Three New Facts You Need to Know about Your Buyer’s Journey

Alison Murdock headshotToday’s post is by Alison Murdock, VP of Marketing at 6sense. Join 6sense at the INMarket conference in San Francisco on July 8 to learn more about innovations for B2B sales and marketing teams. Register here and use code BLOG for a special 25 percent discount.

 

If you’ve been paying attention to trends in the B2B sales profession for the past few years, you’ve probably noticed the term “buyer’s journey” slowly overtaking what used to be called “the sales cycle.”

That’s not to say the sales cycle no longer exists. But, since B2B buyers have moved online en masse to research offerings and make purchases, the language of the sales profession has shifted to reflect the fact that buyers have taken control of the sales cycle. Salespeople do not control access to information the way they used to. The buyer is now in the driver’s seat. Thus, we now talk about the buyer’s journey – not the sales cycle.

Has this rendered salespeople irrelevant? Much ink has been spilled debating this idea, and many thought leaders, analysts, and experts have cited a single statistic that originated with SiriusDecisions research: 67 percent of the buyer’s journey is now done digitally. Although SiriusDecisions never explicitly announced that salespeople were becoming obsolete (nor was that their underlying intent), many people misinterpreted their research.

How do I know this? I attended the recent SiriusDecisions Summit, where analysts Jennifer Ross and Marisa Kopec discussed results from the firm’s new survey, which was intended to expand on their original findings and clarify their position. Their research reflected responses from 1,000 B2B executives who had been involved in a significant B2B purchase decision within the previous six months. The data represents an estimated half-billion dollars in B2B purchases across North America and Europe.

I outlined six key takeaways from the survey in a separate post (“Yes, Sales Reps Still Matter to B2B Buyers: 6 Takeaways from #SDSummit 2015”). But one of the most interesting points that I want to highlight for sales leaders is that a single buyer’s journey does not exist. According to Ross and Kopec, there are actually three distinct buying scenarios. Here are the characteristics of each one.

Buying Scenario #1: Committee

  • phased, hierarchical, and tiered

  • typically involves a six-month sales cycle

  • purchase price is greater than $500K

Buying Scenario #2: Consensus

  • team based or cross functional

  • purchase cycle takes less than six months

  • purchase price is anywhere from $50K to $500K

Buying Scenario #3: Independent

  • does not rely on a committee

  • deals close in days or weeks

  • transactional in nature

  • purchase price is around $50K or less

It’s probably easy to see which category your offering falls into, but the further revelations from Ross and Kopec are what is truly interesting: each buying scenario has implications for whether – and when – you should pursue non-human (digital) interactions, or human-to-human (salespeople) interactions. According to their research, as price increases, human interactions become more important.

The implication is clear. Companies need a mix of digital and human interactions with their buyers, and they need to carefully consider which method they deploy based on their typical buying scenario.

Buyers today leave a rich digital footprint of what they want and need. Sales tools have evolved accordingly. Specifically, predictive intelligence tools can help you predict which customers are highly likely to buy; who is in the buying committee; what products they want and need; and when they are likely to buy. In other words, predictive intelligence tells you which of your prospects are “in market” – whatever their buying stage may be. Are they just beginning their research or leaning in to make a purchase in the next 90 days?

These are some fascinating trends and times for B2B. And we’ll be diving right into those at the upcoming INMarket conference, hosted by 6sense, in San Francisco on July 8. Executives from such companies as Box, Salesforce, LinkedIn, Cisco, Xactly, and Forrester will be speaking. We invite you to join us. Register here and use code BLOG for a special 25 percent discount.

Which buyer’s scenario best fits your offering? Share your thoughts in the comments section or tweet using the hashtag #InMarket15.


4 Ideas to Help You Build Rapport and Relationships with Clients

LaVon Koener 2 (1)Today's post is by LaVon Koerner, chief revenue officer of Revenue Storm, a global sales consulting and revenue acceleration firm. Join LaVon and Selling Power for this Webinar on June 3rd, "How to Accurately Qualify Opportunities." 

