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Sales Tips: Avoid Negotiating with Buyers Unless You’re “Column A”

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®

A common ploy buyers use toward the end of buying cycles is having someone (often a non-Key Player) request a “best and final” pricing. Smart buyers with multiple vendors in the mix will negotiate with Column C to use their price against Column B, all in an attempt to get the best possible price from Column A, their vendor of choice. Some buyers may just fabricate pricing.

Some salespeople see this as an opportunity to win the business with aggressive pricing. In my experience, vendors selling non-commodity offerings can seldom discount their way into becoming Column A.

sales negotiation tips

In selling, the words “always” and “never” seldom apply but I’d like to make a case that sellers should always negotiate as though they were Column A.

When asked for a “best a final” I suggest asking the buyer if you are the vendor of choice and if price is the only obstacle.

  • If you are told the buyer is not yet to that point, consider responding as follows:It sounds as though you haven’t finalized your decision yet, so let’s leave pricing as an open item. If I become your vendor of choice we can see if we can come to terms.

If the person asking for a better price is a non-Key Player, try to avoid negotiating with a messenger. When asking if you are the vendor of choice, suggest that if you became the vendor of choice you’d have to get your manager and the Key Player involved in finalizing the transaction.

  • If you aren’t the vendor of choice you will at least kept your dignity and pricing in tact. Any number you provided would have been used as leverage with Column A. If you are the vendor of choice they will come back to you and you start at the original price quoted rather than a discounted best and final they will try to further whittle down.

New Industry Report Available: “Changing Your Sales Outcomes”

Courtesy of Primary Intelligence, a CustomerCentric Selling® Partner

Can you salvage a deal that’s on track for a loss? And if you can, what does it take to recover it? For this industry report, Changing Your Sales Outcomes, we analyzed buyer responses from nearly 1,000 highly competitive B2B sales opportunities collected over an 11-month period. Our study uncovered that over one-third of lost deals could have been won. If you’re working on a sale that seems like it might miss, stick to it: your buyers are probably willing to give you a chance to recover the sale—and a chunk of revenue with it.

The impact of recovering one in three lost deals is significant. The missed opportunities in our study represent over $1.5 billion in lost revenue that sellers could have won had they navigated the sale differently. For the average software vendor in our study, a 33% increase in revenue would have added an estimated $15 million annually to their bottom line. Even recovering a fraction of this would have been significant.

With so much revenue left on the table, what did sellers miss?

changing sales outcomes

Changing Your Sales Outcomes Industry Report

Most often, sellers didn’t provide the right mix of sales, product and pricing support for their buyer. Our study dove deep into the details and captured what you can change to win, and it’s all based on what buyers advised—and specifically, what the buying decision-makers advised. And their advice isn’t necessarily what you might assume.

Here’s one example: While sales teams often say price lost the deal, buyers had different ideas. Their advice of what to do differently didn’t place price first or even second in line. In fact, nearly two-thirds of lost deals didn’t have a price-related weakness.

Instead, buyers placed improvements to the sales process at the top of the list, saying it was the leading influencer a vendor could have modified to win.

While it can be discouraging for sellers to hear their sales efforts didn’t hit the mark, this is good news for you. Sales activities are easily correctable, and they’re certainly easier to modify on the fly compared to your product’s feature set or pricing structure.

When it comes to optimizing the sales process, the number one issue buyers raised was a disconnect between what they were seeking and what the losing vendor offered. Buyers said losing vendors did not understand (or respond to) their business needs adequately, especially compared to the winner.

The theme of understanding needs reoccurred throughout our findings as buyers also associated it with a vendor’s product and price. For example, buyers described how winning vendors understood their needs and then tailored their proposed solution around those specifics. Tactics like this helped winners close the deal while pushing out competitors.


Download the Report

Want to see the complete list of things you can do differently to win 33% more deals this year? Read our full report or download the graphic summary.

Download Graphic Summary   Download Detailed Report

Sales Tips: 5 Quick Psychology Hacks Great Sales Pros Need To Know

By Kayleigh Alexandra, Content Writer for Micro Startups

The right psychology hacks, when applied to your business, have the power to increase your sales figures dramatically. No matter whether you’re bold and outgoing or shy and thoughtful – with the right approach, you will be able to get leads through your pipeline. All it takes is to implement some quick psychological changes in your sales and marketing approach that will make your customers tick. Sales is all about appealing to emotions. Give the following hacks a try and let us know if they make a difference!

sales psychology tips

Minimize choice overload

You might think that the more options you have available, the more likely it is that your customers will see something they like. The reality is, in fact, the opposite. Our intuitive assumption that more choice improves the chance that we’ll find the ‘perfect thing’ turns out to be a fallacy; instead, when presented with more options, we often won’t make a decision at all.

