Welcome to “The Activity Feed,” a podcast series that takes a peek behind the screens at our content marketing agency to showcase our employees, their expertise, and the unique passions they pursue outside of work.
To kick things off, our professional development coordinator and podcast host, Emily Datz, sat down (virtually) with VP Brittni Kinney Ratliff to discuss her work life at Influence & Co. as a member of our sales team and how her role has evolved over the past six years.
In this episode, Brittni also shares how she successfully navigates the complex landscape of B2B selling and the closing strategies she uses to win over leads.
Listen, learn, and share with a friend!
The Activity Feed Podcast (Episode 1): The B2B Sales Experience With BK Ratliff
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Hello and welcome to “The Activity Feed,” an Influence & Co. podcast! I’m your host Emily Datz, professional development coordinator, and today, I am thrilled to introduce our very first guest: the one and only BK Ratliff. Welcome to the podcast, BK!
So glad to be here! Did not know that we named it “The Activity Feed,” but I’m very much obsessed with that. Love that so much.
Thank you. I’m very proud of it. Thank you.
OK, so BK, I would love to start with just a brief overview of your history at Influence &. Co. How long have you been here? What’s your role? What have your roles looked like over the years?
Yes! I have been here for six and a half years. My work anniversary is May 6, I believe. May 4? May the fourth be with you. It’s May 4, and I have been in several roles.
When I first got hired — I told this recently to some of our new hires when Natalie and I were discussing our role — when I first got hired, there were no account teams yet. It was a much different structure, so I was a hybrid account strategist/content strategist. I shared clients with one other person, and we would swap roles depending on the clientele. We had about 28 to 31 clients at any given time, and I took half, and she took half.
In some of them, I was client-facing, and in some of them, I was for content strategy. So both of those roles, while they have evolved, I’m fairly familiar with because I did hold both of them. And then now, of course, I’m in sales.
Speaking of being a salesperson, I would love to hear just a little bit about what your day and your week looks like in sales at Influence & Co.
Yes! Sales never quite looks the same. There are some rhythms that we can come to expect. When I was first thinking about this question, I was thinking it’s actually pretty challenging to answer because everything is actually more or less dictated by what’s happening in the sales cycle. So seasonally, things look different. There are some things that we know will definitely happen, so I’ll speak to that first.
There are some really natural rhythms, probably similar to almost any team member here. I have a standing weekly meeting with Becky right now (Alyssa when she’s back from maternity leave), where we review our pipeline. So that’s a time to look at what’s currently happening from a deal perspective.
Sorry, my dog is sneezing very loudly. That is not me. Not having nasal issues. But if you hear it, so sorry.
We review the pipeline to look at things like, “Hey, are there any odd deals that are coming through that the account team might need a heads up on because of any idiosyncrasies in the way that it’s being structured?” “Are there any leads that I’m having a hard time figuring out what the strategy is for?” “Do I need to be held accountable for anyone that I haven’t followed up with in a while?” It’s kind of just a time for either brainstorming or accountability or a gut check on: Who else needs to be involved in this? Is this pretty straightforward? Do we see any patterns with where calls are coming from? Just some transparency between what’s happening on my end and what the larger sales and marketing team might need to know and a time to ask for help from Alyssa or Becky.
We also have a bimonthly meeting with the sales team where we review larger issues, strategies, things that we want to talk about, new processes that we’re putting in place, things we’re hearing from the account team, things we want updates on, problems that we’re trying to solve internally, lead issues.
So, for example, last week, I had several patterns that I was seeing with different deals that were not getting on their proposal calls. And so we strategized across each of them trying to see what was the common denominator. Was it something I was doing? Was it something that we’re seeing as a larger buying pattern?
Those are the types of things that we discuss, and every now and then, we’ll do a call of the month where we review one of our recent sales calls and kind of give constructive feedback to each other, which is the worst. Hearing your own voice is the absolute worst. And hearing the client ask you a question that you thought you answered thoroughly and realize that you actually just rambled on about something you thought was interesting for a few minutes is also incredibly disheartening, but they’re really, really helpful. It’s like watching game tape.