 

What’s the best way for sellers to build relationships and rapport with prospects and customers these days? 

Back in the golden era of selling, you’d walk into a client’s office and desperately search for something on their walls or desk to talk about. The goal was to find something that mattered to them and connect on a more personal level. If you weren’t thrown out, you’d quickly leverage one of your tried-and-true relationship weapons – lunch, golf, dinner, a gift, or even the occasional ride on the corporate jet. 

Boy, how things have changed! Besides the governance policies that most companies employ today – where accepting even a coffee mug with your logo on it is a violation – admiring the stuffed swordfish on the wall and asking, “What keeps you up at night?” isn’t going to cut it. The old rules of selling simply no longer apply.

The fact is, today’s business relationships – and all relationships, really – are built on value. Executives want to know what’s in it for them before they will consider investing time in you.

Most executives aren’t interested in golf games or idle chatter that leads to you showing them a 100-plus-slide capabilities presentation. Nor do executives want to train you on their company and issues so you can turn around and try to sell them something.

But don’t lose heart. There are potentially many ways you can deliver value. Consider the following four ideas.

  1. Provide thought leadership around how you might help them improve results or attain certain goals.

  2. Help them achieve recognition in their organization or industry for something they are doing or something you can help them do.

  3. Make key connections and introductions for them.

  4. Support events, programs, committees, or charitable/community organizations that are important to them.  

The most successful sales professionals understand that individual human beings – not companies – make decisions to buy. Relationship development is an intentional process that requires you to invest time doing careful research before walking through the door to determine the potential value you can offer. Additionally, it requires continued nurturing. You need to continually ask yourself, “what have I done for them lately?”  

Most importantly, building successful relationships requires you to take risks and work outside your comfort zone. Instead of “safe” discussions around your products, features, price, and company, you have to be savvy and brave enough to earn the right to have discussions around personal agendas, what they really want, and the personal motivations that are driving them. Only then can you begin to create bonds based on mutual trust, value, and success.

Business relationships today are oftentimes situational and temporary. They exist as long as the other party believes you still deliver value. Keep in mind that business relationships do not necessarily equal friendships. Just because someone “likes” you, doesn’t mean they will buy from you. Sure, everyone knows your name and smiles when you visit, but when was the last time your “friends” actually bought something from you?  

The next time you have an important meeting, think of it as a first date. Don’t make the critical error of talking about yourself, your company, or your products. The harsh reality is that no one cares about you until they understand what you can do for them. Do your homework, leave the logoed mug and your capabilities presentation at home, and (whatever you do) don’t ask about the stuffed fish on the wall!

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How Sales Leaders Can Create a Lasting Competitive Advantage

DuaneSparksToday's post is by Duane Sparks, founder and chairman of The Sales Board, the authoritative source for leading-edge information about the art and science of sales training. Duane is the author of Action Selling. Download his free white paper here: The New Role that Drives Sales Leader Value

 


Do you, as a sales leader, ever feel as if your competitors are trying to copy your every move?

If so, your experience mirrors what I’ve observed during decades of training and certifying thousands of salespeople. I’ve guided hundreds of companies through every phase of business development, and what I’ve noticed is that every industry is seeing the end of meaningful differentiation in products and services.

Common Differentiation Pitfalls

This is what makes sales leadership one of the toughest jobs in a company. As fast as you can come out with a new product, adopt a new sales methodology, or launch a new marketing campaign, your competitors jump on the bandwagon. Lacking a competitive advantage, many sales organizations respond in one or more of the following ways:

  1. They lower the price of their offering and/or offer deep discounts.
  2. They race to develop a new product without an understanding of its potential value in the market.
  3. They adopt a new sales methodology.

In some cases, these options might not be totally bad ideas; however, by and large, they are temporary fixes.

How to Leverage Sales Training to Differentiate

If you want to create a lasting competitive advantage that will be extremely difficult to copy, focus on building a team of the most competent salespeople in your industry through continuous sales training and sales coaching. In other words, don’t try to compete on product features, customer service, sales methodology, or messaging. Compete instead on the basis of sales skills.

