What Marketers can Learn from Sales

What Marketers can Learn from Salespeople (Featuring Steli Efti from Close.io)

Luke’s note: Many marketers avoid sales, which is terribly unfortunate because they aren’t that different from each other. Sales from my perspective is going out and proactively trying to win customers, while marketing is trying to get those same people to come to you. You’re still dealing with a similar target market, it’s just a different process. In addition, at most B2B companies, there’s a handoff between these two teams. It’s important that these people work well together.

I’m a huge fan of what Steli Efti is doing at Close.io, so I decided to ping him and ask him a few questions about what marketers can learn from sales people. He recorded a video response, and I highly recommend watching it. Here’s the video below:


  1. Bio – who are you? What do you do?
  2. What’s the biggest problem you see (as a sales guy) with marketers in startups/tech? (2:42)
  3. If you were to teach a marketer sales, what are the top two things you would focus on? (4:09)
  4. How can marketers work more efficiently with sales teams? (7:15)
  5. You’re always answering questions on Quora. Any learnings/takeaways on its effectiveness? (9:10)
  6. It looks like you’re getting into adding Youtube videos along with blog posts, what’s that all about? (11:10)
  7. You recently published an ebook on startup sales. How was the launch? – It seems like lead gen for Close.io to me (12:05)
  8. On the Close.io blog you recently had a post on how to streamline letters of intent (and close deals quicker). Do you mind breaking down what steps you took to testing/figuring this out? (14:07)
  9. Who’s the smartest marketer you know? Why? (16:00)

Links to check out:

  1. Startup Sales Guide
  2. Close.io Blog
  3. Steli + Patrick Mackenzie interview


Hey guys this is Steli Efti with Close.io. This is a nine question Q & A about what marketing people can learn from sales guys and how we think about marketing at Close.io. So Luke from the GainBits blog sent me a email yesterday saying “We’ve known each other for a while and yesterday you pinged me in an email and said hey dude, I’m doing lot of Q & A’s on my blog, I’d love to actually have a sales person’s perspective on marketing featured on the blog. Would you be open for a quick Q & A session?” And I was like “Yeah, I’m absolutely up for it.”

So he sent me nine questions via email and instead of just writing down my answers at length I thought why not do a quick video and share those answers in person. Let’s go through the quick nine questions and see what sales and marketing people can learn from each other.

Number one he asks “Bio, who the hell are you, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?” For sure. My name is Steli Efti, I’m originally, grew up back in Europe and I’ve been an entrepreneur my whole life, I dropped out of high school when I was about eighteen. Out of the lack of options, I had to go into entrepreneurship and it’s been the savior of my life. I’ve been an entrepreneur my whole life. I’m completely unemployable with zero credentials and my entrepreneurial super power has always been sales, hustling. Going out there and making shit happen through the power of hustle.

About seven and a half years ago I sold everything I had, I bought a one-way ticket to San Francisco in Silicon Valley to put my first technology company. And through a lot of highs and a lot of lows I ended up building a company three years ago that was called Elastic Sales. What we did was basically offering venture backed technology companies in Silicon Valley a sales team on demand to both do sales exploration as well as sales execution and scaling.

In the process of doing sales for over two hundred venture backed start-ups and building kind of a secret lab of sales for technology in the heart of Silicon Valley, we developed this little tool called Close.io. It was called our own internal secret sauce software, software that empowered our sales people to out perform our competitors. Eventually the software got so popular that we released it to the world and you can find it on Close.io and it’s helping thousands of sales people around the world to close more deals and make more sales.

That’s been kind of a short mini-bio. If you want to actually know more about myself, actually hear about my entrepreneurial depression as well as happiness, just go to YouTube, type in Steli Efti and then Tedx and you’ll find a talk where she had some of the very highs but also the lowest lows as that I’ve experienced as an entrepreneur.

