At the heart of sales is the ability to understand and connect with buyers. It is only after this connection that salespeople will hold any influence on their sales.
Trust is what that connection needs. Yet only 3% of consumers trust salespeople. At that rate, it is difficult to connect with leads and close sales.
Identifying the roadblocks that are slowing you down is the first step to improving your numbers. Here are 5 things that might be getting in your way, and some of the trends and technology that can help you push through.
Top 5 Roadblocks For B2B Salespeople
#1 Pursuing the wrong leads
Let’s start at the top of the funnel, with prospects. Or, if you are a flywheel fan, the “attract” section of the wheel. 28% of salespeople say that identifying good leads is more difficult than it was a few years ago. The same study says that 37% of reps struggle most with prospecting.
Cold calls and cold emails are simply ineffective. Shane Snow, the author of Smartcuts, sent 1,000 cold emails to executives as an experiment and received very little feedback. Only 1.7% of those who received emails responded. This often-cited experiment was insightful five years ago; imagine how much less relevant cold emails are today.
Sending cold emails isn’t the only ineffective way for pursuing leads. Leads who have freely offered their information do not respond to email campaigns very often. The average open rate for emails in a subscribed groups across industries is about 20%.
Sending out emails without researching the leads, personalizing the email, or being strategic in the content is simply ineffective. With today’s tools, you can send out email campaigns and track which leads are opening emails or not. Leads who regularly open emails or engage in other actions, such as downloading white papers or signing up for free trials, are better leads for pursuing.
Gathering leads from sites like LinkedIn or Quora can be a more effective starting point. Conferences, workshops, and customer advocacy programs provide a pool of more promising leads.
#2 Doing more talking than listening
All too often, salespeople try to sell a product by talking. They assume that their explanation about product features will be convincing to a potential buyer. Rather than dominating the conversation, salespeople need to listen.
When sales reps listen to prospects, they can identify what the customer’s motivations are, what pain points they are experiencing, and what they need from software (or if they think their needs are already met). By truly listening to the customer and showing genuine understanding, salespeople form an authentic connection with the prospect.
Listening is not the same thing as hearing. Active listening requires training and effort. Some basic elements of active listening include:
- Body language: Eye contact, arms somewhat open, being on the same level, etc.
- Paraphrasing: Rephrase what the prospect is saying to make sure they feel like they have been heard and to clarify anything that might been confusing. It is especially important to reiterate the feelings that have been shared. (i.e. “It is frustrating to you when the updates do not install properly, etc.”)
- Follow-up questions: A mixture of appropriate, unscripted close-ended and open-ended questions can give the speaker a chance to clarify anything they meant to say and to expand on their thoughts.
It is crucial to include active listening in sales training because it is a learned skill, not an inherent personality trait, even for the most social of people.
Sales representatives do not only have to focus on listening to prospects, but they also have to listen to current customers. If sales are out of touch with real use cases and customer experiences, they will have less knowledge than their prospects.
Most leads will only talk to a sales representative once they have done their own research. This research consists largely of watching product demos, reading peer reviews, and browsing on your website for facts and figures.
Hopefully, you’re already an expert on your product and your website. But because prospects will have already read reviews, it is important for salespeople to also keep up-to-date on what real customers are saying. Reviews help buyers know which questions to ask. Salespeople can also use reviews to prepare for anticipated questions and doubts from prospects.
With the right tools, it can be simple to incorporate trusted reviews into the conversation between a sales rep and a buyer.
If salespeople listen to prospects’ needs and have past reviews fresh on their mind, they will be able to enhance the connection they have with the prospect. It will make them seem less pushy and more authentic.
#3 Focusing on the wrong thing
Salespeople often have a misaligned perspective when pushing a product. They can try to sell on price instead of value. They can also try to sell on features instead of benefits.
Price: the money the seller takes
Value: the benefit the seller gives
Even though price and value are intricately connected, they represent different things to the prospective buyer. Price feels like money being taken away from the buyer. Value feels like solutions being given.
The conversation should always be based on what value a seller’s product can add to the buyer’s business. Will it increase efficiency? Will it reduce churn? What customer support is available? When customers understand that the value of a solution, they see their spending as an investment, rather than a cost.
Successful salespeople highlight the advantages of a product over cheaper options in the market. They are confident about what benefits the product will have for a company, focusing on the specific needs of an individual prospect. Avoid words like “our price” or “we charge.”
This way of thinking is closely linked to selling benefits versus features. Salespeople can be quick to tell leads all about the multiple features their solution offers. This is a mistake. After listening to a client’s needs, salespeople will be able to narrow in on what need the buyer needs and talk about the benefits one specific feature of their solution could bring to their company.
