In a recent Forrester Research study of more than 400 U.S. executive buyers, only 19% of those surveyed felt their meetings with salespeople were valuable and lived up to expectations. As sales professionals, we certainly would take issue with this statistic as our sales reps tell us more than 50% of the time that “the meeting went well .“ So, where’s the disconnect? When asked about meeting objectives, 67% of survey respondents mentioned, “…meetings appear to be about YOUR company’s products and services- not about THEIR world.” Let’s be honest, most sales leaders would agree in principle with the survey assessment as over 60% of sales opportunities end in a “no decision” and disappear off the sales forecast too quickly.
5 Points How Sales Can Engage Executives in Business Conversations
Let’s focus attention on why decision-makers believe we should be speaking more about their world and not ours. Seems obvious on the surface, as who wants to listen to anyone speaking for an hour about why their company is so great at solving your problems (whatever they are now)? I received a wake-up message while attending a sales conference recently in Chicago when a senior sales and marketing executive at a very successful Fortune 200 company admitted to the audience, “We did a terrific job at nurturing excellent, quality leads via our website from prospects 60-70% through the sales cycle before communicating with us. However, we then sent our salesperson to an initial meeting including decision-makers with a standard presentation spending the first 30 minutes educating the audience about us!” Today, this outstanding B2B enterprise has increased sales results by providing salespeople with presentations that start with messaging about the “economic value that their customers derive based on information from customers that had similar challenges.”
Tailoring business conversations so that they are specific to individual customers requires research and precise messaging. Here are five recommendations for how your reps can become more productive today- with your help- by engaging decision-makers in a business conversation on the first call:
1. Know your audience: search the social media sites, especially LinkedIn, for business and personal information on key decision-makers, recent conference presentations, mutual connections, previous positions, or personal interests that you share etc. Search for anything that can resonate with key prospects during a conversation when getting to know them. Maybe you’ll discover that you both attended the same college.
2. Industry knowledge: demonstrate to the customer early that you understand their industry, trends and the business challenges they face. Provide examples or tell a story that demonstrates you have experience delivering tangible results in their industry with similar companies.
3. Company knowledge: show the audience you did research on their company and learned information about their opportunities and challenges via their website, by reading key press releases, reviewing the investor relations section, listening to CEO/CFO analyst presentations etc. that connect your capabilities to the company’s strategic initiatives.
4. Leverage technology tools: go beyond the normal slideshow of words, stock pictures, your company office locations etc. and show a 20 second video to make or prove a point, access research studies direct from your laptop or tablet, customize a slide or two showing potential economic benefits in a model that enables a business conversation, present professional crisp four-color graphics that show a typical customer “before and after” pie chart or bar graph visualizing the economic benefits that were achieved. Use technology to visualize the success your offerings have achieved with customers, and, as an opportunity to open a conversation with executives about their business challenges.
5. Value proposition: your presentation and conversation should communicate at least three things that economically differentiate your offerings versus the competition or status quo, and, prove that worth ($$$) to your specific prospect. If you claim to save customers 15% off their labor costs, prove it with an example from another customer, even if anonymous. Showing relevant examples is very important to executives you’re asking to trust your company and you.
Sales execution is about clearly communicating customer value to executive decision-makers, early in the sales cycle, literally in the initial meeting for qualified opportunities. Our rep’s time in front of the customer is often termed the “moment of truth” for a reason. In todays’ highly competitive environment where there is intense time pressures on executives, your rep doesn’t get a second chance if the meeting doesn’t address the customer’s problems coupled with conversations that engage the executive. The obligatory one-hour standard presentation approach is becoming extinct fast! Think about this for a minute…what if your rep gets “lucky” at the first meeting and the CEO unexpectedly attends and states up front, “I heard great things about your company and wanted to hear your message about how you can enable us to reduce costs, however, I’ve only 15 minutes.” Would you feel confident that your rep has been equipped with a value proposition to deliver an impactful CEO message and more importantly, that the CEO would feel it’s the right message for his/her company?
About the Author:
Richard J. Orlando is COO and President of LeveragePoint, where he oversees the sales and marketing operations. Richard has held sales and marketing leadership positions for major technology enterprises, including the past ten years with B2B SaaS application providers.