When you’re trying to make a sale, avoid giving people too many options. If you do, the odds of them buying anything will plummet. Too much choice easily becomes overwhelming. Instead, try limiting the available options to just two or three, and see whether you notice customers becoming more decisive.

Focus on value

The whole point of a sales pitch is to help buyers see that the barriers to achieving their goals that can be addressed by the features or capabilities of your products. Let’s remember that no-one likes giving their money away. But we do like having nice things. In your sales pitch, direct the customer’s attention to the having of the nice things, rather than focusing on cost.

This means avoiding related terms like ‘money’ or ‘affordable’ and instead taking steps to show what they will gain – not how much they will lose. Try to use leading statements which focus on how the product or service will make their lives better: a result that will be harder to achieve unless they commit.

Don’t be an approval junkie

The need to be liked is one of the biggest barriers to successful selling. If you project insecurity as a salesperson, you unintentionally direct attention towards yourself, when you should be giving it to the customer. If you’re someone who is constantly seeking personal affirmation, this can have the negative knock-on effect of making you seem desperate – and no-one wants to buy from a needy salesperson.

Forget about what others think of you and instead put your focus on the person sitting in front of you. It’s also possible to go too far the other way and be overconfident – this isn’t a desirable alternative. The clue is in the name: be customer centric. Sales is not about you.

Create the right emotional environment

As mentioned earlier, sales is highly emotionally driven. If you want to be a master of sales, you must become a master of picking up on emotional cues and taking the customer on a journey – without being obvious about it. I’ll say it again: sales is not about you. Take some time to let your customer do the talking and find out what’s important to them. Try to feel what they are feeling before leading them, gracefully, to your product as a potential solution.

It’s very easy to get in your own head when a customer starts voicing their concerns, firing off strategic comebacks instead of really paying attention. You’ll do better if you allow yourself to become an emotional sponge and show them you’re on their side, you get it, and you have a solution that could help.

The psychology of selling online

So what about if you’re not selling in person, but online? If you run an online store, here are some tips for improving your sales digitally.

First, embrace content. It’s a powerful sales tool that will give you all sorts of ways to add value for your customers. It’s not all about self-promotion – it’s giving them something genuinely useful, a reason to come back to your website, with the added benefit of making you appear more knowledgeable.

If you use models on your website, consider whether they’re relatable to your audience. Do these people really look like software engineers? Are we buying this scenario? It’s easier to picture ourselves with a product or service if the models represent the way we see ourselves – or the way we aspire to be. Supermodels aren’t the only option.

Finally, you can validate your customers’ taste by displaying what others were interested in. Amazon does this all the time. It’s easy to add this simple functionality to your ecommerce website – if you use Shopify, for example, you can simply install the Also Bought or Frequently Bought Together apps to give your customers tailored recommendations. Everyone likes to feel they have good taste.

You can also flip this on its head and apply lessons from ecommerce to face-to-face sales negotiations:

  • Content = your pitch and the way your product is ‘packaged up’. Is this an expert-level solution, or a beginner software? Your pitch has to reflect who you’re talking to, and be genuinely useful & helpful
  • Online imagery = rapport. Try to build rapport with customers by reflecting their wants and needs. It starts with body language, tone, and listening
  • Recommendations = social proof. If you can mention that someone they know and respect already uses your software, you will be much more likely to close the deal.

There you have it – five different psychology hacks you can start using to improve your sales and grow your brand. Keep these strategies in mind, and your sales game will go through the roof.

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: Beware of Your Adversaries

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®

Committee decisions are exponentially more difficult than single buyer transactions. They are longer buyer cycles and by nature more strategic.

Conversations with first-line managers often identify roles of different people involved in decisions:

  • Who are your coaches that will provide information and do internal selling?
  • Who is your champion that will provide access to Key Players?
  • Who are beneficiaries that see personal value if a buying decision is made?
  • Who will be responsible for implementing the offering being considered?
  • Who will provide funding?

Many internal conversations focus on people that are in the seller’s camp, but I suggest being aware of potential adversaries that prefer a competitor’s offering. These buyers will work as hard as your advocates to steer buying decisions.

head in the sand

Ostriches are known for putting their heads in the sand when in danger. So it is many sellers choose to ignore adversaries.