When salespeople are properly trained, they are aware of what makes them most successful. This means they can continuously improve and show others how to get similar results.

What if you had an entire sales force made up of consciously competent people? What if your team members knew exactly what made them successful, and they could explain it to others in clear, concrete terms? It seems obvious that this would be the best possible situation for any team.

Why Sales Leaders Must Become Excellent Sales Trainers 

If your goal is to differentiate your company by developing your sales team’s skills, then you must lead the way as a sales leader. In fact, you must become intimately involved with the sales-training process and transform into an effective trainer in your own right; this point is essential. Remember:

  1. You cannot delegate sales training and coaching.
  2. You cannot rely on simply hiring superstar salespeople who won’t ever need sales training.
  3. You cannot neglect or avoid sales training because you have other priorities. 

Based on my experience, building a highly competent sales force through continuous training and coaching gets real results. Many years ago, I was vice president of sales and marketing for a small player in a fast-paced technology business. Without a differentiated sales position for the company, price was the only buying factor.

Fortunately for my company and its employees, we declared that we would become the best-trained sales force in our industry, and we meant it. Shortly after making that decision and implementing an aggressive plan for training our team, we began a seven-year spurt during which our growth was six times greater than the already explosive growth of our industry.

That’s when I learned the value of using sales leaders as sales trainers to establish a competitive advantage. 

To learn more about this approach, download this complimentary report, "The New Role that Drives Sales Leader Value." You’ll discover 1) the three duties of any sales leader, and 2) how you can avoid the common traps that plague sales-training efforts. Plus, you’ll get a free self-evaluation checklist that will enhance your training savvy as a sales leader.

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The Dirty Secret to Increasing Win Rates: It’s Not Call Quantity

LinaErohToday's post is by Lina Eroh, director of marketing and communications at Accuvit. Accuvit provides "conversation science" for inside sales teams, unearthing the data hidden in sales calls and using it to improve the quality of conversations.

 

You’ve hired the best reps. You’ve trained them on your script and armed them with the latest sales tools in the industry – yet close rates are still lagging. 

What’s the deal?

What if I told you that your focus on quantity of dials was hurting your team? Would you believe that?

It might seem counterintuitive, especially to sales managers who have staked their careers on a faithful adherence to the philosophy that more calls will lead to more deals and higher revenue. At Accuvit, however, we theorized that call quantity was not necessarily the defining factor of success for sales teams. So we performed an interesting experiment at two different sales organizations, both aiming for 100-plus dials a day, to see whether we could find proof that quantity hurts win rates.

The short answer: both organizations saw diminishing returns after 65 dials and a sweet spot of 40 to 60 dials a day. Reps who “failed” to meet the quantity target actually closed the most deals and brought in the most revenue.

Are you surprised? You shouldn’t be. Longer calls by definition take more time, which means fewer calls a day. 

Longer calls also lead to more deals. When we calculated the total length of calls that led to closed versus lost deals, we saw that “winning” calls lasted 1.8 times longer than “losing” calls. In other words, reps making winning calls should be making only half the number of calls that other reps make, since they’re on the phone for double the length of time. Of course, it’s not just the call that counts but what’s said on the phone, or as we like to think of it, the quality of the conversation.

Call quality is the mystery variable in sales analytics, because measuring the quality of a conversation is far from straightforward. Outside of listening to each call, it’s nearly impossible to train reps to have better conversations. Yet quality is a key metric when it comes to improving sales efficiency. Ignoring it affects your bottom line. 

That’s where we come in. Using a process we call Conversation Science™, we make it easy for managers to measure and track the quality of a pitch. We look at several measures to compute the quality score, including cadence mirroring and filler words, but today we’ll focus on adherence to scripts or call guides. After all, you spend tons of time writing these for your reps. Do they actually work to increase win rates?

The answer is a resounding yes. Our data shows the following:  

  • Using keywords from a well-written script leads to longer conversations.
  • Calls that progress through the funnel use 2.5 times the number of keywords!
  • The best conversations use 3.8 keywords a minute.
  • Using keywords at the very beginning of calls leads to longer calls (which lead to more wins). 

