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Smartening Up Your Message as part of Your Sales Strategy for Success

 

How do I help my sales team sell more and be more successful? It’s a question that’s never far from the thoughts of many managers and executives these days.

Yes, there are a host of proven lead generation, prospecting and follow-up techniques that can make a real difference in your organization—and I talk about these often in my sales training sessions and webinars.

That’s only part of your solution though. In fact, that’s the second part. The first part of the equation involves personalizing your message, thinking smart and going beyond trust—creating winning conditions that you can later capitalize on.

Thinking personal.

You can’t sell very well to people who either don’t remember you, or can’t remember why they bought from you. Today, all selling is personal. Even in enterprise situations.

To be effective at being personal, however, you have to have to be ready to scale some walls. It’s a busy, noisy world out there, and odds are good that your customers filter out as much of it as they can. Who can blame them, given all the impersonal messages and wooden pitches that inundate inboxes everywhere?

Being personal sells because it transcends the act of selling. It requires a regular, thoughtful investment of your time to do this properly. It also happens to be what will set you and your team apart from those who still treat selling purely in transactional terms.

Thinking smart.

To be effective at being personal, think smart. You have to provide something that people want and can find useful in their own work. It can be a highlighted extract from a brand-new report, new research on market behavior, fresh data on a subject that matters to your audience. It can be a link posted on Google+ to a brand-new blog post, or a tweet. Or it can be a free webinar or podcast on a subject that provides a solution to a problem they are struggling with.

Just make sure that there’s substance to it. You are the subject authority.

No audience has to look hard to find run-of-the-mill tips or fact-free opinions. What they value is unique insight, validated by other subject matter authorities. Andrew Rashbass, Chief Executive of The Economist magazine (which has nearly doubled its profits since 2007) recently observed a growing phenomenon in the marketplace, which he calls “the mega-trend of mass intelligence.” People, he says, are “smarting up” rather than “dumbing down.”

That trend should be on your mind and that of every member of your sales team as you brainstorm for ways that you can provide better, more personalized value to your customers and prospects. Companies want to do business with thought leaders and industry experts—not sales people. Now is the time to start creating high-value content that sets you apart from all the other vendors.

Marketing consultant Simon Sinek argues in his book, Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, that “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” When you take the time to be an authority on something and share it with others, you’re making a powerful statement about why you are in business. Work hard to show that what matters to you is also what matters to your audience.

Beyond trust.

For the last several years, there has been much talk about the need to forge trust with your customers as part of winning more sales.

Trust isn’t enough.

In fact, trust is an outcome. You can’t buy it. You can’t demand it. You only can earn it. Therefore, look carefully at the ways in which you go about earning that trust. That’s where people are paying attention and forming opinions.

What I see in the marketplace today—backed by the winning habits of the top salespeople across the full range of industries—is that people have an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. They are looking to work with those who are experts in their subject area and who are prepared to share what they know. What you have to sell to them—while important—is secondary.

An opportunity of a lifetime.

Being in sales today is an opportunity of a lifetime. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise with their gloomy forecasts on what they call a bad economy, which is just a form of shorthand for making excuses for failure. There is a $61 trillion dollar global economy out there, populated with more people than ever who are in a position to buy your products, services and ideas.

Many old barriers to entering the marketplace don’t matter anymore (e.g., distance to market). New barriers, such as attracting and sustaining your audience’s attention, are entirely solveable.

The question you and your sales team need to ask yourself is why are you in business? Where does your passion live? How can you showcase that passion and the knowledge that comes with it and share it with your audience? Answer these questions, coupled with the time-honored, field-tested methods that we talk about so often at Engage to immediately improve your sales results, and your team will be hitting and surpassing sales targets like never before.

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Why Creating Great Content Needs to be One of Your Top Goals

 

In today's market, you and your organization are more than sales professionals: you’re subject experts who can offer something of value to customers and prospects.

That is why it’s so important to create a base of thought leadership in your work: transcending what you are selling, and sharing what you know. This is especially vital if you're selling to large-sized businesses, where you're dealing at once with many more decision makers and much a longer decision-making process.

In my webinars and sales training sessions with clients, I’ve talked about how big changes in the marketplace are rewriting the rules on sales. Selling is far more relationship-based than it used to be. That puts a premium on likeability and trust. Adapting to the new normal isn't an option anymore: it's essential.

The best way to ride that tidal wave of change isn’t by pitching more of that impersonal marketing collateral that everyone has seen and read before. The solution is your ideas, shared in your voice as a subject authority. This is what customers crave. Feed that appetite. Whether you’re a small company or part of a large organization, creating great content needs to be one of your top goals. 

