Most company executives know they need to jump on the big data bandwagon. They understand that having access to big data analytics can help them raise sales productivity, and so they’ve sourced a solution to take advantage of gathering and indexing their internal data. Maybe they’re even enlightened enough to look outside of their own sales data into the wild, wild Web for information on their customers.
But is the data they’re collecting really helping their employees? In an enterprise—and even within the same sales organization—it’s unlikely that employees will all benefit from the same business intelligence. A sales rep is unlikely to care about the buying activity of another account; and a VP certainly doesn’t have enough time to look at every customer and prospect in great detail (that’s why they have sales reps and account managers in the first place!).
It’s well known that if someone doesn’t find a product useful to them personally, even if it’s a great product in and of itself, they simply won’t use it—and that’s not helping sales productivity, which is the reason it was introduced in the first place. But what if they could customize the product to fit their needs exactly? The same holds true for big data: for data to be truly helpful to each and every employee, the business intelligence has to be personal.
Let’s take a deeper look at the differences between what an SVP needs to know versus what an account manager needs. According to Anthony Iannarino on SalesGravy, his number one non-personnel focus is ensuring a healthy pipeline. To do that, he is focused on:
It’s clear that the two have very different priorities, so giving them the same information is not only inefficient, they won’t use it—so it won’t be effective. By giving each of them business intelligence customized to their needs, however, allows each of them to target what’s most useful to them. The account managers can see their target accounts and geographies to help plan out their next sale, and the SVP can strategize a more informed direction of attack, raising the sales productivity of the entire organization.
Shortening the sales cycle can lead to an improvement in sales productivity. The shorter your sales cycle is, the more prospects you will be able to reach. On the other hand, shortening the sales cycle can be a monumental task, which may have to begin with reassessing your entire sales strategy.
1. Define Your Sales Strategies
In an article for Salesforce blog, Jason Jordan describes the importance of creating common definitions for sales terms. Until your team members are all operating under the same expectations, it will be difficult to make these procedures more efficient. Do all your people have the same definitions for company-wide sales processes? You may be surprised. Jordan describes an experience at one firm where two sales managers had vastly different pipelines because they had different opinions of what types of leads should be entered into them. These kinds of discrepancies can lead to confusion among sales teams. Neither method was wrong, but the inconsistency was causing problems. Make sure all your sales reps define and qualify leads the same way.
2. Eliminate the Junk
Most sales reps talk about qualifying leads, according to Tibor Shanto in a Salesforce blog. However, when you’re trying to whittle down your sales cycle, what you really need to work on is disqualifying leads. It’s often more efficient to focus on eliminating the prospects that aren’t going to convert so you can focus on the ones that will. This may require more work as well. While you’re defining a consistent sales strategy, also think about a procedure for getting rid of weak leads. As Shanto puts it, if you mistakenly eliminate a good lead, you will always be able to give them a second try. Your time, however, is a precious resource that you can’t get back.
3. Define Objectives
Shanto also notes that businesses are quick to pounce on solutions that help them avoid negative consequences or situations. While many sales reps pitch “solutions” this very term implies a problem that buyers probably don’t want to think about. The best way to demonstrate your product or service’s ability to solve this problem is to provide a measurable objective that you can help them meet. Rather than telling your prospect you can solve X issue for them, avoid mentioning the problem entirely. Instead, tell them you will deliver X objective. Put it in positive terms. In order to do so, however, you’ll have to do a fair amount of customer research. Determine the prospect’s needs and what their market looks like. Making it easy for prospects to say “yes” shortens the sales cycle.
4. Aim High
Aiming your pitch at decision-makers can cut some time off of the sales cycle if done correctly. Most sales reps tend to play it safe by calling someone at a lower level and getting the message passed up to higher management slowly. However, since these individuals don’t actually have the buying power, negotiating with them is often a waste of time. In Inc., Mark Suster suggests that reps aim even higher than the decision-maker. Instead of reaching a project manager, aim for the CEO or CTO. They will likely inform you that they aren’t involved in the decision, and will pass the query down to the person who is. However, the high level executive will probably have the power to prioritize the project. On the other hand, these individuals will also be able to shoot down the project immediately, allowing you to disqualify them as a lead. On top of these benefits, starting high can help you start to develop a relationship with the company. Before making the call, learn as much as you can using customer intelligence so you know how to make your pitch in a way that will make them respond.
