This piece originally appeared in the August 2018 edition of Independent Agent magazine and is reprinted here with permission.
Word of mouth, repeat business and referrals used to be enough to maintain a thriving sales organization. But today, buyers have more options than ever before, they're more educated, and the phone doesn't ring like it used to.
That means sellers need to be proactive in growing their pipelines and securing meetings with buyers. Here are five ways to get started:
Sales Training Defined: Sales training is the process of improving seller skills, knowledge, and attributes to drive seller behavioral change and maximize sales success. To be most effective, sales training should be viewed, designed, and executed as a change management initiative.
The global market for sales training is approximately $4.6 billion.
Yet most sales training fails to deliver lasting results.
This is because most companies do not define and approach sales training properly.
To deliver effective sales training, you need to redefine what sales training is. You need to focus on changing your sellers' behaviors to drive sales results and support this change as a change management initiative.
To find and win business consistently, your sellers need to have the right mix of sales skills across the sales process, from filling the front-end of the pipeline to growing accounts. Too many sales teams have significant skill deficits preventing them from turning their potential for sales growth into reality.
In The Top-Performing Sales Organization research initiative, we looked at the differences between Top Performers and The Rest across sales skills and knowledge needed to drive sales performance. The gaps in skills are eye-opening.
Written by: Mike Schultz and Gord Smith
When it comes to selling financial services, professionals are usually faced with three common challenges:
The good news is that you can overcome these hurdles. There are specific things you can do in each of these areas to be more successful.
Technology sellers lament how impossible it is to get their buyers on the phone more than any other industry.
Phone is one of the top ways sellers say they connect with buyers, yet sellers in the technology industry report extreme difficulty using it to reach their buyers.
In our study on Top Performance in Sales Prospecting, we studied 488 buyers responsible for $4.2 billion of purchases and the prospecting habits of 489 sellers. We looked at results across buyer and seller sets, top performers, and industry. As part of our research, we compared how buyers prefer to be contact by sellers across multiple industries.
Email is one of the top ways to break through and secure meetings with targeted buyers. In fact, 80% of buyers say they prefer to be contacted by sellers via email. It's an essential part of any prospecting plan.
However, too many prospecting emails fall victim to common mistakes that kill response rates. Recently, we shared 13 email prospecting best practices. Here are 7 email makeover ideas to help you improve your emails and work toward those best practices.
Email is an essential part of the prospecting process. In fact:
So, what can you do to get more of your buyers to accept meetings via email?
Below we outline 13 email prospecting tips to help you do just that. (Note: It takes more than 1 or 2 emails to break through and secure a meeting. On average, it takes 8 touches to break through and typically these touches include a mix of media.)
The most successful sellers are motivated, proactive, focused, and goal-oriented. Indeed, they get the most done and achieve the best results in less time.
So what makes these sellers significantly more productive? We all have the same number of hours in a day, yet some sellers achieve considerably more than others.
The answer: They're systematic. They attack each day with a similar mindset and process to drive their productivity.
After years of study, we've boiled down what these extremely productive sellers do to just 3 keys.
By applying these 3 keys, almost anyone can achieve great leaps and improvements in productivity.
Becoming more productive is about changing your habits. It's not something you do some of the time; it becomes part of the way you approach your work and get things done.
Becoming more productive can make a dramatic difference in your work, sales success, and overall happiness.
Think about it. How do you feel after a day where you've been exceptionally productive and pushed important projects forward?
You feel invigorated, motivated, engaged, and ready for the next challenge.
Compare that to an unproductive day where you couldn't focus or spent the entire day working on tasks for others. You feel drained, overwhelmed, frustrated, and irritable.
The good news is you can control how productive you are and in turn how you feel at the end of each day.
Sell the product benefits. Book the demo. Get them a free trial. Present the pitch deck.
We hear these ideas from sales pundits all the time. We want buyers to experience our product or service and see everything it has to offer. We develop long presentations and demos showing them the ins and outs and the numerous fancy, flashy things our offering can do for them.
But does it matter?
Or, at least not as much as most people think.
With more sales going through purchasing departments, you're bound to face price pressure on almost every opportunity. They'll expect you to discount.
Nearly all organizations negotiate or discount their stated list price to some extent. In fact, in our Top-Performing Sales Organization study, we asked about the frequency in which companies discount.
