4 Ways to Jump-Start Renewal Sales

Over the past two years, the sales profession has seen more than a few headlines that turn heads:

“43% of B2B customers prefer a rep-free experience.” (Gartner)

“86% of reps said they’ve either lost or had a deal delayed because a champion changed roles.” (LinkedIn)

“Often, B2B buyers don’t buy the best solution but rather choose the lowest-risk solution.” (Forrester)

“While Gen Xers generally have larger budgets than millennials, the “heads down” generation now dominates B2B purchase decisions.” (Outreach via Selling Power)

What am I trying to illustrate with these diverse data points?

One simple and powerful fact.

Things change.  

That’s the number one thing to remember about renewal sales — and yet, it’s a lesson that’s easily forgotten. Salespeople tend to trust in the fallacy that just because a customer is actively using the solution, value is being realized.

Nothing could be farther from the truth.

To successfully renew business — especially in an unpredictable economy — sales professionals must treat existing customers with the same attention and dedication they show to new prospects.

After all, each renewal cycle is an opportunity to identify new ways to deliver value and provide an exceptional experience to your customers.

Let’s dive into four strategies you can use to jump-start renewal sales.

Step 1: Demonstrate Your Commitment

What have you done recently to demonstrate that you are truly invested in your customers’ success?

We all know that it’s key to maintaining the relationship post-sale, and it’s easy to lose sight of. By nature, salespeople are hunters. We’re always going to be drawn to the challenge of the next big deal.

In the same way that you built out strategic cadences to connect with the customer in the first place, use the same tactic to create regular touchpoints.

Now, the timeline and approach will be vastly different, but the underlying principles are the same. Use these periodic check-ins as opportunities to add value in small ways and stay up to date on emerging business issues.

That way, when a new business challenge rears its head, you’ll be among the first they come to.

Step 2: Identify the Reasons Customers Leave

Every situation and customer is unique — but the reasons customers leave tend to be eerily similar.  

Maybe they didn’t receive the expected value from your product or service. Or perhaps, the handoff between sales and customer success didn’t go as planned, or a power shift occurred within the organization.

Lean into your tech stack to monitor potential red flags like the above, and don’t be afraid to reach out when you see something.

Step 3: Lean into Your Data

Your customers might be actively using your solution, but how are they using it?

Do they gravitate toward a certain product or feature set? Is there an underutilized part of your product or service that has the potential to generate an impact that’s more closely aligned with their current business issues?

You get the idea. Time to put on your analyst hat and dive into the data that’s available to you.

Look for patterns in the usage data, pay attention to what marketing collateral they’re engaging with, and research recent changes in their marketplace, so that you come to the table with an understanding of the new challenges that are likely top-of-mind for your customers. 

Step 4: Uncover New Problems

Let’s say your product/solution was designed to solve a common problem for your ideal customer, and it’s done its job.

That’s great! Only, what happens now?

Renewal sales are all about giving customers a reason to stay. Go back to the beginning and approach the opportunity with the same rigor you used to win it initially.

That means having the business conversations that uncover problems worth solving, and never losing sight of three vital questions:

  • Are you differentiated?

Does the prospect believe that your product/solution will continue to significantly impact their unique business challenge?

  • What’s in it for them?

Amid continued uncertainty, clients crave trusted advisors and tend to make rational decisions for emotional reasons. If they continue their agreement, what personal value does this bring?

  • Do they believe in the ROI?

You once provided them a compelling case to change. You’ll now need an equally compelling reason for them to stay.

Review those initial conversations, their latest usage data, and your more recent talks. What’s changed? Was something missed? You’ll need to ensure your new plan to deliver value is impactful and qualified on the customer level.

Ultimately, it’s vital to uncover opportunities for future value realization. Past value will simply not motivate future behavior. To see those renewal rates rise, you must requalify each customer and stop making assumptions that they will automatically renew.

Until next time, happy selling,

Julie

4 Ways to Advance Sales Opportunities During the Summer (or Winter) Lull

Summer means sailing adventures off the coast of Crete and golfing holidays in southern Portugal — and executives anxiously checking emails and monitoring economic developments.

Don’t get me wrong, there are many reasons to be hopeful — especially for those of us who sell on value. As executives are reigning in discretionary spending, they’re also seeking trusted business advisors to help them bring about meaningful change.

Bottom line: Businesses will always have problems worth solving. It’s only a matter of uncovering those problems — and there are four steps you can take to identify those opportunities and move them forward.

Step 1: Research

Now’s the time to find your inner analyst.

