From the CCS® Sales Blog

March 2016

Viewing posts from March , 2016

Sales Tips: Overcoming Basic Instincts

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®

sales tips for overcoming traditional selling instinctsI’m not sure how many of you have had to drive in countries using the “wrong side” of the road. My first experience was in Ireland. After taking a red eye from Boston at about 6:30 in the morning local time, we headed out in our rental car. It was amazing to realize something usually done instinctively now required thinking. Decisions had to be made when entering roundabouts, making turns, etc. Habits were so engrained I went to get in the wrong side of the car multiple times. The conclusion I made early in this driving experience was that my first impulse was almost always wrong. For example if approaching a car head on, veering to the right (an American instinct) can make you wish you’d opted for the insurance.

It may be time for vendors to give more thought to what they have done for decades in providing sellers so much product training. I appreciate that competent sellers must be knowledgeable about offerings. That said, few vendors have taken a step back and realized the role of sellers has changed over the last 15 years. My question: How often is the product training helpful to B and C Sellers?

Given a choice, most mid to low-level staff within prospect organizations prefer to delay talking to sellers. They do their own research of offerings via the Internet and social networking. I believe this is partly due to baggage about stereotypical salespeople and the belief they are more concerned about earning commission than addressing buyer needs. User-level buyers that have done research are likely to find sellers aren’t especially helpful. My view is an increasing percentage of opportunities start with “expert” buyers contacting sellers later in buying cycles than ever before. 

If and when B and C sellers call at Key Player levels (whether proactive or reactive contacts), how useful is extensive product knowledge? Most executives have little interest in learning all about offerings. A Players realize these buyers want to know how business results can be improved through the use of offerings and therefore are able to align with buyers. 

When making calls at high levels, B and C Players mimic the behavior of people driving on the other side of the road. Their instincts and comfort levels because of all of their training is to start by talking about product.

When calling at all levels, sellers must help buyers identify business issues. For that reason vendors should consider changing the mix of product/business training so that the latter becomes more of a comfort level. It’s painful for buyers when calls degrade into product pitches, the equivalent of veering right in Ireland to avoid head on collisions.

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Sales Tips: Measuring and Tracking Success

By Carolyn Galvin, Primary Intelligence

When my kids were young, I was constantly monitoring their growth. After each well child checkup with the pediatrician, I’d compare their height, weight, and body mass index (BMI) to those of their peers in government growth charts. Were they growing too fast? Too slow? Just right?

Height, weight, and BMI are all good indicators of childhood health. But what about businesses? How can they ensure they’re progressing at a healthy rate as well? 

Organizational KPIs

Measuring Key Performance Indicators Key Performance Indicators, or KPIs, provide a set of metrics for organizational health. Firms measure success in different ways, including revenue growth, profitability, customer retention, and loyalty. KPIs provide quantitative measurements companies and industries can use to gauge their performance and determine if they’re meeting critical business objectives. Often, organizations use a variety of KPIs for performance measurement.

Choosing the right Key Performance Indicators is important because doing so allows managers to gather the right kinds of feedback, helping to ensure their businesses are healthy and successful. KPIs must reflect the company’s goals—typically over the long term—and must be key to the organization’s success. At Primary Intelligence, KPIs are used in Win Loss programs to determine respondent attitudes toward product quality, recommendation likelihood, and future business likelihood.

Recent KPI Research Findings

Primary Intelligence recently released a new industry study that examines buyer feedback related to KPIs. The new report, entitled, “B2B Buyer Loyalty: How a Sales Engagement Can Influence Product Perceptions, Referrals, and Future Business,”reveals that:

Leveraging Key Performance Indicators

Leverage Key Performance IndicatorsPrimary Intelligence offers the following strategies for leveraging Key Performance Indicators when selling into competitive B2B markets:

  • Ensure you’re collecting ongoing feedback about your firm’s product or service quality.
  • Determine what capabilities will make your solution stand out from competitors’ offerings.
  • Position your firm broadly—through a multi-channel outreach strategy—as an industry thought leader.
  • Leverage reference accounts by curating content through case studies, video testimonials, and widely attended industry events.
  • Use “drip” and nurture campaigns to stay top-of-mind with buyers and prospects for future business opportunities.
  • Keep buyers appraised of new product updates and releases to generate interest in future business with your firm.

Just as we need to keep our kids healthy, we must also keep our businesses healthy. Using KPIs to measure ongoing success helps to ensure we achieve these goals.

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Sales Tips: The Key to Establishing a Peer or Subordinate Relationship with Buyers

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®

hands-tied.pngIn relationships, many sellers are perceived as being subordinates to executives. Buyers enjoy many advantages in that they decide if they’ll talk with sellers, can stop buying cycles for any reason, decide whether to spend the money and pick which vendor they’ll do business with. In my mind, sellers exhibit influence without authority as it relates to buying decisions.