Results showed that only 7% of organizations never discount.
There is no magic way to achieve sales success.
However, there is one significant concept that helps the companies and sellers who embrace it—those who make it part of the fabric of who they are and who their sales organization is—experience wildly successful sales results.
If you want to boost sales and join their ranks, you must become a Value-Driving Sales Organization.
Value-Driving Sales Organizations have significantly higher win rates and revenue growth, and lower undesired turnover. They not only win more at higher margins, but also retain top sales talent.
To succeed in sales, you need to have the right skills. You must 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.
With the laundry list of skills needed, what skills are sellers most likely to have?
In our The Top-Performing Sales Organization study, the RAIN Group Center for Sales Research asked, across a number of areas, if sellers have the skills they need to find and win business consistently and at a high level. Below are the skills that rose to the top and fell to the bottom of the list:
Too many sellers have the following problems:
In "How to Clear Your Pipeline of Dead Wood," we shared how to make your pipeline real and manageable. Here, you’ll find a framework that will allow you and your colleagues to define and focus on the best sales opportunities with clarity and confidence.
Sellers often treat their pipeline opportunities the same. They define need, qualify, propose, present, and wait for a win or loss. Maybe a few bubble up for more focus, but it's not always the right ones.
Atul Gawande, a surgeon at Brigham and Women's hospital in Boston and writer for the New York Times, told a story of a man who came into the emergency room with a stab wound, "It was a single wound, about an inch in size, in his belly."
The wound didn't appear life threatening, but after about 10 minutes his condition worsened.
When they got him on the table and opened him up, they found the wound was a foot deep (he was a pretty big guy) and cut his aorta. When they asked how the stabbing occurred, he told them it happened at a Halloween party and the other guy had a bayonet.
The doctors reflected and determined that if they knew it was a bayonet, they would have acted differently from the start.
Gawande uses this example—a simple miscommunication with big implications—to illustrate the central case in his book, The Checklist Manifesto. Even after 20 years of practice, doctors miss things. They make mistakes. And it's all due to complexity.
There are a lot of opinions on what to do to drive sales success. I Googled the topic and found over 60 distinct pieces of advice for what to do and not to do, but most of the advice was, indeed, just opinions. Any references to research or proven success was tangential at best.
You deserve better!
Based on our work with B2B sales teams around the globe, as well as data from the RAIN Group Center for Sales Research, where we relentlessly study what the top sellers do and what buyers are looking for, we have gleaned 9 keys to achieving success in today's B2B sales environment:
Challenges abound when it comes to sales prospecting. From targeting and using the right outreach methods to maintaining motivation and energy, there are plenty of ways to outbound prospect and fail.
For our Top Performance in Sales Prospecting research, we asked 489 sellers who outbound prospect about the biggest prospecting issues they face. The top 10 prospecting challenges can be grouped into 4 categories:
Put me in front of 10 buyers and I'll close 7 of them. All I need is more meetings.
I hear this from sellers all the time. Get me more "at bats" and I'll get the hits.
To succeed in sales, you need a consistent stream of new leads to fill the front end of the pipeline.
You can't, however, just sit back and wait for the phone to ring or email to ding.
You need to be proactive in filling your own pipeline if you're going to succeed with prospecting.
How many touches does it take to make a sale?
The simple answer is: more than most people think!
According to our Top Performance in Sales Prospecting research, it takes an average of 8 touches to get an initial meeting (or other conversion) with a new prospect. But the initial meeting is just the beginning. It takes a lot more to make the sale.
There are 2 stats that are cited in sales articles all the time:
The question, however, is so what?
Sellers and sales leaders often interpret this to mean that buyers don't want to hear from sellers.
This is far from the truth.
Reverse auctions (also called e-auctions) are a common negotiation technique used more and more frequently by large organizations. For the most part, sellers don't dislike reverse auctions—they loathe them.
The point of a reverse auction is to drive down supplier prices to their absolute lowest while driving expectations of suppliers to their highest. As the process (typically) removes human interaction from the equation, sellers often feel at a complete loss to do anything but participate in the auction or walk away.
There's a lot more to it. Below you'll find negotiation strategies you can use before and during the reverse auction process to get the best results for you and your buyer.
