A Guide to Sales Prospecting

Sales prospecting whether using cold calling, social selling, emails or referrals is a vital sales tactic especially for new or small businesses.  Prospecting and sales are not the same thing, prospecting is solely focused on searching and engaging with potential customers in order to nurture a relationship. The sales event happens once the prospect has passed some qualification criteria.  The act of picking up the phone or sending a cold email can seem daunting to a salesperson, especially if they work for a company whose product or brand name might not be instantly recognizable.

50% of sales time is wasted on unproductive prospecting. [Source: The B2B Lead]

So, here is a guide for sales prospecting success:

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Use Social Selling and Digital Selling to counteract lack of name recognition.

Using social selling and digital selling tactics can overcome many of the bigger obstacles for new or smaller companies. As Confucius stated “Worry not that no one knows you; seek to be worth knowing.” So, start by really understanding your value proposition and be clear about the buyer pain points and business challenges your company solves.
Givers Gain. The ability to demonstrate (visually using video or content on social media) that you understand your prospects challenges and that you can be a useful source of information to help them improve their business will result in increased relevant connections.

Share first, sell later. Sharing insights and quality information without a big sales pitch is what will get attention from buyers. Use video, case studies, whitepapers, references etc to gentle highlight the benefits of considering your business. Give examples of what makes you different, whether it is a unique product, free trials, lower cost of ownership, proof of concepts or improved performance. Seeding the benefits of doing business with you that can be viewed online will only reinforce your other sales prospecting efforts.

The first step is to create a list of unique benefits and values that will displace any perceived lack of recognition or recall. Building a social selling and digital selling strategy aimed at specific audiences will position the business as one worth considering when it comes to looking for new providers.

Know who you sell to and who will buy from you

Knowing who you want to sell to and who will buy from you are not the same. If you want everyone as a customer, you will sell to no-one. Create 1,2 or 3 Ideal Customer Profiles. In fact, focusing in on who you want to engage is probably THE most important aspect of sales prospecting. To maximize your success, ensure that you prioritize the prospects and profiles in order to improve the chances of providing value to them and their challenges.

Effective Sales Techniques Tips Video from The Digital Sales Institute

During the research stage, the goals to work towards include:

  • To determine if the prospect is worth investing time in
  • List, score, and begin to prioritize prospects
  • Identify touch points (via social or otherwise) to develop a connection through content, message personalization, nurturing and influence development

Seek to Be Useful, Valuable and Relevant

Regardless of whether you try to engage via cold calling, email or social selling, you should seek to be a useful, valuable and relevant contact. Learn how to social listen so you can research their company and understand their business. What trigger events can you uncover that would warrant engaging with you. Have they just launched a new product? Hired a new CEO, moving to a bigger office, Acquired a new company? Trigger selling is where you leverage specific information to make a prospecting touch point relevant, more informed, and less cold.

Become skilled at Social Selling and Digital Selling

The fact is that while still they still deliver results, cold calling and unsolicited emails are not as powerful as they once were. They still have a place in sales prospecting if used in conjunction with social selling. This activity involves the use of LinkedIn, Twitter and increasingly Facebook as part of the sales process to raise buyer awareness towards a business and then gradually cultivating new connections. Learn to use social media to build relationships before a prospect even starts a buyer’s journey, to close the conversion gap and eventually move online social conversations into offline sales conversations. Social selling is an additive process to connect with all stakeholders, decision-makers and influencers as the buying process moves from status quo, to awareness and onto consideration.

Using your Ideal Customer Profiles, locate and list your prospects on LinkedIn, then begin by sharing quality content, be seen to add value to conversations prior to sending out a connection request. Using a highly personalized message, referencing something that will twig their interest will greatly improve their likelihood to accept your request to connect to them. Now, this can turn your first ‘cold’ call touch point into a warm call and increase the percentage of appointments or demos.

Multi-Channel Sales Prospecting Touch Points

Not one single sales prospecting touch point (Social Selling, Emailing or Cold Calling) should be your entire tactic. C level executives receive over 100 emails a day and try to avoid numerous cold pitches so the likelihood of success by simply focusing on one tactic will probably deliver slim pickings.

Successful sales prospecting is about communication and getting commitments. There will always be person to person personalised communication, so learn the multi-channel techniques to overcome any lack of name recognition on calls and mails. The buying committee is now on average made up of 5 to 6 people, so think multi prospecting touch points to multiple people as part of your sales process if you want to build recognition for the business.

As buyers self-educate, getting their time and attention isn’t easy, but perfecting the channels and timing of when to engage them will dramatically close the conversion gap and increase the number sales conversations you secure.

Learn the Sales Habit Loop, Set a Daily Schedule for Yourself

It takes 66 days on average to learn a new habit, so as basic as it sounds, plan your day, book time slots for different prospecting tactics in your calendar, daily. Then persist with it and prospect. Make it part of your daily routine and give yourself a reward not just for the success but also for the effort.  Selling is a repetitive job, it can be easy to dedicate ourselves to the “easier” sales tasks. Even when your sales pipeline seems full, remember over 80% of prospects make it all the way through the sales process and never make a decision. So, you must have a sales habit loop that consistently refreshes the number of sales prospects you are planning to or are currently engaging.
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Never stop Learning

Take time to reassess your sales prospecting process to see what activities generated some return and which ones did not deliver.

