Customers no longer only learn about you from your sales reps

Changing sales process because of online information

Changing sales process because of online information

Whether it’s checking a review on Amazon, Yelp, CNET or Zagat or posting a question on Facebook or Twitter – consumers can do comparative shopping as long as they have a keyboard within reach.  They can learn about a product’s functionality, quality, and pricing before they even go to your web site, let alone talk to a salesperson.

As reported in a strategy+business article – in 2012, 70% of consumers surveyed by Nielsen indicated that they trusted online reviews—which represented an increase of 15% in four years.  We doubt the number has decreased in the last two years.

But consumers are not alone.  This is not just a B2C market trend.  Corporate buyers are also increasingly seeking information and insights from online sources. Just look at LinkedIn group discussions and you’ll find recommendations about products, as well as, insights about solving particular business problems.

Since buyers now are able to easily gather in-depth information about you and your competitors, they’re more knowledgeable about your company and its products than ever before.

So what does this mean for B2B sales reps?  Well, one thing we know for sure is when buyers change how they buy; it’s a good idea for salespeople to rethink how they sell Let’s take a look.

  • You are no longer the sole purveyor of information.  The salesperson isn’t the only one introducing prospects to your products and services. Customers are finding information, collecting product reviews, and pricing information before talking to a single salesperson. This means that buyers have already formed impressions about your product and your competitors which salespeople must address, manage, and in some cases counter – when inaccurate data was obtained and assimilated. Remember – there’s no filter on much of the information appearing online!
  • A lot of data isn’t always a good thing.  It can end up generating a tremendous amount of clutter that makes decision making harder.  Buyers can easily find themselves immobilized sifting through a mountain of data, and that’s where salespeople can play an important role.  The salesperson needs to help the buyer identify the criteria that are important to them in making a buying decision and how their solution meets those criteria.  It is all about helping translate data into useful information.
  • Customers demand personalized interactions for addressing their business challenges. Generic sales pitches are not needed or acceptable. Nor can the salesperson any longer walk into the sales call and ask “basic” questions about a customer’s business – the old “discovery your pain” discussion.  Buyers assume salespeople have done their homework through websites and other online sources. There are great apps for making this search both easy and comprehensive.  Customers expect that sales people will bring fresh ideas for framing their problems and generating insights for solving them.
  • The salesperson will enter later in the game.  Given the information they’ve accumulated, customers decide when, where, and how they want to talk to salespeople. This is very different than days of yore when salespeople were brought into the buying process at the beginning when customers were initially planning to make a purchase. Now it’s more likely that the buying process will be farther along when customers start to talk with salespeople. This means winning suppliers must find ways for Marketing to impact the information companies get early on and develop stronger Sales Enablement functions to provide sales reps with the information that customers expect. 

If you found this post helpful, you might want to join the conversation and subscribe to the Sales Training Connection.

©2014 Sales Momentum, LLC

 

 

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Win customers for life – Interview with Dr. Richard Ruff

blog podcastLast month, I shared this challenge in a Sales Training Connection blog: Sales – don’t just close a deal, win a customer for life.

I proposed that to realize this goal, salespeople must understand their customers better than the competition and develop more trust and a different type of relationship than they have in years past.  They must ensure that every customer interaction brings a small piece of value and strengthens the nature and extent of the relationship. 

Last week SmartBusinessTalent.com posted a podcast of an interview he did building on this topic.

Take a deeper dive – you can download the Podcast and Transcript here.

If you found this post helpful, you might want to join the conversation and subscribe to the Sales Training Connection.

©2014 Sales Momentum, LLC

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Sales and storytelling – 16 tips and 3 shout-outs for help

Storytelling and Sales

Storytelling and Sales

Sales reps that are able to share engaging stories that resonate with customers can make a more compelling connection between their solution and the customer’s needs. It is one thing to list why a customer should do business with you; it is another to be able to relate a past success story that beings the value of that list to life.  It is not so easy to do but when you do it; it makes a big difference.

Much has been written about the importance of storytelling to sales success. We’ve shared 12 tips in a prior blog.  Here we have augmented that list with some tips shared by Dr. JD Schramm from Stanford’s Business School in an HRB blog.

▪  Know your AIM – Know audience, your intent, and your message.

▪  Focus on the prospect – Tell stories that relate to solutions that address the customers needs.

▪  Leave the jargon at home – Translate the story into language familiar and relevant to the prospect.

