The new conventional wisdom tells us buyers don’t want to engage with B2B salespeople until late in their purchase journeys. Committees are now more self-driven than ever in their research, which ostensibly means they prefer not to hear from reps until they’re almost ready to make a decision.
However, new research contradicts this school of thought, illuminating real opportunity for sales to make a pivotal impact in the early stages of consideration. Understandably, these insights are generating a lot of buzz in the modern selling community. Let’s unpack the data and see how you might use it to your advantage.
Buyers Are Engaging Sellers Earlier in the Process
According to the 2019 B2B Buyers Survey from Demand Gen Report, we’re witnessing a changing of the tides. Here are a few key developments uncovered in the study, which surveyed more than 250 senior-level B2B executives:
42% said they engaged a rep from the vendor they ultimately selected within the first month of researching (up from 33% in 2018)
33% said they accepted outreach from vendors for calls and demos in the first month (up from 23% in 2018)
25% said they sought RFPs, competitive bids, and/or pricing info from vendors in the first month (up from 20% in 2018)
This is sweet music to the ears of sales teams everywhere. Not only do these stats suggest we can assert our presence in the first few weeks of the buyer journey, but also that we might be able to accelerate sales cycles, which can be notoriously lengthy and drawn-out (especially for large enterprise organizations).
On that note, I was also intrigued by a recent report from Aberdeen, Why Do B2B Buyers Struggle? The Answer is in the Data. This survey of nearly 350 B2B buyers revealed similar findings to those above, with a surprising 73% of respondents saying they reach out to vendors early in the process:
However, the study by Aberdeen also found 53% of buyers saying they halt or postpone decisions at least half the time. Why? Respondents point to a lack of differentiation, or an absence of suitable solutions:
How can we, as sellers, help decision makers overcome these hold-ups and stave off the plague of inertia? Below, we’ll sample guidance from some of the web’s top trending sales content.
Key Opportunities to Impact the Buyer Journey
It goes without saying that engaging and swaying buyers early provides a critical competitive advantage. These four techniques can help you do just that.
Listen and Learn (Don’t Push)
Just because buyers are open to conversations with sellers early on doesn’t mean they want a barrage of salesy promotion. It’s important to keep in mind that at this point, prospects are still trying to get their arms around the decision at hand, and they value assistance with this above all.
“Salespeople often listen just long enough to start talking,” Nancy says. “They’re not really listening or responding to what the buyer says. In that vein, they often ask a question and use the answer as a jumping off point to pitch. Step back and really hear your prospects. Comment on their answers and ask another question.”
This ties back to the insight above about decisions stalling because the buyer didn’t see differentiation, or didn’t find the right fit. Oftentimes, this happens because the rep wasn’t attentive enough to truly understand the organization’s unique situation, and tailor the position of their solution accordingly. Listening and asking good questions are both crucial practices for making this connection.
Prioritize Your Prospecting
Sometimes, a prospect simply isn’t the right match for what you’re offering. Salespeople can waste a lot of time and resources trying to pursue these fruitless leads. So one vital step is to properly identify the opportunities that make sense, and focus your efforts there.
“How well does your current lead scoring program identify prospects exhibiting signs of buyer intent?” he asks. “Are you capturing Web behavior such as visits to high-value pages? Are you integrating third-party intent data? A highly tuned lead scoring program will help ensure that motivated buyers receive the appropriate attention and don’t fall through the proverbial cracks.”
Leveraging quality data and pursuing the highest-value prospects will help you ensure those early engagements are productive for both sides. Sewell also adds that prioritizing high-intent sales alerts can help teams become more efficient.
“Customers want speed right through their buying journey. They may deliberate over their choices, but as soon as they interact with a supplier they want answers fast,” she writes.
Obviously no human being is going to be available 24/7 at the whim of curious buyers, but it’s worth thinking about ways your sales team can optimize for these shifting preferences. As Lun Plotkin notes, digital tools like web chat applications are gaining popularity for this purpose.
The entire piece is a worthwhile read for B2B salespeople and their marketing counterparts, but I was especially struck by his recounting of an instance where a company rep shared a brochure and seemed more concerned with its design than its actual content.
“This is something we come across time and again in the B2B space, where businesses don’t put enough strategic thought into sales collateral, from brochures to folders and articles to explainer videos,” Moss explains. “[The rep’s] primary concern was that his brochure was going to be made to look ‘better’, whereas it actually should have been strategically redesigned to not only help me make a decision — but to swing the decision his way.”
It’s worth noting that Moss was engaging these companies deeper into his journey, which is why he felt more persuasive content was warranted. For those engagements taking place earlier in the process, buyers tend to value more general, objective information that helps them fully understand their options. Work with marketing to ensure you have content aligning with each stage of the journey.
Early Bird Gets the Worm
In the final example, Moss says that he “completed over 80% of the purchase journey before [he] spoke to a human representative of the company.” Naturally, there are still plenty of decision makers who want to handle the bulk of research on their own before welcoming outreach. But the aforementioned research makes it clear that an increasing number of buyers are willing — if not eager — to consult with reps early on. Capitalizing on these opportunities is a big deal.
