Buyers are more sophisticated thanks to immediate access to information from anywhere and at any time. Various pundits in the selling industry want to argue that point. These are the sellers stuck in pre-Internet times when buyers relied solely on sales people for education. Shouting pitches at today’s buyer is wasted effort and is sure to ruin any opportunity to create a good first impression the second time around.
Today’s buyer demands relevance. They expect you to know something about their business and be able to challenge their thinking by providing fresh insights about industry or competitive trends. Using a decision maker’s time to ask outdated questions like, “What keeps you up at night?” is amateurish. The most effective sellers are the ones who prepare in advance and use valuable meeting time to validate and discuss information they’ve uncovered while doing their research.
In a recent meeting, a CEO of a financial services company shared an all too familiar story with me. He talked about the sales rep that scored a meeting with him, but blew the opportunity the moment he opened his mouth. This rep spent no time checking out the executive’s background. As a result, he takes it upon himself to “educate” this executive on current banking practices and regulations. The CEO told me it was insulting and made him quite angry. Within minutes, he cut the meeting short. Can you blame him?
Know Before You Go
The story I shared illustrates the importance of common sense and doing your homework. Shouldn’t it have been obvious that the CEO might know a little something about banking? Challenging with something cutting edge and new is one thing, but you don’t start the meeting without validating what you think your buyer does or does not know.
Most traditional selling models teach sales people to follow a scripted process, which are typically focused on features, benefits and some type of questioning technique designed to do a number of things:
- Create rapport and trust
- Learn about the buyers business
- Understand their challenges
- Uncover pain points
- Identify needs
In today’s selling environment, smart sales people gather answers to as many of these questions as they can before the meeting. Through common connections, press releases, blog posts, websites, earnings reports, executive interviews, social web conversations or social networking profiles, you can learn a lot about the people you will meet and their company. Then you use the meeting time to validate your thinking about what you learned. Not only will the sales conversation be more fruitful, you will quickly develop trust, demonstrate credibility and stand apart from your competitors.
In RAIN Group’s report, What Sales Winners Do Differently, 42 factors separated the winners from the distant second place finishers. Among the factors that buyers identified as being most important to them in making a buying decision are; educating with new ideas and perspectives, collaborated with me, listened to me, understood my needs and connected with me personally.
Sales people often complain that they “don’t have time” to do research. I see. You don’t have time to do the research but you have time to waste losing sales opportunities before they even get off the ground? I am not unsympathetic to the fact that many sales reps are told by their managers to stop wasting time online doing research. To them I also say…if you want your folks to get in front of deals and close them faster, let them do their homework!
My preferred research tool is InsideView. In addition to preparing for meetings, I can set trigger alerts based on terms that will indicate a potential opportunity to engage someone. I can also follow people and companies and receive a daily digest to keep me apprised of key information that I can leverage when working to secure a meeting.
These days, there is no excuse for walking into a meeting cold thinking that you can wing it. Without preparation, you have just prepared to lose.