There’s a classic conundrum in large account sales, or as it’s referred to in the software industry, “enterprise sales.” Sales always derides the leads the marketing department hands them. “The leads are weak” they say.
Marketing complains that the primma donnas in sales only want a lead that will say “yes!” to them during the first call. They complain sales people aren’t willing to make more than one follow-up phone call on the leads they worked so diligently to produce.
Well I’ve got a message for both the sales and marketing departments at companies that sell big ticket items: your sales people have got to learn how to be marketers.
Thought leadership wins over product leadership
The old ways of selling have long ceased to be effective. C- and VP- level executives can smell a product-centric sales pitch a mile away. As Jill Konrath in her book Selling to Big Companies says: “The more you proclaim your offering is ‘absolutely the best,’ the less your prospect believes what you say.”
No matter what the quality of your product or service is, even if you’ve got the best rated offering in the industry with thousands of happy customers and pages of positive testimonials, your products’ superiority will not advance your sale.
But thought leadership will.
To win in today’s markets, you increasingly must be perceived as a thought leader. These are individuals or organizations that provide relevant insight and perspective to engage buyers and guide them through a demanding decision.
But how can sales people be thought leaders?
You need to stop thinking like a sales person that pitches a product. You need to have a point of view and create new ideas. Don’t be afraid to suggest new solutions to your prospective clients, instead of constantly saying ‘yes sir, no sir, three bags full sir.” And start thinking like a marketer.
You should start writing. Don’t rely exclusively on the brochure the marketing department (sorry fellow marketers) provides you. Start a blog, or write your own white papers or case studies. You could even create your own videos and send them in prospecting emails or as a link in an introductory letter.
Share provocative ideas, not features and benefits
This is related to thought leadership, and it’s something marketers are very good at. Take bloggers or copywriters for instance: the writing side of the marketing profession is very good at creating thought-provoking copy that inspires action by their reader. All they’ve got are their words!
Sales people need to be provocative too. Marc Benioff, Salesforce.com CEO, a former VP of Sales at Oracle, knows how to be provocative. He declared “The End of Software”, and he is now “credited with turning the software industry on its head.”
To be provocative you need to challenge the status quo.
You can also use provocative methods when prospecting. After conducting research on your customer and uncovering potential problems, you can leave a voicemail or send an email to your prospect expressing an understanding of their problem, and stating how you’ve helped similar companies achieve “40% savings” or “increase close ratio by 19%”.
That type of provocation will put you on your prospects’ radar screen.
Cold-call to invite, not to sell
Almost everyone hates the word “cold-calling.” It has such an icky feeling. But I think sales people hate it even more. Most break out in a cold sweat when they have to cold-call to generate their own sales opportunities.
But that’s because you always feel like you have to sell something over the phone.
First of all, that stopped being effective long ago, and secondly cold-calling is a really good tool for getting appointments with people you want to start a relationship with. Hey, if a CEO wants to get to know a fellow CEO at another company, what does he do? He cold calls them!
The new twist on cold-calling is: call somebody to invite them to something, preferably something they’d be interested in learning about. Something provocative or something displaying some thought leadership qualities.
In the document Cold Call Scripts that Work: 3 Proven Introductions that Break into and Close New Clients by Erica Stritch at RainToday, sales people are encouraged to invite prospects to informational meetings where they can receive best practice information, survey data, or review findings of recent studies.
You can follow these steps, or you can invite prospects to a private one-on-one webinar where you share your provocative idea.
This is a very marketing-like approach. Marketers understand that if they can’t sell something with a piece of advertising or direct mail, they can at least get a response by asking their customer to “send for our free report” or “download a free trial.” As a large account sales person, this tried and true method will work for you too.
Don’t smile and dial, plan a strategic account entry campaign instead
Back in the 90s as a budding young software sales guy, I was easily making 50-70 calls a day to IT decision-makers on behalf of a lead generation company. When I look back I am surprised at how often I got people on the phone.
Now it’s impossible to get through the electronic Great Wall of China that corporations have erected to protect their executives. Smiling and dialing without a plan just doesn’t work anymore.
Instead, you’ve to got plan a campaign. Just as marketers have to pick a target market, get the demographics right, understand the psychographics, identify the best media, and plan a multi-touch campaign to reach their prospects, you as a sales person have to do something very similar.
You need to create your large account penetration campaign. Jill Konrath, in her book “Selling to Big Companies,” recommends choosing your top 10 accounts, identify the decision-makers, research their problems, priorities and trigger events, and plan a multi-touch campaign to “get in.” This includes phone calls, direct mail, email, use of white papers, case studies, videos, and webinars. Konrath says it takes up to 7-10 “touches” to finally get through to an executive.
Obviously each one of these touches should bring value to the executive. Don’t leave voicemails that say “I’m just following-up on my last email…” That will ensure your voicemail is deleted.
However, you should have a methodical, well thought out account entry plan, instead of winging it.
In today’s marketplace, sales people should think like marketers. Take off your “pitching” cap and create or share thought leadership ideas and content, be provocative to change opinions, invite prospects to mini-events, and execute account entry campaigns.
How can you gain the skills required to change your mindset and behavior? For one thing, you can start blogging. You can also attend AMA meetings, or take courses. But most importantly, you ‘ve got to stop thinking about you and your product, and you’ve got to think about your customer and their issues. Once you focus on your customer, and think of your products as tools to enable you to help your customer instead of as things to sell, then you’ve made a huge leap towards thinking like a marketer and becoming a more effective large account sales person.
About the author: Fernando Labastida, the current blog editor for the Austin AMA, has been involved in sales and marketing for almost 20 years. He has carried a bag as an account executive for start-up and established software companies, and he has led marketing efforts in the U.S. and Latin America. He writes in Spanish for his own blog, guests posts for Axeleratum in Mexico and Nearshore Americas in the U.S., and is the principal for international marketing firm, Latin IT Marketing.