And then other than that, like I said, the day and week is so kind of back and forth because it depends on how many sales calls I have set up that week and what stage they’re in. Sometimes I’ll have a week where I have 10 proposal reviews, and those are very work-heavy because they often involve creating proposals, which is the most time-intensive part of my job. Or onboarding, which is the most time-consuming part of my role. And other times, it’s a little bit lighter.
If we’re going through a season where there aren’t as many calls getting set up, then my time is spent more in brainstorming how to get more people on the phone. Any downtime that’s not on a sales call or internal call is usually spent pulling together resource emails, doing follow-ups, finding creative ways to reach back out to leads that may have gone dry, creating new email drip campaigns, assisting the marketing team. And again, all of those could look very different from week to week. Every lead needs something a little bit different within the sales process, so it completely depends on what’s happening and what time of year it is.
For sure, it makes sense. It’s definitely an ever-changing, ever-evolving situation, I would imagine. But one thing I know that is kind of at least one constant in the field is the fact that, you know, you are constantly working to build good relationships with your leads. You are working toward making that relationship something that they’re going to want to continue pursuing work with Influence & Co. and eventually getting to that closed deal. So I would love to hear some of your strategies that you use for getting things closed, for building those relationships, and getting people all the way through the sales process.
Yeah, that’s a really fun question. And when I first saw it, I was struck by how much this has changed in the past few years. I’d be so interested to hear some of the other members of the sales team talk about the way that this has evolved.
When I first got into this role, I relied really heavily on relationship building by means of building rapport and finding connections and being super fun. And I think that this still works really well. I remember doing some of these types of “Hey, how do you build these? How do you make connections?” and a lot of it was predicated on finding out what their interests were outside of work and kind of weaving those into conversations or using that as a fun follow-up reason or whatever it might be.
And a lot of people in sales, I think, will continue to tell you that. But I do think that’s a very, like, 2013/2014 type of trend that stemmed from sales being kind of an “old boys’ club”-type atmosphere, and I’ve really seen it evolve, especially in our space, in the B2B space, to be much more experience-heavy.
So if you’d asked me, you know, three to four years ago, I would have told you that it was all about finding some of the things that they like offline, finding out what they’re interested in, and making sure that you kind of use that as a means to build some type of connection.
For example, I once found one of my leads — I saw that she recently checked in on Foursquare (back when Foursquare was a thing), and she had checked in to this wine bar. I could see what wine she drank because she posted about it, so Becky and I sent that to her during the process. Turns out she was pregnant, so that was not the best gift we could have sent her. But she was actually really appreciative, and it was sweet, and she did end up becoming a client.
So we used to do things like that all the time, right? Like, I would find out if they had dogs, and I would send them dog treats or gifts as a means to, you know, establish a connection or get them back on the phone with me. Or I would use a ton of GIFs or memes in my email follow-ups. I spent so much time creating clever emails.
I could show you just dozens and dozens of Super Bowl and Bachelorette and whatever’s trending-type email templates that I would spend so much time on. And I still think those were really valuable at the time, but I don’t do any of that anymore. None of it. I don’t look up any of my leads’ personal stuff anymore. If they share something with me, that’s great. I just let it happen naturally.
And so my focus now on building a relationship is much less in the emotional. I don’t try as much to — if we connect on something natural and it comes up in conversation, that’s wonderful. But if it doesn’t, I don’t force that. Now, I don’t even really spend a ton of time doing small talk at the beginning of the calls anymore. I think some of that may be coming out of the pandemic — there’s some kind of conversation fatigue.
So instead, I find myself really building relationships more on experience. So talking more about what’s happening in the industry, strategy building, affirming some of the things that they’re doing, and asking the right questions. I find that that goes a long way, and so my time is better spent learning more about what we do and how we do it and what’s happening in our space than it is going to research them personally. Because at the end of the day, they may like me, but if that account wasn’t set up super well for their strategy, then it really doesn’t matter.
And I think about three years ago, we all shifted from this mentality of “We want to be super likable.” Of course, we want to be likable, but we actually want to be irreplaceable. We want to make sure that people, when they look at their budget, they think, “We can’t do this without Influence & Co.” And I think that going really experience- and data-heavy and more industry-specific and listening — spending so much more time active listening — has really benefited me in building trust.
