Effective Sales Prospecting Techniques You Should Be Using

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By Matthew Cook

iStock-924450398-576x384Though many salespeople despise prospecting, it’s an important part of sales.

Unfortunately, the majority of reps use ineffective and outdated sales prospecting techniques, instead of the effective practices that could actually lead to a higher volume of well-qualified leads (and make them more partial to prospecting).

Just like every other aspect of the sales process, you need to put in the effort and focus required. This is the only way to prospect efficiently so that you don’t waste your time on unqualified leads that aren’t suited for your product or service.

Use these modern sales prospecting techniques to help you better find leads who you can serve, engage, and eventually, convert to customers.

Sales Prospecting Methods

Sales prospecting methods are any way a salesperson conducts outreach to source new leads or engage with existing leads. Effective prospecting methods can vary by sales organization and industry and can include email outreach, social selling, event networking, and warm outreach over the phone.

Traditionally, there were two very different types of prospecting: outbound and inbound. Outbound was an approach that required the salesperson to conduct “cold” outreach in which they called and emailed prospects who had not opted in to speaking with them.

Inbound sales took the opposite approach, encouraging salespeople to build relationships with their prospects and call or email only those prospects who had expressed interest in their product or service.

Today, most sales experts agree the best approach to sales prospecting is a combination of both inbound and outbound selling.

Sales Prospecting Techniques

1. Make warm calls.

Your initial contact with new prospects doesn’t have to be — and in fact, shouldn’t be — completely cold. It can be incredibly useful to warm up your prospects before making the initial contact.

You can increase your chances of a warmer reception by familiarizing the prospect with your name or your company affiliation before you make your first call or send your first email.

A few ideas as to how to achieve this: get introduced by a shared connection, comment on a piece of content the buyer shared on social media, or “like” a status update or job change announcement on LinkedIn.

2. Become a thought-leader.

By establishing yourself as a thought leader or subject matter expert in your industry, you can establish your credibility and trust before reaching out to new prospects.

Ways to establish yourself as a thought leader include starting a blog, writing guest articles for industry publications, and speaking at trade shows and conferences.

This also helps you familiarize your leads with your name before the initial contact, which was discussed in the first technique.

3. Be a trusted resource.

To be successful as a salesperson, you have to do more than sell. You have to be your client’s go-to person and support them after you’ve closed the sale.

By changing your position from salesperson of products and services to a provider of solutions, you can increase your chance of getting referrals from happy customers.

Draw on these referrals when it comes time for you to introduce yourself to a new prospect. When you become a resource for your clients, before and after the sale, they’ll remember your help and will be willing to help you in return.

4. Reference a script.

For new salespeople, referencing a basic script while prospecting can help them reduce uncomfortable pauses, use the right language, and respond to common objections.

Experienced, seasoned sales representatives often recommend not using a script in order to sound more natural during conversations.

However, some do still use a script — it’s just so ingrained in their minds that it comes out sounding natural and unrehearsed. But whether you use a script or not, make sure to actively listen to your prospects and customize your conversation based on their needs.

5. Don’t sell.

Prospecting is the first step in selling, but in and of itself, it is not selling. It’s about sourcing leads who can then be qualified and entered into the sales funnel. Only once these steps have taken place can the selling begin.

If you want to be successful in today’s sales environment, you need to focus on building relationships while prospecting. Start selling too quickly and you’ll put undue pressure on the prospect.

Building a foundation of trust can help you and the prospect become more comfortable with each other, so once selling techniques come into the picture, they’ll be more effective.

6. Follow up.

Keep the prospect in the loop and follow up at each step of the deal. Whether you’re confirming a time for your next meeting or sending over additional resources, an email or call helps you build a relationship with your point of contact.

And it gives you the opportunity to further establish yourself as a trusted resource for the prospect, rather than simply following up with “just checking in“.

7. Use video.

Make your outreach even more enticing to prospects by including a video. Use it to introduce yourself, provide additional content, or to recap your connect, discovery, or qualification call.

Capture the prospects’ attention by adding ”video” in the subject line, and include a thumbnail image that links to the video.

8. Block of time for prospecting.

Set aside dedicated prospecting time on your calendar each day. Prospecting isn’t easy — more than 40% of salespeople say it’s the most challenging part of the sales process.

By blocking off time to prospect, you’ll be better off in the long run because you’re actively filling your pipeline, which often results in more conversations and better win rates.

9. Spend time on social media.

Implement a social selling strategy and meet prospects wherever they are. It’s likely that a fair amount of people who’ve researched your product are active on social media (e.g., Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.). Answer their questions and share content that’s relevant to their research.

And your social selling activities can have a positive impact on your sales. In fact, companies who use social selling practices regularly are 40% more likely to hit their revenue goals than those who don’t have a social selling process.

10. Host a webinar.

Webinars are a perfect place to source leads, because you know the attendees have a demonstrated interest in the topic. Partner with another organizations in your industry to host a webinar on a mutually beneficial topic.

After the webinar, poll your audience to see who’s ready to learn more about your product/service. Consider a polling form that asks them to answer “Yes” or “No” to statements like “I’m ready for a demo,” or “I’d like to learn more about [Your company name.]

Follow up with those who responded positively to your poll or post-webinar survey within 24 hours, and schedule time for them to learn more. And don’t give up on those who said they weren’t yet ready to buy.

Place them into nurture campaigns, and stay in touch over the next few months to see if their buying position changes.

11. Ask for referrals.

If you’re not asking for referrals, you’re leaving your most reliable prospecting well untapped. Once you’ve successfully closed new business, ask your prospect or champion if there’s anyone in their professional network you might connect with.

It’s also a good idea to use follow-up communications over the next few months as another moment in which to ask for new connections.

For example, after your customer has onboarded (and is happy with their experience) ask, “I’m so glad you’re already finding value in Sunrise Staffing Software Solutions. Is there anyone in your professional network who might also benefit from chatting with us?

12. Network at events.

First, find the right events to attend. Identify why people are attending a certain conference, if the agenda has topics relevant to your ideal customer, what the size of the community is, and the overall purpose of the event.

If you sell project management software to entry- and mid-level designers, you might want to avoid a conference targeted toward design leaders or creative directors who aren’t in the weeds with the types of software their designers are using.

Once you identify the events that will give you the greatest ROI, map out which sessions you’ll attend, which happy hours or networking events you’ll work, and whether or not your company will have a booth or speaking presence there.

13. Answer questions on Q&A forums.

Seek out ways to educate your audience on trends and best practices in your industry — and eventually educate them on your product.

Online forums, like LinkedIn Groups and Quora, allow likeminded people to post questions to the group members or audience and source answers from experts in the field. Join these platforms, and start by listening.

Get used to how people pose questions, review what is and is not allowed, and chime in on a few conversations before answering questions yourself. Once you’ve built some clout in the community, identify questions you can answer without bias.