In sales circles, it’s normal to hear impassioned talk about deals landed and lost.
Leading indicators? Not as much.
Maybe that should change. Ideally, our leading indicators and our sales performance metrics should resemble each other. Meaning, by choosing our sales performance metrics wisely and then tracking them, we can be sure we’re building deal-landing habits that will serve us throughout the digital selling era.
Why not just stay busy and track sales? Isn’t that simpler? That works for some people, sure. But it can also lead to false positives and costly lulls in performance. For example, the stellar month followed by several sub-par months in which the sales rep focuses on replenishing an empty pipeline. If this sales rep were tracking sales performance metrics, they’d see that their activities (or lack thereof) were putting them in a vulnerable position in the months ahead, and can make a course correction before it’s too late.
Also, by tracking sales performance metrics and gaining a better understanding of which activities are most strongly linked to success (which can vary by company and by rep), sales reps are more motivated to infuse their days with ROI-generating activities, even when they don’t see immediate results. If you only track sales, you might be inclined to ignore activities with handsome long-term benefits.
5 Sales Performance Metrics for the Modern Digital Seller
What gets measured gets done. Here are five digital sales performance metrics to consider adding to your scorecard. I think you’ll find that tracking these metrics will not only help you win more deals, but will also help you feel like you’re winning on your way to winning those deals.
2nd Degree Connections on LinkedIn
You’ll also see this listed as network growth, but not all network growth is equal. Some connections are simply more relevant and have larger networks which you can potentially access. In this sense, one connection can be more valuable than dozens of connections.
When building your network, make it a point to connect with people who themselves are connected. Think about your typical sales prospect. Who are they connected to? Better yet, who are they engaging with?
Think about connecting with industry consultants, channel partners, even other sales pros who sell to the same market. The benefits go beyond potential introductions, too. When a connection engages with your content on LinkedIn, their network can see this activity as well. To borrow a marketing term, your potential relevant reach grows with each relevant connection.
Some people say tracking attempts is too simple, and they’re right. A spike in attempts doesn’t necessarily mean success is on the horizon. If we’re talking about cold outreach, a spike in attempts can mean a bad brand experience for the better part of one’s prospect list. If left to continue, this high-effort and low-yield scenario can quickly lead to burnout.
The bottom line, though, is that interactions generate sales. Those who work mostly with referrals built their networks through interactions and maintain it the same way. There are all sorts of different ways to interact with people digitally. The key is to track your way to engagement attempts that ultimately yield positive results more often than not. The next sales performance metric will help with that.
Categorization comes in big here, hence the pluralization. Your actions will have varying goals and varying likelihoods of success. For example, you might ask for a potential referral partner’s opinion in a group or forum with the goal of building your network. Or you might invite a qualified prospect to a demo to keep your pipeline flowing. Both of these engagement attempts might ultimately yield success, but to be tracked most effectively, they should be compared against engagement attempts with similar objectives. For the demo scenario, you might invite some prospects via email and some via LinkedIn InMail, comparing the effectiveness of each channel.
LinkedIn Connections within Target Accounts
Interactions with target accounts is another way I’d recommend categorizing your engagement attempts. The fact of the matter is single thread selling – that is, connecting with a key executive directly or through a single “sponsor” – doesn’t work like it once did now that buying committees rule the day.
When it comes to engaging with the modern buying committee, success isn’t always about moving a deal forward. Sometimes the most successful interactions are those that allow you to understand the committee dynamic a little better – who’s most motivated to make a change, and which opinions will matter most? – or those where you get introduced into a conversational thread with another buying committee member.
These are potentially huge micro-wins, and they should be counted. Connections within a target account also ensure two-way visibility. You can track what buying committee members are up to (which you can also do before they’re connections by saving them as leads), and they now have visibility into your updates and interactions as well.
This might seem like a fluffy performance metric, but the fact of the matter remains that sharing is one of the better ways to prompt engagement, which can spark conversations and connections. Sharing also allows you to stay visible among your aforementioned prospects and target accounts.
We tend to think of sharing solely as being something shared publicly on social media, and those shares can be incredibly valuable, but it’s also helpful to think of shares in terms of sharing the right content or information with key contacts. For this I recommend LinkedIn PointDrive because it allows you track who is engaging with your content and how they’re engaging with it. If they share your content with other buying committee members, you can see that, too.
We all share in different ways, so the key is to make sharing comfortable for you. The best way to do that is to experiment with different ideas and track the engagement performance of each to find the style of sharing that works best for you (and your prospects).
Lastly, since the idea is to make leading indicators more attractive, have some fun with it. Create your personal “leading indicators dashboard” and keep it open at all times so you can watch the micro-wins pile up on your way to macro wins, or sales. If some of the terms feel robotic, call “attempted engagements” whatever you wish. Whatever helps you track your performance so that you can save enough time for impassioned talk of your deals landed.
