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Tuesday, April 02, 2019

First Impressions 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.  

When it comes to cold calling, the principle applies to an even higher degree 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 2019, 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 senior level 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
- 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 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 a presence in those accounts requires skill and persistence. And many "Did You Buy" studies companies conduct on leads that fell out of the pipeline revealed 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 25, 2019

Are You Considering Outsourcing Your SDR's or B2B Telemarketing?

The list of companies operating in the B2B telemarketing and telesales space is growing, there’s a smörgåsbord of choices without a lot of guidance. Some people draw on past experience, which sometimes was not a great experience, so there is also a ton of caution to avoid a bad choice.

I‘ve spoken with hundreds of companies looking to outsource over the years, and they all have one thing in common:
How do I pick a vendor to work with? What should I look for?
I will always ask if everyone is trying to sell them a program, and the resounding answer is YES! That’s the first red flag. A vendor relationship like this is a partnership, so you have to first establish:

Does the experience this vendor has map to my sales objectives?

• Does their approach align with what our buyers expect?
• How business fluent is the team?
• Do they understand a complex sales cycle and what is essential to discover?
• What is their on-boarding process? Does it demonstrate expertise in sales or are they planning to read a  script?
• Is the complexity of our prospects’ environment understood?
• How do they describe their deliverable? Is it about hours and dials or is it about pipeline and results?
• How do they hire their team?
• What is their QA model?
• What is their average tenure with clients?
• Do they demonstrate critical thinking?
• What is the deal size they are able to work with?
• Is their reporting useful? (reporting of dials and hours doesn’t provide insight into the pipeline.)
• Is this company in alignment with our model?
• Can they execute on our work?
• Are they willing to do the work to make the program successful, establish a channel for a results loop?
• Will we have visibility of what happens with our work?
• How do they manage the lifecycle of information like this?
• How many reps do they have?
• What is their sales and marketing tech stack and how can we add value to that? How will our work be included?
• How invested in this program is their management?
• Where are they in the adoption cycle in their market? Or is this something they are introducing to the market? Is there an appetite for this solution?
• Do they know who their buyer is?
• Are they able to explain what they do with precision? 

From the vendor standpoint, they have to first understand:

It really isn’t about buying or selling a program, it’s about aligning objectives and making sure there is potential for a long-term partnership that actually builds revenue and is rich with deliverables. Programs can be sold all day long, but if it isn’t a good fit, no one is happy, and it just adds another brick on the stack of excuses why outsourcing didn’t work when really it was just a bad match.

For a true outsourced program to work, it has to be something that is really multi-faceted in results. The questions outlined above for both parties to consider will help to create a framework of success on both sides.

Budget is a consideration, but a low budget that delivers nothing less than a train wreck costs much more in damage. Considering value and results, the willingness of each party to ensure success, those are the elements that make the investment produce.

Personally, I turn away many companies because we know who our prospects are, and while we can sell programs that aren’t a great fit…we want everyone to be happy. They are much more satisfied with my suggestions for how to choose a vendor that they would be struggling to implement something that is not a fit for them.

I’m glad to answer your questions or share any resources. Please follow me on Twitter @VanellaGroup and on LinkedIn!

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Are You Avoiding Having Leads Crash and Burn on the Front Lines?

Are you able to see what happens to the leads your organization generates when they get to the live-engagement stage? Many marketing organizations have literally zero visibility of what happens on the front lines in sales; yet this is where the greatest attrition in your pipeline can occur when it isn't managed with some deliberate design.

It's relatively easy to monitor a prospect's journey with their digital interactions; you'll see their score change/rise, you see them more frequently (or not) or responding to the things you would expect them to. You can gauge the topics they are interested in based on their behavior, and then feed them more of the things they are interested in. You can measure and assign a value to most actions prospects do with your content, and you can create messages designed for a very precise response. That is the part you do with more of a hands-off approach.

The breakdown is when it goes to the live engagement phase of the journey. You team(s) may be distributed, segmented by geography, industry, company size, etc.

The challenge is that the moment it goes to a rep, 5 things happen:
  • Independent decisions made by reps, some may be inexperienced, on how to handle the prospect
  • Individual interpretation of the opportunity/non-opportunity
  • Individual practices to engage. This is where management scratches their heads asking "why does Tracy connect with so many prospects and Brenda is at a 50% lower conversion rate?" or "Why do we never have issues with Tom closing business but Mike is constantly complaining about the leads?"
  • Understanding the prospect is only as good as the knowledge base the rep has personally developed
  • Follow-up is based on the workload of the rep and understanding of prospect behavior