The state of sales management in many companies is disturbing. Consider these stats from our Top-Performing Sales Organization study:
Almost 7 out every 10 sales managers do not have the skills they need to do their jobs effectively! Astounding. It's certainly understandable, though. Sales managers are directed, by the very definition of sales management, down the wrong path.
Solution engineers, technical consultants, solutions consultants—whatever you choose to call the technical expert on your sales team—they play a significant role in the sales and account-development process.
In our research, Top Performance in Strategic Account Management, we analyzed data from 397 executives, strategic account managers, and sales professionals to learn what sets the companies that are best at growing their strategic accounts—Top Performers—apart from The Rest.
Overall, we assessed 32 skills comprising six roles strategic account managers play: Results Driver, Project Manager, Technical Expert, Innovator, Collaborator, and Relationship Lead.
According to Forrester Research, 1 million US B2B salespeople will lose their jobs by 2020. This represents a 20% reduction of the B2B sales force.
They go on to categorize sales positions into 4 groups, indicating where the greatest sales job losses will occur:
It's the beginning of the year. It's crunch time for 2018 planning. Almost everyone is evaluating what worked and what didn't and building goals and plans for the year ahead. If you're not, it's time to take a long, hard look at your own performance over the last year and find ways to not just hit your goals but to exceed them for 2018.
There are many questions you must ask yourself to prepare. What are you going to do differently? What are you going to improve? How, specifically, are you going to drive sales? Are you going to focus on generating new business? On improving your close rate? On growing your existing accounts?
In our Top-Performing Sales Organization research, we studied 75 factors related to the sales organization. We wanted to know what Top Performers do differently than The Rest to achieve superior results.
We've shared what separates the best sales organizations from the rest, but what we haven't shared is what most sales organizations neglect, and the impact it can have on your results. One factor in particular was most apparent: effective sales training.
"Unfortunately, there seems to be far more opportunity out there than ability...
We should remember that good fortune often happens when opportunity meets with preparation."
Thomas A. Edison
Preparation is often the greatest determinant of negotiation success. Across negotiation studies and surveys, we see sellers who get the best outcomes: know what they sell, research buyer wants and needs through sources other than the buyer, have a keen understanding of the buyer's day-to-day life and concerns, and prepare for each negotiation with trades, counteroffers, and knowledge of their walk-away points.
To optimize your sales force, you need to have a highly-motivated team bringing their "A game" day in and day out.
Often times, it's up to the sales managers to make sure their team maintains this positive and results-driven attitude on a daily basis. According to our Top-Performing Sales Organization research, 55% of Top Performers agree that managers are effective at creating and sustaining maximum selling energy, compared to only 32% of The Rest.
But management is not the only key influence on sales motivation.
My grandfather Sidney was raised during the great depression. Often hungry growing up, he learned the value of a dollar the hard way. It stuck with him the rest of his life. When I was in college, he never let me call him because he would say it was long-distance.
I told him that the distance was long, but the call didn't cost anything. Still, he could barely stay on the phone for 5 minutes. I could visualize the nickels clinking in his mind, making him uncomfortable with the cost of the call.
It's common advice to minimize emotions in a negotiation. For example, the reading line of the article "Emotion: The 'Enemy' of Negotiation" is "To succeed in negotiation, says one Wharton expert, one must take emotion out of the equation."
We disagree. Emotions are primary drivers of decision making in buying, and primary drivers in negotiation outcomes. Emotions shouldn't be minimized. Instead, they should be guided and managed for both buyer and seller so that the best outcome can be achieved by all.
"Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality."
Warren Bennis, Author, On Becoming a Leader
When it comes to sales negotiations, all too often sellers:
In our research report, The Value Driving Difference, we studied almost 500 organizations' practices regarding how focused they are on driving value for buyers. Companies that rose to the top as Value-Driving Sales Organizations had higher sales win rates, were more likely to grow revenue, had lower undesired sales staff turnover, and much more highly motivated sellers. They were also two times more likely to agree that they capture maximum prices in line with their value.
There's no question: If you want to succeed in sales, you should focus on driving value.
If you want to maximize time, you must find more of it, and choose what you do with it carefully. We all have the same 168 hours a week to work with. Some people make the most of them, others don't.