▪  Make the story make a point – Have well-researched, provocative viewpoints included in the story that relate to the customer’s environment.

▪  Follow the “Goldilocks” theory of detail – Give just the right amount of information – not too much detail, but not too little either. Use fewer words that carry more meaning.

▪  Don’t rely on PowerPoints – Verbal communication is a better way to create images when telling a story.

▪  Use images – They live longer in the listeners’ mind, evoke a reaction to what’s being said and are more repeatable and memorable.

▪  Dramatize the story – Contrast customer’s current state and desired state after using your solution.

▪  Build up your story inventory – Have an appropriate story ready to illustrate a point and advance the sale.

▪  Rehearse the telling in advance – It always sounds different when you hear what you say aloud! And a corollary …

▪  Choose your first and final word carefully – Don’t necessarily memorize your opening and closing, but rehearse. Know what you’re going to say cold so your opening and closing are powerful.

▪  End with an unexpected benefit – When possible, share unexpected benefits. For example after highlighting the benefits achieved, round off the story by saying something along the – lines of “and on top of that, the unexpected benefit was…”

▪  Spend more time on preparing the story – Don’t focus solely on the feature/function portion of the presentation.

▪  Fewer words may be better than more words – Don’t assume that you need to include everything you know when storytelling. Less is more.

▪  Punch the story – Put your audience in the story. Introduce a new thought.  Challenge conventional wisdom.  Use humor when appropriate but not jokes!

▪  Use silence for impact and emphasis – It’s a powerful, underused tool – intentional silence draws emphasis to what you’ve said or what you’re about to say.

Given all the skills that sales reps must master, it is easy to underestimate the priority of storytelling.  It is harder if you actually observe salespeople who are good at it – you can see the difference.

There are three situations where sales reps need some help it getting it right.

  • New product launch.  When a company launches a new product there is no history; hence there are no stories.  Here, it is important for Marketing to quickly gather, codify, and disseminate stories based on initial successes.
  • New sales rep.  A new sales rep will not have any stories.  So this is a case where the rep cannot both create and tell the story.  Here Marketing should have an inventory of stories that can be included in new hire training.
  • Multiple divisions.  In companies where separate sales reps are selling separate products to the same customer, the sales reps always need to be aware of cross-selling opportunities.  Although they are not responsible for selling the other products, they can identify opportunities and create initial awareness – stories are great for achieving the second goal.

If you found this post helpful, you might want to join the conversation and subscribe to the Sales Training Connection.

©2014 Sales Momentum, LLC

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Networking – a critical skill for winning deals – An STC Classic

 

A Classic - '63 Corvette

A Classic – ’63 Corvette

Networking is simply getting the right message, to the right person at the right time. Fundamentally, networking is about knowing who’s who and having relationships characterized by superior access and credibility. Regarding who’s who, the entry level requirement can be summarized by the following three questions:  

  • Which people will be involved in the buying decision?
  • What’s the importance of the role each will play – is Lee Baker the key decision maker or simply a minor influencer?
  • What are the players’ opinions of your company – are they internal champions, adversaries or do they have a neutral position?

If the answer to these questions is in doubt, then the doubt must be removed.

Everyone knows it, some because of experience and some by a leap of faith.  A big piece of successfully getting to the right person, at the right time, with the right message is about sales fundamentals.  Four sales fundamentals worthy of highlighting are:

  • If you don’t know – don’t pretend
  • Do what you say you are going to do
  • Own up to problems and mistakes
  • Appreciate the arts of discretion and timing

The thing about the fundamentals is not the knowing – it’s the doing.  The key, for example, to: “do what you say you are going to do” is consistently and reliably delivering on that promise day in – day out.      

In addition to knowing the answers to some key “who’s-who” questions and the knowing the fundamentals, there are some other best practices for successfully networking in a complex sales environment.  Three desire particular attention.

  • It useful to separate business issues from relationship problems.  Relationship problems stem from past mistakes, misperceptions, poor communication, or lack of understanding – a better business deal won‘t help.  For example, frustrations can run high if you fail to deliver on a promise.  A concession on price is unlikely to resolve such a fundamental communication problem; it may even make it worse.  Instead, one might search for ways for all parties to “vent” their frustrations as a first step towards addressing the situation.
  • In most complex sales there is some lack of disagreement around at least one issue that is important to both parties.  On the other hand, there is all most always some common ground around another item – the customer wants something that you can provide or appreciates something you have done.  So leverage the common ground to build the relationship and to provide a foundation for addressing unresolved issues.
  • Be upfront about “showstoppers.” Showstoppers are constraints where, due to some legal, regulatory, or fundamental company policy reason; there is no room for discussion.  The key is to get these issues on the table. Top performers share showstoppers early, and equally as important, they help the other party do the same.  By sharing these constraints, you can reset expectations and avoid surprises that will probably look like a trick to the customer.

