Tag Archives: Sales

Free sales intelligence 101 – Part 1

Salespeople are fortunate to have access to more information on their prospects and customers than ever before. The challenge is to navigate this ocean of content without drowning or becoming distracted.

For those who aren’t using sales intelligence, here are some of the reasons why you should.

4 REASONS YOU NEED SALES & SOCIAL INTELLIGENCE:

1.  Situational awareness drives lead conversion. Understanding the business and personal environment in which a person lives is critical to effective selling. How can you help? What challenges is their business facing? How do they spend their spare time? What are their passions? The answers to questions like these allow you to tailor your message and find rapport-building shared experiences and connections. Understanding = authentic relationship-building  + trust + helping = selling.

2. They expect preparation!  Demonstrate to the prospect or customer that you have done your homework and care enough to understand them. Today’s customers and prospects spend less time in sales meetings, do web research before meeting with vendors and expect that you’ve done the same.  Failing to meet their expectations by arriving/calling unprepared or “wasting time on a fishing expedition”, as one sourcing professional said to me, sets the stage for failure.

3.  Your customers are talking to you through social media. Are you listening? Individuals and companies are broadcasting their priorities, interests, activities and trigger points via social media. Ignoring social intelligence = ignoring the customer.

4.  Speak their language.  Information gathered from sales & social intelligence sources provides insight into personality and individual communication styles. Communication 101 tells us that people generally fall into several “types” based on personal preferences and age. For example, people born after 1979 (Gen Y) prefer to communicate through technology channels like email and social networks much more than via telephone . If their profiles  shows a tendency towards “introversion and thinking”, you’d want to adjust your communication style accordingly ( e.g.  plan to explain every feature of your proposal, respect personal-professional life separation, avoid humour in serious situations).

(If you’re interested in reading more about personal styles, I posted on the subject previously and shared some links at http://funnelblog.com/2012/04/05/personality-testing/).

Great paid solutions that aggregate information from hundreds of sources and automate sales intelligence gathering are only a Google search away. But you don’t need to pay-to-play.  There are plenty of free sales intelligence tools that will up your sales game, so don’t let money stand between you and increased sales productivity!

Here are some free sales & social intelligence tools that I recommend (and use):

  1. Google Alerts
  2. Social Alerts
  3. RSS, blog and news search and subscriptions
  4. Job change alerts (www.jobchangealerts.com)
  5. Bloomberg/BusinessWeek Business Profiles
  6. LinkedIn

In my next post “Free sales intelligence 101 – Part 2”, I’ll discuss these tools in greater detail and describe how they’re used to drive sales productivity.

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Sales lessons from a brain-eater

The sea squirt (a tunicate to fellow geeks and scuba divers) is a peculiar sea creature. It starts life as a tadpole-like larvae wiggling through the ocean in search of a plentiful food supply. It doesn’t swim for long, however, being incapable of feeding in the larval stage.

Once it finds a rich food source, the sea squirt sets down serious roots, cementing itself to the sea floor.  It then begins transforming into a sack-like filter-feeder. To fuel this transformation, the sea squirt turns self-cannibal.

The squirt’s tail and primitive eye are its first “meal”. Tadpole parts aren’t much use when you’re cemented to the ground, right?  Then comes the amazing bit: the sea squirt “eats its own brain”. Since the adult sea squirt is 95% stomach and 100% focused on eating plankton, it’s thinking days are over. It’s the couch potato of the sea.

Although the physical resemblance is hard to see, human beings have much in common with the sea squirt. In fact, we’re distant cousins (we’re both part of the class of animals called Chordata). They also have something to teach us.

LESSONS FROM A BRAIN EATER

1.  Don’t eat your brain, you need it more than a squirt

Homework sucks, but it works. Investing brain-power to learn how to use new tools, communication channels and methodologies can deliver amazing results.

For example, my experience is that effective pre-call research increases lead-to-opportunity conversion by more than 30% in a B2B sales context. Prospects today have very high expectations for you. They expect that you understand them, their company and their needs BEFORE the first call or meeting. That’s why long-term sales leaders  invest brain-power in listening through detailed research.

2. Recognize opportunity, then commit 100% to seizing it

Squirt larvae swim in search of a food source and, when they see an opportunity, they seize it with cannibalistic gusto.  No hesitation, even though the decision has life and death consequences. This is a good lesson to learn from the squirt.
Seize the opportunity by the beard, for it is bald behind.  ~Proverb
3. Mobility’s a must, unless you’re a squirt
Repeating what works is a natural tenancy; it’s human nature. Somewhat paradoxically, often the most successful reps are at greatest risk of getting stuck in cement. Who among us doesn’t lean hard on a winning game plan? But unlike a squirt, the life-cycle of a sales professional is long and their environment is constantly changing. Long-term success requires a commitment to evolving with environmental changes, such as the social selling revolution and Sales 2.0 process automation.


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Lead assignment by social proximity. There’s gold in them thar processes.

Lead assignment is at the heart of every organization’s sales processes. Since people buy from people, not companies, the most important question asked of B2B sales managers is “who should work the deal or account?” It can also be the most complicated.

The importance of the process is directly proportional to transaction or account size. For medium to large B2B opportunities, a simple round-robin type assignment process just doesn’t make sense. For these deals, most businesses manage assignment using criteria like industry vertical, geography, opportunity size, product type and track record. Whether the processes are informal or formal, the objective is to apply these rules to maximize sales. Unfortunately, most B2B companies are missing out on a key opportunity to achieve this objective.

