The Vanella Group
Home Services Advantage Customers Partners Company Contact

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Don Draper is an Expert at "Social Selling," Are You?

The art of "Social Selling" is sometimes considered an optional "extra-curricular" method of sales reps either do, or do not choose to adopt. Part of the reason is having the word "Social" in it causes people to map it to social media. Since many sales reps are not social media power users, and don't see it as a way to find "deals" they stick with what they know. In the end, it is dismissed as something to do with social media and doing things outside of their wheelhouse that take time with little return. Unfortunately, management may share this mindset as they also see little value in ROI from anything "social."

Let's dissect the topic and take an academic look at "social selling" and why it is not something extra-curricular but rather something that is intrinsic to taking you from little league to professional, from a sales associate (in appearance and reception) to a power player, a peer, and why it is something that has been around since sales became a profession.

On a side note--it is also a way to make yourself memorable to prospects, sets you apart from the other 30 reps that try to connect with them that week, make yourself more valuable to your employer, and build long-term relationships that stick. 

A fictional character that is master of social selling is Don Draper. Before computers or being online was even conceived, Don Draper knew the value of information, which includes when and how to use it. 

Don Draper's selling landscape in the 1960's looked like:
  • Some things clients want never change, they want to be the best option for their consumers (in perception at least.) 
  • They want to break into new markets, retain their existing customers and wow their audience. 
  • They want to be a household name, a fixture in their space that automatically is considered when a requirement comes up.
  • They want to feel safe with their vendors, they want to confirm they made the best choice.
  • They want an advocate with their vendor.
  • They want a vendor to grow and align with their plans.
  • They want you to know what they want even when they don't know what they want. They may have unrealistic goals.
How Don Draper did Social Selling in the 1960's:
  • He had people do research on companies to get information.  We have a meeting with a huge firm--so someone is in charge of researching the firm, their clients, their current vendors, and user preferences. 
  • Relationships often meant inside information, and valuing those resources.
  • He carefully observed his prospects, their habits, their style, who they are and their level of influence.
  • He put himself where his clients would be, but not overstaying his welcome.
  • He keenly observes people, and has a high amount of emotional intelligence in selling (we'll leave it at that.) NOTE: It has been observed by some, that people with dysfunctional backgrounds are very good at sales from their ability to have a high sensitivity to undercurrents and emotional tones. (Article "Dysfunctional Family? You'd Make a Great Entrepreneur")
NOTE: The above preparation and effort to learn this about prospects took a lot of time, multiple people, the time the client saw the final presentation, it was seamless and they had no clue what went into it.

How Reps Today Execute Social Selling:
  • Companies can be researched online in about 15 minutes--not days with multiple people involved, or having to pay for information.
  • You can research your prospects fairly easily via their own user generated content, (i.e., LinkedIn, Twitter, Press Releases, etc.) and also looking at their peers and industry.
  • You can observe their habits and style by being able to discern their actions remotely in the online world. 
  • You want to make an appearance, not an entrance--so low touch and informal is the best way to keep the dialog going.
Social Selling is really just "selling" like the seasoned pro's do, it isn't some enhanced method for a select few. It is distilling everything about your prospect, such as live interactions, online, remote, with others, and observing their interests and actions in the public domain. From there you distill it down to carefully executed actions that make a difference.

Good sales reps have always been around, the amount of people and cycles to get things done has been greatly reduced thanks to the internet--so you can be incredibly effective on your own.  It is being the Ultimate Maverick to implement smart pre and post detective work into your relationships.

What Are YOU doing to step up in 2015 to a changing sales landscape?

Image credit: AMC

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

How Many Calls Does It Take to Reach Executives?

