Category: Inbound Sales

Inbound Sales

What Is Sales Transformation?

Business growth often comes from internal changes. While these changes are positive and aid in business development, internal teams can sometimes struggle to adapt to new strategies after years of the same processes.

As a sales leader, you know how important it is for your sales teams to be ready and adapt to change as it comes. This is especially important since sales performance is often a critical factor in determining how businesses can grow since revenue gives them the means to expand.

Because of this, understanding how to lead your team through periods of transformation and equip them with the tools they need to succeed is crucial. In this post, we’ll hear from HubSpot experts on their best practices for leading sales teams through periods of change, often called sales transformation, that will help you and your team contribute to overall business success.

A sales team’s transformation strategy is led and created by a sales manager. They work with salespeople to ensure they have the information and tools they need to succeed and execute a successful sales transformation that meets intended end goals.

You can think of it like this: your business may have an overall goal of closing more deals and acquiring more customers per-quarter than before. This is the end goal that would require you to transform your sales process. As a sales leader, you’d work with your sales teams to revamp their current operations and give them the means to meet these overall goals. In this scenario, the transformation aspect is how your sales processes will change increase customer acquisition.

How To Transform Your Sales Process, According to HubSpotters

Given that sales managers lead sales transformations, we’ve asked HubSpot sales leaders to give their best practices for executing a successful sales transformation strategy that you can use to guide your team through periods of change.

Sell The Need For Change

As a sales leader, you’ve likely been informed by your superiors of company objectives that are requiring the need for a sales transformation.

While it may be more apparent to you and higher-level executives why these new objectives require a different sales approach, your salespeople may not have the same level of understanding. If your sales process has been relatively consistent for years, salespeople are also probably confident in their current process and may be hesitant to adapt to a new, unfamiliar strategy.

Given this, David Weinhaus, Partner Sales Enablement Manager, says, “The biggest opportunity for sales transformation is the opportunity to sell the need for change before selling the solution.” While this can certainly be applied to selling product changes to individual customers, it works for salespeople as well. In practice, this means that a best practice for sales leaders is to first sell the reasons why changing your sales strategy is necessary before outlining the solutions and practices that will contribute to meeting desired outcomes.

Consider first taking the time to explain to salespeople why things need to change to meet business goals before beginning to outline how they’ll meet these goals. It gives the context necessary to understand why their day-to-day processes are changing and adapting. You’re guiding them through the process and making sure they understand instead of throwing them towards a strategy that they aren’t yet able to understand.

Identify Areas For Change

Deanna Povec, Senior Channel Account Manager, says “Looking at data and reports to understand gaps in my own sales process helps me understand what needs to change.” She says that, once she identifies an area of opportunity, she likes to map out a plan to close the gap.

This means that a sales transformation process should include identifying gaps in your current sales process that are preventing teams from already meeting these goals or introducing new strategies that will make it possible to meet them.

In brief, transforming your sales process shouldn’t mean overhaul your entire process and start from zero. Instead, the change should happen within your existing strategies by identifying current barriers to success.

Say your team has consistently been having trouble selling a higher tiered software option, and your bosses have let you know that they want to increase sales for this tier. You’ll want to take a deep dive into sales data and current processes to understand why this tier has low sales. Maybe your salespeople don’t fully understand the differences between the product tiers, so they don’t know who to sell it to, or maybe they’re lacking the tools they need to be consistent in following up with leads and keeping them engaged enough to follow through with purchases. Either way, you’ve worked to identify key areas in your current sales process that need to be transformed to meet the overall company goal of selling more higher-tiered service software.

Outline Your Process With OKRs

Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) is a goal-setting strategy that sales leaders use to help salespeople understand what they need to do to achieve certain results and contribute to meeting the overall collective goal of your transformation process.

Objectives are broken down into smaller measurable goals called key results, making it easier for salespeople to implement changes over time (especially if they are entirely new processes). So, if your end goal is to decrease the length of your standard sales cycle, that is your overall objective. Your key results can be measurable milestones, like reducing the cycle by x amount of days per quarter until the end of year (EOY) goal is met.

By creating this plan, you’ll uncover factors that may impact your sales strategy and your sales teams successes in meeting all of their goals. When you make these discoveries, you can devise strategies to incorporate these changes into your overall plan to ensure that sales people have the resources and knowledge they need to succeed throughout all levels of the process.

Align Sales and Marketing Teams

Dan Tyre, Partner Sales Enablement Manager, says that sales transformation success comes from aligning sales and marketing teams. Although sales transformation is focused on sales teams and their change strategies, other stakeholders can impact their success.