And I think that that’s actually more important than likability. You think they go hand in hand, but I actually think one predicates the other. If I can show credibility, if I listen to them well, if I can repeat things or find ideas or threads of patterns in what they’re saying, that will take me much further than just connecting over “Hey, we watch a similar TV show” or whatever it might be.
I certainly have had a period in my sales time where I would go watch a show that I saw a client had posted on just to be familiar with it, or if I could find their Spotify playlist, I listened to it. And I mean, that honestly felt like how you used to do it. And now I don’t care about any of that. Again, if it comes out, great, but now I’m like, “No, let’s talk about your strategy and how you’re tracking these things,” and that will go much further.
You also asked about closing strategies. I was thinking about this, and again, it’s kind of hard because every sales cycle looks a little bit different, but I would say I really only have maybe three that I can kind of identify.
One of my “closing strategies” is to always secure the next call. If you know exactly what’s happening on that next call, or if you have that time secured, worst-case scenario they say: “Hey, we actually already got the contract approved. We’re good to go. We don’t need a next call.” Or they get on the phone and tell you why there’s a holdup.
But if you can just get that next call, you avoid this kind of big gap between what they said they wanted to do or what they’re “digesting.” Not even really sure what that means, but it’s probably not a good sign when they’re doing that. You know, you want to make sure that you have some kind of touchpoint, and I have found that that’s super valuable.
My next one is to always stay diligent in my responsiveness. So as long as I’ve gotten them what they need, I’ve stayed on top of things, I’ve shown them that I can be trusted and that I will hold up my end of the bargain, I think that that always goes a super long way.
And the last one I was thinking is maybe not so much a closing strategy, it’s just a general sales strategy. But it’s to allocate my time appropriately. I used to spend hours and hours making presentations and customizing them and pulling resources. Now, I really look at it and have to say: “Hey, is this a viable client? Is this a $6,000 package or a $3,000 package?” Because my time should be spent differently. Every client deserves great resources and good care throughout the sales process, but the way that I spend my time looks different and the way that I get them to close will also look different.
That’s incredible. I really particularly loved hearing about the way that this stuff has changed over time because, you know, you do have that experience of being here for a while and seeing just exactly how we have evolved over that time.
My last kind of bigger work-related question is about educating yourself about all your leads’ industries. Obviously, you are not talking to people in the same industry all the time, but it’s important for you to get that background on that.
So do you have any strategies that you could share about how you go about learning about things like tech or healthcare or anything?
I do, actually. And I have — it’s not a measured checklist, per se, but again, when I was looking at this question and kind of jotting down my answers to it, I realized actually, I do have a very specific method that I follow. I just probably wouldn’t have known it if you hadn’t asked.
The first thing I do, of course, is go to their website and try to see if — just based on their copy — if I can get a feel for who they are. And I do that obviously to understand who they are, but I’m also trying to understand: “Do you understand good copy?” Because if your copy is confusing or if you’re using a ton of jargon, either you’re very technical or you’re very BS-y. It could be one or the other, and I need to figure out where you land.
So I first look specifically at their primary landing page and then their “About Us” and then their services. And if I can’t figure it out from there — if I’m still a little murky on exactly what they do — then I will go over to their case studies and start looking through those to see if I can understand what problems they solve and how they did it. That’s usually pretty helpful.
If it still feels a little bit like, “I’m not sure; I’m starting to get an idea but I need confirmation,” I will go to their LinkedIn since that usually has a much more concise synopsis of what they do, and it usually tags the types of services that they do in the main page. And so I’ll read through that. And sometimes, I’ll even go through those tags and see if there’s any other information I can learn. And then I’ll go back to the original “About Me” or “About Us” page, what we do, that kind of thing, and if there was any jargon I was unfamiliar with, I’ll start Googling that and see if I can get a feel for what that means.