The bad news: our data showed that more than 30 percent of callers did not use any keywords. Considering that using keywords triples your chances of closing a deal, that’s nothing short of a fail.

One of the key benefits of Accuvit is that we can quickly show you who among your reps are using keywords and who are not. A side benefit is that you can see exactly what your best reps are doing – and saying.

After one month on Accuvit, leaders at one of our client companies noticed that their best salespeople were not the ones using the most keywords. When they looked at the transcripts, they also noticed that they were not sticking to the call guide. So they took a gamble and rewrote the guide to better mirror the tactics used by the best reps.

The results were astonishing. The close rate increased 41 percent when reps used the new script versus the old one, yet the managers wouldn’t have known to change the script had they not seen the stark contrast.

What would you do for a 40 percent increase in win rates? Here’s our answer: stop focusing on call quantity.

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Three Ways You Can Sell More to Existing Accounts

JenniferStanley_2Today’s guest post is by Jennifer Stanley, expert associate principal (marketing and sales practice) at McKinsey & Company.

 

 

 

There is a long-standing belief that salespeople are naturally “hunters” or “farmers,” but what do you do in a mature market where there seems to be little to hunt and no new fertile ground?

The key is finding pockets of profitable, micro growth opportunities to explore. It takes some effort and analytics, but it’s worth it. Companies whose sales forces routinely excel at finding latent demand, among other strategies for sales growth, tend to grow revenue almost 50 percent more than their peers.

Here are three steps you should take to build the insight needed to grow your business with existing customers. 

1. “De-average” customer sales trends.

An account’s historical growth rate is useless information. What you need to know is exactly where there could be growth tomorrow, and you need to know it at the micro level. There are two methods I regularly see succeed in all industries, though they are by no means the only ones to try:

  • First, map tiny territories inside your larger sales territory. For multilocation customers, know in which zip/post codes their business is growing. Measure your share with those customers in those tiny territories, and go after growth where you are underpenetrated (versus your average share across the territory).

  • Second, keep an eye on each customer’s plants or distribution points. Regularly ask where your customer plans to add capacity or more salespeople, and prioritize your new proposals there.  

2. Know the next product to buy.

Sometimes business-to-business sellers are so accustomed to exacting requests for proposals (RFPs) that they don’t prioritize bringing new ideas to customers. Take a page out of the consumer retailer’s handbook. One easy analysis that can come out of any customer relationship management system is the basket of products customers similar to yours are buying. Again, go micro: check to see which individual products or services are missing from your customer’s basket. Outside the RFP process, talk with your customer about new options. It could be a rich source of profitable growth, possibly up to 20 percent.

3. Investigate SKU swaps or repricing.

At an even more micro level, SKU swapping and repricing can lead to 3 to 5 percent improved account profitability. When customers are buying highly specified products, getting them to switch or pay a little more may seem an impossible task – but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. I spend a lot of time in the chemicals industry, where producing to a detailed spec is a basic requirement. There are always a few customers, however, who have been willing to explore switching or have accepted a revised price when sellers present compelling data, such as the following:

  • Your company is losing money on that specific SKU to that specific customer. If you are consistently unprofitable, that’s clearly not good for you, but it is also not good for your customer who may need security of supply. If another SKU is available with appropriate specifications, see if it’s possible to switch. If not, work to obtain a net price that is fair for both of you, or agree to strip out extra services the customer may not value.

  • Your customer isn’t buying a SKU that its own customers may value more. Is there a profitable product you have that could provide incremental benefits down the value chain? If so, bring it to your customer’s attention, and calculate for the customer what it could do for his or her profit.

In today’s world of flattening or low average growth rates, salespeople should embrace “hunting on the farm” as the new normal.

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Yes, Buyers Still Need Sellers!

Joanne BlackToday's post is by Joanne Black, America’s top referral sales expert. Visit www.nomorecoldcalling.com for more articles, tips, and free resources. You can also find Joanne on Twitter @ReferralSales.