You can think of it like this: say that your sales transformation end goal is for your employees to become experts at selling your business’ marketing software when it launches and obtain 100 new users in the first six months.

This means that your transformation process needs to help salespeople gain mastery of the information they need to sell the new product. So, they’ll work with the marketing team to understand how they are going to be advertising the product so they can coordinate on the language they’ll use to sell to customers. If leads are hearing one thing from marketing and a different story from sales, these deals may fall through because customers are confused.

While marketing is one of the most influential teams that will affect the sales process, there are also other groups within your org that you may want your sales team to work with during your transformation process. Continuing with the previous example, maybe they’re going to work with the product team that created the software to learn about how the product works and its benefits to new and existing customers.

In sum, without understanding all aspects of the updated tool, your salespeople may use the wrong selling points when communicating with customers. This impacts their ability to close deals and causes them to fall short on the end goal: having them be experts at positioning the new tool’s benefits to close deals with 100 new leads in the first six months.

Track Progress Over Time

As with all sales processes, monitoring the success of your sales transformation goals over time gives you insight into what is working and helps you identify problem areas before falling short on overall goals.

If company executives have said that they’re hoping to raise revenue by 7% by EOY, this likely can’t happen all at once. If you’ve outlined OKRs, you’ve probably found that there are different steps you and your sales team will need to take to meet these goals. Tracking progress over time gives insight into how your overall team is adapting to the new changes, and you can update or change processes as necessary.

Tracking progress over time also makes it easier to highlight early successes to motivate your team. Sales transformations can be complicated for salespeople, as there may be significant differences to their day-to-day tasks. Seeing that their work has been successful can empower them to continue working with the new strategy.

To track progress, consider using sales software, like HubSpot Sales Hub. You can use this tool to generate reports to track performance based on the OKRs you’ve set and how your employees perform. For example, if you decide with employees that they’ll close five more deals per month to increase company revenue by 7% EOY, you can use the Closed amount metric to track the number of deals closed by each team member each month, as displayed in the image below.

Measuring Your Success

Successful sales transformation requires sales leaders to step up and devise a strategy that will help their entire team contribute to overall business success.

Whether it’s increasing business revenue or growing your customer base, taking the time to inform your employees on the need for change, devising strategic plans, and giving them the tools they need to succeed will help you transform your sales process into a strategy that helps your business meet their desired growth metrics.

Inbound Sales

How to Sell Value in a Transactional Industry

As I work with sales organizations across the world, I am frequently asked if the inbound sales philosophy works in an industry defined by a transactional sales process.

Many salespeople find it difficult to overcome price objections, especially when their sales process is short and their product isn’t highly differentiated. However, an increasing number of salespeople are using the inbound sales philosophy in transactional industries with good results.

Here, we’ll get a more thorough understanding of transactional selling, how it compares with consultative selling, and how to reconcile the two in a transactional industry.

Explaining value when your prospect is focused on price is a choice every modern salesperson faces with each new customer. While guaranteeing the lowest cost over an extended period of time is definitely a competitive advantage, it is not always the best way for a customer to buy.

It’s also not necessarily a good way to build a relationship, unless you can be sure of superior pricing and availability in perpetuity. I often hear reps say, “My customers don’t care about relationships — all they care about is the lowest price,” during my sales coaching.

Unfortunately, many salespeople take this at face value without doing their requisite homework. If done properly, leaning into consultative selling can lead to good results — even in transactional industries.

Transactional selling, on its own, isn’t always sustainably successful. It’s a quick fix method that tends to pay off less than consultative sales in the long run. It doesn’t empower prospects to the same extent as consultative selling, and in turn, makes them less inclined to consistently engage with you and your organization.

That said, your industry might naturally lend itself to transactional selling. It could be ingrained in how you operate, but that doesn’t mean it has to define the full extent of the sales strategies you use. You can still incorporate elements of consultative sales into your broader sales efforts.

Here are four techniques you can employ to engage in consultative selling in a transactional industry.

Consultative Selling in a Transactional Industry: 4 Strategies

1. Build trust by understanding the end goal.

The inbound sales process is built on trust. One of the ways you can differentiate yourself is by running a comprehensive discovery call that helps you understand the company, the key contacts, the goals, plans, challenges, timeline, purchasing process of your prospect.

Good questions include:

  • How often do you purchase?
  • Do you leverage single or multiple suppliers?
  • Do you have a standard for a great vendor relationship?
  • Are there factors other than price that would be valuable to you?
  • How are you measured on performance?
  • What is the one thing that I can do today that would make your life easier?
  • How often do you do source new vendors?
  • How long does that take? Is the process easy or hard?
  • Are there any services that go along with that?
  • How much time does it take for you to source the lowest price?

