Ask top salespeople why people buy and they’ll give you a simple answer: trust. The bigger the purchase, the more trust required to get the buyer to “yes”. The reason is common sense. Large purchase decisions can have a big impact on a buyer’s career, especially when things go badly. Physiologists call this “loss aversion”; people are more motivated by fear of a loss than hope of a gain.
In these situations, “who” one buys from is often more important than “what” solution one buys. This is nothing new. Even the social sales revolution hasn’t changed the basic nature of how people buy. Take the example of a salesperson in the 1970s named Don Draper.
Don is a real sale pro. Knowing instinctively that people buy from those they know, like and trust, the first step in his sales process is information gathering. On the weekend at his golf club, he asks around to see if anyone knows Jim, the prospective buyer. It turns out one of his foursome met Jim, a fellow Western University grad, at a local alumni event. Much of their conversation that night revolved around fishing.
One of Don’s best customers is also a graduate of Western, so he calls him up to find out if he can get an introduction. Fortunately for Don, the customer comes through and provides the warm introduction he was hoping for.
At their first meeting in Jim’s office, Don looks at the photographs, awards and sports paraphernalia on the bookcase. From these items, it appears that Jim has a daughter and son around 10 yrs old, is a major Boston Red Sox fan and is a real mover-and-shaker at his company with multiple awards to his credit. It looks like he’s also a Republican, based on a Nixon campaign button sitting on his desk.
During their meeting, Don starts off by talking to Jim about their mutual friend. They share a couple of stories about him, and Don talks about their last company fly-fishing trip together. The next 15 minutes they talk about nothing but trout and Don offers to send Jim his favourite brook trout fly. Don then asks a lot of questions about Jim’s role at the company, their recently released financial results and a disastrous recent product launch that was written up in the newspaper. Don does not talk about politics or the Red Sox. He is not a fan of Nixon and has no interest in baseball.
At the end of the conversation, Don finally gets down to business. He talks about how he helped his customer (the mutual friend), increase sales by 30% with a national marketing campaign, and he lists the other customers using the solution. He sincerely states his belief that it may be possible to turn-around Jim’s recent product launch challenges. They agree to talk more over lunch the following week.
In this example, Don is well on his way to a sale because he did these five key things that build rapport:
- Gathered sales intelligence. Knowing your customer, and showing you care enough to do your homework, is step 1 for rapport building. It’s simple math: knowing=caring=liking=trusting.
- Found authentic common ground. Studies show that people like those similar to themselves*. It’s a very strong psychological bias. Finding common ground, speaking in the buyer’s language and even mirroring body language is closely tied to likability. Like Don, you need to stick to authentic common ground (i.e. fishing not baseball).
- Used social proof. Don used a common relationship to show that he was a “safe choice”. When someone the buyer trusts purchased your solution, it provides “proof” that it is a good idea.
- Took advantage of the “Bandwagon Effect”. This is common sense, but worth adding to the list just the same, given its importance to the selling process. People tend to do or believe something because many others are doing or believing the same. It’s what makes customer success stories, good white papers and recommendations powerful.
- Applied the “Principle of Reciprocation”. Studies have shown that it is a general social rule that a person should try to repay fairly what we have received from another person*. If somebody performs a favour for us, we usually feel obliged to return their favour. Don’s offer of a fly increased the likelihood that Jim would say “yes” to their next meeting. Authenticity is, again, very important. Don’s gift worked because his shared interest was authentic.
Email, social selling and the web have fundamentally changed the selling landscape since Don’s time. Sales intelligence is just as important, but information gathering has undergone a revolution. Buyers have less time for meetings and phone calls, zero interest in Q&A and you’ll get some pretty funny looks using the tired “I see from this photo you’re a Sox fan” strategy. Buyers expect salespeople to know about them, their business and their problems BEFORE you’ve even spoken to them.
Salespeople have access to more information than ever before, often directly from their customers’ own mouths. However, buyers have higher expectations than ever before, so sales “homework” is more important than ever.
Successful, sales professionals now get their intelligence from web-based sources. What differentiates leaders from the laggards is how efficiently and effectively intelligence is used. Here are the top 8 sources of sales intelligence on the web:
- LinkedIn. By far the best tool out there for sales intelligence. With 150 million users (and growing), you can access descriptions of people and companies in their own words. This is far superior to the traditional sales intelligence databases like Hoovers. By showing connection paths, it also greatly accelerates networking to a target.
- Company website. It is amazing how many B2B salespeople don’t take full advantage of this resource. Press releases, financial reports, biographies and other information are often available right on the web.
- Offline networks. Social selling has not eliminated the need for talking and meeting. Resources like LinkedIn can make your networking more efficient, but business people are still far more likely to build relationships face-to-face. These networks are powerful sources of unpublished (and un-tweeted) information.
- Commercial databases. Sources like Salesforce’s Jigsaw (recently rebranded data.com) are helpful for clean contact information ontargets. I find Jigsaw less useful for larger B2B deals, but perhaps their partnership with D&B may increase the depth of both the D&B and Salesforce offering. In addition, they don’t intelligently incorporate web-based info from sources like Google, Slideshare or YouTube.
- Social media. If your customer is talking, you’d better be listening. The challenge here is volume, but it does save time to do searches for relevant content rather than monitor the whole flow. Social media is also a good way to see what targets and connections are reading and sharing.
- Trade press. The move to electronic versions of traditional trade press made the resource much more valuable. Now you don’t have to read every issue to find relevant content…you can just search! It’s a great source for industry-level challenges/opportunities, movers & shakers, products and companies.
- Web news. Google news searches, aggregators and industry sources (like Techcrunch and VentureBeat) are powerful sources of company and industry intelligence. Again, these sources are easily searched and do all the work of aggregating what is relevant to a particular business.
- Blogs. Most companies are either blogging or being blogged about. There is no better source for information on what people are saying about your target customer or industry. I regularly use Google blog search to find this content.
How are you gathering sales intelligence? Is there a source of intelligence that I should add to my list?
- Dr. Gouldner reported that the rule of reciprocity can be found in all human societies the rule of reciprocity in his classic 1960 publication: http://garfield.library.upenn.edu/classics1979/A1979HT60900001.pdf
- Publication except on the phycology of persuasion: http://www.media-studies.ca/articles/influence_ch5.htm