for a short period of time and then jump into business. While that’s cool and we admire them for being entrepreneurs, they miss out on a lot of the training that it took us 10, 20 years to acquire. What it sounds like you have done at some level is created an AI system to figure all of this out for each of us while we approach customers. Jim, you didn’t figure this out yesterday. It took you a couple of years to get the process right. What I’d like for you to do is condense it all and teach us what you think are the essence of selling, the most important points and for somebody who might think, “I suck at sales.” How can we change that? How can we help this person who thinks they suck at sales make an impact?
John Porter is my co-founder and there’s no question that the hero of the DecisionLink story is John Porter. He’s a tremendous individual, brilliant and special. There will be a case study coming out about ServiceNow. One of our clients at ServiceNow called him Dr. Yes, because no matter what the question is, John says, “Yes, I’ll figure it out.” I had some cool experiences early on with John around that. John and I thought that it would take a year to a year and a half to get the minimum viable product on this thing when we started eight years ago. It took us over four years. There are some hard problems. There’s no magic. There’s depth and breadth. There are a couple of million lines of code in our application. There’s a rich library of a lot of stuff. The target was to build the application that will do this.
I’m going a step away and talk about selling principles and what I think matters. I alluded to it a minute ago is the conversation ought to be about you instead of about me. My dad founded a business, one of the first companies in the United States that did data processing specifically for credit unions. He found a business that needed a specific purpose built solution and he addressed that. That was one of the things that I didn’t realize that at the time I was a dumb kid, but that made sense to me that it’s like, “Don’t try to boil the ocean, find something that matters and address it with specificity.”
The second thing is to leverage technology to establish business and competitive value. Another thing that I learned from my dad, he built the first online teller system for credit unions and for banks in the United States. This was in 1974. There were no internet protocols. It was over telephone lines. It was unbelievable in retrospect that he built a system where they’d put a teller station with a little screen on it, on a teller’s workplace at a credit union. They were able to do real time transactions for customers instead of looking at a green bar report. Astronomical at the time and it was a leverage of technology and they built a tremendous business around that because they have something nobody else had that made a difference.
The third piece is, at the end of the day, you have to speak the language of business and the language of business ultimately comes down to finance. People buy based on qualitative desires and emotions and so on and so forth. It gets justified based on empirical evidence, on logic and reasoning. At the end of the day, if you’re going to sell something, somebody is going to have to write a check for it and in most businesses, there’s a controller or a CFO or an office of the CFO that says, “What are we getting for what we’re spending?” Way too often in the selling world, we as sellers don’t have a good grasp of that. I like to say that every deal has a business case. The question is whether the seller knows what it is or not.
I’m selling my speeds, feeds, features, functions and my shiny object and so on and so forth, but nobody’s writing a check. That means much unless there’s a business case, justification and empirical evidence for why to do it and sometimes that can’t be reduced into dollars. Avoiding risks in a security setting, what would it be worth to target if they’d been able to avoid that bridge? A number of years ago, it didn’t work to move the needle on their earnings per share and the valuation of the company and so forth. People buy based on emotion and they justify it based on logic and reasoning and if you don’t have the second one, you’re at risk on the first one no matter how much they want something.
Let me ask a question here because what you said is important. Selling is about helping people connect with you and your product on an emotional level, with the assumption that you’re sitting in front of that person or talking to them on the phone or whoever way you are because there is a need and you can feel the need but filling the need does not appear to be the primary reason somebody buys. What I hear you say, the primary reason somebody buys is because there is a justification on an emotional side and on an intellectual side, which is the controller in the example that you used. Did I get that right?
That’s spot on. Let’s say I’m in a sales pursuit. I’ve got three competitors and I win the competitive deal for my product in this project. That project goes into the executive committee of that company and it is evaluated against a dozen other projects. They’re not all going to get funded. The ones that are going to get funded are ones that have the most emotional appeal and have the empirical justification. We call that having to win two deals. I’ve got to win the external competitive deal and I’ve got to win the internal competitive deal. I can’t, by any stretch of the imagination, ensure that the project I’m hooked to is the most valuable for that company. I can’t do it but I can make sure that the full empirical value of it is expressed.The way you ought to do everything is based on customer value. Click To Tweet
I’ve got a great story. It was 1983. I had my first couple of years and making over $100,000 in the early ‘80s and things were good. I made $500,000 sale of the database systems to an Air Force station in Tennessee. As you go from Chattanooga to Nashville, you go over a mountain range. There’s an Air Force research base there that is a fascinating place. I made $500,000 sale to the IT organization at the Arnold Air Force station. I was invited to a reception and got to meet the Lieutenant Colonel who ran the base. He was a nice gentleman and I got to meet him. It’s like an assembly line and I was telling him how excited we were to work with his team, all the good things we’re going to do, etc. He said, “Young man, I want to tell you something.” I said, “Yes, sir.” He said, “I didn’t want to do your project. I had a couple of other projects I’d rather done.”
