Let's face it, B2B selling has radically changed and it's not going back to the "old way" of doing things.  Buyers have empowered themselves by learning how to discover information about vendors/solutions without ever speaking with a rep. They can talk to your customers and get references, they can look up information about you, they can get all they need without leaving their desk of picking up a phone. This means talking to a rep needs to be a great experience, because you need them more than they need you.

Don't get me wrong, execs WILL still take calls and talk with sales reps, and it does progress the deal when it's a good experience. But the threshold for shutting down calls/meetings or ignoring emails that aren't a good use of their time has reached a ZERO tolerance. Buyers are highly sensitive and turned-off by bad communications and selfish approaches.

The thing is, while buyers have progressed in learning how to discover and apply information in the public domain, sales teams on the other hand are laggards to do what aligns with what their buyers are doing. In fact they are regressing because of other demands on their time such as increased quotas, bigger territories, etc. but they need to redirect that pressure to doing things better and not get stuck in the weeds.  The delta has become so huge it's creating massive breakdowns in sales cycles and pipeline management.

Instead of meeting the informed buyer equally informed and prepared, i.e., a level playing field...reps are going in even LESS prepared and become pushy to get a meeting on the calendar or force the issue. The thinking is "I will research them when I know they are worth my time."  You need to be worth your prospect's time though, and you do that through researching them and connecting the dots so you can offer knowledge and data points that impress them. Again, don't over interpret the term "research," you can do this in 10 minutes, but the point is....DO IT.  Prospects aren't responding to outdated sales tactics. Anything that makes your prospect feel unimportant or communicates in a non-gracious manner that you "don't care" will take you 10 steps back or lose them completely.

Prospects are people, there is a HUGE emotional and human element to sales that reps need to learn, apply, and create some empathy about what is going on and PAY ATTENTION to what they are doing.  I am going to cite 7 areas below, there are more I will mention in the coming weeks.  Applying and getting the point here is what separates successful reps from the ones that struggle or even fail. This needs to be important to management because they may not know this is happening and evaluating this will help retain prospects in your pipeline. You lose deals because of these things.

7 Things That Need to Change Now in B2B Prospecting:

1. Respect your prospect's time. A rep gets a prospect to agree to a call, and they send a meeting invite for an hour. Unless the prospect asked for an hour, a first intro call should be short, 30 mins or less. It shows the prospect you respect their time, it's less commitment and easier to accept. I decline 60 minute meetings from someone I don't know as many other execs do. It is too much for my schedule to block off for something I don't know if I am that interested in--but if it's a good fit, believe me, the dialog will continue.

  • If the prospect isn't there at the exact time--rather than go into disaster mode thinking they stood you up--a better way to approach it is realize they are busy. They were probably running late out of another meeting, they could be down the hall, any number of things could impact them, including something serious like they had a fender bender that morning or their kid is sick...it has nothing to do with you, just track them down. Zero out and tell the admin you had a call, can they please track them down. Do you have their cell?  Call them or text them, and be empathetic.  It isn't about you, 99% of the time it is some brief hiccup.  When a rep thinks the prospect flaked, they often do things that actually damage the chance of rescheduling the call by emailing them with something sounding scolding, and not show empathy.
  • Pay attention to what is going on with Outlook.  Outlook will show a meeting shaded in until they accept. Your prospects get 300 or more real emails a day, not counting stupid ones, and it is easy to get buried in the list of unread email.  Instead of assuming the worst, realize Outlook is a small part of their day and workload, it is easy for your invite to go beneath their list of visible unread email. You may need to resend with something polite like "Hi so and so, I know you get a ton of email--just resending." 

2. Be ready to share your screen on a call, but FIRST let the prospect tell you what they are interested in so you can adjust how you present. Just talk with them and find out why they want to talk to you and what they want to discover in this meeting. There may be things you need to skip over that have a bigger footprint in your deck. Don't present topics they aren't interested in. Nothing is worse for a prospect to sit there looking at slides with a canned presentation that has nothing to do with their area of interest. Most presentations are about the company first, the solution (often using examples of companies NOT in their industry,) and then results last. That needs to be flipped to first talk about results companies like them are getting. Second, PROVE you know what they need, and then at the end talk about your company.  Ask them what they already know about your company so you can speak to gaps and not repeat what they know. How can you do this:

  • Be prepared to be spontaneous. Sounds like an oxymoron, but it's true, you have to be prepared to show them something real-time in an informal way as part of a great conversation you're having. If you are on a discovery phone call, be ready to show your desktop and give them a glimpse of how your solution works. So when you are on a prospect call, have things open you can show them spontaneously. Shut down chat or minimize it, close windows of your eBay shopping and anything that is distracting.  One of the most amusing calls I had like this, is I asked a company that was trying to sell me something to show me what the reporting looked like. They weren't expecting it but they shared their screen and were talking about the platform. Their platform wasn't working right and they couldn't show me, then in the middle of this "presentation gone south," an IM box pops up of a customer complaining the system was grossly underperforming for them. The even better part of that is I knew the person that sent the IM, so I could call for a reference after and find out what's going on and how they like working with them.
  • A product demo shouldn't be a like putting together the opening ceremony for the Olympics.  Most prospects want just an idea the first call, they want to see what it looks like enough to see if they need to bring others in to look more seriously.
  • You should be able to know how to do this on the fly--if there is the option for you to know how to do this, you need to learn it.
  • If your solution isn't a candidate for that because of complexity, you should have some screenshots you can show that are meaningful. "I can show you a couple of screenshots, are you in front of your desk?  Let me share a couple of slides real quick."
  • Sometimes reps see "requested demo" and start pulling together a massive event that is so overkill for what the prospect really wanted.  Usually they just wanted to see how easy it is to update a dashboard, or the level of visibility they have, or whatever it might be--it isn't what the rep "heard" when they saw demo. Ask them first, "did you want a full blown demo or did you want to see some specific areas?  What makes sense so I don't put something too big together for you."

3. Be a Guide for them. People are busy and you need to paint for them what your solution looks like with examples, scenarios, show what success looks like--show them how you can help them, ask the right questions, let them do the talking and show you care and know what they are dealing with by giving them examples of how this solves it. This is much more effective than pitch, push, commit. So many presentations leave the prospect thinking "I still don't know how this works with my environment."

  • Prospects are not a "piece of data" to push info on and then dump them if they don't do what you want. I had one rep call me 5 times this last year and every call was about my budget, my timing, am I looking at other vendors--he doesn't even know what I want done. Needless to say he doesn't get my business.

4. Make it EASY and AWESOME for prospects to know you. Make it easy to schedule something, make it easy to connect, make it easy to see your product. The graciousness of sales has gone out of the window in so many cases. So many companies follow this exact protocol:  A prospect is interested and wants to see a demo, the rep is more interested to know if they are "worth" a demo. So the first thing they do is when they have a call, they ask about budget/timing, etc. and if it doesn't line up with what they want, they wrap up the call.  I had someone call me recently that pursued me pretty heavily to get discussions going, they had some good ways to offer value that got me to respond but at one point they told me they have so many leads coming in, and because they can see I am looking at their site that I am "worth" an hour of their time. Really? Did you really just say that?  It only made me more committed to my existing vendor, and I am less interested in them than ever. 

  • For management—when you hire people like this, what they do has a long-term effect, even after they are gone.  The next time you call that company, they remember the experience they had before, and it is all the more difficult to reengage, if you ever have a chance.)  The memory isn't of the rep, the memory is about your company.

6. Be professional with your communication.  More and more I see emails with no greeting, information all pasted together looking like a ransom letter, or the name is in one font and the rest in another which shows the prospect the big effort you made in this is to put their name on something already written--and even then it is spelled wrong in some cases. I am so thankful I started my career in a time when you had better have your business letters put together well, and I still apply that to email, and even texts and chat. It shows you are polished and care.  People know we are all going a million miles an hour and are forgiving of a typo now and then, but never send something in all lower case with or worse yet, chat lingo. "john--chking 2 see if we r still on 4 demo today..." 

  • Believe me, it happens all the time and it reflects very poorly on the company whose reps do that. And the bigger picture for sales managers, it is digging a ditch with that prospect you may not be able to get out of down the road.

7. Social Selling is real, it isn't hard, and you need to apply some of it to your process. It is well covered in this recent blog post

How a Few Changes Make a Big Difference in B2B Prospecting and Sales Development

So how will all this build pipeline?  Prospects will become reciprocal and actually engage with you. Early discussions become more meaningful, richer, and you will add value beyond what prospects find out on their own. They will respect you more as a peer and enable you to act in more of an advisory role. They will set you apart from the other reps contacting them because you care and you're different.  People still buy from people they "like" and when you are like-able and have skin in the game to make it work for them, they remember that.

To management, how can you minimize risk of hiring people that damage your prospect relationships?  Ask interviewees about a time they went above and beyond for a client. What did they do?  Give you some examples of how they have helped their company in a way that was not necessarily their job but something that needed to be done.  There's lots of ways to surface someone's spirit of generosity in their desire to help others.

Sales organizations are under tremendous pressure in 2014, but so often the pressure creates downgraded prospect experiences which lose sales instead of the other way around.  I've worked with smart companies that take these things to heart, and when we examine each step and each interaction to make it great for prospects..the deals happen as a result. 

What are your plans to step up in?