When sales representatives focus on what they value and benefits they can give a customer, they are seen as genuinely wanting to help the buyer, rather than wanting to take their money. Salespeople want to be seen as givers, rather than takers.
#4 Prospects who find it hard to say ‘no’ directly
Many buyers are kind people who simply don’t like using the word ‘no.’ People often find it difficult to make sales reps experience rejection. Leads who have made it down the funnel and appear eager to buy will suddenly switch to stall mode. They will make statements like:
- “Maybe, but we need time to think about it.”
- “We are too busy right now to make this decision.”
- “My team needs to discuss this decision together.”
A statement like this is often a ‘no’ in disguise. These ambiguous responses can force a salesperson to waste time pursuing prospects who simply decided they were not going to purchase the product a long time ago.
Salespeople need to encourage potential buyers to be frank with them. During the conversation, if a prospect is starting to be indecisive, remind them that it is ok to say no. Statements like “if our solution isn’t what you are looking for, it’s ok to let us know,” will help prospects communicate more clearly.
When prospects start showing signs of procrastinating on a decision, it’s time to turn those active listening gears into full gear. Rephrasing, validating, and clarifying prospects will make them feel understood, listened to, and not pushed.
When you hear something like “we are too busy,” respond with something like, “Absolutely, I see that you are really busy. Can I ask you what keeps you busy?” Perhaps they will mention pain points that your solution can address.
If appropriate, the following response could be something like, “I want to respect your time. If we could meet for a five-minute conversation, we could avoid me trying to chase you down next quarter when things are even busier.”
Reducing disguised ‘no’s’ reduces wasted energy and frustration for both the sales rep and buyer.
#5 Internal inefficiencies
Internal inefficiencies make it harder for salespeople to meet their goals. Inefficiencies can manifest in several different ways.
One of the most obvious ways inefficiencies slow down sales is through the lack of automation. Salespeople spend the bulk of their time completing tasks that can be automated and only about a third of their day actually talking to prospective buyers.
Investing in sales SaaS solutions, such as Sales Engagement Platforms (SEPs), can help teams automate parts of their workflows while empowering them to deliver high-quality customer interactions. SEPs integrated with customer relationship management software (CRM) and other tools can help sales teams function at full capacity.
Another source of inefficiency can be a large disconnect between sales and marketing teams. Many salespeople spend time doing tasks, like finding their own leads, that marketing teams traditionally are responsible for. Other times, marketing and sales teams are delivering different messages or not sharing vital customer feedback. These two teams are interlinked and need to act like it.
Sales is about understanding, not pushing
Sales take place when people connect with other people. Buyers must feel interested, understood, and respected before they invest in a new solution.
Aggressiveness and blindly widening the funnel will only get you so far. Sales teams need to listen to the customer’s perspective and use the right tools to maximize their success.
3 trends to keep in mind that are affecting B2B sales and marketing
According to Maria Valdivieso de Uster, one of the authors of Sales Growth,
“One characteristic rose to the top that differentiated best-in-class sales leaders from the rest: their ability to find growth opportunities and sales trends before their competitors do.”
To outshine your competition, you must be aware of the current sales environment and where sales is going. Only once salespeople situate themselves in the current reality, do roadblocks later become clear.
Here are three major trends in sales in 2019:
Shifting away from the funnel to the flywheel
Marketers and salespeople are all too familiar with the funnel. The sales funnel illustrates of the process of consumers on their customer journey, starting at the top with prospecting, and passing through the next steps: connecting, qualifying, presenting, and closing.
This tool is as classic as it gets. But influencers are now starting to notice its flaws.
Hubspot’s co-founder and CEO, Brian Halligan, recently announced they were officially retiring the funnel and shifting to a flywheel. In response, other companies have also been making the shift. The basic idea of the flywheel is to avoid treating customers as lost energy, but rather, as fuel for growth.
Looking forward to the next generation.
Many professionals have poured massive amounts of energy into understanding millennials and shifting their thinking to their needs, but Generation Z is right on their heels. Generation Z will make up the bulk of consumers by 2020. If your team is looking to the future, it is time to start familiarizing yourself with the next cohort of young B2B buyers.
Using big data and predictive technology to guide your practices
With advancing analytic tools, large amounts of data is easier to visualize and to organize into actionable insights. Data can be predictive rather than purely historical. AI can enhance prospecting, better qualifying practices, and contribute to personalizing the customer experience.
Where these trends leave us: a deeper focus on the customer
The changing trends above reveal that cultivating better connections and deeper understanding of customers is the foundation of modern sales. And these are five things that can get in the way of customer-centric sales.
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