For example, if you sell machinery for large agricultural operations, you might answer a question someone asks about the impact of AI on farming.

14. Get involved in Twitter chats.

Twitter chats are a great way to build rapport with prospects, and are an effective social selling tactic. In a recent article on gathering B2B sales leads, HubSpot’s Managing Blog Editor Meg Prater says, “Twitter chats are when a group of people meet on Twitter to discuss a certain topic, trend, or interest area using an agreed-upon hashtag.

For example, if you sell a PPC tool, you might join the weekly #PPCChat, in which chat runners or guest hosts share a discussion topic ahead of time and industry folks share their thoughts and questions.”

Questions are shared by the chat host and participants chime in with their answers using the chat hashtag.

Prater says, “Show up to these chats regularly and know when to contribute and when to listen. You’ll make connections with people each week, and you can ask if it’s alright to follow up with a few of them offline, after you’ve built foundational rapport.”

Don’t just stick to the same old sales prospecting playbook because it’s what you’ve always done. Practice different techniques until you find the right mix of modern and effective sales techniques that effectively support your prospecting efforts and your sales goals.

Posted in Prospecting, Sales Insights, Sales Strategy

Zombies – Sunday Scaries

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By Tracey Wik

creepy-dark-park-with-two-people-distance_181624-589There are many nightmare memes dominating social channels describing the way most of us feel about the impact of the global pandemic on the world of work and how we sell. If people feared Monday before Covid-19, they are panicked now.

Sales managers seem to be slowly confronting this new reality and are beginning to adjust their cadence and management of sales teams the longer the disruption triggered by Covid-19 continues. Yet, they seem to be resisting that their sales team may resemble the zombies on the Walking Dead.

According to a 2018 LinkedIn survey, 80% of Americans worry about the week ahead on Sundays. Some call it the “Sunday Scaries,” you know that fear you feel beginning sometime on Sunday as you count the hours left in the weekend. You fear the mere thought of Monday morning on Sunday afternoon at 3 pm as you mentally confront your awaiting to-do list.

Many believe the Sunday Scaries symptoms are worse in the summer (social distance protocols and lockdowns aside) because people are simply having more fun in the summer: mimosa brunches in the garden, beach days, beers on the roof top, and baseball games in the bleachers. Sending emails to prospects or other work-related tasks pales in comparison to almost any summer social activity.

Have you considered that your sales team is suffering from an extreme case of the Sunday Scaries?

Think about it. They are rising to their home offices early Monday morning only to spend the next eight plus hours on back-to-back Zoom calls with prospects or clients. Just writing it down causes stress let alone doing it day after day after day after day.

Here you have a team of extroverts, the people, used to working their charm on a room of unsuspecting strangers now forced to demonstrate that charm through the lens of their computer video camera over-and-over again.

Quite simply, they are exhausted by the demands of the new normal of virtual selling. While they are showing up and doing their best, they are not experiencing the same feeling of accomplishment because the game has changed.

Last week, the Munich-based industrial conglomerate Siemens announced plans to allow more than 100,000 of its employees to work away from the office for two to three days a week on a permanent basis. While Siemens is not alone in this declaration, their rationale was intriguing and one to pay attention. The company said the coronavirus crisis has “shown that working independently of a fixed location offers many advantages and is possible on a much wider scale than originally thought.”

This is not necessarily good news for sales teams. As more and more companies make working at home the new normal, sellers will be forced to learn to adapt. What steps can you take to help your sellers rise and shine on Monday morning?

1 – Acceptance is the answer to all your problems today. Sales managers need to stop acting as if nothing has changed. Recognizing that your team is struggling is the first step to making a difference in their effectiveness. Start by having individual conversations for no other reason than to check-in. Ask how sellers are doing? What are they frustrated by? How are they coping with the demands of being online so much?

Often sales managers are afraid to ask because they don’t have answers. Don’t worry about that. Unfortunately, there are not a lot of answers to the current situation. Rather, questions become important because it shows you care. It shows you care about them as a person, and that caring goes a long way.

2 – Assess their capacity to work virtually. This includes their skill and will. Being tech savvy was a table stake pre-Covid 19. Just because sellers are good with tools doesn’t mean they are good with not seeing their buyers. I have heard many companies spending time and money to ensure their workers have the right technology to work from home, but I have not heard of many who have taken the same inventory about the skills to use the technology and the motivation to do so over time. Understanding what motivates your team is even more critical than ever.

3 – Create learning curriculum to address the gaps. Most large organizations have learning and development departments. They are experts in adult learning theory and tools. Now, is the time to lean on them to help you close the gap.

 

Posted in Forward Thinking, Sales Insights, Sales Team

The Best Solutions for Hiring Great Salespeople for Your Company

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By Dave Kurlan

Huge two storeys commercial jetliner taking of runwayWould you fly on a huge jet from Minneapolis, Minnesota to St. Paul, Minnesota, usually a 15-minute drive?

Would you take a train between intersections of the same city block, usually a 2-minute walk?

Would you take a bus to the bottom of your driveway – usually a 1-minute walk or less?

Would you walk from Boston to Miami – a 3-hour plus plane flight?

These are all examples of inappropriate solutions to the simple question, “What is the best way to get there from here?”

How about the simple question, “What is the best way to assure that the salespeople I am about to hire will succeed in the chosen role?”

There are three additional questions that must be asked in order to answer the primary question that asks the best way to hire the right salespeople:

Are assessments in general good enough to identify those salespeople?  There are many types of assessments, including intelligence, honesty and integrity (illegal in some US states), personality (challenged in the courts), behavioral styles, cognitive ability and of course, skill-specific tests.  Because most of these assessments can be provided to any potential employee and are not specific to sales, the answer is a loud and resounding NO.

Are personality assessments good enough to identify those salespeople?  Personality assessments are not role-specific so they have been challenged in the court.  The dimensions and findings in Personality assessments are not predictive of anything and there is no specific personality type (including Meyers-Briggs, 16PF, DiSC, and Caliper which were all mentioned in the article) that indicates that one is a better salesperson than another.  Again, the answer is a loud and resounding NO.

Is OMG’s sales-specific assessment a personality test?  Despite its inclusion in the article’s list of 7 assessment solutions, Objective Management Group (OMG) is NOT a personality assessment. OMG provides a sales-specific assessment that measures a sales candidate’s capabilities in all 21 Sales Core Competencies as well as several additional sales-specific competencies. Does it help identify the right salespeople because it is sales specific?  That is part of the reason but the more important reason is that OMG is validated using Predictive Validity.  Predictive. Validity.  Most validations show that an assessment is properly constructed and will provide consistent and reliable results. That is Construct Validity. On the other hand, Predictive Validity correlates the findings to on-the-job performance.  It is not enough though to simply identify good salespeople; you must identify the right salespeople for the role or roles in question.  Configurations for each role are customized so that the ideal salespeople are recommended for the company’s specific role(s).  Right people in the right seats.  It’s about getting sales selection right.  OMG has proven its accuracy and track record in sales selection having just passed 2 million sales assessments in 30,000 companies.  In the case of OMG, the answer is a loud and resounding YES.