What do we mean by content? Taking your ideas and insights and sharing them online with a mass audience, using products and tools that are enjoyable to use.

Let’s look a little deeper at why this is so important…

You are the sum of what you create and share.
What’s the first place people go today to find out more about you, your company and your products or services? It’s not the yellow phone directory, and it’s not your company brochure. They turn to Google and other online search engines. When they do that, they’re hoping to find more than just your website.

With every article you post, every personal video you create, every free ebook you publish, every product review you share, and every comment you make via social media, you are building your profile, sharing what you know and adding value to your relationships with others online.

Know how you are seen.
Do an audit of your existing online content. Google your name (or your company name). Examine the results carefully. What do the results tell you about how customers and prospects perceive you when they look you up online? Since the content you create and share has a direct influence on how you are seen in your market, start thinking about how you can increase your output of ideas and advice and sharing it online. 

Cycles have changed.
Growing a rich forest of content helps you tackle two very important changes in the marketplace. First, since the decision-making cycle is longer now than before, you need to work harder at being persuasive. One of the key ways you do that is by showcasing your knowledge and contributing something of value to your readers on a regular basis. 

The second important change is in how quickly information spreads now. As Google CEO Eric Schmidt notes: "The harsh message is that everything will happen much faster. Every product cycle, every information cycle, every bubble, will happen faster, because of network effects, where everybody is connected and talking to each other." When you create and share thoughtfully developed content, you help your readers gain knowledge faster...and that positions you as a trusted resource. 

Audience attention is scarce.
Seth Godin explains it this way: "In a world where everything is a click away, and in a world where everyone can have their own YouTube channel, ten blogs and a thousand email accounts...the only thing that's scarce is attention." It’s not enough anymore to just generate traditional marketing collateral and hope that someone will read it and respond. You can’t count on having anyone’s sustained attention for long periods of time anymore. However, with regularly posted content, you have a great opportunity to connect with people for brief periods on an ongoing basis.  

More than just opinions.
Sharing what you know is about a lot more than just stating your opinion on something. Back up what you have to say with facts and research. Whether that comes from your own research in your company white paper, or sharing the results of an industry-leading think tank, insight and knowledge thrive best when it’s shared. We living in a world now where every two days now we create as much information as from the dawn of civilization up to 2003. Use that to your advantage.

Add extra value to social media  activities.
By posting and sharing all-original content, you also create a platform that you can build on via social media.  No pitching. No hard selling. When you use social media to share what you know via your content (e.g., blog posts, newsletter articles, white papers, ebooks), you become a resource to others.  

Tie-in what you know to what you do.
Engaging content sticks with people. It’s memorable because it’s not about you: it offers something of value to them instead. That’s a much more effective way to remain on someone’s radar and makes your job much easier to connect that knowledge with the value of what you are selling.

More than just websites, white papers and blog posts.
Advertising legend Lee Clow says that today "everything is media." You have at your disposal the ability to share what you know with far more people than just your existing customers and prospects. You can shoot how-to videos on your mobile phone and post them to a special YouTube page. You can create a personal magazine on your smartphone or tablet and share your favourite stories via Twitter, Google+, Facebook or LinkedIn. You can collect your blog posts and self-publish your own ebook.

Things that used to require an entire industry to do over a period of months, you can create on your own over a period of days. This is a huge shift and a major opportunity for anyone in the selling business.

Do it yourself if you have time. Get help if you don’t.
It’s important that your voice remains authentic in all your content. But let’s face it: in sales, your time is always at a premium. You still need to concentrate on prospecting and looking after your existing customers.

Get help. There are writers and content specialists out there (I can recommend some, too) who will help fine-tune your persuasive message and grow your audience while ensuring that the ideas you are talking about and the voice you use to do that remain your own. 

You are your own media channel, if you want to be. Make it happen by making content creation a top goal for yourself and your organization!  

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Closing Practices Engineered to Sell More in Less Time

 

Here at Engage Selling, we continue to watch closely how the marketplace is changing. So much has happened in a short period, such that today is a really exciting time to thrive if you’re prepared to respond to wisely to trends while emulating timeless approaches that work.

Among the key trends I have been talking about: selling is far more relationship-based than it used to be, your buyer’s decision-making process is longer and it’s tougher than ever to attract and sustain the attention of your customers and prospects.

What is just as important, however, is what hasn’t changed.

The top sales performers continue to adopt and implement well-defined business habits that result in more sales in less time. It’s important to pay attention to those business habits and adopt them in your own sales organization.

Among those winning habits: the mastery of closing your sale every time.

There are important, field-tested, timeless insights in this area. They take work to adopt and implement, but if chart-smashing sales matter you, they are well worth your time.