Nobody likes hearing the word ‘no’ — especially sales pros. In a role driven by performance and growth, it can be tempting to give up and move on after hearing ‘no’ two or three times. In fact, 92% of salespeople stop following up after hearing ‘no’ four times.
But, sales leaders who remain steadfast know that the first ‘no’ is sometimes just a stepping stone on the way to ‘yes’ — because 80% of prospects wait until the fifth follow-up to say ‘yes.’
Does this mean you should fire off five or more emails to everyone you’re pursuing? No, we wouldn’t recommend that. But knowing when the time is right to follow up — like when there’s a new opportunity to add value, or you noticed a certain timing trigger — is integral to building relationships. To this end, follow-ups shouldn’t always be sales-focused; reaching out to simply compliment someone’s work, or congratulate them on a job anniversary, can pleasantly surprise and generate goodwill.
Whatever your motivation, the follow-up message is an important tool in gaining and maintaining trust, and it deserves as much attention as your initial outreach. Keep these sales follow-up email tips in your back pocket.
Writing an Effective Follow-Up Sales Email
First impressions are important. No one would deny that. But salespeople are often judged just as much, if not more so, by their second impression (and beyond). Crafting a nice introductory note, or hitting it off with someone at an event, will set you on the right path but the way you follow up is vital.
Does it come off as pesky? Do you remember details and show you were paying attention? Will they remember you or is it presumptive to assume so?
An effective follow-up email can be the difference between advancing a relationship and watching it fizzle. So needless to say, it’s important to get it right. Before diving into our template, here are two tools that can strengthen your approach.
Make an Impact with InMail
Standing out from the competition is key. Since email inboxes tend to be overloaded with sales messaging, you might think about pivoting to InMail.
InMail allows sales reps to target specific prospects and send personalized messages to their LinkedIn inboxes, and Sponsored InMail allows you to do so without a connection (helpful in those cases where you don’t have a contact’s email address).
With InMail, you can reach out when users are active, and attach relevant content—such as whitepapers, ebooks, and infographics—to engage them further. Or, you can use InMail to follow up with a prospect if they didn’t reply to your initial email. Maybe their inbox was full and your message was overlooked.
Another advantage? You can embed prominent CTA buttons within your InMail, making it easier for the recipient to take a next step whether via desktop or mobile device.
Stay Sharp with Sales Navigator for Gmail
It’s important to personalize any sales follow-up email so your prospective lead knows you are dedicated to their unique business problems. But, memorizing detailed information about a number of leads, prospects, and customers is easier said than done.
With Sales Navigator for Gmail, you can pull up the profile of your LinkedIn connection while in Gmail, providing an easy reference point for customizing your email and filling in the blanks below.
Move Deals Forward with This Sales Follow Up Email Template
Just like any other email, your sales follow-up should include a compelling subject line, personalized content, and resources that help the recipient see the value you offer.
Writing Strong Subject Lines
“You live and die by your subject lines,” according to Jack Kramer and Nick Martell, co-founders of the financial newsletter MarketSnacks, in an interview with Fast Company. No pressure, but without a compelling subject line, there’s a limited chance your carefully crafted message will even be seen.
Kramer and Martell assert: “ ‘Just checking in’ is an email subject line recipe for ‘ignore.’ ” So, with this in mind, aim for subject line copy that piques the curiosity of your readers.
When it comes to writing subject lines, be creative, be personalized, and get straight to the point. Here are a few examples of follow-up email subject lines that have worked well for other sales leaders:
How can we improve your [business goal]?
[Name], let’s have a 10-minute call about your onboarding process.
[Mutual connection’s name] recommended we chat.
Sales Follow-Up Email Template
By nature, there can’t be a one-size-fits-all follow-up email template, because that defeats the purpose of sending personalized, contextual messages to your recipient. So, in addition to the fields provided below, add specificity wherever possible around how you met this person and why you’re reaching out again.
Subject: Nice talking to you earlier, [Name].
I really enjoyed meeting you and would love to learn more about what you do as [role and responsibilities] at [company name]. I understand how challenging it can be to stay on top of [specific pain point mentioned in earlier conversation, or identified via research].
I came across this article, [relevant third-party content], that you might find useful. And if you’re interested in how our team might be able to help you, I’d love it if you checked out [sales collateral].
If it makes sense to continue the conversation, let me know what your calendar looks like so we can schedule a call.
I look forward to hearing from you,
Why it works: This template hits on all of the most important aspects of a strong sales follow-up email. Buyers respond positively to personalized emails, and the subject line, greeting, and first sentence of this email prove that you’ve been paying attention.
Offering up content and resources provides the prospect with value. (Since people are often averse to downloading email attachments from those they don’t know well, I might suggest using PointDrive.)
Lastly, it invites the reader to take action and advance the conversation.
Stay Persistent to Build Trust
Find the right balance between remaining tenacious and giving space, because it takes time to earn a buyer’s trust.
