Sales Prospecting Tips from The Bitter Business

The building blocks for successful sales prospecting or lead generation are not solely down to selling skills but a combination of prospect lists with data, accurate targeting and understanding the buyers journey.

Prospecting can be a reluctant or even feared selling activity, especially when the term “cold calling” is mentioned. However prospecting is a vital sales activity and well trained sales people should view as a necessary aspect of being successful in sales. The positive news is using tools like social media and social selling to engage prospects, the actual event of contacting a prospect should be called “warm calling.  Warm calling is about a sales process where reps use social data to research their prospects prior to making a call, understand where they can add value and can demonstrate concern about a buyer challenges. Regardless of the sales cycle, reps whose first goal is to offer the buyer help (white papers or industry research as examples) and guidance (seminars, vendor profiles etc) are far more successful and satisfied than people merely engaged with cold calling.

Here are some tips to win at prospecting using warm calling:

sales motivation

Set aside day every day for sales prospecting. Work with your sales coach or manager to help manage what you are doing or being asked to do. Set targets for prospects researched, profiled and engaged – daily.

If a sales person is blindly approaching prospects with emails and calls without reason other than a profile view then they will fall flat and fast.

If reps are not taking a value first approach then it is not worth even making the call or sending the email

Sales people who are trained to look outward, use social media tools, focus in on the world of the buyer and what they value will perform better in their roles.

‘Dear Buyer, The reason for my call today is…’ If a rep cannot complete this sentence then they should not be making the phone call as they lack sales process and value wedge knowledge.

When engaged with prospects, it is important that the context is there the relevancy of the approach has to be valid.

sales-prospecting

Use social selling tools, social insights, data and lead generation software! The days of having multiple browsers open to find prospect information are long over. It is amazing how many sales managers do not know this yet

Warm calling to activate sales leads is about making the customer the hero, make them glad to have connected with you, bring value and understanding before any sales pitch.

Confidence comes from being in control. So practise the sales conversation, write scripts, the genuine reason for the call and connect this back to a challenge, know your value wedge, understand your industry plus study the buyer’s journey.

Mistakes are learning tools. Every call is a learning opportunity to enrich any sales person’s skill. So do not fret on mistakes and embrace the learning.

Know when to hold and when to fold. When a prospect is not a good fit or you can’t add value move on.  When your product or service is not sparking a buyer’s interest then do not add to the pipeline, rather think of it as a step closer to find a matching prospect.

Focus on the Outcome. Prospecting is not about selling, it has a different goal. It is about exploring the possibility that you might be able to create value for the buyer and maybe do something together down the line. Selling, at this point really is cold calling.

Have fun. Enjoy the fruits of your research and the social insights you have gathered. You bring value and are worth listening to. Buyer to Supplier relationships has to start somewhere and opening these relationships is what prospecting is all about.

Sales Funnel Improvement Tips

How many people in sales really understand the sales funnel, the sales pipeline and the objections that can clog up the process? Success for many companies and start-ups depends on if they can shorten the sales cycle and speed up the sales process. It may come as a surprise to many sales managers that it is not product knowledge or productivity that separates out the good from the average in the race to revenue. The biggest key to unlocking revenue in sales is to understand the buyer’s perception of time.

sales-funnel-graph

The ability to move customers (cost of customer acquisition) through the sales funnel fast enough to bring in revenue can be the difference between success and failure no matter how good a business believes its product to be.

Even the sales and marketing gurus at HubSpot stated “buyer’s lack of urgency is the number one objection we face in the sales process.” So for sales teams to be successful, especially start-ups, they have to create a sense of urgency to move prospects faster through the pipeline.

The reality is that in today’s fast paced business environment, time is a scarce commodity. The seller’s time is scarce (need revenue) and the buyer’s time is scarce (need value now). Unlocking this time scarcity and getting the buyer to focus in on it is the key to a repeatable sales process and the means to a healthy sales pipeline.

The advent of inbound marketing and buyers own journey of discovery has seen seller time scarcity work well as a tactic. This tactic works well as the inbound customer is likely to be in the “consideration” or “Intent to buy” phases of the sales funnel, and moving closer to making a purchase. This is where seller scarcity nudges the buyer down the funnel. There are many types of seller scarcity from the instant discount for decision now; daily offer only, limited number of units available at the price, free express shipping or the free trials offering etc.

Buyer urgency presents a greater challenge. How many times have you heard the phrase “Can you get back to me in a month” While sometimes genuine (if qualified), most won’t remember your name by the time you call back a month later

The key to triggering a sense of urgency during an outbound sales call is to get some information about a business goal that needs attention. A sales person time is scare, if a business goal cannot be identified then move on. A question such as when is the latest you need to solve/resolve/have in place X?, is designed to probe as to find an urgent need within the business that justifies the prospect spending time engaging with a sales person.

From experience and monitoring sales processes, I believe a sense of urgency is best addressed after the goal priority phase of the discovery conversation. Once a goal that the seller offering can fulfil has been identified, then explore why it is prudent for the prospect to address the pain now. All sales people should be versed in communicating the negative consequences of inaction and the positive implications of addressing things now. A 3 step approach is to

Probe for negative consequences

Probe into the negative consequences at overall company level

Probe for positive implications

The sales skill and ability to bring a prospect through this dialogue is really important. The skill is for both the seller and buyer to understand the buyer’s priorities and how the sales person can help now.