Here’s another question.  Why only 30,000 companies?  If OMG is that predictive and accurate, shouldn’t it be used in 3 million companies?  I don’t think there are 3 million B2B companies that qualify but certainly there are 300,000.  So again, why only 30,000?

There are 3 answers that deserve consideration.

Ego.  Far too many sales leaders believe that their gut instinct is more accurate than some assessment.  Given that the overall success rate for hiring salespeople is hit or miss with an emphasis on miss, they couldn’t be more wrong.  Of the candidates who were not recommended, but clients hired them despite OMG’s warning, 75% failed inside of 6 months.  Of the candidates who were recommended and eventually hired, 92% rose to the top half of the sales force within 12 months.

Knowledge.  Far too many HR leaders believe that their expertise is in hiring and either don’t need an assessment or they choose one they are familiar with, like DiSC, Caliper, Predictive Index or Myers-Briggs.   The reality is that only 14% of all HR professionals understand how assessments work.

Stupidity.  At some large companies, in-house counsel has banned the use of assessments.  While they often justify their own existence, this stupid practice occurs out of ignorance.  While attorneys are protecting their clients from law-suits alleging discriminatory hiring practices, only personality assessments have been successfully challenged in court.  Remember, OMG is not a personality assessment – it’s sales-specific, or in other words, a role-specific assessment which is perfectly legal to use, has never been challenged in court, and shows no adverse impact on protected minorities.

About author

Dave Kurlan is a best selling author, top rated speaker and earned the Bronze Medal for Top Sales & Marketing Thought Leader for 2015.  He was inducted into the Sales & Marketing Hall of Fame in 2012.  Dave is the founder and CEO of the Objective Management Group, Inc. (OMG), the leading developer of sales force evaluations and sales candidate assessments, headquartered in Westboro, Massachusetts. OMG was named the Top Sales Assessment Tool for 2011 – 2015.

Posted in Assessment, Hiring Salespeople

The Big Mistakes That Can Make Negotiations Fail

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By David Freedman

The-big-mistakes-that-can-make-negotiations-failA study from Huthwaite International, specialists in sales and negotiation, has revealed the five most common errors negotiators are making that can risk both parties walking away from the table dissatisfied, unhappy, and in some cases, without a deal at all. From failing to do substantial research, to becoming irritating and making too many counter proposals, David Freedman, Director of Sales at Huthwaite International, examines the bad habits negotiators need to drop in order to strike the ultimate deal.

Most people have a good understanding of what they need to do to bring in a good quality deal, however, in practice, buyers are making frequent errors that unwittingly see them lose profit. It’s simple, yet many of our negotiation habits actually work against us. This can be costly, especially where multi-million pound budgets, and staggeringly complex projects are commonplace. Here’s a rundown of the top mistakes negotiators make time and time again when striking a deal, as well as some advice around how to avoid these common pitfalls.

Prepare to fail, fail to prepare

This age-old saying is still very relevant. Most negotiators spend time preparing facts, figures and financial goals, but fail to plan how they will use this information when it comes to making a verbal agreement. You’re only as good as the preparation you put in. Consider carefully how you can utilise the information and research you’ve gathered to your advantage. Map out your negotiations – spend time considering how you will control the climate, shift the power into your favour, the role you’ll adopt and what you ultimately want to achieve from the meeting.

Avoid the poker face

Some negotiators avoid emotive language, feeling it isn’t appropriate to express their emotions when it comes to striking a deal. This can lead to ambiguity and a lack of clarity. Be clear. If you’re disappointed with an offer, say so. Likewise, if you’re pleased with how the negotiations are moving, don’t be afraid to express this. Sharing your feelings in these scenarios is powerful verbal behaviour as nobody can refute your feelings, and it can create a more cooperative environment to strike a deal that benefits your needs.

Avoid the counter proposal

Our research shows that successful negotiators only make half the number of counter proposals than most. However, many are still falling into this trap, even among the most experienced. Negotiating is about listening and understanding the needs of the other party, whilst maintaining a strong stance. By immediately counter offering it shows that you’re not listening to the other party – which is an immediate turn off, meaning they are less likely to be flexible when it comes to striking that all-important deal.

Don’t demonstrate irritating behaviours

There are a number of behaviours that work to immediately irritate the opposing party, from self-praising declarations, such as using the words ‘fair’, ‘reasonable’ and other presumptuous behaviour to telling someone you’re ‘being honest with them’, indicating you may not have been before. Steer clear of this use of language, it can be damaging to the relationship you are building and may put your counter party on the defensive.

Don’t talk for talking’s sake

Perhaps the biggest and most important hurdle to overcome is to sit back and listen. Digest the information you’re receiving properly and take time to really understand the other parties position. This will provide you with an opportunity to explore the other parties underlying objectives. You can also use this to build incisive questions that may create doubt in their minds about their position – doubt leads to movement, and movement is what you’re trying to create as a negotiator.

About the Author

David is Huthwaite’s Director of Sales. He is a Fellow of both the Institute of Sales Management and of the Association of Professional Sales, sits on the Management Consultancies’ Association Council and is former Chairman of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations MarComs group. He speaks all over the world, from conferences and exhibitions including World of Learning, SAMA, APMP and many international business organisations. He has also been on the judging panels for the National Sales Awards and the National Business Awards.

Posted in Sales Insights, Sales Negotiation

How Sales Organizations Can Accelerate Their Revenue Growth

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By Miller Heiman Group | Sales Performance

young-investors-working-profit-dividend-revenue_74855-6143Consider these two statistics:

  • Less than a quarter of B2B buyers think sellers are a resource for solving their business problems or see differences among sellers, according to our2018 Buyer Preferences Study.
  • The vast majority (84%) of sales leaders weren’t convinced that the talent they have is enough to generate future success in our 2018 Sales Talent Study.

What do these statistics have in common? Both share a skeptical view of sales talent. And it’s no surprise that talent is a pain point for organizations, as only 23% of sales organizations claim that hiring is a strength.

In this period of recession, organizations have started to realize the depth of their problems: they can no longer hide behind inflated sales numbers that are the result of a burgeoning salesforce and prosperous economic times.

Organizations need to take a closer look at their sales system to ensure that it’s capable of rebounding in the future and resilient enough to withstand future challenges. They need to shape a holistic sales talent strategy covering the entire lifecycle of a salesperson that ensures they have the right people in the right jobs to help them achieve their goals. They need an integrated solution—specifically, Korn Ferry’s Accelerating Revenue Growth solution that combines hiring, assessment, training and coaching—to guide them through the sales talent development process.

