One of the techniques that I used in my 30-year career in sales, including 15 years as a senior vice president of sales in the IT services industry, was to conduct a targeted dialogue with buyers. I would start by asking them to tell me about their top ten customers:
- What are the common themes among their largest customers?
- Why do their customers continue to buy from them? Is it because of long-standing relationships, customer service, speed to market, or any other specific advantage?
- On the negative side, what about the top ten customers that left to go with a competitor? Are there any common themes among those who are gone?
Even though most buyers could not give good answers about their customers, I was able to gain credibility and position myself as a business partner who could provide value.
For me, it’s all about research and sales preparation before meeting with buyers. First, you have to know where they’re coming from, what’s going on with their company, who their competitors are, what markets they’re actively going after, and what the common problems are associated with these markets. You have to learn so much about them that you’re almost sliding into their shoes.
Then, you have to demonstrate a level of industry expertise, showing that you understand the forces at work within their industry and the kind of impact their decisions have on their own customers. Next, establish credentials by touting your organization’s experience in dealing with companies similar to that of the buyer’s own company.
Finally, you need to demonstrate your knowledge and understanding of their specific business; otherwise, you won’t be taken seriously. If you don’t come across as an expert in all of these areas, you risk losing all credibility. For salespeople to be successful at selling with insights, you have to be thoroughly prepared to show your understanding of the industry, the prospect, their business, and the prospect’s customers.
The digital technology that forever changed the selling environment offers salespeople the same wealth of knowledge that buyers have been tapping. Sources like LinkedIn and other social sites provide a peek into the buyer’s world on personal and professional levels, uncovering hooks that can become the basis of initial conversations.
If the buyer is new to the company, coming from a competitor or outside the industry, it can be easy to get the conversation rolling by asking about the change in career and what they hope to accomplish. If the buyer is a long-term employee, a different strategy is needed so that they don’t feel threatened about changing the status quo. In this case, it can be better to focus the conversation on the buyer’s customers and start building rapport there.
Resources, such as Glassdoor.com, can provide a look into the buyer’s company and competitors, drawn from a database of company reviews by employees, along with other relevant information. Often, I’ll just use my browser, conduct a search, and scroll through all of the results to get a broad perspective of the business environment.
As I said in Part I of this series, salespeople need to spend the time to learn about their prospects and the industry that they operate in. They have to understand the buying process and show that they can contribute and add value. This is more important than ever before because the reality is that more buyers are buying than are being sold.