Without a sense of urgency in sales, buyer desire loses its value

If I was selling data, I would probe how urgently the buyer needs to increase leads in the sales funnel or how urgently the data team needs to provide information to product managers, sales, marketing and finance. Another tactic is to sell risk reduction (use us as a backup vendor) to protect a business against the current supplier not delivering or if they are stretched. Computer and technology companies (we used this at Dell as a beachhead strategy) to invoke urgency as a way to sell products even if only small amount initially.

As part of sales training or as part of the sales interview all sales people should be able to ask and understand these same three questions:

  1. Why does the prospect need to take action today?
  2. What are the negative implications if they don’t?
  3. What are the positive implications if they do?

Ask any venture capitalist or business leader and they will tell you that faster sales cycles are a competitive advantage. Because faster sales cycles enable companies not just to acquire customer faster but to refine their sales techniques quicker, measure sales people faster, improve sales training and test marketing and lead sources instantly.

But much more important, moving sales faster through the sales funnel means speedier growth, which impacts any fundraising requirements and scaling headcount. For SaaS based start up companies, we know that product-to-market fit is vital, and developing urgency to prospects in the sales processes is equally vital.

Any sales strategy that unlocks time scarcity and motivates the buyer to act now forms the basis of a great sales unit that can stand the test of time.

Sales Training Tips

Sales training today focuses allot around the use of sales tools, CRM and how to use the social networks to sell. The sales training tips in this article might help the sales team sell better and faster without the hype or jargon that often surrounds sales training.

Sales Training Bad News

When sales people lack training or not briefed properly on how to use the various sales tools effectively, then companies can spend a lot of time, energy and training resources with zero impact on sales results.

Sales Training Good News

A well structured, social network geared sales training program supported by a culture of learning will cultivate sales team that are willing, eager and ready to use new sales tools and understand the product (s) to market fit.

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Supporting the Sales Strategy

Most sales management and sales leaders have been to the annual sales strategy meeting where the VP of sales or CEO outlines improving sales performance as a core strategic initiative for the next year, and all departments from marketing to finance are directed to help sales achieve the goals set.

A sudden surge of energy and activity happens to meet the goals and sales objectives. The product team has plans for new and better margin products; marketing has plans to create new content marketing tactics, product positioning, white papers, collateral and lead generation activities that will drive higher volumes of leads to the sales team. Sales management starts to put initiatives in place to optimize sales coverage by region or segment. In fact the entire company is doing their part in supporting the new re-energized sales effort.

Believe it or not but this type of top down directed activity can easily result in costly and wasteful effort that only confuses the sales people and even customers.

It is the gift of any CEO to set strategic goals for sales. Whether they are realistic or stretched it is the role of sales management to ensure sales training and the sales training process reflects the reality of the markets and the buyer’s journey. Even with the new surge in activity around the company, remaining locked –on to sales training that moves the dial on sales behaviour.  This is what will help the sales team meet the needs of customers or buyers in today’s digital influenced world.

The goal of any sales training is to help the sales team to sell more and sell more often. To drive up sales values and drive down the sales cycle the sales behaviours must change, which does require work and constant re-evaluation. However when the sales team is successful in increasing the top line revenue or margin then the rewards are worth the effort.

Most Sales Training Does Not Work.

According to sales research from Forrester:

65% of buyers “almost always” or “most of the time” choose suppliers who work with them to extract value from a vision.

80% of buyers will spend more money with companies who understand their business.

So what does this mean?

85% of buyers now find meetings with sales people from new suppliers ineffective!

56% of buyers say that companies, who understand their business and are focused on helping solve identified problems, are more strategic.

How can your sales organization change behaviour to improve a team’s productivity and help clients see a clear path to value?

Excellent sales training coupled with sales enablement tools (customer insights, social selling tools, big data) can be the cornerstone for companies to hit and exceed the sales targets and fulfilling the buyer’s needs.

social-media-strategy sales training

SALES TRAINING TIP 1

Too often the vast majority of sales training centres on a one time event. This could be new sales hire on boarding or else maybe at the annual sales kickoff. Then the sales people are back in their sales roles and focused on generating revenue, meeting or exceeding sales targets.

The results for this type of sales training programs speak for themselves; sales teams who participate in ongoing sales training are more effective than those sales teams who receive occasional training. Why? Research shows 84% of sales training content is forgotten within thirty days, so ongoing training ensures the sales teams are buyer ready as they engage with customer conversations.

Sales people receive an average of 31.5 hours of training a year, and 63% of sales people say it is not enough and in employee surveys state that the biggest need for investment within their company is ongoing coaching. Source: Association for Talent Development

Also the employee surveys also point out the need for updated training materials. 62% of training sales professionals say their companies sales training materials should be updated every 3-6 months in keep pace with developments, but 42% of sales trainers say that their sales training content gets updated only once a year.

As the buyers journey is changing rapidly and impacting the purchasing cycle, leaving the sales training program the same for a year or more creates a vicious cycle: outdated sales messaging can cause confusion to the sales team causing sales to be out of the loop when trying to engage buyers for the products and services being sold.

Sales like sport works on “practice makes perfect” and ongoing training bridges the knowledge gap between yearly sales kick-offs and daily job performance. Due to the impact of the social networks on the buying process, data shows that many sales teams are coming into the buyer’s journey too late and with unsuitable solutions. For a sales person being knowledgeable about a company is just one part of sales training, the other part is communicating the sales messages and having the skills to get the sale by getting in front of the buyer early. This is where new sales tools, like social media lead generation, data insights and social selling are helping sales teams get buyer ready. Growth focused companies are blending ongoing sales training with the latest sales tools.

Any and all sales managers should step up the effort for ongoing and updated sales training. As few as 32% of companies describe their sales training programs as “effective” and 48% of sales trainers state their companies sales training content is not engaging. In fact 25% of sales trainers say the training content does not match the sales teams need for multi-channel selling. The sales training tip is to improve ongoing training, improve content and improve knowledge.

SALES TRAINING TIP 2

Do not substitute sales training time by just providing more sales enablement tools. Sales enablement is all about arming the sales team with tools to improve sales execution and drive revenue. Sales enablement tools and content sharing tools are now valuable resources that help sales move the selling process along. Sales enablement tools are now an essential part of the selling kit but just equipping people with tools is not enough.

Sales enablement tools are designed to give sales people the ability to engage buyers in valuable and relevant conversations based on data gathered. But true sales success is more than a great set of tools. When the sales teams are not properly trained and not skilled in using the sales tools appropriately, companies can invest a lot of time, resources and money to accomplish little return.

So think “cart and horse” or “car and fuel”, it takes one to move the other. Ongoing and regular sales training builds the knowledge and skills that when combined with sales enablement tools will build an effective sales team.

It is the responsibility of the whole company to enable the sales team. So without the resources to an ongoing sales training program, any strategic sales initiative is likely to end up another top down directed activity with limited sales metric improvement.

Marketing Companies in Dublin Guide

Marketing companies in Dublin or anywhere in Ireland offer a menu of services from digital marketing,SEO, social selling, content marketing to social media strategy. This guide is aimed at the business owner to ask what skills do they expect to see before deciding to working with one of the many marketing companies in Dublin or anywhere.

Social networks and the rise of social selling has changed the marketing game completely for business’s. Business has become smarter,faster, cheaper  with slower and expensive business models struggling. The lines dividing sales, marketing, advertising and public relations have disappeared with sales people needing to be able market and marketing people needing to sell.

Before engaging with a marketing company, when it comes to digital marketing there are some amazing do-it-yourself marketing tools that entrepreneurs or small business can use if they so choose. However, to successfully execute a social media marketing strategy or to implement a content marketing lead social selling strategy a business just may need some help. But they most likely will not need help from a bloated marketing agency still using old-school tactics.

digital-marketing

A Guide to engaging with the marketing companies.

Partnership not an Outsourcing Relationship.

There are lots of agencies and marketing consultants offering social media and digital marketing services. But does the potential client know exactly is being offered and what should be offered based on the needs of the business?

Will the agency assist with quality content creation? Can an agency source relevant articles and other content for the business segment to share on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, etc? (this is at the heart of social selling). Can an agency suggest social influencers or people to follow? Can an agency set up a tweeting plan? Does the agency know when/how to post content on the social networks? Can they recommend blogs and forums the business should be participating in/on?

marketing-strategy

It is important your marketing partner can “be you” and act like you online. They don’t see themselves as some outsourcing operation looking for a day rate. They may be required to form relationships with prospects and engage in communication that looks like it is coming from the CEO. Any business needs to build relationships and trust in the social networks and on the web in order to raise the awareness level for its product or service. By only raising the awareness levels cost-effectively can a business start getting considered (expressed in inbound leads, web traffic etc) so the marketing partner most likely has to participate in achieving the business goals .

Speed to Market

Social networks and the digital channels move at lightning speed, and any marketing agency needs to have the ability to adapt and keep up with the pace. They need to be active in real time. It is vital that agencies rev up the speed factor so that they move as quickly as buyers or consumers do.

Buyer Behaviour Knowledge

The agency needs to understand the science of how people (B2B or B2C) behave online and across the social networks to increase awareness, clicks, engagement, and views. Do you prioritise white papers or product articles, lead with thought leadership or informative content? The marketing partner needs to have proven experience and delivered results in the science of digital marketing.

Industry Expertise

Many if not most marketing companies have a wide client base and dabble in several industries. Any good marketing partner will invest the time in becoming a “subject matter expert” so they can really impact on a businesses digital marketing plans. So look for a marketing company that will take the time to learn about the industry you are trying to acquire customers in and win sales in.

Flexibility and Adaptability

The whole digital marketing landscape and channels keeps changing and evolving. What worked a few years back or even last year many not necessarily work today, and what worked today to boost SEO or web traffic might not work well in a few months. The best skill a business might look for in a marketing professional is the ability to adapt to change and the ability to speed up the tactics.

Creative Content Marketing

Any marketing company will claim to how to produce “content,” but what a business needs is someone who can create quality, engaging content that gets views plus has been keyword crafted to be indexed highly by the search engines. Content marketing which drives social selling and to a large extent SEO is still a relatively new field and the experience and expertise has not become mainstream. Remember when it comes to social media marketing or content marketing, buyers and consumers on the social networks will tune out fast to the over-abundance of posts, so it is vital a business has engaging content that stand outs.

Buyer Motivation Research

In a fast paced business environment it is not enough to just throw some ads or well-crafted messages at an audience. Digital marketing and social media successful engagement is about understanding as much as possible the things that interest buyers and why. By understanding the buyers journey, influence points and carefully researching the target audience, a marketing company must be able to more effectively craft sales messaging and marketing campaigns.

This is a an exhaustive guide to working with marketing companies but hopefully it might help a business ask some questions to find a marketing partner to deliver their business goals.

The Bitter Business is a sales and marketing strategy partner based in Ireland. We help companies Grow.

Online Lead Generation using Social Media

The focus of online lead generation and sales leads from social media networks in marketing is growing apace. Still too many small and medium sized business’s can struggle to not only generate leads from the social networks but also struggle to generate enough leads for a sustainable sales pipeline.

Online lead generation and social selling is the next evolution in the sales and marketing environment. The sales profession and sales activity is undergoing a dramatic change. The exponential growth of social media and its impact on communications has created a new set of rules for sales lead generation and prospect targeting.

online-lead-generation

Today lead generation on the social networks is about making connections, it involves providing value to prospects by answering their questions and solving their problems with thoughtful and targeted content. Social media channels are ready-made databases of connected users with intrinsically similar behaviour and values.

By tapping into a prospects social media interests and what motivates their social media interaction, we can establish mutually rewarding relationships. Sales and marketing must offer solutions to build emotional connections and increase engagement and trust to be effectively positioned when buyers are ready to enter the buying process.

The benefits sales and marketing people derive from social media are similar to those of traditional marketing techniques. Selling is still about great sales people establishing a connection with an audience. Social selling is an evolution of lead generation, not a revolution because regardless of the medium, the biggest challenge is still generating leads and the time it takes.

Now lead generation or social networking has to be non-interruptive to work effectively, in the sense that people are not on-line to be directly sold to. The balance of power has shifted in favour of the buyer, bombarding them with sales messages is ineffective and potential damaging. Sales and marketing must appreciate that the social selling efforts should educate, inform and influence an audience. When it’s apparent to the buyer, over a period of time in which to establish credibility and a degree of trust, that the product or service being promoted is desirable, sales will have established a sales funnel upon which to build a solid base of sales prospects.

Social selling is about creating effective techniques to maximise the potential of social media. Without a strategic understanding of the techniques that drive meaningful engagement, the process of social lead generation can be frustrating, unpredictable and a waste of valuable time.By taking a consistent & effective approach to social media activities, the opportunities and potential rewards are huge. Getting it right creates benefits which are unique to social media but which also present unique challenges for sales and marketing people. There are new innovative ways to engage with prospects early in the buying cycle.

Sales professionals should be in no doubt, social selling is a ‘long game’ that aims to add value  to  networks by educating them about relevant and insightful industry trends.The one thing that unites both consumers and brands on social media is passion. That might sound a bit strange but social conversations reflect users preferences and interests, the topics that define them.After all, our social media persona’s are tailored, to some extent, to reflect our hopes and aspirations. At the very least, our social persona’s are about presenting a version of ourselves which is inherently aspirational.We seek out others on social media who share our values. Partly to seek reassurance about our own choices but also to be linked to those with whom we benefit from being associated.

It might seem obvious but social media is precisely that, social. You need to put time and effort into nurturing connections. Dialogue gives us a voice by increase connections and establishing our identity.

Buyers are well informed and can easily access to large volumes of sophisticated product and service data. Its important we move to the front of the buying cycle and engage with buyers early. In order to achieve this we must offer unique or advanced expertise.   We must be seen as industry experts, as the source of most relevant and useful information. Social sellers must incorporate marketing style tactics and streamline efficiency and effectiveness in social selling wherever possible.

LinkedIn-lead-generation

Market researchers and brand owners can aggregate social data in real-time including influencers, trends, topics and conversations. It enables companies to monitor brand mentions translating social media conversations into real-time actionable visibility. Social data can reduce the marketing resources and time spent gathering social media intelligence. social intelligence platforms allow marketing, customer service and sales teams to focus in on what matters across the social networks.

As a means of generating sales leads by connecting buyers with relevant and valuable content that informs and educates over a period of time, influence is key. Multi-dimensional, cross platform social media insights, cut through the social media clutter, filter tweets, posts, news, conversations, competitor activity, mentions and keywords with precision.

The use of social data makes online lead generation more effective, making it easier to build a larger social network to drive awareness of a brand or service.

Social data create efficiencies in the sales process by;

  • Identifying social leads & prospects
  • Speeding up customer acquisition
  • Reducing the sales cycles
  • Nurturing leads and driving traffic by profiling and social conversations.
  • Using hash-tags and keywords to source, filter and engage with buyers
  • Finding the social conversations, people and social influencers you want to target.
  • Minimising resources and time spent gathering social media intelligence.
  • Enabling companies to monitor brand mentions
  • Aggregating real-time social data including influencers, trends, topics and conversations.
  • Allowing us to focus in on what matters across social networks.

Content Marketing Tips

Content Marketing is the key driver upon which most inbound marketing and social media marketing tactics are built. Content marketing not only impacts SEO, web traffic, leads and sales but also acts to influence buyers as they increasingly seek information before purchasing. Whether your business is B2C or B2B, the sharing of content (self-penned articles, general news articles, product, research and whitepapers) across social networks is now a must when it comes to promoting a product or service.

The tips below are designed to help drive traffic to a website and generate more leads or sales. Apart from writing your own content, to really maximise social media marketing you also need to source interesting facts, expert insights, statistics, and trends on your industry and then share them on a constant basis to produce dramatic results on SEO and traffic results.

content-marketing-plan

Step1. Tell and share great stories

Telling and sharing compelling stories is at the core of content marketing — tell the stories with images, videos and words. So step 1 is to focus on improving your ability to tell a story. Crafting words is at the heart of all storytelling; make the stories real, relevant, insightful, human and social to get people’s attention.  Writing like most skills will develop with practice, so persevere to improve. You can start with article research by doing some keyword searches while also looking at the most read articles on social networks. Try to make your articles longer than 1000 words to maximise SEO. Then you can post the articles on lots of free social networks (LinkedIn, Twitter, Tumblr, Plurk, Google+, Scoop.it, and Storify) to get buyers attention as well as gather some quality backlinks to your website.

Step2. Create memorable and optimised titles

A memorable title will get more readers while an optimised title will boost SEO. Just as the cover image can make or break sales on a new book the article title influences how many people will click to continue reading the rest of your article. So start with the end in mind and practice writing memorable titles that hits these 3 buttons – tempt the readers, drive engagement and optimised for searches.

Step3. To be seen, be consistent

In social media there is no such thing as a one hit wonder. Once step 1 and step 2 are in play, the key is to be seen and seen often. Sharing quality content (not just your own), images and video on a consistent basis are a recipe for success. Set up a blog posting schedule or social network sharing calendar that ensures you have a plan to stick to. A good guide is to publish a thousand word blog post per week and then do a few social media updates daily.

Step4. Improve all your social media profiles

It may have been that you created your many social media profiles in a burst of activity but have since forgotten to update. Take the time to freshen up all your social media profiles and while you are at it why not review your social media strategy. Stay ahead of the pack by studying changes in the social media networks and any changes that could affect your social media activity.

Step5. Promote your content

As you improve your article and content creation also make sure to focus on improving your ability to share your content across the social networks. Social media is about creating awareness and consideration for your brand, product or service. So promote (share) your press releases, blog posts, white papers or news on your social networks to your target audience (do not spray and pray).

Step6.  Continue to improve your social media skills

Create a list of social media skills you want to improve whether it is writing, posting, selected images, getting followers or joining in social conversations. If you want to improve your LinkedIn skills such as social selling or making connections then spend the time reading posts and articles on the subject. Pick one item from your list where you would like to see improvement and work on it.

Step7. Enhance your email usage

Email is not old hat. In fact it still plays an important role in inbound marketing and social media. How can you improve your sales pitch efforts, marketing message, the click through rate on email newsletters or even personalised emails to followers and connections?

Step8. Try a podcast

If you have already done some podcasts, cool, if not start thinking about doing your own podcasts. Dip your toe into the podcasting waters by finding out what podcast are popular in your industry or even find a podcast you could join in as a guest.

Step9. Light up your posts with graphics

Images can have a powerful impact when communicating stories, news or ideas. An graphic or infographic can simplify a complex concept or convey a story in a very succinct way. Marketing surveys show that powerful visuals will improve engagement with audiences leading to higher conversion rates.

content-marketing-strategy

Step10. Develop whitepapers and research

To be a thought lead in social media it helps to do more than sharing your insights. People and buyers love experts so try to expand your content marketing into areas like research or white papers.  Expert lead or expert quoted content with data and trends has been proven to increase brand or product retention.

Step11. Review content marketing against goals

There is no point investing hours of time in crafting articles and content then sharing them if they are not measured against your social media marketing goals. To finely tune your marketing you need to know what worked and what did not. Every plan can be strengthened, practices improved and marketing plans revised by doing some in-depth investigation on your digital marketing efforts. This review is vital for improved social media results and an opportunity to see where you got your best bang for your buck. The good news is the time taken to do a review will tell you where and how you can continue improve your content marketing skills.

acd-content-marketing

Finally to be really successful in content marketing, focus on improving your social media skills every day. Continued learning drives your ability to produce content on a consistent basis. If you apply these 11 tips to your social media activities, you will see gradual improvement in your skills and capacity to drive business results using content marketing.

Sales Effectiveness is better than Sales Productivity

Sales leaders are always trying to balance between sales effectiveness and sales productivity. If a poll was conducted what would a CEO prefer, a productive sales force or an effective sales force? In my experience the most successful sales leaders and people care little about sales productivity. Anyone with even a few years experience in sales management will know that real sales people move to a different beat. They are a different animal, and not just because some of them like fast cars, expensive shirts or the latest Smartphone, no, the reality is real successful sales professionals are more goal focused than the average sales person. In fact the most successful sales people will constantly work more than 40 hours a week to make a sale or win a new customer to beat their target.

The measure of productivity is “the output of a worker divided by the time is required to achieve the output “, while a nice metric in sales it is not that really applicable in most sales organisations. I argue that sales people or a sales force cannot be measured in the same way as a factory worker, software developer or accountant.

Let me explain further, if for example, the IT department bring in a new system that reduces software coding time by 20% it takes a developer to code then it is reasonable to expect that the developer will produce an extra 20% more lines of code and the software teams output might go up proportionately.

When it comes to sales, when a tool is introduced that should save a sales person a few hours a week or measured as % of their working week – then it could be reasonable to think that they should be able to increase their sales by ten or twenty percent. But that is just not the case as has been proven by the mass adoption of CRM systems as real sales productivity has not improved.

Freeing Up Sales Peoples Time Does Not Increase Sales

sales-effectiveness

You see, unlike the IT and coder example if a company introduces a solution to help sales professionals do the dreaded monthly expense reports faster, what do you reckon the typical sales person will do with the extra time the business has saved him or her?

A poll of ten senior sales leaders I know gave the following quotes in reply to the above scenario – they will takes longer lunches – play more golf – spend more time at home – relax a little more. None mentioned they believed the sales force would improve productivity.

