To succeed in sales, you need have the right skills. You have to be able to lead masterful sales conversations, manage opportunities, uncover needs, negotiate the best deals, fill the pipeline, develop relationships, manage sellers, and the list goes on.
In sales forces of any size, changing the sales organization structure is an uphill battle. Structure relates to the organization of selling at the company, including sales compensation, territory design, account and lead assignments, and more.
Most sellers have a quota, or a sales performance target, that is set by the sales leaders at their organization.
When it comes to setting these sales goals, there are two general philosophies organizations tend to take:
One of our primary goals at the RAIN Group Center for Sales Research is to find out what real sellers and sales leaders are doing to achieve their results. With What Sales Winners Do Differently, we wanted to know what individual sellers do to win sales opportunities compared to those who come in second place.
Since Mack Hanan coined the term in 1970, consultative selling has been the most widely accepted—and most pursued—sales approach. The approach is characterized as understanding buyer needs and positioning offerings as solutions to problems.
While this has been the go-to approach for many sellers, massive changes in buying technology and the vast amount of information on the internet is significantly changing how buyers buy at an unprecedented pace.
As they say, if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there. If you want to drive sales performance at a company, you can focus on all sorts of tactical areas—from people and training to enablement and operations—but none of these address the fundamental questions: Where are we going? What are we doing to achieve our goals? Who will lead us there?
For the last 50 or so years, consultative selling has been the go-to approach for most sellers.
In traditional consultative selling, the buyer states a need and the seller positions their offerings as solutions to problems. This used to be enough to win the sale. But today’s buyers often perceive sellers and their capabilities to be somewhat interchangeable.1 This leaves sellers stuck in a capabilities battle, fighting price pressure.
Since the term was coined in 1970, consultative selling has been the most widely accepted—and pursued—sales approach. For the following forty years, advice for how to sell had mostly been a variation on the consultative selling theme.
Two sellers are talking at the end of the day. One turns to the other and asks, “How was your day?”
“I had a great day,” the second seller says. “I sent out two proposals this morning, had a great first meeting with a new potential buyer, and finally got a meeting with a decision maker I’ve been trying to reach for a year!” Feeling proud, he asks the first seller, “How was your day?”
People often ask us, “What should we do to drive our sales success?”
It’s a complicated question. It’s not easy to decide what to tackle, when to tackle it, what results the organization should be targeting, where you can get the biggest bang for your buck, and what it really takes to get those results without further analysis.
Sales performance analysis is typically quite involved and complex. It’s no easy task to figure out how to improve, change, or build a sales strategy. But for those sales leaders who are taking a longer-term view and looking into sales performance optimization, a performance analysis is a necessary precursor.
Most sellers and sales leaders are often asking themselves: "Is my win rate any good?"
Win rate is one of the most basic measures of your sales success, so it’s only natural to want to benchmark your performance against the average to see how you stack up.
In the mid-1990s, a fairly common sales strategy was to give a seller a desk, a phone, a business directory, and say, "Go."
Fast forward to today, and selling has become significantly more complex. Companies report ever-increasing challenges regarding product and service commoditization, proliferation of competition, and more informed and sophisticated buyers.
Everyone wants to know: what is the silver bullet to sales success? What's the one thing that will magically bring in more sales and grow your accounts?
Well, there is no one silver bullet. Many factors influence top sales performance. But there is one word that can transform your sales results: Value.
Wishing you Happy Holidays and good cheer in the New Year.
This holiday season, we're pleased to make a charitable donation on behalf of our clients to the Ethan M. Lindberg Foundation. The Foundation supports families with children facing congenital heart disease by providing grants and long-term housing, by working with hospitals to improve doctor/patient communication and patient care, and through music therapy.
Even small improvements in win rate can have a huge impact on revenue.
Based on findings from The Top-Performing Sales Organization Benchmark Report, the RAIN Group Center for Sales Research has identified 8 key areas that contribute to higher win rates that will help you beat your sales goals and reach Top Performer status in 2016:
It's the perfect time of year to give thanks and show appreciation for the people in your life who help you succeed—friends, family, colleagues, and clients. When it comes to the relationships you have with your clients, thanksgiving isn't the only time of year you should work on appreciating and building them. You should always be looking for ways to strengthen your business relationships.
In our study, The Top-Performing Sales Organization, 40% of respondents said "Improving sales opportunity approach and planning" is a top priority for the next year. Along with two related initiatives—improving ability to communicate value (41%) and optimizing sales processes (32%)—these represented three of the top four sales initiative priorities altogether.1
You know you need to differentiate yourself from your competition. And having a strong value proposition can help you do so. But sometimes buyers might consider your services to be the same as those from other providers. What do you do in that situation? It actually comes down to the relationship-whether the buyer likes you-says RAIN Group President Mike Schultz.
Earlier this year, we asked you to share your selling services challenges. You flooded us with your challenges and concerns, which included communicating the value of your services, client relationship management, cold calling, and qualifying leads. In this blog series we identify 12 of the major selling obstacles you are struggling with the most and offer advice and suggestions for overcoming them.
I was in a meeting last week, and we started talking about the evolution of professional services firms and the roles individuals play when it comes to their business development responsibilities. As many of you may have surmised and probably experienced, economic realities and changes within firms have altered who must be involved.
Here's the situation: it's the first, maybe second, serious conversation with a prospect. You're asking questions, you're building great rapport, you're uncovering a slew of needs, and you're already seeing how you can help this prospect in 10 different ways. The conversation is going great. That is until the prospect says, "Wow, this all sounds good. So, what's something like this going to cost?"