A common topic among B2B sales teams is how difficult it can be to reach prospects. My team often makes (8-10+) attempts to reach prospects (more in some cases,) which is a reflection of the fact that people are extra busy in today's B2B environments. It takes a very developed level of skill, effort, and persistence to reach prospects and is much more than a "numbers game" as so many people believe. Rather, today's engagement requires an understanding of executive work environments, the psychology of engagement, and preparation.
What could you be doing right when prospects are apologizing?
Even though there is a requirement for a much higher level of persistence in today's B2B selling landscape, old habits die hard and the habit of '3 strikes and you're out' is still very alive on the sales side. What that means is a typical effort to reach a prospect is a couple of voicemails and an email, and if the prospect hasn't responded by then, the rep moves on thinking they weren't interested after all. I have heard reps say things like "if they were interested they would have called back" or "I don't have time to chase them" to "I'm not going to waste time leaving voicemails, I sent an email--if they don't respond they aren't interested." Right when a follow up engagement is starting to get on a prospects' radar, many reps gives up and it's two ships that passed in the night. Sound familiar?
Recently, I was talking with a client of ours who gave me an example of how he had to call one prospect more than 5 times. It was someone that initially was very interested but went quiet. My client said he felt sure there was something there and persisted, and to his surprise the prospect was very interested and nothing had changed, he was just busy. We agreed most sales reps would have given up by then. I asked "did your prospect apologize when you connected with him finally?" He said YES, how did I know? We have that happen all the time, it's an indicator of doing something right.
What does this mean to you when your prospect apologizes? It means they did get your messages, they had good intentions, and appreciate your persistence (This whole article is assuming this is happening with a professional peer-level outreach and not being a pest--which my next article covers.)
A few things to keep in mind:
  • Typically it takes around 3 discussions before relationships with prospects becomes reciprocal, which means those first 2 discussions may take extra effort to connect.
  • What is often interpreted as no-interest is really just "real life." It is important to put yourself in your prospect's shoes to understand what is really happening and not take it personal.
While reps give up trying to reach their prospects thinking they aren't interested, what really happens is maybe they were out of town, they were out sick, or things like their client called them ranting about a problem and they had to put out a fire, one of their staff had to leave on a family emergency, they had a key team member quit, because they get 300 emails and 15 vendor calls a day and there is a lot of competition for their attention, or because an enterprise platform they just bought crashed, or they have 200 sites offline right now because the network went down....the reasons are countless...but bottom line, the deal is still there and they are still interested.
The National Sales Executive Association had released some statistics a couple of years ago from a study that stated:
  • 2% of sales are closed from a single attempt,
  • 3% from two attempts,
  • 5% after 3 attempts,
  • 10% after 4 attempts,
but here is the whopper--
  • 80% of deals closed after making from 5-12 attempts.
Companies often do a "Did They Buy" Study on past leads that typically reveal that from 50%-70% of your prospects ended up buying something, but did they buy it from you?
Prospects tend to take the path of least resistance—so if you are making it easy for them to buy from you by being available and persistent, then you have increased your chances of closing the deal.
If you hear a lot of apologies from your prospects and progressing deals, it isn't a bad thing. If you aren't, then take a look at your process for follow up and ask if you might be giving up too early?
When was the last time a prospect told you they were sorry they didn't call you back sooner?

Friday, June 06, 2014

Why You Can't Go Back

There has been a permanent shift in B2B sales and marketing that has forever changed the prospect landscape for the traditional direct rep and their supporting marketing team. What is it?  It is the fact that enterprise buyers don't NEED the sales process from 10 years ago. They don't need it for product information, they don't need it for references, they don't need emails that tell them you would be happy to give them a "free quote" (do people charge for quotes?) They don't need anyone's help to compare to competitors. They also don't need to repeat things they have said before because no one wrote it down when they didn't meet BANT criteria, and they don't need to schedule meetings they don't want to have. 

Now, this doesn't mean that sales and marketing departments are going to be dismantled and automation takes over.  In fact, automation is next in line for an overhaul to map to what buyers want. Email communication shouldn't be about the vendor, it should be about the prospect. It should focus 100% on topics and issues that prospects are dealing with, and have more solutions to problems and a thought leadership focus vs. a "buy our stuff" focus. A recent SiriusDecisions study states that only 16% of companies have bought marketing automation (download an excellent 2014 Buyers Guide to Marketing Automation) and there is a skills deficit in the marketplace. What does that mean?  It means we get a lot of email about "buy our stuff."