Even during the best of economic times, the average user deletes 48% of all emails they receive (EmailAnalytics).

As an executive who’s a target for many sales professionals, my number is closer to 80% — and those are the messages that make it past my spam filter.

Unless you show up with insight into challenges already on an executive’s radar, it’s a one-way ticket to the trash bin. Now’s the time to dive into industry trends, the prospect’s company, their competition, and the latest from research and consulting firms.

Step 2: Prospecting, Prospecting, Prospecting

Last Friday, I was fortunate enough to catch the women’s 400-meter hurdle finals at the World Athletics Championships. If you follow track and field, you’ll know that it was one of the most anticipated races of the whole event for one reason: Sydney McLaughlin — she did not disappoint. She delivered an epic record-breaking performance to take home gold.

To put her win in perspective, the silver medalist, Femke Bol, ran a 52.27, which would have been a world record in 2018 — and she finished 20 meters behind Sydney.

How did Sydney McLaughlin accomplish the unthinkable?

Drive, which fuels discipline, which creates habit — and it’s a powerful lesson for sales professionals.

Prospecting results inevitably tapper off during vacation season — but that doesn’t mean your prospecting habits should change. Commit to 10 hours/week until it is second nature. And always focus on:

  • Respectful Persistence: Don’t give up too quickly: 54% of initial meetings require more than five touchpoints, and 10% need ten or more. Use multiple communication channels and never go more than five business days between touches to stay on a prospect’s radar.
  • Research: A sales pitch winds up in spam. A value-added interruption with intriguing third-party insights gets opened.
  • Strategic Cadences: As you type out that first email, you already know vital information about the prospect and their likely business issues. What you don’t know is their preferred communication channel — that’s where strategically-choreographed and multi-channel cadences come in. Use a mix of social media actions, phone calls, InMail, and emails — and remember to focus on thought-leadership and value-added content for the first few touch points. 

As I mentioned earlier, prospects may be on vacation, but they’re likely still plugged-in — especially executive-level buyers. And it’s those individuals who crave consultative sellers who know how to solve business challenges.

Step 3: Mutual Plans that Keep You and the Buyer on the Same Page

Nothing keeps deals on track to close like a written agreement summarizing the steps to value realization.

Mutual plans begin with a two-way understanding of a company’s business issues and the steps needed to resolve them. From there, reverse engineer a timeline that keeps the opportunity on track and demonstrates your commitment to buyer success. 

The most successful mutual plans always use the prospect’s language and incorporate:

  • A summary of the company’s current challenges
  • How your company’s solution positively impacts business goals
  • The steps you’ll take to deliver measurable value to the organization and the individual
  • A summary of the buyer’s purchasing criteria and procurement process
  • An agreed-upon timeline of the actions both parties will take to realize the promised value

Step 4: Revive Stalled Opportunities

When times get tough, inaction sets in.

While potential buyers may view this as a prudent approach, if a problem is truly worth solving, indecision only compounds the pain.

When this happens, use carefully phrased anxiety questions to create urgency.

Perhaps you sell a sales tech solution that reduces administrative tasks for sales teams, and you’re talking with a CSO tasked with driving 15% YOY growth. Unfortunately, they’ve chosen to table the conversation until next quarter.

Since you’re up-to-date on the latest from research and consulting firms, you’d likely know that Gartner found that “mean quota attainment for sellers reporting low levels of Drag is 1.7 times higher than for sellers reporting high levels of Drag” and that “70% of high-drag sellers report actively looking for a new job.”

At that point, you might say, “I understand, but, as you know, 70% of sellers who feel overburdened with administrative tasks are actively looking for new jobs. How will you hit your 2023 revenue goals if three-quarters of your sales force walks out the door?”

You must find a way to inject urgency into the conversation and make the prospect sit back and ask themselves, “Did I miss something?”

Remember: Questions like this require a solid foundation of trust, credibility and rapport to pull off. Otherwise, you risk damaging business relationships and losing the deal altogether.

Ultimately, the best way to move forward is to focus on the factors within your control: filling the pipeline, finding problems worth solving and setting the value of the products/services you sell on unshakable grounds.

Until next time, happy selling,

Julie

How Salespeople Can Ask the Right Questions During Discovery

I attended the Sales 3.0 Conference in Philly last week, where many of the talks had a shocking theme running through them: Discovery is dead.

The premise was that buyers hate it. They view sales discovery calls as an annoyance — a roadblock to the demos and nuanced answers they crave from vendors. 

That’s surprising because that’s never been my experience. 

