Your Best Pitch
There are 18 million salespeople employed in the United States. By 2020, only 3 million will be needed, according to the white paper "4 Leadership Trends in B2B Sales & Marketing."
The white paper stated: "That predicted drop in number is by no means evidence that salespeople will be less important to the growth of competitive companies in the future. Rather, it is a reflection of the fundamental way the Internet has altered the landscape, particularly in these key areas: customer relationships; selling methodologies; sales-management metrics; and collaboration with support teams, such as marketing, sales operations, customer service and inside sales teams."
With that in mind, salespeople need to think critically about how they work. Some approaches are better than others and help get those doors swung open.
For example, Mark Henry, channel manager at Creative Digital Imaging in Bangor, Maine, makes every cold call count.
"I try to accomplish three things in every cold call: be respectful of their time, identify a challenge their industry has and how I can alleviate that pain and offer to meet on their terms–—even if that means I need to get on a plane that afternoon," he said.
For Lori Gotschall, owner of Partners in Printing based in Lutz, Fla., it's dropping a few names.
"I usually try using a referral name or a competitor's name who we do business with," Gotschall explained. "It usually catches the attention of the potential client and results in a return reply. I think curiosity gets the best of the potential client."
Darren Russell, account manager for Chatsworth, California-based Coronet Printing, said there is no one particular way that "always" gets a salesperson in the door, an e-mail opened or a call returned.
"I think that salespeople need to develop a strategy that works for them and use it based on what they know about the customer," Russell noted. "Again, being a chameleon is important. If your customer likes motorcycles then you as the salesperson should like motorcycles, too, during the time spent communicating with the customer. If your customer wants to talk business only, then you as the salesperson should want to talk business only. I think adapting to the customer's likes/dislikes will get you in the door, so to speak, more often than not—but nothing is 100 percent guaranteed to work every time. I think adapting to what the customer likes/dislikes works best because people like to do business with friends and the best way to make friends with people is to identify with ideas/beliefs they share."
Sandwiched between cold-calling and name-dropping there is some room for social media. However, it's not the most important thing when it comes to nabbing the sale.
"I would differentiate between professional or business social media services like LinkedIn and personal ones like Facebook," Henry remarked. "Since I sell business-to-business, services like LinkedIn coupled with professional blogs make a great deal of sense and is a good business investment; for people selling business-to-consumer, Facebook and Twitter might be more relevant. In the end, it all depends on your audience and what social media services they use."
Gotschall said there are definitely pros and cons to using social media.
"Social media is another tool of exposing and marketing a business and its product or service offerings," she noted. "However, it depends on the nature of the business and its target audience. I think the social media sites are probably more applicable to companies promoting their business to the private consumer. Many companies block social media sites such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, so I believe those ways of connecting with the typical business client are not quite as effective as they are to a private consumer. Social media can be a useful tool for offering company specials, dispersing or discussing industry knowledge or current events, or introducing a new product or service."
But, what about younger salespeople who depend too much on technology?
Henry advised them to get out from behind their computer and start talking and listening. Instead, he encouraged them to participate in every networking meeting, conference, tradeshow and regional seminar around.
"You also need to join local entrepreneur and business development groups and actively participate. Put in speaker applications everywhere, but offer a refined message that doesn't sell your product/service, but gives away something of value instead. Once you build credibility in the marketplace as the go-to person for industry information and advice, customers will not only come to you, but they will refer you as well," he said.
Getting "out of your comfort zone" will not only better sales but make you a "more well-rounded" salesperson, Russell explained. Relying too heavily on technology also will set a person up for failure when it's time for a face-to-face meeting.
"A rule I like to follow is I always cold call 10 doors to the left and 10 doors to the right of my customer's location," he said. "Walking in cold is good experience and I have struck diamonds doing that. Another strategy is maybe making a certain day of the week your out of the office day to visit current clients and cold call on potentials. This is good because personal meetings with customers always help to develop a relationship."
Gotschall said persistence is the key to selling.
"If you believe in your product and services, then it is a matter of finding those who can use them. E-mail and other technology are great, but you must bring the human side into selling," she mentioned. "There is much information that can be determined looking a person in the eyes. Then use the added tools, such as e-mail, social media, etc. to keep your name or company name in front a client. Always keep your integrity."
Obviously, sometimes the best way to sell is to get tips from others.
The best advice Henry ever received was to offer solutions—not sell things.
"I ask questions and listen to my customer, uncovering their challenges and pain points in order to develop products and solutions to address those issues. Once you can do that, the sale makes itself," he said. "If you're trying to convince someone to buy what you're selling, then you're nothing but a commodity who can be undersold by the next salesman in the door."
For Russell, it was three simple words—"make it happen."
"It's a very simple phrase, but it's absolutely crucial to keeping your customers happy and relates to so many facets of the sales cycle. I'll sneak in another saying that relates to my initial advice, 'The next person to touch your job, is the one who is going to screw it up.' In my experience, I am the one who is ultimately responsible for my customer's job they have entrusted me with and it will never be anyone's fault but my own if things go wrong. I need to take the initiative and make sure things go right and are on time, whatever that entails. Whatever the roadblocks, obstacles and other problems that may be present, I need to overcome them somehow and it doesn't matter how I do it as long as I make it happen."
It would be impractical to think of selling or any of these tips in a vacuum. The slow economy also is a factor.
Henry explained it just means salespeople need to work a little harder.
"It can be more difficult to convince someone to buy on value rather than price when they're struggling to squeeze every penny. However, that just means I have to be better and uncovering their need and identifying their pain points. With a slow economy you also have to be prepared for a longer sell cycle and be more willing to work with cautious customers," he said.
In addition, Henry noted that he never listens to anyone's opinion of the state of the economy.
"If I were to do that then I could easily fall victim to the mindset of 'Oh, poor me. I can't get any sales or reach my goals because the economy is bad.' I've been in sales a long time and I have seen too many salespeople retreat into this self-helplessness state where they just don't even try anymore because in their mind the economy is bad. I think that is just an excuse not to work hard and to sit back and blame someone or something else for his or her problems," he declared. "My approach is always the same regardless of what people or the news [are] saying about the current condition of the economy and that is to hustle. If the economy happens to be good according to whomever, great, I am going to work just as hard to capture as much market share as possible. The same thing goes for when the economy is down according to whomever. In my mind, I need to work harder than my competition to take as much of the market share as I can get. Business is out there; you just need to find it."
It's about working harder and smarter, according to Gotschall.
"I try to always remember to thank clients more often now than ever. I try to get my company name in front of the client more often, through short thank you notes, brochure mailings, e-mail promotions or just a quick phone call. I never take for granted the client's business. We must always work to earn the business. Most importantly, always keep a pipeline of prospects in the works. Businesses can be here today, gone tomorrow."
On a final note, when it comes to going after a sale, Henry takes the old school approach.
"Today's computerized rush may be it, but there simply is no replacement for the personal side of selling," Henry declared. "After a sales call, send a letter (an actual letter, hand written and mailed first class) to each person [who] attended the meeting. Thank them for their time and let them know what your next steps are. Make sure to get to know your customer—their birthday, anniversary, wife's and kids' names, etc. If their company allows gifts, find out what they like to drink, smoke, collect, etc. and build that into your budget."
To download a copy of the white paper, visit www.sellingpower.com/microsite/?mid=150&sp_src=SP-WhitePapers.￼