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March 2014

Stop Being a Product-Focused Salesperson

James Rogers

Today’s guest blog post is by James Rogers, chief marketing officer at Avention. 

 



According to Forrester Research, executive buyers today are frustrated by “product-focused” salespeople. Executives don’t want to hear all about your product. They can learn about your offering (not to mention your competitor’s offering) online. Give executives a reason to talk with you – demonstrate that you understand how to help them solve their most pressing business challenges.

How can you, the salesperson, push beyond a product-focused conversation? There are a couple of challenges here: first, sellers and marketers might have access to lots of information online, but they don’t have hours to sort through it all to find the right information they need about a particular prospect’s business challenges.

Second, even if they do manage to learn about a prospect’s business challenges, decision makers want to talk about those challenges only when those issues are top of mind (or when they’re not thinking about the crisis of the moment). Sure, you can employ the persistence method, but you might succeed in annoying your prospect instead of coming across as a valuable advisor.

What salespeople really need is the power to get filtered data about their prospects’ business challenges from multiple sources and in real time. Not only will filtered data tell you what to talk about with your potential buyers, it can also help determine the best time to reach out. At Avention, we empower salespeople by alerting them whenever information appears online that might in some way be related to a customer or prospect’s business challenges. In this way, we help sales and marketing teams capitalize on a wealth of information that intelligently searches for leads, identifies market opportunities, and provides relevant business insight that can't be found anywhere else.

Based on feedback from our most successful users, here are three things you should look for in a business-information solution that will help you become the kind of salesperson your buyers want to talk to.

The database should allow you to perform highly specific searches. Identifying leads based on basic attributes is OK, but it’s more powerful if you can search the way you think – according to concepts, themes, trends, and business issues. This is the first step in identifying your organizational “sweet spot.”  At Avention, we sort through structured and unstructured data through our Conceptual SearchSM and Business SignalsSM.

Let business information reduce your research time. Data can help sales and marketing teams organize real-time information that triggers them when a relevant opportunity exists. The right business-information solution can work for you by mining for those opportunities 24/7 so that salespeople have nonstop knowledge of when and how they should be engaging prospects.

Streamline the research process by establishing your ideal prospect. Business-information solutions should save you time and money. After salespeople determine the type of prospect that aligns with their offering, real-time data can help them stay on top of this Ideal ProfileSM according to the characteristics they’ve selected. Since salespeople need to keep up with an ever-changing marketplace, these profiles should be stored, listed, and updated with new information so that the most relevant prospects are front and center.

The right business-information solution can transform the selling process for your sales force. See for yourself and sign up for a free trial of the Avention Advantage at http://www.avention.com/free-trial/


New Sales Managers: Navigating the First Major Career Pivot

Behar 146 (2)Today's post is by Norman Behar, Managing Partner, Sales Readiness Group, Inc., a leading professional sales training company that develops customized sales and sales management programs for business-to-business sales organizations.

 

 

Here is an all too familiar story: A sales organization needs to fill an open position for a frontline sales manager and decides to promote its brightest, best performing sales professional into this position. Unfortunately, after three to six months it becomes apparent that the sales rep isn't able to get the performance from the team that was expected. To make matters worse, the team has lost their best hunter because this person is now spending his or her time trying to figure out how to motivate, lead, recruit, manage and coach their team. The new sales manager's days are numbered if he or she isn't able to quickly improve performance, and in the meantime, the organization struggles to hit its numbers.

So, what happened here? The organization promoted a top performer based on his or her strong performance as an individual contributor and then expected these skills to transfer over to being a sales manager. They optimistically (and somewhat naively) expected the top performer to navigate this first significant career pivot – moving from being an individual contributor to managing a team - without a roadmap or the appropriate training support.  Unfortunately, the skills, knowledge and expertise necessary to perform as a great frontline sales manager are fundamentally different than the skills that made the individual excel as a sales professional -- yet we often fail to appropriately equip the new manager with the tools and skills to do the new job.