I’ve always found that asking thought-provoking, deliberate and intentional questions is not annoying — it’s engaging. And it’s the critical component that allows sales professionals to make the leap from seller to valued business advisor.

How can we reconcile these two viewpoints? 

It all comes down to what you mean by discovery. In my mind, there are two keys to effective sales discovery calls. 

Step 1: It’s not about you. It’s about your buyer

Salespeople often make the mistake of viewing discovery as a one-time event that’s used to begin qualifying an opportunity. 

As a result, it takes on a transactional light: Give me this info, then I’ll give you what you really want. 

Sellers start the call and attempt to run through their list of questions. Typically, these are situational questions that are stacked at the beginning.

This ends with the potential buyer feeling like they’re being interrogated and putting their guard up, which only makes sense. 

After all, have you given them a reason to answer? Have you added value in your past interactions? Are you prepared to share insights from your research and lessons learned from other customers?

Research shows that impactful business relationships are built on a foundation of trust, credibility and rapport. 

While trust is built incrementally over time, there are two powerful actions you can take to hit the ground running:

  • Put the pro back in sales professional: Building your personal brand on LinkedIn is vital to presenting as the talented and dedicated sales professional you are. 
  • Put in the time to do quality research: People trust those who understand their point of view. Go beyond pain points to understand the priorities of the prospect’s company and form a narrative of the unique challenges that are most likely already on their radar. 

On the other hand, credibility is something you can establish immediately: 

  • Tell a good story: One of the most influential and succinct ways to present as a trusted business advisor is by telling a value-based story. It’s a 30-second opener that explains how you and your company have helped individuals like the prospect in the past.
  • Think like an executive: If you come in with a transactional mindset, you put yourself at an incredible disadvantage. When you develop the business acumen to adequately understand how the business objectives, business issues, problems and value connect with your unique solution, you’re ready to sell to decision-makers.=

When you look at rapport building, there’s nothing more powerful than asking the right questions, which leads us here. 

Step 2: Ask the right sales questions.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking there’s a magic number of questions or the perfect sales-call script out there. 

If you do, you’ll fall into the trap of overanalyzing and miss the X-factor that will make your discovery calls valuable for you and your buyer: You need to ask questions that get the prospect talking.

After analyzing nearly one million sales calls, Chorus.ai found that “high-performing reps ask fewer questions per minute than lower-performing reps, but are able to get the prospect to open up more.”

Our research confirms this. When we asked sales leaders what separates their top performers from the rest of the pack, the second most important quality was the ability to ask relevant, targeted questions throughout sales conversations and actively listen to the answers. 

Start with open-ended questions that showcase your familiarity with the prospect’s situation and your interest in helping them. 

For instance, if your research revealed that the company recently brought new executives on, you might say: 

  • “I saw that ___  brought on a new CEO & CFO. With those leadership changes in place, how does that impact your priorities for the business objectives and key initiatives that the company is focused on right now?” 

Once you’ve learned about the changes in focus and how those impact the individual you’re speaking to, shift the conversation to better understand their perspective on possible solutions. 

  • “When you think about implementing a  ___,  what are you hoping will change as a result? 

Throughout the journey, you’ll want to ensure you’re using the prospect’s language to build rapport and ensure they feel heard. You might say something like:

  • You mentioned that ___ could be a potential roadblock in your first few months of ___. What are some of the other challenges you see from a ___ perspective that could get in the way?” 

These are merely examples, but you get the idea: The more the prospect talks, the more you win. 

Of course, not every question can be open-ended. The magic behind the O-P-C questioning technique is the ability to get them talking, go deeper when you need more information and confirm what you’ve heard to improve your understanding and showcase your commitment to uncovering their most critical business issues — and helping to solve them.  

Ultimately, effective sales discovery calls will always expand perspectives and add value. Remember that discovery is a process and must be mutual — the salesperson needs to understand the prospect, and the prospect also needs vital information from the seller.

When you switch your mindset from checking a box to having consultative business conversations, you better serve your potential buyers — and improve your chances of uncovering challenges that your product or service is uniquely qualified to solve. In doing so, you’ll forge trusted business relationships and uncover the value that motivates individuals to act with urgency. 

Until next time, happy selling,

Julie

How to Continually Qualify Prospects Throughout the Pipeline

Accurate and reliable forecasting will transform a sales organization.

When it comes to a process as vital as this, you would assume there’s no room for guesswork — but the reality plays out differently:

In a recent Forrester study, 60% of respondents said they did not have a well-defined or scientific approach to sales forecasting — and it’s not for lack of effort. When asked how much time they spend on forecasting weekly, 25% of all respondents said 100 hours or more. (Outreach)

Yikes! At that point, you’re dedicating a tremendous amount of resources to an educated guess.

