Summer 2014 Is Over…Does Your Sales Pipeline Need a Fresh Start?

September is back to school season, the start of football season, and the start of autumn – and with all of these seasonal changes, every B2B company sales team shifts into a new gear as we start getting ready to make a final push toward the last quarter of the year. Now that summer vacation season is over and your customers and prospects are all back in the office, it’s time to refocus your efforts and take a fresh look at your new business pipeline.

 

Has business development started to stall during the quieter summer months? Does your sales pipeline need a fresh start to build momentum into the last stretch of 2014? Here are a few indications that your sales pipeline might need some urgent attention:

 

1. Not enough new business appointments

 

If your sales appointment calendar is looking thin, it might be time to take a closer look at what you’re doing for appointment setting. The sales business always has its ups and downs, but even when business is steady you need to keep doing the little things every day to keep cultivating new sales lead opportunities. Keep cold calling, keep following up with new prospects, and keep doing what it takes to stay busy and keep your sales calendar full of possibilities.

 

2. Too many unpleasant surprises

 

Have you recently lost a big client, or had a few promising deals go south unexpectedly? The sales process can often be unpredictable, and sometimes every company loses a big account for reasons beyond their control – but if you feel like you’re having too many instances of bad luck and unpleasant surprises lately, that might be a sign that you need to take a fresh look at your sales pipeline. How are you forecasting sales? What are your conversion rates for each stage of your sales process? Are you letting too many unqualified sales leads go through to your sales team? Or are you doing a great job of getting customers interested during the initial stages of the sales process, only to lose them in the end when you start talking about ROI?

 

With a well-managed sales pipeline, you can do a better job of sorting and ranking your sales leads, managing expectations along the way, and developing more accurate forecasts of how soon various deals might close.

 

3. Too many deals in “sales purgatory.”

 

We’ve all been there – you have some great initial conversations with the client, you follow up, you have subsequent appointments, the client is excited and ready to move forward, and then…the client goes silent. If you feel like too many of your deals are stalling or stuck in “sales purgatory” where you can neither abandon them nor close the sale, then this is another sign that your sales pipeline needs work. By doing a better job of qualifying and managing the leads in your sales pipeline, you can constantly re-assess, re-evaluate and re-focus on which sales leads are highest priority and most worthy of your sales reps’ time and attention.

 

4. The sales that you are closing are not profitable enough.

 

Are you getting bogged down with too many small sales? Even if it seems worth making a small sale today because the new client has potential for future growth, if the only sales you’re closing are smaller than your target revenue – or if you are selling at a price that does not allow for a sufficient profit margin – you’re going to regret it in the long run. Small client accounts often take an amount of time, energy and resources to service that exceeds their value. Sometimes there is such a thing as a “bad sale” if you’re not getting enough of a profit margin to cover your costs, or if the customer turns out to be a bad fit for your solution. Many of these challenges can be minimized by paying more attention to your sales pipeline – make sure that the right sales leads are getting through your sales process, make sure that you’re focusing your attention and energies in the right place.

 

The last quarter of 2014 is coming soon, and with it comes a final push to meet our sales goals and put our companies in position for 2015. Many sales teams ramp up their efforts to close more deals in the next few months, and that’s important – but at the same time, you need to make sure you’re taking a fresh look at your sales pipeline. Qualifying sales leads, evaluating your sales process at each stage, and continually re-sorting and re-focusing on the sales leads that are most likely to buy are all part of laying the groundwork for sales success.

3 Biggest Networking Mistakes that Salespeople Make

Sales people often are natural networkers – after all, we tend to be “people persons” who love to meet new people, build relationships, and create conversations, both in “real life” and on social media. But many sales people, without realizing it, are making some big mistakes with their business networking.

 

Business networking is one of the sales person’s oldest tools. We use our network of relationships and contacts to get in touch with decision makers, get advice, and get connected with new opportunities. But if you’re making some of these networking mistakes, you might not be reaching your full potential as a sales professional.

 

Here are a few of the most common networking mistakes – and how to avoid them:

 

Mistake #1: Networking without a strategy. Building relationships is a long-term activity. You can’t just expect to run out and immediately find the contacts or opportunities you’re looking for without investing some time and effort. Just as you would develop a marketing plan or a sales strategy to land a big client, spend some time mapping out some short-term and long-term goals for your sales networking.

 

How to avoid: Spend some time asking (and answering) some “big questions” that can guide your networking activity. For example, who are you trying to meet? Which types of companies would you love to get connected with? Who do you already know who works at these companies or knows some of these higher-level people, and how can you strengthen your relationships with your existing circle of influence?

 

Mistake #2: Networking only to “get,” never to “give.” Too many sales people only look at networking as a way to get what they want. Too many sales people only network in order to get closer to a decision maker, or get their foot in the door at a company where they’re trying to make a sale, or to get in front of someone who might offer them a new job. This is the biggest networking mistake of all. If people feel that you are in it only for yourself, they will be reluctant to trust you or help you. Networking is a two-way street – and some of the most successful sales people are also the most generous with their time and with their contacts.

