Louis Pasteur’s famous quote, “Chance favors the prepared mind,” was intended to guide a better scientific method, but is equally appropriate to the art and science of professional selling. Preparing field sales representatives, account managers, or even inside reps, for sales calls, represents one of the most challenging tasks faced by sales leaders. All too often, unfortunately, the training provided to sales professionals before they are released into the fray of sales calls focuses too aggressively on the features of their products, rather than on how to effectively prepare to converse with their prospects and customers.
In the context of Aberdeen's Sales Training research, it is vital to ensure that all forms of sales education — initial onboarding and long-term touch-up; instructor-led and subsequent online reinforcement; direct reps and channel partners — include a significant component dedicated to call planning for individual sales calls. The idea that a one-size-fits-all messaging approach will work with every single target account is inadequate to fulfill the needs of any but the most transactional of selling environments in today’s B2B environment. No longer is it safe to assume that a Marketing-authored script, delivered on an enormous scale by sales drones, will result in an acceptable number of sealed deals.
This is due in no small part to the “age of the customer," or the web-based explosion of information that is now available to potential buyers of virtually any product or service. As consumers and businesses, today we are all far more able to research the goods and services we are considering buying, creating a hidden sales cycle that makes it impossible for traditional sellers to overwhelm their potential buyer with a canned sales pitch full of product features. Think of the experience buying a car, which used to be a dreaded, obnoxious conversation in which the salesperson at the lot owned all of the information, and therefore the power, around the negotiation process. As buyers, we began to swing the pendulum of knowledge/power away from the seller in the 1980s, with the advent of Consumer Reports data, and today’s web-based treasure trove allows us to essentially march into the dealership and demand an Internet-validated price. This paradigm shift has turned most of the traditional, smarmy car salespeople into passive order processers … except for those lucky enough to receive contemporary sales training that focuses on the needs of their buyer.
If we move from the car dealership to, for instance, selling enterprise software, the product may change, but the conversation dynamics do not. In both scenarios, it has to be assumed that any online information about the goods or services being sold — as well as those of competitors — has been consumed by the buyer and will be used as ammunition in the review of product quality as well as in the negotiation of pricing. How, then, can a B2B account manager possibly swing the pendulum back toward a balanced position? Aberdeen's Sales Intelligence research yields extensive value in terms of best practices in the call planning. To Pasteur’s point, the opportunity to prepare for any given sales call, meeting or presentation is one that is embraced far more aggressively by Best-in-Class sales organizations. These top performers utilize formal sales intelligence deployments to deliver 60% more reps achieving quota and 48% better team attainment of sales quota, compared with non-users. They are also 14% more adept at training and onboarding new sales reps — the reader can decide if this is merely a coincidence, or success by design — but the facts are clear in that the most successful sales organizations put more energy into call-planning training their reps around:
- Identifying all of the demographic and firmographic characteristics of the specific individuals with whom they are communicating, as well as of additional stakeholders, sponsors, and budget-holders who represent the entire potential buying team.
- Understanding the current events and market dynamics in which their target account competes, including relevant economic, social, and legislative trigger events that can impact how a purchasing decision will affect the buying and deploying of their solution.
- Developing personal expertise that proves to the potential buyer that the sales rep legitimately understands their business.
- Leveraging social media content to capture vital, but informal, intelligence in real-time.
Of course, the ability to prepare extensively for individual sales calls and target companies exists in opposite proportion to the number of accounts or meetings associated with any particular sales practitioner or team. For highly transactional selling environments, Best-in-Class companies continue to invest in sales intelligence to support pre-call planning, and they arm their front-line sellers with even more market knowledge and competitive intelligence in order to support their interactions with contemporary, enabled buyers.
Written By: Peter Ostrow