How to Avoid the “P” Word

How do you have a conversation with a prospect that focuses on value, rather than the “P” word – price? We all understand that price will be a consideration when making a purchase, but when you compete solely on price, you’ve pigeon-holed your offering as a commodity. The first step to competing on value is to make sure your solution is differentiated in the buyer’s mind.

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It’s easy to plan to sell on value, but how do you make it happen? Here are three key areas to focus on that will shift your mindset – and your prospect’s – to a value-based conversation.

1) Differentiate Your Solution

The foundation of competing on value is to differentiate your offering in your prospect’s mind. But being different is not being differentiated. Differentiation is a process that happens with each individual prospective buyer. Even for buyers within the same company, individuals may value something different that makes the investment worth it for them. With this in mind, the conversations you have must lead your prospect to answer the question, “Is this particular product or service worth the investment?”

One obvious way to differentiate is with your capabilities. It is important that capabilities are not presented as a list of product attributes – instead, each attribute must solve a problem or address a need that your prospect recognizes. This is what creates the value in making the investment.

You can also differentiate on terms and conditions, customer experience, or by demonstrating how your solution mitigates risk. Solving a problem based on these intangibles, that a competitor has not addressed, also creates value in making the investment.

In addition, building a trusted brand is a long-term strategy to mitigate perceived risk and to differentiate. According to The Edelman Trust Barometer 2020, 70% of respondents say trusting a brand is more important today than in the past. In essence, the report shows that amid the seismic shocks of today’s world, trust is the make-or-break difference for brands; most of the people surveyed feel that brands should act to solve societal problems and advocate for change. When brand trust is earned through words and actions, it builds loyalty, engagement, and advocacy. If you represent a trusted brand with a strong reputation, consider the potential impact this may have.

2) Understand the Business Metrics

Once you have differentiated your solution or offering in your prospect’s mind, the next step is to create value for that solution. A clear understanding of business metrics is essential to leading a value-based discussion and this means asking questions that address business value, ROI, and how your prospect will build the case to buy your solution. To get these answers, many sales reps recognize they need to uncover pain points or problems. But since not all problems are worth solving, you must clearly connect to the business metrics your prospect wants to address.

For example, let’s consider a prospect who is looking at an automation tool to integrate into their Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system. The CRM plugin will help them better track and manage projects. The reason your prospect will potentially buy this SaaS-based software tool is because they recognize they are wasting too much time and money on manual processes, and things are falling through the cracks. This impacts customer service and their bottom line. As you uncover the business metrics, you’ll realize the main benefit to the customer is not really about managing projects more effectively. Instead, the key to this value-based sale is the impact better project management will have on the business objectives of saving money and improving customer service.

Additionally, think about the personal value for your prospect. If the manager you are selling to will no longer have to ask team members to spend their time doing manual input, they will likely be happier and more productive at their jobs, positively reflecting on the manager. Therefore, as you work through the sales process, try to uncover how the buyer may personally benefit from getting the deal done and use this to your advantage.

3) Quantify the Impact

Once you understand the business metrics, the next step is to quantify the impact of your solution. To do so, probe your prospect to answer questions like “How much time?” and “How much money?” Going back to our hypothetical CRM scenario, let’s do the math on the value of time spent.

If the employees tasked with manual input are worth $100 an hour and spending five hours a week on a manual process, that’s $500 a week. If 10 people are doing this manual input for the company, that’s $5,000 a week. Over the course of a year this solution could be saving the company in upwards of $250,000 worth of productivity. If, in this example, the CRM tool costs $20,000, suddenly the investment becomes a no-brainer decision. The calculated benefit far outweighs the cost, and there is quantifiable value in making the purchase.

It is imperative to reinforce the importance of quantifying the business impact. It’s not enough to say “Yes, it’s better” or “We’re going to save you time and money.” Without asking questions that uncover how much time will be saved and then outwardly converting that to a dollar value, the prospect may not justify the worth of the purchase on their own. Driving quantification is a critical step for salespeople to differentiate on value.

Common Business Metrics Tie to Value-based Selling

Saving time and saving money are two of the biggest measurable metrics that sellers can tie into when selling on value. However, they are not the only metrics. I have clients that build business cases on improved cash flow and regulatory compliance as well. Once you recognize that finance is the language of business, and accounting is how businesses keep score – you’ll become acutely aware that business metrics will almost always boil down to dollars and cents in some way. Look at the situation from your buyer’s perspective – whether a prospect’s goal is to increase revenues, decrease costs, save time, improve cash flow, or be compliant to avoid risks and penalties, you must connect your solution’s benefits and value to their unique business objectives.