But prospects do need something....what is it? They need a quality experience with your company. THAT is what will set you apart more than anything. Prospects experience train wrecks on the front lines every day. Some examples are filling out forms and no one calls them back, they can't find a number, they call to get information and they get hammered with BANT questions, they have to provide a lot of information to get a simple data sheet, and they are treated as unimportant. An inquiry is more about "do WE want to talk to YOU Mr(s) Prospect?" Really, what needs to be in place is a vehicle to find information easily, they need to be able to contact you easily, they need access to a rep that's situationally fluent, they need someone to help them visualize the solution, remove obstacles, understand the long-term potential, correct any wrong information they discovered on their own.They need someone that is a professional that gets what it means to be in their prospects' shoes and the exposure a prospect has from making a bad decision.

This has been percolating for a while now, and lately has boiled over to a point that prospects have no more tolerance for a bad vendor experience. Social media has given prospects a voice to let the world know when they have a bad experience. So the way to make sure that user-generated content in the public domain is heavy on the positive.

What are some things you can do now?  Because prospects are close to 65% further informed than in the past (Sales Benchmark Index 2013,) you need to make sure their online experience is a good one because many times that is their first exposure to your solution. It will impact your sales. Here are 6 things to look at today:
  1. Is it easy to contact your firm? Can prospects find a phone number? This sounds absurd, but so many companies don't have their number on each page and when you do go to the "Contact Us" page, it is a form.
  2. Can they learn about you for free--no forms, having to join a mailing list, or disclose your identity. Not conceptual things but real data they can visualize working with you from.
  3. Have you had someone that is not part of your company, look through your site and tell you if it makes sense. One of the things that happens is operating in an isolated group, content gets created that makes perfect sense to you but prospects draw wrong conclusions again and again. You need to speak in your prospects terms, presenting your solution in a way they can quickly grasp.
  4. Do you have business savvy, situationally fluent people dealing with front line interactions? People get highly annoyed when they have to talk to someone that is more interested in their budget than helping to answer questions.
  5. Have you looked at your site on all computers, browsers, mobile, etc. Sometimes things that seem very simple are often neglected and links are broken, pages load wrong, etc. 
  6. Do your emails use any space for verbalizing "ask for a quote now" or something like that. Everybody knows you are GLAD to provide pricing, it goes unsaid. Don't waste that split-second of attention saying something everyone knows--use your time wisely to state things that build trust and confidence in your solution.

Engineering the first stage of the sales cycle to seamless map at each touch point to something more positive takes effort. Taking the time to travel the road your prospects do in those early stages helps you create a great experience that pays off.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Those First Seconds Matter, Especially in Sales

The importance of first impressions is undisputed. Whether it’s a meeting with a potential client, a job interview, a new boss, a new acquaintance, a neighbor, a new colleague, the list goes on. And making the most of that first chance allows you to make a significant difference as to the final outcome of that interaction.  It's well proven that people make a decision about you almost immediately based on all the information presented to them. 

When it comes to cold calling, the principle applies to an even higher degree with less data because you only have your voice to make the impression.  You can't offset not saying the perfect thing with a professional demeanor, or you can't be somewhat soft-spoken but still exude confidence with a strong handshake and your overall presence--you are accomplishing all of those things with your voice and choice of words.  Your voice is creating a mental picture, and you are compensating for in-person gestures with your dialog.

The impression that a first call or a cold call makes will stick with the prospect and set the tone for building the relationship--or end it right there.  It could make the difference of a prospect even wanting to talk with your company again, or willing to break off some time and talk about what they are looking for.  

In 2014, we are well aware of the selling landscape.  Your prospects are constantly bombarded with calls, emails, inter-company distractions, pressures, and their own emergencies. They have 50 things going on at any given time and getting a vendor call in the middle of it would have to be pretty compelling for them to stop everything and have a discussion.