Here are seven closing practices engineered to sell more in less time...and that you can get started implementing in your sales organization right away. 

1.  Know your maximum and minimum.

Pinpoint what’s needed for someone to make the decision to buy from you today. On every sales call, know in advance the maximum you expect out of the call (e.g., to receive verbal approval...to negotiate a final price?), versus the minimum level of commitment you need to obtain from the client or prospect to close the sale.

2.  Always start with the draft approach.

Never let the final proposal be the first proposal they see. Prepare a draft proposal first and walk the client though it point-by-point. This is where you address and respond to objections: not later.

3.  Know how decisions get made.

Get a clear explanation about the client’s review process for every product or service proposal. Who decides what? How many steps are there before a decision is made? Know this and you can address objections skillfully, dealing with the right people at the right time.

4.  Step back.

Step back and look objectively at every qualified lead and make sure you're asking the right qualification questions upfront. Make sure you are operating on facts rather than feelings of what think is true.

5.  Make persistence your eternal flame.

A sale that seem lost can be found again, but only if you’re persistent! Very rarely have I seen any of my clients lose a sale forever. We have one client in Vermont who sells in the dairy industry. She waited 25 years for the customer to say yes.

6.  Understand the why of no.

When a prospect or customer says no to your proposal, understand the meaning behind “no.” Ask probing, specific questions to determine why they are resisting or refusing to close.

7.  Follow-up rigorously.

It’s not enough to just follow-up when you feel it’s the right time to do so. Schedule all follow-ups in advance, set to a rigorous calendar. Make it a process, not a task. Stick to it like clockwork and your sales will do the same for you.

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Seven Things You Can Do Today to Make It Easier to Get in the Door and Sell

 

In sales, not all doors are easy to open. Some require a bit of forethought and some even require a bit of courage to enter.

Think back to J.K. Rowling’s classic Harry Potter series of novels. Early on in the story, the hero learns that to continue on his journey, he must first enter through Platform 9¾ at King’s Cross Station in London—a doorway others cannot see, such that it seems as though he’s been asked to run face-first into a brick wall. Without spoiling the story (to the rare few who are unfamiliar with this great tale), suffice to say a door is there.

Sometimes in life, you have to put yourself in the right place, and have the right frame of mind to enter the right kind of door to get you to where you need to go on your journey. Unlike our young friend Mr. Potter, sales professionals aren’t usually expected to run at full speed into invisible doorways, but we do have to have to have faith in what we are doing. We also need to remember the objective behind our efforts, and be true in our dedication to our craft.

For salespeople trying to find ways to get in the door of large organizations, there’s more that needs to be done than just picking up the phone and making cold calls. You have to choose the right door, otherwise all your hard work could wind up being unfruitful.

It’s often a very small door you have to work with, requiring some strategic thinking. If you want to be associated with senior executives and those who have a role to play in strategic decision-making in enterprise organizations, you must create the right conditions and put yourself in the right position to meet them.

If your targeted prospects never see you at the events they attend, they won’t see you as one of them. In other words, you need to be how you want to be seen.

Let’s look at seven things you can implement in your sales organization today to get in that door—even the ones that sometimes seem like they’re Platform 9¾  at King’s Cross Station.

1. Engage in thought leadership

As I’ve discussed before, thought leadership is about getting inside the head of your customer. Learn what matters to them. What kinds of business problems keep them awake at night? How can you help solve those problems? Answering those questions will shape you as a problem solver and reinforce your value as a resource in the minds of customers and prospects.

2. Build a presence where your market gathers

Does your client or prospect have events to which you can be invited so you can get to know them better? When booking that business trip to meet with an existing client, don’t be in such a hurry to catch the first flight home afterwards. Make some time for networking opportunities that you otherwise wouldn’t have. Hang around for a bit. Have lunch in the cafeteria and meet people. Book a table and entertain prospects and clients at fundraising events. When you find places where your market gathers, never miss an opportunity to be part of that gathering and to meet new people. It’s a simple, effective way to get introduced to other people who might otherwise be very difficult to reach.

3. Respect gatekeepers

Always respect gatekeepers of an organization. Always. If you fail at this, you likely won’t get a second chance to gain access to an organization. If someone’s job is to restrict access, you need to respect that power. Further, there are many more opportunities for good karma in life simply by treating everyone well, rather than by being selective.

4. Partner strategically where required

Sometimes, it’s wise to partner with your managers or senior managers within your own organization to gain access to executives within your targeted prospect’s organization.