Unfortunately, sellers perceived as being subordinate are at a distinct disadvantage at the end of buying cycles when it’s time to negotiate. 

  • The road to being subordinates often starts in the first meeting if sellers feel the need to have buyers like them.
  • They may also believe the buyer’s time is more valuable than theirs (“Thank you for your time today.”).

These two issues start sellers down the unfortunate path to becoming subordinates.

As an alternative, I suggest one of the objectives is for sellers to earn a buyer’s respect in initial meetings. In order to do so, it’s helpful for competent sellers to take stock of what they bring to the table as they: 

  1. Are subject matter experts about their offerings.
  2. Have done business with many companies and provide wide industry perspectives.
  3. Understand business outcomes that can be addressed with offerings.
  4. Recognize there is no selling to be done unless/until buyers share desired business outcomes.
  5. Understand that they must uncover sufficient value to offset the cost of whatever offerings buyers are considering.

Buyers and sellers share the common desire of wanting to determine if offerings are a good fit and if sufficient payback can be realized to justify outlays. During buying cycles sellers can be viewed more as peers than subordinates. If they have established value, they should wind up in a better place when negotiating.

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Sales Tips: How to Make Your Best Sellers Even Better

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®

sales tips for improving salespeopleDuring our sales training workshops, we talk about A vs. B & C Players. Most of our clients anticipate the majority of the benefit of implementing sales process will be realized by the latter group because they’ll improve the most. The perception is that A Players are already at the top of their games and consistently exceed their quotas.

Years ago I was back to do a new hire workshop for a client. About 15 minutes before the class started I ran into their top producer who had attended a class 2 years earlier. I asked Jeff how things were going. He said better than ever and thanked me for allowing him to increase his revenue attainment by 50%. When asked how that happened he shared with me that he had been maxed out because prior to attending a workshop, he worked on a fair percentage of opportunities that didn’t close. Once deals got into his pipeline they stayed in until he won, lost or buyers decided to make no decision.

Jeff shared with me that qualifying champions early to gain access to Key Players involved in buying decisions and negotiating Sequences of Events that would lead to issuing proposals allowed him to qualify (more importantly disqualify) opportunities on an ongoing basis. As soon as he couldn’t get access or progress stalled, he tried to address the issue. If unsuccessful, he now often chooses to opt out rather than waste his time on opportunities that were likely to result in losses or no decisions. 

I asked Jeff if he would be willing to kick off the new hire workshop by sharing his experience and he was gracious in doing so. When starting workshops, I believe my first task is to establish credibility with attendees, many of whom don’t feel they need sales training. Hearing one of their top performers quantify the value he realized got everyone’s attention.

Making qualification/disqualification decisions as opportunities move through the pipeline is vitally important. The worst possible outcome for any seller (especially one of your best salespeople) is going the distance and not winning the business. Sadly, there are usually signs that wins are unlikely that sellers fail to heed. I firmly believe there should be more instances of sellers deciding to walk if progress stalls.

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Sales Tips: WHY Do Your Salespeople Hate CRMs?

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®

sales training tipsDecades ago, while selling clients their first business computer systems, I learned a valuable lesson: Software is only as good as the data that’s entered. Inept or disengaged data entry staff could disrupt the entire system. There was a phrase used in our office — “With bad data, technology just speeds up the mess.”

It seems deep within our DNA to resist change. Our first impulse is to cling to the status quo. Implementing software within sales organizations such as a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system is a significant undertaking. One way to judge willingness to change is to think benefit vs. disruption from the perspective of different roles.

Take a step back and consider that CRM provides executives security of their sales data and at least the perception that they have control of their pipelines. CEO, CFO, VP of Marketing and VP of Sales realize high benefit with minimal disruption from implementing CRM. They are in the “happy quadrant.”

However, salespeople and IT are in the “unhappy quadrant.” They see little benefit but have to deal with major disruption. Meaning no disrespect to IT, a large part of their job is to deal with disruption and the torrent of user complaints when new systems are activated.

Sellers are another story. Implementing a new system that affects workflow and requires significant input appears to be a distraction from their primary responsibility of generating revenue. Should anyone be surprised that adoption is often a challenge?

Here are three reasons sellers may be skeptical or outright hostile when implementing new CRM software.

1) Salespeople ask or wonder WIIFM (What’s in if for me?)

There is a fair amount of potential benefit CRM can provide to salespeople, but few companies attempt to “sell” them on the upside of inputting data and having greater visibility.