That being said, why would companies want to put the least skilled, lowest paid, least knowledgeable people on front lines making cold calls to new prospects?  It may be the budget that drove that decision, but the long-term revenue loss is much more significant in the lost opportunities.

Outbound calling today requires a very sophisticated skill set.  Since prospects are able to research you before they ever talk to you, today's prospecting teams need to add value above what your prospect's can find on their own. They need to be able to connect and converse on a "peer-to-peer" level and neutralize any sales resistance and create a discovery dynamic.  

They need to have:
- Situational fluency at CxO, and VP levels
- Industry expertise to help your prospect visualize the solution you offer in their specific environment
- Ability to steer a discussion real-time based on the prospect's topics of interest
- Emotional intelligence to know when to speak, when to listen, and what questions to ask
- Complete understanding of corporate structure and an empathetic grasp of today's business and executive challenges

Companies invest hundreds of thousands of dollars into building their direct sales teams. Harvard Business Review published a study a few years back that revealed companies value presentation skill as one of the top 3 desired abilities for sales reps. But so many times those same companies will put the weakest link on the front lines to introduce the company. That same quality of presence the direct team needs, also needs to be on the initial call as well to even have access to executives. Choosing low cost resources that deliver volume or low cost services vs. quality can do damage in the long run.  

SiriusDecisions reports that 40-70% of prospects that have interest do eventually buy, retaining presence in those accounts requires skill and persistence. And many "Did You Buy" studies companies conduct on leads that fell out of the pipeline reveled that they did in fact make a purchase, from another provider. Many times it is just mismanagement of the relationship and poor engagement that lost the deal just because another vendor did it better.

Using senior level resources to introduce your company and solution allows you to address real-time any misconceptions the prospect has, understand requirements, establish trust, and bridge and engagement effectively out to your direct team.  The buying and selling landscape is volatile, and it's important to be in the right place at the right time--and you can't do that reading a script or measuring how many dials are made as the main activity.

I have said this many times, it isn’t that prospects don’t want to take cold calls; they don’t want to take a bad call.  So make your calls the ones they take. 

Putting your best foot forward will pay off throughout the relationship you build with prospects and make a real impact on your pipeline and retention of opportunities.  Your increased revenue potential will confirm you need to take into account the selling environment of today!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Do You Teach Yourself to Be an Expert Sales Professional?

We've all been part of the traditional "sales training" event a company organizes. Each quarter, or at least a couple times a year, companies bring the team in for training. It highlights new features or releases of the product(s), how to deal with objections, how to persuade, incentivize, progress deals through your pipeline.  New collateral is released, new use cases, new site features, etc. Usually people on the product side speak about industry trends and why this is a good fit. There might be some outside speakers that are engaging. The CEO is inspirational, the events are fun.  

But then what?

What do YOU do on your own to train YOURSELF?  It's an interesting question, as there have been countless studies on the effectiveness of outside sales training. In fact, US Companies spend over $20 Billion a year on sales training. Unfortunately, by the next quarter, it starts to lose some effect. Much of outside sales training success depends on how much one applies themselves to it. It is also very product focused, not personal to your interaction and relationship development with prospects. Some companies go a step further and adopt a methodology, like "Solution Selling" or "Strategic Account Selling" which is a more formalized approach to pipeline management.

There is little to no research on how the effort around "self-designed" sales training sticks. Yet, this is one of the best investments a professional can make in themselves. The retention and application of what a person learns in any field is much greater when they are motivated. Also, there is a big picture at play. Not just the company you are at now, but to you as a professional and how your career develops. The time you take to educate yourself ensures you are very well-versed in trends, news, industry publications, and are able to map what you learn to discussion points so you can quickly dive in at the level of your customer. 

When customers have participated in studies (great article with podcast by Harvard Business Review) about what they really want in a sales rep, top of the list is someone that understands their business and unique challenges. The knowledge of your product is important, but how it fits into the big picture with all the various scenarios they could be dealing with is what establishes you as an expert.

