The pressure is real. The competition is intense. And the statistics, egads! Buyers don’t need you. Buyers know more about you than you do. Half of B2B buyers are going to buy over the web, which is becoming the most popular channel for purchases.
Here are some stats that may scare or empower you — or both.
“67 percent of the buyer’s journey is now done digitally.” (SiriusDecisions)
“57 percent of the purchase decision is complete before a customer even calls a supplier.” (CEB)
“Online is the most popular channel for B2B purchases.” (Forrester Consulting report as stated by Marketingprofs.com)
“More than half (52 percent) expect to make one out of two of their purchases online in three years’ time” (stated by The-Future-Of-Commerce.com in their article, “The Anatomy of a B2B Buyer.”)
And let’s not forget the fact that salespeople are only engaged in part-time sales anyway.
“Salespeople spend less than half their day selling.” (Hubspot.com, July 22, 2014.)
OK, now that we’ve read the stats and know we must spend all our resources on websites and inbound marketing tools to drive prospects to our site over the zillion others out there, let’s take a breath and look at this a little more calmly and, dare I say, rationally. Begging the indulgence of my “The studies show” friends …
This is not 2008. You are probably not looking down the wrong end of the barrel. Customers are not defecting at ever-increasing rates. The web is absolutely a growing factor in our long-term sales, marketing and customer experience equation. BUT, let’s assume for a minute or two that you need to drive revenue today, tomorrow, next month, the balance of this year and that you do not have the resources to develop a fully vetted integrated sales and marketing platform rivaling the Fortune 500. Yes, let’s assume that you, in your B2B sales endeavors, still believe that highly competent salespeople have a role to play in delivering new business opportunities. I beg forgiveness from my digital marketing friends.
My premise is that for those companies with a defined prospecting process that focuses on identifying ideal customers, creating value, gaining trust, and testing and validating messaging, the short-term and midterm results look very, very positive.
At the Executive Connection Summit (ECS) hosted by MWA Intelligence earlier this year, it was apparent that while some copier OEMs may be facing tough times, the presence of equity participants and investors pursuing new acquisitions in the dealer channel made it quite clear that the channel is doing very well. Can anyone argue that the key to ongoing success independent of market changes will be attracting new customers and providing more value to existing customers (and being paid for it) — in other words, prospecting for new opportunities in new and existing accounts?
Now, I am no math genius, but I see a challenge. Jason Kanigan on the Salestactics.org blog reported that new reps should be spending 75 percent of their time prospecting; reps with 12-24 months experience 50 percent of their time; and for those with more than two years’ experience, 35 percent. Frankly, I have my own numbers and you probably have yours. The question really isn’t what the magic percentage is, the question is, “How should they be prospecting?” Not “how much time?” but “how to generate new opportunities?” The question becomes “how do we prospect such that we maximize our ROI?” And the short answer is, “Prospecting is NOT an event. It IS a series of specific stages, activities, measurements and outcomes. It is also predictable given the right people and the right process.” Let’s look at both.
The Right People
Few would argue that the strongest assets of an organization are (or should be) its people. There are five areas to consider in creating a high-performing sales prospecting engine.
Hire right. Take the time to do this well. If this is not a core strength of yours, either develop this area of expertise or partner with those who are exceptional. It will feel like you are moving too slowly, but a bad hire will set you back months and cost you vast amounts in both wasted compensation and lost business. This is too important to leave to “gut, chance and luck.”
Fire quickly. Seems obvious and it is. Seems simple and it is. But it is NOT easy. We become personally invested and want to see the hire succeed. Make a commitment to the new hire as well as yourself, create a timeline along with metrics. Meet at regular intervals. Be clear on where this is going. Give them the best chance to succeed, deselect themselves and ensure that there are no surprises should you have to decide to remove them.
Invest and develop. “People are our most important asset” is the mantra of many a company handbook. Yet if you look at the time and money specifically allocated to employee professional development, the walk just doesn’t match the talk. Want better results than your competitors? Invest and develop your sales engine – reps, managers, VPs, etc. Not only will this improve immediate results, it will build greater bench strength, prepare for succession and raise the standards across the board.
Manage expectations. Coach for performance. While the two areas of management and coaching are often seen as one, they are significantly different. Holly Green states in the Forbes.com article, “Know When to Manage and Know When to Coach,” “Managing is all about telling, directing, authority, immediate needs and a specific outcome. Coaching involves exploring, facilitating, partnership, long-term improvement and many possible outcomes.” Great companies manage activities while coaching people for performance. Coaches know the game and bring out the best in their players.
The Right Process
The goal of the business development process is to identify opportunities and efficiently move those opportunities forward. The process is outlined in and supported by your sales playbook. This playbook should contain all the rules, game plans, strategies and tools that are needed to win. There are myriad styles and types of playbooks but at a minimum, the playbook covers:
Background and history of the company. This includes the company mission, vision and strategies related to the sales organization.
Overview of the marketplace, ideal customers and value the company represents to each of the likely buying personas.
Map of the sales stages such as “prospecting,” “qualification,” “discovery,” “proposal,” “negotiation,” “win/loss,” “implementation.” These should mirror the stages set in the CRM.
Talk tracks for emails, voicemails, presentations and follow-ups. Each of these should be specifically designed to move the opportunity to the next sales stage.
Cadence of the sequence of events for finding, connecting, engaging, building relationships, creating value and collaborating on solutions to their prospect’s problems.
“Social.” There is a lot of talk about moving from “cold calling” to “social selling” and along with it a tremendous amount of misinformation, disinformation and just plain bad advice. Today’s reps absolutely should understand how to engage in “social” to create top of mind awareness, trust and relationships. The playbook explains that “social” is a component and NOT the entire prospecting effort. Nor is it about throwing content over the transom and hoping to become the next famous “subject matter expert” (who misses the sale because a real sales professional presented solutions to the prospect versus either stroking their own ego or hiding their call reluctance). (Oops, now I have ticked off my friends who sell the equivalent of the mythological unicorn, the “Social Panacea” myth. Yes, my email is at the end of this article. Thoughts and disagreements are welcome. Actual debates will be handled over the phone. My emotional capital is carefully protected, which prevents me from engaging in online debating.)
If I had to focus on only a single topic, it would be the pre-call and post-call checklists. Personally, I have seen the results of these in both my own activities and numerous sales reps. There are reasons that top performing sales organizations require the use of these checklists.
Today’s winners prospected yesterday. Tomorrow’s winners are prospecting today. For those who believe that prospecting is the lifeblood of the future, remember that prospecting is too important to leave up to individual sales reps on an ad hoc basis. Hire great prospectors (often very different from great sales closers) and give them great processes to follow. Then make the investment necessary to continually develop reps, managers, coaches and leaders who will deliver sales success!
Last remarks: This article focuses on driving sales activities through intentional, powerful and repeatable prospecting to produce predictable outcomes. It is intended to be part of, not the entire composition of a sales program. It is simply a set of activities that you can rapidly deploy and measure. There are many resources available to help you explore this method of creating more sales opportunities. Feel free to email me directly for resources or suggestions. As always, you can email me at Broderick@inkcycle.com, BradIsRightOn@gmail.com or BradIsAMoron@gmail.com as appropriate. Until next time, go prospect, find new opportunities, deliver extreme value, get paid, repeat.
This article originally appeared in the July 2017 issue of The Imaging Channel
is executive vice president of InkCycle Inc. He is an industry veteran with more than 25 years of sales and marketing experience. He is an active member of the imaging industry as an author, trainer and speaker. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.