The Phases of Sales Talent Development

Training is a key facet of improving a sales team’s performance, but it must be accompanied by a formal methodology and process that underpins a sales talent strategy. Successful sales teams begin with hiring and continue through performance assessment, coaching, training and reinforcement.

1. Hiring

When hiring, most sales organizations hire subjectively, looking for a certain level of industry expertise and traits such as “assertiveness.” Few organizations measure candidates against a hiring profile. Those that do often model their vision of a top performer after sellers with the highest quota attainment.

A data-based approach to hiring may reveal hidden truths. Top performers may excel because they’re benefitting from market trends or a mature sales territory. That’s why it’s critical to look deeper using both leading and lagging indicators to identify who your best sellers are. Moreover, a data-informed approach focuses on the competencies and skills necessary for success in a role. For example, a data-based hiring assessment may reveal that learning agility is the true differentiator for success in a sales role.

Leveraging decades of job analysis and research, Korn Ferry Success Profiles describe the behaviors, traits and drivers that deliver stellar sales performance for over 25 key sales roles, clarifying what “success” means for your organization. They create a benchmark that hiring managers can measure their talent against: talent that closely matches a Success Profile is up to 13 times more likely to be highly engaged at work.

2. Assessment

The top 20% of salespeople account for more than 50% of an organization’s revenues, according to our 2018 Sales Talent Study. But most organizations don’t know why their top performers succeed: only 24% of organizations in our 2019 World-Class Sales Practices Study reported consistently assessing their top performers to understand the reasons for their success. Instead, they tend to equate success with making quota.

Organizations need to conduct performance assessments to understand why their top performers are successful so they can replicate key qualities in their hiring, coaching and development plans. Korn Ferry assessments gives sales organizations key insights into how their sales talent stacks up against Success Profiles, so sales managers can understand their sellers’ strengths and opportunities for training and growth.

3. Training

Sales organizations can use assessment results to build a learning journey tailored to each seller, addressing their individualized skill gaps and learning needs and focusing on the behaviors critical to sales success. Ongoing seller development increases not only the seller’s commitment to the changed behavior but to the organization as well.

But training is only as effective if it engages sellers. Platforms must be intuitive and easy to use. And learners today prefer to choose the learning experience that best suits them, whether in person or virtual. Most of all, they want a learning experience that is self-guided: one that they can approach on their own terms, when it’s convenient for them, and at their own pace.

Korn Ferry training, powered by Miller Heiman Group, checks all of these boxes and is designed to evolve sellers’ skills in perspective selling, so they add more value for buyers through education and insight and differentiate themselves from the competition. Organizations can choose from the full range of Miller Heiman Group’s award-winning sales training courses, including Strategic Selling With Perspective, Conceptual Selling With Perspective, SPIN Selling Conversations, and more.

4. Coaching

Many sales organizations use the word “coaching” to describe any interaction that sales managers have with their sellers. But coaching is a formal process where sales managers focus on helping their sellers find opportunities for improvement. Coaching conversations are strategic and fall in five categories: leads and opportunities, skills and behaviors, funnels, accounts and territories. The keys to coaching are to have a consistent process and to train sales managers in specific coaching techniques, as our Sales Enablement Studies consistently show. But too few organizations (less than a quarter, according to our 2019 World-Class Sales Practices Study) excel at coaching; even fewer (12.6%) have a dynamic coaching process that is formally defined, taught, reinforced, adopted and tied directly to seller enablement activities. An ad hoc coaching approach hampers win rates.

5. Reinforcement

When sales managers tap into the results of their sellers’ assessments, they’re able to emphasize the skills likely to drive more sales and reinforce their sellers’ learning. Pairing assessments with coaching training from the Miller Heiman Group teaches sales managers how to become stronger mentors and develop their sellers’ strengths. And the organization as a whole embeds ongoing learning and continuous improvement into its sales culture, improving employee engagement and reducing seller attrition, leading to long-term sales and greater organizational profitability.

An Integrated Solution for Developing Talent

Are you confident that you’re among the few organizations that have the sales talent necessary to succeed in a world of constant transitions? If not, level up your sales force with Korn Ferry’s Accelerating Revenue Growth platform: no other provider has integrated assessments, development and coaching into a single platform designed to develop sales talent and improve organizational performance.

Posted in Assessment, Development, Learning, Sales Coaching, Sales Performance Measurement, Talent Management

3 Ways To Drive Sales Growth With Resources You Already Have

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By Michael Perla

businessman-touching-tip-bar-chart_1232-898“Our selling motions may never be the same after COVID-19.”

“Competitive intensity is only going to increase … we could fall behind.” 

“We will have to do more with less given hiring and spending freezes.”

Those are among a handful of common refrains I hear from sales leaders these days — many of whom are on the hook for driving revenue growth during one of the biggest economic declines in our country’s history.

As a senior director of business value services at Salesforce, I work with our largest enterprise customers — including Johnson & Johnson, Medtronic, and Philips — to help them develop a return on investment for key sales initiatives. So, when nearly everyone I talk to (and the surveys show) concern over revenue decline, I know that this is the year of doing more with less.

Sales leaders will need to zero in on where they and their teams can increase efficiency, manage risk, and most importantly drive revenue. They will need to ruthlessly prioritize, deploy effective tools for sellers, and train their sales reps on new skills required in the current selling environment.

The following are a few strategies I’ve seen my customers use to meet the challenge:

Focus on doing a few things well

Sales is all about telling the right person the right story at the right time. In a “do more with less” environment, sales teams must focus on the best markets, accounts, and decision makers to pursue.

This prioritization requires an intelligent, data-driven approach. One of my Fortune 500 customers was able to leverage predictive insights to determine which deals might get pushed into the next quarter. They then developed recovery plans to speed up deal closures and were able to capture millions of dollars in revenue in the current quarter.

Looking to prioritize? Consider taking the following actions:

1. Regrade and rescore your accounts based on current revenue and future potential

Plot each of your accounts on a 2×2 matrix from low to high, with future potential on the vertical axis and current revenue on the horizontal axis.

Comparison of future potential vs current revenue

2. Determine your highest priority accounts and any resource gaps

From the matrix above, your main focus should be on the top two quadrants: customers with high future potential and high revenue. For each of those quadrants, you want to determine if you have the right sales coverage and resourcing, which might include various channels and roles.

3. For high-priority accounts, develop strategic account plans to uncover new sales opportunities

The account plan doesn’t need to be a novel, but at a minimum should include an executive-level account overview, key sales goals and objectives, top opportunities for the year, and a relationship plan. From a plan execution standpoint, you should include the account team roles and responsibilities, a meeting cadence, and an overall action plan. At a minimum, sales leaders should review the plan on a monthly and quarterly basis.

4. Leverage an integrated tool to track account progress and performance

The tool should include data and insights across marketing, sales, and service. For example, Salesforce allows you to track account-based marketing initiatives, pipeline metrics and growth, and any service challenges or opportunities.