For example, capturing historical close rates and applying them to current pipelines can allow sellers to project a sales cycle to determine if they have enough activity to be ahead of quota year-to-date. Sales managers can be more proactive in managing by exception and getting involved when milestones are missed or opportunities stall at a certain pipeline stage. For new salespeople, a central database of previous interactions their predecessor had with prospects and clients can jump-start up time during their first months in new territories.

The desired results of a CRM implementation are higher win rates, revenue, and commission — all positive outcomes for salespeople.

2) One size does not fit all transactions.

One of the first efforts in implementing CRM is to define pipeline milestones. This amounts to creating roadmaps of how sales cycles should progress. For companies that didn’t already have milestones in place, this is a major step. But the mistake many sales organizations make is only defining the steps in major opportunities.

That’s fine if companies only have large transactions, but the vast majority of vendors work on many different types of sales: add-on business, new accounts, renewals, professional services, maintenance, large accounts, etc. For anything but major sales, the defined milestones involve many more steps and input that realistically should be required.

When milestones aren’t a fit, sellers have valid complaints in not wanting to provide extraneous information. As soon as sellers aren’t using CRM for exceptions, there is a slippery slope that can put adoption and acceptance in jeopardy.

3) Entering CRM data is time consuming and doesn’t match deal flows.

When doing biz dev, as an example, organizations don’t need to know very much about top of the funnel activities. Initial contact attempts will result in calls and hopefully buying cycles. Alternatively, prospects won’t be interested or contact can’t be made. Just bare bones information is needed to start making contact attempts.

If opportunities develop, the number of stakeholders involved increases and more data needs to be entered. Many people setting up CRM systems fail to realize sellers are “just in time” data entry clerks. When demands for data exceed what sellers feel is necessary at the moment, they start skipping steps and may or may not catch up to them later in the sales cycle.

Just because the software contains fields doesn’t mean they should appear in the input screen a seller uses. It’s important to limit input only to information that will provide meaningful reports. Many companies fail to differentiate between “must have” and “nice to have” data. Sellers quickly lose the will to input data if they feel the information requested isn’t relevant.

In conclusion, many sellers are free spirits who like to do things their way. Moving forward, my hope is that some of the issues raised can be addressed so the acceptance and benefits realized from the monthly cost of CRM for each salesperson can increase.

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Sales Tips: How to Execute a Top-Down Selling Approach

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®

sales tips for top-down selling approachTop-down vs. bottom-up sales approaches for complex B2B offerings are polar opposites. Whether a nurtured lead or a proactive contact to mid or low-level staff, the primary focus of the early stages of opportunities will primarily focus on product and price. Much later in the sales cycle there may be attempts to call higher levels, but most sellers will struggle in their efforts to establish value during these calls. Absent a compelling cost vs. benefit “no decision” is an outcome that happens far too frequently. It means all the time and effort buyers and vendors have spent has been wasted.

If it can be executed, a top-down approach can allow buyers and vendors to achieve better outcomes. The starting point is for a seller to take a Key Player from latent need (not looking) to active need to achieve a desired business outcome that can be achieved by using the offering being considered. If value isn’t uncovered, the sales cycle will come to an abrupt end, as it should. This is consistent with one of the CCS® core concepts: Bad news early is good news.

If, however, value is established, sellers should be able to have their initial contact provide access to other Key Players that would be involved in making a buying decision. During calls with these other executives, their desired business outcomes and potential benefit (value) can be established. After all committee members are made aware of the total potential value, they would then have an enterprise wide view of the impact they can make by making a purchase decision.

If there is adequate value, the buying committee can agree to have mid to lower levels get involved in evaluating the product/offering. This would allow the seller to provide an accurate estimate of the cost (including professional services if needed). The next step would be to work with the Key Players to create a cost vs. benefit to determine if the opportunity should die a quiet death or if the vendor should proceed in making a full recommendation in a proposal.

The steps below should be executed sequentially in top-down selling: 

  1. Determine the total potential enterprise value by calling on Key Player levels.
  2. If value is sufficient the vendor needs to provide an accurate estimate of total costs.
  3. If the cost vs. benefit makes sense, mid to lower level staff within the prospect company will do a full evaluation of the product/offering, vendor, service, support, references, etc.

This approach requires sellers to “set the table” by identifying potential value in Key Player calls. Both prospect and vendor organizations benefit by taking this approach. Prospects don’t waste their staff’s time evaluating offerings that won’t pay for themselves. Vendors won’t have tech and support staff involved unless/until the opportunity is qualified based upon projected payback.

Buying/selling doesn’t have to be a zero sum game. Both parties are better off if time-consuming evaluations of offerings that won’t provide adequate payback can be avoided.

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