 

How to avoid: When networking, always look for opportunities to “give” more than you “get.” Examples of “giving” might be as simple as sharing a timely article about a prospect’s business or industry, or connecting a contact with an opportunity that is valuable to them (even if it is unrelated to your business). Your generosity might not always be rewarded immediately, but in the long run you will build a reputation as someone who can be trusted, and someone who is willing to help others and connect others with opportunities.

 

Mistake #3: Networking only with the “usual suspects.” Especially if you sell a complex B2B solution, it can be understandably tempting to spend most of your time focused on networking with people in your niche market. But if you spend all of your time connecting only with a small circle of people, you might miss out on opportunities that could come from connecting with people from other facets of your life.

 

How to avoid: Remember that everyone you know, and everyone they know, can potentially be a valuable contact for you. Take a look at all of your social circles – work, family, community activities, social organizations – and see how you can become more of a connector. Someone you know from church or from your kids’ school might have a friend or relative who works in a business that needs your help.

 

Networking is the constant, never-ending work of the sales professional. Sometimes networking feels like trying to navigate a maze – lots of blind corners and uncertainty and wrong turns. But at its best, networking is not a maze, it’s a safety net. One of the comforting truths about networking is that we are all supported by our own “safety nets” of contacts and all of their combined expertise, experience and relationships. If sales people can learn to network with planning and purpose (instead of just impulsively grasping around with no sense of direction), if sales people can learn to broaden their networks and connect other people within their networks (instead of only talking to the “usual suspects”), and if sales people can use networking as a way to deepen their relationships and build trust (rather than only trying to get what they need), networking will become a more purposeful and helpful tool – and a better way to operate as a sales professional.

 

How to Keep Your Best Sales Leads From Plunging to Their Death

Too many great sales leads die in the first 15 seconds. Instead of taking flight, the sales lead quickly plummets to the ground.

 

The biggest reason why promising sales leads fail is the sales rep’s choice of opening statements. From the moment your sales reps get on the phone with a prospect, they can either cause the premature death of the sales lead, or nurture the lead into a deeper ongoing sales relationship.

 

Here are three of the biggest “lead-killing” opening statements that your sales reps might be making:

 

  • “I understand you are interested in buying (our product, service or solution).”
  • “I understand you are very unhappy with your existing (vendor/solution) and are going to replace it.”
  • “I understand that your existing vendor is not doing a very good job.”

 

The reason these statements kill sales leads is because they are not rapport building statements, they are deal-closing questions. If the first thing you say to a prospect is, “Are you ready to buy from me?” chances are you are going to build sales resistance (without even realizing it).

 

If your sales reps are asking for the sale too soon and making closing statements way too early in the conversation, it will be devastating to the follow-up process and you will unwittingly drive away many sales leads that might have been interested to buy from you if your sales team had handled the process a bit more gracefully. For more about the reasons why reps often rush the follow-up process (with damaging results), read my earlier article on the 80/20 rule.

 

Why are these “lead-killing” opening statements so bad for your sales process?

 

  • They assume too much. If you ask any of these questions to the prospect and the prospect answers “yes,” that means that he/she is automatically welcoming you to enter their sales cycle. But most prospects aren’t ready to move quite that fast. Don’t overstep your bounds, and don’t assume too much based on a limited amount of information. Just because you happen to have some business intelligence supplied by your lead generator does not mean you have already been selected as a preferred vendor. Slow down and be prepared to work through the process of building rapport, developing a relationship, and showing the prospect how you can help resolve their specific pain issues.
  • The questions make you sound like an order taker. If the first thing a prospect hears from you on the phone is, “Are you ready to buy from me?” that tends to dissuade people from having further conversation. Moving too fast is a total turn off for most prospects. Instead of sounding like a seasoned professional who knows the prospect’s industry and is focused on helping the prospect solve a problem, asking closing questions too fast makes you sound like a telemarketer who is merely reading from a checklist. This comes off as high pressure.

 

Unfortunately, when prospects get turned off by presumptuous, high-pressure or overly assumptive sales calls and exit the conversation early, most sales reps are completely oblivious about the reasons why the sales lead died. Too often as a result of the above process, reps will report these leads are “unqualified.” Instead of taking a closer look at what they are doing on the phone, the reps will be quick to blame your lead “source” as not effectively qualifying leads.

 

You can’t be monitoring every call your reps make so watch for these kinds of entries in your CRM system:

 

  • “Prospect said he is staying with his existing vendor for now.”
  • “Prospect says…I never said (_____________).”
  • “Prospect said he only requested information and is not in the market at this time.”