Eliminate “No-Decision” through Continuous Qualification

There are times when sales reps identify opportunities that, for whatever reason, they just can’t win.

Perhaps it is the competitive nature of many sales reps and the challenge to cling to an unqualified opportunity because he or she was able to secure a meeting. Or maybe the salesperson is overly optimistic and sends a proposal to a prospect that is not qualified. There may very well be genuine interest in your products and services, however, the interest is with someone who doesn’t have the authority to make the purchase. Whatever the situation, often sales reps spend too much time trying to close an unqualified opportunity.

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A pipeline full of unqualified opportunities could give those in a sales role a false sense of security that there’s enough in the pipeline to meet their sales goals. Yet ultimately, a full pipeline with unqualified leads will actually be a barrier to meeting, let alone exceeding, these goals.

Why No-Decision Opportunities will Drain Your Time and Energy

There are only three outcomes for every opportunity in your pipeline today:

  1. You win and they buy from you.
  2. You lose and they choose another alternative.
  3. The prospect does nothing – there is no decision.

Our experience shows that these three outcomes are split fairly evenly – approximately 1/3 of all opportunities are won, 1/3 are lost, and 1/3 result in a no-decision.

Eliminating the “No-Decision” alternative from your pipeline sooner rather than later can be the single greatest productivity increase available and will have a dramatic effect on higher close rates.

How do you do it? How quickly in the sales cycle can unqualified leads be identified and removed from call lists, follow up reminders, and calendar placeholders so that time is focused on moving qualified leads forward?

A rigorous qualification method that is based on the buyer and buying process lends itself to eliminating this no-decision segment. It is the single most important factor to reduce the risk of a full, but stalled pipeline.

A Framework for Improved Prospect Qualification

Prospect qualification is a multi-dimensional set of criteria which enables the sales rep to mitigate the risk of working an unqualified opportunity at any point in the sales cycle.

At ValueSelling Associates, we enable salespeople with the skills and tools required to consistently qualify opportunities. Sales teams are trained to ask the right qualifying questions and then mastering the skill comes with practice.

The ValueSelling Framework Qualified Prospect Formula prompts conversations that confirm the prospect’s reason to change and the positive impact of that change. Effective qualifying questions are asked intentionally to uncover the prospect’s answer and point of view as to:

  • Should they buy this from you?
  • Is it worth it?
  • Can they buy?
  • When will they buy?

This thoughtful and timely questioning process lends itself to identifying the gaps and potential loopholes in the buying process and then to creating plans to close those gaps and win the opportunity. When the confirmed answers point to a no-decision, it’s time to move on. And by that I mean, move on from the lead if your product or service is not the right fit, or if the organization is restructuring and there is no funding this year. Or, as welcoming as your prospect is to taking your calls, you learn they are not the decision maker and you now need to make in-roads with the person or persons who can actually make a purchasing decision. Your deliberate questioning may lead to information that there is no immediate need for your product or service, but you are encouraged to stay in touch. You move on but also stay relevant by connecting on LinkedIn and keeping appraised of the company’s changes.

The Impact of Eliminating the No-Decision

Although we can grasp the concept of saving time and frustration by eliminating the no-decision, there is a real, tangible impact on your win rate as well.

When you push to effectively qualify every opportunity, you will wring the bloat out of your sales pipeline, and boost your win rate. High performing reps consistently qualify the opportunities in the pipeline. They are relentless in moving unqualified opportunities out of the pipeline. The result is higher win rates. With their success, they seek qualified opportunities and are in a position to win. They don’t waste precious selling time on unqualified opportunities.

In summary, don’t be lulled into a false sense of security when your pipeline may be full of no-decision or unwinnable opportunities. Step up, rigorously qualify, and prepare to see your win rate increase.

Why Sales Discovery is Not only an Up-front Process

While curiosity may have killed the cat, it also helped the sales rep close the deal …

Successful sales professionals are curious by nature. They are interested in learning about their prospect’s business, their circumstances, challenges, and the situations in which they find themselves. When sales reps authentically engage with a human-to-human connection, they are much more effective than reps who only focus on presenting and pitching their solution.