Improve business systems and processes

In a 2019 study, 94% of business executives said it was internal complexity preventing growth, not lack of opportunities or competitive threats. Some of our customers have reduced costs by hundreds of millions of dollars by standardizing and simplifying their systems and processes.

To try the same, consider taking the following steps:

  1. Outline each system or tool that is involved in the sales process.
  2. Determine how much each tool is used during the sales process as a proxy for value. Generally, unused tools signal low value.
  3. Create a plan to sunset systems and tools that add little value to the seller or process.

One of our Global 500 customers inventoried the different tools and systems that its sellers used as part of a sales cycle and came up with more than 30! They found multiple quoting tools and calculators, along with different processes and software to analyze the pipeline and forecast. By eliminating the overlap, they were able to save money, reduce complexity, and improve the seller’s experience.

Quote from Michael Perla, "2020 is the year of doing more with less"

Manage business risk

Without surplus financial resources, risk increases. You lack the room for error to make a bad acquisition or launch a nice-to-have marketing campaign or product. The following are areas of risk to pay attention to:

  • Talent: In tumultuous times, your best sales managers and sellers may be at risk of leaving or poached by your competition. It’s important to evaluate your sales talent and execute any necessary retention strategies, such as multi-year retention bonuses or new professional development opportunities.
  • Customer: Looking at data, such as past buying behavior or service issues, can help you predict which customers are at risk of defecting or shifting their spend. For example, a customer who stops buying as frequently or as much as they once did may be at risk of defecting. They may also be contacting the service center more and have an increasing number of support cases.
  • Reputation: How a company reacts in challenging times will often be a defining moment in how they are perceived by a cross-section of stakeholders (e.g., prospective and current employees and customers). Short-term headcount reductions may ultimately prove unproductive and costly in the long term.

One of our large enterprise customers in the technology space minimized its risk by focusing on smaller acquisitions that contributed to immediate revenue growth and were a strong cultural fit. These smaller acquisitions allowed them to quickly welcome new customers, while maintaining their company’s customer-focused reputation and collaborative culture.

The next step

The ability to drive sales and growth in tough times is ultimately a return to basics. It means remaining single minded about the things that contribute to revenue. Companies that can adapt to a changing market and nimbly adjust strategies and processes will not only perform better during a downturn, but will set themselves up to thrive and grow when the market turns.

Posted in Learning, Sales Insights, Talent Management

Connecting With Customers in Times of Crisis

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By Fabricio Dore, Oliver Ehrlich, David Malfara, Kelly Ungerman

call-center_23-2148181825The COVID-19 global humanitarian and economic crisis has forced individuals and companies to rapidly change how they live and work. Many elements of business and life are being challenged; in some cases, the next normal may look very different as new ways of working are carried over into the future. Companies are doing their best to manage through this pandemic—from ensuring an effective crisis response to managing supply-chain disruptions, to safeguarding the well-being of their employees by adjusting daily working practices.

Customer experience takes on a new meaning against this backdrop. Executives are typically approaching customer experience by creating seamless, convenient and engaging customer journeys; however, the needs of customers at the moment have shifted dramatically towards more essential concerns. A recent McKinsey survey of US consumers found that 64 percent of respondents have felt depressed, anxious, or both over the past several weeks, and 39 percent stated that they would be unable to pay their bills after one month of unemployment.

Leading organizations are reorienting their customer-experience efforts to meet their customers’ primary needs, such as safety, security, and everyday convenience. These actions will inevitably speak louder than words in a world where companies are increasingly advertising a message of “we are here for you.” By consciously providing empathy and care during this crisis, companies can build a foundation of goodwill and long-lasting emotional connections with the communities they serve.

Seven actions to demonstrate empathy for customers

Over the past few months, companies have had to quickly adjust to COVID-19. The first step for many organizations was to stabilize operations and safeguard their own employees. From this position, companies can then find genuine, creative ways to show empathy and emotionally connect with their customers. Many have already begun to take seven actions related to individual safety, security and stability, convenience and ease of use, and emotional bonds and trust (exhibit).

Exhibit

1. Minimize risk by reducing physical interaction

Society’s first responsibility during a pandemic of this scale is eliminating opportunities to spread the virus, especially among the most at-risk populations. Companies have been minimizing the risk of contagion when fulfilling essential tasks, particularly when they involve vulnerable groups.

Grocery retailers have responded by taking extra precautions, such as extending opening hours for the elderly and healthcare workers as well as free home-delivery for customers more than 65 years old. Many are limiting the number of people who can be inside the store at once and putting physical-distance stickers on the floor to aid compliance. E-commerce and online food-delivery companies around the world are offering new contactless delivery options to eliminate direct physical contact between customers and delivery drivers. Companies offering services that require customers to be in close proximity, such as airlines, are taking measures to reduce risk and ensure the health and safety of both their customers and employees. Of course, this approach requires more stringent standards for cleaning as well as new work processes, such as suspending drink refills or recycling to avoid touching passenger-handled items.

2. Actively contribute to safety by innovating the product portfolio

Companies should ask themselves two critical questions: Do we have a product the world needs right now? Or can we rapidly adapt our product portfolio to provide goods that are urgently needed? In pursuing this approach, companies can use their strengths to provide essential products, even if those goods are outside of their current product offering. For example, some distilleries are using their ethanol supplies to provide materials for hand sanitizers through partnerships with refineries.

Companies are also stepping up to meet the demand for more medical equipment and personal protective equipment. Apparel manufacturers are responding to a drop in sales by producing thousands of urgently needed face masks instead. Some automotive companies are shifting production to manufacture ventilators, for example, General Motors is partnering with a US-based medical device company to produce respiratory care products.

Companies beyond manufacturing are still able to innovate their product portfolio to contribute to safety initiatives. Rideshare companies are looking to use their network of drivers to transport medicine and basic goods, rather than passengers. This effort could provide lifesaving drugs to individuals who are not able to go out to purchase them because of the quarantine or other conditions.

In all of these cases, company leaders have demonstrated their commitment to customers and society. At the same time, they are creating alternatives so they can continue providing meaningful work for their employees despite substantial demand reductions in their core business.

3. Provide pragmatic help to customers in financial distress

Once customers have secured their personal safety, their next concern is often financial. As companies are forced to decrease operations for an uncertain time period, individuals and millions of small business owners face massive income and liquidity issues.

Providing flexible solutions when dealing with financial challenges is now both a responsibility and a huge trust driver for companies. Financial institutions are not penalizing customers who cannot meet payment obligations for March. Telcos are not terminating service or enforcing late-payment fees for customers experiencing hardship for an extra 60 days. And energy companies are not shutting off power for nonpayment; in some cases, they are even reconnecting customers whose service had been turned off prior to the crisis.

In addition, companies are seeking to alleviate unexpected sources of financial stress as events unfold. Travel companies, including most major airlines, are waiving cancellation fees. Families who formerly relied on school lunches to feed their children can benefit from efforts such as those introduced by Burger King, which provides two free kids meals to Americans who make any purchase through the Burger King app.

