The sales staff at Etex has built a sales playbook that helps them anticipate customer questions and seize opportunities as a team.
Transcripts have been lightly edited for clarity and readability.
Andy Johns: Should your telco have a sales playbook? And if so, how do you get there? That’s what we’ll be talking about on this episode of StoryConnect: The Podcast. My name is Andy Johns. I’m your host. And I’m joined on this episode by Larry Montgomery, who’s the Director of Sales and Marketing at Etex Telephone Co-op in Gillmer, Texas. Larry, thanks for joining me.
Larry Montgomery: Andy, thank you for having me on. I really appreciate the opportunity. Any chance we get to share a little bit of the Etex story and what we’re doing, we’re definitely happy to kind of help spread that word of what we’re working on in our neck of the woods.
Andy Johns: For sure, and especially this past year, it’s been difficult to share some of those stories. So I was glad to get you on after your presentation today. So earlier today, when we’re recording this, Larry had given a presentation with the team there at Etex about a sales plan. It was with the TTA, the association there in Texas, part of their virtual education series. And so when I saw that Larry was talking about sales as part of that webinar, I wanted to be sure to get him on a podcast, because as we were talking before we started the record button, Larry, that we’re in an industry that just doesn’t talk as much about sales maybe as we should.
Larry Montgomery: I totally agree with you on that. In our industry, and I think going back to my time here at Etex from the beginning, I’ve had the opportunity…I’ve been fortunate enough to work here for 23 years, and a lot of the co-op mentality has been “We’re the service provider. Our customers will come to us. We’ve got these services. If they need it, they will reach out to us.” And I think one thing that I’ve learned over my career here at Etex is that if you want to remain relevant in this industry, you’ve got to change that mindset. Customers now have an option. They have choices. And we’re a company that’s trying to grow, and we’re continuing to try to expand our footprint.
Larry Montgomery: So with that, our general manager, Charlie, developed our sales division. In my prior position, I was in engineering. I was working really close with our schools and also tier one cellular providers. And what I was doing was building relationships with the schools and the cellular providers. And at the time, I didn’t realize that I was actually doing sales. I was their point of contact. I was taking care of all their needs. But it was more on an engineering level. So that’s how I landed in the position that I’m in today.
Andy Johns: Interesting, I hadn’t heard that. Not a lot of folks take that engineering over to sales and marketing leap, so I’m sure that gives you a good perspective and good background there. That’s interesting.
Larry Montgomery: It does. And I think that’s helped me be able to communicate and connect with the customers, whether I’m talking with the CEO of the company or the engineering manager. I’m able to drill down to the technical nuts and bolts if I have to get on that level and make that connection. And also, if I’m talking with someone in a leadership position, I’m able to explain to them the difference of Etex, how we take care of our customers on a not so technical level to make sure they can understand exactly our point of view.
Andy Johns: Excellent. Well, so as I said, the Texas Telephone Association did the virtual event earlier today with the whole team from Etex on there. So it was, what, about a 45 minute session? So I don’t want us to to rehash all of that. I do encourage anybody, if you’re interested, there are a few other of those virtual sessions coming up. So you should check those out for sure. But one of the things that you discussed, Larry, today was the playbook that you guys have. And I don’t think we have time or this is not really the place to go through the whole playbook. But if you can, kind of in general terms, because that came up several times through your presentation today, tell us a little bit about that playbook that you and your team use.
