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Sales Tips: What Is Sales Intelligence?

By Connie Schlosberg, Primary Intelligence

Sometimes, it is interesting to try to classify different areas of research and intelligence to see how certain specialties have originated, evolved and grown into their own species, so to speak. This study of sales intelligence can provide intelligence practitioners with the ability to see how their efforts might support or interrelate with other disciplines.

Sales IntelligenceWhere does Sales Intelligence Sit?

So, lets define the top rung as general market research. The purpose of market research is to answer any question that might be of interest to a company. This is very broad and probably doesn’t do justice to all of the value a skilled market research director or data scientist can provide. But, the umbrella of market research covers the entire gamut of information collection.

A subset of general market research is competitive intelligence. Again, this can be a pretty broad area and it is concerned with gathering information and answering questions that are influenced by the presence of competitive forces.

A sibling to competitive intelligence is market intelligence. This specialty works to understand the market, value proposition, opportunity and forces in play against your company and product which are not influenced by the competition.

Sales Intelligence sounds like it should be a sibling to competitive and market intelligence. It could be defined as the information that is used to help sales win more deals. This should include things like win loss analysis and predictive analytics. However, the definition of SI seems to be evolving to refer to mainly CRM technology and functions. If you limit this type of information to sales data, contact information, pipeline dashboards, etc., you could say that’s true. But, on the broader spectrum, is that really the right approach? Instead, the definition of sales intelligence could be:

Gathering insights (competitive or otherwise) that can and will be used by a sales individual or team to increase the chances of winning a qualified sales opportunity.

Overall, sales intelligence seems less like a specific discipline and more like a purpose. In other words, bits of competitive intelligence, market intelligence, general market research, (branding, pricing, value, etc) can all be included in sales intelligence. If the information can be used to help sales people sell more, we think it can properly be classified as sales intelligence.

If a business exists to make money as efficiently as possible, and the role of sales is to create the revenue streams as effectively as possible, then isn’t sales intelligence potentially the most important information a company can possess?

There are so many research initiatives that clamor for budget. When deciding which efforts to support, give the proper amount of gravity to those projects that will have a direct effect on a company’s ability to sell more effectively in a market against the competitive landscape. Your company will likely benefit from this approach.

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Sales Tips: 3 Ways to Minimize Objections

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

Since 2002, CustomerCentric Selling® has redefined selling as:

Asking questions to help buyers understand how to use offerings to achieve goals or solve problems.

How to Handle ObjectionsThere is a major difference in buyer experience when people are empowered rather than sold. Selling is generally perceived as convincing, persuading and overcoming objections. Some people believe handling each objection gets sellers closer to winning the business. Most would also assert that selling begins when buyers say no. These attitudes make selling seem like arm wrestling contests between buyers and sellers.

I’d like to offer some observations:

  • Not all objections can be addressed.
  • People can and do buy when they aren’t 100% happy with all aspects of offerings.
  • If and when objections arise, sellers may need to ask clarifying questions. If sellers don’t fully understand objections they can go in the wrong direction and unwittingly unearth additional objections.
  • If an objection is about a feature you don’t have, consider asking: Why is this feature important to you?

I believe most objections are raised when calling on lower levels that are more product-focused than Key Players. I’d also like to share my view that product pitches where sellers do most of the talking will likely evoke objections.

It’s a matter of control.

When being subjected to pitches, sellers dominate “conversations.” Buyers may feel they need to throw out objections to slow down their bombardment of features that may be irrelevant to them.

To minimize objections, I offer the following three (3) suggestions:

  1. Start opportunities at Key Player levels (the people sellers need to call on to sell, fund and implement offerings.
  2. Before offering any features, ask diagnostic questions to determine which are relevant to buyers.
  3. Ask a final question to empower the buyer: If you had (summarize the capabilities agreed to), could you (achieve the desired outcome)?

Objections compromise the ultimate outcomes of sales calls. By applying these suggestions, you should be able to better minimize those objections.

Don't just win more.Win BIGGER.

Sales Tips: Improve Selling Experiences and Avoid Wasting Time

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

There has rightfully been great emphasis on buyer experiences over the last two decades. That said:

Many “buying activities” waste time for both buyers and sellers.

Avoid Wasting Selling Time and ResourcesIt seems there are many product evaluations in which low to mid level staff research offerings via the Internet and social networking, establish their requirements and before inviting salespeople to get involved.

