How Better Sales Intelligence Leads to Bigger Sales

Salespeople too often feel like they’re flying blind. If you’re making low-yield cold calls and having a hard time trying to find the right decision makers to talk to about B2B sales, and you feel like you’re not getting results, that probably means you need better sales intelligence.

 

What is “sales intelligence?” Broadly speaking, sales intelligence includes any information that can be useful to improve sales effectiveness – anything that sales people need to know about their target market, the industry, the prospect’s business, the decision makers, or recent changes within the client’s business that might make a sale more likely.

 

Sales intelligence helps sales people spend more time selling and less time doing the legwork and research involved with tracking down data and finding phone numbers. Sales intelligence gives sales people the power to do more of what they do best, while also creating better quality sales leads and making a more efficient lead generation and lead nurturing process. Sales intelligence helps you know your customers better so you can hit the ground running with better informed, more constructive conversations and build trust faster.

 

A recent report from the Aberdeen Group titled Sales Intelligence: What B2B Sellers Need to Know Before the Call, found several persuasive reasons for why business intelligence can make it easier to close sales.

 

Here are a few stats from B2B sales teams that use sales intelligence:

  • 62% of B2B salespeople said that sales intelligence helped them get more sales leads and better quality sales leads
  • 41% of B2B salespeople said that having better understanding of the sales territory, target industry and prospective client account helped them be better informed and have more “consultative” conversations with clients
  • 25% of B2B salespeople used sales intelligence to watch for “trigger events” that helped find high-value prospects – by knowing what is going on at the client’s company, it’s often possible to have a better sense of when the client will be in need of your solution

 

What about salespeople who do not use sales intelligence? These sales people, according to the Aberdeen Group study, spent an average of 200 hours per year on non-selling related activities – such as tracking down data, finding phone numbers, and planning to make sales pitches. Sales intelligence makes it easier and faster for salespeople to do their jobs, and arms them with information they need to have better-informed, more productive, more credible conversations with clients.

 

The right sales intelligence can show your salespeople which companies are the best fit for your solution, it can help you find prospects who are most likely to be ready to buy from you, it gives your team detailed strategies for how to approach each company or each type of decision maker, and it helps your sales people understand the customer better. There’s always a learning curve with finding a new customer. Better sales intelligence makes that learning curve less steep.

 

When sales people are equipped with updated knowledge and sound strategies based on data, they are able to sell smarter. Better quality sales leads, better-informed conversations, and better relationships with prospects are all going to lead to better sales results. Stop flying blind. Better sales intelligence can give you the strategic vision to uncover better sales opportunities.

Jump Starting a Stalled Sale

B2B sales is often a long and complicated process, and complex sales require a significant investment of time to establish channels of communication, build relationships and build trust. According to a study of VPs of sales at technology companies cited in Harvard Business Review, 54% of technology sales executives reported an average sales cycle length of 90 days or more for outside sales. If your solution involves complex implementation or multiple stakeholders within the prospect’s organization, you can easily expect your sales cycle to be even longer than that.

 

With a lengthy sales cycle, it’s not unusual for the sales process to get stalled at some point. Often, sales people will start out with strong momentum and optimism as they get an inquiry or talk with a prospect for the first time – the prospect might seem interested and eager to move forward, and the prospect’s company might seem like a great fit, only for the client’s communication to suddenly come to a stop.

 

When prospective clients “go silent” like this, it can be frustrating and nerve-wracking for sales reps, who might wonder, “Was it something I said? Did I do something wrong?” Often, sales get stalled for reasons beyond the sales person’s control. But there are a few things that sales people should keep in mind as they try to jump-start a stalled sale:

 

Check your assumptions: Your deal is often stuck because you think you are deeper in the sales process then you really are. Just because a client expressed interest (or even verbally hinted at proceeding with a deal) doesn’t mean that the client is truly ready to move forward. There are often a variety of steps and approvals and budgetary concerns involved on the client’s side that need to be resolved before the client is truly “ready.” But if you’re assuming too much – if you’re assuming that the client is more ready to buy than they actually are – then you might be unknowingly communicating in a way that indicates that you think your prospect is more sold on your product and service then he/she actually is. Without realizing it, you might be coming across as high pressure and pushy, and driving the client away.