As every salesperson knows, people buy from people they know, like and trust. When offered roughly equivalent solutions, buyers will always pick the person who created the “know, like and trust” relationship. What’s more, common relationships, or social proximity, is THE most important factor in relationship building.  

People are psychologically wired with a trust equation that gives disproportionate weight to social proximity. That’s why sales leaders have always subjectively factored relationships into lead assignment. However, this approach was limited by its very subjectivity and perceptions of “unfairness”. Managers also didn’t have the benefit of social network visibility. Before social media, how many of us could list our “2nd degree connections”? If you’ll excuse the cliché, lead assignment by social proximity was only  employed when an insider relationship jumped up and bit us on our collective  asses.

Well, no longer. Thanks to the emergence of business social media, sales managers can now access hard social proximity data . When salespeople share social accounts with their employers (which is happening increasingly), it becomes possible to create objective rule-based lead assignment, using LinkedIn “degrees of connection” and Facebook “common acquaintances”.

The most important factor in the “know, like and trust” equation, social networks, can now be used as a primary means of lead assignment.

For those of you who aren’t yet social media converts, below is an example of how it works. I did a search on LinkedIn for Marc Benioff, the CEO of Salesforce. Two of my connections are directly connected to him, which I would never have known without LinkedIn.

Assuming I am a candidate to work a deal with Salesforce, a sales manager could (i) evaluate my connectedness to decision-makers at Salesforce, (ii) compare my social proximity to other members of our sales team, and (iii) make an informed and objective lead assignment decision.

Successful selling is becoming more relational than transactional. Social selling is accelerating this evolution. Sales leaders cannot afford to ignore the opportunity to assign leads based on social proximity. It makes common sense, and it also makes money.

If you have any experience, processes or tools that you use to take advantage of social proximity in lead assignment, I would love to hear about them.

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10 ways to get what you want, without violating your conscience (Part 1)

Success as a leader, salesperson or entrepreneur depends on the ability to influence. Whether you are a CEO, salesman or an entrepreneur selling a vision to investors, influencing is how you get what you want.

What tools do you have in your “persuasion toolbox”? There are a variety of principles and tactics that can increase your natural ability to persuade, without sacrificing authenticity or credibility. This is the focus of my post, but before I continue, it’s important to differentiate influence from manipulation.

Manipulation is a short-term strategy relying on power tactics (such as positional authority, fear), dis-honesty and win-lose outcomes. It ultimately benefits neither the manipulator nor the manipulated. Influence is about empathy, changing attitudes and win-win outcomes. These are the ingredients in building a long-term relationship.

People start developing influencing techniques in childhood, which you’ll know all too well if you have kids (must that candy be at the supermarket checkout?).  As we navigate relationships from childhood through adulthood, our most effective tactics get added to the toolbox (e.g. “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours”). Depending on our experiences and natural influencing abilities, people may use anything from a few favourite “tools” to a broad range of persuasion tactics.

I’m betting that you know a master influencer. If you do, what makes them so effective? How are they different? Chances are they have a high EQ (emotional quotient, the empathy equivalent of IQ) and a VERY full toolbox. The following list of principles work individually, but are even more powerful when used together.

The first 5 principles that need to be in your “persuasion toolbox” are:

  1. The Visibility Principle. People gravitate toward the familiar and are inclined to trust what they know. Conversely, the unknown is generally treated with skepticism. The best persuaders make sure they are very visible, because interaction breeds familiarity. Face-to-face visibility is still the gold standard, but social media is revolutionizing the visibility game. It is now possible to stay on the radar of hundreds of people in parallel through LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Google+ by posting valued-added content for your audience and demonstrating authentic interest via “likes”, “shares” and “retweets”. For salespeople, this is already being hailed as the Social Selling Revolution.
  2. The Supply-Control Principle. Any salesperson can tell you that a limited supply of time or benefits is a key influencer (does the Best Buy sales guy really only have one TV left at that price?), when it is credible. This is the law of scarcity, which you have no doubt heard of. The challenge in applying this principle is staying on the right side of manipulation. Artificially limiting supply is a sure-fire way to damage credibility. Think Apple, not the Best Buy sales guy, when applying this principle to increase demand.
  3. The Negative Sensibility Principle. Harrison Monarth described this well in his book Executive Presence: “Research shows the unconscious mind cannot hear and does not process a negative sensibility; this means that the word not doesn’t even register in the mind.” When Bill Clinton said “I am not a racist” during Obama’s campaign, the only words that were heard by the audience were “I am a racist”. “The unconscious mind, which records the entire experience on an emotional level, retains the memory of the word racist.” Master influencers avoid negative labels.
  4. The Authority Principle. People trust information that comes from a perceived authority. Expertise from a credible source fosters trust. If you position yourself as an authority or bring an authority to bear, trust and influence are much easier to achieve.
  5. The Highlighter Principle. Everyone has a natural tendency to focus on what confirms our preconceived ideas and arguments. This isn’t manipulative, it’s just human nature. The problem is that the tendency to highlight can be perceived as manipulation by an audience that disagrees with your message. Effective influencing means controlling the urge to highlight, because a balanced argument is a stronger form of persuasion.

My next post will be on the remaining 5 principles. If you want to read more before then, the book Executive Presence by Harrison Monarth is a great resource for leaders and entrepreneurs looking to improve their presence and influencing abilities. It was also my primary source for this post.

What is your go-to technique for influencing others? Please add yours to my list!

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Why people buy (or how to increase lead conversion)

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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).
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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?


Sources

  1. 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
  2.  Publication except on the phycology of persuasion:  http://www.media-studies.ca/articles/influence_ch5.htm

		
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