 

Read between the lines – these are defensive comments, indicating that the prospects are fending off overly aggressive, assumptive statements by the sales rep. If your sales reps are making these types of notes frequently, that is a sign that something the reps are saying on the phone is unknowingly driving away your sales leads. Once the prospect is in a defensive mode the chances of the lead advancing are very slim.

 

In reality, the prospect did say all of those things to your lead generator that were indicative of interest and openness to the possibility of buying. But when the first thing that the prospect hears from your sales rep are closing questions and assumptive statements, the prospect goes into “exit mode,” feeling so turned off by the rep’s tactics that they just want to end the call as soon as possible.

 

Instead of starting a call with closing questions, train your sales reps to warm up the call by opening with rapport-building questions:

 

  • How did you get into the business?
  • How long had you been trying to solve these issues?
  • What have you tried to do to fix these issues?
  • What kind of impact is this having on your day-to-day operations?
  • How do you measure that?

Instead of assuming that the prospect is ready to buy, take some time to build a relationship and find out more about the prospect’s specific pain issues. Then work through the sales process to link your solutions to the prospect’s needs, demonstrate your company’s capabilities, and prove to the prospect that you can deliver a worthwhile ROI.

 

The first sales call is not a deal-closing opportunity – instead it’s the first step in a longer, more profitable process. Don’t let your sales reps act like order takers. Train them to be the sophisticated sales professionals that high-value B2B sales demand.

 

Confessions of a Professional Call Screener

Getting past the gatekeepers to talk with decision makers can be one of the most challenging aspects of sales. The more important your decision maker, the more likely it is that they have one or more levels of gatekeepers – administrative assistants, direct reports, etc. – to keep people from reaching them by phone.

 

We interviewed a professional call screener (whose name will remain anonymous to protect his/her identity) to get the inside story on how sales people can avoid getting weeded out by some of the familiar call screening traps – and what it takes to really get through to decision makers.

 

Q. What are the easiest types of calls to identify as “sales calls?”

A. As a call screener, my job is to protect the time of the decision maker that I work for – so I need to make sure I’m not passing through calls that are going to waste our executive’s time. Lots of sales people make it really obvious that they are calling on a sales call – for example, sales people might say, “May I speak to the person in charge of purchasing” or “Who is your current vendor/supplier for (such-and-such) product or system?” When people say this, I immediately know that it’s a sales call, and I put my guard up – because I know they probably don’t have a relationship with our executive and they’re just trying to get through. It’s amazing how many sales people call that really don’t know anything about our company or don’t know the names of the people who work here. It’s like they just got our number off of a calling list.

 

Q. What do you do when you suspect that a call is a sales call?

A. I always say, “Is this a sales call? What are you selling?” The good sales people usually come clean and tell me what type of product or system they sell – there’s no point in trying to deny that they are, in fact, making sales calls. Sometimes I’ll ask them for more information, or I’ll ask them to send me a brochure. At this point, I’m not going to tell them the name of the decision maker, because my job is to keep the decision maker from getting calls like these.

 

Q. Do sales people ever just, well…lie to you? In an attempt to get through to your boss?

A. Yes! All the time. Unfortunately! Lots of sales people will use some kind of line on me, like, “I’m returning your boss’s call,” or “I’m a friend of your boss.” This always makes me suspicious. Because usually, I know who the boss is calling, and I’m usually familiar with the boss’s inner circle of friends who would be calling during a work day. Whenever someone tries one of these lines on me, I know they’re probably a sales person. So I ask them for their name and number, write down the information and double check with my boss before I connect them.

 

Q. What happens if a sales person lies to you?

A. If I find out that a sales person was lying to me, I’m not going to be very helpful in connecting them to my boss in the future.

We need to do business with people we trust. Starting off your first contact with me with a lie is not good business.

 

Q. What is the “right way” for a sales person to approach you, in a way that will make you want to help connect them with the decision maker?

A. The best sales people treat me with respect and try to get to know me and act with courtesy and professionalism. They don’t lie and they don’t try to hide things from me – they are happy to talk about what they do and volunteer information and details about what they’re trying to talk with us about. Just because it’s my job to be the “gatekeeper” doesn’t mean I’m always going to keep the gate shut! If you can show me what kind of value you can offer, and show me how your product or service can help make my boss’s life better, I’ll do what I can to help make sure your information or phone number or whatever gets in front of my boss.

 

Editor’s Note: As an additional bit of advice, we also suggest – try to build relationships with decision makers that are not dependent on gatekeepers. Use your network. Go on LinkedIn and start working your network from a few degrees of separation out, and try to ask for introductions so you can get closer to the decision maker. Find out which people you might already know inside the prospect’s company. Build alliances with people at the company to get introduced to the right people and “work your way up” to reaching the decision maker.

 

If your only chance to talk to a decision maker is to try to talk your way past a gatekeeper, then your chances are slim. But if you can work your way toward the decision maker, by using your relationship building skills and your existing network of contacts, you’ll be more likely to make the sale.