After each prospecting campaign, take time to assess how well we:

  • Found a pain point or trigger
  • Were able to engage in meaningful conversations
  • Uncovered challenges
  • Understood the buying committee and decision process
  • Gave buyers reasons to move out of their status quo
  • Closed the conversion gap

Persistence. Learn, have a routine, Try, then try again, reflect, refresh, adjust and go again. And again, and again. Taking time to self-reflect will serve to further improve sales prospecting techniques for future campaigns. Here are some more sales training articles and videos. 

Selling Skills That Every Salesperson Needs

There is a whole range of selling skills that every salesperson needs to be successful in the modern sales 3.0 era. Thanks to the digital influenced world we live in, how salespeople sell has changed. The role of a salesperson is constantly evolving and a more consultative selling skill set is now required in most sales roles.

However, regardless of any sales methodology, one fact remains true: Successful salespeople will always be looking at ways to enhance their selling skills to achieve higher levels of performance. Whether it is getting better at social networking (social selling), developing their personal brand, improving how to do sales prospecting or account management, the reality is salespeople need support from sales management plus access to continuous sales coaching.

Both at the company and individual salesperson level, everyone has to invest more time learning and understanding the art and science of selling in today’s fast paced buying environment.

sales-3.0

Selling Skills Every Good Salesperson Needs

  • To have empathy and take the time to really understand a prospect’s needs
  • Ability to engage with a prospect at their level and on their terms
  • Is seen to add value to the prospect or customer at every stage of the process
  • An active listener along with skilled at asking questions to uncover challenges or objections
  • Can create a vision for the value that their product will bring for the buyer’s business

Let’s deep a little deeper as these selling skills.

Confidence and a can-do attitude.

Average salespeople do what is required, great salespeople do whatever it takes. A career in sales can be a bumpy road, salespeople suffer all manner of rejections by prospective customers along the way, and they need to be resilient, confident plus maintain a positive can-do attitude from the get go.

A winning mindset in sales “is not a question of do you know it, but rather of one ‘Do you want to do it?”. Because “If you want to do it, you will acquire the necessary knowledge and skills.”  In a sales career, a salespersons most valuable asset is not their value proposition, nor their sales scripts, nor their contact lists. Their most valuable asset is their mindset.

A confidence mindset allows salespeople to transfer belief in themselves and what they are selling to the customer.

An active listener and skilled at understanding the customers’ needs

Research has shown that successful selling is 54% listening and 46% talking. Whether prospecting or business development, active listening to really understand a customer’s needs (they may not even be aware of a need you have flagged as a result of listening to them) is a critical sales skill. Active listening isn’t passive as it involves asking clarifying questions. Salespeople need to understand it is more than just hearing what is being said. It means being constantly attentive to what the customer is saying and truly understand the sentiment or position of the other person.

We know that sales conversations are the key to successful selling in the complex, consultative, or solution type sale. So, effective sales conversations are the result of the salesperson taking responsibility for both their speaking and their audience’s listening.

Rapport building and selling their personality

Another critical sales skill to the ability to establish rapport and relatedness that opens trust with the buyer. So, selling their personality (and personal brand) is incredibly valuable. Being genuinely interested, authentic and engaging is the major plank in gaining buyers trust. Let’s take one step back, because great rapport building can be linked to the research a salesperson does prior to engaging a customer. Sharing insights and asking unique questions related directly to the customers business lets them know that the salesperson is not there just to run through the typical sales conversation.

Even in this digital world, people buy people. It’s about convincing the customer to listen in the first instance and then work towards gaining their trust that the salesperson is the best person to sell the product to them. A salesperson needs to sell their talents (product or market knowledge, problem solver etc) but, even more importantly, they have to sell their personality.

Business acumen and a drive for continuous self-improvement

Top salespeople possess a genuine interest in how business works. They have business acumen, an entrepreneurial drive and ability to self-evaluate their own performance. They can use this to engage customers and then create opportunities where they may not seem to exist. Successful salespeople also display a characteristic of business curiosity. They research and plan out the right questions to ask plus they seek out the right people to ask those questions to, along with finding the answers.

The forward thing sales professional will always see a sale through from execution to delivery as they value customers opinions and referral potential.

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Sales habit loop for sales consistency.

Salespeople have to acquire the skill via sales training that sales negotiation is a process not an event. This means having a well-planned out sales habit loop that consistently addresses all parts of the sales process. They pay attention to the 3Ps of selling – Prepare, Probe, and Propose.

So, there you have some of the selling skills that every salesperson needs. These critical sales skills that can make a difference in how salespeople sell – listening, rapport building, empathy, storytelling, and thinking on their feet, are things that most people in sales can probably do, yet ask ourselves – How much opportunity do they get to practice them? Sales leaders need to create a time and place to allow salespeople practice the more human side of selling to be successful in the sales 3.0 world.

Future of B2B Sales

Future of B2B Sales

Most sales leaders agree that B2B sales are on the verge of a great leap forward, with a series of changes that will redefine what it takes to succeed in the market over the coming years.

The use of data and analytics as part of a sales transformation or sales enablement program is allows sales people to forecast with increasing accuracy, their most valuable sales opportunities. In fact, forward looking companies are using data and advanced analytics to drive their sales productivity alongside revenue growth without adding to their sales teams or costs.

future-b2b-sales

Future of B2B sales

The change in the B2B buyers journey where they self-educate via content, are technically savvy plus a preference for engaging via the digital networks, is leading the charge for a new breed of sales leaders who have digital expertise plus a strategic approach to engaging customers. The change in the buyer’s journey is also transforming the composition of sales teams with a move away from customer facing sales towards a growth in inside sales and social sellers supported by analytics functions.

Add in the shift towards subscription-based models and you can see why it is critical to re-evaluate how customer engagement is managed. The sales world of recurring revenues means that deals need to be won monthly, quarterly and yearly. Customer relationship salespeople will become increasingly more important and digitally connected sales teams are aligning themselves closely to the buying journey the customer undertakes.

Science is replacing Art in B2B sales

The disruption to the traditional buyer- seller model means B2B sales is becoming more science than art. Selling, customer acquisition and target selection is now more data-driven because of the range of digital tools and advanced analytics available to sales leadership. The focus is now firmly on really understanding the “what, why, and when” of the customer buying process. Research from McKinsey shows that organisations who have embraced “the science of B2B sales” are seeing over 2X times industry average revenue growth.

An interesting statistic from the research shows it is the CEOs of the leading pack who actively lead the sales transformation. They understand that redefining their go-to-market strategy require cross functional alignment and unified execution from sales, marketing, IT, finance and HR. The future of B2B sales will require sales leadership to fundamentally transform their go-to-market strategy around three defining pillars.

Pillar 1. Engage the customer the way they want to be engaged

The debate of salespeople v social v digital is over. Driving sales growth in the future means combining all these resources. However, digital assets (social media channels, content, social selling, data, digital sales tools etc) will be the glue that holds a successful multichannel sales strategy together. To support this pillar, research shows that while 76% of B2B buyers found it helpful to interact (via social media, phone or meeting) with a salesperson when researching a new product or service, this falls to 52% for repeat purchases of products with new features, and down to only 15% who want to interact with a salesperson when repurchasing the exact same product or service.

So, sales leaders will have to plan and cater to the different preferences of first-time and repeat customers.

Companies will use the social channels and digital sales tools alongside the more traditional sales interactions when targeting new prospects who seek direct interaction with salespeople. Examples here include sharing white papers, customer case studies, webinars and interactive product demos, which help salespeople engage customers in the awareness and consideration stages of their buying journey.

For the repeat customers who prefer the online channel, companies need to deploy “socially trained” inside salespeople to keep ensure retention plus speed up the sale process. The inside sales teams will focus on engaging this customer set via social media, email, live web chat, and even live video calls.

Pillar 2. Using data and analytics to make faster strategic and tactical decisions.

Forward looking organisations and leaders will use data and analytics to action key strategic sales issues, such as which market or set of customer profiles to target, what sales opportunities are worth pursuing, resources (and engagement) needed on selected accounts, and to identify sales behaviours required to increase sales productivity. Sales leaders of the future using science in B2B sales will use analytics to build a detailed profile, account and product plan for each of their customers and ideal prospects. These plans will then be enriched with external and social data such as news, financial information, management profiles and market trends to generate a 360-degree view of every customer.

Science will replace art or gut feeling for sales management to identify the sales behaviours that drive sales productivity or how to match the right people to the right deals. Sales performance will be linked back to actual sales habits (sales planning, time management, frequency of customer interactions, conversations, nurturing, prospecting, solution proposals, win/loss ratio etc) so management will be able to identify the best salespeople.

Pillar 3. Nurturing and Growing talent for the digital era.

The socially connect and digitally influenced buyer is increasingly sophisticated and interaction savvy, so sales leaders need to adapt accordingly. Hiring and training a new generation of cross-functional and multi-channel comfortable salespeople will be vital.

Finding the right talent will only be part of the jigsaw, companies will need to invest time and resources in nurturing and growing their sales force. Most current sales training is not fit for purpose, this is why you will see lots more articles on sales transformation or sales enablement.

Some interesting facts worth noting are that adults only remember 10% of what they heard and approx. 32% of what they saw, just three months after the training has finished. But an adult will remember 65% of what they learn by doing. This insight is driving a transformation in how companies deliver sales training. They are evolving from slow instructor lead classroom training to online digital modules and “on-the-job” training where coaches help the salespeople to learn from doing.

b2b-sales-trends

B2B sales trends

Getting started with the science of B2B Sales

A few tips on getting started with the science of B2B sales include:

Understand your current position. Begin by looking at the customer and how their buying preferences will impact the business. How customers buy (will buy) should determine what investments the sales organisation needs.

