From the CCS® Sales Blog

September 2018

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Sales Tips: How to Create Middle Ground for Buyers and Sellers

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®

Vendors and their marketing staffs have faced many challenges in managing inbound leads. For vendors selling complex, expensive offerings website visitors provide less than optimal entry points. A case can be made that vendors and prospect organizations are worse off than they were twenty years ago.

disconnect between buyers and sellers

In my mind it’s unfortunate but over the years sellers earned the reputation of taking advantage of buyers with sins of hype, omission or outright lying about their offerings. Pre-Y2K salespeople were seen as Subject Matter Experts and parsed out information self-servingly on offerings as they saw fit. In all fairness many sellers did their best to make sure offerings were a fit, but buyers seem to remember the people that took advantage of them. Buyers came to resent having sellers influence their requirements when making purchases.

The Internet changed all that. In the late 90’s vendors driven by a desire to drive higher revenue posted an incredible volume of information on their websites. In doing so they ceded a great amount of control. Buyers saw it as a leveling of the playing field and felt they could delay or entirely avoid having to interact with sellers and endure their transparent attempts to alter the requirements to optimize their chances of winning.

Vendors controlled all website content, so the advent of B2B social networking made it possible to get firsthand information from customers about offerings, service, support, etc.

Over the last 20 years, both buyers and vendors have made some flawed decisions:

  • Marketing treated visitors as though they were buyers. It would be more accurate to use the term researchers because most of them can’t buy.
  • Vendors grading inbound visitors by activities virtually ensured “leads” would be non-Key Players. Executives don’t have the time and few websites have adequate content to be relevant to them and require multiple visits.
  • Changes vendors made were in response to researcher, rather than executive buying behavior.
  • Prospect organizations could waste staff’s time by evaluating offerings without the support or awareness of executives that would have to fund purchases.
  • The time needed to do product evaluations increased as multiple vendors were considered in parallel rather than series.
  • Without executive involvement there often was no understanding of potential value or payback.
  • Paranoia about salespeople influencing requirements seemed to be higher than necessary. Vendors continued with large amounts of product training. That seemed to be overkill when so much information is available on websites and via social networking. Vendors allowed sellers to get into product decisions before desired business outcomes are shared.

buyer and seller connection

Middle Ground

Buying and selling does not have to be a zero-sum game. Ultimately neither party wants a train wreck. There were a few occasions as a salesperson where I chose not to take orders because I didn’t believe customers would be satisfied.

I’d like to propose some steps that could be taken to make things better for both sides:

  • Define selling as empowering buyers to use offerings to achieve goals or solve problems rather than convincing, persuading, and overcoming objections.
  • Vendors should provide sellers with more business training and reduce the amount of product training. A seller’s role when getting involved in ongoing product evaluations is to turn them into cost vs. benefit business decisions.
  • Buyers and sellers should do quick sanity checks early on to determine if estimates of payback are sufficient to do product evaluations that will require time and resources from both parties.
  • Vendors could consider putting some revenue in play. Let’s say a customer was making a $100K buying decision with an expectation of reducing scrap by 25%. As a show of good faith could the vendor could offer to bill $80K, earn $20K when the 25% goal was made and have a stretch goal of 35% so the vendor could earn another $20K. I appreciate this creates accounting challenges, but feel there should be incentives that are win-win for both parties.

I’d also like to ask you to consider how to make entry points higher. Bus dev can be viewed as attempting to take Key Players with latent needs to active need. It amounts to causing buyers that weren’t looking to look. Sellers should call at a high enough level that the person can fund unbudgeted initiatives. If leads are with lower levels, seller should qualify them as coaches that will provide access to higher levels.

In the clear light of day I don’t believe electronic bus dev touches are effective with Key Players. Consider having salespeople review a prospect’s annual report, find a compelling triggering event, send a letter to a very senior executive and follow-up with phone calls. Rather than wait for nurtured leads, taking senior executives from latent to active needs allow sellers to start as Column A and increase win rates.

Buyers and sellers share a common desire to successfully implement offerings and quantify the results achieved.  It appears buyers have tried to minimize or eliminate the chances for sellers to influence their requirements. In doing so they can waste large chunks of time in doing product evaluations before building business cases. It is in everyone’s best interest to take this approach and I believe the challenge is for vendors to show their salespeople how to migrate from selling products to enabling business outcomes to be achieved.