What to do in this situation: Send a message to the client that takes the pressure off. Remind the client that you’re happy to work with them through any concerns and answer any questions. For example, you might leave a voice mail that says, “Hi, I’m sure you still have some questions about our solution, and I’d love to talk with you and any other decision makers on your side of the table to help everyone figure out how we can add value and be a good fit.” Show the prospect that you empathize with their situation, and then truly listen when they come back to you with questions and concerns.

 

Don’t give up: Don’t make the mistake of thinking that just because your prospect has gone dark that the deal is dead. Keep in mind – you are not the most important thing on your potential client’s to-do list today. Clients often go silent for reasons beyond your control that have nothing to do with you. For example, the client might have gotten new direction from their managers, saying that the project that they were discussing with you is no longer a top priority. Or the client might have gotten bad news about their budget, and they’re trying to figure out whether they can still afford to buy from you. Or the client might have learned about an internal shakeup within the company that is going to result in big organizational changes, which means that there is a new level of uncertainty and no one knows whether they can move forward on the deal. Clients are all busy, just like everybody else, and they are constantly trying to deal with changes and challenges affecting their jobs that have nothing to do with your deal.

What to do in this situation: Give it some time. Keep track of how long it’s been since you last heard from the client. Check in with them after a few weeks, even if it’s just to request a simple update on how things are going – but be empathetic. Don’t make the conversation all about your deal. Instead, show concern for the client and see if they’re doing all right; especially if you’re hearing rumors about big changes happening within the organization.

 

Don’t over message: Too often, sales reps make the mistake of responding to silence from the client with an ever-intensifying series of voice mails and e-mails. It’s easy to get caught in a cycle of over messaging. Your prospect doesn’t respond to your voice mails and e-mails, so you just send more voice mails and e-mails.

What to do in this situation: Instead of bombarding your client with messages, cut through the clutter by sending a simple hand-written note. Be humble, keep it short and sweet, yet clearly state your hope that you can keep talking and working toward a deal. For example, say: “I’m sure you’re busy right now, but please let me know if there is anything I can do to help move forward. I’m ready to answer your questions anytime. Thanks!”

 

It’s normal for B2B sales to stall at some point. Every client wants to do their research and due diligence and make sure they’re getting value for money while also getting the support they need to make sure that your solution will be implemented properly. Clients are busy and are dealing with multiple deadlines and pressures from different directions. If you find yourself in a stalled sale situation, first take time to analyze your own communication and assumptions. Give the client some space if needed. And work to reconnect with the client based on empathy and genuine concern for their needs – not just endlessly “checking in” with a sense of sales pressure.

 

Al Davidson is the founder of Strategic Sales & Marketing, one of the industry-founding lead generation companies, providing B2B sales appointment setting services for thousands of clients.

 

The High Price of Sales Turnover

Sales is often known for being a competitive, high-pressure business where “you’re only as good as last quarter’s numbers” and where sales people are constantly expected to deliver ever-improving results. In this kind of mindset, most people might expect that sales teams are constantly churning through new sales reps – as some people thrive and make their quotas and climb the ladder, while other sales reps struggle to make the cut. But is sales turnover truly healthy and necessary? Or is turnover on sales teams part of a hidden cost that needs to be managed differently?

 

According to a study from the Aberdeen Group, “Sales Performance Management: Getting Everyone on the Same Page,” sales turnover can impose surprisingly big costs on a sales organization – and the best sales organizations aren’t necessarily the ones with the highest or lowest turnover, but the ones who do the best job of managing turnover.