The reality is that the successful goal focused sales person is already working as many hours as it takes to nail or over achieve their targets. Saving them time simply makes them more “productive” as in they achieve the same sales output but in fewer hours. In management speak, the sales professional’s time spent working is flexible, meaning it is adjusted by the very productivity measures or tool companies have introduced to increase productivity. A zero sum result.

Could Phone based or Inside Sales be an Exception?

The above observations are mostly to do with customer facing sales people. But let us discuss the inside sales people especially in light of the growth in SaaS models. The role of a typical phone based agent is to make 60 to 80 calls a day, so you would think that say a dialler that enabled them to increase their dials to 66 or 88 calls a day (10% sales productivity boost) would yield higher results, right?. Not always!

Let me explain why not in more detail. In a typical selling day, in making “the call quota” the inside sales person might have 6 or 7 good decision maker conversations and then generate one or two real opportunities for the sales pipeline from these conversations.

Next increase the above numbers by the 10% productivity boost and you get approx. 0.7 more sales conversations per sales person, and maybe 0.2 more qualified opportunities. Yes, I hear you say because if you spread this out over a large inside sales force, these numbers should average out to more opportunities, but often do not.  Another reality check! Inside sales productivity has not improved in over 20 years despite huge investments in technology and systems.

Why is this so? Much the same reason as for the customer facing roles, sales people are goal focused and as every good sales manager understands that four deals with a 25% probability do not equal one deal with a 100% probability in the eyes of a sale person.

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Sales Effectiveness, Not Sales Productivity Is the Answer

Introducing new systems and time saving technology that reduces non selling work is valuable for any sales force. At a minimum it will increase their job satisfaction and engagement levels plus over time it can impact an additional sale or two per sales person. However, I have firsthand experience of companies who time and time again fail to justify costly sales force automation tools because of the over reliance on increasing sales productivity as a KPI.

Sales people want to be more effective in sales situations. Their focus is not about working less or more, it is on winning more deals.

So to drive sales effectiveness for serious revenue gains, companies and sales leadership should

  1. Enhance Integration of Marketing, Sales and Service –Smarketing
  2. Improve the Customer Experience at All Touch Points
  3. Strengthen the Sales Methodologies and Sales Process
  4. Bring more Science to Hiring and Talent Acquisition
  5. Ensure Better Outcomes from Sales Technology
  6. Sharpen Focus on Goals and Customers through Agile Selling

In the new era of selling, sales leaders and management will be rewarded for taking a more holistic approach to sales effectiveness across the entire sales force including strategy, process, incentives, talent acquisition and growth, roles and sales training. At the crux of this focus to drive more revenue is delivering a consistent and excellent customer experience that blends sales, marketing and service to sell more dynamically while providing the brand promise to meet the customers ever more demanding expectations

Sales Call Structure – Sell Successfully

In the digital sales world, the art of making a sales call has been overlooked, so today lots of sales people do not understand the nuances involved in making successful sales calls. Whether the sales call is cold, as a result of a web lead or inbound enquiry always approach the sales call with the same degree of attention to detail. I have put together a few tips to help remind sales people on how to master a sales conversation and turn those conversations into sales.

“Plan your work and work your plan”

Always Be Prepared to Succeed

sales-process

Before ever picking up the phone, go to the various social media sites and Google to get the insight on the company you are going to call, the same applies to the contact with whom you intend to speak with. Think about why are calling them, what is it in for them, what is your unique selling point for this prospect and what you want to achieve out of the conversation. Plan your opening statement and personalise your value proposition into a few sentences (why should they continue to listen to you!). It is also a good idea to craft a few different value propositions to appeal to people in different industries or situations.

Time the Run

The contact has answered the phone (make sure to use their name and your name and company on the intro). Try NOT to ask them whether now is a good time to talk as your sales call might be heading to the exit door marked “call back” and in the process, you may be forced to end the call, missing the opportunity to talk with the contact but most of all missing the chance to get them to listen about a solution that could help them. (If you don’t believe your solution can solve an identified problem then don’t bother calling)

Why not try a simple opening such as “How are you today?” This can provide the type of feedback you might only discover through body language. Now listen to the contact’s tone of voice to determine whether they are in an engaging mood or sound distracted. The key is to quickly determine whether to reschedule the call, adjust the sales pitch (length) or proceed as initially planned.

Master the Delivery

It is what you say and HOW you say it. As the contact cannot see you, your voice and the quality of the information you impart is what is going to keep this call going. Always have a friendly tone, speak clearly and use voice inflection to get attention. Talk at a measured pace, be concise , let your words flow naturally and use some facts with a raised pitch showing confidence so you can move to the next step with the contacts approval (this doesn’t mean asking them, you presume and move seamlessly to next step). Have you brand or company sales pitch down pat, always be ready to answer “What do you offer different from my current supplier?

A training tip if you do not feel comfortable with the delivery is to practice and record some trial calls or ask a buddy or ask a sales trainer to score you. When you listen back to the phone recording, pay attention that your voice sounded confidence and the words flowed like a natural conversation.

sales-steps

Discover the Opportunity

Now that you have got the attention of the contact with your opening delivery statement, the next step is to start the discovery process to find out if any opportunity exists, and if so, what it is or what does it look like?. All sales opportunities should tick these three boxes. Budget. Need. Authority.