 

There’s a new myth being circulated in the sales community. According to some “experts,” buyers know everything they need to know about our companies, products, and solutions before they ever speak to sellers.

They suggest that buyers don’t really need salespeople anymore, that the proliferation of information and the automation of sales have made sellers irrelevant. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Salespeople still have a role to play -- an important one. In fact, buyers might just need us now more than ever.

Computers Cannot Replace Me

Word-class salespeople know and care about their clients. We understand their most pressing business issues and greatest challenges. We know about developments in their industry and competitive landscape. We know what works and what doesn’t.

Buyers don’t need just information. They need help uncovering the best solutions to strengthen their business, and this is help comes, not from a “Click Here” link, but from an experienced salesperson who knows how to ask the right questions.

The Personal Touch Means More Than Ever

The more technology-driven this world gets, the more we appreciate the personal touch: real recognition, in-person communication, and actually getting to work with people. As John Naisbitt writes in High Tech/High Touch: Technology and Our Search for Meaning, “The more high tech, the more high touch we desire.”

Yes, there are certain things we’d rather do for ourselves online, but at the end of the day, we also want to do business with people. For example, when you travel by airplane, you no longer need a person to provide you with a flight schedule, sell you a ticket, or issue your boarding pass. Once you board that plane, however, I bet you want a flight attendant to greet you and serve refreshments, and you sure as heck want a human pilot in the cockpit.

It’s the same in sales: many customers would rather get information online, but when they have questions, they want quick, thoughtful responses from real, live, experienced salespeople. Before they’re going to sign on any dotted lines, they want to know they’re working with people they can trust. These types of connections are built through referral introductions and in-person communication, not through social networking.

The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

For the record, I am not technophobic, a Luddite, or afraid of change. As our world and culture change, so will sales –- and that’s OK. What doesn’t change is that our community is made up of people, and people need interaction. So step up and make a difference in your buyers’ lives and businesses. Help them succeed by being a top-notch, high-touch sales professional. Be a resource, a cheerleader, and a sounding board. Be part of the solution.

For more on how to leverage technology and relationships for sales success, get your copy of Pick Up the Damn Phone!: How People, Not Technology, Seal the Deal.

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How to Devise a Structured Sales-Compensation Plan

ChadBronsteinToday’s guest post is by Chad Bronstein, founder and CEO of Time to Hire, a company that uses proprietary keyword algorithms to comb through more than 100 million resumes on CareerBuilder, Monster, and other job search sites to find and match qualified commission-based sales reps for major companies, including Time Warner, Home Depot, Comcast, Verizon, Sears, and more.

Sales-commission structures can make or break business growth, yet many companies don’t give them the attention they deserve.

The key is to design, create, and implement a plan that continually evolves alongside the business. Organizations must have a clear understanding of the goals they’re trying to achieve and then tightly integrate them into the compensation structure so that it incentivizes actions that, not only promote growth, but have direct positive impact on employee earnings and the organization’s bottom line.

To get started, organizations need to do a reality check by considering these questions:

  • What size is the company?
  • How new is the company to the market?
  • How big is the company’s market share?
  • How long is the sales cycle?
  • What type of growth is the business trying to achieve?

Answering these questions will help determine the optimal commission structure. Remember, it should be aligned it with goals that drive increased profit. 

Once these basic questions are answered, organizations should begin outlining a plan in four main areas:

  1. Strategy: Do you offer increasing commission over time or after a certain number of successful sales? You need to intentionally design the commission plan so it accelerates reps through the ranks.
  2. Payout structure: Will you pay reps a set rate per close or base pay on profit margin or something else? This depends on your business’s product/service.
  3. Performance benchmarks: How will you monitor, manage, and report to your sales team? Are there certain quotas to meet? What are the monthly or quarterly goals? Are sales reps competing against each other?
  4. Problem procedures: Issues can and will occur. What if two reps determine they have closed the same client? There must be a clear plan in place that eliminates debate or arguments.

