Just Be Human! A Q&A With Aaron Franzin

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Sales has never been harder despite all the technology that was supposed to make it easier. We compete in an environment where attention is scarce, clutter oppressive and distractions nonstop. The burden is on us to rise above the noise. That is why I invited Aaron Frazin, founder and CEO of Charlie, to join me for today’s Q&A.

Charlie is an app that sifts through 100s of sources and automatically sends you a one‐pager on all the people you plan to meet with, before you see them. It gathers the intel you need to make a killer impression.

I had the pleasure to meet Aaron through Lightbank, our mutual VC investor here in Chicago. What separates Aaron from other founders is the degree of spirit, thoughtfulness and adventure he brings to entrepreneurship. He’ll tell you that just being human is the key to crushing sales:

Jayna: What inspired you to create Charlie?

Aaron: One of my big beliefs is that capturing someone’s attention, or attention in general, is challenging. At the dinner table, people are always on their phones. Inboxes are filled beyond belief and decision makers receive way too many calls. It’s only getting worse. People now have anattention span of 8 seconds. It used to be 12 seconds. Attention is going to be the scarcest commodity there is.

So how do you solve that? You do your research and make the prospect care. One of the best skills to have is the ability to tell a story, capture attention and say things that resonate. We built Charlie to help make that happen. We want to bring the human element back into the business world, and if we can achieve that, we’ve succeeded.

Jayna: In sales, what’s the secret to capturing someone’s attention?

Aaron: Let’s use email as an example. Every point in an email needs to buy attention currency. In the beginning, you’re effectively trash. But you can buy more seconds. Why should the person read on? How have I bought their attention? After enough lines, you buy enough attention to say something boring. You’re competing with the prior email, their phone, the next email, Chicago summer, etc. Make it as easy as possible to read on.

Jayna: How do you make a killer impression at the beginning of a sales meeting?

Aaron: It’s important to know what the other person cares about. At Charlie, we believe you need to do your homework. Here’s my plan for this meeting, and here’s what I hope you’ll get out of it. Too many people do, “Here’s what I want to tell you.” You should at least have a guess about what value you can add.

When pitching Charlie, I’ll say, “Tell me about one of the big accounts you’re trying to target. How did you capture their attention?” The person will talk about the research process. “Cool, I want to provide you with a way to automate that whole process so you save 20 to 30 minutes of researching. How does that sound?” Because of what Charlie is, I also have the luxury of saying, “Here’s what we found out about you.”

Jayna: How else do you stand out in a sales conversation?

Aaron: By being human. Some people use very businessy terms. Those don’t help. Today, my Wi-Fi wasn’t working during a demo. I spent the first five minutes being stuck. Instead of being defensive, I said, “This probably isn’t the most riveting sales demo you’ve ever seen.” You’d be surprised how people gravitate towards vulnerability.

Jayna: What are the chief mistakes that you see novice salespeople make?

Aaron: Talking only about yourself. And I see mistakes that are the result of people not asking themselves, “Why would I care? Why would I pay attention?” Slow down for a second. Would you really reply to the thing you’re going to send? That question could prevent so many mistakes.

Jayna: Which aspects of sales should be automated?

Aaron: There are things people do over and over again. I think things that are mindless should be automated. Imagine if you had to copy this Q&A letter by letter instead of using copy-paste. So many things in the sales process need copy-paste.

But some of the things that people automate are opportunities to take the opposite approach. People send direct mail again and it’s working because it stands out. Go against the things being automated.

Jayna: 10 years from now, what will be different about sales?

Aaron: If attention spans dropped from 12 to 8 seconds thanks to mobile phones, imagine how much worse it’s going to get. My belief is that attention will be the hardest thing to capture. Millennials will be the decision makers, they’ll have 100s of things they want to do and there will be even more distractions. People are going to read this interview and start sending direct mail. It will be so much worse. Those who go against the tide will win.

Jayna: Imagine that your alma mater, Kelly School of Business at Indiana University, has asked you to teach a seminar on entrepreneurship. How would you structure it?

Aaron: First, I would start with a session on, “It’s the most amazing journey.” Love yourself enough to take the big risk. Yes, you might fail, but believe in yourself and take the chance on yourself.

Among other things, I would also cover balance, and I don’t mean typical work-life balance. At the beginning, you work every hour of the day. It took me years to realize that I wasn’t being as effective as I could be. If you can do things you love and spend time with people you love, you’ll be mentally stronger. I love the outdoors, and surprisingly, one thing that rejuvenates me is having deep conversations. Have I been having enough awesome, deep conversations? No? I better make sure I do.

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