Now, that’s not to say the obstacles standing in your way are easily overcome. After all, most sales teams treat qualification as a discrete event, not realizing that it’s a process — one that’s not always linear.

They also typically lack a common language for describing opportunities. As a result, information degrades at every step, and salespeople fall back on their instincts when predicting outcomes. This adds another layer of abstraction and eats up more of sales managers’ valuable time.

What’s the fix? You must embrace a framework for ongoing qualification: A multi-dimensional set of criteria that sellers repeatedly use to mitigate the risk of working unqualified opportunities and improve forecast accuracy.

It all begins with these four questions.

Should they buy?

Problem: There is a significant trust gap between B2B buyers and sellers. To the point that buyers bypass the best solution in favor of the one that offers the lowest risk. (Forrester)

Solution: Clearly, products and features are not the answer. B2B buyers don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

Sales professionals must begin by establishing a solid foundation of credibility, trust and rapport with potential buyers. From there, honestly evaluate whether your solution is a good fit.

Is there enough value to prompt action?

Problem: Salespeople will always be tempted to go after the pain — and organizations will always have pain points that they have absolutely no interest in solving.

Solution: Set the ROI of your product/solution on firm footing and ensure that there is enough value — for the company and the individual — to create urgency and motivate change. Because no matter what you’re selling, you’re selling change. Use that to your advantage.

Can they buy?

Problem: Sales reps work hard to forge impactful relationships. As a result, they’re tempted to cling to their champion inside a client organization. However, if you are not talking to the final decision-maker, the deal is ultimately at risk.

Solution: Use the O-P-C questioning technique to ensure you thoroughly understand the prospect’s buying process and have identified everyone who can influence the deal and those who will have the final say.

Is there a plan in place?

Problem: As we get ready for summer in the northern hemisphere, the potential to be blindsided by OoO responses only increases.

Solution: Salespeople should work with prospects to build a two-way understanding of a company’s crucial business issues and the activities required to solve them. This mutual plan is a powerful tool for building buyer confidence — and ensuring that deals don’t unexpectedly stall.

Ultimately, when you treat qualification as an ongoing event, you set sellers up for success — reducing frustrations and no-decisions while maximizing time spent on winnable opportunities. The results are an increase in win rate, the quality of your data and your forecast accuracy.

Until next time, happy selling,

Julie

How to Create a Multi-Channel Prospecting Cadence that Works

You’re scrolling through your LinkedIn feed when you receive a request to connect from an account executive. They recently saw you speak at a sales conference, and your talk resonated with them — seems harmless enough.

Of course, you know that there’s a 90% chance this interaction ends in a hard pitch within the next 48 hours — but there’s a part of you hoping to be wrong.

After all, their first message to you was relevant, engaging and had fantastic timing. You can’t help but think: Maybe this will be a different story.

Two days go by with no additional messages.

You see that they liked your most recent LinkedIn post, prompting you to look into their company. Their conversational intelligence tool could be a good fit for some of the sales coaching challenges you’ve been dealing with.

After 72 hours, the dreaded follow-up InMail arrives, and it’s not what you expected.

It speaks to challenges on your radar and is personalized to your role and industry — suffice it to say you’re intrigued, so you click the auto-response “Thanks” and plan to follow up later.

Immediately, you’re hit with a message asking for a meeting. Ten minutes after that, you receive a Zoom link even though you never accepted.

Admittedly, this is a nightmare scenario of when automation goes haywire — but it’s only so far-fetched.

Think of when salespeople send 12 emails within two weeks or call repeatedly armed with only a prospect’s name and title. Where does it get them? Blocked or sent straight to spam.

To generate results that fill the pipeline with winnable opportunities, sales professionals must build strategically-choreographed and multi-channel cadences to dramatically increase the odds of connecting.

Step 1: Carefully Crafted Messaging

The best cadence in the world won’t get you anywhere — unless you start with succinct messaging that proves you’ve done your homework on the potential buyer, their company and their industry.

In virtual selling, you have to maximize every communication. That means going beyond titles and pain points to understand business drivers.

For instance, do you know the CEO’s top three initiatives for Q2? The company’s latest product news, or if they recently implemented new technology?

The key is to develop the knowledge that allows you to present yourself as a problem expert that’s showing up to solve business challenges.

One way to demonstrate expertise is to share third-party content that’s relevant to your prospect’s challenges and establishes you as a subject matter expert. Another effective tool is the value-based story.