Upon being contacted, there are several things sellers should learn from the start:

  • Have desired business outcomes of executives within the organization been identified?
  • Have detailed conversations with Key Players to understand their needs taken place?
  • Has an estimated cost vs. benefit shown payback that can justify the cost of the offering?
  • Has budget been earmarked?
  • Will access be granted for calls on Key Player stakeholders?

When you take a hard look, product evaluations are ongoing in many instances. It makes little sense to spend significant amounts of time evaluating offerings unless or until the questions above have been addressed.

I believe these “buyers” are concerned that sellers will manipulate or influence their requirements and therefore get sellers involved fairly late in their evaluations.

Rather than go along for the ride, competent sellers can do everyone involved (and some that have not yet been involved) a favor by shifting product evaluations to business decisions.

Blindly going along with buyer-driven product evaluations will often end with “no decision” outcomes that mean buyers and vendors wasted resources without realizing any benefits, a losing proposition for everyone involved.

Don't just win more.Win BIGGER.

Sales Tips: Are You Delivering Noise or Your Message?

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

A great deal of thought and effort goes into helping sellers understand what to say in different situations with prospects and buyers. That said, I thought it would be helpful to offer advice about words and phrases you may want to avoid using in selling situations.

Silence Over NoiseKick the Crutch
Most of us have what I call “crutch words” used to give us time to think about how to respond to buyers. One particularly distracting phrase is “you know” (usually pronounced as yunno). Other variations on a theme would be “ums, ahs,” etc.Silence is a far better alternative to allow sellers time to decide how to respond.

Words can undermine a seller’s power.

Most buyers want to work with sellers that can command company resources if they are needed to address issues. Sellers using words such as: might, perhaps, possibly, probably and maybe sound indecisive.

There are words that merely serve as fillers or noise that dilute your message:

  • Obviously – If something is obvious it isn’t necessary to point it out. If a seller states something is obvious and a buyer that doesn’t know what was stated can be offended.
  • Words such as basically, candidly, clearly add volume but no content to conversations.
  • I hope it isn’t necessary to explain why trust me, honestly, and the absolutely dreadful let me be honest with you (the inference being a seller has been lying his or her socks off).
  • Ambiguous words – integrated, cutting edge, seamless, efficient, synergistic, robust, elegant, automatically, state of the art and dynamic. They add little or nothing to conversations.

“Solution”
I’d also like to suggest that sellers realize that the only person that can deem an offering a “solution” is the buyer. Beyond that, buyers must own achieving the desired business outcome. Phrases like “I/we/our system will increase your top line” disempower buyers. The fact is sellers offer capabilities to enable buyers to achieve the desired business outcomes and they should take ownership.

Buyers have and will continue to buy from sellers that use these words and phrases. That said, sellers can offer meaningful content or noise. Sellers that reduce noise can deliver more compelling messages.

Don't just win more.Win BIGGER.

Sales Tips: How to Create Demand for Your Offerings at Executive Levels

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

I was involved in a lengthy meeting this week that was primarily about creating demand in light of the fact that visitors to my client’s website are lower level staff whose primary interest is learning about products/offerings.

Presenting Value and Payback with Executive Level BuyersThe fact is these people can’t buy and they have little or no idea of what potential payback or value offerings they’re interested in can provide.

That caused me to realize that for the vast majority of Key Players there is no demand for offerings. Marketing and Sales organizations have to back into creating demand for people that rightfully have little or no interest in their offerings.

The stark reality is that Key Players have latent needs for business outcomes they can’t achieve (goals) or for business problems (pains) they don’t know how to address.

The key to creating high level demand is to identify desired business outcomes that can be achieved through the use of offerings.

Getting away from an overarching focus on offerings is difficult to do, but companies that can target specific titles with high probability business problems or goals will enjoy several advantages:

  • They can start buying cycles with Key Players that can fund unbudgeted initiatives.
  • They can give sellers an excellent chance to start opportunities as Column A (preferred vendor).
  • They are likely to close larger transactions because these buyers aren’t budget-constrained.
  • They should have shorter sales cycles.
  • They should have higher win rates.

KEY: Products can create demand for lower levels. Potential value creates executive level interest.

Don't just win more.Win BIGGER.

