There’s no doubt that the internet, Web 2.0 and business social networks are having a dramatic impact on B2B buying behaviour. Buyers can discover a lot more for themselves, and often defer any engagement with sales people until later in their buying journey.
But the quality of your sales conversations still has a pivotal role to play in most high value, complex B2B sales environments. In a world of increasingly well-informed prospects, how can you ensure that these sales conversations still count? I’d like to offer five concrete recommendations.
1: Prepare the Ground
Do your research upfront. It’s wasteful and - more important - disrespectful to use the conversation to discover information you could have uncovered with a few minutes investment researching the company’s website, reviewing the prospect’s LinkedIn profile, or doing a few simple web searches.
Focus instead on trying to understand the implications of what you have learned, on discussing the importance of what you’ve learned to your prospect and their organisation, and on uncovering information you could not have gathered through any other means.
2: Anticipate Important Issues
Use your research to identify key trends that may be affecting their industry, and to uncover trigger events that indicate a change in your prospect’s circumstances - a new executive hire, a recent earnings announcement, a new product introduction... they can come in many forms.
Review your prospect’s website and press announcements to identify key corporate initiatives - what goals have they established? What priorities have they set? What announcements have they made about corporate strategy? Identify the issues that are most likely to be important to them.
3: Bring a Fresh Perspective
Don’t just tell them what they already know. Develop a fresh perspective. Bring a provocative point of view that could stimulate them to think differently. Share what your company has learned from working with other organisations that have faced similar circumstances.
You can achieve a great deal by planning and posing intelligent questions that cause them to stop and think before they reply to you. When your prospect takes the time to consider their response, it’s a good sign that you’ve asked them something they may not have considered before.
4: Make Them Want to Learn More
Executives hate being sold to. But they love learning something valuable. When I research the buying process for clients, I hear one thing consistently from their prospects: "as long as I'm learning something, I'm listening. But the moment the conversation morphs into a sales pitch, you've lost me..."
One of your key goals must therefore be to make them believe that if they continue to engage you in conversation, they will learn things which are to their advantage - and which are directly relevant to helping them achieve their objectives. You want them to want to advance to the next step in their buying process with you.
5: Start With the End in Mind
Of course, although most of the above is about making the conversation as valuable as possible to them, it needs to be valuable to you, as well. You need to go into the conversation with a crystal-clear sense of what you want to learn from them, and what you need to know to qualify them as a potential customer.
You need to have your next steps thought through and well prepared. If they qualify out, you need to find a way of disengaging with them in a positive and polite way. If they are not ready to engage in a buying cycle yet, but are otherwise well qualified as a future prospect, you need to nurture their interest.
And if they are well qualified and ready to move forwards, you need to anticipate what their buying journey is likely to look like, and to offer them compelling reasons to move forwards to the next step in their buying decision process with you.
Focusing on what’s valuable to the participants inevitably makes for more valuable conversations. I hope that these 5 recommendations can help your sales organisation to be better prepared. They reflect the winning behaviours that I’ve observed in today’s top-performing B2B sales organisations.
I’ve captured many of their best practices in a 20-point self assessment checklist. You can download it here. Please take a few moments to complete it. I think you’ll find at least one idea that will help you create an even stronger foundation for the future.