Improve Sales Proficiency By Being Relevant to Buyers

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Being Relevant to Buyers

Why relevant? What does relevant really mean? How would you know if you are being relevant with a buyer? How does this improve your proficiency and results?

Relevant — adjective; 1. bearing upon or connected with the matter at hand, pertinent

Pertinent — adjective; 1. pertaining or relating directly and significantly to the matter at hand.

Being relevant is important due to the shift of the locus of control in buying/selling situations. Traditionally, buyers were dependent on vendors through their sales representatives for information.

This “conversation” typically went:

“Here’s what we have (product, solution),
here’s what it does (features),
here’s how it will help you solve your problem (benefits).”

Today, buyers are conducting self-directed, online research, deep into their decision process. B2B buyers don’t need vendor/product information until later in this process. They don’t believe — often because they haven’t experienced — sales reps can provide any other useful information. This is why we hear, “I’m not ready to meet with you yet.”

Unless and until sellers show up with relevant and “significant” insights, delivered in the context of the “matter at hand” for each, individual buyer (redundant for a point), you won’t get in the game.

Audience for this post

Here’s an example. There will be people reading this post with different perspectives and interest levels. To make this more relevant, I offer two versions. Read this succinct version if you are moderately interested or time pressed.

If you are seriously interested, if you are accountable for sales support to improve proficiency and sales results, I offer this more comprehensive version.

If you are a sales leader focusing on these issues as a priority, or are in marketing, training, sales enablement, or a serious sales professional, the additional explanation and execution checklists in this comprehensive version will be “significantly pertinent” I believe.

I offer three focus areas to improve sales proficiency and results by being relevant to buyers:

  1. Professionalism
  2. Conversation as a Competency
  3. Sell With Content as a Practice 

 

Sales Professionalism

This is both an organizational and personal requirement. It’s not meant in a critical way, but in the context of continuous improvement, a hallmark of professionalism generally.

Sales organizations and professionals must up their game through the disciplined execution of a well-defined and documented selling system. I still see too many organizations that rely on the prowess of individual reps deciding their own sales practices in an ad hoc, uncoordinated and untested manner.

B2B buyers are buying in a team. Sellers must sell as a team. This means marketing and product marketing, as well as inside sales and sales engineers must operate in a well aligned system based upon “common language, common process.” (A fifteen year plus old mantra, still valid today.)

If you are coming from the succinct version of this post, start here.

Mindset

Professionalism starts with mindset. Have your team discuss what sales professionalism is. In addition to the rather obvious elements, I think it includes a “veridical mindset” — a realistic understanding of:

  • The environmental conditions in which you operate
  • Your personal strengths and weaknesses
  • Your sales deals — the fit with your ideal customer profile, your strategy and quality of execution
  • Your sponsor — the right person, your relationship, their power and knowledge to manage this decision process. 

For background and a deeper understanding of the importance of mindset, I highly recommend Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset, The New Psychology of Success.

The reality of “the empowered buyer” must be your mental starting point. How have you adapted what you do and how you do it to deal with that reality? I still see too many selling organizations, managers and reps, who haven’t really come to terms with the shift in the locus of control from seller to buyer.

This means you simply MUST understand your buyers at a deeper level than ever before. Most importantly, how they buy in terms of specific decisions they must make at each stage of their buying progression, the activities they conduct to make those decisions, the questions they must answer at each stage, and the information and sources they will use to answer those questions.

Fundamental Principle: If this isn’t documented, you don’t really know it, and you’re not operating in a highly professional manner.

Selling System

Set up and execute your selling activities based upon a comprehensive and holistic sales enablement system.

The center of your selling system is not your company and products, but the customer and their business problems that must be resolved. Your entire team must adopt a relentless focus on how customers and buyers think, act and decide.

To deal effectively with complexity requires disciplined execution to well defined processes with support structures. Professionals make sure these are in place, used and maintained.

Many sales organizations have developed Sales Playbooks. Too often this resource is locked inside PDF documents that are stored somewhere in a document management system, or printed and in binders on bookshelves.

Playbooks are typically used for new product introductions, new rep onboarding or an annual sales kickoff meeting exercises. Deploy a sales enablement platform to make these critical support tools available for daily use.

Use playbook resources for individual sales strategies, pre-call planning, post-call review, account strategies and reviews, etc. As an open, readily available document, they should be regularly edited to reflect outdated or new insights.

Simple test, do you have clear documented and routinely used:

  • Ideal customer profiles
  • Buyer personas
  • Problem-Cause understanding 
  • Buying decision process maps — stages, the “role” of individual roles at each stage, the questions each has, etc
  • Sales process aligned to buying process — activities, objectives and constraints at each stage
  • Competitive landscape analysis and strategy (including customer’s “do nothing” or “fix with internal resources”)
  • Conversation support elements
  • Content support deployed as a Content, Communication, Collaboration Ecosystem

 

Conversation as a Competency

My most influential sales manager used to say, “tell’n ain’t sell’n.”

I encourage you to eradicate three thoughts and words from your organizational lexicon:

  1. Pitch — shift to conversation
  2. Presentation — shift to visual support for a conversation
  3. Messaging — shift to messages (carefully selected words and phrases to use AND avoid.) 

Conversation is what buyers want, heck, it’s what everyone wants. If it sounds or feels like a pitch, it’s not a conversation. Similarly, “messaging” really means, “what I want to tell you”.

Listening is the new skill you want to improve or develop.