 

Here are a few insights from the Aberdeen Group study on the realities of the costs (and complexities) of sales team turnover:

 

Sales teams have more turnover than they want: Under the leadership of Jack Welch, G.E. became famous for its 20-70-10 human resource management – the top 20% of performers were groomed for management, and the bottom 10% of performers were fired or managed out or reassigned. Asked to identify their “ideal turnover rate,” the participants in the Aberdeen Group survey said (page 21) that their ideal turnover would be approximately 9.5% – which is very close to G.E.’s “bottom 10% turnover ideal. However, the “actual turnover rate” identified in the Aberdeen survey was 20.6% – which means that sales organizations are averaging twice as much turnover as they ideally would prefer to have.

 

Replacing sales reps is expensive: According to the Aberdeen study, the average cost of replacing a sales rep was $30,420. This cost comes from a variety of causes, as outlined in the following points.

 

New sales reps are less productive: Only 38% of new sales reps meet their first year quotas, compared with 45% of overall sales reps. Everyone who’s ever gone to work at a new sales job knows that there is a learning curve – it takes awhile to learn your catalog of products or services, learn your accounts, learn the unique methodology and culture of the company you represent, and start to confidently build relationships with prospects.  Many organizations use appointment setting to build the pipeline of a new sales rep.

 

Hiring and training new sales reps takes a long time: Companies surveyed by Aberdeen Group reported an average time to hire of 1.7 months, and an average time-to-productivity of 3.6 months, for each new sales rep. Every time one of your existing people leaves your team, unless they were woefully underperforming, it’s going to take some time and effort to find and train a decent replacement. And all of that time equates to sales that aren’t getting made and opportunities that aren’t getting pursued.

 

So if sales turnover is so expensive and damaging to an organization, what can be done? Sales turnover is sometimes hard to avoid – good sales people are constantly in demand and can often write their own ticket to have their choice of new job opportunities. Some degree of sales turnover is inevitable. In fact, the best performing sales organizations from the Aberdeen Group survey don’t necessarily have dramatically lower turnover (as noted on page 22 of the study, top performing firms have an average turnover of 19.3% instead of the overall average of 21.5%), but they have better techniques to manage turnover and lower the costs of onboarding new sales reps.

 

Here are a few insights from the Aberdeen study about how the best sales teams minimize the cost of sales turnover:

 

Better onboarding leads to lower turnover costs: Among the top-performing firms in the Aberdeen study, 64% had a formal onboarding process for hiring and training new sales reps, compared to only 48% of the overall firms surveyed. Better onboarding is one of the best tactics to boost productivity among new reps and bring them up to speed faster. It sounds simple, but less than half of all the sales organizations surveyed are doing it. What are some of the hallmarks of a good onboarding program? Consistent procedures, specific benchmarks, clear metrics and constant mentoring from other established sales reps and sales leaders within the organization. New sales reps need to be trained not just on the products or solutions being sold, but also need to be inculcated with the unique culture and values of the company.

 

Smarter use of CRMs leads to better integration of new reps: How many times have you seen this happen at your sales organization: an outgoing sales rep leaves a bunch of loose ends and unfinished conversations and poorly recorded notes – and no one knows how to decipher the details? Or a new hire spends weeks sitting around with not enough to do, lacking clear direction for how to start talking to the right prospects? The best sales organizations (as identified in the Aberdeen Group survey) do a significantly better job of using their CRM systems to create seamless account transitions. 29% of the Best in Class companies actively incentivize this kind of transition-oriented CRM usage – compared to only 17% of companies overall. Train your team to use the CRM not just as a daily workload manager, but also as a repository and archive for the history, key details and ongoing conversations on each account. Your CRM system can help minimize the costs of sales rep turnover, by giving your team a clear roadmap for effective transitions and speedier onboarding.

 

Turnover among the sales team is inevitable – even the best performing sales organizations are still seeing an average annual turnover of approx.. 20% of their sales reps – but the best performing sales organizations know how to manage and minimize the costs of turnover. If your organization can do a better job of bringing new hires up to speed, integrating their accounts via CRM systems, and generally converting “new sales reps” to “seasoned sales reps” faster than the competition, you will be on your way to lower turnover costs and higher productivity.

