Sales today is about helping people solve problems like a doctor or a consultant -- not slamming deals like a used car salesman.Social media didn’t exist decades ago, but today, 75% of all B2B buyers (including 84% of C-level and VP-level executives) use social media to research their buying decisions. If you’re consistently too aggressive while closing deals, you’re setting yourself up for bad press and damage to your reputation that can last a long time.
To excel at modern sales, reps have to juggle a multitude of activities -- learning their product, listening actively, handling multiple stakeholders, and mitigating curveballs -- all while remaining professional, helpful, accommodating, and staying in control of the process. Setting the right expectations and helping people are important parts of selling today and will likely grow in importance over the next 20 years.
But wait -- isn’t sales harder this way?
Maybe, but we have no choice. The rules have changed and you have to change with them. The days of taking prospects golfing to close deals are over.
At the same time, you still have to hit your quota. So what happens if your prospects take their sweet time to make a decision or are spending a lot of time in education or exploration mode?
The key is to manage your deals and sales process in a way that helps prospects move along at a steady clip without being a jerk. The seven strategies below help me exceed my number month after month while still being a helpful, consultative sales professional.
1) Manage a broader pipeline with more deals.
Some of your deals will roll to next month, or next year, or not close at all. Accept that as part of the reality of being a salesperson. In an age where strongarming prospects into signing a deal this month is no longer a viable sales strategy, you have to manage a broader, longer-term pipeline so you have enough volume to hit your number.
Part of managing this pipeline is understanding how to manage your prospects. If your prospects need to delay their start date for a short period of time, that’s fine -- but you can’t forecast based on hopes and dreams. Always be as specific as possible when a deal rolls to next month by establishing a specific date and time to follow up. There’s a huge difference between “We’ll start next month” and “We’ll execute the payment link on Thursday, December 17.”
2) Only spend time with prospects who have real business pain.
Good prospects have real business pain. Your job is to help them formulate a good problem definition. Both are necessary for a purchase, and so my priority is finding and defining business pain.
I’m not above saying, “That doesn’t sound like real business pain to me,” to a prospect. After all, it’s more productive for me to offer to stay in touch and periodically send resources to a prospect in education mode if it doesn’t sound like they have thought through what they need. It’s wasteful to spend calories bringing them through the entire sales process, only to have the whole thing go belly-up because their need isn’t acute enough to buy.
But just because your prospect doesn’t fully grasp the pain doesn’t mean there isn’t any. A top salesperson can dig deeper to see if a mere nuisance right now is caused by an underlying problem that will mushroom into something problematic down the road. You are doing your prospect a huge solid if you can help them anticipate future problems.
3) Identify your prospect’s stage in the buyer’s journey.
The modern buyer’s journey has three stages (awareness, consideration, and decision), and buyers have three corresponding modes: education mode, evaluation mode, and purchasing mode. If you treat all your prospects like they’re in purchasing mode and try to aggressively close them, you’ll lose deals and waste time.
Instead, learn to diagnose what stage your prospect is in. For example, if they tell you they need to achieve a certain goal by March 2016 and are speaking with reps at three different companies, they’re clearly in the buying stage. But if they’re still researching what could have caused below-average performance in their last fiscal year, it may be too early to present them with product options.
If the prospect isn’t ready to buy, let Marketing work them instead of Sales. Send them information and then drip them free resources through predefined workflows and have them reach out to you with questions. As they educate themselves on their problem, reach out every few weeks or months to stay connected and check on their progress.
4) Create a buying plan with the prospect’s needs in mind.
In my experience, prospects tend to forget that their journey doesn’t end the day they make the purchase. In fact, the hard work has just begun. To help them understand this, a good technique is to start with their business goals and work backwards to the date they’ll need to implement by to see their ideal results.
The most valuable way to approach this exercise is to have your prospects talk through the timeline themselves and supplement their plan with your knowledge. Having them draw conclusions on their own is far more powerful than telling them what you think, even if you’re right.
Remember to always focus on the implementation, not the purchase, and back up the plan with as much data as possible to create a sense of urgency.
5) Expect curveballs.
Some of your deals will inevitably get delayed or fall through altogether, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Don’t get emotional -- understand that at least 10% of people will be irrational or that life will get in the way. I’ve had deals delayed due to car accidents, last-minute vacations, and illness. Eventually, you’ll experience all these things too.
The key is to not get emotional. Many prospects are afraid to call you back when curveballs rear their heads because they don’t want to have a difficult conversation or be strongarmed into doing something they can’t or don’t want to do right now. So always react calmly, and mutually come to next steps with your prospect so they don’t feel attacked.
6) Be comfortable “firing the prospect.”
Know when to say “when.” I’m happy to offer help to any prospect, but it’s illogical to spend a lot of time on a deal that doesn’t exist or is going to be too hard. I’ve had prospects who have asked me for help over five distinct sales pursuits over several years and just can’t pull the trigger. After a certain point, I have to realize that prospects who aren’t ready to buy after multiple sales processes aren’t ever going to be ready, or I’m not the right person for them to work with.
You have to know your own limits for what makes sense -- for me, it’s two sales processes that go nowhere. Whenever this happens, closely review the process to determine what you could have done differently. This way, you’ll learn to spot the signs of a prospect who will forever drag their feet and won't repeat your own mistakes.
7) Ask happy customers for referrals.
Remember when I said earlier that bad actions can destroy your reputation? Your professionalism and excellent sales execution can do exactly the opposite. By leveraging your existing network of customers, you can make future sales easier.
Whether it’s asking your customers to write you LinkedIn recommendations, having them serve as references for prospects, or blogging about your product, your customer base can help you do your job. After all, there’s nothing more valuable to moving a sale along than having someone who’s gone through the exact same process explain how easy it was.
Ultimately, sales is like dating. Ideally, you’ll find a prospect whom you’re a mutual good fit with, and you can close the deal. But if you find a prospect who isn’t ready for you yet, you have a choice. You can force the relationship and have a hard breakup where you’re left with the person you care about bad-mouthing you. Or, you can let the deal go and accept that it’s just timing or other external factors that are off.
Sales is human, but buyer behavior isn’t personal. All too often it can feel that way, but the best sales professionals remember to keep their heads cool so they can be as productive as possible.
Originally published May 5, 2017 7:30:00 AM, updated July 28 2017