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Engaging simply means that you have a conversation; and the way you control and direct the conversation is through the questions that you ask. Sales professionals who adopt the ValueSelling Framework learn how to ask questions. Those questions enable them to determine if they really have an opportunity worth pursuing. By asking the right questions, you can separate the shoppers from the buyers. Becoming inquisitive and curious will enable you to gain information from your prospect and demonstrate your knowledge of the subject with the thoughtfulness of your questions.

Three Kinds of Questions

Three main types of questions facilitate the transference of information between the buyer and the seller. These are open-ended, probing, and confirming questions – we call them the O-P-C questions. These questions help the seller understand the buyer’s issues, business problems, and priorities. Here’s a guide on how to put O-P-C questions into practice:

  • Open-ended – With open ended questions, you give your prospect the opportunity to respond with a freeform answer. You must actively listen to that answer and follow up with probing questions to gain a deeper understanding. Open-ended questions often begin with the 5 W’s – who, what, why, when, or where, along with how. You can also start with “tell me about” or “describe for me.” For example:
    • What are your biggest challenges today?
    • How are you handling this situation?
    • Tell me about the metrics you use to measure success.
  • Probing – Probing questions are used to clarify your understanding of the response to an open-ended question and can typically be answered with a “yes” or “no.” With a probing question, you can drill down to better understand your prospect. Probing questions let you show your knowledge and experience, and deliberately uncover needs or requirements that you may be uniquely positioned to address. For example:
    • Is your current solution easy to use?
    • What would you like the ideal solution to do for you?
    • Is your management team happy with the current ROI?
  • Confirming – It’s important to ask confirming questions to clarify your understanding, as these show you are listening and confirm that you heard the other person, and you understood their intent. For example:
    • If I understand you correctly, your current solution hasn’t been fully adopted by your team?
    • So, if it were easier to use, you could accomplish more?
    • I’m hearing you say that if you could demonstrate success with this project, you’ll save enough money to recoup your costs in six months?

Although all of these questions should sound conversational, it’s important to prepare and think about the questions you want to ask in advance. We teach salespeople to mix it up and be very natural in their execution of the questions – you don’t want to sound like you’re reading from a telemarketer’s script! Good questioning requires good listening and then response. A conversation typically goes back and forth between open-ended and probing questions, then when you’ve gained the information you need, you confirm that you’ve understood it correctly. With practice, you’ll be able to have a conversation with a very easy flow that is composed of a cadence of questions.

Don’t be Afraid to Hear “No”

When we ask probing questions, many salespeople are afraid to get a “no” response. However, probing is where you can really deepen your understanding, be purposeful, and direct the conversation. Sometimes we can help a prospect recognize something that they haven’t yet realized. That’s where probing becomes especially important – and, when you get a “no,” just go back to an open-ended question. For example: “Oh, that’s interesting. How did you solve that? Why isn’t that a problem for you?” Just remember, whenever you’re stuck, circle back to an open-ended question.

Extend Discovery throughout the Sales Process

Although most sales reps understand that it is important to ask questions, many believe that most of the questions should be asked early on, as part of the discovery process. They prepare five or 10 questions and ask them up front, and then start talking about how great their company and their product are – they think it’s more important to present than to engage. Yet, the best sales reps ask questions continually and weave them in even while they’re presenting. This tests their understanding and makes sure they are still in alignment with the prospect.

If you want to set yourself up for success, ask yourself: “How do I deepen my understanding every time I speak with my prospect or customer?” Questions are the fuel, and you can accelerate the sales process with insightful O-P-C questions.

Getting over the Objection Hurdles

Most salespeople dread objections. Objections from prospects that typically surface toward the end of the sales process can feel like a roadblock to success. Although you may see objections as signs that your prospect is not going to move forward to purchase your solution, try to shift your perspective. Objections are often a request for more information or additional clarity on how you might be able to best work together. In fact, the best way to insure there are no roadblocks, is to intentionally uncover possible objections early in the sales process. This of course runs parallel to qualifying and requalifying the prospect throughout all conversations.