Let’s move on to the second question. What’s the biggest problem you see as a sales guy with marketers in start-ups in tech. It’s not just an issue I see with marketers but it’s actually just a general issue that I see with a lot of people that are not as results driven. It’s confusing activity with productivity. And especially in marketing I think a lot of times we tend to look at vanity metrics and just be happy with ourselves and pat ourselves on the back and say “Wow, we had a hundred shares on Facebook with this blog post” or “Wow with this amount of views or traffic . . .” or whatever the top of the funnel is which is usually the biggest number we can track and report on.

When I see marketers that I find to be ineffective for a start up environment is usually because they’re super focused on things that are intangible and vanity metrics versus really caring deeply about results, real results. A share is not necessarily a result if you do not know that that share will definitely, that ten shares will lead to, one sign up will lead to whatever amount of revenue for you down the line, maybe five dollars in revenue, two dollars in revenue.

If you don’t know what the real result is that your activity and the early top of the funnel results are that you’re driving, you’re just producing a lot of activity, a lot of heat but very little actual result. It’s like all energy all like brute force but no elegance, nothing real tangible that moves the business forward and that’s super crucial for a start up.

Next question, question number three. If you were to teach a marketer sales, what are the top two things that you would actually teach? That’s an awesome question. I think anybody, the first two things, the two things that I would teach somebody is first of all reframing in your mind what sales is really about. Most people, including a lot of marketers I know think sales is all about talking. Sales is all about selling, talking, communicating, shaking somebody until they buy what you want to sell them and they buy into your value proposition.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Sales is all about asking questions. Sales is all about listening, active, proactive listening, asking the right questions to really not just stay on the surface level of understanding your prospect or potential customer, but really go deep and arrive at a point where you’re so empathetic to the situation you have such understanding of their situation that challenges the things they try to accomplish that you don’t have to do a lot of talking. At the end of the conversation your descending is so deep, so intimate that you could throw what I call one dart, one value proposition, one sentence, two sentence pitch and hit the target and sell them and convince them.

The only way to do that and be so effective and elegant in the way you do sales is to actually really practice the art of asking questions, the art of really listening and truly getting and gaining understanding. He who asks or she who asks the most questions in the conversation is the person that leads the conversation, leads the direction and the focus of the conversations. Asking questions is really powerful and is what sales is all about.

The second thing that I would focus on teaching a marketer when it comes to sales is really asking the most crucial question which is the question for the close, “Hey do you want to buy our product? Hey do you want to become a customer? Hey what would it take for you to actually become a customer of our product?” Asking that question is so scary because in most cases it will actually elicit a rejection. It will elicit the other party to say “No I’m not ready yet, no I don’t like what you have now, no we’re not sure that’s for us., well we think this is too expensive.”

Most people design their lives around rejection. They design a life that will create as little rejection as possible. In sales, there is no hiding from rejection. In sales you need to embrace rejection. In sales it’s the reason of existence for most sales people, is to actually elicit rejection and then manage it and then overcome it and actually turn people that should be customers of your product or service or business into customers. Help them get there even if they think somewhere in the journey that they shouldn’t do it.

Only obviously, and that’s why you have to ask all the questions, if they’re really qualified and they would really benefit from being customers. Dealing with rejection, elicit rejection and manage emotionally to deal with people telling you no, you suck, your product sucks, I don’t want to buy. That’s kind of one of the things that makes sales so challenging and something that a lot of times people that haven’t done that job are under appreciating so we definitely focus on these two things.

Next question. How can marketers work more efficiently with sales teams? That’s a beautiful question. Here’s what I would do and what I would share with any kind of marketing and sales team that have to work a lot with each other. Sales and marketing is actually, those two teams are not as different from each other than let’s say sales and engineering. But still both teams speak very different languages and sometimes a lot of things can go lost in translations when these two teams try to interact with each other.

Here’s what I would advise you to do. Actually have marketers do sales, have them actually do sales for a day. Sit there and do sales calls, prospect, qualify new leads that are coming in, actually have these conversations, actually get rejected, actually have to feel the pain and the challenges and really get an inside view of what it means to be a sales person and vice versa. And actually make sales people do marketing for a day. Actually have them write a blog post or do some tweets or actually think about optimizing an advertising campaign and show them some ad creatives and tell them what would you change, how would you make this better.