Larry Montgomery: The playbook is basically a set of instructions that my department lives by. And basically when I was developing our sales plan, I wanted to make sure that we had an answer for every question, for every scenario. I didn’t want anyone to get caught in a position to where they couldn’t provide a good answer to a customer. Do we have every answer, every question that could possibly be asked there? No, but we have some backup to where if someone stumps somebody, they’ve got a good answer to say, you know what? Don’t be afraid. When I instruct my guys is don’t be afraid to tell the customer, “you know what? I don’t have an answer for that. But let me get back with you.” So the playbook overall is basically our list of instructions. It basically maps out everything from beginning to end of the sales process. One thing that I wanted to make sure that I was clear on from the beginning is our primary focus is to build relationships with our customers. That’s going to keep them loyal and make sure that they’re not, you know, price jumping every time they get someone that comes in that’s a few dollars lower. They know for sure that we’ve done, if we’ve done our job, our customers know how to get in contact with us. They know exactly how we operate. So they’re going to feel comfortable with us. So in the event, if they do get an offer that they think is good, we’ve actually had our customers come to us and say, “hey, I had another carrier reach out, and this is what they told me. Can you validate this? Is this accurate?” It was really designed for future growth. If we get a new sales rep that comes in, I would be able to email them this document. They would be able to read through it and basically learn the system.
Larry Montgomery: We would still train with that rep, but they would basically have a list of instructions to follow. What do I do on a cold call, or what’s a script I can use? A lot of questions we get with us being based here in rural east Texas. If we get a business owner that moves into our area, one question that we were getting over and over, “why are your prices higher than when I was in Dallas or Fort Worth or a larger city?” So one of the sales reps came to me and said, “I’m having a hard time answering this question.” So we were able to pull some stats of how many customers there are per mile in the Dallas-Fort Worth area versus how many customers there are per mile in rural east Texas. So with that, we came up with a script and basically we’re able to explain to those customers why the price points are different versus a larger metroplex versus rural east Texas.
Andy Johns: Nice. Now, when you’re talking about a playbook like that, that sounds like a fantastic document to have. If there are folks sitting there going, “we don’t have a playbook, we need a playbook,” how did you guys do that? Is that something that has been built piece by piece over a couple of years? Did you take a weekend retreat somewhere and just hammer it all out? How do you go about putting together a document like that? Because it sounds like the perfect thing that a lot of departments would benefit from.
Larry Montgomery: Great, great question. It is something that has been put together piece-by-piece over the years. Again, our department works very open in a team environment. I encourage input. Everyone’s input is valuable. So what we basically do, we build upon it. We have our base principles. But if someone finds something that works really well for a scenario, we will take it and add it to the playbook. And it’s something that we always revisit. We’ll go in and look over time and say, “OK, we haven’t used this method or maybe we need to tweak this.” So it’s always a moving target. It’s a work in motion.
Andy Johns: Got it. Now, one of the themes not just for your webinar today, but for really for most people for the last year and a half — maybe not year and a half, feels like it’s more like a year — but has been have a plan, but be ready to be flexible. So even when you guys developed a sales plan like you may have had in January or February last year, obviously just like everybody else, that had to change quite a bit with the pandemic. I know some of the things you guys talked about less door-to-door, more direct mail, that kind of thing. What were some of the ways that you guys had to adapt and adjust your sales plan in 2020? And then here we are into 2021.
Larry Montgomery: 2020, we rolled into January of 2020. Each year, the first working day of the year, we have a sales kickoff meeting. That’s when we establish our goals. We talk about wish-list things that we want to accomplish. We identify our new sales goals in that meeting. So last year, January 2020, we were dialed in. We were focused. We had custom t-shirts made with “2020 Clear Vision”. We had a theme for the year. Then March rolled around. Everything kind of blew up on us. So the team definitely was questioning, “hey, how are we going to be successful?” We established early on that we do our best work in the field face-to-face.
Larry Montgomery: So in March, when we made the decision to sideline the sales team, we basically said, “Guys, we’re going to be mindful of your health and our customers health. We are going to suspend in-person site visits for the sales team.” So what we did in order to make sure we still experience success, we increased our cold calls. And it was not a small increase. At the time, we were going into some new areas, and we had a lot of customers to contact. We were making upwards of 75 cold calls per week while taking care of existing customers as well, meeting their needs. And the results we experienced from that were really good. We did not miss a beat on our goals. We actually got more new installs last year than we did in the previous year during the pandemic. So it was awesome. Our sales team is basically an outside sales team, but last year we were forced to adapt to an inside sales team. And in our industry, the conversations that I’ve had with other sales managers, it’s either your sales team is inside or outside. So now for my group, I feel like my team can do either/or, and they’re confident by the results they achieve that if we are shut down again that we will not miss a beat. We will still be able to hit our goals.