I was flabbergasted, stunned. I’m 32 years old and I don’t know what to say and that was the first time in my life. He said, “Here’s the deal. When it came down to the end of the budget cycle, there were a couple of other projects that we preferred but the business cases weren’t buttoned down, yours was. That’s why you got your funding and we got this project and we like the project. We’re excited about working with you. My team likes you all. You wouldn’t have been the first choice, but you won the internal competition.” I filed that away and said, “That’s not something they told me at Miller Heiman sales training school or any place else.” That’s a big deal. Mine wasn’t the most valuable thing but it was the one that had the buttoned up business case and I was able to win the internal after I won the external. It’s important.
What I get from that story, Jim, is something simple. What’s simple is, customer value management is more important than learning closing techniques and fancy buzzwords. If you can justify what you are selling in a way that directly communicates with your client, then you have a better chance of closing that deal than just about anybody else.
In fact, you have a better chance of getting somebody’s willingness to pay attention to you. It is absolutely the case.
Jim, we are at a point in the interview where we’re going to divert our conversation into a more personal space and the way we do that is by asking a couple of questions. The first question comes down to how you think and what you value. Who in all of space and time would you like to have one hour to enjoy a walk in the park, a quick lunch or an intense conversation?
Off the top of my head, the answer would be Jesus but there’s enough in the Bible. You can set that one aside. There’s all you need to know there. William Wilberforce, Martin Luther King, Jr., Genghis Khan, those would be my three.
Since I only asked you for one, I’m going to make you do a hard choice here. Who is William Wilberforce? I’ve never heard of him.
William Wilberforce led the abolition movement against slavery in the United Kingdom back in the early to mid-1800s. He was a man of privilege and he fought the tide of economics.
I’ll tell you this much, if you did have that conversation, I bet it would be about leadership. What a leader to take on such an enormous task from a position of wealth and power, no less.
There was leadership. We all know right and wrong but when it’s hard, he stood again. Martin Luther King, Jr. did too. To me, it’s a matter of moral fortitude and courage. He was criticized and reviled and all kinds of stuff, but he’s a historic figure. There’s a bunch of them and he’s one.
You only get one, Jim, I’m sorry.
It’s William Wilberforce.
You got yours in and it was a good one. Here’s the second and last question. It’s called the grand finale, the change the world question. What is it that you are doing or would like to do that truly has the potential to change the world?
I don’t think there’s anything. It’s a great question and it’s one that challenges. You’re thinking about, what are you about? One of the wins for me in DecisionLink is that I want to give selling organizations and people in selling organizations help them have an opportunity to do their jobs better. To have a better quality of life, to provide for their families and hopefully pay it forward and so forth. Sales is a noble profession if sellers do the job that can be aspired to and there’s an absence or a vacancy of the enablement. I can’t bring in somebody and fill their head with stuff for four weeks in a training session, expect twenty years of acumen to come out of that. It’s not going to happen.
There are sincere people that want to do a good job. This is a gap that I saw and found to try to address. A couple of years ago, I’m absolutely confident in the success of this thing and it’s not us, it’s the momentum of doing this. Maybe on a bigger picture, in our little corner of the world, I’ve got a heart for disadvantaged people and trying to do things to help improve people’s lives and change the world. I want to move one little needle here and there.
One person at a time, that’s how we do it. Jim, it’s been a pleasure talking with you and sharing stories. Before I let you go, I know that you have something special for our readers. Would you like to tell us what it is?Don't try to boil the ocean, find something that matters and address it. Click To Tweet
We’ve got a couple of things actually. The first is, we perform a function with our prospects and I’ve got a philosophy. I’m not going to ask anybody to buy something from me until I’ve demonstrated and they have asserted that is going to meet a need and help us meet our goals and objectives. We do a function called a Value Readiness Assessment. If you went to McKinsey or Accenture, they charge a couple of hundred thousand to do it. We generally charge between $10,000 and $15,000 for it and we’re offering that to subscribers or readers to Your First Thousand Clients on a complimentary basis.
The second thing is in the second half of 2020, we’ll be releasing a subscriber version of the Value Cloud. We’re still business-to-business, but we have an offering that we’ll be making available. It’s close to ready, but we’re working on the delivery mechanisms where an individual could swipe a figurative credit card and have access to the Value Cloud and some of the capabilities of it. For readers of Your First Thousand Clients, we’ll provide a first-year subscription to that, complimentary.
Readers, I don’t know about you but I am definitely signing up for this. This sounds amazing. The thing that I want to impress on people reading is that how many years did you build this product?
We are 8.5 years in and four years with a commercial grade product.
What he’s offered is all of this work for free to you for being a reader on this show. I wouldn’t do this, Jim. This is a little too much, but I do appreciate it. I’m going to absolutely take it and I’m going to say thank you on behalf of everybody reading this show. This is an incredible bonus and an incredible gift. Thank you very much. Jim, I also want to say thank you for sharing with us. This has been an incredible learning experience for me. Readers, I hope you enjoyed this show. Please talk to Mitch. Click the button, “Speak to Mitch,” and tell me how much you like the show. Tell me if you would like me to have other leaders of business at this level on this show as well. Jim, thank you again and I can’t wait until we get a chance to talk again soon.
Mitch, it’s my pleasure. Thank you for the opportunity to share, and best to your community. I appreciate it.
Resources Mentioned in This Episode:
Love the show? Subscribe, rate, review, and share!