Brrrr... I've just been cold calling and boy could I use some hot chicken soup!
Just those two words together—cold calling—puts many people far away from warm and happy. Given that it's so much fun for so many people, and that I have heard a number of times recently that the last nail has been banged into the cold calling coffin, why is cold calling still even on our radar screens?
Because it works.
We all love repeat business, referrals, and inbound warm leads. The problem is you can’t scale warm leads. When these run out, so does your ability to grow your revenue, unless, of course, you prospect and drive new leads in the pipeline yourself.
About 50% of sales people won't prospect. That's the research. In our experience, the percentage of consultants who won't prospect is even higher.
I had a conversation recently with a client who was struggling with his sales efforts. The conversation went something like this:
Me: How has your selling effort been going?
Client: Unbelievable. I sent out four proposals last week and three more this week.
Me: That's great. How many new deals have you closed?
Challenges abound when it comes to generating leads for professional services firms: selecting the right tactics to generate quality leads, implementing lead generation activities consistently, breaking through the noise and getting the attention of busy decision makers, measuring and tracking what's working for you, and the list goes on.
The first sales conversation with a new prospect can be tough. After all, prospects tend to distrust sales people, they're guarded with their information, and they're extremely busy. The fact that they agreed to meet with you in the first place is a great sign. But much of your selling success hinges on your ability to lead an effective first conversation and get them to agree to a second conversation with you.
Leads, leads, leads. Once the referrals and the circle of family and friends aren't enough to keep your firm growing, it's all about the leads. Yet, when it comes to generating leads, consulting firms get it all wrong in 10 very common ways.
Last year, we asked you to share your selling services challenges. You flooded us with your challenges and concerns, which included communicating the value of your services, client relationship management, and qualifying leads. In this blog series we identify 12 of the major selling obstacles you are struggling with the most and offer advice and suggestions for overcoming them.
Recently Colleen Francis shared three stories of unsavory business development tactics in her article, "Lying to Get Past the Gatekeeper: 3 True Tales of Deception Your Firm should Learn From." She did a great job presenting the wrong way to do things.
The 4th of July has always signaled the beginning of summer to me. Fireworks, parades, barbecues, picnics, and baseball games-what better ways to celebrate the kickoff of the short-lived, New England heat?
The holiday also brings back memories of my childhood. I grew up in a small tourist town in southern Maine where my parents owned and managed a motel. Growing up living at a motel made for a pretty interesting childhood where I got to meet new people every day and make friends all over the world.
Here's the situation: You get an introductory conversation with a great prospect, someone that fits your target profile to a T.
Top-Performing companies are winning 62% of their sales opportunities. The Rest? Only 40%.
While quite a bit of research has been published on what separates top sellers from the rest, there’s relatively little on what organizations are doing to achieve high win rates.
Referrals are among the top ways sellers get leads and new business, but many struggle with generating them consistently.
We know our buyers rely on colleagues, associates, and friends to recommend providers. So when a prospect comes to us via this route, some of the work is already done for us. Referrals build a seller's trustworthiness and credibility—two cornerstones of effective selling.
Most people's sales conversations could be better. Not a little better, significantly better. I see too many sellers fall into the same traps:
Ever think you were going to win a big sale...and then you lost? Lost to the competition when you really should have won? Lost to no decision because the buyer didn't see the value or the urgency?
Sellers who win consistently plan to win from the start. They're methodical. They carefully match their sales process to the buyer's, set goals for every meeting, and do an exceptional job of communicating value.
Top sellers build strategies to drive sales opportunities, and use planners to help guide them through to the win.
Imagine it's the end of a long, important sales process. Your buyer has given you the verbal 'yes' to buy, but he has to deliver a summary of the value proposition case—why he's made the decision to move forward with you—to his peers and the board of directors. And no, you can't attend the meeting and speak alongside him. He must make the argument himself, and it has to be good.
Just because a buyer is in a position of authority—and has the financial ability to buy—doesn't mean they will, in fact, buy. They have to be in the right mindset.
We call the right mindsets "buying modes." The wrong mindsets, "non-buying modes." When you understand which mode someone is in, you'll know whether they’re inclined to make a purchase or not.
When it comes to winning big sales opportunities, sales leaders often share 2 complaints:
Big plays are major actions you can take to win your most important sales opportunities and grow your most important accounts.
Most sales training and advice is based on a fundamental premise: the seller is in control.
Think about it: a lot of what's taught focuses on what sellers should be doing to persuade, convince, and drive buyers toward closing a sale. The seller is responsible for bringing the deal to a close. Therefore the seller must be in control.
While companies spend billions of dollars on sales training each year, 90% of sales training fails to have an impact after 120 days.
It's time for an entirely new way of approaching sales education; an approach that drives real behavior change and results.
Too many organizations leave the success of their sellers to chance.
More sellers are missing quota, sales cycles are extending, and the competition isn't exactly standing aside to make life easy.
Sellers that win big sales go over-and-above to win them. When the impact for you is potentially huge, you want to do everything possible to get the win. Anything less and you essentially serve up the win to your competition.
When you need to win and win big, you need a Big Play.
In studying, researching, and practicing in the field of strategic account management, we've found 6 areas can almost universally be improved.
Client loyalty is tough to earn.
Fred Reichheld, author of The Loyalty Effect and creator of the Net Promoter System, found that most corporations lose 50% of their customers every 5 years, 50% of employees in 4 years, and 50% of investors in less than one year.
Ask most people about the strength of their core client relationships and they'll say, "Great. Rock solid."