There are cases where this is vital otherwise the people you need to meet won’t meet with you. That happened to me once when I was a sales rep for a firm and we were meeting with executives at Warner Brothers. Their Chief Legal Counsel at the time said to me: “I’m not coming to the meeting unless you bring your President.” Once I got past being annoyed by the request and the expense, I realized it was critical for him to be there or we would not win the business.

Strategic partnering can also be helpful in sales calls or in arranging seminars to engage more people in your organization. Make use of the good connections you have when you need to, if that’s what it takes to get in the door.

5. Leverage your social influence

Lunch-and-learn events, seminars, book launches, panel discussions and presentations  are all great ways to meet the people who can help you gain access to decision-makers in their respective organizations. Sometimes, it’s easier to get access to senior-level staff this way, because you’re being introduced in an environment outside of the workplace. It’s less threatening and often it’s less formal, too. This can work to your advantage, but that can only happen if you make a point of attending these kinds of events.

6. Don’t be afraid to talk about money

Executives aren’t afraid to talk about money and if they sense that you are shy about this, then again you are not a peer of the buyer, right?

Be ready to engage in in-depth talk about the dollar value of your product or service, as well as the dollar value of what a percentage increase in sales could mean for them as a direct result of choosing your product or service. Be specific, be clear, and rehearse if necessary. In advance of a meeting with senior executives, practice talking about money until you’re comfortable and have ironed out any sense of awkwardness in broaching the subject.

Remember, you’re talking to a peer. To remind yourself of that fact, put a big sign up on the wall in your office: “I am a peer of the buyer.”

7. Create multiple contact points

Think beyond one-to-one business relationships. Multiple points of contact are vital, because decision making in larger organizations usually involves many people with plenty of overlap in certain areas.

As I often point out in my sales coaching sessions, remember that there is a pay line in every organization: the select few above this line are the ones who can make spending decisions independent of budgets. They are the Captain Picards (of Star Trek fame) within organizations. They have the authority to say “make it so.” Below the pay line, decisions are only made according to budgets. Multiple contacts points help position you to get introduced to those above the pay line while also growing your influence below that line.  

Summing up, these seven activities will help you shape how to be seen by clients and prospects. Not only will they help create you more access to large organizations you want to sell to, they’ll also help show you doorways that you might otherwise never have known about.

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Build Rapport to Navigate Enterprise Organizations

 

You know the old adage about how it’s unwise to put all your eggs in one basket. That wisdom applies just as much to sales today. As you may have heard me say before, one is the most dangerous number in sales. You are at risk if all of your information or all of your business comes from a single point of contact.

To avoid this trap, you need to invest in developing a deeper rapport with more people across a broader range of businesses in your field. Rapport isn’t just idle chit-chat. It’s the hard-earned outcome of creating a sense of likeness between people, based on having an understanding of each other’s feelings, values or ideas.

As a seasoned sales professional, I learned how to sharpen my rapport-building skills, particularly when I was managing large, strategic accounts such as Exxon, Microsoft, and some of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies. In this article, I’m going to share with you what I know about what you can do to accomplish that task, so you can meet and exceed your sales targets by selling more to more people in less time.

Adapt to different levels while obtaining referrals 

As a sales executive or a business owner who is selling to large organizations, you know that there are different levels of decision makers in every company. You must adapt your rapport-building approach accordingly. That’s not to say that you should overlook junior-level staff or project managers. In fact, to be effective, your efforts need to be from the bottom-up and the top-down at the same time.

Obtaining referrals is a key objective to your rapport-building efforts. And referrals hinge on having conversations that yield the information you need to advance. The right referrals are going to unlock doors and give you the fastest, upward-pointing track to the pinnacle of a company’s hierarchy. Finding the right referral is not easy, let’s be clear about that! The conversations you have with people have to be focused on moving you up rather than down. Because if you’re moved down, there’s a risk you might not be able to get back up again.
  
Keeping it simple and visual

If you were on a long hike on a new trail, you’d likely consult a map, compass or GPS to establish and maintain your bearings. Similarly, your journey through a large-sized organization will earn better results if you adopt this mindset. When it comes to rapport building, knowing where you are in an organization is determined by whether you know the people around you.

Summarize all the information you need on a single sheet of paper. Think of it as your personal rapport map. Make it visible and keep it simple. Just vital details, such as who is the Chief Financial Officer, who are the project managers, who is responsible for technical issues, marketing or other functions specific to the client’s organization.

Just as important, identify who in the organization uses your product/service. If there are existing customers in there who are already passionate supporters of who you are and what you are selling, make sure you list them, too. These people are vital. Not only do they want to see you succeed, they often can provide you with valuable insight and advice to help you achieve your goal.

