October 28th, 2014 AlleyBoost: How to Improve Sales, Tips from Former Salesforce Employee


Elay Cohen, the former Senior Vice President of Sales Productivity at salesforce.com, shared his proven communication-based sales techniques at an AlleyBoost class on Tuesday, October 28 at Mercy College. 

The entrepreneur and author urges companies to bring humanity back into sales – internally and externally. Cohen injected this personal, relationship-focused attitude toward sales into the culture of salesforce.com, which grew from $500 million to $3 billion in revenues while he was there.

“People would ask how we hit our numbers so fast,” Cohen said. “It has to come from the heart and soul of the company.”

Cohen’s sales philosophy comes from his experience learning sales from his father, a furniture storeowner, selling products door-to-door, and working in sales at various companies, including salesforce.com. He wrote a book called Saleshood and started a SaaS sales-solution startup with the same name. Founded less than two years ago, the company is already breaking even without any VC funding. Cohen said they are starting with a limited amount of customers so they can get the product right before they scale.


At salesforce Cohen created an environment where the entire team shared a single sales vision, which encouraged both results and relationship building with customers. When salesforce started in 1999, Microsoft and Oracle were competitors in the space. Sales reps met with customers, told them how salesforce could solve their pain faster and for less money than the bigger companies. Salesforce surprised the big names by expanding rapidly.

The company is known for its boot-camp training for new employees. The sales team continues to communicate with weekly and monthly meetings where they share success stories and allow for peer-to-peer learning.

Cohen’s formula for SUCCESS

Seed & grow: Cohen empowered sales reps to be high performing executives that can win over customers and close deals as quickly as possible. He said reps must reach out to prospective clients with a personal touch – not a canned email – that is specific to who they are and what they need.

“Reps that do research and can identify the person write an email that uses some marketing language and extracts the essence of what the person is interested in,” Cohen said.

You can make six touches with the customer before giving up. Send one email followed by one voicemail three times. Cohen said sometimes prospective customers appreciate receiving a phone call and reach out on LinkedIn first.

“Nothing replaces picking up the phone and saying, “Hi I thought I’d give you a call and talk about what’s going on in your business today,’” he said.

Users sell for you: Use customer testimonials to gain new customers. Ask if they can be references. But use discretion when deciding when to use them according to the size of the deal.

Compelling demos: Tell customers how this will solve their problem. In his furniture-selling days, Cohen and his father let customers try pieces at home before buying.

Connecting the dots: To build a relationship, you have to know your customer. Research their history, what they do, what they need and who they know.

Experience events: Salesforces had events where customers and prospective customers listened to a presentation then networked, with the help of some alcohol. They were a success.

Sell high and through: Sales reps need to have a complete end-to-end strategy.

Show them the money: Show customers what the return on investment will be. It has to be enough that even if they get 1 percent, the investment will be worth it.

Good sales reps

A sales person is great communicator, listener, can have a great conversation, document it and leave space for a conversation to happen,” Cohen said. “They can take a business on a journey to ultimately reach their goals.”

The sales rep is responsible for talking to the consumer until they find out the real pain. They need to discover the company’s “compelling event” – an inside or outside pressure with consequences that motivates the business to get some type of result urgently.

Sales reps should answer the following questions on every deal:

1.      What are they buying?

2.      Why are they buying?

3.      When are they buying?

4.      Who is buying?

5.      Who is paying?

Sales reps can improve by recording their own pitch and listening to it, as well as their colleagues’. Reps should also talk to customers about what’s working and what isn’t in order to improve the product and sales technique. They should be hands on and remember to close deals with class. A hand-written thank you note is sufficient. Basics courtesies like that worked for Cohen as a kid in the furniture business, and he believes they continue to work today.