Sales Tips: Types of Customer Data to Collect to Improve Marketing Strategy

Courtesy of Primary Intelligence, a CustomerCentric Selling® Partner

When some marketing professionals think about surveys, they generally think about close-ended feedback. Close-ended feedback, which is typically collected in online surveys, involves rating scales, “check boxes” of applicable categories, “yes/no” questions, and other data that is typically quantitative.

Close-ended feedback is usually efficient and straightforward for customers to answer, as well as straightforward for organizations to analyze. This type of customer feedback also provides the ability to easily compare different parts of the organization, different team member’s effectiveness, and overall customer experience from a quantitative, “temperature-taking” perspective.

In contrast, open-ended feedback is typically qualitative in nature and often includes verbal or written comments that provide context behind the close-ended quantitative data. For example, an especially low rating of a “1” or a “2” on a 0-10 point ratings scale would benefit from customer follow-up to discover why the respondent rated the category especially low. Similarly, understanding a “9” or a “10” rating would help to explain and drive behavior that should be replicated throughout the organization with other customers.

(For more information on quantitative and qualitative data, download our eBook “B2B Quantitative vs. Qualitative Data.”)

customer data strategy

Types of Customer Data to Collect to Improve Marketing Strategy

Collecting Open-ended and Close-ended Feedback

Collecting a combination of open-ended and close-ended feedback is a best practice at Primary Intelligence. While collecting only close-ended or only open-ended feedback is possible, having one without the other only tells one side of the story.

In many of today’s data-driven organizations, having a CX (Customer Experience) program with only qualitative comments typically invites skepticism from data hounds, who want to know, “What can we do with this unstructured feedback?” This is especially true if text mining or text analytics is not being used to help sort and understand the feedback.

At the same time, providing only data points often doesn’t tell the whole story. Data alone doesn’t describe the why of the story. It’s also devoid of specifics, a particularly difficult situation to find oneself in when trying to understand why customers stay or go, why customers remain loyal or churn.

The most popular method of collecting open-ended feedback is through electronic surveys, with 85 percent of organizations collecting qualitative feedback in this manner. An additional 59 percent are collecting open-ended Customer Experience feedback through telephone interviews, while close to 50 percent are utilizing on-site or in-person visits.

Collection Methodologies Advantages and Disadvantages

While collecting open-ended feedback through any means is helpful in understanding customer sentiment, different approaches to collecting open-ended feedback have both advantages and drawbacks.

Online surveys

While gathering open-ended feedback using online surveys can be efficient for organizations administering the surveys, one of the principal drawbacks of collecting open-ended feedback using online surveys is that organizations cannot delve deeper into customers’ responses to ask probing follow-up questions. Additionally, open-ended responses to online surveys can sometimes be confusing, and even contradict earlier feedback provided in the survey.

On-site visits

In-person meetings have the advantage of showing customers the extent of care and attention organizations are willing to pay to them to address their needs, with executives taking the time to meet with customers face-to-face and address problems head on, not hiding behind a computer screen or armies of mid-level managers.

A drawback of on-site visits, however, is that the conversations may or may not be recorded, so capturing and analyzing the information for later reflection and comparison with other customer data may be spotty, minimal, or non-existent.

Another potential disadvantage of on-site visits is that the individual or team sent to meet with the customer may not be ideal. For example, organizations that send a member from the customer’s account team may encounter defensiveness when the account representatives hear negative feedback or suggestions for improvement. As a result, customers may be less than candid in sharing the totality of their feedback.

(For advice on how to handle negative feedback, check out this article.)

Phone Calls

Advantages of collecting open-ended feedback over the phone include reduced time and expenses compared with on-site visits, as well as the ability to ask clarifying or probing follow-up questions to tease out root issues causing customers to defect or areas of delight leading to loyalty and recommendations. Telephone conversations can also be recorded, with comments transcribed for later viewing and analysis throughout the organization.

One of the disadvantages of interviewing customers through telephone conversations is that scheduling logistics can be challenging, especially if the customer is in a different region of the world. Speaking on the telephone also does not allow the interviewer to see facial expressions or body language, and pauses can be difficult to interpret in telephone conversations.

(For a deeper discussion on phone interviews, read this article.)

Sales Tips: 5 Steps Salespeople Must Take to Regain Lost Trust of Customers

Guest Post by Evie Cooper, Business Blogger

It doesn’t matter how careful you are – the world is full of variables, and you’ll inevitably encounter a situation where a customer distrusts you. It may be based on a single bad experience that a short tempered customer feels disproportionately slighted by. It may be something broad and reaching, like a security breech or a data disaster. It doesn’t necessarily matter what the situation is, so long as you’re prepared to handle it. If your customers don’t trust you anymore, you need to get to the heart of the problem and start taking steps to mend the situation.