“There is a fine line between being a pest and being persistent,” sales expert Alice Heiman shared with HubSpot. “Being persistent without adding value is worthless.”
Choosing when, why, and how to reach out are the most essential aspects of sales follow-ups. But once you’ve made those determinations, the template above can help you get through and potentially turn a ‘no’ to a ‘yes.’
Technology helps sales reps get the job done. From longtime fixtures like CRM software and email prospecting to emerging approaches using artificial intelligence, machine learning, and predictive analysis, modern sales reps rely on a suite of digital tools to fill and convert pipeline.
But, according to sales technology stack expert and Smart Selling Tools founder Nancy Nardin, we shouldn’t be focusing so much on these tools themselves. Rather, it’s about what we do with them.
Successful sales reps know that nurturing buyer relationships and winning deals requires more than a suitable CRM system. When it comes to effective selling (and teaching), Nancy reminds us that nothing beats listening and asking the right questions. The most effective reps get to know their buyers on a personal level, using empathy and personalization to move conversations forward.
Read on for an inside look at the “four pillars of a sales stack,” the pitfalls of CRM dependence, her favorite recent sales book, and more.
Nancy Nardin Shares the Insight Scoop on Successful Selling
What does your role at Smart Selling Tools involve? What inspired you to found the company?
I saw this movement toward SaaS-based solutions as a window of opportunity for those who wanted to create innovative software aimed at sales organizations. CRM has certainly been around a long time. Many people thought of it as “all you need.” Then, solutions aimed at specialized areas started popping up. Sales enablement is one example. Another is scheduling software.
I could see a need to catalog the options, understand the trends, and educate the market. At Smart Selling Tools, we provide free resources to learn about sales tools, featuring the top solutions. I spend a lot of my time in product briefings, conducting go-to-market strategy sessions with vendors, hosting educational webinars, and producing videos that review sales tools.
Which tools do you think are most essential for today’s seller?
Our first SalesTech Benchmark survey found that there were four solutions favored far and above others: CRM, Online Meetings, eSignatures, and what we call lead/list building (you can think of it as finding prospects to sell to). We asked about 26 different types of tools and those four solutions were above the others by a wide margin. As a result, I call them the four pillars of a sales stack. We’re conducting the 2019 SalesTech Benchmark survey now. If people participate, they’ll get a free copy of the results.
Your sales career started back in the early ’80s, selling laptops before anyone knew what a laptop was. What’s the biggest change you’ve witnessed in sales, at a macro level, since then?
CRM is not enough. CRM is an important element, but it doesn’t facilitate a lot of the things that salespeople do on a daily basis. It doesn’t find new leads for you. It doesn’t keep track of activities like phone calls or meetings (unless you manually log them). It doesn’t tell managers what works on sales calls. It doesn’t do a good job of prioritizing high-volume prospecting.
CRM was the first sales app born from the needs of large field organizations who were just beginning to arm their sellers with laptop computers. Back then, it was referred to as Sales Force Automation or SFA. It was followed soon after by a digital slideshow solution by GRiD Systems, the laptop company I sold for. It wasn’t until around 2005 that the world began to see new types of sales tools come to market.
“CRM is not enough. CRM is an important element, but it doesn’t facilitate a lot of the things that salespeople do on a daily basis.” — Nardin
Do your habits and tendencies as a sales professional ever cross over into your personal and social life? Any amusing examples to share?
Interesting question! I admit, I do expect more from salespeople I encounter in my personal life. I notice when they’ve asked a good question at the wrong time. I have to keep myself from wanting to coach them as they’re selling to me!
From your view, which effective sales tactic is most overlooked or underutilized in the profession today?
It’s a tie between listening and asking good questions! Salespeople often listen just long enough to start talking. They’re not really listening or responding to what the buyer says. In that vein, they often ask a question and use the answer as a jumping off point to pitch. Step back and really hear your prospects. Comment on their answers and ask another question.
“Salespeople often listen just long enough to start talking. They’re not really listening or responding to what the buyer says.” — Nardin
What are some personal traits that you feel make you a more effective salesperson and teacher?
There are a couple things. For one, I’m empathetic. I also don’t take things personally. I’m good at what I call informed persistence. I don’t give up, but I try to offer new information or ideas in my follow-up – not just the same ’ol “checking in” message. It’s important for sellers to be confident without being arrogant and to be patient without being weak.
Are millennial buyers different from past buyers? What guidance would you offer to sellers as they engage this new wave of decision makers?
I’m afraid I can’t answer that question. I haven’t sold to enough millennial buyers. With all the talk about millennials, I’d say they share these things in common with other generations: they don’t want you to waste their time, they want to be respected, and they’re looking for ways to make a difference.
What's your stance on the ever-thorny topic of "cold-calling"?
Well, I just did a webinar on cold-calling with Natalie Severino of Chorus. I enjoyed our conversation! We talked about whether it’s dead or alive (it’s alive), the right ways to get people to engage, the anatomy of a good opener, pitch, and close — and more.
