For the last two years, sales superstar Stephen Molloy has been leading sales efforts for an innovative product. His company, Adludio, develops mobile advertising that uses touch and haptic sensory feedback technologies to appeal to users on multiple levels of interaction. It’s a powerful new approach to mobile marketing, but it can also make for a challenging sell, as investing in something so cutting edge asks clients to step out of their comfort zone and shake up the status quo.
Of course, Molloy is particularly suited to this task. A master of consultative selling — the sales philosophy centered on identifying and solving a client’s business problems — he doesn’t shy away from challenging a client’s way of thinking, but he also understands the importance of building a relationship and identifying need. A typical client presentation at Adludio begins with Molloy blindfolding his guests — a move not every salesperson can pull off. It works, though, because he inspires trust and confidence, and is unabashedly unorthodox.
But Molloy didn’t reach this caliber of salesmanship alone. Long before he was Adludio’s sales vice president, he was a junior salesperson fortunate enough to find a mentor.
At the time, Malloy was working as a media planner for ZenithOptimedia, a global media services network.
“I thrived at the media relations side,” Molloy said. “The negotiating, the schmoozing.”
Molloy was a born problem solver and networking natural. He lived for the chase and had a passion for competition. Soon he tired of media planning and buying, and began searching for a new challenge. Sales seemed like the next logical step, and it was on the sales side of the business that Molloy came to know Melanie Danks, one of his first sales directors.
“She was quite an extraordinary character,” Molloy said.
Danks, who now works as client director for Telegraph Media Group, was unlike any salesperson Molloy had ever met. She was eccentric and fearless, never afraid to look silly in front of others. She asked what some might have considered stupid questions, and consistently challenged her employees, her clients and herself.
“A lot of of people in media agencies don’t want to look silly, they don’t want to ask questions,” Molloy said. “You have to encourage them to be brave, to come out of their shell. If you think it’s a stupid question, you can bet your bottom dollar that everybody in the room is thinking the same thing.”
While Danks encouraged her team to ask questions and challenge their own ways of thinking, she refused to spell out answers, and made sure they found the solutions themselves. Molloy said this leadership style fostered fast learning.
“She was always there for support if you wanted it, but otherwise she left salespeople to run the business as if it were their own,” Molloy said. “You needed to own the [client] relationships and be responsible for the business.”
Molloy was immediately drawn to Dankes, admiring her competitive spirit, her tenacity and her unconventional sales style. Soon he began to view her as a mentor. While in her employ, Danks inspired Molloy to shed his self-consciousness when meeting with clients. She taught him the importance of challenging a client’s thinking rather than kowtowing to it. And she emphasized the significance of an authentic seller-buyer relationship.
“Consultative selling requires balance,” Molloy said. “You can’t just charge in there challenging people and asking the difficult questions right off the bat. You’ve got to listen . . . You’ve got to understand where they are in the organization, their relationship with their clients, and gain their trust.”
Once you’ve done that, Molloy said, “it’s easier to challenge them, to give them the confidence to shake things up, to do different things, to do new things.”
This is why potential Adludio clients may find themselves sitting in a conference room blindfolded on a weekday morning. Molloy understands that most people are expecting dry PowerPoints and scripted presentations. He knows that many of his competitors use buzzwords and fancy acronyms in lieu of substantive discussion.
So he shakes things up. The blindfold works to demonstrate the power of touch in a unique, powerful way. It generates excitement and enthusiasm, and quickly engages the participants. And it helps simplify a complex concept, because while the nature of sensory mobile advertising is technically advanced, the idea behind it is straightforward, even universal.
“The hardest thing in the world is to make the solution sound really obvious,” Molloy said. “To put it in layman's terms. To make it simple. If you can do that, people are cool with it, because they're not out of their comfort zone.”
While Molloy and Danks now work for different companies, and have for some time, her influence has stayed with him throughout his career, and is especially evident at Adludio. The blindfolding device is straight out of the Danks’ playbook.
“She wasn't afraid to look silly because she believed in herself, her team and her products,” Molloy said.
And neither is he.