 

3 Simple Steps to Get the Most from Your Sales Leads

Lead generation companies often have to juggle two competing priorities: our clients want more sales leads, but they also want to convert a higher percentage of the sales leads that they already have.

 

Many sales leaders have the misconception that lead generation and sales conversion are two separate goals – the sales people constantly cry for “more sales leads” while their managers insist that the sales people need to get better conversion rates from their existing sales leads.

 

Fortunately, these two goals do not have to conflict with each other. Along with a robust lead generation program to keep more new sales leads coming in, it’s also important for sales organizations to create a solid pipeline of sales opportunities by managing their sales leads for the long term. With the right sales lead follow-up and sales lead nurturing techniques, sales teams can keep maximizing the value from every new sales lead that comes along.

 

Here are three steps to get more value from your existing sales leads, while also uncovering new opportunities along the way:

 

Rank and qualify your sales leads

 

Not all sales leads are created equal, and not all sales leads are worth giving the same amount of attention. One of the first principles of lead management is that sales leads need to be constantly evaluated, sorted and ranked in order of priority. For example, you could list your sales leads in order of “perceived pain” (how urgently they are looking to make a purchase) based on your sales team’s conversations.

 

Learn how to ask the right questions to draw out the prospect’s deeper concerns. Qualifying B2B sales leads is not just about robotically reading from a script, it’s about building rapport and beginning to develop a relationship where you can talk to this person multiple times over a longer-term period – and sometimes your lead qualification questions might uncover some other opportunities for sales.

 

Most sales people are eager to jump on the “highest priority” sales leads which have indicated a willingness to buy. But your company will be well served if you can also teach your sales team to value the “lower priority” sales leads – because these sales leads will enter the pipeline to become future sales opportunities, if the team knows how to nurture them and guide them through the sales process. Today’s “low priority” sales lead could become a lucrative sale six or nine months from now.

 

Use content marketing to follow up with sales leads

 

“Sales lead follow-up” doesn’t mean peppering your prospects with phone calls asking, “Are you ready to buy yet?”

 

Instead, lead nurturing is often well complemented by the smart use of content marketing materials, which present information and build credibility with prospects in a helpful, educational way.

 

For example, your sales team, as part of the longer-term process of building relationships and addressing the prospect’s pain issues, can offer to send free web demonstrations, white papers, case studies, “success stories,” and blog articles that are relevant to the prospect’s needs.

 

Even if the material shared is not relevant to the immediate sales conversation, it’s often beneficial to share great content with prospects just to show them that you care about helping their business – for example, you could send articles on industry trends or business intelligence that might benefit the prospect.

 

Make it consistent

 

Sales lead follow up needs to be a constant, ongoing process. In addition to phone calls, fortunately there are a variety of solutions on the market that makes it possible to automate much of the sales lead follow-up activity, such as e-mail newsletters (your sales team can ask prospects to opt in to your e-mail newsletter, even if they aren’t ready to buy), Webinars (to continue to educate the prospect and offer helpful information along the way), and product demonstrations.

 

Just like a magazine or website publishes an “editorial calendar” to schedule content creation around certain topics and times of the year, your sales organization should create a regular “sales follow-up calendar” that works as a cohesive, repeatable, consistent process to keep making contact with prospects, and to keep maximizing every sales lead on your list.

 

In the long run, there are very few truly “good sales leads” or “bad sales leads” – almost any sales lead can turn into a sale given enough time, nurturing, and appropriate follow-up. By ranking and qualifying your sales leads, following up with helpful content marketing and information that benefits the prospect, and by ensuring a consistent system for nurturing leads, your sales organization will start to maximize the potential in every name and number on your sales lead database.

 

The Must Have Elements of Every B2B Sales Pitch

When we talk about B2B sales, what are we really selling? Many B2B companies and their sales teams tend to get their tongues tied in knots when talking about value propositions, competitive advantages, and other marketing lingo. Too much B2B marketing is full of buzzwords, jargon and hyped-up promises.

 

Many B2B sales professionals are trying so hard to convince our prospects of the value of what we sell, with ever-more-ornate language, that we forget the simple truth about what our customers really want to buy.

 

Because the truth is, in B2B sales, every single sales conversation boils down to one (or more) of the following 3 simple things:

 

1.  Time
2.  Money
3.  Aggravation

 

These are the three simple things that motivate B2B buyers – they want to save time, save money (or make more money), or avoid aggravation. These are the biggest drivers behind every single B2B sales decision.

 

Are your sales conversations focusing on these simple things? Or are you (unintentionally) clouding your message with talk about technical features, design concepts, state-of-the-art technology, or any of the other buzzwords that all too often creep in to the vocabulary of B2B sales people?