4. Bring joy and support the emotional needs of customers ‘trapped at home’

Many people are forced to stay at home, and experience all the concerns that come along with having to do so. Companies are acting to make homelife more enjoyable and to also ensure the well-being of their customers.

Families have to entertain their children at home for weeks to come, making access to online content a truly fundamental need. Telcos are providing free unlimited data for the next 60 days to all mobile customers with data plans. Entertainment companies have released content ahead of schedule: the Walt Disney Company, for example, released the family-friendly blockbuster Frozen 2 on its streaming platform, Disney+, three months earlier than planned. New York’s Metropolitan Opera offered free digital shows to entertain virtual audiences, while Google Arts & Culture has paired with museums around the world to curate virtual tours.

Other companies are checking in with their customers to help relieve stress. Meditation and mindfulness providers, such as the Headspace app, will be providing free subscriptions to healthcare professionals and unlocking free content for consumers. Multiple organizations have launched online services that include food delivery and recipes, shared rides, online courses, and traditional financial services.

5. Actively shift customers to online channels

With so many directives around the world to remain at home, companies that previously relied on physical operations have had to direct customers to online offerings.

As an example, since many gyms have been directed to close all physical facilities, they are now offering hundreds of free online home workout courses to all members. Companies offering virtual capabilities, as with Cisco’s Webex, are assisting schools and universities as they transition to remote learning by offering free tools for teachers, parents, and students to support the development of online-learning plans. Italian banks are encouraging the use of digital channels while providing tutorials for online banking. Medical providers are providing care through digital services, such as telemedicine, with health insurers supporting the initiative by offering zero copays.

Companies without online services can find ways to establish and scale online offerings with substantial demand from customers as their needs increasingly turn digital. This shift to online and digital channels has the potential to dramatically increase online traffic post-recovery.

6. Stay reachable and treat customers with care in personal interactions

With physical channels such as bank branches and nongrocery retail stores closed, many customers are turning to other channels for questions and requests that require personal attention and care.

Service companies in telcos and banking are currently experiencing increased inbound call volumes in their contact centers while at the same time having to shift their customer-service centers to remote-working arrangements. For example, a leading European telco equipped 10,000 call-center agents with laptops and tool infrastructure within a week, enabling them to take calls from their homes. Companies that provide customers with additional guidance and support can maintain communication and engagement. Other companies have enhanced options for seeking information digitally; Erdos Group launched a WeChat program in China to offer virtual product consultations. Airlines facing traveler cancellations or trip changes are urging customers whose travel is not within 72 hours to address their needs through the company’s website.

While most companies must address reachability, some companies, such as those in the medical industry, face callers who have significantly different types of questions than they did prior to the pandemic. Another key priority is proactively responding to this shift by training call-center agents to effectively manage these new questions. Cigna has established a 24/7 customer-resource center specifically to help customers with claims related to the novel coronavirus. Companies should reevaluate how to prepare their agents to address these emerging needs.

7. Demonstrate care for the community through company values

Companies can stay true to their vision while showing that they genuinely care about their customers. Actions taken during crises can help build trust and reinforce brand values (see sidebar, “Forming a purpose-driven bond with customers”).

One of the most talked-about company initiatives in Germany came from McDonald’s and ALDI. The two companies initiated a staff sharing plan so that interested McDonald’s workers from temporarily closed branches can redeploy at ALDI stores to ensure that the retailer can meet the currently increased customer demand. Supporting local communities while linking these efforts back to company values is exemplified by companies delivering free, fresh meals to medical workers in the cities they serve. Similarly, sustainable-footwear company Allbirds is giving free shoes to healthcare workers, and pharmacies and drugstores are also gearing up to donate space in their parking lots for medical testing.

The Alibaba Foundation has donated medical supplies to 14 countries in Asia and the United States and will also be publishing a digital handbook to share learnings from the COVID-19 experience in China. Tableau Software has developed a free data resource hub using case data compiled by leading educational and government research organizations to help stakeholders see and understand coronavirus data in near-real time. LinkedIn, through employee referrals, is providing free access to its premium features for a designated period of time to help employees at small businesses cope with the economic downturn.

Public service announcements and other on-brand communication can be used to send messages of unity: for example, Coca-Cola’s marketing has been reminding customers that “staying apart is the best way to stay united.”

All these efforts show a clear care for customers and an obligation to serve on the part of companies, bringing local or international communities together with new knowledge and resources. Every action taken by a company should reinforce what customers already know—that companies care and are willing to invest in helping their community.

Forging lasting connections with customers

During times of crisis, leading companies are pivoting from marketing to helping and from fulfilling customer desires to meeting customer needs. Socially conscious organizations across sectors and geographies are finding ways to get involved and support their customers and communities.

The current COVID-19 outbreak is a global crisis and an opportunity for leaders to support their customers and communities. Leading in a caring, empathetic manner during these difficult times has the potential to create real connections that will outlive the social and economic impacts of the pandemic. And large companies should consider it a duty to serve the communities in which they do business.

About the author(s)

Fabricio Dore is an associate partner in McKinsey’s São Paulo office, Oliver Ehrlich is a partner in the Dusseldorf office, David Malfara is a specialist in the Miami office, and Kelly Ungerman is a senior partner in the Dallas office.

The authors wish to thank Tiffany Chan and Alex Levin for their contributions to this article.

Posted in Customer Relationships, Customer Service, Customer Success

Adopt These Four Steps to Improve Your Empathic-Led Selling Approach

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By Miller Heiman Group, Sales Performance

colleagues-talking_1098-15340In our last blog, we talked about how sellers can address emotional decision makers and those who are stuck in a fight, flight or freeze mode without resorting to what we call the three deadly sins. Today, we’ll address four steps to lead buyers away from decisions fueled by rationality rather than emotion.

We’ll start by discussing the four modes where you’re likely to find your buying influences.

The Four Modes of Buying Influences

When facing a buying decision, buying influences tend to be in one of four modes.

  • Trouble: The buyer recognizes that they need help, so their probability to move forward is high.
  • Growth: The buyer is looking to improve, so their probability to take action is high.
  • Even keel: The buyer is satisfied with the status quo and sees little need to rock the boat, so their probability to act is low.
  • Overconfident: The buyer feels invincible and thinks they know everything, so there is little probability they’ll do anything.

During COVID-19, it’s likely that many buying influences are in one of two modes. They may be in the trouble mode and feel anxious to act. Or they may be in the even-keeled mode and be reluctant to act, because they don’t want to add any more variables to their already uncertain environment.

If you’re dealing with an emotional decision maker and can assess which mode and mindset (fight, flight or freeze) your buying influence is in, and they seem favorable to moving the deal forward, try to engage them in an empathic conversation. Here’s how.