What can you do right now to invest in yourself?
  1. Pick 2 industry publications you will subscribe to. Not sales oriented but industry. Since everything we do is in enterprise tech, publications like CIO Magazine and Information Week are great to keep up on trends.
  2. Set Google Alerts for topics related to your customers and solution(s). Keep up with what is happening outside of your company.
  3. Start keeping track of social channels on Twitter and LinkedIn that has content you can learn from related to areas you are working on.
  4. Always step back and connect the dots, it's important to see how what was going on a year ago maps to now, and how there is overlap with all of it. 
  5. Build a reading list of books on new sales and management trends. Keep up on what is effective, and what is dated.
  6. Spend 15 minutes a day reading about your industry, verticals, trends, news, and other relevant information.
  7. Make an honest assessment of your strengths and challenges, and have a plan. Example, if you don't like to speak in front of groups, join Toastmasters. 
  8. Keep a list of what you want to learn about related to your industry, and work through it over the coming months. Is it understanding the history of Supply Chain Management? Networking/Telecom?  It isn't boring once you dive in, and it will give you a huge advantage when talking with customers/prospects when you bring a background of knowledge.

Are you doing any of these things above now? Spending 15 minutes a day developing yourself pays off for years to come. I'll look forward to hearing how some of your have implemented a "self-designed" model of sales training and the impact it has with your customers!

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Do You Have a Predatory Sales Culture?

Working with as many sales organizations as I have over the last 20 years, I've had a very broad exposure to every possible scenario in B2B sales. Everything from relationship-based, super-engaged teams and reps with high commitment of success to their clients to the reps that are numbers-focused, couldn't care less about their prospects other than the revenue they represent, and even referring to their prospects in hunting terms "can I kill it," "that are targets," go for the throat," and many other bloodthirsty terms.

The delta in the quality of the customer-side of sales practices is becoming more and more visible now because of the permanent shifts in the selling landscape and the platforms to promote (and tell on) a company's self-centered culture. Some of them include:
  • Social media. When you are a ME only focused person or company, everything you post and communicate is centered on "Buy our stuff." If you notice the companies that are very BUY OUR STUFF focused, they have low engagement and have few followers. Even huge companies have just a few, and many are their employees or a few customers that took the time.
  • Marketing Automation. Marketing automation rocks when it is in the right hands...given to the wrong person, it is like giving an automatic weapon level of capacity to now produce gobs of communication focused on "buy our stuff."
  • Sales Reps.  Now that buyers don't need reps so much anymore to make a decision, there are 3 options for reps. 1) learn how to add value and become aligned with how your prospect is buying and how you can enhance that experience. 2) Become more manipulative and use fear, subtle intimidation, and passive aggressive tactics. Become more aggressive with who you have. 3) Talk to more prospects, just keep 'em coming and throw out the long-term prospects or ones that are high maintenance and get the good ones in a sales cycle that is about as fun as a root canal.
It's critical CXO's in companies look downstream to see what is happening on the front lines. Especially if they have been around long enough as a company to go through a few era's of buyer profiles. Some companies had phones ringing off the hook 10 years ago with prospects that wanted what they have, and today there is a lot of real competition with leaner, less expensive competitors, and buyers have a lot of options. It's harder to get new customers, and the ones they have are always at risk. Where does the predator sales culture fit into this?
  1. Your prospects and customers should have nothing but awesome experiences interacting with your company. From their first cold call to reaching out to their rep with an issue--they need to feel the love all the time. Outreach should be focused not on "Hi, just checking in to see if it's time to buy more stuff." I remember once, my ISP was down from a storm.  I was annoyed enough that such a large company had such a poorly executed DR plan--but in the middle of all this turmoil I am having with email, site outages, etc., their rep called to sell me more stuff.  Their sales management should have been all over making sure existing customers were getting the best TLC ever during that crisis. 
  2. Your reps need to make sure they address issues and make sure they reinforce to clients they value them.  I have a client that made a significant investment in a platform a few years ago, during the sales cycle the rep was all over it--best friends.  After the deal was inked and it started rolling out, there were a lot of hiccups and problems. 45 days or so into it I asked the client when was the last time they heard from their rep, he said not since the day they signed the deal. 
Some of the sales breakdowns are rooted in a lack of communicating innovation in sales best-practices. Reps aren't systematically being educated about who their buyers are today and what they are doing. They are selling to a buyer profile that is greatly evolved and no longer exists in that form, and they don't really get that. 