I suggest:

  • Make attempts to win them over.
  • Failing that, try to neutralize their influence on the ultimate decision.

Having a conversation with your champion about adversaries and how to deal with them can be critical to winning. There may be times when one on one calls won’t be productive and it would be advisable to ask a champion or coach to accompany you on a call with an adversary.

Committee decisions when everyone agrees on the same vendor are rare. Try to evaluate how high in the organization your champion is vs. your competitor’s champion. Execute strategies to win over or neutralize your adversaries.

Sales Tips: Why Do a Demo?

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®

With the advent of online conferencing, the cost of doing demonstrations is considerably less than it was decades ago when sessions were done either at customer or vendor sites. The question I’d like you to consider:

What is the purpose of doing demos?

When and Why Do a Demo?

In my opinion, the only reasons are to prove relevant capabilities or to do proof in exchange for access to other people that would be involved in buying committees.

Please note: Prior to doing demos, buyers should have visions of the capabilities they need to achieve their desired business outcomes. If need development has not been done, the result will be dreaded “spray and pray” demos where buyers are subjected to a barrage of features that are not relevant to them.

Ultimately, demos don’t sell, salespeople do.

People asked to do demos should be provided the following information:

  • Names and titles of attendees
  • The desired business outcomes of the prospect company
  • Barriers to achieving the outcome (shortcomings in their current environment)
  • Capabilities that address barriers that must be shown to the buyers

Keep in mind demos are proof of the capabilities sellers have helped buyers realize they need.

Sales Tips: Setting the Pace with Buyers

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®

It seems that salespeople are always trying to speed up sales cycles. Part of it I suspect is due to the monthly, quarterly or annual pressures salespeople and their managers deal with on an ongoing basis. My general experience is that:

  • Opportunities that are likely to close move at a fairly brisk pace.
  • Those that plod along seem to slowly lead to buyers making no decision.

setting pace with buyers

Start with a SOE

After gaining access to buying committees for large transactions, we suggest negotiating a written sequence of events (SOE) that defines the steps that need to be taken to make a written understanding of buyer needs and the recommendation and pricing to address them.

If buyers agree to the SOE, there are three (3) things that sellers should do:

  1. Ask if this is the right time to commit the efforts and resources needed to evaluate the offering being considered. If, for example there is a pending acquisition, key position that isn’t staffed, reorganization, etc., it will be difficult to proceed with the evaluation and sellers may be better served to resume when the timing is better.
  1. Ask the buying committee their timeframe as to when they would like to receive a written proposal. This allows sellers to align with buyers and remove the temptation to focus on a seller’s agenda (i.e. quarter or year-end) to recognize revenue.
  1. A potential accelerator can be created if value can be established with as many Key Player goals as possible. If these buyers can quantify improvement from baselines (where they are without the offering being considered) the committee may recognize there is a cost of delay.

After potential benefits have been recognized, buyers are incented NOT to drag their feet in doing evaluations.

Save the Infographic below for easy reference:

INFOGRAPHIC_How to Set the Pace with Buyers

Sales Tips: Honest Customer Feedback is the Cure for Insanity

Guest post from Primary Intelligence, CCS® Partner

It’s been said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

This is obviously a cultural rather than a medical definition, but if you sell for a living, and you cannot figure out what you’re doing that’s causing you to lose deals you were sure you were going to win, you might start to feel like you’re losing your mind.

When you get some honest feedback, and start doing different things, the outcomes change, and the insanity goes away. Suddenly the world makes a lot more sense, and you’re closing a lot more deals.

Customer Feedback

Tell the Truth

If you want to one day benefit from honest feedback, you should start building truth-telling relationships. That means telling prospects “no” when “no” is the correct answer. “No, our solution won’t do that yet.” “No, I cannot offer you a larger discount.” “No, we cannot implement the solution any faster than that.”

You can steer them to positive features of the solution or favorable aspects of the contract terms, but being honest is key to becoming a trusted advisor, a key position in B2B sales.

Creating a relationship of mutual honesty takes courage because when you’re selling, you want to present desirable solutions. But in order to influence the final decision, it’s best to be seen as an expert rather than a “pleaser.”

Hear the Truth

When someone – a friend, a co-worker, a supervisor, a client, or a prospect – is honest with you, it is proof that you are respected and admired. People are honest when they know that you are strong, capable and smart enough to hear the truth. They don’t have to pretend everything is fine when it’s not. They don’t have to pretend you did a great job when you didn’t. Because, to amend the famous line from A Few Good Men, “you can handle the truth.”