Regardless of how the prospect is trained to buy, explain that your best customers value their vendor relationship. Sometimes, new clients like to speak to a current client to get industry insight.

Using testimonials or connecting your prospect with a reference to explain a specific experience can be highly effective. Creating a networking group where several of your clients can combine to meet periodically can also help.

2. Act like a consultant to point out areas of cost savings.

During the discovery call, identify ways the prospect can save time, effort, and money (outside of the purchase price) to make the conversation about total cost of ownership rather than just a spot transaction price. Availability, access to inventory, payment terms, purchasing method (invoice or credit card), contract length, and legal terms can all help determine the price.

A good discovery meeting includes questions not just about the current transaction but also the longer-term relationship, and can uncover areas your prospect hasn’t thought about that demonstrate your experience, expertise, and goal of working toward a valuable relationship for everyone.

When a prospect jumps to price right away, it behooves the inbound salesperson to dig in and figure out what that means. Is the purchase price the critical issue or does the cost include installation, training, ongoing support, account management, maintenance or other aspects of the ongoing use of the product? Even if the product is a commodity, there are value-added aspects from having just-in-time availability to delivery you can differentiate yourself on.

Some good questions to ask here include:

  • Is a 15% reduction in cost meaningful?
  • If I could help you save 10% off the purchase would that have an impact?
  • Is there anything other than price that could influence your decision?
  • How do you pay for your goods?
  • Do you get a guarantee of lowest price?

3. Schedule a quarterly onsite review with your customers.

If you have a current relationship with a client who is mainly focused on price, it may make sense to schedule a time to review the overall relationship and make sure you are providing the most value based on a total cost of ownership. Quarterly reviews are a good way to cycle in and make sure that you are meeting current needs and looking for new one.

Priorities or directions often change in an organization, but salespeople don’t uncover this information because they don’t ask. As an inbound sales rep, you should identify a good-fit account, then connect multiple times to build that relationship.

Check in frequently to determine if there are changes to the business, new needs, extension of a product line, new territories, or new opportunities to help.

A good agenda includes the following elements:

  • Welcome and Introduction
  • Overview of major updates in prospect’s industry
  • Prospect’s purchasing history for the quarter/year
  • Delivery schedule
  • Forecast for the rest of the year
  • Q and A

4. Keep your interactions conversational and genuine.

Consultative selling is a personal game, so it serves you to add a personal edge to your communication when conducting it. As I’ve said, you need to be able to garner and sustain trust with your prospects — it’s hard to do that when your interactions with them leave them on edge. It might be self-explanatory, but you have to put your prospects at ease by keeping your conversations with them … conversational.

Mind blowing stuff, right?

But seriously, you have to keep your communication fluid and, perhaps more importantly, genuine. Be sincerely enthusiastic, and mean what you say. Prospects respond to approachability, but they’ll see through phony, ham-handed pandering — and there’s often a fine line between the two.

Understand your offering’s value, believe in it, and be able to articulate it in accessible, non-imposing language. If you can do that, you’ll get considerable mileage out of your consultative selling efforts in a transactional industry

There’s tremendous merit to and utility in leveraging consultative sales tactics. And as much as transactional selling is a fact of life in several industries, there’s still room to use them in many cases.

No matter the nature of your space or how you sell, it’s worth having a thorough understanding of both sides of this sales token — you stand to gain a lot from incorporating consultative sales strategies into your sales efforts in a transactional industry.

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in September 14, 2016 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.

Inbound Sales

How to Sell Anything to Anybody

In Jill Konrath’s opinion, the salesperson is the primary differentiator in purchases today. As products and services become increasingly commoditized, buyers are aware they can get a similar offering from another company.

But what they can’t get from just any vendor is the same sales experience, which is created by the sales rep.

This means salespeople have almost complete control of their own destinies. Instead of blaming poor numbers on a crummy product line, a bad month, being forced to work completely remotely, or less-than-stellar leads, failing reps might consider analyzing their processes and brainstorming ways to make them more buyer-centric and buyer-friendly.

Regardless of what industry you’re in or what type of organizations you sell into, a few sales axioms hold. These rules can help you sell more to just about anybody, and in this article, we break them down into two main categories: 

  • How to Sell Anything
  • How to Do It Online

1. Make it about them.

Do you have a friend or family member who monopolizes every conversation? They probably aren’t your favorite person to talk to. Add a bragging tone and they become especially intolerable.

Just like you don’t like listening to a self-absorbed acquaintance blabber, buyers don’t like listening to salespeople talk at length about their companies or offerings. What you perceive as informative and interesting, prospects perceive as obnoxious and irrelevant.

