Will You Meet Your 2015 Sales Numbers?
FOUR Ways to Reach Sales Effectiveness
The pressure to meet sales goals, especially with B2B complex sales, has never been more difficult. Faced with more informed buyers, more decision makers and stronger competition, sales leaders need to clarify which competencies will lead to world-class results, and then focus resources on the tools and best practices to pave the way.
Given the limitless ability of buyers today to collect data and form opinions about our products and services without our involvement, it’s easy to see why we experience more competition, earlier price discussions, and longer sales cycles than before.
Traditional product and service pitches of yesteryear focused on pushing features, advantages, and benefits at buyers in an attempt to show differentiation. But this push neglected to pay adequate attention to the internal needs of the decision makers.
Of course, the information wave, powered by the Internet, has changed everything we once knew about selling products and services. This wave has not only impacted consumer product sales like automobiles, computers, and flat screen TVs, it has also had a deep impact on the effectiveness of business-to-business (B2B) salespeople challenged by what the Aberdeen Group calls “the hidden sales cycle.” As Trip Kucera of the Aberdeen Group says, “there’s perhaps been no influence more profound in shaping the customer journey than the social web.”
In reality, there’s always been a hidden sales cycle. We sought advice from friends and family, we read magazines and reports and consulted with other customers, analysts, colleagues, and committees for large corporate purchases. Social media and search have totally exposed this hidden sales cycle.
It’s easier than ever to find multiple sources of information and expertise. As Wikipedia has proven, knowledgeable experts are eager to share their insight and experience at zero cost to those who seek it. A research study from Google and CEB entitled, The Digital Evolution in B2B Marketing provides new insight into buyer behavior, and it challenges the conventional wisdom.
According to the study, customers reported to being 57 percent through the sales process before engaging a sales rep, regardless of price point. That means nearly 60 percent of the sales process just disappeared! [see chart below]
What are buyers doing if they’re not talking to sales people? They’re taking initiative to identify and qualify vendors. Historically, it was the sales force qualifying the prospect. They’re active in social media to learn about potential solutions, providers, and narrow down their needs. And they’re reading, listening to and watching free digital content only a mouse click away. No longer is the sales force the gatekeeper of information.
But don’t despair. This is about making your numbers. There are four surefire ways to up your sales effectiveness in time to make your numbers in 2015:
1. Understand Prospect Issues & Needs
Unlike the old hidden sales cycle, the new hidden sales cycle can be discovered, deciphered and monitored. World Class Sales Organizations, as defined by the 2015 MHI Global Sales Best Practice Study, nevertheless, lead All Respondents by 27 percent (89 vs. 70 percent) in knowing why their customers buy from them.
For sales effectiveness, everything starts with knowing and understanding your prospect’s issues and needs. All prospects make decisions for different reasons, and knowing why they buy from us has become increasingly challenging and critical to achieve.
Does your sales process allow for you to learn all you can about the prospect’s buying cycle? Ask yourself objectively, “How do I know what my prospect thinks?” “Where is he or she mentally on the journey into the pipeline?” Short of asking your prospect outright, and that’s fine, how do you really know? Your prospect may not be honest with you. It’s the same phenomenon that happens in the voting booth. In exit polls (which are notoriously inaccurate) voters will often tell polltakers one answer when, in fact, they voted in a different way that may be less popular with public opinion.
Perhaps you need to spend more time in the discovery phase, develop more influencers, discreetly interview employees, set up a pre-call questionnaires or finely tune your questions to the prospect. Whatever added step you need to take, sales effectiveness cannot happen without your understanding as fully as possible your prospect’s issues and what he values.
2. Pinpoint What the Prospect Values
What if you’re selling enterprise production capability but all your prospect cares about is immediate bottom line revenue. You zig; he zags. As an example, I teach Strategic Selling® under MHI Global, and through my colleagues, teach it in 20 different languages around the world with local presence in most countries.
The prospect says, “so what I need is someone in Boston to train my 50 reps, someone with a strong financial services background who can speak that language.” If my prospect is a financial services company, my unique insight is the fact I spent 30-plus years running financial services companies. I understand and am currently licensed for all investment and insurance products, and have been in the trenches selling to the prospect’s targeted market. He values experience. He’s asked for it.
Alternatively, let’s say my sales process features tools already linked with their CRM system; this can improve adoption. Now I need to leverage it. Look for the specific value, many times it may be what the prospect undervalues initially. This will give you an opportunity to educate them on the value and tie it back to the outcome they are expecting.
3. Lead To vs. Lead With
The primary reason why sales organizations struggle with prospects who can’t or won’t make decisions in their pipeline is that they’re unable to adapt their sales process to their prospect’s buying process.
It may be something as obvious as the prospect requires a strict RFP process, and your company has never been good at winning RFPs. How do you change that in time for the next call for RFPs. Or you know only one executive vice president at the firm, and you suspect the decision is made by multiple C-suite executives and board members. You must find a way to verify then customize the “win” for each decision maker. It’s not easy but it is effective.
Buyers buy hard outcomes, not solutions, offerings or products or services per se. They also buy for their own reasons and interest. And in their own time. You really must adapt your sales process to the prospect’s buying process.
Envision at the end of a highly credible educational pitch, you emphasize your firm’s unique strengths, matched well to what the prospect values. Your prospect’s attitude toward your offering can change completely to the positive. Choreograph your content or discussion in a conversational flow so that your proposed “outcome” is the logical extension of your education rather than the subject of your education. It’s a fine point and a major difference.
Don’t lead with your solution, lead your prospect to it. The actual value of the interaction isn’t what you sell; it’s the insight you provide the interaction itself. How closely does your sales process follow this path? Does it lead with, or lead to?
4. Review and Revamp Your Sales Materials Around Prospect
Sales education is particularly effective when backed by compelling content, the internet and your tested strategies to reach the buyer on his journey to a decision. I know I’m repeating myself, but do make it a critical point to position your educational content around your prospect’s concerns.
Take a look at all the pieces of collateral from your slide decks, capability brochures, blogs, white papers, press releases and online marketing. What are these pieces about? Is the information educational? Does it address a number of alternatives to the prospect’s issues? Is it all about them and not you?
Or, as is often the case, are these pieces a monologue about your company, products or services?
Most materials I review are all about “our capabilities, our products, our advantage, our solutions.” Not only do most salespeople lead with this, rather than lead to this, almost all of the sales tools I see do the same thing—I call them one-way wonders, and they are boring to the prospect—slick-expensive-shiny tomes that pay homage to the “vision” (and egos) of CMOs and CEOs.
It’s already July. The year is half over. But you still have time to implement these four ways to sales effectiveness.
Because of the lead time required to make changes, I recommend you do a quick audit of your sales materials as soon as possible. Answer the question: Is this about the prospect or about us?” Make the necessary changes in messaging, design and layout for print and online.
Next, with each prospect campaign do not make a move without due diligence on understanding the prospect issues and what he or she values. This is sacrosanct.
Then, work on your educational content in whatever medium you prefer. Make it a dynamic process to be continually massaged and tweaked for suitability.
Finally, in the natural course of events, you will begin to lead your prospect to the outcome he wants by not leading with the outcome you want.
Like a rare bottle of 40-year-old McCallan 1939 Scotch, sales effectiveness is a richly acquired taste, so worth the ultimate pursuit.
See you on the upside,
For more information on how to simplify the complex sale, go to www.pleinairestrategies.com
Or call Bill in San Diego at 760.340.4277 or 213.598.4700