In today’s hyper-growth, rapidly changing markets, companies diversify for many reasons. Maybe you are trying to expand into a new market, or have launched a new product. No matter what, you need to strike a balance between gaining net-new customers and expanding your footprint within current customers—and one of the most important things you need to have access to is in-depth, reliable customer intelligence.
Although you may have a lot of data points on your current customer, chances are you are probably not an expert on the different business lines of the company, go-to-market strategies, or specifically what their executive focus is. If it’s a new client in a new market or industry, then they will likely have vastly different challenges and care-abouts than what you’re used to.
To improve your sales and marketing efforts—and successfully enter a new market—you need customer intelligence “but transaction data doesn’t improve the customer experience unless you combine it with some other data to learn something new and useful,” according to CIO.com author Allen Bernard (@CIOUpdate). What large enterprise B2B companies have found is that by using a particular practice of Big Data, personal business analytics, you can have even more strategic conversations with customers by gaining true insight into their business—not based on click data, but reflective of the customers own voice and needs. You learn valuable things, including:
Going into a new market blind rarely, if ever, ends well… so take advantage of the customer intelligence technology that’s now available to you and your teams. Make sure you’re always learning something new and useful that will lead you on a successful path.
Many people about how to make a good first impression, but not as much about a second impression. Why even worry about a second impression, though? No matter what situation you happen to be in, forging a professional relationship is often a multi-step process. Whether you’re coming in for a second job interview, or making a second contact with a prospect, the second impression is just as important as the first. While you may have been lucky enough to impress them the first time, you need to follow through once more (or multiple times) before totally winning them over.
As Tim Sanders puts it in an article for Oprah, the first meeting is often about gauging surface details like likability and basic skillsets. The next meeting will hone in on your competency. When gaining the trust of a potential client, you’re going to have to meet them multiple times. Learning to make a lasting second impression could be the key to improving sales productivity. Here are some tips for meeting with a business colleague or prospect for the second time:
Keep Discussion Centered on Them
Thinking about this in terms of a social call may relieve some of the pressure. When you’re going over to the neighbors’ house for dinner, you should ask them about themselves. A business situation is similar: you want them to know their industry is important to you, so you have to ask a question that demonstrates you’ve been keeping up with their progress online or in the media. Make sure you’re doing customer research between meetings so that you know of anything relevant you can bring up. While it’s tempting to fill any lull in the conversation with small talk, this is the ideal time to guide the direction in a more constructive way. According to Geoffrey James for Inc., a good question would be something along the lines of, “I saw on your blog that you were at the Worldcomp conference in Vegas this year. Did you see any innovative products that caught your eye?”
Another way to start off the conversation on the right foot is to reference your last meeting, according to Sanders. If you learned something poignant or important from your last meeting with the prospect, bring it up again. Ideally, you will have taken down notes during or after your first meeting so that you can retain this information.
Talk About Why You’re Meeting For a Second Time
Not too long into this conversation, you’re going to have to drive toward the heart of the matter. If you scheduled this meeting, it’s time to explain why. Don’t be too blunt, but don’t wait too long either. If you’ve brushed up on your customer research, it should be fairly straightforward to explain what you’d like to tackle.
Listen hard while they are talking, see if they give you something you can use to relate to the customer research you did and guide the conversation organically towards your product or their problem point. Odds are, they’ll give you an in. If not, make sure you’ve responded to their story about Worldcomp conference before diving into your pitch. Make your point quickly, and give them a chance to respond.
When you contact this person for a second meeting, try to let them know exactly how much time you expect it to take. This shows you’re respectful of their time. Once you’re on the way out the door, thank them again for taking the time to talk to you.