Alison Brooks and Maurice Schweitzer, two researchers at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, conducted an experiment to induce varying levels of anxiety among negotiators.
One group was subjected to the not-so-melodious screeching strings from Psycho. The other group was treated to calming Water Music by Handel. After listening for a while, the groups were sent off to conduct simulated negotiations.
It's an all too familiar story. A seller's pipeline looks full! Bursting. Exciting. It stays like that for 2 months, 5 months, 10 months… more keeps going in. Nothing comes out.
It looked great, but it wasn't great. Not even good. Too many sellers have lots of opportunities in their pipelines that shouldn't be there. Neither managers nor sellers want mirage pipelines with visions of promised lands that simply aren't there.
Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains.
- Henry David Thoreau
Almost everyone at some point in their career will toy with adopting some kind of time-management system. Few stick with it. The challenge is that too many time-management systems focus too deeply on the activity level—what to do first, what to do next, what the priority order is—without paying enough attention to the bigger picture. Simply viewing the world through the lens of urgent vs. important is not enough.
By: Mike Schultz and Jason Murray
After three months of talking and promises of moving forward, your fully qualified, enthusiastic champion is ready to pull the trigger. You send them a proposal and…silence.
It's frustrating when buyers go cold. Whether late in the process or after one good meeting, most sellers at least want to hear, "No," or, "Here's what happened," or, "I'm still interested, but something happened…"
Unfortunately, sellers often don't get the high sign from buyers, just the cold shoulder.
Before we cover tactics you can use to resurrect opportunities with buyers who go cold, it helps to understand why buyers go cold.
Executives are always on a mission to prove Kirkpatrick Level 4 measurement of training: Results. Specifically, they want to know to what degree targeted outcomes occur as a result of the training event and subsequent reinforcement.
There is relatively little data on how sales training correlates to business performance and results.
That is, until now.
By now you know that teaching people how to sell and become Top Performers takes more than a one- or two-day event. It takes ongoing reinforcement.
Sales training is a change initiative. Going through a single class in two days does not change the way sellers sell. Change happens over time, once sellers get back to work and start implementing newly learned skills.
Attracting and retaining top sales talent is a huge challenge for many companies.
If you want to take your sales results to the next level, your organization must have the right people in the right roles, performing at a high level day in and day out. You also need the right management team with an effective process in place to ensure this all happens.
With increased product and service commoditization, sellers in almost every industry complain about price pressure and shrinking margins.
At the same time, there are some sellers and sales organizations who are consistently winning sales against lower-priced competitors and growing their margins.
For our Top Performance in Strategic Account Management Benchmark Report, we studied two specific processes for driving value with accounts.
There's no denying that having a highly motivated sales team ready to give their full energy and effort day in and day out has a huge impact on your organization's success.
When it comes to sales motivation, companies commonly focus on compensation, bonuses, and incentives to get top performance out of their sales team. While compensation is important, it certainly is not the only, or even the main factor that drives sales motivation.
Ridiculous Upside is the name of a well-known blog that covers up-and-coming basketball players that could make the NBA, but need further development to reach their potential. Too bad that the basketball bloggers took the name, because ridiculous upside is a great way to describe the untapped potential hiding in most every company's existing accounts.
Why are some companies able to consistently grow their strategic accounts and maximize value while others struggle? This is a question that confounds many a sales leader.
Some think it is largely related to the strength of product and service offerings. The companies that grow their accounts the most must have superior offerings that keep customers coming back for more, right?
Leaders at nearly every company we speak to agree that there is significant opportunity to grow their accounts, and they are looking for ways to capitalize on this opportunity.
In fact, growing your accounts is one of the fastest and most profitable ways to grow sales. The first and most basic step to growing accounts is reaching out to them to proactively create new sales opportunities.
Ask leaders at companies how much more they believe they could be selling to their strategic accounts and you don't hear 5%, 10%, or 20%.
It's usually more like, "We should be selling 2 times…3 times…even more."
Ask what's in their way and you'll often get this answer, "Our strategic account managers just aren't doing what they need to do to penetrate the account, cross-sell, and keep the competition out so we can truly grow our accounts to their potential."
The more sophisticated and advanced sellers become, the more they make selling about conversations and collaboration, not presentations and pitching. Even their presentations become interactive collaborations when done right.