Yet these comments usually refer to how much rapport or trust sellers feel they have with the client. They don't answer the question through the lens of business value the client receives from them.
Editor's note: We recently asked 5 sales experts, "What is the one piece of advice you would give a seller to help them exceed their sales targets this year?" The following is Mike Schultz's response.
"Take time to deliberate; but when the time for action arrives, stop thinking and go in." - Napoleon Bonaparte
I've seen more people intend to crush their goals than I have seen people actually crush their goals. They talk about how they're going to make it to the top. They read books and attend seminars. They talk a good game.
"What gets measured gets managed."
– Peter Drucker
Only when you have a good sense of what's going on in your organization can you decide which buttons to push to make the greatest improvements. Even small efforts to track key sales metrics can quickly drive better results.
The world around us is shifting—in virtually every way. Savvy sellers have caught on to the fact that B2B buying behavior is changing as well.
We've written a lot about our What Sales Winners Do Differently research, in which we studied more than 700 B2B sales purchases by buyers representing $3.1 billion in annual purchasing power. We've shared with you how sales winners don't only sell differently, they sell radically differently from second-place finishers.
Selling works when an organization, and its sellers, excel in certain key areas. The Sales Competency WheelSM is a graphical depiction of these areas. Not every seller must do everything in the Wheel (e.g., not every seller must fill their own pipelines or drive account growth), but every sales organization needs to make sure the right people are good in the right areas to unleash maximum sales potential.
In just the last 10 years, selling has become more complex and sophisticated, requiring organizations to provide higher levels of support for sellers to succeed.
It's more difficult to get meetings with buyers, navigate complicated buying processes, win against competition that is increasingly capable, and grow accounts.
Sales training is often approached with a car wash mentality: You're in, you're out, and you're ready to sell.
But this isn't how real learning happens. This isn't how you help sellers raise the bar and change how they sell.
"It was like a phantom swooped in in the eleventh hour and killed the sale."
We've all been there...You had a series of great meetings. You built rapport and developed a strong, trusted relationship. You uncovered (and got agreement) on the buyer's needs—needs that they didn't even know they had. You spent days working with your delivery team to scope the project and craft the proposal. You sent it off to your contact and called him at the time you had scheduled to review it:
Retaining current customers costs 6-7x less than acquiring news ones, and improving customer retention rates by a mere 5% can increase profit per customer by 25%-95%. So it makes sense that top companies focus on building relationships, increasing loyalty, and selling more to current customers as a growth strategy.
Years ago, I was working for a company that had just made the decision to go public. After a lengthy deliberation, the company chose a particular big-five firm (at the time there were five) to handle the preparations for our public offering. Curious, I asked the chief financial officer how he made the decision.
When it comes to growing accounts, challenges abound. In our Benchmark Report on High Performance in Strategic Account Management, we asked:
Consider the challenges your company faces in strategic account management. For each factor indicate how challenging it is to your company's SAM efforts.
Companies take lots of actions to grow accounts. Some work better than others.
However, none of them work very well if you don't take care of one important action up front.
One of the biggest untapped opportunities to increasing sales and profit is growing your existing accounts. Consider:
How many of your accounts take advantage of your full suite of products and services?
How much more could you be selling to your existing accounts?
10%? 20%? 50%? More?
57% of the purchase process is complete before buyers have their first interaction with a seller.1
This is one of the most cited statistics in the sales world these days—as if it's some kind of big news.
Wait...so you mean buyers do research and talk internally before they bring in outsiders? No way, dude! That's, like, revolutionary!
At RAIN Group it's our mission to help you unleash your sales potential. Through the RAIN Selling blog we strive to bring you the freshest sales research, tips, and strategies that will help you make breakthroughs in your sales results. In 2014 we did just that and we did it with gusto.
I received a call the other day from someone selling website tracking software. We already use a marketing automation tool like this. I mentioned it to the seller. He then went on a rant about how he visited our website, recognized the tool we use, and how we weren't doing it right.
This is Ari. If it weren't for the innovative research and doctors at Boston Children's Hospital, he wouldn't be here.
That's why, this year, on behalf of our clients and business partners, RAIN Group is pleased to make a financial contribution to the Heart Center at Boston Children's Hospital.
It's that time of year again. The leaves have fallen from the trees, the temperature has dropped, and the calendar is filling up with holiday parties, ski trips, and family gatherings. Thanksgiving marks the start of the holiday season, the time of year when we reflect on the relationships we have with family, friends, customers, and co-workers. Thanksgiving in particular is a time to give thanks and show your appreciation.
There's been a bit of a gold rush around the term "insight selling" in the last several years. Research from a variety of sources, including RAIN Group, has confirmed a simple fact:
Buyers buy from sellers who are sources of ideas.
A sales negotiation can be lengthy, nerve-wracking, and complex. For many sellers, every negotiation adds at least one gray hair.
The challenge is that too many people find themselves in a sales negotiation, but they don't understand the underlying dynamics of how sales negotiations work.
When it comes to business development for professional services, one of the biggest challenges professionals face is finding time to do it all. After all, you don't sell full-time. Your work, whether it's consulting, accounting, or engineering, is what you do full-time. And that makes it very difficult to find time to create and develop the relationships necessary to bring in new business.
Sales negotiation can be a nerve-wracking process. Without the right knowledge or tools at your disposal, getting to the best agreement can be elusive.
In this podcast, RAIN Group's President Mike Schultz discusses how to overcome your fears, gain confidence, and leave behind some common misconceptions about sales negotiation.