Sales Tips: 2 Overlooked Issues with Pipeline Milestones

big-sale-blocksBy John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling® – The Sales Training Company

Most organizations have spent the time needed to define pipeline milestones. Sophisticated companies have defined multiple sets of milestones that reflect the different types of transactions that sellers must execute.

Two (2) things stand out in my mind that many companies haven’t addressed:

  1. Milestone achievements are based upon seller opinions. I hope you would agree that when grading opportunities, sellers that are less than YTD against quota will be much less stringent than those at or above quota. When forecasting, sellers with thin pipelines are far more interested in overstating where they are on opportunities than they are in attempting to predict what revenue will close.

If some milestones could be graded based upon buyer actions, then senior management could have more confidence in the pipeline.

  1. Companies hire salespeople with a wide variety of experience and skills. The challenge is there is no attempt to map and teach sellers the skills to achieve each milestone. Sellers want to succeed. When they fall short of achieving their numbers, the problems are either:
  • Won’t – which is an attitude problem that managers must help them overcome.
  • Can’t – in that they don’t have the requisite skills.

For virtually all other positions, employers try to find new hires that have or can be taught the requisite skills to be successful. It’s a shame the same thing can’t be done when recruiting to fill sales positions.

👉 Absent a tactical sales process, sales is a sink or swim proposition.

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Sales Tips: 2 Factors That Determine the Length of Buying Cycles

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

Many sales organizations rightfully focus on their pipelines. In my experience, transactions that are likely to close happen relatively quickly while those that drag along seem to fall under their own weight and ultimately wind up in “no decisions.”

Buying Cycles Fast or SlowThere are two factors that go a long way toward determining the length of sales/buying cycles:

  1. The point of entry. I find A Players often start at or near decision maker levels. The good news is these buyers will quickly determine if it makes sense to get subordinates involved in evaluating offerings. If not, it’s likely to be one call and done. As we say, bad news early is actually good news.

Better to lose quickly than slowly.

As you can imagine, doing bottom-up sales will mean:

-talking to levels of buyers that can say no but can’t say yes
-long sales cycles
-low win rates

  1. How much potential value can be established. Sellers are generally in a rush to complete sales cycles. If and when strong business cases are built, buyers have a sense of urgency. In such cases rather than needed to be pulled, they push to get to a buying decisions because they realize every day that goes buy there is potential value not being realized.

It Works
I have a client that has been able to shorten their average sales cycle from 4 to 3 months. While that may not seem significant, a closer look shows that it allows sellers to complete 4 sales cycles per year rather than 3. This is the equivalent of having 16-month selling years and it means that A, B or C player sellers should close 33% more revenue in a year.

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Sales Tips: 5 Habits for Being a Better Sales Professional

By Connie Schlosberg, Primary Intelligence

5 Habits for Better Sales

The key to winning more deals always comes down to understanding your prospects’ business needs. Putting these five habits into play in your daily work as a sales professional will not only help you align with your prospects’ needs, but be in position to solve those needs.

1. Research your buyers’ business processes

When you have an understanding of your buyer’s processes, you can present your solution as an enhancement to their process. This is time to show your expertise and shine the light on your solution.

Research how they win business over their competitors. What yardstick do they use to measure success in their industry? Your ultimate goal is providing them with the solution that improves their way of doing business.

2. Be an industry specialist

If you know your buyer’s industry and their buying process, you can engage in more meaningful conversations and show that you understand their business needs.
Having specific knowledge of their industry gives you a competitive advantage. You will be able to speak to the pain points of your buyer’s industry and gain their trust.

3. Be a problem solver

Buyers aren’t looking for sales reps; they’re looking for advisers. How can you step into the role of most valuable player? How can you demonstrate that your solution should be an integral part of their connection to their customers? Your buyers need to see that you add value to their equation. Give them a fresh perspective. Demonstrate value. Show that your product or service will help them solve their problems.

4. Think like a fisherman

The most significant component to fishing is the fish. Studying where, when, and what they eat all add up to the success of catching the fish.

You need to get past the mechanics of selling and focus on the buyer. It is really all about them. What do they want? Why not ask them directly?

Go beyond the RFP and actually talk to your buyers. Ask for an onsite visit. You can learn a lot by watching your buyer in action. What lure appetizes your buyer?

5. Walk a mile in their shoes

One common denominator between the military and their contractors is the contractors are often former military themselves.