What’s the best book (sales-related or otherwise) you’ve read recently?
The most recent book was The Path Made Clear by Oprah Winfrey. It was good to step back from all the business books I read, take a deep breath, and remember the big picture. Honoring your calling, as Ms. Winfrey calls it, is not just about success but of significance.
I have to mention a sales book as well. There are so many of them. One of my favorites is the recent book by James Muir called The Perfect Close. You can get a lifetime’s worth of sales education in this one book. To help you put it into practice, he’s published a step-by-step workbook. I can’t recommend it enough.
Which emerging technology (AI, machine learning, predictive analytics, etc.) do you see as most promising for sales at large?
The ones that help salespeople reduce the FAT in their sales process. AI holds great promise because of its focus on doing things that people can’t do, or can’t do fast enough. The F in FAT stands for “fetching.” Salespeople do a lot of fetching (like finding information, contacts, insight, collateral). A stands for “assessing” things like “who should I call next?” or “what needs to be done to advance a particular deal?” And T stands for “task-doing.” Tasks can be things like entering meeting notes or call dispositions into the CRM. Those are all things that AI and machine learning have the potential to help with.
What’s the most obnoxious habit you see prominently from salespeople these days, and how would you advise them to alter that behavior?
The “set-it-and-forget-it” prospecting approach. Sales tools make it possible for sellers to put outreach cadences in action. The problem is, they often do it in a way that is too formulaic and impersonal. It goes like this: Email 1 – Pitch, Email 2 – Bringing this to the top of your inbox, Email 3 – I’ve been trying to reach you, Email 4 – Break up. That’s a whole lot of wasted activity.
Who is one up-and-coming salesperson to watch, and why?
Anyone who graduates from Dr. Howard Dover’s program at the University of Texas, Dallas, or Dr. John Peterson’s program at Northern Illinois University, or Joël Le Bon of The Johns Hopkins University - Carey Business School. Their students are amazing!
Set It and Go Get It
Technology has come a long way since the debut of personal laptops in the early ’80s. Today, innovative tools are transforming the way sales reps conduct business. But, as expert Nancy reminds us, nothing can replace thoughtful communication, strong conversation, and a personal touch.
To succeed in today’s vast and ever-changing sales industry, reps have to think beyond sophisticated CRM systems and get back to the heart of every successful transaction: relevant, valuable, and personalized connection. Emerging new tools are designed to augment, not replace, these essential selling mainstays.
Whoops. Did I lose you already? What we have here is an example of the classic pitfall in B2B personalization: When such efforts are transparently robotic, they can do more harm than good. Leave a name field unfilled, or insert the wrong cookie-cutter detail on a fill-in-the-blanks “customized” message, and today’s digitally savvy prospects will be quick to catch on.
The key lies in rethinking what “personalization” really means as it applies to the B2B sales process.
What B2B Personalization Really Means in Sales
Many people tend to think of personalization in the way it’s framed at the outset of this article; drop in someone’s name, so it seems like you’re speaking to them directly. I’ve seen plenty of email subject lines where someone took that one simple step, and apparently felt they’d done a satisfactory job (never mind that the actual content of the email was completely irrelevant to me).
Look, I’m not saying it isn’t valuable to include these kinds of personal-identification cues. Dale Carnegie famously said “A person’s name is to him or her the sweetest and most important sound in any language,” and there’s certainly some truth to that. But data suggests this technique is more helpful for getting someone’s attention than truly engaging them.
“We've got a controlled field study that shows that people are over-engineering personalization,” Riesterer explains. “When you look at the things that matter like click-throughs and meetings set (if you take an ABM prospecting campaign, for example), we see that putting in contact-specific personal information and target company-specific information is less effective than industry-based insights and personalization.”
He adds that “contact- and company-specific personalization had higher open rates, but the industry-based personalization had higher click-throughs and meetings set in our study.”
Context is King
If we follow the above line of thinking, we might conclude a subject line that says “Hey Jill, we’ve got something you might like!” will be effective at prompting Jill to open your email, but in order to really compel action and engagement, she needs to find something within that is specifically geared toward her role, business, and industry.
There is where nuance tends to get lost, and where a lot of personalization efforts fall short.
Let’s lay out an example to illustrate the point. Say you’re selling marketing analytics software. You might be using a general outreach message that you send to all prospects at a targeted organization. It’s aligned with recipients, in the sense that they all work in marketing, right? But chances are, it’ll only really be relevant to the marketing analyst and maybe their boss.
What if you created separate messages for the content strategist, and the SEO specialist, and the account manager? Marketing analytics touch each of these functions in different ways. Develop customized messaging – maybe even PointDrive presentations loaded with stats, insights and data – for each discipline, outlining the ways in which your software helps them. Now you’re on your way to building consensus.
This then becomes scalable as you can start using these same materials across different accounts. Apply information gleaned from LinkedIn and Sales Navigator to map out each organization’s structure, and align your outreach with varying roles in the marketing departments.