If you found this post helpful, you might want to join the conversation and subscribe to the Sales Training Connection.

©2014 Sales Momentum, LLC

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Happy Columbus Day!

In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue …

Happy Columbus Day to all of our readers.

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Motivating sales reps – the power of autonomy and recognition

Motivating sales reps

Motivating sales reps

Motivating sales reps is a key responsibility of every sales manager. How can they motivate their sales teams effectively? Newton and Davis recently shared several factors that help improve the effectiveness of an organization. Two struck us as really important for sales managers.

Autonomy. We’ve written about the importance of sales managers not micro-managing. We all know from experience that when we’ve been micromanaged, the results are less then positive.  The negative reactions can vary from disappointment to outright anger.  And, it turns out that even when people appear to ignore it and keep a good face, their performance is interrupted or degraded.

Neuroscientists tell us:  “A reduction in autonomy is experienced in much the same way as a physical attack.  In fact there is a “fight-or-flight” reaction.  An ever-growing body of research, summarized by neuroscientist Christine Cox of New York University, has found that when this fight-or-flight reaction kicks in, even if there is no visible response, productivity falls and the quality of decisions is diminished.”

On the other hand, “by giving employees some genuine autonomy, a company can reduce the frequency, duration, and intensity of this threat state.” Indeed, Mauricio Delgado and his research colleagues at Rutgers University have found “the perception of increased choice in itself makes people feel more at ease.”

Rewards and recognition.  Most of us have had experiences that suggest a little recognition goes a long way – everyone likes being recognized and rewarded for their actions.  But take it to the next step – optimize the experience by personalizing the message. People appreciate when someone takes the time and effort to create and share a different type of recognition that is personalized to them.

“Neuroscience explains the importance of the personal touch in delivering recognition that matters. When a manager recognizes an employee’s strengths in a personalized way before the group, it lights up the same regions of the brain as winning a large sum of money.”  This type of recognition encourages people to repeatedly behave the same way

Summary for sales managers.  So what’s the walk-away?  For sales reps, selling is an up and down business.  When engaged in major sales, the “Motivation Hit” that occurs from closing deals comes a lot less frequently then in transactional sales.  So what can you do in the interim to help keep up the motivation level – provide sales reps the autonomy they appreciate and the personalize rewards and recognition for the small successes they achieve everyday.

If you found this post helpful, you might want to join the conversation and subscribe to the Sales Training Connection.

©2014 Sales Momentum, LLC

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Why do millennials make great salespeople?

Millennial sales reps

Millennial sales reps

Many companies are now hiring millennials – a move that expands generational diversity of their sales teams. It also raises a couple of significant questions like: How do you engage millennial sales reps? We’ve addressed that question in several previous blogs.

But the question we haven’t discussed is: Why might millennials make great salespeople? Mark Roberge – Chief Revenue Officer of Inbound Sales Products for HubSpot – published an interesting article answering this question in the SMM Monitor. It’s definitely worth a read. Here are some highlights:

According to Roberge, “Today’s buyers are empowered by the Internet and are demanding more personalized, more relevant, and more helpful interactions with salespeople.  Millennials are well positioned to deliver on this expectation. This generation not only embraces the new playbook, they helped write it by leading the digital charge and tuning out old-school sales tactics from day one.”

He goes on to share the top reasons he thinks millennials will do well in today’s challenging sales environment:

  • They’re digital natives – It will become increasingly important to be digitally savvy and it’s a sweet spot for millennials.
  • They live and breathe your product – Young sales reps in general are drawn to a company’s mission which means they don’t just sell your product, they believe in it and that is transparent to customers.
  • They’re entrepreneurial – In today’s market bring a business mindset to the engagement is exactly what customer are expecting.
  • They’re data-driven – Millennial salespeople will approach selling as a science, embracing the tools and analytics that are increasingly becoming important as a foundation for success.

Roberge ends the article with this point: “The criteria for hiring salespeople have changed dramatically over the past decade. Customers don’t look for salespeople that want to control the conversation anymore; they look for reps that are data-driven, solution-oriented, and empathetic.”