This is an essential skill, so become proficient in it. Sales leaders, test and coach your professionals on this skill. Of course this is a huge topic so I’ll recommend the book Just Listen by Mark Goulston.

Critical point: use conversation “scenario modeling.

This means design conversations for each critical touch point based on your analysis and documentation of your buyer’s decision process and questions they must answer at each stage of that process.

Create versions in the language of specific buyer roles and industry verticals you sell to, if it applies.

Prepare answers to buyer questions with supporting stories, facts and data or proof points.

What unique insights are you bringing to this critical touch point that will create value for your buyer and differentiate you from your competition?

This can’t be an impromptu or untested activity no matter how long you’ve been selling. Writing this down may sound tedious, but it is critical to getting this right. And then test out your answers and stories. Apply the “So What?” test to every element.

By way of example on several of these points, see this blog and listen to an actual recorded sales message, All Too Typical Sales Prospecting Phone Message.

Here’s a conversation checklist we use and clients find very useful.

Design “conversations for …”:

  • Relationship
  • Who we are, who I am — at least three levels of detail, versions for common scenarios
  • Attention, Interest
  • Why Meet
  • To Expand the People Map (internal referrals)
  • Why Change
  • POV/Vision
  • How to buy / To influence buyng criteria
  • Value/ROI Model
  • Why Now (urgency)
  • Why Us 

Finally, understand not all conversations are conducted live between individuals.

Consider three “categories” of conversations:

  1. Live – in person or over phone/web meeting
  2. Through other people
  3. Through content

More buying conversations are taking place without your presence, or that of your reps, than with them. This is happening in the marketplace person-to-person, through online social channels, and internal with the customer.

How do you provide support for third party conversations on your behalf and gain feedback on the results of those conversations?

This leads me to my third recommendation.

 

Sell With Content as a Practice

To sell with content is really a new competency for most sales professionals. To sell with content is different from using content in selling.

Content is the new currency in era of the online, digital buyer. Buyers expect it. Your competition is providing it.

It’s the way you buy attention, create interest, educate prospects before you’re even granted a meeting. It’s an important step in forming a relationship. It’s how you earn the right to a conversation, and how you build build your credibility.

Buyers want to be prepared to meet with you. Their time is precious and they don’t want to waste it on low level information they can read in a hour on a Sunday afternoon.

Do you sell by being “provocative,” or by challenging the buyer’s status quo?

You’d better have good content to back it up. For important, unique or innovative insights your buyer will want to be able to review, internalize and reflect on what you raised in the short, live conversation time you had with them. And hopefully, they’ll want to share your insights and ideas with their colleagues. Content gets you the credit you deserve.

Getting Referred

The best technique for selling, next to selling to existing relationships, is getting referred.

Think about the job seeker who asks a friend to refer them to an important potential employer. What do they provide? (Trick question.)

Of course, a resume. When is a resume the relevant content for a referral situation?

When there is an active job search underway, with clearly defined candidate criteria.

How many of the opportunities you will get this year will be from prospects who were actively looking for what you sell? We refer to these as “find opportunities.”

What percentage of sales from opportunities you had to develop? We refer to these as “create opportunities.”

If the job candidate seriously wants to be referred to an organization that isn’t actively hiring to her specific role and capabilities, what kind of content should be provided to support the referral request?

You need to do the same thing. You’ll need content that talks about an important, persistent and costly unresolved business issue that you can uniquely address, both in conversation and with your solution offers.

The Fallacy of Content Creation by Sales

Just as selling is a serious profession that takes years (decades) of concentrated learning and practice to realize high levels of proficiency, so too is content creation.

The organization, typically through the marketing function, must provide this support to sales. This is still a woefully under-served requirement of marketing. But the fault must be shared by sales organizations that haven’t defined their use case requirements.

To support all sales activities, but especially relevant and significant sales conversations, we recommend organizations deploy an inventory of …

  • Conversation starters and guides
  • Emails
  • Social posts: Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+
  • Buyer questions
  • Answers to buyer questions (objections) with support and proof: facts, research, stories
  • Questions to ask buyers — open ended as well as pointed
  • A high level, over-arching point-of-view, and accompanying storyline
  • Specific buying criteria to establish in the mind of buyers – competitive context
  • Key Message Points – Differentiated value points
  • Stories and Examples: Problem related stories, Customer Stories, Key point stories
  • Facts and Research Results, Quotations
  • Language inventory – Topics, themes, words and phrases to use/avoid – resonance tested
  • Content packaged for each key “conversation” scenario – ready to deliver
  • Visual support, images, videos, recorded demo segments
  • Sales Playbook elements

Read this post: Why Content Creation Isn’t Everyone’s Job for more support for this important, and often mis-understood idea.

 

Summary

Develop a plan to up your game by maintaining the mindset of a professional whose job is to help buyers understand their problems and make the best buying decisions.

Commit to always conducting relevant conversations with buyers by asking yourself, “what’s the matter at hand?” for this person, and their situation.

For each “conversation scenario,” design useful, significant conversations, supported by content.

As a sales leader, create an integrated sales team comprised of all marketing and sales members. Use a holistic sales enablement system to support the coordinated execution of well designed “plays.”

Key parts of this system are:

  • Documented understanding of buyers, competition and conversation elements.
  • A sales and marketing content strategy based upon defined and documented use cases and conversation scenarios.
  • Content aligned to and supporting key decisions, information and conversations at each stage of the buyer’s decision process.
  • Deployed through a central repository, especially for content that is ready to deliver. 

Sales professionals must learn to sell with content. Check this blog regularly for more updates on this important practice.