Lead qualification can be a point of tension between sales and marketing teams. Sales reps often claim the marketing team doesn’t give them high-quality leads, while the marketing team argues that sales simply isn’t following up on the best leads they’ve been handed. Sometimes the problem is simply that these departments’ definitions of what makes a qualified lead are misaligned. On the other hand, the problem could be a misunderstanding of what qualities can predict a lead’s likelihood to buy.
Cut Down On the Noise
Some established companies have more leads than they know what to do with. By finding a better strategy to weed out the most unlikely leads, business can significantly improve sales productivity. Imagine a world where you can easily identify the junk before you devote too much time nurturing a lead that has no chance of converting. This world is possible, but will take some time and research.
Turn on the Lights
When your teams are stumbling around in the dark, it’s impossible to coordinate marketing and sales effectively. With a customer analytics platform, these departments will have access to the same intelligence data, including market events, mergers and introduction of new technology. Once the two teams are looking at the same information, they can gain a better awareness of what qualities are good predictors of a qualified lead. B2B Lead Blog suggests doing research to determine a correlation between leads and current customers to further identify the signals that your company has a good chance of making a sale. Once these two teams have a more complete picture, they can start coming up with better definitions for sales and marketing-qualified leads.
Learn Who Your Customers Are
An article from Forbes demonstrates how big data analytics can improve the performance of marketing automation software by telling marketers not just what qualities will predict a conversion, but who the customer really is. What analytics actually enable marketers and sales reps to do is develop an understanding of a company’s attributes outside of just the numbers. By collecting intelligence from across the Web, including viral social media posts, sales reps and marketers can really construct a picture of what it’s like to work in a specific industry. Customer intelligence allows marketers and sales reps to go deeper. When marketers are able to look at their leads’ markets through their perspectives, they can create marketing campaigns that really target the right companies.
A customer intelligence platform can deliver the In-depth information marketers and sales reps need to improve their collaboration and increase sales productivity.
This morning, the TAS Group held their ”Battling the 57%” webinar, hosted by their CEO, Donal Daly. Mr. Daly spoke about the changing sales process and how salespeople can use the Challenger method to react better to the buying process and close the sale.
The internet, and the generally wide availability of information, has drastically altered the traditional buying process. By the time they contact you, a buyer is 57% of the way through their process, and have probably already started forming opinions of what solutions they think they want.
So it comes down to this: are you engaging the customer, or is the customer engaging you? Are you getting to them before that 57% threshold? As a seller, it’s up to you to create value—even if the client seems to be leaning away from you.
But how do you create value where the client sees none? The answer lies in truly understanding what’s moving your customers. Using customer insights and doing your research on a prospect will allow you to see how your solution will help them. It may also allow you to uncover challenges in their business they didn’t even know they had—and by creating that value for them (and showing them how your solution can solve their challenge), you’ll be seen as a trusted advisor, making them more inclined to do business with you.
Mr. Daly summed it up nicely: you want to “create, develop, pursue and win business that delivers mutual value for you and your customers.” By thoroughly understanding a customer’s business, you can uncover whether your solution is a good fit for them—and, too, whether they are a good fit for your solution. Everyone wants to make the sale, but doing your research and using customer insights up front will help you focus your efforts on the areas they’ll be most effective.
Understanding your customer more deeply can lead to an increase in sales. In this data-driven world, the relationship between sales rep and prospect is different than it used to be. In the past, salespeople sold solutions to problems; they now sell insights, according to Mark Bergen of Vision Critical, an insight community technology provider.
With all of the information that is available to prospects today, they have little use for the same old solutions. They are also more likely to know right off the bat whether your services will work for them. Since they arrive into the sales funnel with more knowledge, the entire sales process is being turned on its head. When a sales rep can give them assistance on top of what they already know, this individual has an opportunity to become not just a sales person, but a colleague.
In this new landscape, the most powerful sales strategy is having insight into your customers market that no one else has. Once you have this information, you won’t just be selling clients a solution to a pain point, but valuable knowledge they can only get from you.
How to understand your customer’s end market There are several options, but one thing is clear: a simple Google search doesn’t cut it anymore. Knowing your customer’s market requires in-depth research, from scouring social media platforms to reading industry publications. It can be a time-consuming activity. That’s why the best option is to invest in a customer intelligence platform that will deliver personalized information about customers’ markets. The right solution will allow you to tune out the noise and focus just on relevant events and big data analytics.
