Focus on customer relationships to increase sales wins
Strengthening customer relationships is a key way for sales organizations to improve sales performance and win more deals.
In our 2021 Buyer Preferences Study, less than a quarter of the B2B buyers we talked to said that they turn to salespeople to help them solve business problems. So, it’s no wonder that 79% of buyers said that they prefer to engage a salesperson after they’ve already identified and clarified their needs.
In these buyers’ minds, sellers are product experts. Since most buyers do most of their research online, there’s no need to involve a seller until they are well down the purchase path.
The good news is that those same buyers told us that they would engage sellers earlier if they were the kind of seller who exceeded expectations. If sellers understood the buyer’s needs and business, demonstrated the value of their solution, had top-notch communication skills and provided perspective, this would help to drive the buying process forward.
To prevent wasting time by being brought in at the end of a buying cycle just to add an extra quote to the pile, sellers need to change the way that customers perceive them.
The biggest opportunity for differentiation among the list of expectations is to provide thought leadership and perspective on the buyer’s needs, which will enable sellers to become engaged earlier in the customer lifecycle.
Improving a salesperson’s ability to provide perspective on buyer’s needs is an ongoing effort, but it isn’t a journey that your salespeople should make alone. Here are three immediate actions you can take to help your salespeople get better at this sought-after skill.
The right piece of content at the right time can help your salespeople provide perspective that’s both timely and relevant. But you don’t want your salespeople to have to create all of this content.
Develop a content strategy that clarifies the who, what and why of content creation. This will help ensure that you have an appropriate inventory of content assets relevant to different personas, phases of the sales process and buyer needs.
Even if you have the right sales content, chances are your sellers are spending too much time looking for it. Providing perspective calls for a content management system with content tagged to the industry, buyer needs, buying phase and the like. Such platforms integrate with your CRM, which pushes the right content depending on the data entered for the opportunity.
In addition, artificial intelligence within such platforms can guide the content, insights and perspective to use with each stakeholder at each phase of the sales cycle. As salespeople provide the system with feedback on how effective the content is at moving the sales process forward, the system refines its algorithms to make more precise future recommendations.
Even with the best content in the world, you won’t increase win rates if you wait for “hand-raisers” to ask you to be part of their buying process. By then, your role is limited.
Use social selling techniques to get in front of your target customers early. Help your sellers with personal branding that demonstrates their credibility. Teach them how to use social selling tools to build digital networks where they can be seen as business problem solvers, not product experts. This can allow your sellers to uncover buyer needs and engage with buyers earlier in the buying journey.
Not only does this social effort help with sellers’ exposure to a target market, but it’s also a vital part of an outbound prospecting strategy. Sellers need to become fluent in providing perspective well before an opportunity hits the funnel.
The Korn Ferry Research 2020-21 Sales Performance Study confirmed that deeper customer relationships continue to lead to better sales performance.
Win rates in sales organizations seen as Trusted Partners are 20% higher than those seen only as Approved Vendors. This kind of success typically takes a while to build, because relationships are a collection of interactions over time.
You can have the best content and the most compelling social posts, but the payoff occurs when these things are part of an overarching approach to acquiring, growing and retaining your customers.
To create this holistic approach, you need a sales methodology. A sales methodology is how you execute your sales process with your customers. You must embed perspective throughout the process. Perspective can’t be an afterthought, a whitepaper or a particularly good question. Rather, the strongest salespeople thread perspective throughout their approach to buyers’ needs.
The focal point of this kind of methodology is the buyers’ needs — but not in a general “we are customer-centric” way. Rather, the entire approach revolves around what the customer wants to achieve and where you can help them — which is likely well above and beyond what one of your products does.
To gut-check your approach, look for ways to get feedback directly from customers. This may include formally collecting win-loss feedback or expanding the charter of a customer advisory board that your products team has established.
Column fodder is when salespeople waste valuable time selling to buyers that have already made up their mind yet feel the need to get additional proposals to validate their choice. If you’re selling in a complex B2B sales environment, chances are that you’re painfully familiar with this term.
To add insult to injury, when your solution is nothing more than column fodder, your salespeople may spend significant time unearthing buyer needs yet never get a chance to present their proposal in a face-to-face or virtual meeting.
Customers often request column fodder proposals over email or with the dreaded RFI or RFP. In some cases, especially when you’re responding to government agencies that require multiple (and lengthy) proposals, responding to column fodder requests can tank your sales productivity.
If your salespeople are spending too much time as column fodder, consider these questions: