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The way in which prospects and customers want to deal with salespeople has changed dramatically over the past several years. Some of you may recall the days of relationship selling, needs-based selling, question-based selling, followed by selling to companies’ goals. All of these had merit in their day as they were providing the value that clients were seeking at the time.
 
However, in today’s sophisticated business environment clients are looking for much more than great relationships with salespeople or providers focused on solving “pain points.” So what do salespeople need to do in this current, tough market to catch the attention of decision makers? The answer lies with the business decision makers themselves; and it may well surprise you! You’ll learn that leading a relevant sales call should be much more about what you know and ask and less about what you “say” or “pitch.”
 
A couple of years ago research was conducted with Canadian sales leaders representing several industries including insurance services, publishing, hospitality, communications, manufacturing, hardware supplies, post-secondary institutions and pharmaceuticals. In addition to identifying critical factors important to decision makers in meeting with salespeople, another key objective was to determine how to move these relationships beyond just a “vendor” relationship to achieving partnership status.
 
This research revealed that the top three issues occupying the minds of decisions makers when deciding whether or not they will meet with salespeople are:
 
1. How well does the salesperson know the targeted company’s business and industry?
2. How well does the salesperson know his/her own business?
3. How well can the salesperson help the client company gain some sort of competitive edge or move a key corporate objective forward?
 
The number one issue identified by the leaders interviewed was the importance they place on the salesperson knowing their business and industry. They emphasized that they expect salespeople to “do their research,” “know my business beyond our website,” and “understand me and my role and how your offering can help me.” A recurring theme that emerged from the research was that salespeople are not prepared when they meet customers. Most have a tendency to “wing it” leaving the customers frustrated and feeling as though they’ve wasted their valuable time. It’s all about adding value for your customer – and knowing what value is to each company you call on.
 
The next most frequently mentioned issue was that they expect salespeople to know their own business. What trends are happening in the salesperson’s industry that the customer can capitalize on? How can the salesperson’s product or service add value to the prospect’s company?
 
The third hottest issue identified in the study was for the salesperson to communicate quickly and concisely how their product or service can help the customer’s business. What cost savings or revenue improvement can the salesperson’s product impact? What other key objective that the targeted company is working towards can the salesperson impact?
 
Look at the statistics when we asked them to rate the salespeople that have called on them:
 
- Less than 2% of salespeople create a compelling reason to meet with them
- Less than 10% of the salespeople they meet are really great salespeople
- Less than 10% of the salespeople they meet follow a “sales process” in their client/prospect meetings
- Less than 10% of salespeople come to their meetings prepared
- Less than 50% of salespeople follow-up and secure the next step
 
To have an impact in a first meeting with a prospect, one of our study respondents said, “In the first meeting demonstrate to me that you’ve done your research and know my business beyond the website. Please get to the point quickly and do not spin any BS.” Another commented, “Lay out your agenda, including the amount of time you need.” And yet another remarked, “In this first meeting educate us about the market. What is going on, how will any new trends impact me?” Move quickly in this meeting; not a lot of chit-chat. One respondent stated that they are, “…looking for a connection, a match of values, a genuine caring on the part of the salespeople.”
 
A salespeople has a better chance of getting a follow-up meeting if you can concisely articulate a payback or address a critical priority that the prospect’s company is facing. One commented, “Don’t shoe-horn your product into my company; make it about me and my concerns.”
 
In a phrase, customers today are expecting salespeople to “bend over backwards.” According to one respondent this means salespeople should “bring objective data that shows how you can improve in my business. Be tenacious, look out for me, give me information I don’t have, ask direct questions to find out where my thought process is (‘what’s it going to take,’ ‘what are you looking for’) and look out for my best interests.”
 
Most decision makers will switch suppliers based on more than just price, but the reason to switch again has to be very compelling. That is, “Make my life easier, show me something new.” Another said, “Show me the cost/benefit or additional revenue opportunities for my company. Bring great value and prove out a return on my investment. Show me you want to work with me and my company. Be eager, but professional.”
 
So if someone comments to you that selling is easy, give them this article! Demonstrate to them how our world has changed and that decision makers are more demanding than ever today.
 
 
About the Canadian Professional Sales Association
Since 1874, we’ve been developing and serving sales professionals by providing programs, benefits, and resources that help you sell more, and sell smarter. 
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Copyright ©2013 by The Canadian Professional Sales Association
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