The cardinal rule of sales is to always make it about your buyer. Every email you write, voicemail you leave, demo you give, and meeting you attend should place the focus squarely on the buyer. Constantly ask yourself, “What’s the relevance to this particular prospect?” and customize each interaction accordingly.

How will you know what’s relevant? See below.

2. Do your research before reaching out.

If you expect buyers to give you their time and learn about your product, you need to spend time learning about them first. In the age of social media, there’s no excuse to call or email a buyer with no knowledge of what they do and what they care about.

Pre-call research doesn’t have to take a long time. Depending on your particular sales cycle, as little as five or 10 minutes per prospect might suffice.

Here are eight places to research prospects before you attempt to engage them in conversation:

  1. LinkedIn
  2. Twitter (prospect’s individual account and company’s account)
  3. Company’s press releases page
  4. Competitors’ press releases pages
  5. Blogs
  6. Company financial statements
  7. Facebook
  8. Google (prospect and company)

And if you’re using HubSpot’s free Inbox Profiles tool, you can pipe all of this known information about a prospect directly into your Inbox.

3. Build rapport first.

If a customer entered a retail store, you wouldn’t immediately say, “Hello, would you like to buy this blouse?” You’d likely start by asking, “How are you today?” and then, “What brings you in today?” You might sprinkle in comments like, “I love that top you’re wearing.” or qualifying questions like, “So, you’re looking for a cocktail dress. May I ask what the occasion is?

Similarly, when you’re conducting B2B outreach to a prospect you haven’t spoken with before, it’s important to lean heavily on the research element we touched on in step two.

If you notice your prospect lives in Phoenix, do a quick Google search of new restaurants in the area, and open by asking if they’ve been and what their favorite dish is. Are they from Colorado? Open by asking how the snow is this season and if they’re a skier.

The bottom line: Get to know your prospect before you launch into what you have to offer, why they should care, and why you’re better than your competitors.

After all, we’re just human beings. Talk to your prospect like a human before speaking to them like a salesperson.

4. Define your buyer.

This might seem like a paradox, but the secret of selling anything to anybody is not attempting to sell just anything to just anybody.

Whether you work in retail, auto sales, or B2B business you’ll have far more success if you’re familiar with the characteristics of your target buyers and thoroughly qualify each prospect against that matrix. This is called an ideal buyer profile, and it’s like having a secret weapon.

By finding the specific type of “anybody” who is just right for your product or service, you’ll avoid wasting time on poor-fit leads. Instead, you’ll have more time to devote to buyers with a good chance of becoming customers.

5. Contribute first, sell second.

If you’re defining your target buyer correctly, you’ll spend the majority of your day talking to business leaders who have problems your product or service can solve. But just because you know this doesn’t mean they do.

Don’t jump in with your pitch right off the bat. You run the risk of angering the prospect or scaring them away. Instead, offer your help in the way you think would be most valuable. Not sure where you can be of service? Ask.

Maybe you can send along a breakdown of the latest features of a buyer’s target car or send them a piece of content that speaks their needs. Perhaps you can draw on your expertise to speak about industry-wide trends the buyer might not be privy to.

Pro tip: Save templates of common questions you receive from buyers, so you can quickly follow up with a relevant message. A free tool like HubSpot’s Email Templates can help you spend more time selling and less time drafting repetitive emails.

Position yourself as an advisor who wants to help, rather than a salesperson thirsty to sell. With this approach, you’ll find a more receptive audience when you finally get around to connecting their problem with your offering. In short: Always Be Helping.

As social selling expert Jill Rowley puts it, “Think ‘jab, jab, jab, right hook’ as ‘give, give, give, ask.'”

6. Ask questions, and listen.

No matter how thoroughly you’ve researched your prospect, there will be gaps in your knowledge, and you won’t be able to help the buyer solve their issue if you don’t fully understand it. For this reason, it’s critical to ask thoughtful questions during your conversations — and a lot of them.

Here are some examples sales trainers Rick Roberge and Sean McPheat advocate:

  • How did this happen?
  • What are the most important features for you?
  • Has it always been this way?
  • How should this product make you feel?
  • Zero to death, where is solving this problem?
  • How is the issue impacting your organization/customers staff?
  • What are you currently doing to address the problem?
  • In a perfect world, what would you like to see happen with this?
  • Can you give me an example?

Be curious. It’s good to have a list of questions prepared as a jumping off point, but you don’t have to stick to them if the conversation takes an unexpected turn. People like talking about themselves and their situations, so your genuine interest and curiosity will help them warm up to you.