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Uncover Objections to Move Closer to a Sale

If a prospect has an objection, it has to be raised or you will likely lose the sale and not know why. Answering and addressing objections allow you to deepen your understanding of the prospect’s point of view. It’s better to effectively uncover any objections early in the sales process; this gives you the opportunity to discuss, reframe, and address the issues. As a result, you are moving closer to a sale. So, don’t back away from objections, merely think of them as clarifications. This post will look at the common types of sales objections and offer a review of how to handle them.

First, Should they Buy?

If an objection surfaces at the end of the sales cycle, it often can be traced to a missed element in what should be key to qualifying – that is, do they have a reason to buy? When your prospect is unqualified or has not acknowledged a need, no amount of objection handling will fix their position that they see no value to consider your solution. In ValueSelling Associates parlance, we talk about creating a VisionMatch™ — this ensures that you and your prospect are on the same page in terms of a potential solution for their problems. Without a joint understanding of the prospect’s need and requirements, it doesn’t make sense to move forward with the opportunity.

Common Objections: Value, Power, and Plan

Once your prospect is qualified, you’ll most likely face objections in these three categories:

  1. Value – With value-based objections, the prospect is focused on the question, “Is it worth it?” This question often involves price and perceived value to the organization. Naturally, the more convinced your buyer is about the solution’s value, the fewer price objections you’ll face. Typical objections could include:
    1. Your price is too high.
    2. We’re doing OK with our current solution.
    3. I’m already in a contract with another company.
  2. Decision Authority – With power-based objections, prospects focus on the question “Can I buy?” This is where organizational politics and roles come in. You may hear objections such as:
    1. My manager won’t approve this.
    2. I’m only one of several people involved in this decision.
    3. I’m convinced, but I’m not in charge of the budget.
  3. Timing – With plan-based objections, your prospect is focused on “When will I buy?” Although they may be convinced your solution is a good one for them, timing and priorities need to be considered. Objections will come in the form of pushback such as:
    1. I’m too busy to move forward with this right now.
    2. This doesn’t fit into the current year’s plan.
    3. Can we revisit this next quarter?

Objection Handling

ValueSelling Associates has a specific objection handling framework that applies across different types of objections. Here are the five steps to handle objections, albeit, at a very top level.

  1. Attitude – Have a positive attitude and work on solving the issue together. Remember, objections often surface when a prospect needs more information or clarity.
  2. Clarify – Fully understand the objection and the “why” behind it.
  3. Diagnose – Is your prospect unclear how you might solve problem? Use the Qualified Prospect Formula® to demonstrate your solution’s value.
  4. Trial close – We sometimes call this the “sharp angle close.” Isolate the objections. Is this the only question or are there others? Objections can also come up as a negotiation tactic, so try to surface all objections now.
  5. Address – Address the objections through education, reconfirmation, or clarification while assuring your prospect that their decision is a good one.

In closing, realize that effective objection handling is a skill set you can practice and reinforce with sales training and coaching. Different organizations have different levels of sophistication in handling objections, with the best providing both training and tools such as “battle cards” to help you overcome common objections. Prepare yourself and clear the hurdle of sales objections by being confident and prepared to clarify issues and address them head on.

Download our Complimentary eBook Now! “The Three Keys to Sales Quota Attainment”

How to Get Your Foot in the Door: The First Step to a Sale

People buy from people. When you can forge a human-to-human connection and bring something of value to the table, you can create an opportunity.

But how do you get that initial meeting? Of course, if you can leverage a referral to get your prospect’s attention, do so – but, in the absence of a personal introduction, here‘s how executive guests on our podcast tell us they prefer to be approached by sales professionals.

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Do your Research

One essential key to gain executive access is to do your homework. Research who your prospect is, what they do, and the industry they are operating in, so that you can tailor your communication to that specific person.

Start with LinkedIn, Twitter, and other social media sites – research both your prospect and their company. Check out the company website, read financial statements, and search for business and trade articles. Look at your company’s CRM system – have you done business with this organization before? Has this person interacted with your company in the past? All of this info gives you a foundation for your messaging and outreach.

When you understand your prospect’s business, their industry, and their role, you can focus on how you can add value and engage with your prospect, rather than pitch to them. Your goal is to develop deeper relationships and be viewed as a partner or a “go to” resource, rather than just another vendor. Nothing is more annoying than a sales rep sending an email that is all about the sales rep and clearly is not personalized to the prospect.