It makes sense that buyers will gravitate to people who know their business inside and out because they’ve “been there, done that.” If you have not walked in their shoes, it makes sense for you to talk to someone who has. Who do you know who may have a close relationship with this buyer? What insight can they share?

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Sales Tips: 3 Keys to Diagnosing a Buyer’s Current Situation

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

Sales Tips for Diagnosing Buyer's Current SituationIt seems everyone is in a hurry these days unless they’re retired. When people ask for one word that describes how superior vs. mediocre people sell I give a one-word answer: Patience.By that I mean they know you must first understand a buyer’s needs before having any product discussions.

Key #1: One of the ways to slow sellers down is to have them realize there is no selling to be done until a buyer shares a business goal (or a problem) they’re willing to spend money to achieve. If sellers entered every call with a menu of potential goals for each title, I believe there would be a significant improvement in the outcomes.

Key #2: A very unfortunate thing can occur after executives share goals. Some salespeople believe it gives them permission to launch into product pitches because buyers have expressed interest. Once again,patience is required.

A Players realize buyers they call on don’t fully understand why they can’t achieve their desired outcomes.

Discussing Current Situation with BuyersIf buyers knew, they’d fix things rather than take time to talk with salespeople!

A top-performing seller will ask a series of diagnostic questions to help buyers realize what may be “broken” in their current approach (without a seller’s offering). I refer to selling as a “hurt and rescue” exercise. When a buyer and seller are in agreement as to what areas are preventing desired outcomes to be achieved, wonderful things happen. It means the seller has established credibility and competence and that the buyer is more ready for the “rescue.”

Key #3: At this point, based upon how buyers answered diagnostic questions sellers should only discuss capabilities relevant to achieving the desired goal. This ultimately allows sellers to empower buyers rather than sell them. The question becomes: If you had the capabilities we discussed, could you (achieve your goal?)

The seller that does the best diagnosis is most likely to win the business.

Remember: People buy from sellers that are sincere, competent and empower them.

INFOGRAPHIC: 3 keys to diagnose buyer's current situation

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Sales Tips: A Resolution for 2018 and Beyond

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

2018 is here, a time for making resolutions that you may or may not keep. I’d like to suggest trying what may be a different approach to finding new opportunities.

The best leading indicator of future performance is the quality and quantity of opportunities in a seller’s pipeline.

charts-calculator.pngStarting 2018, the condition of each seller’s pipeline reflects how they finished the year. If it was a sprint to end 2017 there’s work to do. Regardless of where you stand I’d like to offer an approach that can allow you to shorten sales cycles and increase win rates moving forward.

Most sales organizations have an increasing reliance on inbound leads. If you’re selling complex or expensive offerings, these leads are likely to:

  • Provide entry points below Key Player levels
  • Put you in contact with people interested in products that don’t have budget
  • Have you contact people concurrently evaluating several vendors in a given space
  • Have you contact people unaware of business results that can be impacted
  • Yield a high percentage of “no decisions” and low close rates
  • Represent quantity more than quality

It takes courage and initiative but there is a way to start opportunities with Key Players that enables sellers to establish themselves as “Column A” from the start with buyers who can find budgets for new initiatives. Key Players don’t have time to visit websites and evaluate vendors. For that reason many are unaware of value and payback offerings can provide.

key-player-senior-executives-meeting.pngThese buyers have latent needs, not for offerings (an erroneous assumption many sellers make), but rather for achieving desired business outcomes. I recently used an approach Michael Higgins (Selling at the C-Level) provided. He suggested this:

👉 Review a prospect’s annual report to learn the company’s objectives and challenges and select a specific title and outcome that an offering could help them achieve.

Here’s my experience using this approach:

  • I researched a Fortune 500 company and sent a one-page letter via snail mail to their Chairman.
  • Four days later I called.
  • After being heavily screened I was told the admin was busy and I should call that afternoon.
  • 45 minutes later I got a phone call from a senior vice president that had been asked (or told?) to contact me.
  • A buying cycle began with a Key Player.

Superior salespeople sell outcomes rather than offerings.

These sellers pique senior executive interest by leading with relevant business goals or issues.

Leading with offerings puts sellers out of alignment with Key Player buyers who don’t have the time nor interest to learn about products.

I hope 2018 will be prosperous for you and that you may try this new approach to generate new opportunities.

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