 

Read the full Aberdeen Group study that inspired this article: “Sales Performance Management: Getting Everyone on the Same Page.”

 

Getting Thrown Under Bus Again? 6 Tips For Sales Survival & Recovery

One of the most unpleasant situations to be in as a sales person is when the client blames you for what the client perceives to be a failure or shortcoming of your product or solution. Clients might go from being happy and reliable, to being angry and threatening to cancel their contract.

 

“Getting thrown under the bus” in this way by clients can be demoralizing, to say the least. You have invested many hours in building a business relationship, only to find out that the client doesn’t trust you as much as you thought.

 

As a vendor, we are often the easiest people to throw under the bus. We work outside the client’s organization, and so there is rarely any internal political cost to blaming the vendor when something goes wrong. Vendors are also (wrongly) seen as expendable, since the company can always go put the project out to bid and find some new vendors and solutions.

 

If you want to salvage the business relationship, or better yet, avoid getting thrown under the bus by a client in the first place, here are a few tips for what to do and what to avoid.

 

Here are a few ways to identify clients who are likely to be “bus throwers.” Often there are several of these factors in play, and the more there are, the more of a toxic mix you have:

 

1) Clients who are new to their positions. They might not have encountered a situation like the one they’re hiring you to help solve, or they might not have been responsible for implementing this type of solution before.

2) Clients who are new to their jobs and “in way over their heads.” If a client is inexperienced or lacking in management skills, this raises the risk that they will blame you first when things go wrong.

3) Clients who are in their jobs and “in way over their heads” and who were hired by bosses who are also “in way over their heads.” This situation multiplies the risk. Clients who feel insecure in their positions will want to make themselves look better and make their bosses look better – and they will protect their own reputations even if that means throwing you under the bus.

4) Company culture of “micro management.” If your client and your client’s company aren’t good at delegating and letting people do their jobs, this is another risk factor for an unpleasant client experience.

5) Companies in new industries where there is no previous operational or marketing path to follow. These folks are making it up as they go along. They have “great” new ideas that they ask you to execute, but any mistakes will soon become your blunders.

6) Clients who come from other industries where they have been very successful and are now taking over a new business segment and begin to apply rules that worked in their previous experience – without knowing whether the rules will work.

 

What happens if you get thrown under the bus by a client?

 

First, keep in mind that it’s not personal, it’s just business. Even though you might feel frustrated, angry, or even betrayed, try not to let your emotions get in the way.

 

Instead, try to salvage what you can. Find out what parts of the contract can still be upheld. Try to talk to other allies or key decision makers within the company and find out if there are other opportunities to serve other parts of the company away from your bus-throwing client.

 

If the business relationship cannot be saved, look to minimize the damage to your company’s reputation. Deal with the situation gracefully. Don’t give the client any ammunition to use against you by bad-mouthing you and your company in the marketplace.

 

Closing a sale can be tough enough, without having to worry about the deal blowing up in your face. Getting thrown under the bus by a client is never fun, and once it happens there isn’t always much you can do to minimize the damage. Instead, prevention is the best medicine. Try to avoid the clients who are most likely to throw you under the bus. Watch out for potentially toxic situations. Try to work with clients who are secure in their jobs, who are trusted by their bosses, and who communicate with candor and authenticity (without seeming to have any hidden agendas).

 

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.

 

What To Do When Your Client Throws You Under the Bus

One of the most unpleasant situations to be in as a sales person is when the client blames you for what the client perceives to be a failure or shortcoming of your product or solution. Clients might go from being happy and reliable, to being angry and threatening to cancel their contract.

 

“Getting thrown under the bus” in this way by clients can be demoralizing, to say the least. You have invested many hours in building a business relationship, only to find out that the client doesn’t trust you as much as you thought.

 

As a vendor, we are often the easiest people to throw under the bus. We work outside the client’s organization, and so there is rarely any internal political cost to blaming the vendor when something goes wrong. Vendors are also (wrongly) seen as expendable, since the company can always go put the project out to bid and find some new vendors and solutions.