After posing a question, fall silent and simply listen. Really hear what the buyer is saying, and don’t just wait for your turn to speak. Then after they’ve finished their thought, communicate their message back to them, ask them to verify if you understood them correctly, and pose a question providing further clarification.

Congratulations — you just became an active listener!

Not only does careful listening help you get a grip on the problem, but it also makes the prospect feel good. And if you truly tune in, they’ll be more likely to return the favor when you have something to say.

Be sure to track this information in your (free!) CRM, so that your whole team has access to the info and you don’t have to ask repeat questions to your buyer.

7. Be mindful of psychological quirks.

Our brains are wired to respond to certain situations in specific ways. Being aware of these psychological tricks can help you harness them to your benefit.

Here are just a few of the quirks relevant to salespeople:

  • Anchoring effect: The information we receive first acts as an anchor against which we evaluate all further data.
  • Decoy effect: A third option can sometimes help people choose between two possibilities.
  • Rhyme-as-reason effect: Rhyming statements seem truer than non-rhyming ones.
  • Loss aversion: We react more strongly to the possibility of losing something we currently have than the possibility of gaining something we don’t.
  • Peak-end rule: People remember the end and a high point within a presentation more vividly than any other section.
  • Curse of knowledge: When someone who knows a lot about a given subject is unable to relate to someone who is not as familiar.
  • Confirmation bias: We are more likely to accept information that aligns with our beliefs than contradictory evidence — no matter how compelling.

8. Approach them on their level.

It’s great when a salesperson brings their unique personality to their selling process. But bear in mind you should also pay attention to your prospect’s personality and tailor your approach accordingly. Our personal attributes have an impact on how we like to be sold to and what information we prioritize.

Here’s a brief breakdown of the four main personality types, and their preferences:

  1. Assertive: Interested in results and the bottom line.
  2. Amiable: Interested in creative ideas and big-picture visions.
  3. Expressive: Interested in people and how ideas affect others.
  4. Analytics: Interested in facts, figures, and data.

Once you know which category your prospect fits into, play to their preferences and customize your messaging and presentation to nail what’s most important to them.

9. Hit an emotional high point.

There’s no such thing as a purely rational decision. Like it or not, our emotions color how we process information and make decisions. With this in mind, salespeople who appeal solely to their buyers’ logic are doing themselves a disservice.

Every sales message, presentation, and meeting should speak to the prospect’s emotions as well as their rational mind. According to sales expert Geoffrey James, the following six emotions impact decision making:

  1. Greed
  2. Fear
  3. Altruism
  4. Envy
  5. Pride
  6. Shame

Some of these are unpleasant feelings you don’t want buyers associating with you or your company. So, make sure to use a light touch when making emotional appeals. In addition, don’t try to bring forth all of these feelings — choose one or two that will resonate and subtly mix them in. (Read: Try not to put your buyer in a glass case of emotion.)

10. Remember, you’re selling to a person.

When you’re sending countless outreach emails each and every day, it’s easy to forget that leads are people. But they are, and they want to be treated as such.

Use yourself as a litmus test — would you like getting this email? Would you appreciate this voicemail? If not, there’s a good chance your buyer won’t either.

It’s important to be professional in sales, but it’s also important to be personable. Buyers have lives outside of work, and things they’re passionate about that have nothing to do with their jobs. Build real rapport with your prospects by letting the conversation drift to the personal every once in a while. It doesn’t have to be — and shouldn’t be — all business all the time.

1. Provide lots of detail.

When you’re selling online, it’s essential to provide in-depth information about the product you’re selling, whether that’s in the copywriting on a sales page or during your email outreach. What are the dimensions of the product? Does it come in different colors and sizes? Include specific details so prospects know exactly what they’re buying from you.

2. Communicate the product’s value.

Online consumers have unlimited information at their fingertips, so they can easily do comparison shopping with your competitors. That means you’ll need to be as communicative as you can when it comes to establishing your product or service as the right choice.

What value does your product provide to the consumer? And what differentiates it from competitors? Make sure the product you’re offering and its price point are just right for the market your selling to. When prospects understand the value of your product, they’ll know they’re receiving a positive return for their hard-earned money.

3. Build an email list.

How will you communicate future offers and new product releases to prospective or current customers? This is where an email list can come in handy.

Include an email subscription button or use a free form builder to create a way for visitors to directly sign up for your mailing list. As people convert on your offers and share your emails with friends, family, and colleagues, your email list will grow. And the number of sales will likely follow suit.

4. Personalize as many digital touch points as you can.

Don’t forget: even though you’re selling online, you’re selling to a person. Make sure your website, landing pages, forms, emails, and call-to-action buttons are tailored to the audience you’re trying to reach. Maintaining a human aspect to your communications increases the likelihood of prospects engaging with you and your product.