These two methods can be used together to demonstrate relevance and build credibility — because, ultimately, buyers spend their time wisely before spending their money wisely.

Step 2: Tailoring Cadences to Target Buyers

There’s been a lot of talk recently about multithreaded engagements and with good reason. When you’re selling complex solutions to complex buying groups, it only makes sense to engage the different members of a buying committee how, when and where they prefer.

The same goes for prospecting.

Only, there’s a catch: When prospecting, you don’t know your buyer’s preferred communication method, which is why a strategically-choreographed and multi-channel approach is so vital.

Build your cadences using a mix of phone calls, social media actions, InMail messages, email and voicemails — and throughout it all, never forget to add value. In fact, the first few touches should be focused on thought-leadership and sharing valuable content.

When building these cadences out, fall back on your research. For instance, recent research by LinkedIn shows that potential buyers are 65% more likely to accept InMail if they switched jobs within the past 90 days. With these prospects, it’s a safe bet to start with InMail. On the other hand, if your primary prospects are manufacturing leaders, your best bet might be a phone call.

Respectful and personalized persistence is critical. To stay top-of-mind, never go more than five business days between touches — and remember that a typical cadence involves 15 to 17 attempts across 20 to 24 days.

Step 3: Guarding Your Time

Take a page from the playbook of every successful executive and guard your time fiercely.

Schedule non-negotiable blocks of time on your calendar for prospecting and prospecting alone. No coffee breaks or scrolling Instagram. Focus on one task, and you’ll be rewarded. Not only will you achieve the consistency that generates results, but the dedicated and focused effort will help you improve.

Of course, things will come up. The trick is to never let an interruption shorten that prospecting time — move that block to later in the day or the week on your calendar and aim for 10 hours/week.

It sounds simple, but it works. We’ve seen clients create about $6.5M (USD) in pipeline in their first three days of call blocks. Capitalizing on this initial momentum, that same company went on to have the best Q4 in the company’s 24-year history and see a 131% increase in YOY revenue.

Ultimately, there’s no cure-all for your prospecting problems, but when you put in the work with quality research, buyer-centric cadences and consistency, the results speak for themselves.

Until next time, happy selling,

Julie

Three Ways to Create Human-to-Human Connection in a Virtual Selling Environment

Think back to the last time you shared a meal with a good friend.

You likely recall the restaurant and the food, the little sensory details like the man smoking the cigar across the street or the squawking birds in the background.

Now, think back to the first meal you shared with this person. Suddenly, it becomes much harder to remember the little details that paint a vivid scene — but I’m willing to bet there’s one thing you do remember: the conversation.

I’m also willing to bet that you talked about more than the weather. You likely talked about ideas, a problem, possible solutions and the motivations driving you to solve that problem.

Those are the types of conversations that build authentic human-to-human connections. And if you want to win more business, you’ll need to find a way to reliably connect on a human level — especially when there’s a screen standing between you.

Let’s look at three strategies you can use to build better connections, have more meaningful business conversations and start marking more deals closed-won.

Step 1: Strategic Questioning & Active Listening

Thoughtful inquiry and active listening are two factors that continue to separate high-performers from the rest of the sales team. And there’s a persistent misconception here: many believe you cannot teach these skills.

I’m here to tell you that they can be taught — but it requires a strategic approach that breaks the desired behaviors into their component parts. Let’s start with questioning:

Here at ValueSelling, we teach the O-P-C Questioning technique. The concept behind it is simple:

  • Open-ended questions get people talking.
  • Probing questions lead the prospective buyer on a journey of self-discovery to explore the business issue from all angles.
  • Confirming questions summarize and validate shared information.

The true magic of this formula is learning to switch between question types seamlessly until you have identified a business driver that your solution will impact in a meaningful and measurable way.

That takes practice and experience — and there’s certainly no shame in stacking the deck in your favor.

Lean into your research to prepare 6-10 open-ended and probing questions that will help you identify problems already on the prospect’s radar, how those issues impact the business, and solutions that your product is uniquely qualified to provide.

Now, don’t rattle these off like a nervous understudy in the school play.

You might even only ask a few in their prepared form. The idea is to help you envision the possible avenues the conversation could take ahead of time — freeing you up to place all of your attention on the other human.

However, just because your attention is where it should be, doesn’t mean you’ll suddenly master active listening. Here too, you have to put in the work — and your recorded sales calls are a gold mine of real-world examples.

Try listening to a call from Q4, then immediately write a summary of the key points, using the prospect’s words. Note what you got right and where you missed the mark; then do it again. Soon patterns will start to emerge, and you’ll be able to identify areas for growth.