The other fix is hiring people that get it. Educate CSO's and Sales VP's on what is really happening out there and WHY they are losing deals and customers, and WHY their reps can clear a room when they walk in. Maybe the Marketing VP feels all meetings should be onsite, that was fine 10 years ago but today most meetings are virtual, shorter, more frequent, and have a distributed executive team.  Executives want to be cautious they are not mirroring their own personal preferences onto their prospects and therefore missing a greater opportunity.  

There's a carelessness associated with predatory sales tactics. One major one, is the prospect only represents revenue--all of the personal aspects, emotional factors playing into choices, or other outside influences are secondary to the sale...the "kill." Another careless action is just throwing information together to respond to inquiries. Just the other day, I got an email from a sales rep--I had a question so I took them up on the offer of advice. The response back was in 4 different fonts, colors, sizes, and looked like some electronic ransom note. My assistant said "do you WANT their advice?" It was comical.

Some things companies can do to move away from a predatory approach to a customer centric approach:
  1. Make sure the CXO level really understands what is happening on the front lines. Aligning with real-world sales practices makes the difference. Educate VP's, Directors, and reps on what is really happening. 
  2. Making sure customers have great experiences with you as much as possible. Everything from sharing content that isn't about you but them, research, 3rd party articles. Put your best resources on the front lines to reach out and deal with them, not low-level people looking for appointments.
  3. Create a culture of customer value on the sales team. I know people are working bigger territories,lots of pressure, and don't have a lot of time. Tools like Squirro and Witty Parrot  will help be responsive and optimize their communication. Squirro can help them by even pushing out content that "hey your client so and so just got an award..." you can then send them a congrats note. 
Don't be stuck in the "Buy Our Stuff" mode.  You can break out of it and start giving to your prospect and customer community and THAT's what starts to create "sticky relationships" and loyalty. The personal experience prospects and customers have with you and your firm goes a LONG way to keep and continue to get new business. 

Friday, January 17, 2014

7 Things to Step Up in 2014 That Builds Pipeline

Let's face it, B2B selling has radically changed and it's not going back to the "old way" of doing things.  Buyers have empowered themselves by learning how to discover information about vendors/solutions without ever speaking with a rep. They can talk to your customers and get references, they can look up information about you, they can get all they need without leaving their desk of picking up a phone. This means talking to a rep needs to be a great experience, because you need them more than they need you.

Don't get me wrong, execs WILL still take calls and talk with sales reps, and it does progress the deal when it's a good experience. But the threshold for shutting down calls/meetings or ignoring emails that aren't a good use of their time has reached a ZERO tolerance. Buyers are highly sensitive and turned-off by bad communications and selfish approaches.

The thing is, while buyers have progressed in learning how to discover and apply information in the public domain, sales teams on the other hand are laggards to do what aligns with what their buyers are doing. In fact they are regressing because of other demands on their time such as increased quotas, bigger territories, etc. but they need to redirect that pressure to doing things better and not get stuck in the weeds.  The delta has become so huge it's creating massive breakdowns in sales cycles and pipeline management.

Instead of meeting the informed buyer equally informed and prepared, i.e., a level playing field...reps are going in even LESS prepared and become pushy to get a meeting on the calendar or force the issue. The thinking is "I will research them when I know they are worth my time."  You need to be worth your prospect's time though, and you do that through researching them and connecting the dots so you can offer knowledge and data points that impress them. Again, don't over interpret the term "research," you can do this in 10 minutes, but the point is....DO IT.  Prospects aren't responding to outdated sales tactics. Anything that makes your prospect feel unimportant or communicates in a non-gracious manner that you "don't care" will take you 10 steps back or lose them completely.