Engage Emotional Decision Makers With These Four Steps

This four-step framework is designed to open the emotional decision-maker to productive conversations that will strengthen your relationship.

1. Create headspace.

Ensure you’ve established a safe space for the discussion that you want to have. Before talking business, focus on building a personal rapport with the person: ask them how they are and how the crisis has affected them.

Then, you’ll need to transition into the business topic—but without creating tension and while keeping the conversation customer-centric. One question that opens the discussion in a less threatening way is this: “I’d like to float an idea that could help you and the business in a way that might surprise you. Do you have the headspace to talk about this?” This question invites engagement, because the buying influence can’t form an opinion about your idea until they hear what you have to say. It includes a question asking permission to engage: if customers respond favorably to this question, it’s likely that they’ll want to be congruent with their statement and will actively consider what you’re about to say.

2. Invite fear, uncertainties and doubt.

After you have shared your thought leadership and moved the deal forward, it’s time to talk about what we term “undiscussables.” Here, we’re talking about the concerns that your customers may have if they make a wrong decision in this time; they may worry that others will think they’re making a mistake.

It may seem counterintuitive to welcome these potentially negative topics into your conversation, but it’s critical to understand your buying influence’s risks and concerns. Although you might ordinarily avoid asking about what might go wrong, it’s important to understand what the emotional cost might be for your buying influence if they take action.

Try questions like these to invite the undiscussables:

  • What risks do you perceive?
  • Even though we’re just floating this idea, what could worry you about this?
  • What could be the cost of doing something here?
  • How do you feel about that?
  • Can you see yourself doing this?

3. Build Bridges From Emotional to Rational Thinking

Next, invite your buying influence to discuss how they’re thinking about the decision-making process. To do this, it’s essential to build a bridge for the buying influence to transition from talking about their emotions, fears, uncertainties and doubts to possibilities.

Avoid asking for an opinion or a decision: your objective is to get your buyers thinking about their decision-making process. As you ask the questions that follow, make sure you’re asking with the intent of offering support for them through their process.

Ask questions such as these:

  • How do you compare the cost of the problem with the cost of doing something?
  • What’s the tipping point that would mean it was time to do something?
  • How will you decide whether to do something?

4. Align Actions to Values

In this final step, make statements that align the next steps with the values that your buyer has articulated. Build on the conversations you’ve had thus far, and use what’s most meaningful to them as you reflect their thoughts back to them.

To guide the conversation, use phrases like these:

  • That would also mean you (avoided a problem or maximized a solution)…
  • That also aligns with what you’re doing…
  • That makes sense, because as you said before…

Final Tips for Sales Conversations With Emotional Decision Makers

In every interaction with your buyers, your goal should be to speak with empathy and congruence and to help your emotional decision maker relax. Before the conversation, release any tension and stress that you’re holding on to about the situation. Dial up your intention to serve your buyer, and make sure that you are focused on them, not yourself. And be prepared to actively listen: you can’t solve their problems for them, but you can be authentic and honest and act as their coach, which will position you to move forward, together, in the future.

Posted in Customer Relationships, Effective Communication, Networking, Sales Insights

The Art of Asking Open-Ended Questions

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By Bill Cates

open-ended-questionsWhen qualifying, you bring value to your prospects, clients, and yourself through the questions you ask — but only if they’re good questions. Allow me to introduce you to a concept I call “high-value questions.”

Simply stated, a high-value question for sales is one that creates a learning experience for either the questioner (you), the person being questioned (your prospect or client), or both. Naturally, the best high-value questions provide insight for all parties concerned.

One characteristic of most high-value questions is that they are open-ended instead of closed-ended. I suspect you’ve heard this distinction before, and perhaps you’re applying it already. Let’s make sure you’re using open-ended questions to their full value.

Open-ended questions prompt a conversation because they can’t be answered with one-word answers. An example of an open-ended question would be ‘Where do you want to be in five years?’ The answer to this questions varies from person to person, and can only be answered with a unique perspective that usually prompts a longer conversation.

You might be familiar with open-ended questions, but maybe not closed-ended questions, which you usually want to avoid.

Open-Ended vs. Closed-Ended Questions

Open-ended questions prompt the beginning of a longer conversation by asking questions starting with “why,” “how,” and “what if?” Closed-ended questions can be answered with single-word answers, such as “yes” or “no.”

Open-ended questions and closed-ended questions both have their place in sales conversations. If you’re only looking for one-word or quantitative answers, like the number of employees a prospect has, or their company’s annual revenue, asking a closed-ended question is an appropriate approach.

But when it comes to learning qualitative information during your initial discovery calls with prospects or new customers, open-ended questions can go a long way. Use a tool like HubSpot’s free meeting scheduling tool to schedule your initial calls. Then ask open-ended questions to build trust and rapport, get to know the prospect and their needs, and begin building a positive relationship. Let’s dig into how to do it well:

How to Ask Open-Ended Questions

If at the end of the meeting, I ask a prospect or client, “Did you find this meeting helpful?” that’s a closed-ended question since they can only answer “yes” or “no.” And while it’s good to know that they found the meeting helpful, unless they volunteer some elaboration to their answer, you don’t know in what ways they experienced value. Maybe they’re just being polite.

On the other hand, I could ask, “We’ve been through a bit of a process to get to this point, have we not? Can you tell me the value you feel you’ve received by going through this entire process?”

Now what happens? Your prospect or client clearly articulates their perception of the process, which helps you to get even clearer on your value. In addition, asking your prospects and clients about value actually helps them reinforce it in their own minds. The net result is you become more preferable and earn the right to ask for referrals.

1. Transform any question into an open-ended question.

So here’s your action step for the next few days. Start to pay attention to the questions you are asking your prospects, clients, and everyone else you encounter. Did you just ask a closed-ended question when an open-ended question would have yielded more information for both parties? Where appropriate, start to turn some of your closed-ended questions into open-ended questions.

2. If you ask a close-ended question, follow it up with an open-ended one.

Here’s a quick little trick I discovered that might help. If you find yourself asking a closed-ended question, you can always open it up at the end. For example, if you start by asking “Did you find value in this process?” you can follow it up with, “If so, please tell me in what ways.”

3. Use open-ended questions to start a conversation, not to run through a script.

Remember that open-ended questions are designed to start a conversation with people. You shouldn’t be surprised or thrown off if the answers to an open-ended question lead to tangential offshoots, and you should have a plan in place for if that happens, because it means your open-ended questions were successful.

Make sure you’re also actively listening to the answers to help you build rapport with prospects and become one of their trusted advisers.

There is so much to this topic that I couldn’t possibly cover it in just one blog post, so you can expect me to revisit this concept in future posts. In my next article, I’m going to give some very specific high-value open-ended questions that you can use to bring value to your prospects, clients, and yourself very quickly.