One of the major findings of our research on What Sales Winners Do Differently is that today's sales winners don't just sell the value of their products and services, they are the value. They are knowledgeable experts who bring ideas and new perspectives to the table. Essentially, they harness the power of ideas when selling, and it gives them the winning edge.
You’ve spent months working with the buyer, defining needs, and collaborating with them to build a solution. You both agree in principle, but when you ask them to sign on the dotted line, you hear:
Last week we shared our infographic on 18 Tactics Buyers Use in Sales Negotiations. The infographic highlights the most common sales negotiation techniques that buyers use, what they look like, and how you can prepare for and respond to each so you can successfully negotiate with buyers on their terms.
Good negotiators have the ability to recognize the negotiation style of the other party.
When a buyer comes to the negotiation in partner mode, it allows you to work collaboratively to create possibilities that expand the pie and result in the best possible agreement for both sides.
A long time ago, I was fly fishing with a grizzled, old, big company leadership consultant. I asked him what he thought differentiated good consultants from great consultants—those at the pinnacle of the game.
He said, "Let me think."
You've been working on a sale for 4 months and everything's going great. Your potential customer, the decision maker, is talking as if the deal is done. But before final sign off, you must meet with the CFO.
You get to the meeting.
What do James Franco, Daniel Craig, and Mo'Nique all have in common? They're described as actors who bring gravitas to their roles on the big and small screens.* Another is Sir Patrick Stewart, who embodied gravitas as Capt. Jean-Luc Picard on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Picard had power and authority. He commanded respect. When he spoke, the Enterprise—and everyone else in the universe—listened.
How many times have you left a sales meeting and thought, "I should have said that..."?
Or, during a meeting, as you listened to what a prospect was saying, you thought, "That's not right; he will be making a big mistake if he goes down that path," but you never voiced your opinion?
There’s a revolution underway in sales. What used to work, even just a few years ago, is no longer enough to win major sales today.
As a result, a new breed of seller, who's beating out the competition and winning the sale, has emerged: the insight seller.
Insight sellers share new ideas and perspectives with their buyers, and they collaborate with buyers to develop the best solutions. They don’t just sell the value of their products and services, they become the value.
Perhaps the most respected voice of all time in sales is SPIN Selling author Neil Rackham. John and I were honored to have him write the foreword for Insight Selling. It's a great commentary on the state of and changes occurring in the world of modern sales. We hope you find it as insightful as we did. Without further ado...
A couple of years ago, I was involved in a major rebranding effort for a Fortune 100 financial services firm. Based on extensive research, their chief marketing officer decided their new brand positioning should be focused on "easier."
Easier to do business with. Easier to conduct banking transactions. Easier to get a mortgage, car loan, or business investment from.
There's been a lot of noise the last couple years declaring relationship selling dead. "The Internet has changed everything." "Personal connections don't matter anymore." "Selling is not about relationships." "Throw out everything you thought you knew about sales, Armageddon is coming!" Blah, blah, etc.
Breaking into new accounts and setting meetings is one of the most difficult tasks sellers face. But if you want to be successful in sales, you need to be able to build your own pipeline and drum up your own business.
To increase your odds of landing initial meetings, follow these five appointment-setting tips:
In the latter half of the 1700s, German astrologist and physician Franz Anton Mesmer treated his patients by looking deeply into their eyes and waving magnets in front of their faces. Mesmer believed barriers in our bodies disrupted the natural flow of the processes that gave us life and health. He further believed his penetrating eye gazing and object waving restored natural order inside his patients and relieved all sorts of maladies.
Lots of things have changed in the world of sales, but some things have not. Building trust was important 50 years ago, and it's just as important today.
When buyers trust sellers, they depend on them, listen to them, give them access, and spend time with them.
Since articles like "The End of Solution Sales" and "Selling is Not About Relationships" were published in the Harvard Business Review, there's been a lot of disagreement in the sales world about what's working and what's not. The arguments behind these articles were steeped in data. The arguments against these articles seemed more based on experience and belief. Which were true? We didn't care one way or the other, but we certainly wanted to know.
Call it what you like: solution sales, consultative sales, consultative selling—at the core of each of these concepts is diagnosing and connecting the "pain" of the buyer with the products, services, and overall capabilities of the seller as "solutions."
Pain + Diagnosis + Offerings as "Solution" = WIN!
After studying over 700 B2B purchases, sifting through hundreds of pages of data, talking to tens of thousands of sellers and sales leaders, and more than a year in the writing process, we are thrilled that our new book, Insight Selling: Surprising Research on What Sales Winners Do Differently is finally here.
Think about someone you seek out when you're working through a challenge.
They help you think things through, see what’s important. They ask the right questions. They listen. They don’t just give you answers—they help you come up with them.
In Insight Selling: Surprising Research on What Sales Winners Do Differently, we reveal the results of our extensive analysis of over 700 B2B purchases from the buyer’s perspective.
In our research, we found that sales winners consistently exhibit behaviors on three levels: they connect, convince, and collaborate.
On September 28, 2011, my wife and I went to our 18 week ultrasound to find out if our first child would be a boy or a girl.
We found out it was a boy, and that he had a special heart.
Our unborn son was diagnosed with a critical aortic stenosis with evolving hypoplastic left heart.
The sales landscape has shifted in the last few years.
Buyers are more informed than ever, competition is stiffer, and products and services are increasingly seen as replaceable, leaving most sellers at a loss for the best way to add value and differentiate.