The goal of this exercise is that you create a visual representation of how strongly positioned you are inside the company. Go another step further. For each person on your personal rapport map, rank your connection on a scale of one to ten. If, for example, you were a godparent to one of their children, then it would be a ten. If, on the other hand, it was a new buyer with no previous history, then it would be a zero.

Scale it beyond personal

When you have established rapport at a personal level with someone, you can feel comfortable enough to call them up and invite them out for drinks. That’s a great thing to achieve, but you also need to scale that sense of rapport beyond personal. How well does the company know your business? Answering that question, you may discover that you have some great personal relationship with people who don’t have strong rapport with your product or your business.

As a sales trainer and coach, I’ve worked with clients who struggle with this problem quite often. When one salesperson moves from one firm to another, they take their entire customer base with them because the seller’s client base have connected solely on a personal level, but never on a brand level. That can be really damaging to a company. So make it a practice in your sales team to include brand awareness as part of your rapport-building strategy.

Connect rapport with sales

How can you determine you’ve successfully established a broad base of rapport with a client’s company? If you can pick up the phone and call anyone in that organization and talk to anyone comfortably, then you’ve achieved a high level of rapport. If your personal rapport map shows that you have three people inside a company that you consider are repeat customers, and who gladly share knowledge with you, then you have a very good rapport. Those are two examples of the level of rapport that you need to aspire to attain.

Rapport building is an absolutely vital task. And I see a lot of companies who fail at this. They don’t look at a business holistically. Instead, they just focus on particular aspects of a business. Avoid that mistake! Invest in developing and improving your rapport and give your business the power of 20/20 vision. 

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The power of being an insider: thought leadership

 

Whether you are a selling professional or the head of a team of sales reps, if you want to consistently meet and exceed sales targets in your organization, there are fundamental business habits that you need to emulate every day. As a seasoned sales trainer and coach, I would like to share with you today one of those key habits, and show you how you can implement it right away in your work.

Get inside the head of your buyer
You can have everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want.” That’s how my old friend and mentor, Zig Ziglar, sums up the secret to sales success. This isn’t a tactic, he explains. It’s a philosophy. It’s a way of looking at the world that is rooted in doing what’s right.

Sales is about mastering the art of being persuasive. You don’t achieve that by being pushy or domineering. You achieve it by getting inside the head of your buyer, learning what matters to them and persistently finding great solutions to the problems they have.

This is an approach in which the outcome of your efforts also happens to reap important benefits for you. By being passionate about what you know and sharing it with others, you stay on your buyer’s radar, leapfrogging the competition and becoming entrenched as to number-one go-to person for your product or service.

This is especially important in large enterprise selling. By showing an understanding of others’ problems, you demonstrate that you are a valuable resource who communicates with empathy. You create a base of thought leadership, which transcends what you are selling and becomes something that is unique and greatly sought-after by customers of all kinds.

Work hard enough at building your base of thought leadership and you (along with what you have to say) become ideally positioned to take the express elevator to the top of your buyer’s organization. Let’s look at the steps you can implement in your own organization today to make that happen.

Think pieces
Leverage your expertise. Invest in developing think pieces that look at business problems in-depth, including white papers, research papers and statistical surveys. Associating your name with these products helps deepen the value of your brand and gives your audience something useful that they can bring back to the office and implement.

Solid research has value—not just in terms of the insights that data can provide, but also in how it shows what others are doing in a market. A recent study by DemandGen shows that almost half (44%) of executives determine the impact of a solution through other adopters. They also found that nearly 95% of recent buyers said their choice was guided in part by those who “provided them with ample content to help navigate through each stage of the buying process.”

Networking events
Just as you are shaped by your surroundings, you also can influence people by the places you choose to be. Invest your time in attending networking events in your area, be a guest speaker or even become a corporate sponsor in support of something you are passionate about.

By doing this, you match your talk with action. You demonstrate that in addition to your knowledge on a subject, you care enough to share it with others. What you know and what you have to say has immense value.

Don’t just stop there! Consider doing a co-presentation with one of your existing clients, showcasing a live case study for others to learn from. It’s a great way to tell a story in a memorable way.

Real-life case studies
Promises can be compelling, but there is no substitute for proof of results. That’s what case studies deliver to your prospect or buyer. They showcase what someone can expect when doing business with you. Just as important, they provide tangible solutions to problems that your audience may also be encountering.

There’s one more important benefit: case studies are highly useful in situations where you can’t name the customer (for legal or other reasons). Such cases can actually work to your advantage, because then the story isn’t at all about name-dropping, but purely about problem solving.

A great case study should identify three things. First, it should succinctly identify a key challenge that your customer was facing. It also should show the solutions you provided, and third, it should provide meaningful, measurable results that you helped a customer achieve.  