Your friend here is the WWWWWW – who, why, what, where, when, who. These are the classic open-ended questions that encourage open discussion and help you to clarify the competitive landscape. Do not leave these questions to chance, prepare in advance. Some sample questions to use could include:

  • Where are your major challenges (in role or product stack)?
  • What are your responsibilities?
  • When do you conduct reviews (relating to vendors/solutions)?
  • What problems are you facing in (personalise to your product)?
  • Have you tried to solve these issues?  If so, how?
  • What solutions would you consider?
  • How soon do you want to find a solution?
  • What is the decision making process for us to progress?
  • What is the budget to address the situation?

The idea is to have a number of questions from which the answers should give a good indication whether there is a business opportunity or not. The questions should try to get to the prospects pain points; this is the start of an agreement staircase and helps you move on to the next step in the sales process. However don’t move the sales process on just for the sake of a sales pipeline report, if no opportunity exists or can’t be clarified then value your time and move on.

Stir into Action

Less than 2% of sales are made on the first contact, in fact over 80% of sales are concluded between the fifth and twelfth sales contact. So you are probably not going to go right for the sale on the 1st call but still need to advance the opportunity. So, what did you plan to achieve from this sales call? If the door is open to proceed now it is time to get agreement with your prospect on the next action. For example, if you are selling a SaaS solution, you might ask them to sign up for a free trial. Always clarify the action, agree, and repeat the value proposition then set a time to follow up to gain his or her feedback.

In all likelihood there will be several steps in the sales cycle to move from the initial discovery phase through to closing a sale. Therefore, think about your sales training, then map out your sales process and steps from initial awareness to consideration (plot the buyers journey) so you stay in control and on course to closing the deal.

The more you practise your sales calls, the better your results.

Social Selling Tips

The sales and marketing buzzword word at the moment is “Social Selling”; where the sales process is now tapping into social media conversations and the impact of social networks in driving brand awareness or buyer consideration.  Most sales and marketing leaders would concur that the sales process has completely changed. Sales people need to adjust their skill set as tactics like cold calling has a low return for allot of effort so learning how to harnessing the power of selling via social media is important.

social-selling

A social selling strategy should be about a genuine effort to share value and content prior to engaging in any sales conversations.  Social selling is not SPAM, too often the simplistic approach is for sales people to spam sales messages on Twitter, Facebook, on LinkedIn groups, or to a new connection  with a vanilla flavoured sales message and a self serving web link.  If you do this stop, as the moment anyone gets these messages, the brand loyalty and any trust gets flushed away. Connecting and building your social network just to SPAM them is NOT social selling.

The biggest social selling tip is to truly build value over time with your social network by sharing content that people find useful and helpful. In time when you personally message to a social tie to engage in a sales discussion your chances of a positive response will be greatly improved.

So a great social selling tip that will benefit all social marketers, sales people and businesses is to take the time every single day to do the following.  Connect to your social network community with news, images, videos, snippets of information. Another tip is to find ways to connect your network together (as this provides value) and offering to help others connect.  Pause a minute and think about this scenario. You see a message posted on LinkedIn that says, “Where could I find some inspiration for a presentation?”  Instead of posting of reply such as, I would be interested in this myself or have you tried PowerPoint? (True reply!).  Why not see if anyone in your network is a presentation expert or does allot of presentations that you could offer to put in touch with your connection that is looking for some presentation inspiration.  Act as a conduit, a connector who brings value by taking the time to listen and connect your social ties

social-selling-tips

Social Selling Steps. 

Step 1. Listen to and monitor social media conversations across several social networks to get a comprehensive view of what’s being said about your specific focus

Step 2. Start to identify interests, most liked news, influencers and prospects through the listening process

Step 3. Track your prospects. Review their posts, timelines and understand what they are interested in or saying.

Step 4. Share quality content (not just your own). Seek out some information of mutual interest, and then share. The information must be professional and relevant to them. You can also like or even re-tweet their content.

Step 5. Position yourself as an expert by sharing real insights and proven research you have gained in the industry or with working with customers

Step 6. Gradually become a valuable connection, one worth listening to. Once you have established yourself as a valuable connection, you can nurture and build a buyer/supplier relationship far more quickly.

These steps are the foundations of social selling, and too many marketing and sales  people forget that selling is all about firstly building relationships and secondly providing value.  Start now to implement these social selling steps and you will have set yourself to gradually drive more sales then cold calling can ever do.

Another social selling tip is to remember that selling is inherently social so social selling is nothing new. Rather look at social selling as a sales tool to help you sell more effectively that will evolve over time.

social-selling-tip

Next up on the tip list is to break ‘social selling’ into two main areas:

(1) Direct and

(2) Indirect.

In social selling the direct aspect is utilising social media networks like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, and Tumblr to look for conversations where you share content to make connection to people you want to target and nurture relationships with. Take the example, the CIO of a prospect tweeted something about their focus on reducing IT costs in the coming year. (See step 1, 2 and 3 above)

So now share some articles or research on reducing IT, then if your product or service can help with reducing IT costs, at an appropriate time you can tweet them about it, message them or send a personalised e-mail explaining the value you might be able to add to their focus based on what they said (see step 4 above). This is a shortened version of events but the point is to look for information about what people or companies are doing or saying so you can be highly relevant to them when you reach out on social media.

The indirect aspect of social selling has to do with building your own personal brand so over time your social audience (connections and weak ties) eventually value your shares and see you as an industry expert, not just another sales person (see steps 5 and 6 above). However please do realise this does take time and does not provide the instant hit that sales leaders think should happen these days. Social selling is all about adding value to your target market.