Take a longer-term view. What will change look like in 12, 24, 36 months? Taking a longer-term view means that sales leadership can plan for and invest in the right sales capabilities based on customer driven road-map.

Use data to test and learn. Buyer habits are changing faster than sales are responding, so speed matters now more than ever. Use whatever data on hand to test and learn, keeping the business nimble. Break down internal silos and set up a sales war-room to launch new multi-channel campaigns and messages. Maybe implement an agile test-fail-learn-adapt model to engage more buyers and then refine the sales tactics to include social selling, social reach, digital engagement etc.

The future of B2B sales will require vision, strong leadership and focus from the CEO and the leadership team plus an investment in time and resources to win out. However, companies using the three pillars in the science of B2B sales are already racing ahead of their competitors and driving sales growth at a faster pace.

A Social Selling Guide for Sales Leaders

A social selling strategy starts at the top. If sales management and senior executives are suspicious about social media – if they only see risk, their people wasting time clicking “Like” buttons and employees posting funny pictures, then they would be right to draw down the shutters and, in the process, cut off the opportunity social media presents.

If, on the other hand, they want to become a social business and prepared to invest in training to optimise its potential and reduce risk, to reconfigure operations so that departments work together digitally, not in silos. Then social selling could be the key to unlocking the data insights into customers and prospects. Where do they engage, digitally? What language do they use? How active are they? What external content do they share? There is a mountain of social data out there if a business knows how to mine it.

Some 62 per cent of Irish companies said they used social media platforms as their primary method for connecting with customers, up from 58 per cent and 46 per cent in 2014 and 2013 respectively.   (Compiled by CSO December 2015)

So how many of our companies have formal social selling programs, policies and KPI’s in place?

social-networks

The social networks allow us to interact with other human beings in meaningful ways online. Social Selling is an evolutionary step forward making the sales process more productive and meaningful. It is not about using social media to shout at, stalk, or spam people digitally. It is not about employing the social channels to replace cold calling/sales outreach or replacing the telephone with Twitter and LinkedIn.

The reality is that integrating social media into your team’s selling process is a must if you expect your salespeople to break through the competitive clutter and reach buyers who are better informed and more digitally connected than ever before.

A well planned social selling program will see sellers will use the online channels at the front end of the sales cycle to be useful, to network, build their online brand, and be found, demonstrate credibility, generate leads and conduct presales customer engagement. Social channels can and should also be used to nurture existing customer relationships and as part of account based management

To turn your sales organisation into a social selling machine, you need to do these things:

Accept that buyer behaviour and the buyers journey has changed. Sales management must shift their mindsets. The selling world is different than it was five or ten years ago. Some if not most of the sales tactics that worked when a business was building its customer base, are not working for sales teams today. Saturated with sales approaches, buyers ignore phone calls and emails from people they have never heard off. It takes so much more effort to break through the noise these days. Sales people must alter their sales approach.  The role of sales leadership is to help them learn how to do it.

Develop a social selling strategy. Engage both the marketing and sales teams as part of the planning process.  Be careful not to head straight for social selling training without having thought through items like culture, change, KPI’s, content and making social selling a consistent activity. Heading straight to tactics without executive sponsorship and a well developed plan is a recipe for failure.

Establish social etiquette and social media guidelines. Sales people need to know what is expected of them from their actions online. Sales people present themselves PLUS the company brand. Remember what is posted online stays there is forever, while mistakes are bound to happen a business can reduce any risk by ensuring that all the sales teams understand the art of communicating online. As important is to teach them what is and is not appropriate to say and do on behalf of your company when they are using social networks as part of their selling activities. Less than 26% of sales people know how to use social media correctly as part of their sales activities.

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Include social selling training into the bigger sales training plan. The digitally connected buyer means that sales behaviours have to change and sales people need to understand how to strategically use the social networks in the right way. If a company or sales people just view social channels as a vehicle to spam prospects with vanilla sales pitches, a huge opportunity will be wasted, and the company brand is put at serious risk. Social training should be ongoing and not just a one-time event at the end of induction training.

Implement and focus on the metrics. Social activity is not about doing more – make more connections, send more invitations, or do more demos. Without the right metrics and KPI’s, sales teams can waste a lot of time hitting like buttons. Without clear goals and objective sales people do not link their social behaviour to social etiquette, policies or structure. They commit “random acts of social” where at times self-promotion takes precedent over company promotion. The quality of sales activities as a result of social selling is what counts. Using the social networks to attain measurable sales results is more important than checking off the box that says sales person A sent 50 connection requests.