Make them understand how hard it is to be a marketer and what the challenges are and what the thought process is so that the both sides are not just constantly bitching about each other. And sales people are constantly saying “Well these marketers are sending us shitty leads.” And the marketing people are like “Well these sales people just suck and they don’t know how to appreciate the amazing leads we send them.” Right? Have those teams actually do each others jobs so they can build up empathy an they don’t just have the content of what is each side saying but they have the context.

Again coming back to asking questions, getting to real understanding. They don’t just stay on the surface level of understanding, they really get deep and understand the other party. So that they can service and work with each other a lot better, right? That’s what I would do, actually have these two teams reverse, have these teams constantly train each other in the art of the other person’s job and have sales people be better marketers and marketers be better sales people. I think that’s going to benefit not just the collaboration between the two teams but overall the company and every individual in itself.

Next question. You’re always answering Steli, that means me. You’re always answering questions on Quora and do learnings take away on its effectiveness? That’s a great question. I am active on Quora, I want to be even more active than I am. And actually to be honest I can’t take any credit for it because when we first starting being active on Quora I thought it would be a waste of time. It was actually a person on our team that started answering questions on Quora that were sales related and we saw, all of a sudden we saw kind of a huge bump in traffic. We looked at the sources ad one of the top sources was Quora and we’re like “Holy fuck, why are we getting all this traffic from Quora?”

Eventually and a team member raises her hand and she’s like “Well I’ve been answering questions on Quora. It seems like it’s working.” And we analyzed the traffic a little further and we saw that it converted at crazy amounts so we started believing in the power of Quora and the power of going where people are ready, are dying to know the answer to a specific question and when we have the answer, answering it. And sharing with the community and teaching people is a pretty powerful way. We see not just traffic but we see really high quality traffic and high quality sign-ups coming from Quora. A lot of times when we call new sign-ups and we ask them “How did you hear about us? They say “I read about you guys on Quora” or “I read an answer from one of your guys on Quora.” So it’s been pretty effective for us and a pretty powerful tool.

The other thing that I want to share with marketers is Quora gives us an amazing amount of ideas for new content. So when somebody asks a question on Quora and lots and lots of people are voting that question up or lots and lots of people are viewing and following that question, that tells us people want to know. And we basically a lot of times when we answer that question on Quora, we take that and we actually take a lot of time to really answer in depth and detail and we turn it into a blog post or we turn it into a few slides in our next webinar and we really use it as a content generating engine for us that provides us with ideas of what people really want to know about.

Next question. It looks like you’re getting into adding a lot of YouTube videos to your blog post, what’s that all about and why did I create this video instead of just answering the questions in email? Well there’s a couple of things about this. One is obviously I enjoy video a lot more than I enjoy writing usually. It’s much easier for us to c- . . . For me to use the ideas that I have and create a little video and take that video and turn it into content that’s written. So that’s kind of our new content engine. Every blog post you see on the Close.io blog, if you go to blog.close.io every blog post you see right now first was an idea that turned into a video then we turned the video into actually the blog post.

This is a new way that we create content. We’re able to turn out a lot more content that way and we have big plans with our YouTube channel that I’m not going to reveal right now but it’s very much in its infancy and I’m really excited about it.

Next question. You recently published a book on start-up sales. How was the launch, it seems like a great lead generation for a Close.io? That’s true, the book is called The Ultimate Startup Guide to Outbound Sales. Launch code for you guys 50% off if you type in “awesomesauce“. You can find it on startupsalesguy.com, we’ll share the link here. But the questions is how did the launch go? A lot better than expected. Not that we had crazy expectations, we really didn’t want to market this book too crazily because it was a first dry run for us. We have a lot of big ideas on what we want to do in terms of writing books using some of our amazing content to remix that and turn it into books.

This was more of a learning process. We knew that we would suck and we took the philosophy of done better than perfect and we put something together we thought was really valuable but not quite as perfect as we’d like it to be and we put it out there. And we sold thousands of it, thousands of dollars, not copies. It continues to sell, which is amazing and we’re not promoting it all and every day we’re selling more and more books. It’s turning into a really nice little revenue source.