 

I’ve worked with lead generation programs for hundreds of B2B companies, and one of the lessons we’ve learned is that your solution must solve one or more of these three simple issues. Whatever you’re selling in the B2B world, it needs to save time for the customer, save money (or make money) for the customer (be prepared for ROI case studies), or help the customer avoid aggravation. If you can’t demonstrate this easily, you need to retool your sales strategy.

The more complex or difficult your solution is to implement, the more of these you need to check off. Here are some examples of how companies can adapt their sales strategies to speak to these core concerns of Time, Money and Aggravation.

 

Save Time
Can your solution help your clients get things done faster, more efficiently, with less wasted time and with greater productivity? Be prepared to discuss details and statistics. How many labor hours can your solution save? How much faster (as a percentage basis) can your solution help get things done? How much does your software boost productivity or avoid wasted effort, and how can you put a dollar value on that savings? Remember that time is money. If you can show your customers how your solution helps attain more value out of every employee’s limited time, they’ll be willing to listen – and buy.

 

Save Money (or Make Money)

Competing on price is not always the best long-term strategy, because there’s almost always some other company willing to offer a lower price. But if you can offer your customers a significant cost savings over what they’re currently paying to a competitor, you can usually get the sales conversation started.

 

If you are selling commodity type products (ink, hardware, office supplies), price alone can usually get your foot in the door. But once you have the conversation underway with the prospect, you need to build credibility. Show them why your service or solution is trustworthy – show them that even if the price is lower than what they’re currently paying, they can still count on a reliable service.

 

If you’re selling a solution that’s going to help your customer make more money, you need to demonstrate why that is the case. Do you have a customer relationship management system that will help super-charge the company’s sales force productivity? Can you offer consulting or coaching that will make the company more profitable and productive? Do you offer any guarantees or free trials of your service to help build trust and make the customer feel that they are not taking too big of a risk in buying from you?

 

Avoid Aggravation

What about your solution is easier to work with, more elegant, more customer-friendly, or just better at helping people avoid stress? This factor can be harder to measure than “Time” and “Money,” but it’s important to show your customers how your solution can make their lives simpler and easier. Think one step ahead to how your decision maker is going to have to justify their decision to their supervisors. How can you make it easier for your decision maker to “sell” your solution to their higher-ups in the organization?

 

These three simple things at the heart of every sales conversation often require that you take a bigger picture, longer-term to the client’s challenge. But remember, that the more challenging your solution is to implement, the more of these (Time, Money, Aggravation) you need to check off. If you are selling a new Enterprise Risk Planning (ERP) software based solution that will effect multiple departments to implement, you need to make sure your solution is achieving all three simple things (Time, Money, Aggravation) in spades.  Your decision maker knows full well that implementing your solution will take time, cost a lot of money, and create some aggravation while retraining staff, so you must prove that in the long run the savings of time, money and aggravation will more than make up for the initial costs.

 

How to use LinkedIn for Lead Generation: Ideas from our “Manage Your Leads” LinkedIn Group Members

We got a great response to our call for submissions from our “Manage Your Leads” LinkedIn Group. Many of you responded with your ideas on how to use LinkedIn for lead generation, how to get a foot in the door at a prospect’s company, and how to get past “gatekeepers” to decision makers by enlisting the support of allies within the prospect’s company.

 

Some of the best responses came from three of our LinkedIn Group Members: Joel Bash, Thomas Clifford, and Monika D’Agostino.

 

We asked:

 

What are some successful ways of using LinkedIn for lead generation? How have you used LinkedIn to get through to prospects? What real-life success stories or lessons would you like to share?

Here are a few of the success stories and LinkedIn lead generation tips from our special “panel of experts.”

 

Joel Bash – First, find your true target market

 

“Business Development is akin to building a muscle in the body. If the muscle is being worked out on a consistent basis with enough force, it will build up to a desired mass of beauty and strength. The same goes for Business Development. What I’ve seen in my 28 years of doing Business Development is that most people don’t focus on the muscle that they want to build up. They just build up any muscle that they can get to and hope for the best.

 

“In other words, people do not meet their exact target market on a regular basis – and yet they wonder why they are not achieving the desired results. They go to networking groups, events, etc. and come back with a mound of business cards, only to find out that 90% of these people do not have the ability to help them even if they want to – and the remaining 10% don’t get sufficient follow-up. So there you have it.

 

“LinkedIn or any other bastion of referrals can only be helpful if the target market prospect is being sought. Just ask people in general, how many prospects they meet in a week and then ask them, how many are actual targets? Many people haven’t properly identified their target market.

 

“It is very prudent to duplicate one’s past successes. Once you know your target market, it is relatively easy to find an abundance of sales leads through your friends, contacts, LinkedIn, etc. It just requires the same discipline as building a muscle.”

 

Joel Bash is President at Joel Bash & Company, Business Introductions Connector and Business Development Consultant.

