From the CCS® Sales Blog

March 2018

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Sales Tips: The Value of Process

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®

Soon after starting my sales career I became aware there was a staggering list of things I needed to learn. The biggest challenge I faced was securing appointments with owners of small businesses. In retrospect I’m not proud to admit that my objective when making initial calls was to see if I could get a second call with prospects. My logic was that a follow-up probably meant the first call went reasonably well. I lacked the wisdom and experience to understand the difference between sales activities and progress. I had no concept or a sales process.

CRM is everywhere and yet there are some salespeople as inept as I was that are required to provide input into the system.

I’m trying to imagine what entry a seller would make after getting a buyer to agree to a second meeting. Sellers are under pressure to get a number of prospects in their pipelines. In my experience as a sales manager, once “opportunities” entered the pipeline the ones that didn’t close stayed much longer than they should have. I believe it’s incumbent upon vendors to provide measurable outcomes for calls so that managers can determine if milestones are met and that opportunities in the funnel are qualified.

sales process

Almost regardless of the type of skill, a standard process or approach gives people a better chance to succeed. Assume you’re playing a round of golf and after a few holes start slicing badly. A friend you’re playing with has the cell phone number of one of the most famous teachers in the world and offers to call him to see if he can remedy your slice. Oddly enough because the best instructor has never seen you hit a ball, you’d be better served to call the driving range pro you’ve used. At least he or she has an idea of what your swing looks like.

Process provides structure and allows people to understand if they’re succeeding or failing.

I wish I had know a few basic milestones earlier in my sales career:

  • Buying cycles begin when buyers share goals/admit problems they’re willing to spend money to achieve/address.
  • A champion will provide access to Key Players (the people sellers have to call on to sell, fund and implement their offerings).
  • An opportunity is qualified if a buying committee agrees an evaluation of a seller’s offering is warranted and is willing to negotiate an agreed to plan of activities that leading up to making a written recommendation (usually a proposal).

The first milestone provides sellers a sanity check and is a derivative of one of the core concepts of CCS®: No goal means no prospect.

The other milestones are objective and allow managers to grade opportunities based upon buyer actions (is the seller getting access to Key Players and can a sequence of events be put in place?) rather than seller opinions.

With no offense intended, having sellers grade pipelines is analogous to allowing inmates run the asylum. Sellers less than YTD will often reduce the bar for qualification. Their primary motivation in “forecasting” is to convince their managers everything will be okay moving forward. Better to give sellers a more realistic view of their pipelines after being graded by their manager

Sales Tips: 7 Problems with Using the Word “Solutions” with Buyers

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®

Vendors and salespeople seem enamored with the word: “Solution.”

In my mind the term is vague, usually misused and a terrible waste of three syllables. Whether in marketing brochures, on websites or during sales calls, the phrase “We’ve/I’ve got the solution for you” seems presumptuous and self-serving.

How many buyers actually believe those statements to be true?

Who Can Call It a Solution

Here’s the logic behind my loathing of this word in what I consider seven (7) reasons why it shouldn’t be used with buyers:

  1. A solution is an opinion.
  2. Unless sellers have earned trust nobody values or wants to hear their biased opinions.
  3. Without asking several questions and getting relevant responses it’s impossible to know if a solution exists.
  4. Disregarding the previous point, vendors and sellers always feel they offer solutions.
  5. Sellers hoping to earn commissions should recuse themselves from offering opinions.
  6. The only person’s opinion that has any relevance is the buyer’s.
  7. Sellers must have buyers agree their offering is a solution before they can accurately make that claim.

It may be helpful to define the term. Buyers have “solutions” when they:

  • Have identified a business outcome they want to achieve
  • Understand the barriers that stand in the way of achieving it
  • Are able to articulate the specific capabilities they need to achieve the outcome

Buyers don’t like to be told what they need. Many resent seller attempts to force solutions upon them. In the best case buyers will discount whatever claims sellers make as they’ve come to expect hype.

Remember: The only person who can call your offering a solution is the buyer. Your job as a seller is to help connect the dots in getting them there.

7 Problems with the Word "Solution"

Sales Tips: To Ask or Not to Ask about Executive Insomnia

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®

Recently I was involved in a discussion about different types of questions sellers can ask during calls to have a buyer share goals (or problems) that can be achieved through the use of a seller’s offering.

We discussed the types of questions that can be asked and the pros/cons of each:

Open questions…

  • PRO: Open questions allow buyers the comfort of going wherever they want in responding.
  • CON: The risk is that buyers can stray from the direction sellers were hoping to go.