Everybody's brain has two different processing centers: emotional and rational. The emotional brain is old. It developed millions of years ago, first with raw instincts—like fight or flight—that all animals have, and then into more complex emotions for us humans like anger, aggression, desire, fear, hatred, passion, love, disgust, sympathy, and so on.
There is a common assumption that value makes a difference in sales and business results. As part of our Top-Performing Sales Organization research, we wanted to test that assumption and see just what kind of difference it makes.
The word "no" can be a tough pill to swallow.
In selling, when you're trying to meet a quota, squeeze in an extra deal before the end of the quarter, or get your bonus, the word "no" is too often interpreted as a sign to run for the hills when, in fact, it should be the exact opposite.
Sales enablement is one of the eight categories of the Sales Performance WheelSM that we study when analyzing what drives sales performance. This category focuses on the different ways in which supporting sellers to be most effective allows them to reach their full potential, thus improving the organization's sales performance.
When watching sellers negotiate, perhaps the easiest things to see are the mistakes. Having now spent two decades studying sales negotiation, observing negotiations, and coaching and training sellers to negotiate, we've distilled the common areas that the best sales negotiators consistently get right.
The classic selling model has taught sellers to uncover needs and craft compelling solutions. It goes something like this: the buyer needs something and asks for it. You provide it. It's straightforward, but buyers are operating in their comfort zone.
In our Top-Performing Sales Organization research, the RAIN Group Center for Sales Research assessed what the Top Performers—those with the best sales results—do differently than the Rest. We analyzed data from 472 sellers and executives representing companies with sales forces between 10 and 5,000-plus sellers.
It may not be considered the most glamorous aspect of sales management, but as business and technology have evolved, it’s widely acknowledged that getting sales operations right is imperative for a smoothly run, effective sales organization. On his blog, Matt Heinz of Heinz Marketing even hails it as “THE most important and unsung hero for sales teams.”
While quite a bit of research has been published on what sellers need to do to achieve top sales performance, there’s relatively little on what separates top-performing sales organizations from the rest. To find out, the RAIN Group Center for Sales Research gathered data from 472 respondents representing companies with sales forces ranging in size from 10 sellers to 5,000 plus and published the results in the Top-Performing Sales Organization Benchmark Report.
In our Top-Performing Sales Organization research, our goal was to assess what the Top Performers do differently than The Rest to achieve the best results. Top Performers have higher win rates, meet their annual sales goals, are more likely to set challenging sales goals, and are more likely achieve maximum prices in line with the value they provide.
We analyzed data from 472 sellers and executives representing companies with sales forces between 10 and 5,000+ sellers. Top Performers represent the top 20% of our database. The Rest—the bottom 80%.
To succeed in sales, you need to 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.
With the laundry list of sales skills needed, which are most important?
In our recent Top-Performing Sales Organization study, the RAIN Group Center for Sales Research asked 472 sales executives and sellers representing companies with sales forces ranging from 10 sellers to 5,000+ if sellers have the skills they need to find and win business consistently and at a high level.
We then looked at the correlation between sales skills and whether or not a sales organization met its sales goal or quota.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I worked with a company recently whose sellers had to drive their own demand. In one case, a seller engaged a buyer in a discussion about an opportunity, and the buyer was interested. They had a few meetings, but then the sale fizzled out.
When the seller asked why, the buyer told him that they simply weren't going to pursue it further.
The seller said to me later, "The business impact story here was tremendous; more than a 10 times return on investment was easy to see. That this sale didn't move forward...I can't believe they just didn't see it."
We then talked to the buyer as a part of our analysis of the lost sale. When we mentioned the ROI case to the buyer and asked him about it, he said, "Oh, I saw the ROI case. I got it. I would have loved to achieve it. I just didn't believe it would come true."
The buyer saw the ROI; he just didn't believe it. There was too much risk.
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.
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.
"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:
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:
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!
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.
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.
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.
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...
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.
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.
So we decided it was time to collect and analyze fresh data to find out what's really going on in sales.
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!
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.
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 below).
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.
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.
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.
Insight selling is an old concept that has recaptured the fancy of the sales world, and rightly so, because it’s about adding value. Specifically, it’s about the seller adding value over-and-above the product or service.
