RAIN Group Sales Blog

Your source for sales advice, tips, research, and insights to unleash sales potential.

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 buyer 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.'

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The best sellers understand how important it is to develop the ability to adapt. But how do you continue to adapt and stay motivated over the long haul?

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Almost all sellers at some point in their career will consider adopting a time management system to improve their productivity. Few stick with it. The challenge is that 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.

We studied the habits of extremely productive people—we call them The XP—in a global productivity research study with more than 5,000 participants to date. Not only did we learn their habits, we found that the most productive people are also more satisfied with their jobs, more likely to be top performers, and are happier.

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Great sales questions help you find out what’s going on in your buyer’s world. They help you connect with buyers, understand their needs, understand what’s important to them, and help them create better futures for themselves.

They help you disrupt buyer thinking and change buyers’ perception of what’s true and what’s possible. They help you drive the sale forward and avoid pitfalls that can derail the sale along the way. 

Great sales questions help you win sales.

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Sales is about change. It’s about getting people to go from where they are—their current state—to a new and better place—their future state—or what we call the New Reality.

In our decades of work with clients globally and our proprietary research, we’ve identified 11 ways sellers can influence buyers throughout the sales process to guide them to their New Reality.

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For many, the transition to virtual selling went something like this: one minute you were a basketball superstar with pretty good moves and a decent field goal percentage. Then you were thrust into a baseball game, handed a glove, and told to win. On a completely different field. Requiring a completely different skillset.

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How do buyers make purchase decisions? Why do they choose one provider over another? Are there things you, as a seller, can do to influence their decisions?

As the world transitioned to virtual selling in 2020, we wanted to know how this was impacting buyers and sellers alike. We surveyed 528 buyers and sellers across the Americas, EMEA, and APAC. We asked buyers what influences their decisions the most when buying virtually. Their responses provide some interesting insights as to how buyers make decisions.

Below, we’ve compiled the top 9 factors that influence buyers’ decisions and share how you can be more influential in your selling efforts.

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Virtual meetings are now part of our everyday reality. Even in situations where you’re able to meet with some folks in person, you’re still likely to face a high number of virtual meetings on your calendar.

This isn’t going to change any time soon.

The way the world does business has shifted drastically in light of the pandemic. Even when it’s safe to do so, we’re likely to see many people continuing to work remotely because technology and processes have been put in place to make it a viable long-term option.

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A seller’s job is to drive change.

The best sellers lead sales conversations down the right path by asking strong questions, setting the agenda, sharing ideas, summarizing and communicating the impact of taking action, involving the buyer in creating a solution, and inspiring action.

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As a classic advertising slogan once reminded customers, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. That’s true now more than ever.

When we could interact face-to-face at events or in meetings, it was easier to attract the attention of a potential buyer and begin making connections naturally. But as a virtual seller, you don’t have the luxury of allowing relationships to unfold organically.

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"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."

Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller

We all have sympathy for poor Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman. He knew he talked too much, but he couldn't figure out why. And he couldn't stop talking too much even though he wanted to be like Charlie, a man of few words who was respected by all.

Let's face it: salespeople talk too much.

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This article originally appeared in Entrepreneur and has been updated given the current sales environment. 

The first half of 2020 proved to significantly alter the way every single industry operates. Businesses have been forced to become more nimble and sellers have had to learn to sell virtually and remain productive while working from home. 

While this new environment has presented new challenges, many companies and individuals are adapting and succeeding even in tough times. 

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There are many mistakes to avoid when it comes to virtual selling.

Although we all make—and learn from—our mistakes, they're often magnified in a virtual environment, which makes awareness and preparation paramount to success.

Avoid these 17 common mistakes to impress your buyers and stand out from the competition:

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There’s a lot to think about when it comes to selling virtually. Projecting a professional image in your virtual meetings is an important (and often overlooked) factor to consider.