Control questions…

  • PRO: Control questions elicit short responses (a yes or no, a number, etc.) that allow sellers to drive conversations.
  • The downside is they can dominate calls if they use too many control questions. In extreme cases buyers can feel like hostile witnesses being cross-examined.

Framing questions…

  • PROS: Framing questions offer the best of both worlds. They start with the words “How do you ___?” Sellers fill in the blank that will provide boundaries as to what areas buyers will discuss. Framing questions require essay answers, facilitate buyers doing more talking and allow sellers to more gently steer conversations in desired directions.

What Keeps Executives Up at Night

Executive Insomnia
Someone then asked if “What keeps you up at night?” was a good or bad question to pose to executives. Before buyers will share goals or problems sellers must establish their sincerity and competence (Steven Covey’s definition of being deemed trustworthy). I feel buyers would be put off if asked this question prematurely.

To elicit meaningful responses, sellers have to earn the right to pose the question.

A safer approach? Offer a brief title/industry specific success story with a goal the seller feels may be relevant to the buyer and ask if they’d be interested in learning more. If a goal isn’t shared, the seller could ask framing questions to establish credibility. If no goal is shared, the seller can offer a menu of goals as a final effort to get a buying cycle started.

This is a gentler approach. If goals aren’t shared, then sellers can provide a menu of goals that have kept other executives awake and ask if any apply to the buyer.

Sales Tips: 4 Ways to Convert One-time Buyers into Lifetime Customers

By ShaDrena Simon, Inbound Marketing Expert for Yokel Local

While bringing in new customers is an important part of business, the latest numbers suggest that retainingcustomers is even more valuable to today’s companies. The benefits of going the extra mile for your first-time clients make it well worth the effort.

Today’s businesses are focusing on customer retention more than acquisition because it costs five times less to keep current clients than it does to acquire new ones, meaning greater return on your investment.

Lifetime Customers

Your repeat business could be worth ten times more than your first-time clients, so a plan to create loyalty is crucial to your company’s success.

The first time a new B2B customer uses your service, will they leave feeling like while they had a good experience, they could have the same experience with one of your competitors? If so, there is room for improvement. Mediocre service is for mediocre businesses. Show your customers you are a cut above the rest by exceeding their expectations at every turn.

To delight first-time customers and keep them coming back for more, put the following four tips into practice right away.

1. Provide an Exceptional Customer Experience

Providing a top-notch customer experience is essential to retention. Business has become increasingly competitive and being average is no longer enough. When you consider that increasing your retention rates by a mere 5% can increase your overall profits by up to 95%, the importance of standing apart from your competitors becomes clear.

Recognize and acknowledge that the client is new, and make sure your team is on the same page and ready to promote a positive and helpful experience. You only get one shot to nurture and grow the first-time customer relationship, so make it count.

2. Be the Solution to Their Problem

Solving your customers’ problems the first time will create a lasting impression. Instill confidence in your first-time clients and they will trust you to make things easier for them again in the future. Show new customers that you are knowledgeable about how their needs and your industry intersect. Ask questions about your first-time customer’s situation that shows them you are knowledgeable about how your products and services can make things easier for them. They will appreciate your insight into your base and come back to you because they know you can be counted on for delivering results.

Thank Your Customers

3. Give More than What’s Expected

Want to dazzle first-time clients? It’s time to get familiar with the concept of under-promising and over-delivering. Anytime a company does business with you for the first time, consider that they are taking a risk and most likely wondering if it will pay off.

Set reasonable expectations that are clearly laid-out, and then double down on delivering. Promise two-hour turnaround if you know you can do the job in one. Include personal touches like thank you cards and discount codes. This shows your first-time client that returning to you down the line is a risk-free proposition and a gamble worth taking.

Embrace the Art of Following Up

Where your first-time clients are concerned, follow-up matters. Strike a delicate balance between showing that your company is worth doing business with again and not coming off as pushy. After an initial sale,delight a new customer with a carefully crafted e-mail. You can increase your click-through and engagement rates by placing your clients into categories based upon their first purchase.

Targeting them with relevant content that specifically meets their needs at this stage of your relationship means better follow-through than you could hope to achieve with a generic welcome e-mail.

If you are the owner of a B2B business and you are making increasing customer retention among your first-time clients a top priority, you are not alone. An increasing number of businesses have implemented loyalty programs because research has consistently shown they work. While there is just a 32% chance first-time customers will purchase from your company again in the future, by the tenth purchase there is an 83% chance they will buy from you again. A customer’s first visit is an opportunity to grow your business, and smart owners will have a plan for success.