Too many folks, however, think insight selling is about educating buyers through presentations. They’re about half right, but without the other half, they’re missing out on the full impact of insight selling.
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.*
Shouldn’t the same be expected from sales coaching?
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.
If your afflictions don't get solved, so what? What won’t happen? Will they get worse? How will they affect the bottom line of your company, division, or department? How will they affect your life?
If your aspirations don't become reality, so what? Will your competition get ahead of you if you don't innovate? Will you lose market share if you aren't aggressive in your strategy? Will you never be able to grow your business to a point where you can sell it and reach your personal financial goals? Will the promotion you desire continue to elude you?
Your ability to quantify the impact and paint the "so what" picture is the foundation for how important it is for the decision maker to buy from you. If you don’t answer the "so what" question, the initiative will fall to the bottom of the priority list.
Building confidence in the validity of an idea. Inspiring action.
The sellers who do these best sell the most.
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.
You are driving the demand.
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?”
Guess what: it’s the seller and how they sell that most separates sales winners from the rest.
The following list reveals what buyers say are the top 10 areas where sellers who win outperform those who come in second place.
In this post we noted we often get questions about The Challenger Sale. Perhaps the most common question we get is, “What do you think of the five seller profiles?”
The five seller profiles, as defined by the authors of The Challenger Sale in “Selling Is Not About Relationships,” a Harvard Business Review blog post, are as follows. We list them in order by what they found in their study to be least to most likely to be a top performer in sales.
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.
By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail. - Benjamin Franklin
We acknowledge that sometimes you can't prepare for a sales call or—hallelujah—a prospect calls you out of the blue. 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.'
Take this approach in most sales situations, however, and you'll lose more than your share of sales that you should have won. Interestingly, whether you have a two-thousand- or two-million-dollar price point, to increase your odds of winning new customers, you still need to do the same basic planning and know the same essential information before your sales calls.
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.
Pretty obvious, right? To win sales you have to maximize value.
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.
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.
The purpose of the research was to find out what sales winners do differently in the selling process compared to the sellers that didn’t win, but who came in second place.
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.
Given the great potential for growth, many companies give proactive key account sales quite the effort, but few achieve the results they should. The problem is they can’t, or for some reason simply don’t, create their own opportunities.
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.
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.
Though access to the full Benchmark Report on High Performance in Strategic Account Management is reserved for one-on-one interactions and for our work with clients, we are happy to share this more in-depth look at some of the challenges that stood out to us.
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:
Nice list, but not unique to strategic account management.
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.
Training can be a disappointment right away when it just doesn’t go well, or it can be a disappointment months later when results don’t materialize. Regardless, sales training strikes out a lot. When it does, it’s usually because of common and predictable reasons. But if you can avoid these mistakes, you can set yourself up for a successful training initiative that leads to increased sales performance and long-term revenue growth. Here are 7 reasons why your sales training might be failing:
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. Without this knowledge they can’t:
Indeed, they can’t and don’t hold masterful sales conversations with customers.
The result: Lost sales and missed cross-selling opportunities.
Consider this: a CBS News / New York Times poll asked, “What percent of people in general are trustworthy?”
The answer: 30%. Pretty skeptical we all are, right?
Not necessarily. At the same time, the CBS News / New York Times poll asked a similar group the same question, but with a slight difference. “What percent of people that you know are trustworthy?”
|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.|
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.
|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.|
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.
Prospecting and setting appointments via cold call is not easy. But learn to overcome these objections, and you'll instantly find more success in it.
A recent business-to-business client of ours 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.
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 you find out what's going on in your prospects' and clients' worlds. They are essential to sales success. In fact, "listened to me" and "understood my needs" are two of the top five factors most separating sales winners from second-place finishers.
Sales questions also help you connect with buyers personally, understand what's important to them, reshape their thinking, and create better futures for them. The importance of asking the right sales questions cannot be understated. (Hint: you need to ask more than "what keeps you up at night?")
Following are 21 open-ended sales questions you can use that will help you complete the picture of your clients' needs.
"Your fees are too high; can you do it for less?"
In the highly competitive marketplace we hear dreaded phrases like this all of the time. The easy thing to do is to offer a discount, but that cuts into your profit margins and sets a precedent for the future. You don’t want to become a victim of discounting gone wrong.
So what do you do when clients push back on your fees?