Your best reps understand how to manage these intuitively, you will see that in their results. But all reps don't have these areas mastered or even understand what is going on from a "buyer psychology" standpoint and what their mindset should be at an early engagement stage. 
What this looks like in real-life:
  • Many different approaches with what to say, how to engage, overall attitude about the prospect, understanding and interpretation of the prospect's responses and behavior. Example: One rep may research a prospect, look at their company, get some background on them, and prepare some very specific crisp soundbites to open a dialog. OR, the rep calls and says "I saw you were on the site, I wanted to see if you are looking for something specific" and within 5 minutes ask if they have a budget.
  • Depending on the skills and confidence of the rep, the viability of the opportunity can appear more positive or negative. Example: A prospect says  they will bake something into their budget for your solution the following quarter, they want to have a brainstorm session, and see how to work together the following quarter. One rep may work hard to make something happen ASAP to get in there and add value and lock it up. OR, a rep would say "nothing is going on in here for months, I am not spending time on this." 
  • Engagement can be everything from sending a few emails, to a consistent effective approach that engages a very high percentage of prospects. Example: I didn't reach the prospect, they aren't interested. When asked "what did you do?" the answer is they called once, and sent 2 emails 3 weeks ago. The emails were pasted sections of older emails, and when the prospect opens it, it looks like a ransom note of fonts and colors. OR, a rep can understand people are super busy and it really does take a persistent effort that may entail 5-8 attempts to reach them.
  • Some opportunities need a well-informed resource that can quickly understand their environment and map the problems to the solution within their own environment.  Inability to do that, can leave a vendor out in the cold. Example: One rep may know specific challenges certain industries face, and can speak to those very fluently. OR, a rep can use the one-size-fits-all deck to present, and miss out on key areas to build confidence with the prospect. 
  • Workload of active deals, or late stage deals, has a direct impact on developing newer relationships with prospects. Example: If a rep has numerous active deals at late stages or deals closing that are demanding, new prospects are neglected just because of bandwidth.  

This is just a slice of what is happening out there.  Conversations aren't documented, engagement varies depending on who does it, depending on the reps personal approach or assessment, they may or may not get priority. These major decisions are left to a stage of the journey that can be a total black box, that no one has visibility into.
So what can YOU do?
  1. Find out what is actually happening. Get a sample of results from each team member using an apples to apples comparisons. The records, the discussions, the end dispositions--then compare.
  2. Have a true skills assessment of engagement and make sure everyone is equipped to have a high level of skills to engage. This includes understanding prospect behavior, what it takes to reach prospects, how to interpret responses, how prospects are mentally responding when they do certain things, etc. 
  3. Address the behavioral aspects of sales formally vs. product knowledge and more mechanical content. The real success comes from being able to real-time navigate what is happening during conversations and reading between the lines of what prospects say. Those are the skills that progress leads, not knowing how to explain a widget. 
  4. Equip your team with resources that help them understand the background of leads they get, i.e., what were they responding to, who was targeted, the content the prospects saw, the source list, etc. That helps them to have a vantage point of what they get.

There's much more to do in order to completely fine-tune this; but once reps understand the small things they do along the way make a difference is the first step.  Behavioral perception make zan enormous impact on results. I don't mean how to act right in a social setting, but understanding what is happening on the sales landscape, what kinds of thought responses to prospects have to certain actions, etc. 

This goes far beyond "social selling" in the sense it isn't just understanding how to mine data in the public domain, but really becoming a professional at the undercurrents of engagement and rising about the noise of the high number of approaches prospects get daily. When you equip your teams to really understand how to read between the lines of engagement, then you will maximize return on all of your programs across the board and see increased ROI with all of your efforts.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

10 Things You Should Know About Social Selling

Social Selling is still a developing skill for many organizations.  Despite the abundance of content available, it's still something sales teams are looking to crack the code on and struggle to implement internally.

You might ask "What exactly IS Social Selling?" and if it even applies to you at all.  Many sales professionals think it is for tech sales reps, or "millennials" in sales, or for people that have Twitter accounts with many followers, or somehow "power users" of social media.  But that's not the case...the principles behind it have been around a lot longer than LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.

The principles behind Social Selling can be summed up by transferring the in-person skills you have to remote skills. Your ability to engage as a peer that is informed and prepared to engage.  It's all about effective engagement, active engagement

When you add value by learning about your prospects, they are able to reciprocate because you invested in having a quality interaction.

Here's an example, 15 years ago you would meet with a prospect in their office and what did you see around their office...awards, degrees, pictures of their family, vacations, accomplishments, books on a shelf....maybe they collect artifacts, have an antique sword hanging on the wall, a plethora of other things that told you about them as a professional and as a person.  Did you sometimes look at those and think..."Hey I went to that school too" or "I've read that book" or obtained some insight into their interests based on what they surround themselves with.  Did you then make connections with things and people you knew to connect the dots for a better understanding of how to work with them?  If you were actively engaged at that time, you were Social Selling 1.0 

Conversely, 15 years ago people that only cared about closing the deal and couldn't care less about their prospects went into a meeting, ignored the 25 items in the room around them they could mention and missed out on connecting on a whole new level. The equivalent today of calling a prospect without a clue of who they are and spending some time researching and keeping track of their activity.