Be realistic in your expectations. Using the social channels is not a quick fix to increasing sales pipeline and revenue. No one who implemented a social selling plan saw results overnight. No surprise here as this is no different from any other sales tactics a business may have invested in for the sales teams. When it comes to the social channels learning how to do things differently does take time. This is why the planning that goes into providing the sales training and coaching that sales people need is vital so these new approaches bear fruit overtime.

social-media-infographic

Social selling is an additive process. This is not a replacement for phone calls and prospecting emails. It is an additive approach, a prescriptive process like another arrow in the quiver that you should think about, “How do I apply social to every prospect, every deal, every account, every single day for no more than 30 to 60 minutes a day.

Forward thinking sales leaders know that social selling is not some snake oil, nor is it a gimmicky approach to selling. These leaders know social selling is another set of sales tools and an evolution in how we reach buyers in the digital era. Social selling is a complement to traditional sales methods—not a revolutionary approach that replaces them. Social selling, due to its ability to enhance the customer journey, is an incredibly powerful sales tool. But, like any tool, its value and utility are ultimately tied to the skills of the individual employing it.

The What and How of Sales Enablement

Sales enablement is linchpin that a business uses to bridge the gap between their sales strategy and how they execute this on social media, the phone or face to face. In a fast moving digital world, common sales challenges (buyer interactions, longer sales cycles, declining win rates, slowing customer acquisition and shrinking deal sizes ) can be mapped back to the same source — the conversations between sales people and buyers.

The challenge for sales leadership is to equip the entire sales team(s) with the ability to consistently and systematically have a valuable conversation either online or offline with the right set of customers at each stage of the buyer’s journey to optimise the results of the selling system.

The goal of sales enablement is to ensure that every sales person has the knowledge, sales skills and behaviours to maximise every interaction with buyers.” In other words, how can sales leaders create the environment to “get all your ducks in a row to give the salespeople the best chance of closing a deal?”

sales-enablement

A sales enablement framework for the digitally connected buyers should include:

Targeting the Right Prospects

Reports show that only 3% of buyers are in a purchasing cycle when contacted by sales. This blunt sales effort can be extremely for all stakeholders when lead nurturing is directed at the wrong buyers, who are not ready to buy, or worse just are not interested in what you have to offer.

Sales productivity is impacted due to sales people’s efforts not being focused on buyers who are middle of the funnel or already in the “I may have a problem” mindset. A better use of social selling and social data combined with sales intelligence as part of a sales enablement program will go a long way to helping this challenge.

Aligning the Sales and Marketing Teams

Sales enablement cannot be correctly implemented without aligning marketing and sales. Both departments need to work together to arm the sales teams with the right assets to have the right conversations with the right buyer profiles at the right time and in the right channels.

The reality today is that sales people need to be engaging and holding conversations with buyers throughout the whole journey, even while the buyer is in status quo mode (not yet aware that they may have a business issue that needs solving). It is about bringing a level of consistency to the whole sales process as both marketing and sales work together to interact with customers across the entire buying journey.

A consistent approach from sales and marketing will help assess the sales cycle, identify problem areas, fix them, and achieve the sales goals.

Understand where content fits In

This involves developing relevant content to specific buyers during a specific stage of the buying process. Content is a “must-have” asset in successful sales enablement roll-outs. This includes blog posts, white papers, infographics, eBooks, videos and reports which are deployed to engage customers and potential buyers. During the sales process, the sales team need to understand when to use each type of content and how to position it with their buyers and prospects

Ask and answer questions like:

What are the online personas each prospect will display?

How do we create content that aligns with that persona?

How do we deliver content to the sales people?

Who will produce and supply this content to the sales team?

How will all sales people be trained to use content effectively?

Which is the right combination of company-created, curated and shared content?

How to match the content to the stage the buyer is in?

sales-enablement-graph

The role of social selling

For a whole host of reasons (which you can read in other articles on this blog), social selling is crucial for a sales enablement initiative in the sales 2.0 world. Once the content strategy has been mapped into the sales process, sales people can use these assets as 2nd click content to qualify prospects through the funnel. They can leverage the content to share with and engage buyers, showing that your company is already aware of their concerns and is ready to answer their questions.

A successful social selling program takes time to listen, share, post, nurture, engage and convert. Sales and marketing should work together to form concise messaging and offers that targets issues that buyers may be addressing now.

Measure your Results with KPI’s

If you can’t manage it, you can’t measure it, still holds true even if large parts of the sales conversations has moved online. Rather than try to measure too much, it may be more beneficial to focus on a small set of key performance indicators.

A tip is to separate the sales enablement metrics into two parts:

Performance metrics: How did we do?
How many new connections did we make last month or how much content did the sales teams share last week? How much reach, interest or engagement did we ignite?

Diagnostic metrics: Which is working/not working?

Which activities are working? What needs to be improved? What types of content are the salespeople sharing and with who? What content is not performing or which set of prospects are not responding?

These metrics will help all stakeholders make the right decisions; decisions which help the buyers engage and drive revenue.

Always prioritise the prospects

Too many times, businesses are thinking about “Me” and not “Them”. The focus can be solely on the company, the product, the messaging, the key differentiators, etc. They hone in on themselves and relegate their target audience and the audience’s needs. This internal focus impacts on true sales enablement.  So rather than helping the sales teams understand the buyers, the focus can be entirely on helping the sales team understand the products. Helping buyers through the buyer’s journey should the core of all sales enablement programs, from awareness to decision.