Step 2: Accurate Follow-through

Picture this: You’ve had a brilliant first sales call where you told a value-based story that convincingly illustrated how you and your company have helped similar prospects in the past.

All that’s left to do is summarize your conversation in a follow-up note and provide the requested materials: a case study and a pamphlet that includes information on how your solution integrates with the prospective buyer’s CRM.

It’s an easy task, and it better be — after all, you only have 15 minutes to put this email together before your next meeting. Only, when you send over the case study, you send one on the client in healthcare, not the one in pharmaceuticals.

The prospect opens the email and immediately wonders: “Do they know my business at all?”

It might seem like a slight misstep, but trust is built in tiny increments. Every time you accurately deliver on what was promised, trust goes up. Every time you miss the mark, trust falls and must be rebuilt.

There’s no magical trust grade you have to meet, but trust is the foundation on which complex B2B purchases are built.

Step 3: Carefully Crafted Mutual Plan

When does the sales cycle end?

If you’ve adopted a buyer-first approach, you’ll know that a mutual plan is the beginning, a tentative step toward the ultimate goal: value realization.

Keep in mind that a well-designed mutual plan is much more than a to-do list.

It’s a written agreement outlining a two-way understanding of a company’s critical business issues and the activities needed to resolve them — and it’s a powerful tool for building confidence in buying decisions.

The key term here is mutual. To be successful, ensure your plan uses the prospect’s language and covers:

  • A summary of the business issue
  • How that business issue impacts business goals
  • How your company will deliver measurable value to the organization and the individual
  • A clear understanding of the prospect’s purchasing criteria and procurement process
  • An agreed-upon timeline of the benchmarks and actions both parties will take to realize value

Remember: As the name implies, these mutual plans are done jointly with a prospect to eliminate confusion and build buyer confidence — that crucial element that only human-to-human connection can provide.

Until next time, happy selling,

Julie

Three Ways to Show Up as Your Authentic Self

How do I be me virtually?

Sure, if you’re a remote worker who has one weekly stand-up on Zoom, you may be tempted to laugh that question off. For sales professionals, it’s another story.

Despite your diligent prep work, your 4K webcam and fancy studio lights, the second you click “Join meeting” the tension sets in.

In some, it’s nearly imperceptible. In others, it’s immediately evident — their posture changes, their expressions become stiff and the greetings feel rehearsed, often accompanied by a nervous laugh or two.

You’re probably thinking: We’re two years into this shift. We expect awkward moments and tech hiccups. Does a slightly rehearsed Zoom presence really matter?

When buyers spend only 17% of their time with you and nearly half (43%) prefer a rep-free experience, Yes, it matters. (via Gartner)

It matters because for large-scale B2B purchases people don’t buy products or services. They buy the confidence that the salesperson instills in them. That little voice that says, This is a smart decision because I’m confident it will bring value to me and the business.

In the end, nothing can replace the true differentiator: you, the salesperson — so, let’s discuss the steps you can take to be you.

Step 1: Break Up with Your Virtual Background

We think we must get it perfect every time.

It’s only natural that our desire to come across as professional and credible pushes us in the direction of blurred or virtual backgrounds — and this has unintended consequences.

The largest factor is curiosity. Humans are naturally wired to wonder: What do they not want me to see? Now, this might only express itself on a subconscious level, but it’s enough to add an element of distraction to an already distraction-prone environment.

The solution isn’t a dedicated Zoom studio or a pristine office. Not everyone has those kinds of resources, but everyone can create a space where they connect with others. Clean out a closet, put up a room divider in your studio apartment, or move your overcrowded bookshelf into frame.

The idea is to show that you’re a human with a personality who is making an effort — embrace authenticity in virtual selling; it’s here to stay.

For more on authenticity, check out this article in Forbes.

Step 2: Create Space for Informal Conversation

With in-person meetings, you would arrive early to catch a key contact on the walk to the presentation room or stay after to walk with the decision-maker to their next destination.

Only, it was unsaid. That’s a monumental difference between in-person and virtual sales. The unsaid must become explicitly stated, and there’s an awkwardness to overcome there.

Once you overcome that awkwardness and lean into over-communicating, the payout is tremendous. Creating space for authentic one-on-one conversations builds credibility, trust and rapport — and our latest research study revealed that it’s those strong human-to-human connections that lead to increased sales results.

Remember: Some of the most valuable conversations are the ones where you talk the least. To better connect with buyers, leverage these questions.