Once a website visitor “opts in” to one of your landing pages, you can even use the data you gather about them for even more personalization — such as including their name in the subject line of an email (even if you’re relying on automation to send them).

5. Create a sense of urgency.

Once you’ve communicated the value of your product, how do you encourage the prospect to buy? Without a sales call or conversation with the prospect, it can be challenging to communicate why they should buy now. If they don’t convert the first time, it may be difficult to get them to later. Think of the adage: Out of sight, out of mind.

To combat this, try offering a limited time offer or discount. For example:

  • “Limited edition
    available while supplies last.”
  • “30% discount, this weekend only.”
  • “Last day! Buy
    and receive a free gift.”

6. Consider where each lead is at in their buyer’s journey. 

Not every website visitor has purchase intent (yet). Some will come to your site to browse (like a “window shopper”), and some are simply looking for information.

The last thing you want to do is force a sales conversation on someone who isn’t ready. Particularly for products and services with a long sales cycle, it’s much better to “nurture” them along their path to purchase while staying top of mind. 

With that said, approach each lead in a way that’s appropriate for their individual buying journey. And you can get some good indicators from their website behavior. 

For instance, if they download an informational ebook, they may still be in the “information gathering” stage and not ready to speak to providers. However, someone who visits a pricing page and then fills out a contact form should be contacted by a sales person as soon as possible.

7. Use lead scoring to focus on high-value online leads.

The above tip seems like a lot of work if you have a high volume of leads coming in from your website. The good news is that there’s a way to implement this at scale with predictive lead scoring. 

Lead scoring is the practice of assigning lead values that will indicate the likelihood of the lead becoming a true sales opportunity and closing. If you’ve ever described leads as cold, warm, or hot, you’ve done lead scoring on a rudimentary level. However, the difference between that and predictive lead scoring is the use of automation to do this across your whole database of contacts and using thousands of data points. 

Ultimately, you end up serving the best leads to your sales team without guesswork or too much time-consuming administrative tasks.

The ability to sell anything comes down to knowing your buyer and the critical sales methodologies to reach them. The ability to sell anything online can be boiled down to that as well… while using different channels and technologies to do so. You can be super effective at each by crafting a sales strategy that informs the tactics your team invests in.

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in April, 2015 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.

Inbound Sales

It’s Time to Move From ‘Always Be Closing’ to…

One of Hollywood’s most famous depictions of the sales world is found in Glengarry Glen Ross. Alec Baldwin’s character, Blake, is the epitome of the high-powered, low-empathy, money-driven salesperson, and gets what he wants through fear, intimidation, and profanity-laced speeches.

After threatening and terrorizing a group of salesmen (no women allowed in this boiler room), Blake gets to his point – salespeople should “ABC”: Always Be Closing. According to Blake, regardless of the individual prospect and their needs, the rep’s ultimate task is to bring money in the door.

Though closing was a major focus for salespeople long before the release of this film, “Always Be Closing” was a catchy hook reps could hold onto. But is it the best sales advice for modern reps? Not necessarily.

This kind of selling may have worked in the 1980s, when David Mamet penned the play the movie is based on, but fast-forward to today and things are very different. While the close is an important event within the sales process, there are many events long before the deal is closed that also require time, attention, and effort.

Buyers today are inundated with information from every angle, and are skeptical of being sold to with empty claims that aren’t backed by relevant data. That’s why taking an “Always Be Closing” approach today would likely scare off your customers before you get a chance to close the deal.

To effectively sell, modern salespeople need to follow a totally different mantra: Always Be Helping.

What Is Always Be Helping?

Blake would never give up control of the sales process to a prospect. Yet that’s exactly what a top salesperson today needs to do. The “always be closing” school of thought ignores buyer needs entirely and places the salesperson at the center of the sales process, taking a brute-force approach to closing deals.

What’s a sales rep to do? Always be closing? Hardly.

Your job, of course, is still to sell. But abandon any strategies that involve force-feeding prospects a product they don’t want and don’t need. As Dale Carnegie famously said, people don’t want to be sold to – they want to feel as if they’re buying. Instead, as your prospect moves through the funnel, provide resources and guidance as they attempt to solve a complicated business problem. Always be helping.

Why Should You Always Be Helping?

Seller-centric focused selling doesn’t play anymore, in either B2B or B2C sales processes. The balance of power has been tipped away from the sales rep and toward the buyer. With the transparency and availability of information online, and the ability to tap into third-party reviews, buyers are far savvier than they used to be.

High-pressure selling has stopped working because it treats customers as interchangeable piles of money. But that’s not really true. Prospects’ situations and needs are as diverse as the people themselves, and while one buyer might be successful with your product, your offering may actually hurt another.

