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Sales Tips: Where You Start Impacts the Outcome

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®

The quality of a salesperson’s life in pursing opportunities is highly dependent on their starting point in the organization.

Starting Point in Opportunities

I hope you would agree that starting at Key Player or decision maker levels is likely to result in:

  • higher win rates
  • larger transactions
  • shorter sales cycles

Starting at low levels and trying to climb the corporate ladder can be hard rock mining. Each new person may have the ability to stop the product evaluation. My general rule is:

  • When calling at high levels, sellers should try to avoid asking questions the buyer may not be able to answer as you run the risk of being delegated downward.
  • When calling at lower levels, asking business-oriented questions that the prospect can’t or doesn’t want to share is a reasonable tact to take.

Sellers and buyers should want to avoid wasting time. If a seller’s contact can’t identify areas of value the seller can ask if he/she could introduce them to a person that can. I think it’s important that buyer and seller consider early on if the benefits would provide adequate justification to warrant a purchase.

If and when a prospect will share desired business outcomes they may be willing to serve as a champion in granting access to other stakeholders that have additional areas of potential benefit.

Sales Tips: Three Questions to Predict if Your Customer Will Renew

Courtesy of Primary Intelligence, a CustomerCentric Selling® Partner

Building a strong customer base is a game of inches, as the football analogy goes. To sell the deal, you have to find the right market, build the right product, and create a strong buying experience. But, as we all know, that’s only the first touchdown. You continue to sell and resell your product every day the customer uses it (or worse: doesn’t use it). You’re reaching for the next touchdown — a renewal, new engagement, or up-sell — with every customer interaction.

renewals

It’s the norm now for companies to track and measure the experience of their customers after the sale, and spending for customer retention programs is on the rise. A 2014 Harvard Business Review survey found 53% of executives saw customer experience management as a potential competitive advantage and 45% made it a strategic priority. And yet, how customer experience measurement is done widely varies.

What’s the Purpose of Customer Experience Management?

More importantly, what executives think customer experience management can and should do for their organization is largely still up for debate. Should it drive loyalty and/or improve NPS scores? Increase customer referrals? Decrease costs? Help you gain market share? All of the above?

Let me wade into the debate. The core focus of every B2B customer experience program should be learning how to retain and grow customer revenue.

If your customer experience program is not telling you how likely your current customers are to renew or expand their spending with you in the near and long term, you’re missing a critical metric of success. Typically as much as 80% of a company’s revenue comes from its existing customer base. That means even a modest churn rate can cause a dent in your revenue.

So, how can you predict your customer retention? There are two main methods:

  1. Ask your customers if they will renew.
  2. Understand your customer’s experience.

Asking Your Customers if They Will Renew is Good

When you ask a customer outright if they plan on renewing with you, the answer is called stated data, meaning that’s the answer the customer said. There is definite value in stated data. For example, what if your largest customer said, “I’m not sure if we’ll renew. Our purchasing department recently told us we have to do a competitive bid for all large contracts, so we’ll need to do one for your product as well.” Clearly that is great information to have — you can start preparing now for a competitive renewal bid.

However, customers can’t always articulate what is most important to them. Or, in some cases, they may give an answer they think they should (eg: I’ll say price is most important to me just so you will give me discounts.) And in the case of renewals, they may hold off giving you a realistic answer because there is an existing relationship, they want to avoid sales pressure, or they just don’t know yet. So, while it’s extremely valuable to have candid conversations with customers about what’s important, I find it less helpful to collect stated data in this case. Instead, I would recommend derived data.

Understanding Your Customer’s Experience is Best

You can derive the answer to your renewal question by understanding your customer’s current experience with your solution by looking back in the rear view mirror to see what’s happened so far in their journey. Let’s start with the three core questions you need to ask the customer.

Question Question 1: What are the most important benefits you want my solution to deliver?

Customers purchase products to receive benefits. No one buys a phone system to have a phone system, but rather to be able to communicate effectively with others. This question will help you understand the outcome or result that drove the customer to purchase your solution in the first place. If possible, ask the customer to be specific about the benefit. For example, if they say they want “reduced cost”, ask if there was a certain percent decrease they were hoping to accomplish.