 

If you want to salvage the business relationship, or better yet, avoid getting thrown under the bus by a client in the first place, here are a few tips for what to do and what to avoid.

 

Here are a few ways to identify clients who are likely to be “bus throwers.” Often there are several of these factors in play, and the more there are, the more of a toxic mix you have:

 

1) Clients who are new to their positions. They might not have encountered a situation like the one they’re hiring you to help solve, or they might not have been responsible for implementing this type of solution before.

 

2) Clients who are new to their jobs and “in way over their heads.” If a client is inexperienced or lacking in management skills, this raises the risk that they will blame you first when things go wrong.

 

3) Clients who are in their jobs and “in way over their heads” and who were hired by bosses who are also “in way over their heads.” This situation multiplies the risk. Clients who feel insecure in their positions will want to make themselves look better and make their bosses look better – and they will protect their own reputations even if that means throwing you under the bus.

 

4) Company culture of “micro management.” If your client and your client’s company aren’t good at delegating and letting people do their jobs, this is another risk factor for an unpleasant client experience.

 

5) Companies in new industries where there is no previous operational or marketing path to follow. These folks are making it up as they go along. They have “great” new ideas that they ask you to execute, but any mistakes will soon become your blunders.

 

6) Clients who come from other industries where they have been very successful and are now taking over a new business segment and begin to apply rules that worked in their previous experience – without knowing whether the rules will work.

 

What happens if you get thrown under the bus by a client?

 

First, keep in mind that it’s not personal, it’s just business. Even though you might feel frustrated, angry, or even betrayed, try not to let your emotions get in the way.

 

Instead, try to salvage what you can. Find out what parts of the contract can still be upheld. Try to talk to other allies or key decision makers within the company and find out if there are other opportunities to serve other parts of the company away from your bus-throwing client.

 

If the business relationship cannot be saved, look to minimize the damage to your company’s reputation. Deal with the situation gracefully. Don’t give the client any ammunition to use against you by bad-mouthing you and your company in the marketplace.

 

Closing a sale can be tough enough, without having to worry about the deal blowing up in your face. Getting thrown under the bus by a client is never fun, and once it happens there isn’t always much you can do to minimize the damage. Instead, prevention is the best medicine. Try to avoid the clients who are most likely to throw you under the bus. Watch out for potentially toxic situations. Try to work with clients who are secure in their jobs, who are trusted by their bosses, and who communicate with candor and authenticity (without seeming to have any hidden agendas).

 

 

3 Simple Tips for Creating “Ah Ha!” Sales Conversations

It’s easy to forget this when we have so many sales technologies and advanced sales strategies at our disposal, but sales is ultimately about having conversations with people. The most successful sales relationships often start with energetic, productive conversations between two people who are genuinely curious about how they can work together to help each other.

 

Some of the best sales conversations include one special moment that makes people step back and take notice, that changes people’s perspective, or that creates a startling moment of insight and clarity – this is what we call an “Ah ha!” moment. It’s that moment in a conversation when you suddenly develop a new understanding of the problem, and clear-headed way to focus on a solution.

 

An “Ah ha!” moment for one of your prospects might be the moment they realize that your solution has potential to improve their situation and solve their problem. Or it might be that moment where they say, “Hmmm…this sounds promising, but how long will it take to implement?” or “I’d like to hear more about this. Can you meet with me and my department heads?”

 

When you know how to read your prospects’ emotions and empathize with them, you can guide your conversation in the right direction. Creating “Ah ha!” moments is the best way to close more sales – because you’ve created a moment of clarity in the customer’s own mind, where they suddenly know that what you’re selling might make sense for them.

 

One of the tenets of selling that I believe in is that sales professionals should think like problem solvers. Helping your customers achieve an “Ah ha!” moment through your sales conversations is part of this process of solving problems, and it should be one of your goals for every sales call. It won’t happen every time, but if you use a few of these key principles, you can guide your prospects in the right direction.