Step 3: Build Your Brand

Most CRMs can pull in news on the prospect’s company and their individual social feeds. Odds are you regularly review this data when prepping for sales calls. What if the prospect did the same for you? What would they find?

The dreaded “Nothing to see here for now” where your LinkedIn posts would appear? Or a string of disconnected likes and shares from your company’s account?

It’s no secret that prospective buyers search salespeople on LinkedIn when deciding whether a meeting is worth their time or not. The research supports this: LinkedIn showed that profile completeness is the most impactful social-selling factor for sales reps who want to hit their number. In fact, the architect of that study was recently a guest on our podcast.

Even for sellers with well-curated profiles, there’s still the danger of coming off as inauthentic. To truly differentiate yourself, share news and research that interests you, articles that allow you to share a personal take instead of merely a summary.

Yes, insights are essential to share too, and when that takes the form of opinion, you provide prospective buyers with a window into who you are — simultaneously building credibility and trust.

Until next time, happy selling,

Julie

The 3 Keys to Reach Your Prospects: Trust, Credibility and Rapport

What better way to kick off winter in the northern hemisphere than with something a little tropical?

Specifically, a tropical thought experiment.

Now, I know it’s not as exciting as the giveaway for an all-expenses-paid trip to some exotic locale that you were hoping for — but stick with me.

Here’s the scene: You’re lying on a pristine beachfront in a secluded cove, and there’s everything you’ll need for an extended stay: bottled water, all the BelVita Biscuits you’d ever want and luxurious life-raft tents.

That’s right — your plane has crash-landed on a deserted, tropical island.

Don’t worry; everyone’s fine. The only problem is the limited resources and the captain, who disappeared in the night.

Who do you put in charge?

The lawyer? Maybe the nurse or the college history professor. You might even think the folk singer has what it takes to lead you to safety — but how many would choose the salesperson?

I’m willing to bet the salesperson is not the first choice.

You’d be forgiven for thinking, “Wait, what does this have to do with reaching prospects again?”

Short answer: Everything — especially in a predominantly virtual world.

The Virtual Selling Behaviors that Matter

Historically, sales has not been viewed from the outside as a high-trust profession. We’re seen as slick talkers, not the credible and driven problem-solvers that we are.

While B2B purchases may not be a survival scenario, like our thought experiment, they can have profound consequences for the buyer — and no one puts their career’s health in the hands of someone they do not trust, like or believe is credible.

Our recent research supports this. We surveyed 464 sales training decision-makers to identify what matters most at each stage of the buyer journey. Here’s what we found:

Stage 1: Engaging with prospects

  • 61% of sales leaders rate “establishing credibility and trustworthiness” as the top skill.

Stage 2: Qualifying leads

  • 56% of respondents agreed that effective lead qualification is driven by “asking good questions/actively listening.”

Stage 3: Negotiating

  • 48% of respondents believe the most important behavior for negotiating is a seller’s ability to “maintain rapport with buyers.”

Stage 4: Closing Deals

  • 56% of respondents view “maintaining relationships with existing customers” as the essential sales behavior for closing deals.

Closing sales always comes down to human-to-human connection, and the most impactful connections are built on a foundation of trust, credibility and rapport, so how can sellers lay that foundation?

Building Trust, Credibility and Rapport

Trust

You’re introduced to a professional contact. Where do you go if you want to learn more about this person and if they’re a trustworthy individual?

A quick search on LinkedIn is often step one, which is why sellers must maintain a well-curated and authentic online brand. In fact, a study by LinkedIn showed that no social selling action had a greater impact on sales success than the completeness of a seller’s LinkedIn profile.

Credibility

I had a sales manager that used to say, “Show me that you know me.” And that’s advice that never goes out of style.

To sell to executives, salespeople have to prove that they know the prospect’s business and challenges that they’re likely facing. That begins with targeted research on the person’s role, the industry they’re operating in and the company itself.

One of the most influential and succinct ways to present this research is a value-based story. It’s a 30-second opener that explains how a seller and their company has helped individuals like the prospect in the past — and when done well, it’s a sure-fire way to pique interest and establish credibility from the very beginning.

Rapport

Yes, it’s helpful if you went to the same college as the prospect or both root for the same basketball team, but that only gets you so far.

You know what’s more impactful? Asking good questions that further a high-level business conversation — and actively listening to the prospect’s responses.

While conversational intelligence tools free sellers from detailed note-taking, it is essential to record the highlights from every conversation in your CRM. After all, every conversation is an opportunity to learn more and align your solution with this particular individual’s personal and professional motivations.