In The Benchmark Report on High Performance in Strategic Account Management, we analyzed data from over 370 companies that engage in formal strategic account management. We asked about the top challenges that limit account growth and found the number one difference between high performers and the rest is: having an effective strategic account planning tool.
Only 19% of high performers reported having an effective account planning tool as challenging compared to 53% of everyone else (see graph to the left).
The challenge of having an effective tool does not, however, exist in a vacuum.
In this quick video, RAIN Group President Mike Schultz discusses the difference between being unique versus being distinct from the buyer's perspective.
We've all been there.
Someone reaches out to you. They're enthusiastic. Ask for information. Want to talk to you on the phone. Ask for a proposal. Tell you they're "genuinely interested" in what you're offering. And "need something concrete to discuss in a meeting that's coming up."
"You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."– Inigo Montoya
People at large companies bandy about the terms "key account management" and "strategic account management" in conversation every day.
You finally got the meeting!
While getting a buyer to say "yes" to an initial sales meeting is a battle in and of itself, much success is determined by what happens in that first meeting. There are many mistakes to avoid, especially when you’re the one setting the meeting and driving the demand for your offerings.
According to research from Aberdeen Group, best-in-class companies—those that outperform others on a variety of sales factors, including quota attainment, shrinking the sales cycle, and growing the average deal size:
Bringing in new customers is expensive. According to research by Fred Reichheld of Bain & Company, it costs 6 to 7x more to acquire a new customer than it does to retain an existing customer.
In our own work, we regularly find companies have significant, untapped opportunities for growing existing accounts.
I recently returned from an industry conference. The speakers were excellent and it was great to get away from my desk, connect with the attendees, and have the opportunity to step back and think big picture about what I need to be doing to drive success in my position. I returned with all sorts of notes, to-dos, and grand visions for change.
9 out of 10 sales training initiatives have no lasting impact after 120 days.1
Considering companies spend $3.4 to $4.6 billion on sales training with outsourced providers each year, that’s a big investment with little to show for it beyond short-term, short-lived gains.2
In the Benchmark Report on High Performance in Strategic Account Management, we studied more than 370 companies that engage in formal strategic account management. We looked at what sets High Performers apart from the rest, and what you need to do to become a high-performing organization.
Top Sales World has announced the finalists for its annual Top Sales & Marketing Awards and we’re pleased to share that RAIN Group has been nominated in three categories.
Sales training is a multibillion-dollar business. In the U.S. alone, it is estimated to be more than $5 billion (according to Dave Stein in Sales Training: The 120-Day Curse from ES Research Group). Yet, also according to Stein, between 85% and 90% of sales training has no lasting impact after 120 days. If we do the math, that amounts to somewhere north of $4.25 billion of unproductive training.
In What Sales Winners Do Differently, we studied over 700 purchases from the perspective of business-to-business buyers to find out what really happened in their buying experiences.
In our research, we looked at the factors that most separate sales winners from second-place finishers. These are the essential selling skills you need to find yourself in the winner's circle.
Negotiations are everywhere. From negotiating important sales opportunities to negotiating with our kids at bedtime, we’re constantly working to reach agreement with others. In this game of give and take, it’s too easy to get stuck, make mistakes, and lose big.
More than ever, sales teams are struggling with unqualified leads, missed sales goals, and lost opportunities. Increasingly, company and sales leaders are turning to coaching as a solution.
And, why not? Executive and personal-effectiveness coaching have historically yielded great results. According to the International Coach Federation, the average company can expect a return of 7 times the initial investment in coaching.*
Ask a group of professional services providers how much of their business comes from existing clients and the answers usually will be 60%, 70%, 80%, or even more. Then ask them how much time they put into nurturing those same clients and the answers will be a little, not much, or none. Finally, ask why they spend so little time building relationships when there is potential for so much new business and the answers will be:
Sales coaching has become a hot topic in business as more and more companies see a significant return on investment. However, where executive coaching and personal-effectiveness coaching yield positive results, sales coaching lags behind. Whether it's a lack of time, inconsistent coaching conversations, unavailability of tools and resources to succeed, or weak coaching skills, sales managers and leaders simply aren't producing strong results.
Sales coaching—working one-on-one or in small groups with firms and individuals in a highly focused manner to help them increase effectiveness, revenues, and sales—is a large part of what I do on a day-to-day basis.
In our Benchmark Report on High Performance in Strategic Account Management research study, we learned that high performers—those companies that had much greater revenue and profit growth in their strategic accounts than the rest—were 2.8 times more likely to have an effective process for planning ways to add value to accounts.
I spend a good percentage of my time selling. I also spend a lot of time coaching and training sales teams. One question that comes up time after time is, "How do I shorten the sales cycle?"
My quick response is usually, "Have more in each stage of your pipeline at all times, so the sales cycle just seems shorter."
It usually takes a long time to find a shorter way. - Anonymous
Most of my clients want to have better meetings with senior executives. Meetings that feel like conversations, not pitches. Meetings that build deeper relationships. Meetings that uncover more ways in which they can help their customers.
Behind closed doors, when I ask what's holding them back, many will tell me things like, "I don't feel comfortable," "I have nothing to offer to them,"" or "I'm not at their level."
Talking about the differences between men and women is a tricky thing. But we need to deal with tricky things if we want to be good sales managers.
The recently published book, Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing, by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, has a nugget of knowledge every sales manager should know. As the title suggests, it’s about the science behind why some people win and others struggle.
It’s 4 PM on a Thursday. You’re about to meet the CEO of a large company you’d like to win as a client. The conversation starts as you walk into the office, approach the CEO, stretch out your hand, and say, “Nice to meet you, Jill. I’m Steve Webb.”