Here are just two examples of what you can accomplish when you know your end-customer:
1. Sell your prospect an outcome Don’t work in the dark. Use key insights to determine what your client really needs, beyond how you believe your product can help them. According to Anthony Iannarino for Salesforce blog, you need to focus on the final outcome instead. By honing in on their market, you can develop a better understanding of what the customer is looking for. Successful salespeople pitch the future outcome that the client is looking for. However, depending on where the client is at in the buying process, they may not be aware of their desired outcome. As a valuable asset to your prospect, this is an idea you can help them develop. Iannarino also provides another valuable piece of advice: a sale will only happen if stakeholders are in agreement on the desired outcome. Using the market intelligence you’ve gleaned, you can help guide the decision-makers into a consensus on what direction operations could go.
2. See needs before your customers do According to Bergen, by monitoring your customer’s market very closely, you can often identify problems they don’t know they have. Bergen notes how his company, which provides software that facilitates communication between customers and businesses, found a solution for sports teams whose end-customer was sports fans. After doing some research, his firm determined that sports teams don’t offer the engagement tools that sports fans want. For instance, sports teams weren’t always reaching out on digital platforms. In addition, digital platforms enabling fans to branch out from just supporting local teams. This knowledge helped Bergen’s company pitch their product to sports teams.
When you are well-versed in all the elements that make your customer’s market tick, you have opportunities to provide valuable insight in addition to products and services. The role of the sales person is changing. Do you have the tools you need to be a 21st century sales rep?
In the modern, data-driven environment, we have myriad contact methods to reach prospects. The variety of choices can make it difficult for sales reps to determine which medium is the right one. However, making this choice can have a surprising impact on sales productivity. To be a good sales rep, you have to be aware that at any given point in the sales funnel, the right communication strategy is going to be different. On the other hand, the medium also depends on what you have to say.
This may sound entry-level, but if you use the wrong channel to relay information, it may not be received the way you intended; being successful in sales relies on picking up on nuances in the way people communicate. Business executives are busy people, and you want to make things as easy as possible for them. Choosing between email, phone and face-to-face may sound simple, but you have to consider at least two things: first, what is the best medium for what you’re trying to say; second, how will it be perceived by the client?
Think Before Making Contact In a recent article from Fast Company, the author related her surprise that many people contacting her had little knowledge of contemporary communications etiquette. She cited an example of receiving long-winded emails outlining a problem when a quick phone call would have saved time on both ends. Needless to say, when you’re dealing with prospects, you want to do everything you can to use their time most efficiently, and also make sure they actually comprehend your messages.
A similar argument can be made for email. For quick queries or check-ins, prospects are likely to appreciate the use of email over a phone call, because email allows for valuable multi-tasking time that the telephone doesn’t. A face-to-face meeting should be reserved for the most important conversations, according to Anthony Iannarino.
Another point Iannarino makes is that the method of communication sends a message about how important you consider the discussion to be. For this reason, it’s imperative that certain meetings be in-person.
Make Sure You’re Developing the Relationship In response to the email/phone/in-person debate, B2B Lead Blog noted that the primary concern in customer relationships is about developing a relationship. Whatever medium you choose to send your communications, make sure the message helps you build a relationship. So, even if you think your pitch warrants a face-to-face meeting, remember that your prospect probably isn’t ready for that yet, and being too forceful may turn them off.
Developing the kind of trusted relationship that actually creates sales requires that reps start early. Use big data analytics to find potential leads early on in the buying process. Then using expertise gleaned from this market intelligence, begin forming a relationship and nurturing the lead until they are ready to buy—earning you in the coveted role of advisor. You can demonstrate your in-depth knowledge of their field and use this information to gain their trust over time. Being a trusted colleague also means that you understand your customer and the fact that they may need more information before committing to a sale.
However, here’s where communications comes in: bombarding prospects with sales pitches or salesy information too early can be a deterrent. Based on where the prospect is in the buyer’s journey, you should carefully consider not only what you’re saying to them, but what method you’re using to send the message. And make sure you’re aligning the content of your communications correctly with the method you send them.