A quick summary

Sales enablement is critical as the business world in which we function has fundamentally changed. Out with the explaining the companies’ products and why buy messaging.  In is assisting prospects evaluate alternatives, helping and educating buyers. The focus becomes truly enabling the sales team to engage throughout the whole buyer’s journey, on their grounds and in the channels they choose.

The modern buying process means that different criteria have to be introduced. Using sales enablement as the guiding principle, sales organisations everywhere can set themselves up for success. The end result will be empowered and productive sales people, skilled in helping prospects across the buyer’s journey and bringing in more revenue, faster than ever.

Social Selling Training

As someone is involved with social selling training I am often asked about best practices including how to engage with a prospect for the first time. Let me start by introducing The 5 C’s of social selling. Credibility, Connecting, Content, Conversations and Conversions.

social-selling-training

Next it is important to understand that social selling is a process not an event. There are more networks than LinkedIn to target plus there are rarely short cuts to building value and trust with potential customers. True engagement via social media networks is like building the pieces of a jigsaw, the customer see’s the picture being built (with content sharing and participation) and then once they see the full picture (lead nurturing) you are now in a position to commence the sales phase, also known as customer consideration and decision.

Here are a few tips I would like to share.

THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT THING TO REMEMBER IN SOCIAL SELLING = VALUE.

To me, the most important thing is always provide VALUE to your potential customers and social network.

Social Selling is a game changer because it allows sales people to interact with buyers exactly where they are doing their research – online. Due to the change in the buyer’s journey and self-educational content being published online, sticking with old sales models and techniques is no longer an option. If buyers do not see the value a business or sales person can bring (credibility), they will simply move on to someone who will.

However, if a sales person goes our way to help the buyer through their journey from research, awareness to consideration with content and helpful conversations, they will have presented themselves and their company as a partner to potentially do business with. Therefore, always strive to provide to your social network and prospects.

SO HOW DO WE “PROVIDE VALUE”?

Well, providing value to people simply means being helpful.

At a detailed level, providing value on the social networks can be separated into a series of helpful actions (sharing content and information, engaging in conversations etc) so buyers come to acknowledge the sharer, which overtime gives sales people a deeper understanding of the buyer’s profile. Sharing is about giving freely really useful information on an area of interest, market trends, latest research or vendor whitepapers including the competition. It could be facilitating the introduction to someone the buyer might benefit knowing. Another share could be to notify them or a group to a webinar, event or briefing that would be beneficial for them to attend. These are just a few examples of how sales people can provide value to contacts and connections on an on-going basis (stay visible).

In my experience, the best social sellers are the ones who follow the 5C’s which is supported by doing research and being creative. Let’s say that during your research you see “snowboarding” in the interests section of one of your prospect’s profile, try sharing a cool snowboarding video with some text (could snowboarders be better business people) to a group or directly to the prospect. You could make a lasting impression, create awareness and establish credibility.

social-selling-mantra

HOW SHOULD I REQUEST A LINKEDIN CONNECTION TO A PROSPECT?

Connecting is the 2nd C in the 5C’s of social selling. Before we discuss how one should request a LinkedIn connection, let us state what you should not do.

1 Never send a generic connection request to a prospect

2. Never include a sales pitch or mention your product/services in a connection request

None of the above will start your business relationship off on the right footing. Why not try a conversational approach. Using a casual tone just let the prospect know that you understand they have in interest in “abc” and you are available if ever they need information in your area of expertise. The only goal here is to maximise the chance of the prospect becoming a first degree connection. Doing so makes conversations, content sharing and building credibility easier as you set out on a conversion journey with the buyer.

Provide content and value:

Providing Context – Why is this prospect getting sent a connection request? Did they look at your profile, like or comment on some content you shared? Do you both share mutual connections?

Providing Value – People buy from experts, so position yourself as a valuable source on information for some specific topics.

The request text might read like this:

“Dear [NAME],

Thanks for looking at my profile and commenting on the article I shared in [name of group]. If you ever require information on [area of expertise], feel free to use me as a resource for whitepapers and research.

Kind Regards,

[NAME]”

When it comes to connecting, if you do not have some real context, then do not send a connection request. It is better to nurture the prospect through Content and Conversations to build up your Credibility prior to requesting a connection.

social-selling-tip

SHOULD I WRITE AN EMAIL TO A PROSPECT?

Surely Social Selling has nothing to do with emailing a prospect I hear you say. Believe it or not but social selling and email prospecting can go hand-in-hand. You see, we now know that social selling provides us with a new way to engage with buyers AND it also provides insights into their social media lives. Some buyers are socially aware and others are socially active. These insights can be used to decide if the prospect fits your ideal customer profile alongside how to engage with them. Thanks to B2B lead generation tools, a prospects email address can be easily acquired so combining social selling with a warm emails can increase your chances of receiving a positive reply. .