Critical information that you can research:

  • What is the company?
  • What is the industry?
  • What is the role?
  • Who are their customers?
Demonstrate that You can Add Value

When you engage with executives, your messaging should demonstrate added value based on the research you’ve done. Tailor your message to demonstrate relevance and your research. Perhaps you see a trend with other clients in this industry and can offer some insight. Connect your added value to your prospect’s financial metrics whenever possible. Busy execs may only skim the first line of an email from you. If you can grab their attention by showing them that you understand them and can offer something mutually beneficial, you have a much greater opportunity.

Continue to increase your credibility by sharing current information and expertise on topics that interest the decision maker, especially as it relates to their pressing business issues. You might be able to send them a relevant thought leadership piece, such as an interesting article that relates to their business, or an analyst report or white paper. The Demand Gen Report 2019 Content Preferences Survey found 95% of respondents seek credible content from industry thought leaders — up from 62% in 2018. This content will help reinforce your ability to deliver value.

Here’s a few examples of how to add value to your prospects:

  • “I recently read this article and I thought you might be interested in it …”
  • “This reminded me of a point you made in your webinar last week …”
  • “Congratulations on your new job, can we share a virtual cup of coffee? I’d be interested in hearing all about it …”
Get the Timing Right

Timing can be a real challenge for salespeople. We can never predict exactly when a prospect may be ready to engage. As a sales rep, you can’t necessarily control when your buyer may have a need or when they are looking for information. However, you can control the relevancy of your messaging.

Over time, when you do your research and determine how you can add value, your timing gets better because you’re seen as relevant. A prospect might notice that your email came in and it happened to be on a topic or an issue that they are starting to think about. You may even want to mix things up by snail-mailing a handwritten note. If you’re sharing content to establish your point of view or your perspective, this content will increase your credibility in the eyes of that executive.

Typically, a person has to receive a message 10 to 12 times before it sinks in. Think about respectful persistence. Executives are barraged with messages – the ones that standout focus on: “What’s in it for them?” Be critical of what you send. Are you memorable…in a good way? If you properly identify, access, validate, and maintain your connection with power, you will earn a continuing dialogue and ongoing relationship with the decision maker.

In summary, by combining research on your prospect, a value-added approach to outreach, and the right timing, you’re on the right track to gain access to important decision makers.

Join Us On Our Upcoming LIVE Webinar, July 23rd at 10 AM Pacific: Get in the Door and Sell Higher.

Strategies for a Successful Summer: Process, Consistency and Discipline

“Summer breeze, makes me feel fine…” may be the lyrics of a 1972 Seals & Crofts’ tune, but this summer seems anything but fine. This summer, the economy is uncertain and people are anxious.

With rules and guidance varying from state-to-state and by country, companies and communities will begin to acclimate to the “new normal” in the wake of COVID-19. Though there is still much uncertainty as we hopefully move to a path of recovery, one thing is certain – it is more important now than ever to focus on process, consistency and discipline. Here are three strategies to help keep focused this summer.

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Process

In talking with our clients, we’ve found that companies with well-documented processes – and reps who adopt those processes – are more successful in remote work situations. Process matters when you don’t have the luxury of observation and in-person coaching for your sales teams.

With an established sales process, people know what they are supposed to do, and they know how they are supposed to do it. There is no floundering in terms of: “How do I do this?” or “What do I do next?” We’ve seen companies that are process-oriented in their sales approach have a leg up on companies that attempt to manage a bunch of “cowboys” where everybody does their own thing.

What should you do now if you haven’t yet established sales processes? Our research validates that high-growth companies invest in sales coaching to teach their sales teams the skills – and processes – they need to better support customers.

Need to start now? …

Consistency

Companies that are consistent in their execution are also outperforming companies that lack a consistent approach to selling. One of our associates commented that “consistency is often more important than intensity” and I think this is very true. Examples of intensity might include spontaneously running a road race, writing a book in 30 days, or participating in a week-long meditation retreat.

While intensity might be impressive and make a good story, consistency is what delivers progress. Consistency means you are in it for the long-term. For example, a consistent person might not miss a planned workout out for two years, or will write every week, or meditate every day. In our experience, sales reps that demonstrate consistent behaviors focused in the right direction, outperform their peers.

It’s easy to say, “I’m tired; I don’t want to get up and do the grind.” However, when you have consistency, you say, “I am going to get up and do this on a consistent basis, in spite of the grind.” A consistent sales rep will say, “There’s always more that I can do to advance this opportunity,” instead of saying “I’ve done enough.”

With a strong foundation of process and consistency, the next key is discipline which builds upon being consistent.

Discipline

Discipline requires consistency, and often bends and trains our wills and desires through doing things that aren’t already second nature. In my management workshop, I often quote a gentleman by the name of Albert E.N. Gray. He was an official of the Prudential Insurance Company of America in the 1940s, and he gave a speech on The Common Denominator of Success. In this speech he asserts, “the common denominator of success – secret of success of every individual who has ever been successful – lies in the fact that he or she formed the habit of doing things that failures don’t like to do.”

In essence, the only difference between successful people and unsuccessful people is that successful people make a habit of doing the things that unsuccessful people hate to do. To me, this is the ultimate definition of discipline. You can think about this in terms of diet or exercise, and you can think about it in terms of sales. There are a lot of salespeople who say they hate to pick up the phone, they hate to cold call. Guess what? Successful people do it anyway, and they do it with discipline.

Those prospecting activities become the non-negotiable time blocks on their calendar. Some of the most successful salespeople I know say, “I am going to schedule a call block every day, even when I don’t feel like it, even when I am busy with other activities.” They figure it out because they know that if they do not prospect every day, they will encounter a time when their pipeline is not robust enough to support their goals and objectives.

Advancing our Success

In this time of uncertainty, no one knows when we will emerge from this pandemic. So, whether you go back to your office or continue to work from home, what do you need to do to move business forward and fill your pipeline? We still need to have process, consistency, and discipline in execution to make sure that we can continue to advance our success in our role – as a sales manager, a sales leader, or a front-line sales rep.

Can You Speak the Language of Business? An Essential Skill for Communicating with Executives.

“More than 50% of US college graduates, regardless of their majors, are likely to work in sales at some point,” according to an article in the Harvard Business Review. Yet, how prepared are they to effectively communicate with executives? What will separate the outstanding salespeople from those who struggle and bumble along?

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Sales executives who are trying to sell the value of their solutions must be able to have peer-to-peer conversations with executives. They need to understand basic business terminology and know how the businesses they are targeting operate. Essentially, the language of business is the language of finance and accounting – topics that might make some people break out in a cold sweat. However, it’s time to bite the bullet and learn the basics so that you can be confident in your discussions. Does that require a business degree? No. It does require some effort, commitment, and a curiosity about your prospects and their businesses.

A recent LinkedIn Sales Blog article, “Mapping the Path Forward” discusses a study by Avionos. It found that 92% of B2B buyers surveyed said a qualified salesperson would be important in helping them counter the effects of a recession. How do you then, become credible as a qualified salesperson? It begins with your understanding of the prospect’s circumstances and then demonstrating your value. To do this effectively, you need to communicate in the language of business.

Business Acumen is a Skill to Develop

You only get one shot to make a good impression. When you communicate with decision-makers, executive communication training can help you make that first impression a memorable one. You must be prepared with insightful questions that make people stop, take note, and engage with you.

We designed Executive Speak™ , an interactive elearning program that will prepare you for productive and engaging conversations. It lays out a roadmap of how businesses are managed and explains the typical financial and accounting terms that businesses use to measure success. It’s a solid foundation for anybody in sales who doesn’t have a sound business background and is expected to have business conversations.

As Generation Z starts to enter the workforce on the heels of the Millennial generation, new college graduates are joining the ranks of the sales profession. Depending on their degree, some may not have taken even a basic course in finance or accounting. They may have no idea what an income statement is or what a balance sheet is or how cash moves through a business. This challenge is not limited to new college grads. Many experienced sales representatives sell based on what they’ve learned over the years, and while old school may have worked at some point, they don’t have the confidence in business fundamentals that enable them to sell at a higher level with executive connections.

7 Key Business Questions Salespeople Should Research

Your job as a qualified salesperson is to add value both to the individual as well as to the organization. Since you can’t add value if you don’t understand that person’s world, here are basic business questions to think about as you prepare to prospect:

  1. What is going on in this industry?

  2. What types of companies am I selling to?

  3. How do they make money?

  4. Who are their customers?

  5. What stage is the company in?

  6. Are they profitable?

  7. Who runs the show?

At first glance, these look like simple questions. However, write out the answers and you’ll find there are complexities to each. To really understand the company and people you are selling to, you’ll have to dig around for information and be curious about what you uncover.