Prospects are people, there is a HUGE emotional and human element to sales that reps need to learn, apply, and create some empathy about what is going on and PAY ATTENTION to what they are doing.  I am going to cite 7 areas below, there are more I will mention in the coming weeks.  Applying and getting the point here is what separates successful reps from the ones that struggle or even fail. This needs to be important to management because they may not know this is happening and evaluating this will help retain prospects in your pipeline. You lose deals because of these things.

7 Things That Need to Change in 2014:

1. Respect your prospect's time. A rep gets a prospect to agree to a call, and they send a meeting invite for an hour. Unless the prospect asked for an hour, a first intro call should be short, 30 mins or less. It shows the prospect you respect their time, it's less commitment and easier to accept. I decline 60 minute meetings from someone I don't know as many other execs do. It is too much for my schedule to block off for something I don't know if I am that interested in--but if it's a good fit, believe me, the dialog will continue. 
  • If the prospect isn't there at the exact time--rather than go into disaster mode thinking they stood you up--a better way to approach it is realize they are busy. They were probably running late out of another meeting, they could be down the hall, any number of things could impact them, including something serious like they had a fender bender that morning or their kid is has nothing to do with you, just track them down. Zero out and tell the admin you had a call, can they please track them down. Do you have their cell?  Call them or text them, and be empathetic.  It isn't about you, 99% of the time it is some brief hiccup.  When a rep thinks the prospect flaked, they often do things that actually damage the chance of rescheduling the call by emailing them with something sounding scolding, and not show empathy. 
  • Pay attention to what is going on with Outlook.  Outlook will show a meeting shaded in until they accept. Your prospects get 300 or more real emails a day, not counting stupid ones, and it is easy to get buried in the list of unread email.  Instead of assuming the worst, realize Outlook is a small part of their day and workload, it is easy for your invite to go beneath their list of visible unread email. You may need to resend with something polite like "Hi so and so, I know you get a ton of email--just wanted to make sure you didn't miss this." 

2. Have a slide deck ready on a call, but FIRST let the prospect tell you what they are interested in so you can adjust how you present. Just talk with them and find out why they want to talk to you and what they want to discover in this meeting. There may be things you need to skip over that have a bigger footprint in your deck. Don't present topics they aren't interested in. Nothing is worse for a prospect to sit there looking at slides with a canned presentation that has nothing to do with their area of interest. Most presentations are about the company first, the solution (often using examples of companies NOT in their industry,) and then results last. That needs to be flipped to first talk about results companies like them are getting. Second, PROVE you know what they need, and then at the end talk about your company.  Ask them what they already know about your company so you can speak to gaps and not repeat what they know. How can you do this:
  • Be prepared to be spontaneous. Sounds like an oxymoron, but it's true, you have to be prepared to show them something real-time in an informal way as part of a great conversation you're having. If you are on a discovery phone call, be ready to show your desktop and give them a glimpse of how your solution works. So when you are on a prospect call, have things open you can show them spontaneously. Shut down chat or minimize it, close windows of your eBay shopping and anything that is distracting.  One of the most amusing calls I had like this, is I asked a company that was trying to sell me something to show me what the reporting looked like. They weren't prepared, and I told them to use (a free and fantastic real-time tool to share your desktop.) Their platform wasn't working right and they couldn't show me, then in the middle of this "presentation gone south," an IM box pops up of a customer complaining the system was grossly underperforming for them. The even better part of that is I knew the person that sent the IM, so I could call for a reference after and find out what's going on and how they like working with them. 
  • A product demo shouldn't be a like putting together the opening ceremony for the Olympics.  Most prospects want just an idea the first call, they want to see what it looks like enough to see if they need to bring others in to look more seriously. This means 3 things:
    • You should be able to know how to do this on the fly--if there is the option for you to know how to do this, you need to learn it. 
    • If your solution isn't a candidate for that because of complexity, you should have some screenshots you can show that are meaningful. "I can show you a couple of screenshots, are you in front of your desk?  Let me share a couple of slides real quick."
    • Sometimes reps see "requested demo" and start pulling together a massive event that is so overkill for what the prospect really wanted.  Usually they just wanted to see how easy it is to update a dashboard, or the level of visibility they have, or whatever it might be--it isn't what the rep "heard" when they saw demo. Ask them first, "did you want a full blown demo or did you want to see some specific areas?  What makes sense so I don't put something too big together for you."
3. Be a Guide for them. People are busy and you need to paint for them what your solution looks like with examples, scenarios, show what success looks like--show them how you can help them, ask the right questions, let them do the talking and show you care and know what they are dealing with by giving them examples of how this solves it. This is much more effective than pitch, push, commit. So many presentations leave the prospect thinking "I still don't know how this works with my environment."