Get Your Research and Data in Order
“Personalization starts with research,” wrote Jeff Kalter at Business 2 Community last week. “Know the industry, the company and the buying team you are targeting. Understand their pain points and try to learn about any changes or events within the company that might signal their need for your solution.”
Again, it’s about context. Developing a focused pitch that speaks directly to a prospect’s circumstances and unique problems will go a lot further than simply plugging their name into a message. Doing this consistently can provide a major edge over other sales teams that are happy to fall back on the ol’ paste-and-send — especially if you’ve got better data.
“Nothing cuts through that clutter like highly relevant, personalized communication,” argues Jeff Kostermans at B2B News Network. “But this personalization needs to be accurate, and able to address the right pain points. Your competitors are basing their communications on limited data sets. If your data is better, your personalization will be too.”
B2B personalization isn’t just about adding in someone’s name, or even a reference to their alma mater, or favorite sports team. Again, that’s not to say it isn’t advisable to include these kinds of prompts for generating instant familiarity and recognition, but taking the next step to provide a tailored, substantive experience for the recipient is where prospecting can really excel.
In either case, good data will be your guide. And LinkedIn is your source for plenty of the details and insights that make scalably personalized sales outreach a reality.
It’s undeniable, modern B2B sales is evolving. In LinkedIn’s latest State of Sales Report, 73% of sales professionals use technology to close more deals and 97% consider sales technology to be “important” or “very important”.
It’s clear that to succeed in modern selling, a sales professional needs to leverage technology, intelligence tools, and social media to stand out from the crowd. The increasing adoption of newer technologies and the availability of information has transformed the selling landscape for both sellers and buyers.
However, we also know that trust and human connection still underlies the sales process. Buyers and sellers continue to value relationship building and having a human face throughout the sales process. In fact, 51% of decision makers rank trust as the number factor they desire in a salesperson.
Video as Part of Modern Selling
Modern selling is about using current technology and tools to connect with your customers authentically and turning that connection into a trusted relationship. One of the most valuable tools that a sales professional can use to build these relationships is video. According to Cisco, 80% of internet traffic will be video by 2020, and Forbes reported that 59% of B2B executives prefer to watch a video rather than reading a report.
To stand out in the increasingly competitive landscape, sales teams have to adapt to how potential customers are consuming information. By using video in the sales process, you can enrich every step of the sales process, from creating initial buzz and awareness to maintaining and growing current customers.
Introducing "Inside the Sellers Studio"
While video may be familiar to some sales professionals in the context of promotion or demos, videos can actually add value at every step of the sales cycle. This summer, LinkedIn will take you Inside the Sellers Studio to hear from industry experts and thought leaders in B2B sales on how using video has transformed the way they sell and connect with customers.
In the coming weeks, we will learn how different companies have used video in unique and effective ways to stand out from their competitors, adapt to the changing sales environment as well as the key things a salesperson needs to know before embarking on their own video journey.
Inside the Sellers Studio: Connect
Today, we are sitting down with Chad Lakin, VP at Shootsta North America, a company dedicated to empowering companies to create high quality video content at scale. In this short video, he shares with us his perspectives on video in the selling process, how video has enabled him to connect more authentically with potential customers, and what are the key things to consider when making your own videos.
Feeling Inspired? We’ve created a handbook for the video selling era to help you and your sales teams build the skills to create your own videos.
LinkedIn has become the digital water cooler for businesses around the world. The more than 630 million members on LinkedIn are reading an increasing number of articles on the platform.
To give salespeople a clearer picture of what decision makers are reading on LinkedIn, we’ve introduced our monthly “Water Cooler” series. This series examines what specific groups of decision makers are reading on LinkedIn. Last month’s Water Cooler, for instance, looked at how what articles Millennials read on the platform differed from older members.
This month, we take a look at what decision makers in three different functions — information technology, engineering, and business development — are engaging with.
The late Intel executive Andy Grove said it best, “Only the paranoid survive.” That sentiment still appears to be true in information technology, at least judging by the top 10 articles that IT decision makers engaged with in May. Every single article in the top 10 covered security or hacking in some way, even the article in 10th place, “CISOs, Stop Focusing on Cybersecurity.”
Top 10 Posts Engaged With by Decision Makers in IT
Decision Makers in engineering have a major focus on software and hardware news, according to the top 10 articles this cohort was engaging with in May. Six articles in the top 10 covered various updates from companies such as Microsoft and Micron. Other engaging articles in the top 10 for engineering decision makers covered personal stories of engineers, such as the story told by Rukmini Reddy in “I’m a VP of Engineering and a Woman of Color. These 5 Lessons Got Me Here.”
Top 10 Posts Engaged With by Decision Makers in Engineering
Decision makers in business development tended to engage with articles that featured a successful executive (it helped if they were famous) and promised to deliver an insight about business strategy. Jeff Bezos, for instance, figured prominently in two articles in the top five, including the most engaging article examining why Amazon was offering employees $10,000 to quit. Other articles offered insight from Bill Gates; the CEO of Booking.com; and Brigette Hyacinth, who had two articles in the top three.