The reason why we did that is yes, number one it is a lead generation for me that’s kind of a new content format for us and for audiences to discover us, for our core audience to actually consume our content in a different way. But we also truly believe in the philosophy of charging, provide value and then charge. This is a real business, we’re here to make money and not just create goodwill. We’re probably one of the few if not the only [inaudible 00:13:34] out there, one of the few [inaudible 00:13:36] not the only one, but one of the very few ones that actually creates an eBook and actually charges for it versus just giving it away for free for generating lots and lots of leads,

And we believe that because we’re charging, the perceived value is a lot higher. The amount of people actually consuming the book, reading it and then putting into practice is a lot higher so we generate a lot more success and value in the world and that’s what we’re really all about. Not about vanity metrics and downloads but about actual results out there.

Last question or second to last question. On the Close.io blog you recently had a post on how to streamline letters of intent and basically context when you work with larger enterprise clients. Do you mind breaking down what steps took you to testing figuring this hack out. This is a quick hack where you actually ask the other side, instead of you creating a letter of intent, sending it to them, then sending it to the legal department, the legal department destroying it, taking it apart. And you having to go back and forth between all departments forever, what you do is actually ask them “Hey have you done a deal like this, a similar deal before the last six to twelve months that had a letter of intent that got approved on your legal side? And if yes, can you send me that letter of intent so we can use it as a template and just edit it for our specific use case to make sure we speed up the process?”

How do we get that? Real life experience. I was actually doing sales for my first U.S. based and Silicon Valley based start-up and was doing sales there for the very first time, doing enterprise sales, trying to close and closing companies like Google and Intuit and really large organizations like Oracle. And one of our investors was a veteran in enterprise sales and we had this back and forth with their department around a letter of intent. And he stepped in and said “You know what Steli? This is a huge waste of time. Send them an email right now asking them have they done a deal like this in the last twelve months and if so can they provide you with the contract that got approved through legal back then?”

That was when my mind was blown, I was like “Wow this is so elegant, this is so beautiful.” And we did that and were able to close the deal within two weeks, saving ourselves tons of time and money going back and forth between both legal departments. I took that learning and shared it multiple times in person and got a lot of feedback that it really worked for lots and lots of other people. Eventually when I shared it with somebody it prompted me to actually create a video that turned into a blog post that we shared so more people could actually take advantage of this little hack.

Last question on this, who’s the smartest marketer you know and why? This is a great question so first I was like “Wow, this is one of those questions that’s impossible to answer because the answer is constantly changing.” I’m constantly inspired and motivated by different marketers so if you ask me today it’s a different answer than six months ago or twelve months ago. There’s not a single person that I’m like “This is my marketing God and I think they are the best in the world.” I don’t believe in that. But right now if you ask me what kind of marketers am I most inspired about, it probably has to be the guys from Buffer.

If you check out Buffer, if you’re in marketing you know Buffer probably. Those guys are just content creation Gods right now in my mind and what blows my mind is the amount of transparency they use to actually really propel their marketing to the next level. Those guys share everything about the company. They really practice radical transparency on a corporate level, sharing their revenue numbers, having their revenue dashboard online for everybody around the world to see at all times. The revenue numbers day by day, month by month, sharing their salaries, sharing everything about their company, which makes for really compelling content which also makes for really compelling branding. Because people really get intimately familiar with that company, they start caring. I care about these guys, I root for their success, they’re taking me on their journey, it just creates a completely different brand and it blows my mind. I’m scared shitless considering opening up a lot more or potentially at some point being as radical transparent as they are with our content marketing and our marketing in general.

So those guys are super inspiring. I think they are doing really awesome shit with it and really push the world forward with their content marketing.

That’s really it. I hope this was useful. If you ever want to get in touch with me and actually learn more about sales from a marketing perspective just send me an email. Steli@close.io. Let’s chat marketing, let’s chat sales. I hope this was valuable. Thanks so much for asking the questions.

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