Prospects are not a "piece of data" to push info on and then dump them if they don't do what you want. I had one rep call me 5 times this last year and every call was about my budget, my timing, am I looking at other vendors--he doesn't even know what I want done. Needless to say he doesn't get my business.

4. Make it EASY and AWESOME for prospects to know you. Make it easy to schedule something, make it easy to connect, make it easy to see your product. The graciousness of sales has gone out of the window in so many cases. So many companies follow this exact protocol:  A prospect is interested and wants to see a demo, the rep is more interested to know if they are "worth" a demo. So the first thing they do is when they have a call, they ask about budget/timing, etc. and if it doesn't line up with what they want, they wrap up the call.  I had someone call me recently that pursued me pretty heavily to get discussions going, they had some good ways to offer value that got me to respond but at one point they told me they have so many leads coming in, and because they can see I am looking at their site that I am "worth" an hour of their time. Really? Did you really just say that?  It only made me more committed to my existing vendor, and I am less interested in them than ever. 

For management—when you hire people like this, what they do has a long-term effect, even after they are gone.  The next time you call that company, they remember the experience they had before, and it is all the more difficult to reengage, if you ever have a chance.)  The memory isn't of the rep, the memory is about your company.

6. Be professional with your communication.  More and more I see emails with no greeting, information all pasted together looking like a ransom letter, or the name is in one font and the rest in another which shows the prospect the big effort you made in this is to put their name on something already written--and even then it is spelled wrong in some cases. I am so thankful I started my career in a time when you had better have your business letters put together well, and I still apply that to email, and even texts and chat. It shows you are polished and care.  People know we are all going a million miles an hour and are forgiving of a typo now and then, but never send something in all lower case with or worse yet, chat lingo. "john--chking 2 see if we r still on 4 demo today..." 

Believe me, it happens all the time and it reflects very poorly on the company whose reps do that. And the bigger picture for sales managers, it is digging a ditch with that prospect you may not be able to get out of down the road.

7. Social Selling is real, it isn't hard, and you need to apply some of it to your process. It is well covered in this recent blog post

So how will all this build pipeline?  Prospects will become reciprocal and actually engage with you. Early discussions become more meaningful, richer, and you will add value beyond what prospects find out on their own. They will respect you more as a peer and enable you to act in more of an advisory role. They will set you apart from the other reps contacting them because you care and you're different.  People still buy from people they "like" and when you are like-able and have skin in the game to make it work for them, they remember that.

To management, how can you minimize risk of hiring people that damage your prospect relationships?  Ask interviewees about a time they went above and beyond for a client. What did they do?  Give you some examples of how they have helped their company in a way that was not necessarily their job but something that needed to be done.  There's lots of ways to surface someone's spirit of generosity in their desire to help others.

Sales organizations are under tremendous pressure in 2014, but so often the pressure creates downgraded prospect experiences which lose sales instead of the other way around.  I've worked with smart companies that take these things to heart, and when we examine each step and each interaction to make it great for prospects..the deals happen as a result. 

What are your plans to step up in 2014?