 

Here are a few simple ways that you can create more “Ah ha!” moments for your customers in every sales conversation:

 

Ask compelling questions: There should be no “Yes/No” answers in a good sales conversation. Instead, ask open-ended, probing questions to help the customer open up and talk about their larger challenges and the bigger picture of where their organization is heading. This can give you more opportunities to “read between the lines” and ask follow-up questions to identify pain points. Prospects rarely come right out and tell you, “This is my pain point, this is what I need to fix.” Instead, you as the sales person need to empathize with them, listen to them, and ask questions that help build trust and get them to confide in you.

 

Go with the flow: The best sales conversations do not “stick to the script.” Yes, you need to have an organized sense of what you want to say on the call and which key points you want to make, and which questions you need to be ready to answer. However, great sales people never sound “scripted.” Great sales conversations are able to go in different directions depending on the flow of conversation and the specific interests and needs of the prospect. The best way to identify the customer’s pain points is to listen and be ready to adjust the conversation to the customer’s specific concerns. If you constantly re-direct prospects back to your “sales script,” or keep trying to focus their attention on what you’re selling, you’re going to lose them. Instead, stay focused on what they’re worried about – and how you can help resolve those concerns.

 

Build trust: We’ve all been recipients of bad cold calls and inept sales pitches. For that reason, prospects are naturally inclined to be distrustful. You need to quickly earn their trust by showing that you’re a legitimate professional and industry peer who is concerned about helping their business. Before you even get on the phone, do your research. Know something about the person you’re calling. Look them up on LinkedIn, show that you know their company and their industry and their products. If you can demonstrate to your prospects that you have a sincere and compelling reason for calling them today, they’ll want to keep talking.

 

“Ah ha!” moments don’t just happen by accident. They happen because smart, empathetic sales people know how to guide a conversation in the right direction and know how to anticipate the prospect’s needs, and listen to the prospect’s unique concerns. Once you know how to create “Ah ha!” sales conversations, you’ll be ready to start closing more deals.

 

 

The Most Important Things Your Boss Might Not Have Taught You About Sales

Sales people are often misunderstood – by customers and prospects, who often think we’re trying to finagle our way into their schedule so we can try to hard-sell them into buying something they don’t need; by colleagues in other parts of the company, who often (wrongly) believe that sales people get all the glory without the effort; and most of all by our bosses.

 

Whether your boss is a sales manager or a higher-level executive, unfortunately there are many sales people’s bosses who have a few misconceptions or outdated ideas about what really leads to sales success.

 

Here are a few of the most important things about sales that your boss might not know:

 

  • Sales is all about building relationships: Whether you want to call it “rapport,” “trust” or “credibility,” the core truth of sales is that it is a business of relationships. Prospects won’t want to hear from you if they don’t trust you, or if they don’t believe that you’re looking out for their best interests. Customers won’t return your calls if they don’t respect your judgment. Instead of simply dialing lots of numbers and breezing through your calling script, take time to invest in a longer conversation and a longer-term relationship with your customers. Try to get your customers to perceive you as an expert in your field, an industry peer and colleague.

 

  • Sales is not about dialing phones, it’s about exerting influence: Yes, sales people need to make the calls. And it’s true that the more calls you dial, the more sales you ultimately make. But what’s more important than the daily numbers game of making calls is what you do with each conversation while you’re on the phone. How influential can you be as a sales person? The most successful sales people have a way of connecting with what their prospects want, empathizing with their prospect’s challenges, and guiding the conversation toward a resolution which shows the prospect how the sales person can help.

 

  • Sales is a matter of generosity: Too many people (some bosses included) believe that sales is a game of seeing how much you can “get” from your prospects and customers – “get” them to agree to an appointment, “get” them to buy from you, get them to commit to a bigger contract, etc. But in today’s sales world, where customers are time-starved and budgets are tighter than ever, successful sales people are recalibrating their methods and discovering the advantages of generosity. Instead of treating sales as a competition with the customer where you try to “get” as much as possible from them, successful sales people try to see how much they can “give” to the customers. For example, can you give your customers some free business intelligence, insights, or advice – even if the customer isn’t ready to buy? Can you give your customers your undivided attention and offer them your honest analysis on how to improve their situation? Instead of jumping the gun and trying to close the sale immediately, look for ways to be a generous problem solver for your customers – and then watch as the sales and referrals come to you.