So while Always Be Helping is simply the right thing to do, it’s also just better for your business. Selling to poor-fit customers is a stopgap solution that will result in customer turnover, lost income in the form of clawback penalties, and in the most dramatic cases even shutter a business if churn gets too high. On a less concrete scale, Always Be Closing tactics also hurt the brand. As soon your company gains a reputation for having aggressive and selfish salespeople, it’ll be much harder to gain customers in the future – even ones you actually could have helped.

This outline lists the three things all sales reps must do in the age of ABH.

How to Always Be Helping: 5 Strategies

1. Determine if the prospect has a problem you can solve.

If the prospect has a problem completely out of sync with what your company offers or doesn’t need any help for the foreseeable future, get out! They don’t want to talk to you, they don’t need to talk to you, and chances are you don’t want to talk to them.

Why?

Because you can’t help everybody, and you shouldn’t be. Working bad leads is like throwing money down the toilet. Picking and choosing who to help is a significantly better use of your time.

If you pick correctly, you’ll have no problem making 110% of your quota every month. But spending an equal amount of effort or time on every prospect – no matter how qualified or unqualified they may be – is a surefire way to continually miss the mark. Not only is it a bad use of your time, trying to sell to prospects without business pain is a bad experience for the buyer.

2. Understand where your prospect is in the decision making process.

The kinds of conversations you engage in and questions you ask your prospects should vary significantly depending on what point they’re at in the buyer’s journey.

Awareness Stage: Your prospect knows they have a problem they want to solve, but hasn’t decided upon a solution or begun to do vendor research. Salespeople usually won’t get involved in the awareness stage, since marketers generally control lead nurturing at this point. If you do reach out to a prospect who’s in this stage, use an extremely light touch or pass them back to Marketing.

Consideration Stage: Your prospect is aware of their problem, and is committed to spending time and effort to come up with a potential solution. At this point, potential buyers will begin to sniff around the edges of a resolution, but won’t have defined how much of a material commitment they’re willing to make.

Decision Stage: Your prospect has thoroughly researched their problem and potential solutions. They might not have a specific vendor in mind yet, but if your company’s a big player, they’ve probably at least come across your resources. This is also the point where BANT (budget, authority, needs, and timeline) gets defined.

3. Engage with key decision makers early in the process.

Once you’ve determined the prospect has a problem you can solve, and you know your product is the best fit, it’s important to engage with everyone who needs to be involved in the decision making process for the purchase. 

There’s nothing worse than building rapport with a new contact and getting them on board with your solution, than having their manager shut down the deal right before you were hoping to close. By engaging with all the appropriate decision makers, you can verify your solution is the right one, and you can better understand the perspectives of those involved in each step of the process, from purchase to adoption.

According to Harvard Business Review, the average B2B purchase involves six stakeholders, with the amount of time for deliberation increasing. That means if reps are going to close the deals they need to meet quota, they need to engage and win over necessary stakeholders long before they hope to close.

During the initial conversations of a sale, ask your contact who else needs to be involved in the purchasing decision, and if you can begin engaging with them to avoid surprises or roadblocks that could prevent the deal from closing.

4. Tailor your process to make it easy for the customer to buy.

Always Be Helping means giving up control of the buying process. It does not, however, mean that salespeople are obligated to let prospects drive the bus. Strike a balance between how your prospect wants the process to play out and using your expertise to guide them in the right direction.

Your value in the sales process is that you, unlike your prospect, have successfully sold this product many times before. They don’t know how to get internal buy-in or structure a process that will get them the solution they need.

But you do.

Work with your prospect to understand their decision making process and the perspectives of all relevant stakeholders, and then use that information to sell your product successfully.

5. Focus on educating.

As a salesperson, it’s not your job to push a product onto your prospects. Instead, you should focus on educating your prospects on the viable solutions to the problem you have previously identified. 

By taking a consultative approach, you can focus on cultivating meaningful relationships with your buyers by building trust, having open, genuine conversations, stepping in to guide the direction of sales conversations as needed, and making sure your prospect feels heard throughout the process. 

Once you have built a solid foundation of trust with your buyers, you are in a stronger position to educate them on the viable solutions to their problem (likely your product) in a meaningful way.

For many people, the process of buying is as important as the purchase itself. Prospects need to feel like they’re being heard and respected, and forcing a cookie-cutter sales process on them won’t work.

Ultimately, the Always Be Helping salesperson has to establish trust and confidence before they can close the deal. Modern salespeople help their prospects connect the disparate dots to form a coherent solution. The era of the intimidating, fear-inducing “always be closing” salesperson is officially over – and that’s a very good thing.