If you want to dive deeper into our latest research and learn actionable tips for developing trust, credibility and rapport, check out:

Until next time, happy selling,

Julie

The Top Five Sales Lessons of 2021

If the B2B sales cycle is a marathon, Q4 is the final half-mile.

It’s a time of triumph, defeat and resiliency — and when you’re in the middle of this race, it’s difficult to find time to reflect.

And we’re still there.

Even as you read this, you’re likely trying to secure a few key signatures or deliver your 2022 plan for quotas, compensation and territories before the holidays set in.

I’m certainly no exception, but it does feel like we’re coming to the finish line at last.

As we get ready for what I hope will be a restorative holiday season for everyone, I took the time to reflect and distill the rollercoaster that was B2B sales in 2021 into five key takeaways.

Sales Professionals Face a Perception Problem

Good pay, plenty of opportunities … and no takers. The crux of the issue is this:

When recent college grads think of sales, they do not see a confident and consultative professional there to solve intriguing problems and deliver impactful value.

They see everyone’s worst nightmare of a sleazy salesman. Of course, these perceptions aren’t accurate — especially in the era when most companies are laser-focused on embracing buyer-first philosophies — but they are persistent.

To put the professional back in sales pro, sellers must harness the power of authenticity. For my full take on the solution, check out this article in Forbes.

Top Performers Share Common Habits

Early on in the pandemic, it became clear that some sales teams had a serious leg up on the competition. What set them apart?

Well documented processes, consistency and the discipline to stick with it — and that discipline created something even more powerful: habit.

When we surveyed more than 150 B2B senior sales leaders, we found that the rainmakers shared seven habits:

  1. Communicate Value
  2. Ask Questions and Actively Listen
  3. Practice Empathy
  4. Use a Sales Methodology
  5. Build a High-caliber Pipeline
  6. Stay Open to Coaching and Development
  7. Deal with Adversity

For a deeper understanding of these key traits and a guide to instilling them across your sales force, check out our ebook: 7 Actionable Habits of Top Performers.

Salespeople Need More Opportunities for Growth

Sales turnover has exploded in Q4 — it’s up 39% in the last three months (via LinkedIn), and CSOs are reporting a 36% higher than target seller attrition rate (via Gartner). Yikes!

Many factors are at play here, but the common denominators are employee experience and development. Top performers and early-career sellers are consistently seeking out opportunities to grow their careers.

When you invest in high-quality sales training and coaching, you demonstrate your commitment to helping these individuals succeed. In 2020, high-revenue growth companies that invested in sales training saw employee satisfaction, motivation and retention increase.

Sales Training Helps Companies Navigate Crisis

It’s no secret that 2020 rocked many sales orgs to their very core. Some businesses were forced to close, others survived but reported their worst year in the last five — yet, others flourished.

Did sales training play a role, and if so, what exactly were the results?

We surveyed 256 sales leaders and L&D decision-makers, and the results showed that sales training played a pivotal role in the areas of:

  • Employee Satisfaction: When you help sellers reach that next level of success, job satisfaction follows.
  • Employee Motivation: High-quality sales training creates an environment where sales professionals challenge and motivate one another.
  • Employee Retention: B2B rep turnover is a costly affair — invest in your people, and they’ll stay. 
  • Sales Results: Not surprisingly, this was the number one benefit listed.
  • Company Culture: Give all customer-facing roles a shared language and framework to create a truly customer-focused culture. 
  • Agility of The Enterprise: Effective sales training helped reps adapt to new selling situations with confidence. 

Get the full story in our ebook: How High-growth Sales Organizations Respond to Crisis.

Measure What Matters

Every stage of the sales cycle is an opportunity for sales professionals to establish and build credibility, trust and rapport with customers — the skills that our recent research identified as critical to closing deals in a virtual environment.

And while many sales leaders agree, their measurement programs tell a different story. While 98% of respondents were doing some measurement, only 25% were directly tracking sales behaviors.

That’s one significant disconnect.

The reality is despite our best efforts to stay objective, coaching reports are influenced by supervisor-rep dynamics, and even the most accurate reports are based on limited data.

To ensure your sales measurement practices reveal the whole recipe for high numbers, check out my latest in LinkedIn.

While 2020 took us all by surprise, 2021 was everything but predictable. As you plan to re-energize your efforts for 2022, I recommend that you come up with your own list of the top five lessons you’ve learned this year.

Then, create an actionable plan for applying those lessons to your future success — and don’t forget a robust plan for measurement. At the end of the day, you cannot improve what you do not measure.

Wishing you happiness, health and prosperity in 2022, 

Julie