There is only one boss: the customer. And he can fire everyone in the company, simply by spending his money somewhere else
– Sam Walton (Founder of Walmart)
Optimising sales is the single biggest priority for sales managers and sales reps in most businesses around the world. Truth be told, any employee who enjoys getting paid each month, putting their kids through school and having the occasional holiday should take at least a passing interest in the sales side of the business. The ability to sell in a consistent and predictable fashion is the clearest (though not the only) predictor of a business’s long-term viability.
The thing about having a consistent sales strategy is that your customers and prospects, plus your own sales team, know exactly what to expect and what is expected of them. Whether you’re a grizzled old sales rep with 120 quarters under your belt or it’s your first trip to the sales rodeo, a consistent sales strategy will stand you in good stead.
The strategies I’m going to share with you in this article come from my company Trinity’s work with B2B sales companies around the world. They aren’t theories or guesstimates, but practical ways to achieve exceptional sales results. You may ask, what makes these strategies different or unique and why should I care?
My answer is simple, we cheated! By harnessing the power of Win Loss Analysis we’ve been able to remove the guesswork from the sales process and extract unfiltered insights from the one source of information that matters most, customers and prospects. By running a thorough and detailed review at the end of the sales cycle, we help vendors:
- Understand the specific reasons they missed out on closing a deal
- Learn why a prospective customer walked away at the 11th hour, or suddenly made a decision in favor of the competition
- Get to the heart of why they may be winning in one geography or industry, but losing badly in others
- Most importantly, we don’t just provide the customer insights, but advise these sales organisations on strategies to rectify, improve, or overcome the issues they’re facing in their sales cycles.
Based on years of in-depth interviews with C-suite decision makers, I’ve identified 5 Best Practice Sales Strategies to help your team navigate the complexities of the sales world and land more sales.
Strategy #1: Invest in your sales team (but make sure it’s in the right areas)
Your sales team is your most valuable asset, they deserve access to regular training and skills development – I don’t think anyone would argue with this statement. The critical point to note however, is that generic sales training or training that doesn’t focus on a key area of development (as identified by your customers/prospects) is often a waste of time and money. You know the drill:
Sales Manager – “I’m booking in the sales team for 3 days negotiation training this quarter”
CEO – “Why, is that an area of weakness for them?”
Sales Manager – “I’m not really sure, but I’ve got some sales enablement budget I need to spend this quarter”
This conversation is not nearly as far-fetched as it might seem. The crux of the issue is this … sales training that is targeted in a specific area (ideally an area identified as a weakness by your customers), delivers far more value for a business than the scatter-gun approach adopted by many B2B sales companies around the world.
Sales management tip: One-off training rarely changes anything. People simply default back to their old ways after a couple of weeks. The ideal approach is to create a 12 month enablement program, which builds the skills of your team through the entire year and re-enforces key learning’s along the way.
Strategy #2: Don’t just prepare for objections, preempt them
In my experience, there are two proven strategies to handle objections. The 2nd best strategy is to workshop all likely objections a prospective customer might raise and then prepare intelligent and well articulated responses to each of these likely objections. This is the approach most sales reps use and it works pretty well. However when a customer doesn’t raise an objection, that doesn’t mean they haven’t considered this issue, they simply may not feel comfortable raising it and then you’re in a quandary.
Which brings us to the best strategy I’ve encountered for objection handling. Get on the front foot and raise the issue yourself, before the customer has the opportunity to.
“You may have heard that our solution is more expensive to implement, I’d like to talk to you about the upfront and ongoing costs, in the context of your business case and predicted ROI.”
“You may have read article recently that focused on a failed project at XYZ Incorporated. Would you like a little more detail about what actually happened and how it relates to the project that we’re discussing?”
The benefit of this approach is that you not only address any elephants that may be in the room, you also create a more trusting atmosphere between you and your prospective customer, and it demonstrates that you have nothing to hide. If a competitor then tries to use this issue against you, the customer will likely push back hard, explaining that this question has already been dealt with.
Sales management tip: I recommend working closely with your team to identify possible objections that may come up and help them prepare not just the words they will use, but how they will say it. Doing this exercise builds confidence and gets everyone on a level playing field. You can also create a FAQ to share with customers and prospects.
Strategy #3: Measure up to the competition
For many years I was one of those sales reps who didn’t pay much attention to the competition. I did this for two reasons, firstly I had confidence in my own ability to engage with the customer and close the deal. Secondly, I was probably a bit lazy when it came to keeping abreast of the competitive landscape and relied on conversations with colleagues or the occasional competitive slide-deck from corporate.
Those days are over. Nearly every industry is being simultaneously saturated and disrupted, as new competitors emerge and exciting innovations are launched. Which means that nowadays our customers have an abundance of options. You need to ask yourself …
- Do you really know why your customers choose you over the competition or vice versa?
- Do you understand where they have an edge? Is it their technology, their people or even their culture that helps them step out from the pack?
- Do you understand how they sell when they’re competing against you and where they believe the ‘soft under-belly’ exists within your product or service?
If you can’t answer these questions, then maybe it’s time to find out! Talk to your customers, find our how they use your competitor’s technology, understand their customer satisfaction, levels of service, pricing, marketing and sales strategy, etc. Research where your competitors excel or fall flat, and what they are changing, so you can stay ahead of the curve.
The question you then need to answer is, “What are my company’s strengths and weaknesses compared to the other options in the market? What do we do better than the rest? The moment you lose sight of where you stand in relation to your competitors, you run the risk of being left in their dust.
Strategy #4: Content is King – Don’t hide your light under a bushel
What we’re trying to do is a complex thing. More information makes people feel more comfortable
– Paul (CMO, Building Company)
The above comment was made by a CMO I interviewed recently, who was discussing the different approaches taken by four vendors who were pitching their solutions to his business. I was interviewing him on behalf of one of the unsuccessful vendors, to extract some valuable insights from an otherwise losing situation.
Paul’s comment reflected a sentiment that I hear increasingly from customers, frustrated at how difficult it can be to get access to useful information and content from certain vendors. In our discussion, Paul reflected on how two of the vendors had gated their content, making it difficult to access and unleashing a barrage of follow-up phone calls from their inside sales team, every time Paul’s team tried to access any information.
By comparison, the other two vendors had huge amounts of freely available, well structured and detailed content from their websites and micro-sites. The content was displayed in different formats – white papers, videos, blogs, to-do lists, customer interviews, news stories etc. Not only did it allow Paul and his team to do more research, it also ensured they had richer conversations with these two vendors, earlier in the sales cycle. Finally, Paul and his team were more positively disposed towards these two vendors, because they had demonstrated from the out-set that they were customer-centric companies.
Strategy #5: Agility and flexibility are key
The most successful sales people and sales organisations are those that continually evolve to reflect the rapidly shifting sales climate and are flexible and responsive enough to adapt their style and skill-set as necessary.
Knowing when to change, pivot, or disrupt largely depends on how well you measure and track performance along the way. It is essential to regularly analyse trends within your market and assess why you are winning or losing business in key markets, geographies, or industries. These routine check-ins can help you quickly determine where you’ve veered off course in order to make changes, plus ensure you understand where you have an edge over the competition.
The business landscape is reshaping around us and the wants and needs of our customers are evolving at pace. Our job is to be:
- Proactive not reactive in the face of this brave new world
- Anticipate the change that is coming and proactively suggest alternatives to our customers, rather than waiting to be asked
- Above all else, our job is to remain relevant, easy to work with and continue to add value.