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in July 2015 and has been updated for comprehensiveness and freshness.

Inbound Sales

Permission-Based Selling: What It Is & Why It’s Valuable

Receiving permission makes literally anything less intrusive — no matter the context. Think about it. If someone enters your home with permission, they’re a guest. If someone enters your home without your permission, they’re breaking and entering.

That principle — the value of receiving permission — is the underlying premise of a brand of sales known as permission-based selling. It’s an emerging strategy that more businesses are starting to explore and incorporate into their sales operations.

Let’s get a more thorough understanding of the concept and see some of the benefits that come with it.

Permission-based selling is essentially the sales equivalent of permission-based marketing — a marketing strategy that revolves around consumers opting into receiving promotional offers and announcements from a brand.

Permission-based selling takes that a step further. It lets a company interact with a prospect more pointedly — foregoing more indirect communication and interest-building in favor of straight-up sales engagement.

Sales permissions can take on a few forms. It could be something as explicit as a prospect providing their contact information for a free consultation advertised on a company’s website — or it could be something a bit more subtle, like a prospect having both an established relationship with someone within a company and a demonstrated need for the kind of product that company sells.

As I said, permission-based selling is an intriguing, increasingly popular sales strategy that businesses should consider incorporating into their sales efforts, and it comes with its share of solid benefits.

1. Sales reps seem less pushy.

If a sales rep has a permissive in with a prospect, then their call, email, or engagement is much more welcome than it would be otherwise. One of the most consistent gripes prospects raise about salespeople is that they’re too pushy. Permission-based selling helps remedy that issue.

It can cushion what might otherwise be awkward, borderline-confrontational interactions with prospects. Permission-based buyers will be more receptive to sales reps because they’re probably expecting them. That understanding and comfortable anticipation can go a long way. It takes some strain off everyone involved, making their interactions seem less awkward and out of the blue.

2. Leads are automatically qualified.

In a similar vein to the point above, any lead on the buying end of a permission-based selling interaction is already qualified. The prospect has voluntarily provided their contact information, understanding that they’ll probably be contacted.

That’s the main value of this brand of sales. Salespeople can approach these engagements with some degree of familiarity and composure. Warm prospects are less combative and more interested — and permission-based selling could just as easily be called “prospect warming” … But that name is weirdly unsettling, so “permission-based selling” will do for now.

3. Reps have a picture of their prospects’ interests.

Permission-based selling also gives sales reps the gift of context. Prospects rarely give up their contact information arbitrarily. Very few businesses have a space on their websites with a vague, blank contact information form that’s not attached to any sort of offer or content.

And if one does, I can’t imagine its “Give Us Your Contact Info Just Because” box is particularly effective. No, most businesses that engage in permission-based selling offer some sort of incentive — one that can clue salespeople into the nature of a prospect’s interest in their business.

Maybe, they’ve requested a free trial of your product. Maybe, they’ve downloaded a specific content offer from a blog post. One way or another, a permission-based buyer has given your company some perspective on their interests. That understanding can help shape how a salesperson approaches the prospects they engage with.

4. It’s a consultative approach that lets reps build trust with prospects.

As per HubSpot’s definition, “Consultative selling is an approach that focuses on creating value and trust with a prospect and exploring their needs before offering a solution. The salesperson’s first objective is building a relationship; their second is providing the right product.”

It’s a strategy that allows sellers to uncover customer needs faster and position compelling solutions based on that information. Permission-based selling falls under the consultative selling umbrella. It provides a starting point for the relationship-building that defines that particular brand of sales.

Knowing the nature and source of a prospect’s interest allows you to tailor a personalized sales pitch based on trust and understanding — one that will make your reps feel comfortable and engaged.

5. It adds a sense of legitimacy to your offering.

If your offering is backed by some sort of content or initial pitch — compelling enough to capture a prospect’s interest — you get to approach your interaction with them with some legitimizing context. Permission-based selling is rooted in faith in a company’s credibility.

These kinds of sales efforts have to start with a prospect either offering their contact information to your business or giving your company their consent to be contacted. Very few prospects will do that for just any company.

That kind of trust is reserved for businesses they deem valuable and legitimate. Having the momentum set by that perceived legitimacy streamlines outreach for salespeople and sets the prospects involved at ease.

Permission-based selling is an exciting strategy that might be worth incorporating into your company’s broader sales efforts. When done right it can be extremely effective and takes some strain off of your sales reps — particularly when conducting outreach to new leads.

If you have the necessary interest, open-mindedness, and resources to shake up your sales methods with an effective new tactic, consider giving permission-based sales a shot.

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