You need to hear the truth so you can improve – your preparation, your pitch, your presentation, your product – and win more deals in the future. Colin Powell said, “There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work and learning from failure.” Sales can be a hard career unless you view failures as opportunities to learn and are willing to listen. Other people hold the lesson to your failures and your successes.

And yes, you can also learn from your successes. What did you do right? How can you make sure you repeat those good practices that helped you close the deal? The truth isn’t always bad. Sometimes, it’s commendation and acknowledgement of the preparation and hard work you put in to be successful.

Elicit the Truth

First, you start down the honesty path, as stated above. If you are not honest with your prospects, you will be lucky to get any feedback at all, and if you do, it will likely be painful to hear. Successful professionals want to work with people they trust, and avoid people they don’t trust.

Second, ask for the feedback as a favor – a positive form of assistance rather than some kind of bitter medicineyou have to take. Explain that constructive criticism will help you be more successful. Otherwise, people’s desire to be polite and not hurt feelings can filter out the hard truths you need.

Third, ask for tips on ways to improve rather than just their opinions. The people you are selling to have seen lots of sales presentations, some that work, many that don’t. Allowing the feedback to come as a helpful tip removes any uneasy feelings that might come from criticism alone.

Get the Right Truth

The only honest customer feedback that really matters is the truth told by the decision-maker. Do your best to get that feedback directly from the source. It doesn’t make sense to change what you do based on feedback from people who didn’t make the decision. While their feedback may be generally helpful, the adjustments you make might not be aligned with the result you want – winning more deals.

Conclusion

The world of B2B sales begins to make a lot more sense when you know why buyers say “yes” and why they say “no.” But until you have those answers, you are going through the same motions and pitches every day and getting the same results. It is insanity: it’s hard work, it’s disappointing, and it’s leaving deals behind that you might have won. Learning from honest feedback makes the world of B2B sales a much saner – and more successful – place.

Sales Tips: Losing Slowly – 6 Signs That All Is NOT Well

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®

You would enjoy a lavish life style if you were on the PGA tour and finished second in each golf tournament you entered. In stark contrast a salesperson that came in second on every opportunity would have to live on their base salary and make frequent job changes. By its nature selling is a winner take all proposition. There are no parting gifts or consolation prizes.

During a workshop I taught, a CEO had an epiphany he shared with his team:

Most of his salespeople had an annoying habit of losing slowly.

warning-signBy that he meant they worked on many opportunities that had little chance of closing. These deals remained in their pipelines (pipe dreams) to make it appear as though the numbers could be made.

Sellers ultimately must decide which opportunities to pursue. Competent sellers understand the difference between activity and progress.

The worst possible outcome of sales cycles is going the distance and losing, whether it be to another vendor or to no decision.

In many cases, sellers fail (or are afraid) to see signs that all is NOT well:

  • Buyers already had budget in place, often provided by “Column A” vendors
  • Buyers already had determined their requirements
  • Sellers had limited or no chance to influence the requirements list
  • Sellers couldn’t gain access to Key Players
  • Sellers couldn’t establish value
  • Proposals issued months ago hang in their pipelines

Many sellers fail to realize buyers may need pricing/proposals from other vendors to make comparisons or to leverage pricing to get a better deal from the vendor of choice.

If access to Key Players isn’t granted, sellers do have the option to say they are unable to make a recommendation without first understanding the needs of Key Players.

This can become a “quid pro quo” of gaining access in exchange for submitting a proposal. If buyers refuse to grant access, it allows sellers to lose more quickly and look for better opportunities to work on. This is consistent with the core concept of “bad news early is good news.”

A question for your consideration: Over the last 12 months, how many opportunities have you chosen to walk away from? My hope is that the time you would have spent losing could be spent finding winnable opportunities.

A final parting thought: After Column A is awarded the business, Columns B, C, etc. are often told they came in second. It’s the most expedient way to let them down without rehashing why they lost.