 

Sales people are often misunderstood (by customers and by our bosses) because people think we can just automatically dial through a calling list, unleash a sales script, and make magic happen in any sales situation. The truth is more complicated.

 

Sales don’t just happen automatically. Each sale results from a series of interactions and trust-building conversations to guide a prospect through the sales process. Every customer is different, with their own unique needs, problems and points of pain.

 

Successful sales people are experts at the art of building relationships, exercising influence, and representing our companies with generosity, tact and interpersonal intuition. No matter what advances we see in technology, sales success comes down to this human element of building relationships, one person at a time.

 

Top Sales Performers: Why They Close Deals

In running lead generation programs over the last 23 years, we have often wondered why certain reps can take a sales lead of any quality – cold, warm or hot – and seem to turn them into closed deals. What is the “x” factor that makes certain sales reps so successful?

 

There is no one single reason why some sales performers close so many more deals than others. Some people are natural sales pros who have an innate ability to relate to customers and move effortlessly through the sales cycle, while others don’t have the right personality or style to build effective sales relationships. But for the most part, aside from a few outliers who are either 100% natural sales talents or just aren’t the right fit for the sales profession, we believe that sales is a skill that can be learned and taught over time.

 

If your sales team can learn from the success of your top performers (and replicate those skills and behaviors with the rest of your sales team), your entire organization will benefit.

 

Here are few reasons why top sales performers stand out from the rest:

 

  • Empathy: Top sales performers understand what the customer needs. They know how to ask the right questions, listen to what the customer is saying, and act upon the customer’s needs. A common mistake made by lower-performing sales reps is treating all customers the same, or assuming that the rep knows what is always right for the customer, or trying to foist off a certain offer or solution on the customer regardless of what the customer wants. Top performers know how to build relationships with customers based on trust and mutual respect. They earn credibility as industry peers. They show how much they care about the customer and they know how to align their solution with the customer’s business needs.

 

  • Adaptability: The best sales reps know how to think on their feet and respond to changing situations. In case a customer is not receptive to a certain offer or approach, they can quickly shift to “Plan B” and keep the conversation going. Top performing sales reps never sound like they are reading from a script or reciting a pre-planned conversation. They know how to go with the flow in any sales conversation, drawing upon their diverse experiences and expertise to deepen the customer relationship and discover new opportunities along the way.

 

  • Consistency: Top sales performers aren’t always dazzling conversationalists or glad-handing backslappers. The best sales people have all kinds of personalities and professional styles – but one thing they tend to have in common is a rigorous sense of focus and consistency. They have a seemingly innate ability to focus on the right sales activities, every day, that help build a strong sales pipeline. Top sales performers aren’t only good at closing deals. They also know how to do the legwork and research and emotional labor of dialing the phone time and time again. Top sales performers know how to create such a rich array of opportunities that it ultimately takes the pressure off of them when it’s time to close – although they tend to have higher closing conversion rates as well.

 

  • Action: One of the things that holds a lot of sales people back is that they think too much. They obsess, fret, worry, plot, plan…but ultimately waste a lot of time when they could have been picking up the phone. Instead of worrying about the #1 optimum way to approach each and every customer, instead of over-analyzing every single move, top sales performers know how to take decisive action. They are impatient for action. This doesn’t mean that they are unprepared or impetuous, but it does mean that once they have enough information about a prospect, they know how to simply, calmly take action and put the conversation into motion.

 

Imagine what could happen if you would impart these skills to the rest of your sales team! Many of these characteristics come more easily to some people than others – not everyone is good at thinking on their feet, and some people empathize more easily than others. But for the most part, everyone on your sales team should be able to take a close look at their personal skills and behavior patterns, and find a way to become more like the top performers.