When buyers buy something, one of two things must be true:
1. They are required to buy.
2. They want to buy.
How you run a sales meeting depends fundamentally on who set it.
Imagine for a minute you’re the COO of a mid-sized manufacturing company. You’ve been reading quite a bit about how to decrease costs in a supply chain. You do a little research and find supply chain consulting firms. You call a few that happen to be in your area and set up a series of sales conversations with them. In this case, you’re the buyer.
For our What Sales Winners Do Differently research, we studied over 700 major purchases from buyers who represented $3.1 billion dollars in annual purchasing power.
One question we wanted to answer was, “Is it the company and offerings that make the biggest difference in the buyer’s purchase decision, or is it the seller and how they sell?”
Most people think of prospecting as reaching out to people they don’t know, with an over-the-top approach, to interest them in buying something they’re not thinking about. This isn’t the only way to generate more leads.
Prospecting isn’t just a cold activity, and you don’t need a sledgehammer approach to make it work.
How many of us have heard from prospects, "Your fees are too high," "Someone else will do it for less," or "I don't see why I have to pay all that money just to have you do an audit, write a brief, create a marketing plan, etc.?" And, more important, how many resist the urge to simply lower our fees to get the work?
Eighty percent of success is showing up. - Woody Allen
Woody Allen’s advice is pretty sound for salespeople as well, assuming you show up prepared.
We acknowledge that sometimes you do just show up (or—hallelujah—a prospect calls you out of the blue) and you haven't done any preparation for the sales call. It's reasonable to suggest that, on occasion, sales calls are appropriately deemed 'exploratory discussions'; the kind of discussion in which we just talk and 'see where it goes.'
Ask 100 sellers at 100 companies why their customers buy from them, and you're likely to hear 100 answers with the same underlying theme: the value we provide.
Sellers describe their value to us in a number of ways: we get results. Our relationships are very close. They get from us what they've always wanted (but never gotten) from other companies. We bring innovative solutions to the table. And so on.
Want to make more sales? Start by having better conversations.
Think about it. You spent months chasing a senior decision maker or prospect, making calls, and sending e-mails, and they finally agreed to sit down with you. You invested significant amounts of time, effort, energy and—sometimes considerable—resources to win them over.
Having spent two decades in the sales training and consulting world, I get asked all the time what I think about this or that sales approach or book. When I do, it tends to make for productive discussion and learning. Importantly, it helps people decide what’s right for them when it comes to selling.
One of the greatest difficulties in professional services sales is helping potential clients understand what outcomes they will achieve when they work with you. Creating a picture of what outcomes are possible with the solution you present is imperative for two reasons. First, prospects need to be convinced of the outcome and that you can achieve it or they likely will not purchase.
See an article about differentiation and it’s likely to be about marketing. Differentiation often starts with marketing, but it’s in the selling process that it truly comes alive.
Here at RAIN Group, we recently analyzed just over 700 business-to-business sales made to buyers who represent $3.1 billion in annual purchases from industries with complex sales.
All the strategies. All the meetings. All the planning.
All the effort you put in to maximizing your sales to existing accounts will be for naught if you don’t first talk about, and then do something about, this hidden killer of account growth.
Imagine for a minute you sold everything you should be selling across all of your firm’s capabilities to your existing clients. If all the buying centers bought all of the capabilities they should be buying, how much would your key account sales increase?
When people spend time analyzing this carefully, they find the potential to expand sales to existing clients is huge.
What is the #1 challenge or issue you face when it comes to growing sales for your business?
When I recently reached out to my network and asked that same question, 75% mentioned sales prospecting as their #1 challenge.
In this short video, RAIN Group President Mike Schultz shares some insights from our Benchmark Report on High Performance in Strategic Account Management, including the consequences of neglecting compensation alignment and accountability, and gives you a few ideas for what you can do about them.
Sometimes it’s just easy. You meet a person and connect. Conversation flows. You find common areas professionally and personally. Ideas bounce back and forth, and you start talking about how you can work on something together. Before you know it, work is under way, and the collaboration is the definition of one plus one equals three.
"It's impossible to get serious face time with senior executives."
“Even getting 15 minutes with a senior executive can take 15 months.”
I hear things like this all the time from professionals, sellers, and other business leaders who want to get more time with decision makers, but haven’t yet cracked the code.
In our white paper Why Strategic Account Management Fails, we noted that high performers in strategic account management were significantly less likely to face 16 of 19 common challenges in Strategic Account Management. We didn’t, however, have space to go into much detail in this specific area. Since publishing the white paper, we’ve been asked quite a bit for more detail on the specific challenges faced by companies that engage in formal strategic account management, and the differences between high performers and average / below-average performers.
You're at an industry event mulling over which cheese will go best with which crackers at the buffet. The person next to you introduces himself. You introduce yourself. Then he says:
"So tell me, what do you do?"
Ask the question, “What needs to happen at your company to maximize your success with your strategic accounts?” and you’re likely to get answers like this:
(This post is the first in a series of blog posts on the new rules of selling.)
Win-win is a common negotiating philosophy. The idea is to find solutions that satisfy the interests of both parties, and maximize value on both sides. Since repeat business and referrals are so important in complex sales, employing win-win as part of your selling technique and philosophy should be a foregone conclusion.
If your firm is like most, you’ve been using CRM software for years now. Name after name, title after title, data point upon data point, you’ve likely stockpiled a huge amount of prospecting information through various lead generation activities. You’ve created countless records and guided each one through your sales pipeline.