As the buyers journey has changed It is important to interact with the prospect where they are active online whether that is LinkedIn or elsewhere. If the prospect is not active on social media then no point trying to engage them there, so sometimes trying the more traditional methods of communications such as an email or phone call can work better.

There is so much more to social selling, feel free to contact me regarding training workshops or comment on your own training tips.

The Sales Process

The sales process is a repeatable model that a business deploys for the sales teams to follow when moving a buyer from being a prospect, to a qualified lead and on to a paying customer.  This is an introduction to defining what is process could look like for your company.

sales-process

A sales process could be split into segments such as Knowledge, Research and Sales.

Knowledge

Product features and benefits  – Competition

Research

Define target market – Ideal Customer Profile – Sales intelligence on prospects

Sales

Prospecting/Social Selling/Lead Generation
Connecting
Presenting
Closing
Continuation

While the “Sales” element is the implementation aspect of a sales process, incorporating Knowledge and Research ensures a more holistic approach to customer acquisition. The below is a condensed version of how a sales process  template might look.

TYPICAL STEPS IN THE SALES PROCESS

Prospecting

This is the 1st step and involves finding new leads or “lead generation”. Prospecting is based on the research you have completed into potential buyers. Now using this information the sales teams use social selling, content sharing, social networking and any data to tee up the prospect prior to connecting.  Prospecting is not a smash and grab event, it may take weeks or months to build up enough influence with a buyer before a connection is made.

Connecting

This step entails initiating a contact with the set of prospects the sales person has teed up as to understand their business, uncover needs, gather more information, see if a product to prospect fit exists and gauge their potential to move up down the sales pipeline. This step may be played out over several conversations and may include site visits, free trials, free samples, product demonstrations and proof of concepts prior to moving down the pipeline to the presenting step.

Presenting

This step is about formally presenting your proposal or solution. It can include some sort of buyer urgency lever in certain situations. In value based or consultative selling this step can be time consuming, so it should positioned deep into the sales process for well qualified prospects. This step also covers off any objections, hurdles or customer policy adherence. Again, this step may take time and repeated interactions to conclude.

Closing

This step is involves buyer realisation of opting for your offering, concluding any final negotiations or pricing and buy-in of all decision makers.  It most companies it concludes with a Purchase order, signed order or contract.

Sales Process is Different from Sales Methodology

Now that we have covered off the “sales process”, I want to introduce the phrase “sales methodology”. Sales process is different from methodology and here is why.

The sales process (what to do) refers to mapping out specific steps, criteria and list of actions that a sales person must follow including updating the sales pipeline, in acquiring a paying customer.

The sales methodology (how to do it) is the approach or framework given to the sales team via training on how each step in the sales process is expected to be carried out.

Nearly every company needs both, a strong sales process and a sales team trained on the sales methodology which has been proven to deliver success.

sales-process-methodology

Examples of Sales Methodologies

Solution Selling

Solution selling has been around for over 30 years, this method involves needs discovery which then focuses on the customer’s pain points ahead of promoting the company’s products. Products are instead framed as solutions, and emphasis is placed on achieving agreement on what a resolution of the customers’ pain would look like.

Consultative Selling

This method grew out of solution selling, it differs in that consultative selling is centred on the sales person positioning themselves as a “trusted advisor” to the buyer, the premise being that they will gain authority and trust as time goes by in the buyers journey towards a purchase.

The Challenger Sale method

The Challenger Sale method is taken from a book of the same name.  The book outlines some five types of sales peoples profiles, the hard worker, the relationship builder, the problem solver, the lone wolf, and the challenger. The challenger profile was the one matched to high performance in sales. The challenger is characterised by a willingness to invest in learning about a buyers business, then to challenge the customer on their preconceptions (technology adaption, product match, ideal solution) during the sales process.

Social Selling

Social selling can be seen both as a sales model and methodology. It continues to rise in popularity alongside the rapid evolvement of the buyers journey from “being educated” to “self educated”. While not strictly selling, this method is weighted to driving up prospect engagement (with content, white papers, social conversations) by first creating great awareness and then getting buyers to consider the company. This acts as a prelude to direct customer connection.

Sales is a Process, Not an Event

Implementing a sales process with clear steps should result in:

Improved Outcomes. When carried out via a series of set actions, outcomes will improve leading to sales and higher margins.

Repeatable Activity. All sales activities should be repeated and repeatable to obtain the same desired outcome by any sales person time and time again.

Measurable Results. All outcomes that can be measured and compared

Relevant to All. A well mapped out sales process can be duplicated for other units or divisions.

Just having a documented sales process in place will not guarantee anything. Just like looking at someone’s LinkedIn doesn’t lead to a hot lead. Proper and repeated use is what makes the difference.

Regardless of the sales process steps or even the sales methodology you deploy as a company, success in sales hangs on two key locks, the ability to establishing real credibility and the ability to build trust with the buyers. Once your sales model is set up to achieve these two things then revenue will get generated. As buyers are now social in nature (and become digital natives) it is important to understand their journey. It is now all about the buyer as they are in control; they know what they want and when they want it. The key for sales leaders is to make sure that the sales organisations and sales training processes are in line with the buyers signals and expectations.