Our sense is Roberge is correct.  Customers want trusted advisors not product facilitators.  They expect sales rep to bring fresh ideas for framing the problem and insights for generating creative solutions.  Our bet is millennials are free from some of the history that will prevent that from happening and some of the talents to make sure that it does.

The challenge for sales management is to develop the mindset and skills to leverage that potential.

If you found this post helpful, you might want to join the conversation and subscribe to the Sales Training Connection.

©2014 Sales Momentum, LLC

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Sales middle managers – what motivates them the most?

Sales Middle Managers

Sales Middle Managers

Middle managers are the key to implementing C-Suite strategic initiatives.  In 2011, Wharton’s Ethan Mollick shared that mid-level managers could have greater impact on company performance than almost anyone else in an organization, yet they are “often overlooked and sometimes maligned.”

The importance of middle managers can be especially significant in industries and fields that value innovation, like computer games, software, consulting, biotech and marketing, according to Mollick. It is in these knowledge-intensive industries where variation in the abilities of middle managers has a particularly large impact on firm performance.  As a matter of fact, a larger impact than that of individuals who are assigned innovative roles.

Middle manager influence stems from their key role in project management, including tasks such as resource allocation, team collaboration and managing deadlines.  Although these responsibilities often are perceived as bureaucratic, routine and less than glamorous, they are pivotal for bring innovation to life.

So getting middle management right is a big deal for every company.  What are some things we know about making that happen?  The Becker Hospital Review which shared the results of a 2014 Insigniam study that focuses on middle managers.

Insigniam asked middle managers to think about what they find most motivating in the job environment, whether external factors that encourage top results or internal motivations that give them drive to succeed.

The results are part of Insigniam’s 2014 Middle Management Survey, which is based on responses from 200 managers in Global 1000 companies from several industries, including healthcare, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, energy, manufacturing, and biotech. These middle managers reported at least two levels of management between them and the highest executive in their company.

And the findings …

The percent of managers most motivated by:

  • The type of work they do — 37 percent
  • Leading others — 21 percent
  • Reputation and recognition — 15 percent
  • Client or customer expectations — 11 percent
  • Their leader or leaders — 3 percent
  • The drive to be promoted — 3 percent

The survey also revealed that “while many middle managers are motivated by the type of work they do, significant issues exist among many of those occupying the middle management ranks, related to:

  • declining opportunities to progress professionally
  • a lack of the decision authority to get their jobs done
  • a disconnect with the people to whom they report

According to Insigniam, the ultimate insight from the survey – “the bigger and more plentiful the opportunity for making a meaningful contribution to the future of their enterprises, the more satisfied the middle manager.”

Although all of this was not related specifically to front-line sales managers, we thought the tale was right on the money for that pivotal job.  Companies cannot develop and sustain a superior sales force without putting great emphasis on the importance of the front-line sales manager role.  Unfortunately we have seen a fair number of companies that failed to do so. 

Our best suggestion is don’t fall into that trap – invest the time, effort, and money to recruit, develop, and retain the best possible cadre of front-line sales managers in your industry – the results will be such that you will never have to look back.

If you found this post helpful, you might want to join the conversation and subscribe to the Sales Training Connection.

©2014 Sales Momentum, LLC

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Create sales success – do what you say you will do

saydored_smallWhen we surveyed B2B buyers about what was most important to them in a salesperson, a top response was “do what you say you will do” – or in other words, keep your promises.

It was interesting that “knowledge about their products” didn’t make the short list. When we probed to find out why, we learn that it was expected that successful sales reps “know what they’re selling.”  Simply put, it’s the ticket to the dance.  Plus the buyers noted that today they have a wide variety of online sources for finding out about products.

But, in the buyer’s eyes, “doing what you say you will do” is one of the fundamentals for establishing a business relationship that separates top sales reps from the others.

As sales reps seek ways to create value for customers – it’s important to note that value is not created solely by what you’re selling.  Sure a sales rep must be able to position a solution in a compelling manner and discuss the value-adds the company can provide.

However, salespeople can create customer value by how they sell, as well as, what they sell.  Keeping promises in an excellent case in point.  It creates customer value – and sets the stage to increase the likelihood of future sales success.

If you found this post helpful, you might want to join the conversation and subscribe to the Sales Training Connection.

©2014 Sales Momentum, LLC

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