Here at RAIN Group, our advice to organizations looking to create a culture of sustained, serious selling: Make sure the bucket doesn't have any holes or it won't hold water.
Time and again we see organizations doing a certain percent of what they need to do to help their teams achieve more sales success and increase sales performance (our favorite, “Can you come in and give a 90-minute speech that will charge up the team for the next 12 months?”), but rarely do they put forth 100% effort. If you're only doing 70% of what you need to do to increase sales performance, you don't get 70% results; you get much less. Like patching a leak in the bottom of a boat, if you don't patch it 100%, it still takes on water.
According to ES Research between 85% and 90% of sales training has no lasting impact after 120 days. At the same time, companies are spending billions of dollars on sales training each year. That’s billions of dollars being wasted on limited sales performance impact and only short-term boosts in sales at best.
Failure is popular these days.
I’ve been reading (and recommend) The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. In The Lean Startup, Ries covers a number of concepts to help entrepreneurs and their new ventures to succeed. One such concept is ‘Validated Learning’.
Salespeople know what they sell, and they sell what they know. When it comes to salesperson knowledge, people know too little about their particular industry, their customers’ needs, and their company’s products and services to be able to sell the full suite of solutions.
Achieving your goals isn't a slam dunk. Can you do what it takes to meet them?
I recently started going to a personal trainer. At the beginning of our very first session, she asked, “So, what are you trying to accomplish?”
I have been truly obsessed with baseball lately. My beloved Red Sox folded faster than the deck chairs on the Titanic in one of the greatest meltdowns in all of baseball history. And the talk shows are full of Danny from Quincy and Al from Everett suggesting changes that need to happen in the off-season. One fan suggested freshening up the pitching staff by having relievers start games, starters come in to relieve, and closers (generally relegated to the ninth inning) pitch from the seventh on. What a disaster that would be!
This summer, I finally decided I was ready to go from the junior varsity batting cages (65 mph) to the high school varsity cages (80 mph). Boy was that a mistake. I did foul one off, but the experience was mostly entertainment for my sons and their college friends. Later that day, I checked to see just how fast my reaction time had to be to square up on an 80 mph pitch. My findings: less than ½ second. I had no chance. I can’t imagine facing Justin Verlander and his 100 mph pitches.
There are thousands of ways to kill a sale. Some are obvious like not showing up to a meeting prepared, not following up, not listening, not establishing trust, going to proposal too early, not speaking to decision makers... the list goes on. These are all pretty easy to see and with some work and practice can be overcome.
I love the movie Groundhog Day. If you haven’t seen it, please do. If you have, then you will remember that Bill Murray, the lead, masters the piano, develops incredible medical diagnostic skills, becomes fluent in French, and learns to change tires in minutes. All the while covering the breaking news of the emergence of Punxsutawney Phil (the groundhog signaling a longer winter – hence the movie title).
Master the 4 types of sales objections, and you'll be on the road to much greater sales success.
An objection is not a rejection; it is simply a request for more information. - Bo Bennett
Are you the type of person who quickly deals with sales objections, providing answers immediately, trying to overcome them as quickly as possible and move towards the close?
Wouldn’t it be great if there were a silver bullet that would make you more successful in your sales efforts? One thing you could do to really boost your sales success?
I hate to disappoint, but the reality is, there is no silver bullet. Sales success takes hard work and commitment along with skill and savvy.
|The following is expanded content from our new book Rainmaking Conversations: Influence, Persuade, and Sell in Any Situation. In this piece, co-authors Mike Schultz and John Doerr explain how to make sincere connections with prospects to help close more deals. Read more about the book here.|
Not meeting expectations hurts salespeople during the sales process... and foursomes that don't have a fourth.
Last Friday, I was looking for one more person to round out a foursome for a Saturday golf date. That evening I bumped into an acquaintance, mentioned we needed an extra, and he agreed to play.
|The following is expanded content from our new book Rainmaking Conversations: Influence, Persuade, and Sell in Any Situation. In this piece, co-authors Mike Schultz and John Doerr discuss the concept of a value proposition, and how to communicate your value to someone you are meeting for the first time. Read more about the book here.|
|The following is expanded content from our new book Rainmaking Conversations: Influence, Persuade, and Sell in Any Situation. In this piece, co-authors Mike Schultz and John Doerr explain how to get at the root causes of need so you can solve prospect challenges in the most permanent and helpful way. Read more about the book here.|
John Jantsch over at Duct Tape Marketing asked me and several other sales industry veterans the following question:
"I hate selling, so now how do I convert leads?"
His readers could then guess which sales author answered the question which way. Now that the cat’s out of the bag, I thought I’d share how I answered the question.
Sorry it didn’t work out this time, but I have to say “no.”
Confused why your value prop doesn't work? You shouldn't be.
“We build brands…”
Back in the late 90s when I was a running a marketing firm, this was the beginning of our value proposition. We thought it was brilliant… until we started using it.
|The following is expanded content from our new book Rainmaking Conversations: Influence, Persuade, and Sell in Any Situation. In this piece, co-authors Mike Schultz and John Doerr explain the importance of setting personal sales goals for long-term success. Read more about the book here.|
The following is expanded content from our new book Rainmaking Conversations: Influence, Persuade, and Sell in Any Situation. In this piece, co-authors Mike Schultz and John Doerr stress the importance of continuous self-evaluation in your efforts to reach sales success. Read more about the book here.
Imagine for a minute you’re a master carpenter. You’ve been building houses your whole life, trying your best to hone your craft and deliver the highest quality work every day that you possibly could.