 

Thomas Clifford: Using LinkedIn Advanced Search to find the perfect fit with prospects

 

“I use LinkedIn’s Advanced Search tool exclusively as a successful lead generating tool. For instance, I recently did a search for content marketing firms where I wanted to get my foot in the door.

 

“After narrowing down the results to just a handful of companies I wanted to target, I chose one firm to target.

 

“I then researched the firm further and learned more about their target market. I knew the fit was perfect. I then wrote a one-page, conversational, non-salesy letter (yes, the old-fashioned type of letter!), signed it and mailed it to the Founder and CEO.

 

“The response was amazing. I received an enthusiastic email from the Founder and CEO saying how thrilled she was to be reading a ‘real’ letter—she never sees them anymore. She then passed my letter on to her head recruiter, and I am now considered a copywriting resource for the firm.”

 

Thomas Clifford is a B2B Content Marketing Copywriter.

 

Monika D’Agostino: Research, research, research.

“I use LinkedIn to generate leads and qualify prospects all the time. It’s a great way to find out if people actually are still with a company. Way too often you will find names on lists but they have already moved on, so LinkedIn validates them as a professional, and also provides insight on the groups that they are part of.

 

“LinkedIn can also be an effective way to get your foot in the door with a prospect’s company. Use LinkedIn and other tools to research the company and the prospect. The more you know about your prospect, the better equipped you are to have an intelligent conversation.

 

“Prospecting is about finding a fit and the more you research, the better qualified your prospecting will be.”

 

Monika D’Agostino is the Chief Consultative Sales Officer with Consultative Sales Academy.

 

Thanks again to everyone who submitted ideas. We would love to hear from you about other sales lead generation, prospecting and marketing topics in the future.

 

5 Must-Have Steps for Selling to Big Companies

Selling to big companies is one of the major focuses of many B2B sales organizations, whether you have an existing major account lead generation effort in place, or whether you’re a smaller B2B company trying to acquire some larger corporate clients. Big companies offer big rewards, just by nature of their size – bigger budgets, more complex (and lucrative) business needs, and bigger opportunities for the long-term growth of your business relationship.

 

Unfortunately, many B2B sales people get intimidated by selling to big companies. There are some common obstacles and misconceptions related to selling to big companies, but you don’t have to let the size of the company or the (seeming) complexity of the organization keep you from pursuing the opportunity.

 

Here are a few tips for how your sales team can close more sales with big companies:

 

Prove that you’re no fly-by-night organization: One of the biggest objections that big companies have to doing business with smaller organizations is that they’re worried that the smaller companies (or their solutions) won’t be around in a few years. Big companies tend to have longer timelines and need to purchase solutions and services for the long haul. During your sales process in talking with decision makers at big companies, be prepared for this type of objection or skepticism. Look for ways to build trust and show that your company is well established and is determined to be around for a long time to come.

 

Show that you have capacity: Another concern that big companies usually have when talking with new contractors or solutions providers is: “Is your company big enough to serve our needs?” Big companies don’t want to work with small companies who don’t have enough capacity to deliver what they need. To overcome this objection, show examples of big contracts that your company has handled, and offer references from decision makers at other big companies. Demonstrate that you can handle challenges just like the ones faced by your big corporate clients, and you’ll start closing more deals.

 

Sell small before you sell big: Don’t expect a big corporation to buy your full offering of solutions. Chances are, a company of that size already has plenty of existing vendor relationships in place – and will be reluctant to go through all the inconvenience and upheaval that goes with putting a big contract out to bid, unless they have a very compelling reason to do so. Instead of pitching a big corporation on a comprehensive package of solutions or services, start small. Do your research, talk with your prospects, and identify a highly focused problem that you can help solve. Once you can convince your prospect of the value of your service, even if it’s a much smaller contract than you would normally go for, you can build up your credibility and make bigger sales to other parts of the company in the future.

 

Talk in terms of benefits: One of the biggest B2B sales mistakes is talking about your company and your product in terms of “features” instead of “benefits.” Remember that every prospect is thinking, “What’s in it for me?” And this is especially true at big companies, where time is short, budgets are tight, and decision makers are being bombarded from all directions with too much work, too little time, and too many sales calls interrupting their day. So before you start cold-calling big companies, make sure your sales pitch is extra sharply focused on the problems that you solve: can your solution increase productivity, achieve cost savings, or reduce head count? Capture the attention of your prospect by honing in on the biggest problems they want to solve – and explain in clear language how your solution can help.

 

Track your contacts: Selling to big companies requires a longer-term effort and a more sophisticated way of tracking your outreach. Plan ahead for which sales pitches and value propositions you want to emphasize within the different parts of the company and the different decision makers. Set up a dedicated campaign in your CRM system (or keep track on a spreadsheet) where you keep names, contact information, and detailed notes of every person you’ve talked to at the big company – whether they’re a decision maker, gatekeeper or potential ally. Send helpful articles or industry news or event invitations, and keep track of which materials you’ve sent to which people – and then keep cycling through your lists of names, following up as needed and building relationships along the way.