I like to provide customers a list of potential benefits to select from to make the analysis easier, but you need to be careful about leading — make sure you include plenty of “other” options so they can write in benefits you might not have thought of. You can also definitely ask this question as an open-ended statement, providing no options to pick from.

TruVoice Watermark Question 2: How well is my solution delivering those benefits?

This question can be asked as a scaled question (eg: rate from 0 to 10) or on a text-based Likert scale(somewhat, not at all, etc.).

It’s important to ask about the specific benefits mentioned in question one. If the customer wanted reduced costs, increased efficiency, and better employee engagement, make sure you ask about how well the solution has delivered all three of those benefits specifically. If the list gets long, ask the customer to narrow down to the top three benefits they care most about.

Do not miss the opportunity to follow-up for more details on any high or low rated items. Ask neutral probing questions like, “Please tell me why you rated X that way.”

Most importantly: Do not use this as a sales opportunity! Don’t explain that the customer simply missed a feature of your solution! There will be time for clarification and follow-up LATER. If you do it now, you’ll risk cutting off the candid feedback and interrupting the flow of discussion.

TruVoice Watermark Question 3: How much effort was required to experience those benefits?

While this question might seem quirky at first, it’s the most important. A Corporate Executive Board (CEB) study found 94% of customers who have a low effort experience will purchase again. So, it’s critical to ask about the effort required.

I like to ask this as a scaled question (eg: rate from 0 to 10) because you can get more specific in your measurement, but make sure to follow-up with the customer to get more details. Try something like, “What specific processes or features did you consider when determining that effort score?” or “Please explain what type of effort you were expecting the solution to require.” or even “Tell me about a recent experience you had with the solution that felt more difficult than expected.”

One quick note about this question: the effort will be relative for each customer. While one customer might think it’s “easy” to pull a report from your software, another customer might gauge the same actions as “difficult”. That’s okay. What you are measuring here is the customer’s perception of effort. Customers who feel like the solution is difficult are more likely to seek easier solutions, putting you at risk for renewal.

Evaluating The Experience to Determine Retention

Now that you have the answers to these three questions, you can use the answers to derive likelihood of renewal. A very simple calculation might be:

((Number of benefits experienced strongly) / (Expected benefits))  / (Effort required)

For example:

Benefits experienced calculation

You might calculate that as: ((Number of benefits experience strongly = 1) /  (Expected benefits = 3)) / (Avg effort required = 7.3) = 4.5% likelihood to renew

I’ll reiterate this is a very simple version of the calculation you actually need to do, but even before you calculate, you should have a sense that this account might be in jeopardy because the customer is not experiencing all the benefits they want and the effort required is very high. You need to develop an action plan to help them experience the benefits and/or ease the burden of effort.

It’s All About Outcomes

I’ll leave you with these words of wisdom from our CEO, Ken Allred:

“In reality, the biggest influence on your customer’s experience is your ability to deliver the outcomes they wanted when they decided to buy from you. You can provide the best support in the world, have wonderful relationships, and be beloved by your customers, but if you can’t deliver what you promised, your customer will leave you as soon as they find someone who can.”

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.


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: 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: 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: 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: 6 Strategies to Get Buyers to Talk to You

By Connie Schlosberg, Primary Intelligence

Are you having a hard time getting buyers to talk to you?

How many times have you tried to find out how your most recent sales opportunity went and got no response? Or attempted to talk to a customer to see how it is going only to hear crickets? Frustrating, isn’t it?

After completing well over 20,000 interviews with busy buyers, we’ve learned a thing or two on how to get them to talk to us. We also know:

Getting feedback from buyers is the best way to improve your win rates.

And talking to your current customers to see what benefits they’re receiving from your solution is a highly effective plan to retain them. By going straight to the source, you discover what is and isn’t working for you and most importantly, why.

Here’s an infographic sharing our top 6 strategies to get the conversation started.

Top-6-Strategies-to-Get-Buyers-to-Talk-to-You

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