Andy Johns: Nice. Sounds like a lot of versatility and flexibility there. That’s outstanding. Now, one of the things that you brought up at the webinar, and it went beyond your team, but you guys talked about how the entire company is bought in. And if there are two things in the whole company that really, you know, we stress over and over again and the training and other stuff that we do, everybody in the company on some level is in sales, and everybody on some level is in customer service. How have you guys gone about getting people to kind of understand that? And like you said earlier today, getting folks to to buy into that mindset?
Larry Montgomery: Again, my hats have to be off to our leadership team. Our CEO/General Manager, Charlie Cano, does an excellent job of painting the vision for our company and establishing what success looks like and why we want to be successful. And I stated this in the presentation earlier today. It starts with your leadership team. They have to paint the picture of why you want to be successful, why you want to grow into a new area, and what success looks like.
Larry Montgomery: Charlie Cano and Susan Graves, our CFO, and our board of directors, have done an excellent job of basically laying the blueprint out for the entire company of what it looks like. Everything we do is centered around community and customer service for my sales reps. Each one of my sales reps come from a customer service background, and we take that same mindset, as you mentioned, Andy, we make sure that everyone in our company understands the importance of customer service and sales because everyone is representing the company at all times. That’s something that has set us apart from our competition, and that buy-in just comes from that vision laid out for us by our leadership team.
Larry Montgomery: We have weekly meetings, sales meetings, but now our sales meetings have grown to include every single department in the company, from billing to engineering. And in those meetings, we talk about projects that are coming up to make sure we meet all of our customers needs. But at the same time, what I share with my team, I also share with other departments that are represented. So that way those guys can see how many customers we added last month, you know what our goals are. So everybody knows what that target is, and they know that we’re all working towards a common goal. It definitely makes my job a lot easier knowing that the engineering departments, the insulation and repair guys, the guys that are behind the scenes turning the screws, they buy-in. It definitely has made my job very enjoyable, and a lot easier.
Andy Johns: Definitely, there’s nothing that’ll kill a campaign like having folks say “marketing and sales didn’t tell us that. You know, marketing didn’t tell us this is going on.” So, yeah, I really like the idea of having having those folks represented at that meeting. We’ve got a couple of of other like sales tactics questions coming up here in a minute. But let’s stick with kind of the culture and the squishy, touchy-feely stuff for another minute or two.
Andy Johns: When your team went down the line today, number one, the first thing I noticed was the new guy on the sales team had been there three years. You had several other folks. It seemed like seven years, ten years. There was a lot of experience, of course, yourself, I think you said 23 years, a lot of experience there, which means you’re doing something right to keep folks there. But then towards the end, they were also talking about how you can tell they compete, and they help push each other. But it also seemed like a real, genuinely caring group where they were out there to help each other out. And you guys told some stories about them, you know, picking each other up. But what do you think, you guys, what do you attribute that to that, that you guys have the kind of culture (1) that retains salespeople around a while, but then (2) seems to strike a really good balance of, you know, competitive, good-natured competition between the folks, but then also supporting each other. Because it’s not like that everywhere.
Larry Montgomery: Oh, believe me, I definitely have heard stories and what I have in my group, I’m definitely very blessed to be able to lead such a passionate group. They all care about each other, and they all care about the success of Etex. And I think it goes back to the vision of what we want to achieve as a company. Everything we do and everything we talk about is very transparent. The guys understand exactly what we’re doing in our department is making a difference on the bottom line of the company. The individuals in my group, like you said, are long-tenure employees. Brett, the guy you mentioned that’s been here three years, Brett is definitely a rock star employee. He is going to be a shining star in the group and so is everyone else on my team.