In sales, these subtleties can make all the difference.
Much of the time, your first contact with a prospect will be through email. However, sending out shoddy messages that appear mass-produced and untailored to the specific business can wreak havoc on your sales productivity. You have to treat each email like it’s a conversation, because that’s how your prospect will be thinking about it. Sending out a generic template just won’t cut it.
For instance, a typical email may tout the company, talk about your services and end with a call-to-action. This could literally be sent out to anyone, and probably is. Instead, you need to do a better job of targeting it.
Sympathize With Your Prospect
In Inc., sales expert Geoffrey James notes that if you think about how your emails look from the customer’s perspective, it may start to make more sense as to why leads aren’t biting. Most likely, they’re asking, “what does this have to do with me?” They may be wondering why you are reaching out to them at all, and they may even be truly annoyed that you wasted their time with spam. In each case, you’ve all but lost your prospect before you’ve begun.
Prioritize Customer Research
It may seem like a no-brainer, but you need to do some work figuring out who your prospect is before shooting off an email. Once again, a cursory look at their homepage probably won’t be enough. You want is to exceed their expectations, not barely meet them—so you need to dig deeper. Customer intelligence analytics allow you to not only see what your customer has been doing, but what’s going on in their marketplace.
How to Use Sales Insights to Write Messages
Generally, prospects are more likely to respond when a message is relevant to their interests. This means it’s best to contact someone who has been looking around your site. You should not only mention their presence on your page, but exactly what they looked at. However, intelligence gives you the details that can make a cold email work. For instance, it enables you to see trigger events that create new product needs. According to HubSpot, events like this can be an excellent way to open an email.
Now that you have a better idea of their industry, and what it takes to excel in this environment, you will have a much easier time getting into the client’s perspective and understanding what will compel them to respond to your email. Keep things simple. James suggests that you give examples, not just of businesses you’ve worked with, but what you’ve done for them. Even better, align this small pitch to their specific market niche.
Another tip HubSpot offers is that with the first email, you’re really looking for a response, not a sale. Try to establish yourself as a trustworthy source who cares about the outcome of their company rather than going after the pitch right away.
When you take the time to understand your customers, you can write messages that they really respond to.
Even the best sales people need some tips now and then. When it comes down to it, the problem could simply be one of time management—your reps may be spending too much time chasing down leads that will never convert. The sales funnel shouldn’t be a black hole; make sure salespeople know when to persevere and when to surrender in order to improve sales productivity.
1. Do More with Less
According to Geoffrey James for Salesforce blog, you may need to refocus your time to increase sales. While it may seem counterintuitive, sometimes you need to reduce the number of opportunities you go after in order to increase sales. The problem with chasing too many leads is that you may not be giving each one the time they deserve. Instead, choose the most qualified leads and prepare sufficiently for each pitch.
2. Know Your Customer
This point goes along with the first one. Going after the right leads means doing significant prep work. Utilizing sales intelligence and good, old-fashioned customer research are the best resources. Make sure you are having a sales conversation based on the needs of your potential client, suggests Selling Power. To be able to pitch a meaningful solution, you have to understand what drives their market. In the same regard, if you’ve done the research and it doesn’t seem like your product is the right fit for them, odds are the company’s buyers will come to the same conclusion. It will be more beneficial to focus your efforts elsewhere.
3. Work on Your Pitch
Once you’ve improved your time management and started focusing in on the sales you can actually make, it’s time to work on the most basic part of your strategy: the pitch. If you’re not effectively closing sales, the culprit could be the pitch itself. The problem could be that your pitch is too much of a hard sell, and not enough like a conversation. According to sales training group Fearless Selling, a canned pitch can really turn off your prospects. Once again, you need to respect your potential clients as individuals with specific needs—remember to pitch your solution to their pain points, not your product. Your product won’t work the same way for everyone, and neither will your pitch. Try ditching your notes and having a real talk instead of giving a presentation.
When you really think about how you’re working and try to perfect each element, the results can be surprising.