The New Approach to Business Development: Two Failsafe Ways to Open Doors under Favorable Conditions
Early in my career, one of my mentors, Bob Fine, told me “the secret to this business is meeting people under favorable conditions.” He was speaking of financial services, but this is so true for all businesses. Whether you’re selling financial services, professional services, healthcare, or technology products, one of the most difficult things today is to meet with prospects under favorable conditions.
Over the years I have tried many marketing tactics to build awareness and to initiate good conversations with prospects. After reading a benchmark report a few years ago that surveyed buyers of various products and services, I changed my approach. The survey asked “How did you select the organization?” Seventy-nine percent said referral from colleagues; 75% said referrals from other service providers. Of course, relationships counted. But it wasn’t the complete answer.
Relationships help to get you in the door, however, can they really keep you there? According to CSO Insight, 53 percent of sales organizations report less than half of first meetings become second meetings. Why? In my opinion, poor positioning.
Understand Lead Cycle
Going back to my mentor’s comments, I developed a strategy that has actually improved my closing ratio over the years. It became apparent that a formal lead generation discipline was much in order, particularly in light of the changing face of sales and marketing for the complex sale.
In this new paradigm, salespeople can no longer tout their solutions as simply better, faster, and cheaper and hope to get the attention of high-level economic buyers. And for the very same reason, a lead generation program aimed at reaching these same prospects must focus on value propositions that speak directly to the right decision makers at the right time in their buying process.
High-level decision makers increasingly avoid talking to salespeople, if at all possible. There’s a decided lack of trust of salespeople, and truth be told, prospects just don’t want to be sold.
Become Trusted Advisors
One need only to do a search on business-to-business sales techniques to uncover conventional wisdom. People delay the need and diminish the value of face-to-face contact with the salesperson until later phases of the buying process. And when that door is opened, the salesperson must earn recognition as a “trusted advisor.”
According to a study of more than 23,000 businesses by Cahners Research, trusted advisors are 70 percent more likely to come away with a sale. That becomes easier to understand when you recognize that people buy based on emotion and then back up their decision with logic.
When you truly put in the work to reach a decision maker, you can open doors under favorable conditions and virtually guarantee a follow-up meeting with the opportunity to enter their buying process.
Two valuable tools work for me: 1) LinkedIn; 2) Development of a Valid Business Reason that reflects a solid understanding of the prospect’s business and the challenges s/he faces.
Power of LinkedIn
Once I select my prospect (based on my target market research), I use LinkedIn’s advance search feature to determine where my initial relationship comes from. If you are an active LinkedIn user with more than 500 contacts, this effort will become routine. Often, I am surprised who in my contact list already has a strong contact with my prospect. I use LinkedIn to research backgrounds, interests and recommendations. I also use the advanced search feature to penetrate a wealth of information on current and past employees.
Now that I know the issues faced by my prospect from my research, I look to see who else has reviewed their profile recently. If I see competitors it gives me a sense that maybe discussions are in play. I also want to see if any of my contacts have also reviewed the prospect’s profile. In doing so, I am simply attempting to find a solid connection to land ameeting under favorable conditions.
As of this writing, I am three degrees away from 3.8 million people, which tells me one of my contacts is only two degrees away from the person I hope to meet under favorable conditions.
Let me give you an example. Recently a colleague asked me to get involved with a major prospect of his. He heard the company wanted to reshape its marketing and sales strategy. I put the company’s name into LinkedIn, and up popped the key decision maker’s profile. Much to my surprise, I was two degrees away from him. His largest client, and a client of mine, was the separation. I picked up the phone and called my contact and asked if he could reach out to pave the way for a favorable meeting. He did much more; he gave me a solid endorsement.
Within days, I noticed others who reported to the decision maker had reviewed my profile. I was able to further my research in preparing for that meeting.
I have also found that when I send another form of marketing—invites to a webcast, download white papers or read blogposts—many times a prospect will check out my profile on LinkedIn. If you have a good profile, it will show up first on a Google search of your name.
So it is important to:
Create a LinkedIn profile that tells your professional story. It’s not your resume. This is your chance to help prospects get to know you and what you can offer;
Organize your network: Place connections into categories using tags and folders. You can also add notes about each contact which helps you remember unique detail information that you can then use in your discussion with them;
- Connect with people in discussion groups, and post in those groups information that may be valuable to ongoing discussion on topics or interest. Fifteen percent of my contacts have come from people in these groups who asked to connect with me. Each of them also had contacts with others in my network.
Developing the Valid Business Reason
Solution selling by itself will not guarantee your success. These days, diagnosing needs isn’t as important as simply demonstrating understanding of those needs. According to the Rain Group in its study of Insight Selling, of all factors cited by buyers in making the sale, the salesperson “educated them with new ideas or perspectives,” ranked at the top.
That is why it is so important to prepare well for that meeting. The best way to set the appointment and open that meeting is with a valid business reason. Before you make contact with the prospect, you must ask yourself, “What is the reason this person is meeting with me?” I mean his reason, not yours.
I know this sounds so obvious, yet most salespeople don’t get it. Instead of giving their prospects sound business reasons for spending time with them, they focus on their own comfort area, the product pitch, or on nonproductive social calls or lunch dates. As a result, the sales process ends on that call, or stalls indefinitely.
The valid business reason gives the prospect information he needs in order to understand exactly who you are and why you want to schedule a meeting with him now. It’s the foundation that allows you to set the stage with the reason, and begin the questioning process by concentrating on understanding the prospect’s issue and their vision for a solution.
Let me give you an example. In one of my workshops, one of the participants noticed I had a CEO contact at a bank to whom he was trying to sell a bank-owned life insurance (BOLI) product. BOLI is an investment used by banks to improve their earnings. Even though the majority of banks have purchased this product, this particular bank had not.
To set the meeting at a high level, I asked him to give me the valid business reason. Before I call my contact, why would he feel it’s important to meet? My workshop student said the reason was, “the bank has never purchased BOLI, and this asset could improve the bank’s balance sheet by $2 million per year. My first response: “Really!”
Lead Prospect to Product Not Lead with Product
Now, this sounds like a valid business reason for the salesperson to meet over. But I asked him to spend more time with his research and find out what was important to the bank and my contact.
You see, my student forgot that you need to lead your prospect to your product only after you have created a vision for a solution, rather than lead with your product.
My student went back and found an issue the company was facing with their executive stock compensation plans, and crafted a valid business reason around it. Here is what he came up with. “Bob, I noticed from your proxy statement that the bank is compensating your key people with restricted stock units. As you know once you vest in these grants your income tax is due. In your own situation it looks like you are reporting over $200,000 of additional compensation this year. Can we meet next Tuesday to discuss how we have helped executives defer the tax while still controlling ownership of the stock?”
Now if this is an issue, which I believe it would be, this executive will carve out one-hour to meet, and may even invite others to the meeting to hear your concept.
Never under estimate the importance of personal relationships in opening new opportunities.
With personal relationships comes trust and credibility.
Those relationships could be right under your nose on LinkedIn.
- Your relationship will only open a door, but a valid business reason will set the foundation for what is important to your prospect.
See you on the upside, Bill
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