Larry Montgomery: But for Brett to come in and be the low man on the totem pole with three years, like you mentioned, that is very uncommon in a sales atmosphere. But those guys just all work so well together, not only with my group, but it’s for the entire company. And the culture of our company is basically we are the best provider in our service area. We are going to outperform any other provider you put us up against. And that attitude, that confidence, that is just definitely displayed throughout our entire company, not just my department. And the length of service here within just my group is definitely something straight across the board. Yesterday we had a safety meeting, and there was a service award that was given out for one of our employees. 40 years. So that’s something to say with the Etex. And I could go down the line, and we’ve got several employees that have been here for 30+ years, and it’s just a great culture and a great company to work for.
Andy Johns: Nice. Sounds like it. Getting back to the sales, the more tactical side of sales, one of the things that you guys brought up today was automation and some automated emails, some systems you guys have in place there. And I could certainly go off the deep end, as a self-confessed automation nerd a little bit. But if you can, let’s talk a little bit about some of the things you guys have set up, because there were some neat things with service anniversaries and that kind of stuff that you guys have that helps add that personal touch, even if you’re not able to be there in-person or things you can do to kind of stretch that personnel a little bit, even if you may not have the staff to do all of those. There are some automation things that you guys are doing that I think could help folks.
Larry Montgomery: Yes, and my engineering background, like you said, Andy, this is when the the nerd side of me comes out. I love technology, and I love how we are able to take a team of five and have them perform like they’re a team of 50. Together, each of our sales reps have over 200-300 business customers they’re assigned to manage. That’s a heavy load for one person. So on thing that I was very mindful of is we are heavily focused on new customer acquisition. But also I didn’t want to forget about the customers that brought us to the dance, the customers that have been long term Etex customers. How can we stay in contact with them? So the automated processes that we use, we basically set up triggers based on holidays, anniversary days. So year anniversary service rolls around from Etex. You’re going to get a customized email from your sales rep that’s going to appear that it came directly from their email address, and customers really enjoy getting that. We also have triggers built through our CRM that will remind the sales reps to send their customers a handwritten note. So that way they don’t forget with trying to juggle so many projects and so many customers. The small things like that are easy to forget. After the customer has been installed for 100 days, they get a thank you email. It looks like a card. It’s got a big 100 on it. “Thank you for 100 days of service. We appreciate you for being a customer.” And in that email, it has their sales rep’s contact information. But not only that, it has a picture of the entire sales team. I made sure we included that picture of the entire sales team because I want the customer to know, yes, I am your dedicated sales rep. But look, I also have a team behind me backing me up in case I’m out of the office or on a vacation. We have someone that will be able to help you.
Larry Montgomery: We also send out automated emails, a survey. So seven days after that customer is installed, they get an automated email that has a link to a survey for them to fill out. How was our install? So we’re communicating with the customer on that point as well, to make sure that everything went well with their install to see if we can get any feedback. So it’s definitely helped us appear to have a larger presence. We’ve received several emails and calls from customers thanking us for taking the time to reach out to them or reminding them, hey, this is my one year of being in business. So it has come across very well with our customers.
Andy Johns: Nice. And that is so important. We’ve heard stories where you’ve got a customer who maybe the service is lacking somewhere, maybe something didn’t go perfect. Maybe their needs have changed, but they’re just kind of getting by and that status quo bias kind of sets in. It’s easier for them just kind of deal with it. They’re not going to take the time to reach out to you and ask for help. But when you initiate that conversation, you ask them, you follow-up like that, I would imagine that pays that pays dividends for folks that may have something that does need fixing and that may be the only way that you guys get to know about it. So, yes, this is very helpful.
