Salespeople naturally see themselves as the key touchpoint in the buyer journey. However, the feeling isn't always mutual – buyers often see salespeople as an impediment to a seamless buying process.
A Miller Heiman Group survey of B2B buyer preferences found that most buyers will wait to contact salespeople until late in the decision-making process, because only 23% consider sales professionals an effective resource for solving their problems. This isn't surprising, considering that only one-third of respondents believe salespeople exceed expectations often enough to improve the buying experience. In fact, two-thirds consider most vendors and salespeople to be interchangeable.
With sales teams making an impact that's so small, sellers are in danger of getting lost in the crowd and losing business. Even worse, when customers have such low confidence in and such little need for sales, the result is a B2B buyer apathy loop. When the sales team is the party responsible for this problem, it has the power to own – and be – the solution.
How can salespeople impress buyers?
Being adequate and accommodating isn't enough to help sales teams break buyers out of the apathy loop. Instead, they must go above and beyond to understand buyers, customize solutions and sustain success for their clients. If the majority of buyers feel like strangers, the sales team needs to do the work to make them feel valued and understood.
The good news is that buyers are not ready to write off salespeople entirely. According to the same survey, 3% of respondents want to buy everything online but 65% find value in discussing their needs with an expert. This is especially true as the market value and complexity of the goods for sale increases. This gives salespeople an opportunity to rise to the challenge of better serving the needs of buyers.
Here are 10 strategies salespeople should use to make a positive impact at every point in the buying process:
1. Don't be clueless.
A prospect might know little about you, but you should know as much as possible about him or her. The first contact you have with someone makes a powerful impression. If you seem unprepared and launch into a scripted sales pitch, no buyer will leave that interaction feeling impressed.
The better approach is to learn what your contact's role is, what his or her company does, and how your products or services might fit that person's needs – all prior to the initial call.
Preparation can turn a cold call into a warm, impressive and memorable introduction, and there are hundreds of solutions available to help with prep work. Even when the prospect contacts a rep via a cold call, a simple Google search will often suffice. There is no excuse for being unprepared.
2. Don't trip when you pass the baton.
Have you ever called a customer service department and been forced to give the same information to three different people? How did that make you feel about that vendor?
Sales teams are becoming increasingly specialized, which requires improved collaboration. If one person reaches out to a lead, a second guides the lead through the funnel and a third person closes the deal, their efforts need to be carefully coordinated.
Get on the same page by having everyone in the process share notes, transcripts and ideas. If you don't have the budget for a customer relationship management system, track interactions on a spreadsheet. If feasible, record your calls so salespeople further down the funnel can listen in. Ideally, the next salesperson will pick up where the previous one left off.
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3. Watch for red flags.
Pursuing a client who is highly unlikely to buy what you're selling, even in principle, can be a waste of that person's time and yours. Effective sales teams must be able to identify automatic disqualifiers – red flags that indicate a lead should be abandoned – and then instruct everyone to look out for them.
It's generally up to sales leadership to determine which characteristics are automatic disqualifiers vs. conditional ones. Every business is different, and conditionality is dependent upon the market, the types of customers and the resources available. But remember, giving up on a lead who will never convert isn't a lost sale; it's a smart strategy.
What are a few key red flags to look out for? If your prospects are overly demanding or disrespectful of your boundaries, proceed with caution. If someone is expecting you to respond immediately on weekends or in the evenings when you're home, it might be a sign that this behavior could carry over into your working relationship, too. Similarly, watch out for prospects who try to micromanage you. When people seek help with something, they usually need what you offer, whether it's expertise, a product or a service. That said, if they take the position that they know more about what you offer than you do, that's definitely a red flag.
4. Skip the lecture.
A sales call should be a conversation, not a personal spiel. One-sided interactions are the opposite of engaging. Giving the buyer a chance to speak helps you understand his or her needs and then adapt your pitch in real-time. In general, sales calls should be organic and expansive. After analyzing thousands of phone calls, call analytics platform Gong found that the best sales reps had a roughly 50/50 mix of speaking vs. listening to their prospects. When in doubt, limit continuous speaking to two minutes or less to give your prospect a chance to engage before he or she begins to zone out.
More than that, practice active listening when you aren't talking. You can start by really listening to what your prospect has to say and then tell that prospect what you just heard. Hearing it from you will let the person know that you were truly paying attention and give him or her a chance to let you know whether you're on the right track. If not, the prospect can explain it again. Also, ask the person questions to get more clarity and understanding about the situation or what is being said, which further lets the prospect know that you're engaged.
5. Give buyers the opportunity to say no.
Sales teams love to hear buyers say yes, but it can be just as impactful to hear them say no. For example, instead of asking, "Do you want to move forward?" ask, "Do you see any reason not to proceed?" People often feel pressured to say yes, but being afforded the opportunity to say no engenders trust. This tactic puts the buyer in control of the decision-making process, which can be a great antidote to apathy.
Exceeding buyers' expectations helps salespeople close more deals, period. And in a time when people flock online to review their interactions with companies, positive reviews build goodwill and help generate additional leads. Negative reviews, in contrast, can keep buyers from reaching out to salespeople at all. First impressions, as your mother probably told you, are powerful, and a bad one is hard to overcome.
In today's sales climate, every single interaction should make an impact and provide value. An average effort is forgettable, and in a crowded market, it's more important than ever to be remembered. By demonstrating a commitment to delivering an exceptional buying experience, the ceiling has never been higher for salespeople who are willing to put in the work.
6. Collect customer feedback.
Checking in with your customers often can help your sales team improve the buyer experience, because you can review what buyers are saying about your brand. Are they happy with the products? Are they pleased with the service they received? What are their likes and dislikes?
You have several options for collecting customer feedback. The most common method is survey submissions. You can send surveys to customers after each interaction to gauge the user experience. Surveys should take just under two minutes. Eliminate fluff, asking no more than five questions. You could also use in-app surveys for quick form collection. [Read related article: Do's and Don'ts for a Successful Customer Survey]
7. Arrange employee training opportunities.
One of the best ways to keep your sales teams on point is to schedule regular training sessions. Choose seminars that focus on enhancing the customer experience. You can also look into training on technologies that improve the customer experience. For example, you could install a new CRM system to improve communication between agents and buyers.
8. Establish a process.
Employee and buyer interactions should not be left up to guesswork. Successful companies often follow a set plan for how sales interactions should go. Your protocol could include when to follow up and how often to reach out to clients in the sales pipeline. Smart follow-up will always make a difference in whether a deal is closed or not. When you train staff on your process, consistency is key. All sales associates should follow the same guidelines and know the process that works best for your brand.
9. Be transparent.
Trust is extremely important in a sale. Make sure your sales personnel don't try to pull any tactics that undermine your company's commitment to honesty. Although the sales staff may secure quick sales with these tactics, they will hurt your reputation in the long run. Let clients know exactly what they are buying, the accurate purchase price, and what warranties or money-back guarantees you offer.
10. Conduct market research.
Sale trends are always changing. Your company needs a dedicated team to research trends and current pricing among your competitors. Surveys and focus groups can be effective tools to conduct market research. Also analyze social media to see what products and marketing are trending, and harness big data to make smart decisions for your sales team.