Social Selling using Data

Business loves the concept of social selling, tapping into the social networks combined with big data to lower the cost per lead and to speed up the sales and marketing process like never before is appealing. The good news for sales and marketing leaders who want to use social selling as a sales tactic is that “Big Data” is now a commodity. The sheer volume of data available to marketers today is staggering including social media insights, CRM data, sales records and web traffic alongside a multitude of other online sources. The adoption of social media by consumers and business buyers alike to buy and build our lives means the quantity of data is growing on a massive scale. To put it into perspective, social media currently accounts for over fifty two Trillion words shared every single day.

social-selling-information

But big data is as valuable to a buyer as it is to a seller. Data is no longer the secret art of the marketing department as access to social data is there for everyone (buyers and sellers) with a few clicks of a mouse. Every minute of everyday companies share content and buyers share purchasing intent. The result in the past few years has seen a major disruption to the whole buyer-supplier relationship. Today potential customers can educate themselves on your products, your company, and people’s perception of you and even compare what the competition is offering without ever having to engage with you. They are doing this on social media forums and many other online sources without speaking to a sales person. Armed with the knowledge that data and social media has changed the way things are bought and sold, marketing and sales management have to utilise two very effective tools, “Big Data” and “Social Selling” to capture more revenue in an ever changing landscape.

Social Selling: Learn to Listen

A wider social selling strategy involves using big data to listen to what the markets are talking about and then share content that will grab their attention. Even basic social selling activity needs to tap into social conversations and content to understand buyer’s motivations. It may seem like a huge task to begin a data listening program but it is easier than you think. A few Google searches will throw up lots of free and paid marketing analytic tools to help you identify potential customers via social media.

Larger companies now use a whole raft of analytical software for data crunching, to get insights into customer behaviour analysis and buyer profiles so that marketing departments can discover answers to questions about the type of buyer who might consider buying from them. Smaller companies can use tools like Hootsuite Free, Socialmention, Twazzup or Addict-O-Matic amongst others to gain deep insights into keyword driven conversations.

Even without software tools, sales and marketing can gleam valuable information via social media conversations, online reviews and forums and then use this to help build connections with potential customers. Tools such as Socialbro, Rivaliq, ripjar and Connectors Marketplace allows sales people or marketing teams to trawl through blogs, social networks,, forums, news and reviews for brand, product or company mentions right down to  specific keywords.

 social-selling-tips

Big Data Insights for Improved Social Selling

Regardless of whether you are using software or digging around manually, there is no limit to the amount of information that can be gleaned using Big Data as part of your analytic tasks into identifying buyer sets that narrow down your prospect target list. Sales and marketing teams should be looking to gain the following insights from listening to social conversations and the social chatter.

Who is your Buyer: Prospective customers may be spread wide and deep but it is vital a business tries to condense them into “buyer persona’s”. Creating a typical customer with characteristics helps sales and marketing teams to identify, understand, and target. A point to note is buying behaviours varies by category on social media. For example 25% of Facebook and 34% of Twitter users reported buying tech tools or electronic devices after seeing recommendations or shares posted on these social network sites while 75% of B2B buyers now use social media to be more informed on vendors.

 Target Specific Networks: Monitor what your prospects or buyer persona’s are talking about including mentions on your competitors. When it comes to social media, not all platforms are created equal or suit both B2C and B2B. Some social network sites produce higher leads and conversion rates than others. Even if you produce great content and follow all the best guidelines depending on your product or business, some will not perform. Focus in on where you can get higher sales conversions from specific networks as opposed to trying to cover off every one.

Identify Buyer’s Pain Points or Needs: To be successful at social selling you need to use data to discover what needs or product features are trending plus what questions/interests buyers are engaging with online. Part of your content strategy has to mirror these needs, plus when reaching out to potential customers using social selling, remember 90% of buyers never respond to cold calling (because no need has been identified)

What Type of Content do Buyers Engage with: Analyse the networks and data to see what type of content and from what sources do buyers like/read/interact with. It’s all figuring out what content and which information will influence their engagement with vendors

Map the Buyer’s Journey: The buyer’s journey is not changing, it HAS changed. More than any of the other insights that marketing leaders can provide to sales is mapping out the steps a buyer takes from awareness to consideration to purchase. Having the insight into how buyers gather information, what type of content, how they consider vendors, how they like to establish connections and take decisions is the critical data that makes social selling successful.

Using the insights from Big Data and Social Conversations, marketing team can now provide sales with the information, behaviours and likely interest triggers for the buyer persona. Then make social selling work by providing highly relevant content that matches these insights. Also a social selling training should be developed so that sales agents learn how, where, and when to connect with buyers and prospects on the various platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and other relevant social media channels.

It is the ability for sales to reach buyers in a highly personalised way with the right content, with the right context and at the right moment is the key to social selling in the era of Big Data.

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

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