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.

Social Selling is Selling

Social selling is selling. In sales and marketing there is a tendency to use catchy phrases to describe something new or promote new products. Social Selling has suffered from this fate as companies in marketing and sales automation use a myriad of keywords associated to “Social Selling “ to look Social and grab SEO traffic; but in reality none of their products get the job of actual selling done any easier. Sales people and managers need to be reminded that sales tools do not do the selling for them. The training, the processes and the sales performance of the people themselves are what really matter, supported with the right technology tools to simplify tasks.

social-selling-facts

In most sales situations, a core set of tasks usually need to be accomplished to progress through the sales steps. Below, is a set of basic selling tasks.

Identify prospects – Prioritise the prospects – Plan the sale

Contact prospect – Sell – Close

Deliver – Review – Improve

The above is a high level view with lots of other tasks associated to them. The list is also probably missing some tasks but I have kept it simple as it is a blog post. OK so next let us start to understand how value is perceived by the sales people who are trying to sell products or services. No sales person or sales team has the time to get confused about some new sales concept that is completely irrelevant to the task at hand. Nor can any company afford to invest the time and money rolling out a sales process that shifts attention to a sparkling new concept; at the expense of the fundamental focus of the sales team work – selling.

In the sales world words like Social Selling and Social Networking are phrases that should be used to bring meaning that customer’s preferences and the buyer’s journey have changed over time. Understanding the methods and channels buyers/customers now use to evaluate a product or service is critical if any business wants to a) adapt new sales methods in the value chain and b) to separate out when to or when not to, invest in the latest sales craze. If a business can align the sales process to newly identified customer needs and communication channels which improves sales performance, then can make that switch. If not, then work towards improving the existing sales process.

social-selling-data

Social Selling is selling in the digital age

Social Selling represents a shift in how sellers reach and interact with buyers in the digital age. Business’s must first validate and then implement how their set of target customers is now sourcing information on product and services. Very few buyers’ journeys have been left unchanged in the digital age. Social Selling is not some new craze, it is just selling evolved to match the realities of today’s online business environment.

Certain steps in the sales cycle or process have evolved a lot over the past 10 years. All social selling is doing is to get sales people and sales management to reassessed how well a step, let’s say “sales prospecting” gets done given the new set of capabilities afforded by the social networks. These new sales capabilities have,

  • Increased the ability of sales people to build networks
  • Reduced the time in identify buyer conversations
  • Made it simpler to share content with prospects and buyers
  • Made it easier to find information about companies and contacts
  • Changed the way sales establish and maintain relationships
  • Interactions have moved from person to digital
  • Increased the number of channels Customers can access touch points

In above list is far from exhaustive, there are many other customer or sales capabilities with varying levels of importance and satisfaction that the digital or social networks facilitate. However these emerging capabilities do not change a simple fact…social selling is still selling  but for a different era. Sales methods and customer interaction channels will continue to evolve and it will be interesting to see how the next wave of concepts impacts the sales tasks. The fact that business needs to sell to customers won’t change; but opportunities to improve customer connections that had unavailable in the past, will emerge as the new must have sales tools for sales teams everywhere.

BENEFITS OF SOCIAL MEDIA IN BUSINESS AND SALES

“What are the benefits to social marketing media to business or sales?” This was a question I got asked recently at a presentation I gave.

What still surprises me is the amount of senior managers, business owners and even those involved in sales that are still to be convinced how social media can impact their business sales results. During my career I have nearly (not always) been a fan of technology and tools that help create a competitive advantage to a business in the selling process which is why I believe social media will change the face of sales forever.

Quite simply, social media has to be a baked in component of any business or sales strategy.

social-media-marketing-business

Research into the sales process has shown that the use of social media has a significant positive effect, in fact sales people that use social media to interact and share information, gain as much as 78% greater sales than sales people not using social media. Now what impact would these numbers have on your business? Proof that social media matters in sales and is playing an increasingly bigger role.

So here are five good reasons why every sales person, manager and business owner should implement a well planned out social media strategy.

SOCIAL MEDIA IS A 24/7 SALES CHAMPION.

Social media will work for your business 24/7. Business never stops and neither does promoting your company to potential customers. Sales people can work maybe 7, 8 or 10 hours but only social media can work 24/7 sharing information, reaching potential buyers and driving awareness for your business. Social media is now the go to channel to check out a business, to source referrals, to see how engaged a business is and for a buyer to evaluate what vendors are worth considering. Today most business is global and time zones are irrelevant to buyers who are seeking information or considering a purchase. A deal or a buyer waits for no one regardless of how many hours a sales person works. This is where social media comes in. With social media, a business or sales person can remain engaged and active that bridges both time zones and continents.

Also well thought out sales strategies make use of social media to create and maintain professional profiles, these act as online business cards providing information and conveying knowledge, experience and expertise. The combination of well crafted social media profiles with quality content (articles, white papers, thought leadership and research papers) gives any prospective buyer the information needed to place the sales person or business on their radar for follow up or even to engage in the sales process.

SOCIAL MEDIA BUILDS CREDIBILITY.

Years ago small companies or new start ups found it hard to build business credibility against large companies with huge advertising and marketing budgets. The Internet and social media has changed this. Social sharing of articles, recommendations and the ability to freely publish information has “democratised” the exposure of companies on a global scale. Social media acts like one big resume or CV for a business.  As any buyer or sales manager will tell you, nearly every sales or business meeting is preceded by or followed by visiting LinkedIn, Twitter and Google to look for business credibility.  Switched on buyers know that social networks will throw up lots of data on a business, from looking at LinkedIn for profiles, to Twitter for activity and Google for company information or validate business credentials , they use social media to consider or dismiss a vendor long before ever sealing a deal.

It is vital that every business and every person in the business that could influence a buyer’s decision to maintain not only their social media profiles but also a presence that conveys the message any buyer would like to see. Social media profiles whether personal or professional should be impressive and appropriate. They not only validate the sales persons credibility but the whole business, while acting as a conduit to draw the prospect closer to doing business.

BUYERS ARE IN THE DRIVING SEAT.

With so much accessible and static information shared on the social networks, sellers are no longer in control as buyers have changed their journey in how they buy. Now any buyer can do extensive research quite easily prior to making a purchase whether B2B or consumers, in fact the “average consumer views more than 10 pieces of content online prior to making a purchase”.

Social media has empowered buyers so they no longer have to rely on the information provided by sellers. It does not matter if the transaction is business-to-consumer or business-to-business; buyers are doing their homework by visiting social media sites and accessing content to support buying decisions.

Business owners and sales team must make themselves easy to find by potential buyers using inbound and content marketing tactics if they are to stand a chance at scaling the business. A story from the 1950’s comes to mind when a bank robber named Willie Sutton was once asked why he robbed so many banks. His answer: it’s where the money is! Now every business leader and serious sales person should ask themselves this question. Why focus on social media? The answer: It’s where the buyers are!

SHARING IS CARING.

Every marketing person worth their salt knows the power of “going viral.” Social media and the Internet can bring potentially huge exposure for a business as a result of social media channels ability to easily and quickly share information. With content marketing as the lead driver, the ability to instantly share information or expertise on the social networks means that any business with the creativity and determination can raise awareness quickly. “Social media’s success is built on the ability of people to access and share information”. Just visit any profile or view any piece of content on social media and you will be encouraged to vote, like or share the information. Our natural tendency coupled with some encouragement from the social networks has resulted in buyers and consumers sharing millions of pieces of content around the Internet about products or services they like or dislike.

Marketing and sales teams that maximise the potential of social media create a sustainable mechanism to attract prospective buyers and turn existing customers into brand advocates for the product/service. Through sharing of relevant and quality content, a business can potentially reach hundreds, thousands and possible millions of people with their message.

social-media-effectiveness

CONTENT IS NOT KING, IT IS A KINGMAKER.

That all too familiar marketing quote that “content is king” should in reality be “content is a kingmaker”. Content cannot be king, but through the sharing of quality, insightful and useful information, content can influence buyers (in search results, on forums, in reviews and social networks) so they come to view a business as king of their topic. Well crafted and optimised content found on search engines, social media and web sites creates a path leading potential buyers straight to the seller’s site. Content marketing can be any type of information that can be indexed on the web. This includes articles, info-graphics, video, podcasts, whitepapers and any type of information that can be accessed online by buyers. The power of content is its ability to inform and influence prospective buyers. The goal for sales and marketing is to create compelling content in different formats, which when shared will influence potential customers seeking information before making a purchasing decision that their company is the one to consider. Any business who fails to create and share content bestows advantage to their competitors who do incorporate content as part of their business strategy.

So why are the most successful companies in the world fully engaged with social media marketing? Because it is where the buyers are! Social media and content matters in sales to make your business and not the competition the king. It gives you the advantage and turns potential buyers away from the competition towards your offerings. That is one powerful motivation to use social media to sell more and win business.

Social Data in Sales

Social Data Trumps People in Sales

Today, big data and the use of social data in the sales process trumps people. The reality is that due to changing buying cycles, more educated buyers and the use of social media to source and inform, most sales managers if given the choice between an exceptionally talented sales person or a highly accurate database with deep social insights, then data will trump people nearly every time.

This article is not suggesting for one minute that a sales manager should stop searching or recruiting great sales talent to his or her team. However no matter how good a sales person is, the benefits of providing sales teams with the latest social data, detailed profiles, social media insights and the most accurate information available are telling. Because when it comes to sales performance, an average sales person equipped with better data will outperform a talented sales person who has little or poor data every time.

social-data-insights

To sell successfully today, every piece of detail can matter to win over customers, from social media activity to information management, who is connected to whom, what articles do they read, what they talk about on the social networks, who is the gatekeeper and what messaging do the decision makers like. Each answer to these details relies on having accurate data.

Here are more reasons why data and social data are important.

Data Provides Sales Focus

The instant access to data and social media insights saves sales teams both time and hassle, saving hour after hour of a sales person’s time in having to research information like LinkedIn profile, twitter name, email addresses and phone numbers. The market is full of contact databases that make it possible to start with good basic contact details. But in a socially connected business world to generate sales leads the sales teams now need a source for more social data like LinkedIn connections, social conversations, social media insights, articles, and news plus company information.

As the sales teams no longer need to spend thankless hours researching prospects or leads, they can use this time to research the best sales approach. This allows any sales person the opportunity and time to develop a more educated approach when he starts the contact phase in the sales process. Social selling and the use of social data is all about the more relevant information a sales person has on things the buyer or company cares about, the more specific they can be with the sales message.

Social data empowers sales teams with the necessary level of insight to lead nurture and interact with the right person, at the right time, and to convert the lead into a demo, a trial or even a meeting. The use of social insights means sales people will be able to identify the problems that the potential buyers have, and already have a plan formulated on how they will articulate the solution to their problems. Remember buyers today do not buy features, they buy solutions, they buy partners and thanks to social media they are better informed than ever about what solutions they will consider.

social-media-engagement

Social Data Provides Guidance

In the old sales models, a direct line or phone number was gold as it meant sales people could reach the decision-maker. And it is still a valid sales activity as research shows a sales person is more than 46 percent more likely to be successful in selling when they reach a director or VP. But what happens when sales people cannot get to talk to a prospect on the phone to explain the company’s solution. Too many sales teams still hope that a prospect will make a decision to engage with a business based solely on some email communication and what content is published on the website. This can work out from time to time but often leads nowhere.

Still too few sales managers are changing mindsets by teaching their sales teams to look deeper at social selling and using social data from the likes of LinkedIn and Twitter to find prospects or to engage with lead nurturing. No matter where you source your prospect or leads list from, it is crucial the sales teams have the tools, content and data to influence the decision makers. The more data, especially social data a sales team has on the prospects or buyers, the greater the understanding about the true issues the proposed solution they are selling will solve.

Social Data Brings Speed

Social data is way more than some contact information. Today, social selling and social media tools gives sales the ability to access real-time data from the social networks, which helps create a more consistent and sustainable sales process. Using social data allows a business to identify and target specific prospects or accounts that are more likely to buy, and buy sooner (based on social insights or conversations). And because selling with social data returns a higher level of success for the solution being offered, customer churn will likely go down as well. We live in a fast paced sales environment, finding leads and prospects is hard enough without them leaking at the other end of the funnel due to wrong target selection, so social data helps sales to target the right buyers to fill up the sales funnel.

The better trained and educated the sales teams are on social data and social selling; the more a business can fine tune the customer acquisition and development efforts. Companies using these methods accelerate the sales forces ability to acquire new customers and to grow existing clients.

In the digital sales era, social data is king. Investing in social media tools and social selling solutions will only improve the health of a sales organisation plus they are much more cost-effective than having your valuable sales resource spend hours trolling through websites and social networks. Create a culture, mindset and the selling skills around ensuring that your sales organisation is using data to power the sales engine and watch your sales grow. Social data combined with real sales talent with drive revenue growth.

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.

sales-training-tips

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.

Sales and Marketing Ireland 

Sales and Marketing articles,tips and information for Irish companies.

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.

Read all the series of articles relating to content marketing and sales here: Source: Sales and Marketing Ireland (with images) · brianoconnell · Storify

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.

LinkedIn for Lead Generation

LinkedIn can be a powerful sales tool when used as part of lead generation and networking activities. As social selling and reaching social influencers becomes ever more important in raising awareness of a company, brand, product or service it is important to use LinkedIn effectively.