Testimonials
Testimonials are uniquely powerful thought leadership tools, because they prove to others what you already know is true about your product or service. However, you need to implement them properly to be effective. They must adhere to the three Cs: they need to be current, compelling and credible. The quotation needs to say something more than “wow, great service, thanks.”

As with case studies, a testimonial should identify a problem and provide a solution. In other words: don’t let yourself get all caught up in testimonials that just says nice things about you. It’s really not about you. It needs to be about how you can help that new prospect or buyer solve their problem. Automated services, such as TestimonialDirector.com are a great way to make full use of this powerful selling tool.

Make thought leadership part of your business culture
Implementing these activities will go a long way to positioning yourself and your product or service as top-of-mind among your buyers. It all starts by looking at things as an insider and be keen to share what you know. Remember, it’s a team effort. When you are part of a large organization, you can’t do all of this yourself. That’s why you need to project thought leadership at a corporate level and make it part of your business culture.

 
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Digging Deeper for a Lasting Connection: The Client Engagement Process for Large Accounts

 

There are big changes taking place in the marketplace today in how to successfully manage large enterprise accounts. To think like a businessperson who sells—rather than a salesperson who just does business—you must pay careful attention to managing every one of your accounts strategically.

 

Ask yourself: what is the primary purpose to what I do? Your primary objective needs to be about far more than “to sell more stuff,” or even to constantly fine-tune your sales process. If large accounts form part of your target audience, the right answer is found much deeper. Your job is to create and nurture a thought leadership position with your executive-level customers.

 

This requires that you develop an understanding about the unique needs of a very select group of clients, getting you much more comfortable selling at those senior levels.

 

Like all things that reap the greatest dividends in the long-run, this kind of work takes time and forethought to do properly. And yet this is a must-do activity. This is an investment that will prepare you for the executive-level conversations that you are going to need to have on a regular basis.

 

Get it right and the opportunities are lucrative. However, let me be blunt: this is where I see many people fail. They perform all the steps expected of a salesperson in terms of product knowledge, but don’t engage their executive audiences as peers and lack the insight that can only come from careful reflection.

 

This is a mistake that comes with a terrible price. If you’re unsuccessful in making a peer to peer connection, you risk getting pushed down to lower levels in an organization because you’ll be perceived as someone not equal to the buyer, as a seller, who does not share the same values as those within that influential circle of decision-makers. This will permanently damage your ability to build a relationship with a prospect at this strategic level.

 

Don’t let this happen! Take the time you need to develop a client engagement process that is tailored to the needs and expectations of your select audience.

 

Understand what matters to them

What problems preoccupy your targeted prospect on a regular basis? Know this and you gain an understanding about what matters to them. Be knowledgeable about those problems and their potential solutions and you have found a way to relate in a more meaningful way than to be merely talking about your product or service in terms of features and promises.

 

Consider your emotional intelligence

Noted psychologist Daniel Goleman tells us that effective leaders in a wide range of fields all share a common trait, which he calls emotional intelligence. He argues that this consists of five skills: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and the ability to build good rapport with others. Think strategically and communicate using these well-honed skills and you will be more effective at demonstrating how your product or service is a lasting solution to the problems they have. Just as important, it will entrench you as someone who “gets it” in terms of how you are perceived by your clients as having an understanding of what they are trying to do in their work.

 


Emphasize results

Results matter. This is particularly important if you are trying to grow a small account into a larger one. Your prospects want to know more than just what your product or service promises to do they want to know how you will improve their business or their personal lives. Commit showing results. After implementation, and they’ve become your customers, demonstrate on an on-going basis the results they have achieved as a direct result of doing business with you. Feed those results back to the client as a reminder of the value you are bringing. This will ensure you are considered for future projects and elevate your relationship to that of value added partner

 

Focusing on results means that you have to always be thinking about what you are doing to help your client solve the problems they have in business—a far more productive activity than spending your time just thinking about how long will it be before you’re able to sell more stuff to them again. 

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Building a Winning Strategy for Selling to Large Organizations

 

Private coaching clients are telling us regularly how important it is for them to broaden their skills to do a better job of thinking strategically and managing large accounts. Those are areas that we are focusing on increasingly here at Engage Selling. I recognize—just as you do—that so much activity in sales today is happening at the enterprise level, so success here is vital.

Selling at the enterprise level is different compared to other levels. Conventional wisdom points to such distinctions as the fact you’re dealing with many decision makers at once and that buying decisions take longer. There is new challenge emerging, however. The rules governing enterprise sales today have changed…dramatically.