 

 

Selling to big companies requires a specific sales strategy. You need to build relationships just like you would with any sales prospect, but you also need to be sensitive to the unique needs and concerns of a larger company. If you put in the effort and stick with your sales process for the long term, you will find that selling to big companies offers lucrative rewards for your organization.

 

4 Lead Management New Year’s Resolutions for 2015

Every New Year brings the promise of renewal and rejuvenation for everyone who works in sales. Jan. 1 presents a clean slate and a chance to do things differently – reconnect with promising prospects, enhance your sales processes, improve your efficiency, and find new ways to add value for customers.

 

If you’re looking for new ways to take your business to new heights in 2015, you can start by looking at your sales lead management processes. Effectively managing sales leads can make the difference between a top-performing sales organization and an “also-ran.” With most companies facing intensifying competition, pressure on profit margins, and a slow economic recovery, doing things right on the “back end” of your sales process can pay big dividends when it’s time to close the deal.

 

Here are 4 top New Year’s resolutions that any sales organization can employ to create a more efficient and profitable 2015:

 

1. Take better care of long range business leads: Wondering why you have a never-ending need for new fresh sales leads? According to a recent study from the Aberdeen Group, only 16% of leads that are deemed sales opportunities actually close. That means that without a formal lead nurturing program, the remaining 84% of qualified leads that do not turn into short-term sales are slipping through the cracks. Sales people are always clamoring for “more business leads,” but they often make the mistake of not stopping to ask, “Are we making the best use of our current sales leads?”

 

Chances are your sales team – whether they realize or not – are shutting the door on many older business leads. Maybe your sales team completed a follow-up call several months ago (or even a year or two ago) and did not receive a favorable response. This doesn’t mean that the sales leads are truly “done.” Ask yourself, “What has changed since we last approached these business leads?” Perhaps your lineup of services has changed. Perhaps your prospects are now at a different place in their purchasing cycle than they were a year ago. Perhaps your prospects’ business needs have changed. Whatever the change may be, take a fresh start and pursue these “old” business leads with a new angle. What is “old” can be “new” again in the New Year.  We make sure to re-establish contact with “old” sales leads every six months to see if our services are now needed. A lot can change with your prospect’s business in 6 months.

 

2. Make frequent, frank assessments of your pipeline of business leads: Make honest and realistic assessments of the condition of your sales pipeline. Establish some new benchmarks for 2015 to measure your conversion rates at each step of the sale – and look beyond the simple metrics of conversion-and-close ratios. For example, the Aberdeen study reports that nurtured leads deliver 47% higher average order values. This means that properly managing your pipeline can create a compelling return on investment. Aberdeen also found that nurtured leads result in increased opportunity to sales conversion ratios, and higher bid-to-win ratios. Finding these “hidden value” deals within your pipeline means you need a system of multiple marketing touches to uncover opportunities along the way.

 

Too many sales pipelines look great on paper or in your database reports, but in reality your projections and probabilities of closing deals may be too “rosy.” Knowledge is power: if your sales pipeline needs to be expanded with additional lead generation efforts, you need to know this as soon as possible so you can react. A better managed sales pipeline will create a more predictable sales process and a smoother revenue curve, without extreme spikes and valleys.

 

3. When decision makers disappoint you, be patient and have a system in place: Rejection is an occupational hazard in sales, and it’s not easy hearing customers say “No” and “Not interested” all day long. But the reality of a good lead generation and lead management program is that your sales team are always going to have “not interested” responses to sift through. Managing “not interested” responses requires patience, discipline and a consistent system with different protocols to handle the different varieties and “flavors” of responses. For example, if you get a “not interested” response from a key target account that is high on your priority target list, that target account should be put on a monthly e-mail list and set in your “come up” system for a follow up call in 8-12 weeks. “Not interested” does not mean that the conversation is over. Most of the time, when a prospect says they are not interested, they really mean, “We’re not interested right now,” or “The product is not a good fit for our current operational needs.” However, customers’ needs can change rapidly – whether it’s new technology coming on to the market, or trying to keep up with competitors, or adjusting to changing internal dynamics within the customer’s company. Don’t take yourself out of the running by mindlessly disqualifying prospects based on one “not interested” response. You need to be able to handle the nuances of different types of responses and different priority levels of customers – otherwise, you run the risk of constantly contracting your own marketplace, without any system to reintroduce yourself and remarket to your potential customers.