LinkedIn-lead-generation

However, before any lead generation can happen, it is important to build up your network and influence across the social groups on LinkedIn.  Every business, marketing and sales person should focus on 3 key actions.

  1. Give to receive: Share quality, relevant content and news from multiple sources.
  2. Behaviour: Buyers are well informed and knowledgeable so be genuine and insightful.
  3. Connecting: Invest time connecting to people you know plus customers, influencers etc.

Here is some pointers to maximize LinkedIn for lead generation:

Tip 1. Profile: Yes, it seems obvious that you need a profile but the point is you need a full profile (photo, career, articles, social pitch) that will support the lead generation activities, not just any profile mashed together.

Tip 2. Think of your profile as a commercial that clearly spells out “what you do”. So make sure you complete the entire profile (also state that you are open to connecting with people), you could also import your resume or CV.

Tip 3. Make sure maximize the section below your name by using keywords. Select keywords that promote your products or services. If a potential buyer is searching for someone to do “sales and marketing” they are more likely to find you than if you list your company name.

Tip 4. Spend time completing your work history, summary and employment sections (again using active keywords), highlight any accomplishments or achievements. This builds trust within the LinkedIn community.

Tip 5. On-line users can be very visual, so try to include Slideshare content, presentations or videos on your profile and not forgetting any articles you published on LinkedIn pulse. This builds authority.

Tip 6. Unless you are a major social influencer, it is best to keep your LinkedIn profile pretty open as you are using LinkedIn for lead generation, so the easier it is for “social ties” to connect with you, the better. This builds connections to business people and weaker social ties.

Build Relationships Steadily

The whole premises of using LinkedIn is to build  relationships with business colleagues, potential buyers, existing customers, business people you know and to build connections with weak ties via group participation

LinkedIn suggest this 5 step process for building effective relationships based on social media best practices:

  1. Establish presence (Give to receive)
  2. Attract followers (Give to receive)
  3. Engage followers (Behaviour)
  4. Share your message (content, news, articles) through your network (Connecting)
  5. Analyse results and refine your strategy

As I keep stating, you will attract more followers and connections if you post fresh, valuable content on a regular basis.

Use Content Marketing

I have written elsewhere on The Bitter Business site about the power of content marketing. On LinkedIn stories that have a social twist, that educate, that gives insights or have a human element will attract the highest readership.

Posting articles with a variety of content, on a regular basis on LinkedIn or indeed any social network is best practise. The content should consist of sharing blog (links) updates, as well as unique written content for LinkedIn to share with your connections.

Remember content marketing creates awareness of your company and puts you on the road as an authority within a group or subject. Also, as with all content marketing, make sure your content is SEO optimized. Without being overly promotional try to include a subtle call to action (CTA) in your LinkedIn posts. Including a link back to your company website is a great way to increase your lead generation performance.

Content marketing is not just about self-promotion, it also includes content curation and is a good way to encourage connections by sharing updates from social influencers and industry experts in your own updates. It is all about, giving to receive as you cannot expect sharing of your own content unless you are willing to share quality content written by others.

Try to give LinkedIn updates daily, maybe once or twice a day (with no more than a couple per day). Some social media gurus believe sharing posts in the morning works best, my own view is either late afternoon or just after lunch. Experiment to see what times work best for you.

online-lead-generation

Match the Buyers Journey

Content marketing is aimed at matching the needs of potential customers as they travel the buyer’s journey – awareness, consideration and decision. We now know from studies that in today’s on-line world, B2B buyers do most of their information and awareness gathering on-line, not waiting for some salesperson to ring them up. In fact, many B2B customers prefer to purchase on-line — that’s how Dell created a global business selling computers online.

It is critical that you DO NOT view your content shared on LinkedIn as some sort of teaser or preamble in B2B lead generation — it is the main tool in creating buyer awareness!! Always give readers all the information they need to work with you, not just a few selected sound bites or customer success stories. Your tactics is to carry potential customers on the buyer’s journey from awareness to consideration, on to decision and through post-purchase. So the content shared should include information on using the product or service, answers about installation or how to use, any industry recommendations or awards plus encourage feedback on the articles are all important factors in providing for the entire buyers journey.

 Analyse and Tweak

No lead generation or marketing campaign is complete without capturing data to assess performance and provide information to tweak the campaign. LinkedIn provides some good analytic tools to track performance of your LinkedIn company pages including clicks and other interactions. Make the most of these analytic insights by doing conscious testing — article headlines, post types, post times — not just monitoring passively. With patience and work, LinkedIn social selling can not only generate leads but also influence buyers considerations.

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

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