5 Steps Salespeople Must Take to Regain Lost Trust of Customers

  1. Take Full Accountability

Even if you feel as though the situation is entirely not your fault (i.e. the customer purchased the wrong product despite recommendations and still feels misled), find a way to take accountability. Becoming defensive, even if you’re justified, is only going to upset the customer more. The customer feels as though you’ve lead them in the wrong direction. Rather than placing the blame on the customer, think about what you may have said or done to impact the situation.

The customer is not always right, but some customers need to be made to feel as though they are.

  1. Listen to Their Gripes

Some customers are longwinded complainers, even after an issue has been resolved. Let the customer do most of the talking. Affirm that you’re listening by agreeing and empathizing, but don’t match their wordcount. Answer questions if they’re asked, but stay quiet while the customer expresses what they need to express. This is especially important in cases where a customer’s distrust can easily be justified, such as accidental overcharging or worsening of a problem as a result of a product or service they’ve been provided with.

Remember not to take these gripes personally. You may not have been the individual responsible for the unfortunate situation, and while the customer rationally knows that, he or she may not understand the bigger picture. Be patient and don’t rush the customer through a diatribe. Let them get it all out. They’ll be easier to work with when it comes time to fixing the problem if they’ve said everything they need to say.

  1. Ask People What They Need From You

If you have a proposed solution to their problem, hold onto it. Try asking what the customer wants in order to feel better about the situation. Remedying what was done wrong may not be enough in and of itself to regain trust, but it shows that you take that loss of trust seriously. If you can accommodate the customer’s exact wishes, it’s a good idea to try your best. If the customer wants something unreasonable, roll out your backup plan.

Ask how they were affected by the situation and frame your solution to target each of the points they bring up. If all you can provide is a refund, explain to them that they are entitled to that refund. If there’s anything above and beyond they want that you can facilitate, see that they get it.

  1. Make Up For What You’ve Done (If Possible)

Once you’ve listened to the customer’s concerns and satisfied the first step of remedying the problem, it’s time to look at what you can do to either fix the situation entirely or mitigate any damage that was done. If you’ve failed to deliver a product or service on time, or if the product or service was of substandard quality, you may be able to rebuild trust with the customer by coming through on your end of the bargain despite the obstacles you’ve faced.

Give them a reasonable timeframe in which you’ll be able to work towards remedying the situation. You might need to hire more team members to tend to other areas of your business while you intensify your focus and attention to resolving the issue the customer is facing, particularly if the problem is significant. Going above and beyond with customer service is crucial at this time.

For example, a party planning business may fail to complete arrangements before a deadline. If that same business can get their own staff to the location in real time and assume quick management of the situation to avoid the cancellation of a client’s event, this would show the kind of dedication that a distrustful customer is looking to see.

  1. Demonstrate the Steps You’ve Taken to Remedy the Situation

Take some exit feedback. After you feel as though the issue has been thoroughly resolved, sit down with the customer and explain to them where you went wrong, the measures you took to fix the situation, and how you’ll prevent situations like this from occurring in the future. Gauge their satisfaction with your resolution. Some people will never truly be happy, but collecting feedback from problem resolution will allow you to create strategies that will appease the majority of customers who feel as though they cannot trust you.

No matter what occurred to inspire a breakdown of trust with a customer, it’s important to be vigilant. These things will always happen, and being prepared to handle them swiftly and appropriately will soften the blow.

About the Author
Evie Cooper is a business and career blogger, often sharing her tips and suggestions about creating and growing a a successful business. Currently, Evie is supporting UK Area Code and Postcode-Checker – online knowledge libraries.

Sales Tips: What is Win Loss Analysis?

Courtesy of Primary Intelligence, a CustomerCentric Selling® Partner

At the most basic level, win loss analysis helps sales, marketing, and product leaders understand the reasons for their organizational wins and losses so that they can increase their win rates and capture more business in the future.

Win loss programs are important at all levels of the organization because it helps explain why buyers choose specific solutions and why they do not choose others.