 

4. Overcome sales call reluctance: Too often, sales people talk themselves out of making a sales call. Whether it’s lack of confidence, lack of understanding of the prospect’s business, or lack of a compelling angle to approach the customer, sales call reluctance is a profit killer. After all, you lose 100% of the sales that you never try to make. How many times have you visited a prospect’s website and then systematically talked yourself out of picking up the phone to make the follow up call? This year, make it a resolution to be more open to possibilities. Be prepared for your prospects to surprise you. Prospects that may not initially fit your ideal client profile (based on what you see on their website) might turn out to be better suited than you expected, once you get them on the phone. It’s not uncommon to find that the website you were looking at is not up to date and doesn’t reflect a recent merger. I can’t begin to tell you how many times prospects might have introduced a new product line, or ended a relationship with a current service provider, and we followed up just at the right time as they were starting their new selection process. You will never know unless you make the call.

 

Sales is the business of creating something from nothing, making the calls and making things happen with customers every day. Every year is a chance to make a bigger difference for our customers, our companies and ourselves. I hope these New Year’s resolutions will help you get out there and have a great start to 2015!

 

About the Author
Al Davidson is the founder of Strategic Sales & Marketing, a “leading light” among lead generation companies since 1989, helping to deliver B2B lead generation and appointment setting services for global clients ranging from local small businesses to the Fortune 100. The company’s sales agents have generated over 7 million new sales leads, and created millions of dollars in new revenue for clients. You can learn more about Al Davidson by visiting http://www.manageyourleads.com/

 

6 Time-Tested Guidelines for Starting a Lead Generation Referral Program

One of the constant struggles in lead generation is the tension between sales people asking for “more sales leads” and managers asking their sales people to “do more with the sales leads you already have.”

 

Fortunately there is a way to bridge the gap – your sales team can generate more sales leads by implementing a lead generation referral program.

 

When you start a lead generation referral program, you can  increase your number of sales leads and will also likely improve the quality of your sales leads. The reason is that referrals typically have a quicker sales cycle because there is a level of built-in trust. People are more interested to talk to your sales team on lead generation calls (and more open to agreeing to a sales appointment) if your sales reps can mention the name of a trusted friend or colleague who referred them.

 

But how can you get a lead generation referral program up and running? Isn’t it expensive and time consuming? It doesn’t have to be. Here are a few simple guidelines for how your team can create a lead generation referral program (or improve the one you already have):

 

Keep your customers happy: Happy customers refer their colleagues. If they are grateful for the efforts you have put in, they will reward you. If you’ve helped a customer boost their business, they’ll be eager to help their colleagues or friends share in that success.  Sometimes you won’t even have to ask. Your best customers might also turn out to be your hardest-working “unpaid” marketing staff.

 

Align your goals with your customers’ interests: Make sure your lead generation referral program is doing something valuable for the customers and prospects who you are asking to refer you to others. Don’t just make it all about “you” and your company’s needs. Instead, make sure it is a mutually beneficial arrangement where you can give the referring party some kind of valuable and worthwhile reward, whether it is a discount, a cash bonus, or something else that thanks them for the referral and makes them feel appreciated.

 

Be ready to spend the right amount of money: If you’re going to give away a reward to people who refer you to other prospective business leads, make sure the reward is significant. Take a hard look at the value of a sales lead – examine your conversion rates and calculate the value of a customer. Is it worth it to your company to offer $100 or more for each new sales lead? You need to be prepared to invest some money in rewarding your customers who participate in the lead generation referral program, but you also need to make sure your investments are profitable.

 

Make it easy: If you’re asking people for referrals, you’re asking them for a pretty big favor – they are going to be taking time out of their busy day to help your business find new customers. So make it as easy as possible for people to offer referrals. Include a “refer us to a friend” link in the e-mails you send to customers. Put a prominent button on your website for your lead generation program, and make sure it’s easily visible so you can point people to it during phone conversations. Don’t tie your rewards to a specific amount of spending – just give your referral rewards on a per-lead basis.

 

Make “the ask”: As part of your sales team’s conversations with prospects, if they encounter resistance and objections, ask the prospects if they could refer your company to any colleagues who might be interested. For example, you can make a request for referrals by saying: “It sounds like you might not be at the right point in your purchasing process to talk to us – but do you know of anyone else at your company or in your industry who might be a better fit for what we offer?” Frame the conversation not as simply trying to generate more sales leads for yourself, but as a way to help the prospect’s friends and colleagues.

 

Don’t forget to qualify your new sales leads: A common mistake that sales people make when they get leads from a lead generation referral program is to assume that all the leads are highly qualified and ready to buy. It’s true that getting a referral can often give your sales team an advantage in building trust with the prospect – but your sales people still need to be prepared to do their research, learn about the prospects, and go through the sales cycle just like they would for any other sales leads.

 

Getting sales leads from a lead generation referral program can be one of the most cost-effective and targeted methods for improving your sales team’s pool of qualified sales leads. But you need to remember to serve the interests of your prospects and customers (by offering them worthwhile rewards), and integrating the referred sales leads into your overall lead management process. Referrals can give your sales team a head start, but you still need to do the legwork of doing research, building relationships and working through the sales cycle from start to finish.