Set Business Acumen Goals

How do you get this information? There are many resources. Set aside the time to do your homework and research, then sift through that information and create a plan.

I recommend you start with a company’s website. Look at their mission statement or “About Us” information – these are the carefully crafted goals and messages about the company. If they are publicly traded, review their financial reports. Specifically look at the CEO’s letter in the annual report which provides top-level commentary that ties to the numbers. Listen in on investor conference calls and hear how quarterly financial results are reported. Another great source of information on a company website is the “News” section. This typically includes press releases announcing company news as well as media coverage where the company has been featured. Read a few posts from the corporate blog, explore which events the company will be attending, or if they are hosting any informative webinars. Start following the company’s social media posts to gain insight on how they are sharing information with their customers.

Beyond the website – where of course the message is controlled by the company – conduct online research by setting up Google Alerts on the company, key executives, industry terms, and competitors. Use LinkedIn to see what company executives are reading, sharing, and commenting on. Join some industry groups and associations on LinkedIn. It’s also beneficial to sign up for electronic newsletters or digests from industry associations and trade publications. Also keep an eye on local business press. Finally, there are great podcasts out there to help you gain business acumen, including our own B2B Revenue Executive Experience podcast hosted by Chad Sanderson, ValueSelling Associates Managing Partner.

In conclusion, be curious about what’s going on with your prospect companies and their industries. As you gain business acumen, you’ll be able to tie your objectives to the company’s business goals and explain the valuable impact of what you’re selling to executive buyers.

Nailing the Credibility Intro

Credibility gets you in the door. These days, as we rely even more heavily on virtual communication, it’s more essential than ever to have a solid, value-based credibility introduction. To establish credibility, you must focus on the other person and their issues. In time, this will let you determine the potential value you can bring to them. Credibility intros are used in prospecting the very first time you reach out, but they are also used throughout the sales cycle.

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I can’t emphasize enough not to jump into a sales pitch with zero credibility – it turns people off when a sales rep immediately focuses on their company and product capabilities. Most salespeople would protest they would never do such a thing, yet, according to Business2Community, “71% of salespeople claim they don’t have the knowledge to have these [value-added] conversations, and therefore fall back on what they know: product, features, price.” This approach damages credibility and puts up a barrier in terms of rapport and trust. Your prospect will think: “They don’t know me, they don’t understand me, so why should I be interested in speaking with them?”

There’s a lot that goes into building credibility and you can’t just wing it. That’s why we teach sales leaders how to construct a value-based story, which becomes the critical component of the credibility introduction. It’s all about being knowledgeable and relevant to your prospect or customer, having insight, and actively listening. Be aware that with virtual communication, this may be more difficult. You may have a natural inclination to talk more than usual because it’s hard to read non-verbal cues. Don’t forget to actively listen and ask confirming questions to make sure you’re on the same page. Once you engage authentically, establish trust, and gain rapport, you build the foundation to establish and maintain credibility.

The “Brass Tacks” of Developing a Value-Based Story

Short value-based stories are the linchpin of the credibility introduction. When you open a dialogue with a value-based story, it resonates with the listener that you will potentially bring them similar value. Here’s how to get started:

  1. First, make sure you’re creating a success story for the right audience. Your story should be created with the person you are trying to meet in mind. A good value story will demonstrate that you understand the individual, their role, the industry, and the issues and challenges facing them. Your story might be about someone in a similar role, a similar industry, or a similar sized organization. You’ll obviously need to do your research here.
  2. Next, what should be included in the story? The value-based story should address underlying, top-level business issues and problems. It is not about you; it is about someone that your target can relate to and the challenges that are likely experiencing.
  3. Talk about the outcome of your story, emphasizing the value and the impact to the organization and the individual. Having solid data or measurable impact will make your story even more powerful.
  4. End your story with a question that transitions to and prompts a discussion to their real-life situation.

A few tips…You don’t need to name the company in your story – in most cases it’s better to keep it unnamed. The value-based story can be shared either verbally or written in a bulleted format, but unlike a case study, it does not talk about your specific capabilities. Remember this critical component – this is not about you. The value-based story is about helping them based on an experience of helping people like them.