At a higher level, win loss programs help transform organizations as they make fundamental changes to what are often systemic problems. When managers see patterns in buyer feedback that consistently show outstanding—or sub-par—performance, they can replicate best practices throughout their organizations and avoid root cause behaviors that hinder long-term success. In this way, win loss analysis is sometimes compared to Kaizen, the Japanese practice of continuous improvement.

win loss

Win Loss in Practice

Different Levels of Program Maturity

Win loss research can be thought of as a continuum. Programs at one end of the spectrum focus on collecting basic buyer information, often from ad hoc groups as their schedules allow, and simply reporting the findings to select members within the organization, offering little analysis, coordinated findings, or actionable insights.

At the other end of the spectrum are organizations conducting rigorous analysis of most or all opportunities—whether won or lost. These companies typically have a core team tasked with analyzing the findings, comparing buyer feedback to internal company information and secondary research, and reporting consolidated findings to engaged Sales, Marketing, Strategy, Legal, Pricing, and Support executives. In optimal scenarios, the analyzed feedback is then used to make systemic changes that propel organizations forward, allowing the capture of even more opportunities.

Different Organizational Approaches

“Win loss analysis” can mean different things to different people. Programs may include data that is captured from sales representatives and/or sales managers during feedback sessions with customers and prospects. Often, information captured in such ways is siloed and may or may not be shared with key individuals or aggregated with related information to understand trends or commonalities in buyer feedback among different teams.

In other instances, win loss analysis involves a more formal approach, in which a dedicated internal team—such as a Market Research or Competitive Intelligence group—is responsible for capturing buyer feedback. These teams often analyze buyer remarks, aggregate them with other data, and report the findings to senior management.

In Primary Intelligence’s State of Win Loss research, here are the some of the benefits from that win loss programs.

  • Improve sales process and measurement techniques
  • Understand competitive forces
  • Receive specific feedback on opportunities lost that assist to increase future win rates
  • Enable best practices and learn what customer’s value

Next Steps

If your company has no win loss program in place, start today. We have seen higher win rates for organizations that have win loss programs in place. Companies that conduct win loss programs experience improved company performance metrics, especially, compared to organizations that don’t, meaning higher revenue, more wins, and better sales rep and marketing effectiveness.

Win loss programs also help you better understand buyer behavior and learn more about competitors. For example, many organizations discover new competitors they didn’t know they were up against or discounted companies because they thought they weren’t major players when, in fact, they were.

Sales Tips: Why Customers Don’t Like To Feel They’re Being ‘Sold’ To

By Kayleigh Alexandra, Content Writer for Micro Startups

Let’s get one thing straight right away — people don’t inherently dislike being sold to. In fact, they often welcome it. It’s exciting and confidence-boosting to feel that your individual custom is important to a business, entertaining to be given purpose-built presentations, and satisfying to have the ultimate control over whether a sale is achieved.

Yet despite this, people absolutely loathe feeling that they’re being sold to. This might seem strange, but I don’t even mean that they’re ambivalent about the sales process, welcoming and dreading it at the same time — I mean that good sales work doesn’t bring attention to itself. It gets the prospective customer so hooked by the content and the rapport that they don’t spend any time thinking about the motivation behind it.

But why do they hate being made aware of the meat that makes up the sausage, so to speak? Well, there are numerous reasons why people hate feeling that they’re being sold to, and I’m going to run you through some of the main ones. Let’s get started.

Image credit: PxHere

It takes the focus away from them

As a species, we enjoy shopping so much that we have a concept of retail therapy. This is because it’s a rewarding and diverting activity. We love walking around stores taking in the sights, smells and sounds of the presentations set up to grab our attention. We welcome the chance to gaze longingly at products we could, might, should buy. And when we’ve chosen to make a purchase, we get something out of the deal, satisfying our basic hunter-gatherer impulses. It’s very hard to find someone who doesn’t sometimes shop for the joy of it.

When you start to feel that you’re being sold to, it quickly shifts the focus away from you to the salesperson. You stop feeling that your input is seriously being considered and begin to feel that anything you say is going to be disregarded or ignored until you decide to buy whatever they’re trying to sell (or choose to leave).

It makes them feel pressured

We like taking our time to make shopping decisions, especially when we’re thinking about spending large sums. This doesn’t just give us the opportunity to crunch the numbers and reach a practical conclusion about whether the purchase is justified — it also lets us indulge in some flights of fancy while we mull things over. This is particularly the case when we’re considering several possibilities. Sometimes it’s hard to choose between three similar items, and you need to pick very, very carefully.