Top 10 Posts Engaged With by Decision Makers in Business Development
Ninety-three percent of decision makers say they are more likely to consider a brand if a sales professional provides personalized communications, according to LinkedIn’s State of Sales report. Personalizing messages has become crucial.
As the wide variety of articles appealing to these various business functions demonstrates, the kind of article you’re interested varies widely depending on role. The articles that IT decision makers read varied from those that engineers read which again differed from what attracted the interest of business development decision makers.
The key lesson then for salespeople is to create and share content on LinkedIn that is remember your audience. And tailor your content to what interests them.
Despite being one of the world’s largest sectors and employing 7% of the working-age population, the construction industry is one of the least digitized in the world, according to MGI’s digitization index. Companies across the globe are working to change that, and Rhumbix is among the leaders.
Rhumbix modernizes the construction industry and its various operations by helping builders go paperless in the field, as well as improving how they measure and manage labor productivity. To connect with prospects, nurture leads, and sell their cloud-based platform to ideal customers, the sales team at Rhumbix leans on LinkedIn Sales Navigator.
Adding a Personal Touch to a 100-Day Sales Cycle
According to Kayla Rockwell, Director of Marketing at Rhumbix, the company’s average sales cycle has surpassed 100 days, which is lengthy — even for B2B.
“A lot of business previously in construction was figuratively and literally built on a handshake,” Rockwell says. In the same way decision makers of old based their decisions on mutual connections, so do modern decision makers in the construction industry.
“It’s who you know. It’s a mutual connection,” Rockwell shares. “That’s the way it operates offline, so being able to bring that element to the online space, which is what Sales Navigator facilitates, makes the transition to online relationship-building feel a little bit more intuitive.”
Sales Navigator is a Lifeline for Sourcing Information
Operating within the United States and Canada, account executives at Rhumbix rely on Sales Navigator to transcend multiple markets. One particular AE supports a majority of the team’s Canadian market.
According to Rockwell, relevant information in Canada, as it pertains to the sales cycle, is harder to come by.
“Sales Navigator really is his lifeline for sourcing information in the Canadian market,” Rockwell says. “I think without it, he would have a really tough time.”
Revolutionizing the Construction Industry
“A lot of construction is offline still. There are not comprehensive databases where [sales reps] can find decision makers” says Rockwell. “I think that because of the way LinkedIn presents itself, it is a low barrier to entry for someone who maybe isn’t as technically savvy.”
The team at Rhumbix attributes 69% of influenced revenue to Sales Navigator. Since adopting the platform, Rhumbix has sourced 78% of opportunities to it. They’ve seen a 1.67x lift in deal size and a 2.44x increase in win rate.
Learn more about how Rhumbix uses Sales Navigator to revolutionize the construction industry by reading the full case study.
Editor’s Note: This guest post was contributed by Julie Thomas, CEO of ValueSelling Associates.
Another quarter or maybe fiscal year is coming to an end, and if your numbers are lower than expected, you may feel pressured to offer reduced pricing to reach your quota. Before turning up the discount dial, consider alternatives for turning prospects into buyers — without stooping lower on price.
Instead of adopting a sales strategy focused around price, make it all about value. This strategy works even if you are selling similar products in a crowded marketplace. Sure, everyone loves a bargain. Savvy B2B buyers, though, also understand that you get what you pay for. They consider more than price before making a purchase.
Companies with higher price points win business away from low-cost providers by leveraging the power of differentiation. They know how to position themselves apart based on a prospect’s unique needs. The trick is to show a prospect how your solution is uniquely qualified to resolve their business issue better than any alternative, so that your solution is the best choice, regardless of how much it costs.
For this approach to work, you have to know where your offering differs from the competitors. This doesn’t necessarily require a competitive analysis. At ValueSelling Associates, we have found there are four major categories you can cue up before relying on pricing as a differentiator.
1. Focusing on Features that Fit a Unique Need
This accounts for the largest degree of differentiation, regardless of an industry, and is typically what product education focuses on. What features, functions and deliverables do your B2B solutions provide that are ideal for a particular prospect? How are these an improvement over what already exists in the market or within the company? Can you cite specific customers who’ve seen quantitative improvements since adopting your products or services? These brief stories will stick with the prospect, especially if they were battling similar business issues.
2. Offering More Favorable Terms and Conditions
If you’re in a crowded field or your solution is now commoditized, you may distinguish yourself by offering more favorable payment terms or extended product warranties. Limited-time money-back guarantees can sweeten the pot, particularly for wary prospects not fully convinced your product will work.
3. Saving Time, Delivering Convenience
Time equals money, especially if a company lacks internal resources for anything but a quick deployment. How easy is it to implement your software? How fast can you add hardware to an existing network? Do you offer on-site services to ensure everything is properly configured and secured before going live? And are these services free (unlike the competitor)? Does a contract come with 24/7 technical support online or over the phone? Is there free training for users? Ask anyone who’s installed freeware and then couldn’t get support when they needed it. They’ll say the true costs of ownership were much greater than anticipated.
