Entrepreneurial companies all too often spend their time focused on building great products and solutions, hiring the right people, setting up their corporate entities, creating operational efficiencies, hiring the best lawyers, accountants and programmers, and launching beautiful brand identities. Finally they hire a great sales team and say, “Go forth and sell!” Then what?
The sales team goes forth and opens the door to the boxed-in offices. They excitedly look out at all the different directions they could travel… and then they quickly close the door and come back inside. They look at the team around the nice new conference table and say, “BUT WHO AM I SELLING TO? WHY WILL THEY WANT WHAT WE SELL AND WHAT IS IT I SELL ANYWAY?” Game over?
All to often we step into these newly — and even not-so-newly — minted entrepreneurial companies with great products and no competition, and we find that our products are not well defined for customer needs. The competition is intense, the selling environments are extremely complex, and the sales process is in need of a stronger strategy as well as stronger alignment with marketing efforts. So what strategies can you use to navigate your way around potential customers to earn their business? What do sales teams and company leaders need to understand about the modern-day requirements to actually create a successful model of selling to mid- and large-size customers? How should the company form to maximize sales and revenue growth success?
First, let me dissect the very dramatic changes over the past few years in how decision-making has impacted your selling environment in both 2013 and beyond. There are 6 key shifts you should pay great attention to:
1. Decision-making committees and consensus-based decision making is more the rule than the exception. We used to go to the C-level, where the budget sign-offs lived, but today the risks of making the wrong decision create a paralysis-by-analysis scenario. Increased risk aversion is the root of this shift.
2. There is far greater need for customized solutions in small and larger businesses today.
3. The widening skills gap is also a very serious challenge. Young professionals do not have great decision-making experience. Many decisions require sound business justifications often requiring senior-executive oversight in an already resource-constrained environment. Without the oversight there is perceived risk in making the wrong decisions. Oversight reviews all to often cause delays!
4. Saying, “We have stuff…” simply just no longer — if it ever did — works. Whether your solution is a product you manufacture or software as a service or an enterprise solution or the coolest widget on Earth or the top analytics package of the day, just simply selling based on “me, me, me, me” will not create a sustainable pathway to successful sales.
I once spoke to a 30-year executive of a major corporation who told me out of the hundreds upon hundreds of sales people that had contacted him over the years, he could only recall 2 sales representatives as being memorable for how they approached his/her company and sharing recommendations that solved his challenges. He even went so far as to say that he greatly respected these two sales individuals. What stood out were three very simple reasons:
1. They were the most responsive and attentive sales people he’d ever met. He went on to say that 95% of the sales people he encountered over his career had awful follow-up skills. “Some sales reps never even called back after the first meeting or conversation.”
2. They challenged his thinking! Challenging the status quo is a key leadership tenant. What customers need most of all today is help! Help thinking about complex worlds; help thinking themselves through resource constraints; and help building the best solution for their environments. This is not stuff or widgets. This is thoughtful guidance. This is not SELLING. This is helping, educating, and collaborating with your potential customer before you ever get a sale!
3. They were always prepared. Their acquisition of knowledge was admirable! They knew how to guide the executive, they spent time outside of meetings educating themselves, and they knew more about the company than most of the company’s own staff.
But you’re probably saying, “We cannot afford to spend this kind of time or be this responsive. It costs too much and it will impact our bottom line.” I am here to tell you that what you cannot afford is failing to shift your sales efforts in this direction!
Challenging the status quo is a strong leader’s mantra. Decision makers and company executives desire outsider views challenging conventional thinking. In sales, being a more knowledgeable authority and an outstanding team debater with the deepest understanding of your potential customer’s world is essential. Is this the only way? Not in the least. However, relationship builders and transactional sellers need to understand that the customer has a very different set of expectations today than they did 18 months ago. If you approach sales as you always have, you may be getting “head nods” (thinking everyone likes your presentation or proposal) but not orders!
Here are 5 strategies to increase sales, help your sales organization close new customers, and grow revenue:
1. Know the company inside and out before ever taking a meeting with them. This sounds so simple and in reality it is a lot simpler today than ever before. However, 90% of sales people are rarely prepared well enough for their meetings.
a. Look at them in the digital world: news releases, searches on key areas of their business, LinkedIn profiles, their competition, etc.
b. What assumptions can you make based on the information you see? Plan your conversation around what value your company can bring based on this.
d. Plan your questions. The quality of the answers you receive is based on the quality of the questions you ask. Be thoughtful and be thought provoking.
e. OFFER A UNIQUE PERSPECTIVE. This is easier said than done, and it takes practice and experience, but it will set you apart from more than 96% of the reps calling that very same business.
2. Listening has never been more important. Ask thought provoking questions about their business, priorities, and needs they may be aware of, but LISTEN for what they may not know! This is where your open opportunity lies. The real challenge in listening today is you must hear what is not being said. How? This goes back to how much your sales team knows about the world the potential customer lives in. Being savvy in their market is critical.
NOTE: The biggest opportunities to serve are NOT in what is known (as this is easy to find in the prospects mind) but what is not known (or obvious)!
3. Two-way dialogue/excellent communications skills are essential. How we say things is more important than what we say. If you are sharing recommendations but your potential customers do not understand what you are talking about or cannot see the picture as you see it, then there is potential for you to miss an opportunity for business.
4. Identify the economic drivers for your prospect’s company and also for the prospect’s contacts you work with. If you understand their economic drivers, your ability to relate your services to these drivers will be far more attractive.
5. Get very comfortable talking about money! The ability to talk about the prospect’s financials, return-on-investment expectations, and financial budget estimations for possible solutions is important. This is not to be delayed till deep in the sales cycle. Talk money up front. Not your fees. Not your costs. But relational, financial information that helps the customer’s planning process.
Selling is not about selling. It’s about solving puzzles. It takes your whole organization supporting the sales team to make this a most effective process and for your sales team to increase productivity! The alignment between sales and marketing is imperative. We will discuss this alignment in detail in part two of this series.