I write articles on sales and marketing, I try to add some value by not just talking about the theory of selling or business but actually giving my readers some useful tips on sales, marketing and business. I share suggestions on what to do and how to do it. I also regularly post or re-tweet articles from other sources not just about sales but about business topics that I think are important to my audience.

On a daily basis I review discussions on my groups in LinkedIn and give honest answers to  questions people have without plugging my business or telling them I wonderful I am or how I can help solve their problems if they meet me. So, let me wrap up by saying, really take the time to think through your “Social Selling” goals, expectations and approach. Spend time looking for articles, news and research you can use to connect with people without interrupting them while at the same time position yourself as an industry expert by sharing quality information that is on the money. This will help you throughout your sales career no matter what product or service you are selling.

Managing a Startup Business

If you can’t find a way, then make a way!

Starting a business, any business is a brave step. But how do you manage a start-up business as well as find customers or put in place a customer acquisition strategy on tight or even zero budgets. Working with early stage and start-up companies I know first-hand how limited resources can be. The tendency for many small businesses is to focus on the product. They add in more and more features or take comfort in a well designed website or just even they talk about strategy rather than putting in place a plan to find and sell to customers so the business can getting on track to achieving  business success AKA revenue generation. The below list is some actionable business tactics to get your small business sales pipeline moving and put you on the track to success.

business-startup

Know your Target market – don’t try to sell to everyone

Product to marketing fit is critical to any business success however a business start-up should never try to be a great product to satisfy all buyers’ needs, this will simply not work as no one product will be for everyone. So step 1 is to try to focus in on one customer target group. It will make the business look more focused, knowledgeable, and professional plus it allows the business to channel its efforts into making one target group happy. The key now is to do a customer targeting exercise (figuring out who your customers are and what they want). I am not saying this is easy, especially if your business is new or you only have 1 or 2 beta customers. Brainstorm on what set of buyers or people who might need your product now by matching it back to what problem your product solves, this is sometimes called your USP- unique selling point or Value Wedge. Also check if it is a fluid market (low hanging fruit to be gathered) by doing some Google searches on related keywords. Balance the fact that you don’t want to define your target market so small or so tightly that it’s something people won’t search for. Think in terms of keywords, search terms or existing topics being discussed on forums or industry buzz.

One Swallow does not make a summer

The lesson here is stay focused on executing the business model and don’t get distracted. A good example of this is a company in the SaaS space I work with, received  a phone call from a big company about doing a demo of their product at their offices which would include a customization element. Even though the meeting went ahead, it came to nothing because my client company was not big enough nor could afford to serve companies in the non-SaaS way. They simply were not big enough to fulfil all the product amendments for this one customer or have a dedicated team to work on the project at the stage where they were trying to find the best product to market fit. This distracted the team for over 6 weeks when they could have been doing more productive lead nurturing work.

business-planning

Make a plan

A business plan will at the very least serve as a guide or a roadmap along the way. Too many small businesses talk about being agile or nimble. That is a process or a culture; it is not a business model. What this can often mean is that their limited resources are waiting to respond to the next challenge thrown before them. I am not suggesting that this is wrong as sometimes it is necessary but not all the time so try to build a business plan. The goal is to develop a sound business strategy that provides a reference framework to keep the business on track to grow by building its awareness, developing brand consideration, attracting new customers and closing sales deals.

Tip: Use this Free Business Tools to focus on your business plan to success, time is precious, do not waste it.

Develop a clear brand for your business

A branding is not just for large corporations; from tiny acorns big trees grow! This does not mean spending vast sums on branding but rather it reflects your mission, values and what your product stands for. The major action here is to determine the core attributes of your brand and promote this .Always strive to present your company in the same way, carve out an awareness level on what your brand represents (product innovation, cost leadership, service leadership ) so that it contributes to the overall business in a cost effective way.

Publish great articles

The old adage about content is king is true. Along with being a product or service company also think of your business as a content publishing house. Articles get search traffic via targeted keywords (SEO) but just as important it positions your brand and business as thought leaders. But you have to stand out from the crowd to get attention. Articles need keyword optimised titles PLUS great content, make them factual or research based to further boost readership. No point in publishing articles as a box ticking exercise, make sure the articles you publish are the best so people want to read or download them or don’t bother. Blunt but true.

A few tips on great content angles:

  • Be highly creative or controversial
  • Be the most knowledgeable
  • Have the most research
  • Write strange articles on your industry

Be Social Media Aware.

As a start-up you probably will read loads on inbound marketing, social media or social selling. Being social media aware is more than a few twitter posts or Facebook likes. Every business needs to have a presence and visibility on a variety of Social Media platforms. Create a social media plan (based on article sharing) and then schedule your social media activities so that you build relationships with social influencers, potential prospects, customers and the public. Learn the art of social selling – share to receive.

Keep it lean and mean – know which plates to spin

Like most start-ups you have a lean team so make sure you know what everyone is doing. Who is driving customer acquisition, marketing and sales? Revert back to your plan and prioritise the key initiatives (revenue and product) including major tasks such as content creation, social media interaction and social selling. Time management and knowing which plates to spin can sometimes be complicated for a small business as they dash around from pillar to post. Find and use the right tools, free business tools like Zoho or Trello should save you time or tears. Finally from me to you, a message of sincere best wishes in your business venture. Happy hunting!

Sales Strategy – Inbound Sales – Digital Sales Transformation – Social Selling – Sales Training

Sales training and digital sales transformation including social selling strategy training in Ireland.