Next, the management team needs to clearly communicate what the compensation plan is intending to accomplish. To do this, the plan should be

  • well documented and freely available to all staff and potential candidates;
  • extremely simple, with no fine print, legal language, or confusing words;
  • clear about what needs to be accomplished to reach certain goals;
  • fair and enticing to both the employer and employee. 

Bonus tip: If the company is new, selling a new product, or entering a new market, it will require above-average compensation to attract the best salespeople. High-performing salespeople understand the value they bring. Before joining a new company, they consider the pros and cons by weighing potential earnings against potential risk. 

Finally, organizations must consider the specific elements of a commission structure and calculate the fine details:

How do you figure out the acceptable payment range?

Many companies determine fixed commissions by looking at the cost per good sold and base that against potential profit and earnings. Unfortunately, this approach tends to be complicated, as it can be calculated by using just manufacturing costs or by adding marketing, administrative, and other expenses.

How do you choose a type of commission? 

Companies that have room to negotiate price will typically use percentage of profit to drive the highest possible close. Others use a fixed commission per sale, but ideally there should be incentive for improvement by offering a commission “ladder.”

Additional considerations while working on a compensation plan:

  • Test out multiple structures over a certain time frame.
  • Ask candidates or current salespeople what would interest them.
  • Track all of the metrics involved in the commission structure.
  • Leave room in the budget for spur-of-the-moment sales contests.

By spending the additional time and effort to create a comprehensive plan, organizations can ultimately position themselves for higher growth.

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Where the Decision Makers Are

Today's post is by Dave Kurlan, founder and CEO of Objective Management Group Inc. and Kurlan & Associates, and author of Baseline Selling: How to Become a Sales Superstar by Using What You Already Know About the Game of Baseball.

 

Recently, I spoke to an audience made up of CEOs and their respective boards. When I speak to such groups, I tell them what they should expect from their sales leaders relative to all of the changes, trends, and best practices that have had an impact on sales organizations.

Interestingly, many are completely unaware of the following:

  1. The buyer’s journey and what it looks like.
  2. Sales managers and their role as coach.
  3. The migration of outside sales to inside.
  4. That longer sales cycles and lower win rates aren’t only issues for them.
  5. The myriad tools that help make salespeople and sales organizations more efficient.
  6. The social-selling and inbound movements.
  7. What a formal sales process should look like.
  8. How selling has changed.

It occurred to me that, while all of these CEOs and board members are on LinkedIn, they don’t actually use LinkedIn; they simply accept invitations to connect and mistakenly believe that’s all there is.

It’s clear to me that there are two groups of businesses, executives, sales leaders, and salespeople:

  • Those who are online, making connections, sharing, reading, commenting, and posting.
  • Those who aren’t. 

I don’t know which is the larger group, but clearly, based on my newly discovered surprise, those who aren’t engaged online belong to a much, much bigger group than I thought. With so much information being shared online—and only online—how do salespeople connect to the huge population of decision makers who aren’t online to read and absorb all that is being shared?

We have a tool for that! Do you remember the telephone? It still works—even better than ever—and it works from anywhere and at anytime. This group, the one that isn’t engaged online, continues to engage on the phone. All you have to do is call.

 

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Off to the Races: 3 Essentials for a Strong Start to Your Sales Campaign

Lavon Today's post is by LaVon Koerner, chief revenue officer of Revenue Storm, a global sales consulting and revenue acceleration firm.

 

 

One of the greatest sales cycles of all time is currently being played out right now, on center stage, for the world to observe. The United States 2016 presidential race has begun! As media coverage heats up, this campaign of more than 18 months affords those of us in the sales profession a chance to see and observe what works and what doesn’t in this most public of contests.

The easiest day of a presidential campaign is the day when he/she announces the bid. It’s downhill from there; the hardest decisions concerning both strategy and tactics are made at the beginning, not the end. Now is when the die is cast! The actions taken and the messaging proclaimed now will constitute irreversible acts.