Here are some open-ended, high-value questions you can ask your prospects:

1. What are the top priorities of your business at the moment?

This is a great alternative to the question, “What’s your main business goal?” Asking your contact to share their business priorities invites them to provide a holistic view of their current state of business. That information can give you valuable insight into how you can position your product or service to better resonate with them.

2. What are some of the best decisions you’ve made related to ___?

Instead of asking, “What did you focus on last year?” ask them to share some of their recent wins. This tells you what your prospect is currently celebrating, and by understanding what has recently gone well for them, you can learn how to present your product as their next good decision.

3. How are you feeling about your current situation related to ___?

If you don’t want to receive a one-word answer such as “good” or “fine”, stay away from questions such as “How are you doing?” Asking them to describe their current situation invites the prospect to share their story and perspective with you, and creates a safe space to begin building trust.

4. If we were meeting five years from today, what needs to happen for you to feel good about your business situation related to ___?

Don’t put your prospect on the spot by asking an awkward question like “What’s your five-year plan?” While most businesses do have insight into what they want to accomplish in the future, asking for their future plans can lead to a deer in the headlights response. By asking them how you can help them reach their best case scenario, this opens the door to thoughtful conversation about their future plans in a low-pressure way.

5. What opportunities do you see on your horizon?

Asking your prospect what opportunities they would like to capitalize on is another low-pressure way to inquire about their future plans. This also gives you valuable information you can use to leverage your product as the key to helping them realize their opportunities.

6. What challenges do you see to making those opportunities happen?

Instead of asking what roadblocks they are facing, keep the conversation focused on their opportunities. This open-ended question gets the prospect thinking about how you can work together to remove the barriers to their goals.

7. How will you be measuring our success related to those outcomes?

This question is an inviting way to ask your prospect what their KPIs are. If you were to simply ask, “What are your KPIs?” they could provide a one-word answer such as “sales” which doesn’t give you much insight. By asking how they plan to measure success, the prospect has the opportunity to go in-depth explaining to you how they will know when they’ve reached their goals.

8. What’s the biggest risk of you not making progress on this situation?

If you were to ask a prospect, “What if you don’t hit your goals?” you could put them in the defensive. Instead, try asking what their risks are of not making progress. Not only is this question less accusatory, but it gives you the chance to work together and strategize on potential risk management practices.

9. Who all needs to be involved in making the final purchasing decision?

Finding the right decision maker is critical to making a sale. As you navigate the sales process, make sure you’re working with the right contact. Let’s be honest, there’s nothing worse than putting in the groundwork to get the deal, only to find out your prospect doesn’t have purchasing authority and can’t sign on the dotted line. Confirming who needs buy-in as a productive open-ended question.

10. What is the motivation behind taking on this project?

This question helps you understand your prospect’s decision making process. By learning what your prospect is motivated by, you will get clear on what results they are seeking from your product. This can help you set expectations, and speak to the features that matter most to your buyer. Additionally, by asking your prospect what factors are motivating their buying decisions, you give them a chance to share their values, which is important for building trust.

Posted in Dialogue Skills, Effective Communication, Sales Insights

Three Deadly Sins That Sellers Must Avoid

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By Miller Heimen Group

smiling-young-consultant-offering-pen-elderly-client_1262-19074Sellers aren’t alone in suffering through the impacts of COVID-19: your customers are likely feeling the same pressures and stresses that are plaguing you and keeping you awake at night.

Before you can sell to your customers, you need to understand their mindset and, more importantly, recognize how their mindset affects their decision-making. And you need to avoid the three deadly sins that trigger inaction.

The Rational Decision Maker vs. the Emotional Decision Maker

In normal times, your buying influences—anyone who has a positive or negative impact on your ability to close the deal—are likely to be governed more by rationality than by their emotion.

What do we mean? Think about your buying influence as consisting of two separate decision makers. The first, the rational decision maker, is governed by reason and data, and considers this data in the logical, more deliberate processing areas of the brain. The second, the emotional decision maker, filters information differently and focuses on emotions, which causes them to make decisions in a different way—and often more quickly and impulsively.

Given today’s turbulent times, buyers may frequently toggle between the rational and emotional sides of their brain. As a seller, it’s your job to figure out which decision maker is in charge when you’re speaking with your buyer, so you can deliver the right logic and data that appeals to them.

How will you know whether a buyer is being led by their emotions? Look for scenarios where the customer’s intentions and actions aren’t aligned. You may notice a difference between their tone and their words, or you may sense that they aren’t articulating everything they’re saying based on their body language.

If you discover that you’re talking to the emotional decision maker, the next step is to determine which emotional mindset they’re in.

The Three Emotional Mindsets

The uncertainties caused by the coronavirus pandemic tend to push emotional buyers into one of three mindsets: fight, flight or freeze.

  • Fight: Buyers feel a lot of adrenaline and run toward the threat.
  • Flight: Buyers feel fear and try to outrun the threat.
  • Freeze: Buyers feel numb to the pain of the problem and lose their motivation to act: they become hypervigilant about the personal consequences of making a decision, so it starts to feel as if doing nothing is the right thing to do.

Unless your solution fixes an imminent and probable loss scenario, it’s unlikely that the emotional decision maker will act. So, even if your buyer is suffering from problems that are getting worse and there’s an action they could take that would solve those problems, they’re less likely to act because they can’t think about the future, even if the future results aren’t that far off. And they’re also likely to keep you at arm’s length.

Three Things Never to Try With Reluctant Buyers

When a buyer is stuck, how do you try to get them to engage? Do you offer incentives or discounts? Do you discuss the reasons they should proceed and reiterate the rational benefits of your deal? Or do you wait it out, presuming that the buyer will get in touch when they want to move forward?

The proper way to proceed is to wait until your buyer indicates that they’re ready to proceed. But many sellers try pressuring, prescribing and minimizing tactics—even if they don’t realize they’re using them—which pushes buyers further away.

  1. Pressuring: Sellers shouldn’t put undue pressure on buyers to make decisions or close a deal with deadlines and other threats. Here’s an example: “If you go ahead with the proposal, we’ll apply a 10% discount, but you must commit to the deal by the tenth of the month.”
  2. Prescribing: Sellers should avoid prescribing, or pushing their own ideas and solutions on buyers. Statements that prescribe may sound like this: “If I were you, I would…” or “The way to handle that concern is…”
  3. Minimizing: Sellers who lack empathy may downplay their buyer’s concerns, either by suggesting that they don’t matter or by offering baseless assurances. Don’t say things like this: “I can see us being out of this situation in a couple of months, and, if you move ahead with our deal, you’ll be in a great position to hit the ground running when everyone returns to work.”

How Top Performers Get Through to Emotional Decision Makers

Top sellers know to steer clear of these three deadly sins—but that doesn’t mean that they should ignore their customers. On the contrary, they should keep building their relationships by listening and being authentic. They realize that they can’t solve problems for their buyers, but they can serve as a guide and coach, offering support and asking tough questions that help their buyers share how they feel.

Posted in Sales Insights

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