Willy: I don't know why - I can't stop myself - I talk too much. A man oughta come in with a few words. Charlie's a man of few words, and they respect him.
Linda: You don't talk too much, you're just lively.
Arthur Miller - Death of a Salesman
We haven’t said much about the launch of our new book on this blog, and it’s certainly not for a lack of excitement about it. In fact, we’ve been incredibly busy since the beginning of this year preparing for the launch of the book, which will be next Tuesday, April 19, and in the midst of all the activity, we haven’t even mentioned it yet here on the blog.
I had the pleasure of meeting Ed Rendell when he was the mayor of Philadelphia. He was pointed and direct, quite different from the other politicians I have met over the years. So it came as little surprise when early this winter, Rendell, then Governor of Pennsylvania, called NFL officials “wimps” for canceling a game between the Eagles and Vikings due to snow.
It’s 4 PM on a Thursday and you’re about to meet the CEO of a major company you’d like to win as a client. The conversation starts as you walk into the office, approach the CEO, stretch out your hand, and say, “Nice to meet you, Jill. I’m Steve Webb.”
Fast forward to a meeting about 7 months later. You head into the office. Jill gets out from behind her desk and says, “Good to see you again, Steve. Here’s a check for $1.2 million. Let’s get started.”
Keep your prospects engaged, and lead them to the next step.
Imagine you’re a business leader, and you’re considering buying a new technology that could help your business succeed. You log in to the web presentation and, after a few pleasantries, the presenter starts in, “We started in 1978 by John Doe and have grown into the market leader in the space. We provide efficient effective solutions leveraging a unique combination of people, process, and technology to help you achieve results…Here’s a sample list of our clients…Now let me log in to the software. It’s all hosted online so you can login from wherever, whenever you need to…Over here is where you control admin rights of the users…”
Do your sales managers know how to coach and motivate your sales people?
Your sales staff is underperforming, but you can't figure out why. You're pretty sure that you've hired the best possible talent, but some days it seems like your sales staff is the gang that can’t shoot straight. Where did you go wrong?
A while ago at a conference I had dinner with two people. The first, (we’ll call her Janine) I had known since we worked together six years earlier. The second person (Ed), Janine and I had just met.
Janine described a sales challenge she was facing. She’d been working with two prospects at two different organizations, one for over a year and one for almost two. The typical sales cycle is 6 to 9 months, and these were both well beyond. She felt she was nearing a sale with both, but for all she knew, “nearing” might mean a year or two to go.
Sometimes buyers don't know how to buy. Don't be afraid to show them.
I recently conducted a webinar for a client on prospecting. Leading up to the webinar, I asked what questions the client had in regards to prospecting so I could tailor the content to their particular challenges. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when I only got one response. And that is not because they are masters of prospecting. Quite the contrary. It’s because they do so little of it and were unsure of what questions to ask. Like most sales people (50% according to Dave Kurlan’s extensive studies), they were doing little prospecting at all.1
I am pleased and honored that our online magazine RainToday.com was chosen as the Top Sales Resource of 2010. Thank you to everyone who voted for us and to the judges; we couldn’t have won without your support.
This post started out as one about the best sales books of the year. However as I was looking through my bookshelf I couldn’t help but add a few of my favorite new business books too. So without further ado, here are my top reads of 2010 (in no particular order):
A business-to-business client we at RAIN Group work with recently closed a mid-six figure deal that started with a cold call.
But it started out rocky. Indeed, about 20 seconds in to the cold call it almost fell apart.
Tony Robbins, please accept my apology.
About 15 years ago, when I was a budding manager in charge of my first strategic business unit, I dissed you pretty badly.
I'm sorry. I take it back.
“If I could just get a meeting with my target prospects I am certain I could close five (or six or eight) out of every ten.”
How many of you think the same thing? You know that when you get in front of the prospect you can wow them. Every time a lead comes into the firm and you go on the sales meeting, it's a slam dunk. Made-in-the-shade. Can of corn. You know you'll get the gig.
Let's assume you set a meeting with someone you believe will be a good prospect. It's not from a referral – they neither know you nor have they heard of you beforehand. Thus there is no transferred trust as when you are referred in. It's also not from a client who's sought you out, thus there's no hot need. You targeted them, and you asked them for a meeting.
Like a Poor Marksman You Keep…Missing…The Target!
- Admiral James T. Kirk
If you don't know your destination, any road will get you there. When prospects ask for a formal proposal, they are telling you their desired destination: a business relationship with you. And they're asking you to answer the question, “What road do we take to get there?”
Since it's your job to give directions, you want to tell them the straightest, shortest, and easiest route. After all, you don't want them to get lost along the way, or so tired on the path that they give up before they get to the end.
It's 2001. You work for a new company in the search engine space. Let's call this company Shmoogle.
Shmoogle has this huge new idea—businesses are starting to grow based on getting found on the Internet. Why not have businesses pay per click to get found? Brilliant!
You're a sales person at Shmoogle, and you know pay per click will be huge. You start prospecting on the phone.
Broad, open-ended sales questions are great for helping us to find out what’s going on in our prospects’ and clients’ worlds. They help us connect with buyers personally, understand their needs, understand what’s important to them, and help them create better futures for themselves.
People with kids tell me that sometimes you have to let them fail, even when you could have jumped in to save them, so they will learn. Painful to sit by and watch, but necessary for growth. After being on the receiving end of an awful sales call last week, now I know the feeling.
"Your fees are too high; can you do it for less?"