It’s most important to get out of the gate strong and hit your stride as early as possible. Here are three essentials every salesperson needs for a strong start to his or her sales campaign:

  1. Grab, set, and maintain the dialog. 

You want to establish the content of the discussions in your meetings with executives and decision makers. In doing so, you are embedding the buying criteria and setting up others to talk about your stuff. If your vision becomes the talk of the town and resonates with the voters, you are off to a very good start. If they buy the vision, they will buy the visionary behind it; therefore, don’t sell the visionary but always sell the vision!

  1. Define yourself before the competition defines you and define your competitors before they define themselves.

    First impressions set in quickly and are very difficult to change later. If the competition defines you before you define yourself, you will be pigeonholed and forced to play defense. If you define both yourself and the competition, however, your competitors will be the ones in a hole and having to spend their energy playing defense while you are playing offense. This allows you to gain more ground and secure your competitive advantage.

  2. Establish your win theme. 

What is the one memorable line by which your sales campaign will be known? What both differentiates and distinguishes you from all the other competitors? Pick something catchy that could be plastered on bumper stickers or displayed on billboards. Make sure it resonates with the masses and that people instantly understand it. Think about President Obama’s 2008 campaign slogans: “Hope” and “Change We Can Believe In.”

The candidates that get these three things right out of the gate will have competitive advantage. While the race may be long, and there may be plenty of opportunities to make mistakes, make sure the race is yours to lose by starting off strong.  

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Is “Virtual Distance” Getting in the Way of Our Customer Connections?

Jeff Seeley Today’s post is by Jeff Seeley, CEO of Carew International Inc.

 

 

 

There is plenty of evidence to suggest that sales professionals and customers are more “connected” than ever before.

To prepare for the future of selling, we must contend with the fact that we have access to exponentially more information than we had just a decade ago. Companies are investing billions of dollars in sales technologies, such as customer relationship and sales force management systems (CRM and SFA, respectively), to increase the sales team’s insight on customer and prospect demographics and behavior; however, organizations are not realizing a return in sales performance improvement. In fact, just the opposite is true.

According to Accenture’s latest report, “Powering Profitable Sales Growth – Five Imperatives,” the number of representatives achieving their sales goals has declined from 67 percent in 2013 to 50 percent in 2014 (even with sales quotas generally lower in 2014 than in 2013), and revenue target achievement is down by more than 5 percent.

How is it possible that, in the face of this new insight and our extraordinary investment in performance technology, global sales performance is dropping? Because information does not ensure understanding, insight does not equal connection, and CRM is not a customer relationship.

It is time to consider that we have become overly dependent on technology and perhaps unrealistic in our expectations of its role in our sales performance. The result is an overly complicated, multitasking sales environment with a higher focus on technology and less on customer diagnostics, engagement, and experience. Neglecting the customer relationship undermines the influence and collaboration essential to a productive sales process.

In a recent Harvard Business Review article, “The Subtle Ways Our Screens Are Pushing Us Apart,” Dr. Karen Sobel-Lojeski introduces the phrase “virtual distance” to explain the dynamic of substituting screen intelligence for human connection. She writes, “Virtual distance is a sense of psychological and emotional detachment that begins to grow little by little and unconsciously when most encounters and experiences are mediated by screens on smart devices.”

Keyboard-tapping sales professionals who dive deep into data without proportional customer engagement and exploratory conversations will lack context that reveals who their customers are, their attitudes, and their motivations. Sobel-Lojeski observes:

…today’s workforce has more than enough tools to send information back and forth to people all over the world. But those tools – and the use of them – do not necessarily constitute collaboration… Genuine collaboration is achieved through ongoing meaningful exchanges between people who share a passion and respect for one another… Ultimately, new innovations and critical problem solving are realized through relationships.

The impact of technological improvements is dramatic and profound; at this juncture, not having the insight provided by CRM/SFA tools would put any sales organization at a perilous disadvantage. The key understanding, however, is that sales technology is not a substitute for the foundational role of the sales professional.

Technology cannot develop customer relationships nor interpret data to identify the strongest business-development opportunities and most valuable insight and solutions for customers. Savvy sales leaders will view sales technologies as tools to facilitate customer engagement, not as a substitute for customer engagement.

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