Working with as many sales organizations as I have over the last 25 years, I've had a very broad exposure to every possible scenario in B2B sales. Everything from relationship-based, super-engaged teams with high commitment of client success, to reps that are numbers-focused and couldn't care less about their prospects other than the revenue they represent. Some even referring to their prospects in hunting terms "can I kill it," "that are targets," go for the throat," and many other bloodthirsty terms.
The delta in quality of the customer-centric sales practices vs. typical old school sales tactics is becoming more and more visible. The permanent shifts in the selling landscape and the platforms to promote (and tell on) a company's self-centered culture are widely available and used by small and large sales organizations. Some of them include:
- Social media. When you are a ME only focused person or company, everything you post and communicate is centered on "Buy our stuff" or "Come to our Booth" with little content that actually helps prospects. If you notice the companies that are very BUY OUR STUFF focused, they generally have low engagement and few followers. Even huge companies have just a few followers, and many are their employees or a few customers that took the time.
- Marketing Automation. Marketing automation rocks when it is in the right hands...given to the wrong person, it is like giving an automatic weapon level of capacity to now produce gobs of communication focused on "buy our stuff." It also desensitizes prospects to your content.
- Sales Reps. Now that buyers don't need reps as much to make a decision, there are 3 options for reps. 1) learn how to add value and become aligned with how your prospect is buying and how you can enhance that experience. 2) Become more manipulative and use fear, subtle intimidation, and passive aggressive tactics. Become more aggressive with who you have. 3) Talk to more prospects, just keep 'em coming and throw out the long-term prospects or ones that are high maintenance and get the good ones in a sales cycle that is about as fun as a root canal.
It's critical CXO's in companies look downstream to see what is happening on the front lines with customer engagement. Especially if they have been around long enough to go through a few era's of buyer profiles. Some companies had phones ringing off the hook 10 years ago with prospects that wanted what they have, selling was easy and the buyer was predictable. But today, there is a lot of tough competition with leaner, less expensive competitors. Buyers have a many options.
It's harder to get new customers, and even long-time customers are always at risk from staff changes, etc. Where does the predator sales culture prevent success?
- Your prospects and customers should have nothing but awesome experiences interacting with your company. From their first cold call to reaching out to their rep with an issue--they need to feel the love all the time. Outreach should be focused not on "Just checking in to see if it's time to buy more stuff" or "Is there something here for me?" but on experience. I remember a time when my ISP was down from a storm. I was annoyed enough that such a large company had such a poorly executed DR plan--but in the middle of all this turmoil I am having with email, site outages, etc., their rep called to sell more stuff. Their sales management should have been all over making sure existing customers were getting the best TLC ever during that crisis vs. making sales calls during that time.
- Sales reps need to make sure they address issues and reinforce to clients they are valued. I have a client that made a significant investment in a platform a few years ago, during the sales cycle the rep was all over it, their new best friend. After the deal was inked and it started rolling out, there were a lot of hiccups and problems. 45 days or so into it I asked the client when was the last time they heard from their rep, he said not since the day they signed the deal.
- Lack of thought leadership will become lack of engagement. If a company is generous with information on how customers can succeed and point them to resources and content, their engagement will be much more active. All of us have those companies we work with that we actually delete their emails when they come in, clicking on anything they send turns into a "buy our stuff" call from yet another rep you don't know. That isn't thought leadership.
Some of the sales breakdowns are rooted in lack of adopting innovation in sales best-practices. Reps often don't have a systematic way to get educated about who their buyers are today and what they are doing. They are selling to a buyer profile that has greatly evolved or may no longer exist in their traditional form, and they don't really understand that. Constantly aligning to your buyer profile will create agility and revenue growth.
The other fix is hiring people that "get it." Educate CSO's and Sales VP's on what is really happening out there and WHY they are losing deals and customers, and WHY their reps can clear a room when they walk in. Maybe the Marketing VP feels all meetings should be onsite, that was fine 10 years ago but today most meetings are virtual, shorter, more frequent, and have a distributed executive team. This is a completely different model that needs different processes and best-practices. Has your team examined how to best adapt to this?
Sales executives want to be cautious they are not mirroring their own personal preferences onto their prospects and therefore missing a greater opportunity. An example is making a statement "People don't like taking phone calls..." So they invent 15 different ways to approach their prospects when just calling them would have been the most effective way.
There's a carelessness associated with predatory sales tactics. One major one, is since the prospect only represents revenue--all of the personal aspects, i.e., factors that play into choices, the long-term relationship, the actual viability of success at this client and the exposure the prospect has if it fails, are secondary to the sale...the "kill."
Another careless action is just throwing information together to respond to inquiries. Just the other day, I got an email from a sales rep--I had a question so I took them up on the offer of information. The response back was in 4 different fonts, colors, sizes, and looked like some electronic ransom note. My assistant said "do you WANT their advice?" It was comical.
Some things companies can do to move away from a predatory approach to a customer centric approach:
- Make sure the CXO level at your company really understands what is happening on the front lines. Aligning with real-world sales practices makes the difference. Educate VP's, Directors, and reps on what is really happening and what your prospects think about it.
- Making sure customers have great experiences with you as much as possible. Put your best resources on the front lines to reach out and deal with them, not low-level people looking for appointments.
- Create a culture of customer value on the sales team. I know people are working bigger territories,lots of pressure, and don't have a lot of time to stay on top of everything. Tools like Squirro and Witty Parrot will help be responsive and optimize their communication. Squirro can help them by even pushing out content that tells you "hey your client so and so just got an award..." you can then send them a congrats note. Things like that go a long way.
Don't get stuck in the "Buy Our Stuff" engagement mode. You can break out of it and start giving to your prospect and customer community and THAT's what starts to create "sticky relationships" with loyalty that converts to revenue. The personal experience prospects and customers have with you and your firm goes a LONG way to keep and continue to secure new business.