Here we provide guidelines and tips specifically focused on projecting a professional image in your virtual sales meetings grouped in the following five categories:

  1. Video
  2. Audio
  3. Lighting
  4. Background
  5. You

With a little forethought and preparation, you can make a great first impression with your buyers.

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Ask the question, “What needs to happen at your company for successful virtual training now that sellers are working remote?” and you’re likely to get answers like this:

  • Facilitators need to engage participants
  • Content needs to be relevant to the buyers and scenarios sellers face
  • Sellers need to practice the new skills
  • Training needs to be dynamic and interactive

It's a nice list, but not unique to virtual instructor-led training (vILT).

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Selling virtually is a challenge for even the best sellers.

You have to change the way you sell and use different technologies to maximize your success. While many of the principles of consultative selling remain the same (i.e., you have to build rapport, uncover needs, inspire with new ideas, build an impact case, etc.), how you go about doing these in a virtual environment is drastically different.

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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.

Then there's the rational side, which developed more like tens of thousands of years ago. This part of the brain is more deliberate, analyzing and studying, and thinking about the future consequences of various possible actions.

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Show them the impact.

Make a strong ROI case.

Sell the value.

Sales pros tout the benefits of making a strong ROI (return on investment) case all the time. Yet we see sellers time and again who don't know how to calculate and communicate the impact of their solutions.

They focus on features in their conversations and highlight the benefits, but don't convey what it means for each individual buyer and the difference it can make for them—financially, personally, and emotionally.

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This article was originally published on the Sales Enablement Society.

Sellers often complain that it's impossible to get through to buyers. Gatekeepers are tough. Buyers are busy. Calls go to voicemail. Email goes to junk. The list goes on.

While getting through certainly isn't easy, sellers who work at it do get through. In fact, 82% of buyers say they accept meetings at least sometimes with sellers who reach out to them.

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Consider this: a CBS News / New York Times poll asked, "What percent of people in general are trustworthy?" 1

The answer: 30%. We're all pretty skeptical, 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 answer: 70%.

This goes to show: when people get to know and like you, people begin to trust you.

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Written by: Mike Schultz and Gord Smith

When it comes to selling financial services, professionals are usually faced with three common challenges:

  • Creating new conversations with potential clients
  • Leading conversations and winning business against stiff competition
  • Maximizing business with current clients

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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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"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 write the proposal. You sent it off to your contact and called him at the time you had scheduled to review it:

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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.

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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.

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You’ve worked on building rapport with your prospect and you’ve uncovered their aspirations and afflictions. The question then becomes, "So what?"

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.

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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."

Selling to the C-suite can be difficult, and getting a first meeting can be a real challenge. But, in my experience, the most difficult part is not getting the first meeting. It's getting the second one. Or the third one.

It's keeping the relationship going.

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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.”

Fast forward 7 months later. It’s 3 PM on a Wednesday. You head into the office. Jill gets out from behind her desk and says, “Good to see you again, Steve. Here’s the signed contract for the initial $1.2 million. Let’s get started.”

Suffice it to say, a lot has to happen between “hello” and “let’s go.”

Yet two things are true. 1) This is how it happens. And, 2) how to lead sales conversations, influence your prospects to want to buy, buy from you, buy a robust solution, and pay full price for it confounds many people.

But it doesn’t have to.

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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.

And now you find yourself in a room with a senior executive. Now what?

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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.

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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.

Sometimes it ain’t easy. You meet a person, and they’re all business. Getting them to engage with you in any sense is slow. Painful. You open up and share, provide great ideas, and work hard to get the other person to see the value in working with you. It should be plain to see, but it’s not. You’re met with aloofness and suspicion.

You try to engage on a personal level and ask, "How was your weekend?" His reply, "Fine." Then dead air.

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 "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.

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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.
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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 that to improve sales persuasion skills, the underlying components of influence must be understood and applied. Read more about the book here.

 

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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.

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Tony Robbins, please accept my apology.

Many 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.

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“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.

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