Selling vs. Managing

Consider the specific selling skills that top sales professionals excel:

  • Prospecting
  • Asking questions
  • Building rapport
  • Listening
  • Presenting solutions
  • Handling objections
  • Negotiating
  • Gaining commitment

While a sales manager must be proficient in these selling skills, ultimately the sales manager must excel at achieving results through others. This requires a completely different set of skills, including:

  • Recruiting and selecting the right team members
  • Setting team goals and priorities
  • Managing performance
  • Coaching and developing selling skills in others
  • Leading and motivating

These management skills are not obvious to the new sales manager or easy to develop on their own. That is why making this first major career pivot is so challenging for many sales managers.

This is similar to the phenomena in sports where the best athletes in the game do not necessarily make the best coaches and managers. There are numerous of examples in every sport where the greatest individual contributors become mediocre managers, often because they lack the skills and aptitude necessary to make this career pivot. This is not to say that star performers can’t become successful managers, but we shouldn’t assume that the transition will be automatic based on exceptional performance in a different position.

Making the Pivot

Sales managers face numerous challenges making this first major career pivot. While in some cases the new sales manager will have a good mentor or senior manager to teach them these skills and they can emulate their behavior, this is usually the exception. The new manager is more likely to use trial and error to develop their own repertoire of management techniques that enable them to achieve a reasonable level performance from their team members. Hopefully the manager is able to develop these skills quickly enough allow them to keep their position and become proficient as a manager. 

If the organization decides to procure training for their sales managers, they may find that many programs marketed as Sales Management Training are actually retooled sales process training programs designed to go along with a proprietary sales methodology also offered by the training vendor (e.g., “here’s how to manage the steps of the sales process we just trained your reps on”). They may also find generic management and leadership training programs that are lacking sales specifics, such as training on the key behaviors, skills, performance indicators and sales coaching conversations necessary to manage a high-performing sales team. 

So how can a sales manager successfully make this first major career pivot? What is needed is a training program designed to develop the specific skills needed by the sales manager, conducted over a period of time necessary to practice, adopt and perfect the new skills. It is not enough to send the manager to a one or two day workshop – the training needs to be integrated into an ongoing sales management development program.  

In part two of this blog, we’ll discuss how to implement a successful Sales Management Development Program.


Three Characteristics of Successful Proposals

GlenCohenToday's guest post is by Glen Cohen, vice president of Paperless Proposal

 

 

We like to think that our prospects receive our proposals with the excitement of a kid opening presents on Christmas morning; however, if we’re honest with ourselves, we know that this is rarely the case. I’ve found that most customers just don’t want to read as much anymore. Instead, they’ll skim proposals, often skipping straight to the price tag.

This isn’t great for sales. An almost exclusive focus on price is a fast race to the bottom and leaves you little room to differentiate. Great salespeople tell compelling stories that evoke emotion: excitement, curiosity, amazement, and intrigue. All of those elements tend to be missing from today’s proposals.

Perhaps that’s partly because traditional proposals are as unexciting for salespeople to produce as they are for prospects to read. Salespeople don’t want to log in a lot of computer time; they’d rather be spending time interacting with customers and building relationships.

I’ve found that the following three characteristics are common to almost all successful proposals:

1) The proposal is easy to put together and access. Salespeople do better when they feel a sense of freedom and excitement about putting together a great proposal. When they have to go to five different places to pick up templates and files, they feel weighed down and frustrated by inefficiency.

Prospects and customers respond better when a proposal is visually appealing, easy to scroll through, and encapsulated in a single, easily accessible place.

2) The proposal incorporates video. There is no denying that video is a compelling medium. The incredible popularity of YouTube has shown that many people would rather watch a three-minute video than read three paragraphs of text.

3) The proposal allows for great storytelling. When you watch a movie in a theater, you enter an atmosphere that envelops you in a story. The lights are dimmed, you’re in a comfortable chair, your cell phone is off, and all you can see and hear is what’s in front of you. In short, you are transported to another world. A great proposal keeps the prospect engaged in the moment. The proposal doesn’t require the prospect to open URLs in different tabs or download attachments.

