There are two ways to look at B2B sales engagement with decision makers:
- From an organizational standpoint of culture, systems, processes, compliance, and transformation. Sales and Marketing partner to achieve success. Here is where thought leadership, shift in mindset, and a metamorphosis of going from "how we have always done it" to "this is how we fixed this issue."
- Individually understanding what is needed and taking action, teaching yourself how to navigate a complex domain of platforms, opinions, and practices to arrive at what works. Here is where one can take steps without the above (#1 option) all being in place and make a difference, immediately.
While there is merit in both, and I really enjoy helping organizations align with what they need to do, the time between making a decision to change at a leadership level and actually implementing that change is much longer than a lot of reps have to demonstrate a difference in their own activity. For that reason, this is more geared to the latter option of what YOU can do right now to make a difference in YOUR results.
There is a ton of sales training for B2B reps available today. It's everything from tried-and-true proven and effective old-school methodologies to newer models that include "Social Selling" and incorporating precise automated low-touch communication into the conversation with prospects to nurture it along or even drive inbound traffic.
Regardless of what systems or sales processes organizations have, on the front lines of a sales team it's engagement that is still one of the most challenging areas to master. I hear a lot of sales execs say if they can get in front of prospects they are great, but they just can't easily get in front of them. It has been a concern of reps for the 2 1/2 decades I have been in B2B sales, and there's no miracle solution on the horizon that is a fix-all for everyone. I knew of one company that had to schedule 600 meetings to close 30 <$150K deals, these were not huge deals...the challenge was immense.
Some of the fix has been offered through solutions integrated with CRM platforms. There's a crowded market of applications to increase engagement, provide insight, and fast-track connecting with prospects. Social Selling is often interpreted differently depending on the team, and there's still a lot of fuzzy areas about what it really requires to be effective (some execs aren't buying into anything with "social" in the title.) While having a solid data solution is important, buying more software isn't necessarily the fix for engagement. What is really needed is depth of understanding about what is happening on the prospect's side of the fence now, today, in 2017...what is really happening.
I've observed a lot of sales reps follow a model they have used for years, 2 calls 2 emails...or personal rules like "I don't leave voicemails, it's a waste..." Or thinking like "if they were interested they would call me back.." This is so common, every B2B team has some representation of this going on. Thinking like that leaves revenue on the table and can result in a starved pipeline. Prospects enter and leave a pipeline and don't even know it happened. It's important to recognize that a lack of reciprocity on the part of the prospect isn't an indicator of a lack of interest. It's just an indicator that more or something different is needed.
It's important to know that a lack of reciprocity on the part of the prospect isn't an indicator of a lack of interest.
So who's job is it to fix it? The vexed relationship that sometimes exists between sales and marketing is sometimes rooted in perceptions that the leads they get don't turn into anything. Some organizations throw their hands up and just give into it and seek out services that sell appointments. Now the rep just has to show up, can they just do that?
Engagement is the reason a lot of companies just buy "appointments," but appointments only fill a calendar, not a pipeline.
First you have to understand the problem to plug in a fix. The problem is a misalignment of steps to connect with a prospect. The first steps are easy, find out who the prospect is. From there, that's when very deliberate and calculated actions are needed to make sure you aren't wasting moments that can make a difference.
The problem of engagement isn't something that can be distilled into a single fix, but it is combining very deliberate actions that eliminate cracks in the system (which is a much longer answer than I can address here.) But from a sales rep perspective--there are at least 4 underutilized tools that can improve engagement.
- Understanding their prospects' role and persona. Sometimes people overlay their own thinking onto their prospects, and that actually creates a blind spot for a fix. Honestly, most people don't manage their messages really well. And thinking you left a voicemail that made a difference in reality is your prospect doesn't even remember it. Usually it takes 7+ attempts to connect with stakeholders in deals, sometimes more. It is more important to factor that into outreach than assume they are ignoring you.
- Data available in the public domain and within your platforms. You likely have a lot of insight available through your internal systems, data points like they have been hitting your site, or announcements/press releases that give insight into their current state. Someone asked me recently what social selling tools do reps use most, and they started rattling off all these data platforms--I stopped them and said I find many reps aren't even using LinkedIn, let alone another platform. This is by no means an ad for LinkedIn, but it is a fact that it is a HUGE repository of prospect-generated data that reveals a lot about your prospects, to ignore that before reaching out puts you at a disadvantage. The other side of this pancake is that it's important to log each attempt and detail each discussion so you aren't covering topics you already did while missing opportunities to do something meaningful. Capturing what you learn and putting it in their record is key. A rep might do this the first time, and forget what they learned on later calls or even waste cycles looking up the same information over and over again needlessly--capture what you learn about prospects so when you look in their record, you know what you need to know.
- Email and voicemail. Just a normal note and voicemail goes a long way. I often coach teams to think of how they would talk to someone they know? You are interacting with these people every day in your normal life, you just don't know it. You are sitting next to CIO's at the movies, standing next to VP's at the bank, etc. Would you say to them some of the stuff that goes out in an email? People respond to people, not to sales pitches, "break up" emails (I get at least 5 a week,) or "pick a time on my calendar so I can sell you something" emails.
- Critical thinking. This is by far the most important. Each prospect is different, each industry and company has their own culture. What works with one doesn't necessarily work with all...so it's important to be mentally engaged. It's easy to get in a rut and just do the same thing over and over--but if you really want to connect with people you have to be engaged yourself. Push through the fake obstacles and figure out what you need to do. For example, if you aren't reaching someone have you hit "0" and asked if they are even around this week? Did you look them up and see where there may be overlap with your existing customers or people you know you can mention? Have you reached out to their peers and spoke to them or asked if they are around? Real life is real life...and what is interpreted as someone being a jerk and blowing you off can often be someone is sick, out of town, working against a tight deadline, putting out some internal fire, etc. In more cases than not, losing interest in your solution is not the reason you aren't reaching them.
All of the above also is a reason I am a huge advocate to putting your best reps in front of prospects on the front lines vs. putting junior people that hope to grow up into sales reps down the road. The junior folks have good intentions, but that isn't going to bring the insight and fluency to read between the lines during discussions and progress conversations as a peer while neutralizing sales resistance. Times have changed enough that putting inexperienced people in front of prospects as their first experience with your company is going to cost you deals.
I'll look forward to your comments about what you have done to realign with what it takes to connect!
Outbound B2B outreach can be your most effective activity when it's structured right.