Improve Sales Proficiency With Relevant Sales Conversations

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Sales Conversation

 

Why relevant? What does relevant really mean? How would you know if you are having a relevant conversation 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 sales conversations that provide “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 the 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.)

Go here for a more detailed explanation on how to execute on this idea, as well as for a simple test checklist.

 

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 sales 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.

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 sales conversations, 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.

 

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 sales 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.

 

Avitage is a content operations services firm. We help B2B enterprise marketing and selling organizations execute content strategy through operations design and management.

We are not an agency, or creative group, and we no longer produce content. We implement a process that delivers better quality and performance from marketing and selling content, outputs from content operations, and returns on content investments.

If these ideas resonate with you, we welcome a conversation to discuss the implications for your business. Schedule a Conversation