Sales Workshops

Sales Tips: 7 Best Practices to Increase Competitive Win Rates

By Connie Schlosberg, Primary Intelligence

No matter which industry you’re in, sales evaluations play a major part in your company’s success. While product features and functionality are usually the most important aspects in an evaluation, buyers still consider company reputation, service and support, and future direction in the final decision.

Here are seven best practices you can apply to increase competitive win rates for your company.

Competitive Wins

Increase Competitive Win Rates

1. Highlight and demonstrate your company’s deep expertise in the customer or prospect’s industry.

Because experience in the client’s industry is critical to buyers from an overall company perspective. Make sure you’re well aligned in the opportunities you’re pursuing in terms of your company’s background and expertise.

2. Vet customer references.

Ensuring that your company has solid customer references will help to assuage any concerns customers may have about your experience in and commitment to their industry. Look for promoters who can help to evangelize your company and the strategic direction in which it’s heading. Case studies, user conferences, co-webinars, and joint customer-vendor presentations at industry events will help to showcase your most successful customer accounts.

3. Share future direction.

It’s important to share product road maps, strategic vision documents, long-term planning, and other evidence of your organization’s future direction with your customers and prospects. Ask recipients to sign non-disclosure agreements if necessary but make sure your customer base is excited about the strategic direction in which you’re headed.

Customer Support and Support

4. Improve service and support.

Understanding what changes need to be made to offer customers outstanding service and support will help make your company stand out in the eyes of your customers. Leading organizations target improvements in customer experience as a competitive differentiator to ensure their customers stay loyal over the long term and don’t defect to competing vendors.

5. Understand ratings for your firm and vertical.

Make sure you understand the ratings for your company specifically, as well as your industry overall. How are buyers judging you in terms of your industry expertise, in terms of your customer references?

Also understand what’s important to buyers in your industry and how your industry is doing overall in terms of company-based attributes.

6. Leverage areas of strength; correct areas of weakness.

Look for areas of strength you can leverage, along with areas of weakness you can correct. If you know you have weak customer references, look for new accounts you can solicit as references. If you know you’ve got a solid reputation or that you consistently deliver what your sales team sold, advertise that as a key selling point.

7. Look for best practices in other industries.

Go beyond your own industry to seek out best practices that you can adopt from a company-attribute standpoint. Unlike the solution capabilities, most company-related attributes are the same, making cross-industry comparisons easy and straightforward.

Sales Workshops

Sales Tips: Always, Sometimes or Never in Selling

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling® – The Sales Training Company

In high school I was fortunate to have an outstanding Geometry teacher as a sophomore. On some quiz or test questions Mr. Fisher would list statements and students had to provide the answer of alwayssometimes ornever that they felt applied. It caused us to consider all options.

Always or Never in Selling

One of the most fascinating things about selling is how different sales can be.

Because selling is so unstructured in most companies, the terms “always” and “never” seldom apply.

I had a situation with a student years ago that helped me realize an “always” in sales. Chris was worried about a $960K opportunity he was working on. He approached me on Tuesday and told me the CIO would be making a decision on Friday. An internal “coach” had shared with him that $850K had been budgeted and suggested that Chris “sharpen his pencil.”

Over lunch with Chris and his manager I asked if he was “Column A.” He felt he was in as he had initiated the opportunity and Column B, a large player in the space had gotten in much later. Chris’ manager had already said they could meet the $850K price and be even more aggressive if necessary.

I suggested that Chris call the CIO, leave the price where it was and ask if he could bring his manager in for a meeting on Friday. I told him that if he got the meeting I was pretty sure he was Column A because I didn’t feel a CIO would schedule the meeting if Chris wasn’t going to get the business. Chris informed me awhile later that the meeting was set.

On Monday Chris called. He had gotten a $960K order on Friday. Amazing in that they were willing to go to $850K or lower.

After we hung up I realized if Chris had not been Column A any number he gave would have been used to get a better price from the other vendor. The lesson learned:

A seller should always negotiate as though they are the vendor of choice.

This also means that if you are pressured for better pricing you can respond by asking if you are the vendor of choice and that price is the last obstacle. If the buyer says no you can acknowledge they need to finalize their decision and that if you are the vendor of choice you could try to agree to terms. If you are Column A they’ll come back to you.

Don't just win more.Win BIGGER.