I’ll see if I can try to find a competitor. If their page is particularly confusing, I’ll see if I look at something similar, do they explain it better? I had a lead once tell me that in a very technical space, that they should be able to explain what they do to their grandmother and make it feel really applicable. And so now I try to say, “Could I repeat this back to them and feel pretty confident that I know what they’re doing?”
A trick Alyssa taught me was to actually open a conversation with “Here’s what I think you do. Can you confirm?” And so sometimes I’ll use that if I’m particularly iffy on what they might be doing. And then from there, I’ll identify any questions I have.
So I’ll basically write down before I go on the phone — and anyone who’s been through a handoff with me has probably seen this happening in live time because I put it in my introduction notes — I will put general research and then kind of “confirmed business” of what they do. And that’s where I’ll try to ask some questions on “Hey, I see that your page says this, but this is a lot of industry-heavy jargon. Can you help me understand in actuality what your account teams are doing in the day-to-day or what it looks like for you to interact with a client?” And that usually gets me there.
Yeah, I think that’s a great tip. Also just talking about just asking people. With my experience on the account teams, too, it’s: People love to talk about what they do. So, of course, you know, getting our own sort of knowledge behind what a new client is doing is really important to start that relationship in a good place. But if you’re not sure, just ask, and they’ll love to tell you. They’re gonna want to make sure that you are up-to-date, as up-to-date as you can be, as well. So that’s awesome.
I also find it helpful if I can go through Core and see if we have any similar industries. And I also have the benefit of having been here for long enough and sold enough accounts — or to have learned from some of Natalie and previously Matt’s accounts — that I usually have a pretty good bank in my head of what we’ve done and what we haven’t. Or I can do a quick, you know, ask around and see if that’s someone we’ve worked with.
I recently had an experience where a friend of mine who was an IT consultant was asked at the wedding that I was at this weekend, “Hey, what do you do?” And she was like, “You don’t have an hour for me to explain what I do, so I’ll try to explain it very basically.” And I found that if I was able to say, “Here’s what I have experienced with consultants; are any of these correct?” that she was much easier, it was much easier for her to orient what she does and put it in layman’s terms.
So I do find coming to a conversation with “Here’s what I think that you do” or “Here’s my experience with firms, agencies, companies like yours — is this accurate, or am I way off?” or “Here’s an industry that we already have a client in. Would you be a competitor of theirs? Or do you do something similar? Do you fill in a gap that they don’t? Can you just help me understand where you fit in?” This is usually the best route, especially for those very, very technical spaces.
That’s great advice. I love that. We are getting there on time. And then so I would just love to quickly wrap up with just a fun little question that I want to ask everybody for these episodes this week, which is “What’s a little thing that you’re appreciating this week?”
So I tried to keep this really concise, but I did put them into categories as far as, like, reading, listening, doing, and eating. I’m taking a little break from reading right now because I just consumed a ton of books, all of them by Taylor Jenkins Reid. So “The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo,” Daisy, Daisy? Yeah, “Daisy Jones and the Six.” Like, all of those. I’m going to take a little break from reading.
I’m listening to — this is a trigger warning — some crime-related podcasts that I’m really enjoying. There’s a local scandal going on here in North Carolina that’s been covered pretty extensively that I’m having a very good time following because there’s so much intrigue behind a very wealthy family with a lot of corruption. So that is taking up a lot of my walks.
When I go, I am loving running in cooler weather. It is in kind of that, like, 70s sphere here in Charlotte, so it’s dropped a bit.
And then I’m eating a ton of Trader Joe’s Hold the Cone mini cones. They are mini ice cream cones. They have the chocolate in the bottom of the cone, as they should, and they are phenomenal. I look forward to having one every day.
That sounds so good. I wish we had a TJ’s here in Columbia. This is my plea.
Yes. Maybe they’ll hear us. Alexa, if you’re listening (and I know you are), we would like Trader Joe’s in Columbia.
Please give me the Trader Joe’s. Please.
Well, thank you so much, BK, for your time. I so appreciate you coming onto this fun little, very professional podcast and sharing all of your insights and expertise with the team. And thank you at home for taking some time to listen to this episode of “The Activity Feed.” And until next time, I’ll see you around the internet.