Proposals that evoke curiosity, interest, and excitement are a differentiator in today’s bleak landscape of PDFs and PowerPoint presentations. Customers want to be led on a journey to value and success, and great salespeople want to take them there. That’s why we’ve designed a solution that is clever, easy, and elegant and speaks to the way salespeople want to sell and customers want to buy. We’re also in it for the journey – and for the celebration that goes along with making something great.

See a free demo of Paperless Proposal.


Why It's Important to Agree with Your Customer

JohnWatsonToday's guest post is by John Watson.

 

 

What is the one thing that, if not accomplished, will completely derail your sales cycle?

Always agree with the customer. This, by the way, is different from the oft-repeated phrase, “The customer is always right.” The customer is not always right. In fact, customers are often wrong, but that does not change the fact that, in order to make a sale, you must start by agreeing with them, no matter what they say or how off-base they are.   

If you are selling a product or service and the customer’s immediate reaction is, “That is WAY too expensive, and there is no possible way I could afford that,” then your response needs to be, “I agree that this is certainly expensive. I want you to know that my job is to find you the product that fits your needs exactly at a price that is agreeable to you. Is that fair enough? Would you allow me to show you some of the unseen benefits of what this can do for you?”

It can be a challenge when a customer says something that is, in our minds, as far from the truth as it could get. Why would the customer say something we know to be obviously untrue? Maybe he or she doesn’t yet know as much about the product as we thought. Maybe you need to ask more fact-finding questions to determine what product really is best for the client. Maybe you need to spend more time building value into your product or service.   

The bottom line: agree with customers to keep moving forward in your sales cycle as you help them better understand the benefits of the product or service you’re selling. Go over the top with your agreement. If you want the customer to agree to purchase, you must be agreeable first.  

A sales cycle breaks down when you and the customer cannot come to an agreement. In order to come to that final agreement, the purchase of your product or service, you must be agreeable the entire time that you’re in contact with the customer. 

Practice agreement: for the next 24 hours, agree with everyone with whom you’ll speak: your wife, children, co-workers, etc. Practice agreeing with them first and then presenting your solution.


Customer 2.0 Has Changed Outbound Prospecting

JosianeFeigonToday's post is by Josiane Feigon, author of Smart Sales Manager and Smart Selling on the Phone and Online and founder of TeleSmart Communications.  

 

The inside sales world has been fairly good at adapting to the new technology, and its points about integrated CRM tools and the complete transformation of cold calling seem like conventional wisdom today.

But new technological functionality isn’t the only reason that the prospecting landscape has shifted. Today’s Customer 2.0 has a dramatically different approach to the buying process, and many inside sales organizations are still scrambling to catch up to the changes:

  • Gone are the days when customers answered their phones and receptionists put your calls through. This has changed the value and place of the phone call. Today, inside sales teams need to approach prospects via multiple channels at once (voice + social + email) to have any real shot at a response. They also need to do their research before ever reaching out, finding the key power players via LinkedIn, and develop an initial pitch specific to the prospect’s needs.
  • Gone are the days when customers patiently sat through demos, accepted appointments, and even insisted that you walk them through the entire sales process. Customer 2.0 wants bite-size, easily digestible content, such as infographics and short YouTube videos. These customers also want to do their own research on your company and its services before taking any serious time with a sales rep. Then they’ll probably disappear for months…then suddenly come back and want everything to move NOW!
  • Gone are the days when you hired a professional team of solution-selling salespeople and aligned them with the field.
  • Gone are the days when sales reps put in time and paid their dues, engaged in meaningful conversations with prospects, and were so excited when you gave out Starbucks gift cards as a little bonus. That’s because, just like Customer 2.0, Talent 2.0 has moved onto the scene and is changing things from within.

Getting to know the new, independent Customers 2.0 – what they like, what they want, and what they need – is one of the best investments you can make with your inside sales team.

Download your copy of the 14 Smart Inside Sales Trends in 2014 report and stay ahead of today's rapidly changing Sales 2.0 trends.