When in doubt, save the below infographic for easy reference:

INFOGRAPHIC_6 signs that all is not well

Sales Tips: 5 Steps to Quantifying Value for Buyers

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®

In initial calls it is important for sellers to conduct them in a way that helps buyers conclude they are sincere and competent. In my mind these are pre-requisites for having buyers share their business goals (or problems) so that potential value can be determined.

establish value

Once a goal has been shared, sellers should try to perform these five (5) steps to quantify value for buyers:

  1. Establish base lines. For example, if a VP of manufacturing wants to reduce scrap a seller should ask what percentage of production must be scrapped and/or what dollar amount that represents.
  1. Ask questions to determine if there is a trend and that by projecting a year ahead buyers could see increased benefits. Sellers can pose questions such as:
  • What was your percentage of scrap last year?
  • Have scrap percentages been increasing?
  1. Help buyers understand the barriers to achieving the goal that can be addressed by features or capabilities of the offering being discussed.
  1. Based upon the barriers the buyer shared, offer the specific capabilities that address them and ask if they would empower them to achieve their goal.
  1. If a buyer agrees, the seller can try to quantify benefit by asking: If you had these capabilities how much improvement do you think you could realize?

Remember: Establishing value can be a competitive differentiator.

Sellers that focus on goals, baselines, trends and quantifying improvement can instill a greater sense of urgency to take actions that can result in higher win rates.

Save the infographic below for easy reference.

INFOGRAPHIC_5 Steps to Quantifying Value for Buyers

Win Loss Best Practices: Competitive Intelligence Leads to Strategic Decisions

Guest post by Primary Intelligence, CustomerCentric Selling® Partner

Any electrical socket around you provides a tap to a near endless supply of energy. Inside the wires, there is enough power to run a houseful of gadgets, recharge your electric car or deliver an awful shock (don’t try that at home).

But, until you use the power to do something (turn on the lights, recharge your phone, etc.), it really doesn’t offer much value. For the electricity to be effective, it must power something that is important to you. Otherwise, it is just a bunch of electrons with potential energy sitting in copper wiring.

Your competitive intelligence is very similar to the electricity in your wires. You can collect as much competitive intelligence as you like, but until someone uses it to power change in your company, it really isn’t effective at all.

competitionCompetitive Intelligence for Strategy

Your competitive intelligence is most effective if it:

  1. Strengthens your company’s position when you compete
  2. Enhances your offerings to create desirable solutions that customers will buy

Answer These Competitive Analysis Questions

To maximize effectiveness, we recommend answering these questions:

1. Top-line Revenue

  • Does this intelligence create new revenue opportunities?
  • Can we take away sales from the competition?
  • Will our existing accounts stay longer and be more profitable?

2. Bottom-line

  • Can we be more efficient or learn best practices?
  • Are there better ways to manage our processes?

3. Application

  • How easily will we be able to act on this data?

What’s Your Best Source for Competitive Intelligence? Your Customers!

How often do you talk to your customers? If you add up the touches made by sales, account management, marketing, and other client-facing services in your company, you might find that each of your customers is talking to you on a regular basis.

You should have a central management group that has established some formal information gathering processes. Very common programs would include Customer Satisfaction, Account Loyalty, Win-back, Win Loss, Client Retention and Defection. Usually, these programs fall under the heading of “Voice of the Customer” (VOC). (Check out our Resources page to learn more about these programs.)

So, you have two types of contact:

  1. Informal, everyday conversations
  2. Formal programs to gather Voice of the Customer data

The fact of the matter is that your customers know nearly as much about the competition as they do about you. They evaluated the competition before selecting you as their vendor. They are regularly courted by the competition and many of your best clients also have purchased from your competitors, either in the past or currently.

Take a minute to see if your win loss program is generating competitive intelligence.

buyer-meeting-customer-experienceIn our experience, most customer satisfaction and loyalty interviews focus on the client’s experience with their present vendor. Go one step further and:

  1. Ask your clients who they perceive as your biggest threats.
  2. Find out what they are hearing about the competitors’ recent initiatives and offers.
  3. Understand how you stack up in various performance areas.

Put the Competitive Intelligence Collected to Work

The competitive information collected from your customers will not only be enlightening but will show your company what is happening in the market place in real time. (For more reading, download 7 Competitive Intelligence Strategies Used by Successful B2B Companies.)

Your company will benefit in the following ways:

  1. Sales will know what is being said about your company by the competitors. They will have more intelligence to sell more effectively and counter negative messages.
  2. Marketing will know what the prospects and clients value in the marketplace and will be able to establish messaging that drive home the most important value propositions.
  3. Product Development will know the advances being made by the competition and will understand how well these innovations may be received by the marketplace.
  4. Executives will have the right competitive intelligence to make strategic decisions.

Last thoughts:

Are you sharing competitive intelligence with the stakeholders in a timely manner to make sure that your company is capitalizing on the market as efficiently as possible?

Collecting data and sharing customer insights are valuable competitive strategies, but competitive intelligence must be converted to actionable decisions if you truly want change.