Andy Johns: As we’re wrapping up here, let’s stick on automation. I know we’re at about 21 minutes already, so I don’t want to go too long. But like I said, we could go in the deep end. So what platform, if there are folks out there trying to get into automation, what platform are you guys using, and does it work with your billing or anything else like that? Anything you’d like to share there?
Larry Montgomery: Yes, we are using Salesforce, and we also have the add-on with Salesforce Pardot. They do merge very well together with the two working in conjunction, and we are able to build custom campaigns. And if you have a Salesforce Maps, you can also use it to import leads. And with that you can build automatic campaigns to where you can send out emails via Salesforce. And if a customer responds, you’ll get a notification that will change that lead from a cold lead to warm lead. Or if they click a certain link in the email, you can be notified. We’ll send out a marketing sheet with hosted phone system Internet. And if a customer clicks on the phone system Internet, we can have it trigger and send a message directly to the sales rep. “Your customer clicked hosted phone system. Follow up with this customer in two days if they don’t reach out.” And that’s a part of that heavy lifting. So the sales reps aren’t guessing what customers may be interested in. So we’re taking it a step further with utilizing the software not only to reach out to the customers, but also to cater a custom response to the customer. So it has definitely helped us out from that aspect.
Andy Johns: Excellent. Well, like I said, we could dove in on the deep end there, but I feel like that’s enough to get folks started, and they can reach out if there’s more that they want to know there.
Andy Johns: The last thing that I had for you, Larry, was if there’s somebody out there and maybe they have listened to this episode and they’re thinking, “well, you know, we have a sales team, but we don’t have a playbook.” Or “we have a sales team, but they don’t all get along.” Or we have a sales team, but like you said, they’re trying to take it, multiply their reach with automation or something. Is there any advice you would pass on to people who are maybe are not quite on the level where you guys are, that are trying to to make themselves better as we get into this year?
Larry Montgomery: Oh, yes, definitely. I think it starts with trust. If you can get your sales team, as the sales leader, if you can get them to trust you and trust the system that you’re trying to build and implement, I think that’s your first step. You have to get your team to be able to trust each other and also trust you and to be able to look at you as a leader to say, “OK, I’m buying into what you’re saying, and I can see how it could work.” And I think that, and also, you know, leading by example. And also taking input from your sales reps, the guys in my department, they always know that I’m always asking for their feedback. “Hey, what’s working in the field? What are your customers saying? What can we do to improve?” And when you get started, it definitely does take time for people to see that this will work. And if you can start proving to your sales reps with real world examples that, “hey, I follow this step, and it worked,” and the other team mates will see that, then you start to get that buy-in. And also once you start to get that buy-in, be flexibl. Ask for their opinion, ask for their input and be willing to make changes when necessary. But at the end of the day, I think what has helped us establish the group we have is trust. They trust each other. They trust my vision. They trust the vision of our management team. And that’s what has helped us be successful, the trust and getting everybody to buy-in and get on the same page. It’s critical for you to be successful.
Andy Johns: I think that’s very well said and very true, so I appreciate you sharing that. And I want to thank you for joining me.
Larry Montgomery: No problem. And Andy, thank you for the opportunity. We really appreciate you considering Etex to be represented here today. And thank you so much.
Andy Johns: We want to thank Larry Montgomery, the Director of Sales and Marketing at Etex there in Gillmer, Texas. Also want to thank the Texas Telephone Association with there TXConnect Virtual Education series they’ve got going on. Larry was a part of this week, and I’ll be a part of coming up in February. A couple of quick things to note. If you enjoyed this podcast, you might want to check out Rural Broadband Today at RuralBroadbandToday.com, which is another podcast from the WordSouth family. And I also want to give you a heads up that we’ve got a great series coming up in April about the customer journey and the customer experience there that Carrie Huckabey is putting together talking to some real heavyweights around the rural telco space to try to map out the customer journey at different telcos all across the country. I’m your host, Andy Johns, with WordSouth. And until we talk again, keep telling your story.