4. Providing a Higher Level of Assurance
Here the advantage typically goes to industry leaders with a proven track record of delivering quality goods and ongoing support. If you are a startup without a strong client list, tout the expertise of your staff to assure prospects of your solutions’ durability, flexibility, security and any other highly-sought feature or function. Most B2B entrepreneurs were first successful somewhere else; that’s why they went out on their own. They also tend to bring solid talent with them. Leverage that expertise to quell any concerns about the lack of long-term successes.
All of these value-adds may convince a prospect that going with your company is the best option. Especially if, in the course of a conversation, you can show how your vision for success and your prospect’s vision match. This is where differentiation makes all the difference. Being known solely as a low-cost provider should never be your goal. Instead, strive to be known for providing the best value for the price.
One of the hardest parts about selling today, and an aspect I often hear salespeople lament, is the inherently impersonal nature of engaging prospects online. Many of us got into this profession because of our personality and charisma, which can be tough to convey in a digital setting.
There are ways, however, we can still add a personal touch and differentiate ourselves from the pack. The importance of doing so is difficult to measure, but impossible to ignore.
Recently, Mike Schultz of RAIN Group shared a story from a previous job, where his company’s Chief Financial Officer told him why they chose to go with a particular firm. “We picked them because I liked them better,” the CFO said. “All of the firms were qualified to do the work of taking us public. So it came down to which team I felt most comfortable with. Who I wanted to work with. Who communicated with me the best.”
In other words: Even when you have the best product, the best price, and the best fit, you can still lose out because a competing sales rep simply connected better with pivotal decision makers at an account.
In the interest of helping you make that connection, we’re going to highlight two key opportunities for making a memorable impression and increasing your likability factor, even without the benefit of a face-to-face interaction.
Adding a Personal Touch to Digital Sales
Drawing from top trending sales content around the web last week, here are some insights and advice to help you develop a highly appealing digital sales presence.
Shape Their Perception Before the First Interaction
We all know it’s critical to make a good first impression. But sometimes the first impression comes before we ever have the chance to engage a buyer directly. In the age of the internet, the old adage about how our reputations precede us is truer than ever. Prospects can uncover a wealth of information about you before they ever speak (or write) a word to you.
With this in mind, it’s vital to account for all the places someone might go to learn about you, and ensure they’re sending all the right signals.
Your Headline: This is the snippet that appears right under your name in your profile, and alongside it in search results. It’s the most visible piece of content associated with you on LinkedIn. Think of it as your chance to make a quick two-second impression on anyone who comes across you on the platform. By default, it’ll simply show your position and company, but that won’t stand out. Get creative and try to uniquely frame yourself as someone that a person in your niche would want to spark a conversation with. For example, instead of “Sales Rep at Acme Data,” you could say “Hardcore Data Nerd Who Loves to Chat Software.”
Your Pitch: As James notes in his piece, the summary section of your profile offers a chance to make an “elevator pitch” before ever doing so directly with a prospect — not just for your product or service, but for yourself. Demonstrate your expertise and position yourself as a consultative advocate.
Your Reviews and Recommendations: People tend to trust the things others say about us more than the things we say about ourselves. For this reason, third-party endorsements can be quite powerful. In his Forbes article, James is talking more about featuring reviews of your solution on your profile (which is a good idea), but here I’m talking more about personal endorsements from folks who’ve worked with you in the past.
Multimedia: Strong visuals tend to catch people’s eyes more than plain text, so multimedia can be a real difference-maker. This brings us to our next item.
Use Video to Tell Your Story
If you can’t converse with a prospect in person, video might be the next-best thing. This allows the individual on the other end to see you, and feel (in a way) like you’re talking right to them. We’ve written in the past about how video can give B2B sellers an edge, and last week on our blog we featured a handbook for the age of video selling. You can find guidance for getting started in those articles.
Another recent post worth checking out is from Katie Martell on marketing videos that defeat buyer apathy. As the title suggests, this article is oriented toward marketers, but it’s a valuable read for any salesperson who wants to master the art of compelling, persuasive video content. Martell’s tips:
Speak to your niche
Talk like a human being
Be where customers want you to be
Each of these will help you come off as approachable and knowledgeable. I would especially emphasize the second suggestion: talk like a human being. Don’t worry about creating a fully-scripted, flawlessly performed and shot video. You’re better off just taking selfie video with your smartphone, speaking casually and authentically. This will be your best bet for replicating that “in-person” experience and can make you seem relatable to prospects.
Let the Real You Show Through
In a vast sea of different solutions and salespeople, it can be challenging to rise above and get noticed. One of the best ways to do so is by letting your real personality shine through in your digital persona. As we’ve established here, there are ways to break through the impersonal nature of the internet, and those who do so effectively will be at an advantage.