As Marc T. Miller and Jason Sinkovitz argue in their provocatively titled best-seller “Selling is Dead,” if you’re working in a growth-focused company today, there are big, big changes you need to make in how you operate and how you think if you want to avoid becoming a dinosaur. To be clear, the authors point out that despite their eye-catching title, the act of selling isn’t really dead. Rather, “the traditional sales roles, strategies and skills that organizations have relied on have become ineffective.”

This is an important shift, and it matches three important trends that I have been seeing in the marketplace today. First, it takes more work than before to pinpoint the decision makers in large organizations. Second, there is a growing risk that those decision makers will make buying decisions without your input because you are either unsuccessful in identifying them or in communicating values that they are looking for. Third, your prospective customers and buyers are actively researching on their own at the front-end to decide if you are worth investing the time it takes to build a relationship.

Given these trends, it’s important to adopt the right way of looking at these challenges and devising a winning solution.

Think like a business person who sells
Whether you’re in charge of implementing a sales strategy for a team, or are on the front lines yourself, it’s vital that you adopt the right mindset for large-account sales. Think like a businessperson who sells, as opposed to the more traditional approach of focusing on features and benefits to close more deals.

As a businessperson, think bigger with an eye to developing a long-term plan and sticking to it. After all, strategic account management is all about value alignment—understanding what executives are trying to accomplish and showing how you can help.

What does a strategic approach entail? There are three areas where you need to excel: analysis, planning and leadership.

Analysis—Invest the time and resources necessary to gain a better understanding of your market and your targeted decision makers who live in it.  I don’t just mean that you should research what a particular company does. You also need to look at their buying history with you, read their annual reports, and gauge their corporate values. Next, look at how well their needs could be met by the sales team in your organization. The outcome will be some very important strategic questions for you to answer.

Planning—Pay careful attention to how you structure your planning. A 2005 study by Marakon Associates surveyed senior executives from more than 150 large companies worldwide. It found that those companies with standard planning processes and practices made only 2.5 major strategic decisions each year, on average. Those that developed strategies continuously made more than twice as many strategic decisions per year.

Leadership—Zig Ziglar says it best: “It’s not what you’ve got, it’s what you use that makes a difference.” That’s the essence of leadership and how it can be put to work for you, especially in the context of large-account selling. It’s incumbent on you to take stock of your strengths and weaknesses and to find ways to capitalize and compensate accordingly. Leadership is about more than just the power you possess as an individual to make great changes. Thought leadership on an organization-wide scale matters, too. One of the fastest ways to get noticed by senior people is to showcase what you know and what your organization stands for.

The three areas I’ve briefly outlined for you in this article identify how you can analyze, plan and showcase yourself and your organization as more than just an office of sales people. Adopting the right mindset is a good start, but there’s more that needs to be done. Implementation matters just as much as how you plan ahead. Therefore, over the coming weeks, I will be sharing with you field-tested activities that you need to master so that you can generate the sales you are looking for in large enterprises.  

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Tending Your Client Garden

 

Have you ever wondered why a relationship with a client who loved buying your product or service falls through the cracks? Do you want to learn how to bring an old client back into the fold, or breathe new life into an existing business relationship? The solution to re-establishing those valuable connections is a lot simpler than most people realize.

The first step is to understand the root of the problem, or what caused the disconnect. Without identifying the problem, we can’t implement a solution. I have found the problem is usually one of the following three things:

  1. You dropped the ball. Maybe you got busy and forgot to document their database or return the call. When you finally call or email the client a few months later, they’ve already made a decision with another company. They’re thinking, “What the hell happened to you?”
  2. You lost the ball. Sometimes it’s a customer service issue that we either know or don’t know about.
  3. You weren’t on the ball. The client may have perceived indifference to their needs. Maybe you took them for granted because you saw those regular orders coming in and thought you had a customer for life. You forgot to pay attention to them and the competition moved in.

All three reasons share one common result: you fell out of their “top of mind” position. I know I’ve done that in my own buying life. Even if I’ve been loyal to a brand for a long time, if they’re not “top of mind” and I get a call from someone else, I might just engage because they hit me at the right time.

As sellers, losing a client is painful even if we don’t recognize it right away. Studies have shown that capturing the attention of a new customer costs up to 15 times more than maintaining the attention of a current customer.

Losing a customer hurts you in four significant ways:

  1. Loss of your own commissions and revenue stream.
  2. Loss of your reputation. When clients go elsewhere, they often share their bad experience with others.
  3. Loss of loyalty. When a client starts doing business with a new company and they’re excited about it, they tend to talk positively about it
  4. Loss of the most important tool in your sales kit: their referrals, testimonials, and their network. It’s an entire lead source cut off. And although it might be a slow process, if you keep losing customers, eventually your pipeline will dry up because it just takes so long to backfill all of those leads.

So once you’ve determined your problem, how do you go about repairing the relationship with a client who has dropped out? What is the first step to re-engage?

  1. Be proactive. Go through your database and make an honest assessment about which clients have disappeared and make a list of those people.
  2. Be brave. DO NOT be afraid to reach out to them. Whether it’s been 6 months, 6 years, or 6 days, picking up the phone and opening up a dialogue is key to finding out why this person might have fallen off the map.
  3. Be direct. Hit the problem straight on. If you know there might have been a customer service issue, don’t be afraid to address it directly.

I believe the key is balance. As salespeople, we need to maintain a balance between the really profitable business that is generated from referrals and repeat business, and our network to counterbalance the longer process of attracting and retaining brand new clients.

Lastly, what are the best ways to keep maintain your renewed relationships, nurture the existing ones, and promote new business? 

  1. Be present.  Sometimes the easiest way to increase business is to just show up!
  2. Be personal. Don’t send the same amount of information in the same old ways. Studies have shown that people become desensitized to repetition, and may even perceive it as increasingly impersonal.
  3. Be valuable. Is price the only thing that differentiates you from your competitor? Offer your clients extraordinary value. Provide them with ways to help their business grow, and they will happily pay your asking price. Are there experts that you can provide them access to? Is there research, information, or training you can offer that would complement their business and help them grow?

If you nurture your clients with consistent attention and provide them with extraordinary value, not only will you maintain a high retention rate—your business will continue to flourish and grow.

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Pipeline Reviews: Asking Tough Questions to Close More Business

 

Music teaches us valuable lessons we can apply to a sales organization. An accomplished musician will tell you that one of the most important skills they need to have in their profession is the ability to listen to the music. It’s not enough to just play your instrument. You need to have a critical ear and listen to what’s going on around you.

Similarly in sales, professionals need to be able to think beyond the accounts they are responsible for, and to be objective about every aspect of what comprises their pipeline. Sounds simple, right? Wrong! Far too often, sellers make the mistake of trusting their unchecked assumptions and are blinded by what might actually be happening on an account.

Like the musician who performs without listening, when things don’t get done the way they should, mistakes happen, business gets lost, or time is wasted on deals that aren’t ready to close.

That’s why in a sales organization, a detailed pipeline review should be held at the start of every month. The best way to do this is to sit down with someone in your organization who is capable of looking objectively at a salesperson’s work and can challenge some of the assumptions they might be making about their accounts. Typically this individual would be a manager, a VP, a sales coach or a trusted third party.

A detailed pipeline review is where tough questions get asked. Sure, it can be painful, but it is the only way people can receive an objective view on everything they need to do to get things done—in other words, how much is really expected to close, and how they are going to get it closed.

Get the facts

Smoke out those false assumptions by asking questions that go searching for facts rather than feelings. For every account, here are key questions that need to be asked…

  • What proof do you have that this deal will close this month? What obstacles are still in your way?
  • When did you last speak directly to your client? What did they say?
  • What’s stopping them from buying from you right now? Who else are they considering?
  • What are your next steps? What other contacts can you make inside the account to secure this sale now?
  • When will you complete those steps?

Look for the signals

Be on the lookout for answers that reveal thinking based on feeling and assumptions rather than facts. A solid pipeline requires proof that you know exactly what is happening, based on direct conversations with the client. You will not close business based on assumptions.

Deeper questioning is required when you get answers that lead with the following phrases:

  • “I think…”
  • “Maybe…”
  • “Not sure, but…”
  • “As I understand it…”
  • “I’m sensing that…”
  • “I just know…”

Dig deeper

Once you have challenged basic assumptions, dig deeper and start asking probing questions about the facts supporting an account. It’s time for more rigorous examination when you hear any of the following about deals slated to close within a month:

  • Account is described as still being at the qualifying stage or lower.
  • Anything less than a 70% probability to close.
  • A lack of clear financial information attached to the sale.
  • Deals slated to close that have a last-contact date greater than two weeks in the past.

Those kinds of answers suggest that the seller is missing important information about an account or that the pipeline has not been updated with accurate information. Either the seller has to work harder to get answers and fill in the facts, or perhaps the deal is not as real as it was thought to be, and must be pushed further into the year, or eliminated from the pipeline completely.

When you have completed your review, you will undoubtedly have a smaller pipeline. But it will be a real pipeline based on facts rather than assumptions. You and your sales professional will also have a plan of attack for each deal and know exactly what it will take to get the deals closed, or moved closer to a decision. Now the rest of the month can be spent executing your plan!

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