Today meetings and calls are remote, we often aren't in their offices.  But that "virtual personal space" is all around us.  Did you look your prospect up on LinkedIn before the call?  Did you look at other social networks to see what you could learn about them?  Did you put some thought into what you discovered to paint a bigger picture of who they are and what their vantage point may be?  Have they done reviews, belong to industry groups, interact with peers online?  

Just like the rep that was in the same room with a prospect and picked up on the rich source of information all around them, reps today have even more access to information about their prospects and don't want to miss out on that. 

10 Things You Should Know About Social Selling:
  1. You don't need to be a power user of social networks to be effective with social selling, you just need to know how to find the right information.
  2. Social Selling prep doesn't need to be more than 15 minutes.
  3. You can automate information in the public domain to be served to you, tools like Squirro,, Google Alerts, InsideView all have features to send updates to you.
  4. What your prospects disclose is valuable, what they don't also has meaning. Are they conservative? Late adopters? Is risk mitigation more important than being the first one on the block to have something?
  5. Connect with your prospects on LinkedIn and share valuable content with them--stay engaged.
  6. Do mention industry accolades your prospects have received, they worked hard for those--let them know you took the time to discover them.
  7. Don't wait for your company to put a process in place, learn this--it's your income and career that is impacted.
  8. Social Selling is not the job of Marketing, it improves front line communication with prospects and sales needs to have these skills.
  9. Social Selling starts before the first call, and extends into the Account Management stage of the relationship vs. after the call to decide they are worth investing in.
  10. Social Selling isn't just for sales, anyone dealing with prospects and clients (Marketing, Exec Management, etc.)  should take a pulse on what is happening with them if they are meeting with them.  It makes for stronger relationships at every stage.
Happy selling!

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Would You Take a Call From YOU?

"What are the tricks you use to get people to talk to you?"
I get asked this question a lot; people struggle to find the answer on how they can engage and get people to talk to them. There must be a well-kept secret people are using that are successful at this.
"The secret to success in cold calling is actually the most well-known, transparent fact about sales there is. Prospects don't like to take sales calls....but they are constantly on business calls"
How is THAT a secret of success?
Because executives DO take business calls. That being the case, sales reps need to steer clear of the many things that people think of when they hear the term "sales rep." That means no tricks, no manipulating, no untruths, no forcing people to commit, no strong-arming, no word switcho-chango tactics, no insincere flattery, no cheesy gimmicks to get people to talk, etc. (the list goes on....)  That isn't executive behavior, that isn't "business call" behavior. 
Can you imagine the CFO of a F500 company calling the CFO of another F500 company and saying "I know you're very busy, I promise I won't waste your time, if you like what you hear in the next 20 seconds, can you give me 60 more seconds?"  Needless to say the one receiving the call would be like "Who the heck is this??? Weirdo..."
One of our clients recently said they could never cold call. I asked if they call people they don't know and have a business discussion...they said "of course, all the time."  That IS the quintessential cold call!  
It can be surprising because when you think of a "sales call," it conjures up scenarios of rejection, push back, getting screened, refusals, trying to get the appointment, barriers, and many other negative experiences associated with having to break through many obstacles to get to a "decision maker." There is a system of screening to block sales calls, but the screening is not designed to block normal business calls.
Executives call executives and have substantial conversations all the time without any trepidation. The key is to distance your methods from the typical "tricks of the trade."
When I am training teams, I often ask them to think about what they do as part of their engagement, and ask... "Would you talk to YOU if you called? Would you listen to a voicemail from YOU? Would you respond to the questions YOU ask?"
The answers are surprising after some reflection. And having them listen to their voicemails often surfaces they sound more "sales" than they think.  This includes being impatient. People are very difficult to reach in general, and often the difficulty in reaching people is interpreted as no interest or they need to turn up the volume to press their prospects into action, which comes across as pressure and makes them withdraw even more.
An example of what not to do, is recently I received an email from a rep I have known for years from a company I have worked with for almost 15 years. I already said we will renew closer to the renewal date. But a couple of weeks before that time, I get this:
"If it isn’t your intent to renew please let me know and I will stand down and direct my attentions elsewhere."
Of course this annoyed me a great deal and I said I didn't appreciated that, especially after so many years and especially after I already said I would renew. They realized how bad it sounded and apologized, all is good now (for a sales relationship.) But many people wouldn't have pushed back, they would have went away. There are many options for this solution today and companies need to be awesome at every stage to retain their customers.
More and more we have been working with companies on the process breakdowns around relationship management because it is the reason so many deals and long-time customer relationships fall apart. It is poor communication, taking customers for granted, trying to "sell" when really you need to "talk." 
"Relationships with customers and prospects fall apart from poor communication, taking customers for granted, trying to "sell" when really you need to "talk." 
I'm interested to hear how you have addressed continuous improvement with your teams!