A Sample Value-Based Story

Here’s a sample of what a value-based story may sound like:

“Hey, I have worked with other VPs of Sales in the software industry and one company in particular had a problem growing its business due to an inability to scale. Their challenges included a complex portfolio and the inability to differentiate their service – it was a hidden gem, but they didn’t know how to show it off. By partnering with us, this software company saw their revenue increase by 30 percent in one year. How did we help them? We taught their salespeople how to be more confident in communicating value and we walked them step-by-step through how to impactfully differentiate from their competition. They now sell more effectively and are creating long-term relationships with clients, rather than focusing on one-and-done, transactional sales.

In researching your company, I understand you’re facing a similar situation, but I don’t want to assume that. I would really love your feedback. What are some of the top-of-mind business drivers that you’re looking to address?”

In the ValueSelling Framework training we lead exercises where every salesperson creates and refines their stories. Sometimes we have contests and share our value-based stories in the classroom or at a cocktail hour at the end of the session – this gives everyone a chance to practice telling their story and learn from each other.

Embrace your Story

I’m willing to bet that some of the best sales reps you’ve ever met are also the best storytellers. These aren’t made-up stories. They’re sharing a scenario that someone can relate to and internalize. And in doing so, they are creating interest to talk more.

These stories also require research, and the most successful reps spend more time preparing the questions and the stories before they execute. They also practice. Practice in front of a mirror, practice with your co-worker, practice with your manager, practice it on your dog. And the last tip – is to practice under pressure. If you can tell this story with confidence and conviction while running on the treadmill, you can certainly tell it in front of the client!

In today’s technology-enabled world, it’s easy to hide behind the screen

Technology is a boon to the sales profession. It helps automate, amplify, and accelerate. Tech tools can help us organize our day, research prospects, streamline outreach, and efficiently keep track of our progress. But, that said, our reliance on technology also makes it way too easy to hide behind a screen.

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Sales enablement tools must be layered on a solid foundation of human connection. When you dig deep into what makes salespeople effective, you will always come back to foundational skills, rather than the technology they use. For sales, three of the most important core skills are effective communication, demonstrating empathy, and establishing a connection. Without these skills, you can have the most cutting-edge technology in the world, and you’ll still fall flat.

  • Communicate Effectively – Effective communication is not merely good presentation skills or the ability to close a deal. You must really engage and focus on the other person. It’s important to remember clicking a button to send an email blast might be a helpful way to reach many people quickly, but it does not replace authentic communication.
  • Demonstrate Empathy – Empathy is essentially putting yourself in someone else’s shoes; you must understand your prospect’s situation and point of view. Salespeople who show compassionate empathy want to do the best thing for their client, and clients realize this is genuine and respond to it.
  • Establish a Connection – To establish a connection, you must first establish trust and credibility. Once you have this, you can better understand your prospect’s situation and develop a rapport with them, enabling them to be more open with you.

These skills are the heart of what you learn with the ValueSelling Framework®, which is all about deliberative, inquisitive inquiry. And, the flip side of having really good questioning and engagement skills also is developing active listening skills. Active listening lets you uncover your prospect’s needs more quickly because you’ll ensure that you are truly hearing what they have to say.

When you listen actively, you ask confirming questions as a summary of what you’ve heard to confirm mutual understanding. You must give the speaker your full attention to ask these confirming questions, because our brains can’t handle multiple complex tasks at the same time. Although it may seem easy, it’s not. Ask for feedback and coaching to hone your active listening skills. Your coach can help evaluate what you say, how you say it, and reflect on your choice of words. When people feel “heard,” they are more inclined to continue a dialogue with you and are more apt to trust your recommendations.

Of course, the human-to-human connection works in conjunction with technology, which is extremely beneficial to support the sales process. No matter which technologies you use it’s critical to monitor and measure the ROI of your technology investment. Instead of relying on a slew of new tools, software, or platforms that your team may or may not adopt, focus on small behavior changes that, when consistently employed, will drive sales efficiency and effectiveness.

Transforming behaviors is key to sales success. Over the course of my career, I’ve found that clients are often unable to self-diagnose. Your prospects and clients know they have a problem, but often they are too close to it and they don’t see the potential solutions. In order to provide them with insight, you need to really understand their current situation, gain new perspectives, and facilitate a dialogue. That’s where the skills of communication, empathy, and connecting come into play.