Any salesperson that seems impatient for you to decide and keeps pushing you to proceed with a purchase is going to achieve one of two things: they’ll either get you to buy (good, but you’re unlikely to be happy about the customer service in the long run), or they’ll drive you away from the store entirely (much more likely). The latter is considerably more likely in the age of ecommerce. Even if you’re in a brick-and-mortar store, you know that if you have a really bad experience you can always shop online at your leisure without being bothered.

Think about the effect this has on a lot of consumer goods that have moved online in droves. You don’t need to go to a store to buy a laptop or a camera —- today’s model is one of online-only electronic stores that don’t even have inventories, instead sourcing their products from generic stock supplies. Not only do customers not need to visit buildings to learn about products, but they can be very selective about the retailers they use because almost any given product can be found elsewhere if needed. Pressure will only lose you sales.

It cuts down on the possibilities

We like getting good customer service, especially in high-end stores. We’re looking for custom experiences designed to suit us as individuals. There’s a pleasant complexity to a lengthy discussion with a store assistant — you tell them your interests, they suggest something, you turn it down, they suggest something else, and so on until you find something great.

Any employee that tries too hard to sell you on a certain product, though, will sap that degree of choice. In whatever form it takes, they clearly have a vested interest in that product in particular, and that has two negative effects: it disproportionately weights their efforts in favor of that item, and it makes their advice in general impossible to consider valuable. If they tell you that their suggested product X is much better than the comparable product Y, you’ll be very suspicious of that contention.

Ultimately, we hate feeling that we’re being sold to because it ruins the illusion of feeling that our prospective purchases are entirely about us. When that spell is broken, we start seeing ourselves from the opposite end of the deal — as potential sources of revenue for the businesses selling to us. And that’s not going to convince anyone to buy!

Kayleigh Alexandra is a content writer for Micro Startups — a site dedicated to spreading the word about startups and small businesses of all shapes and sizes. Visit the blog for the latest micro biz news and inspiring entrepreneurial stories. Follow them on Twitter @getmicrostarted.

Sales Tips: How to Win at a Higher Price

Courtesy of Primary Intelligence, a CustomerCentric Selling® Partner

What are the chances you can win a B2B sales deal that’s priced higher than your competitors? As challenging as it may be, winning a competitive bid is not impossible.

How often do B2B buyers select the more expensive offering? In Primary Intelligence’s newest industry report, How to Win at a Higher Price, we examined nearly 900 B2B purchase decisions and competitive evaluations.

Our study discovered that 25% of wins sell at a higher price but selling at a higher price does pose a risk. Almost 50% of lost sales are priced higher than the competition.

That said, our research revealed that buyers will take into consideration the vendor’s product performance, company stability, customer support, and understanding of business needs and weigh the risk versus the value. If their evaluation shows high confidence in those areas, the higher priced vendor will win, but disadvantages in just one area may result in a lost sale. When vendors’ products show distinct similarities, buyers compare costs and frequently select the lower priced vendor.

Nonetheless, all is not lost. B2B sellers with the higher priced solution do close sales deals.

So how did a quarter of those wins in our study sell at a higher price?

win more

How to Win at a Higher Price B2B Industry Report

Our study uncovered the barriers to winning at a higher price and how the seller can overcome these barriers.

For instance, B2B buyers are more focused on the solution and its sure-fire results to fill a business need when they select the higher priced vendor. They are more concerned with performance than price. The value they’ll receive from the solution exceeds the product’s price. In fact, understanding buyer needs is a turning point for buyers when they make their decision. A poor understanding of buyer needs causes 1 in 10 higher priced losses but facilitates 1 in 5 higher priced wins.

Another interesting finding: Buyers consider excellent customer support an important criterion in their evaluation. Poor customer support, whether through the buyer’s experience or hearsay, can diminish a higher priced vendor’s chances of winning. All things considered, poor customer support is one of the most common reasons higher priced vendors lose. In almost 40% of higher priced B2B sales wins, the sellers have impeccable references, solid reputations, and strong relationships.

B2B buyers are looking first and foremost for the best solution that will meet their organization’s business needs. Your goal is to gain your buyers’ confidence. Once you have their confidence, you will win sales, keep your pricing, and stay ahead of the competition.

 


Download How to Win at a Higher Price Report

Your chances of losing a sales deal are greater when you have the higher priced offering. But that isn’t always the case. Our research uncovered that in 25% of sales wins, buyers choose the more expensive solution. Why? Buyers say these higher priced winners provide the best value with minimum risk. Get the report to learn how you can win the sale without changing your price.

Download the Report