Have You Provoked A Client Lately? – Part 1

This is the first part of our two-part series on major changes in today’s selling world. This post discusses the increased difficulty in reaching senior executives.

I am sure you have often heard lately that the world of selling has changed significantly over the past five years. Do you question this statement’s relevancy and accuracy now that we are slowly coming out of a prolonged recession? Do you believe a sales person uses this to justify his lukewarm performance? 

How do you feel these days as a Chief Sales Officer (EVP,VP, or Director with sales management responsibilities) when most of your top producers (and the rest of the selling team) no longer can access senior executives using traditional methods like phone calls, emails, text messaging, and all the other gimmicks we all have used in the  past, resulting in longer prospecting cycles, longer sales engagements, and lower returns per reps? How frustrated are you with these situations where predictability in sales revenue has dropped by 25% or more for no apparent reason? How frustrated does it make you feel when you hear over and over during sales meeting and weekly territory or activity reviews that your prospect has no budget for your solution, that it takes longer than projected to complete a specific selling stage, and that the level of competitiveness or control your sales team once had no longer exists?

Take this quick test. Think over the past 12 to 18 months to a time when you took a salesman’s call, answered an email from an unknown source, or accepted a conversation with a sales person without having initiated the call? Think back to your own behavior when you were resistant, unresponsive, short, and unwilling while someone was attempting to do their job of selling to you? So if you are displaying similar behaviors as many of the Chief Sales Officers I talk and work with, then you now can easily understand the challenges your sales force is facing.

One of the most significant recent changes I have experienced with the prospects and clients we deal with is the difficulty in reaching senior executives.

It is much harder to reach senior executives now than in the past. Traditional selling approaches (product and solution based selling) have become obsolete. Most of us have experienced difficulties in reaching a senior executive by phone, or using any of the tricks of the trade we have been exposed to in the past like faxing, FedEx packages, gifts, postcards, personal hand written letters — or even LinkedIn mail service.

Today the game is around mastering social media tools and branding in order to get your name out there to gain recognition and credibility around your specialties (not products, but geography or expertise or reference-able success stories.) This brand development (personal or organization focused) has to be accompanied by a very clear understanding of timing and by the person you want to reach (profile, needs, wants, or challenges.) Homework about the person you are attempting to reach, not just the company or the market, has become paramount to gaining any access. Cold calling, in all its forms (letter, email, phone, others), is still an activity that needs attention, but its effectiveness and return has been reduced dramatically as of late. Only the great messages — the outstanding and most creative approaches — are succeeding. And they require time and organizational resources to be developed. So is there an alternative to reaching the intended audience?

More than ever before, I believe that proactive referrals from trusted sources are essential. The use of social media tools, developing your own (even locally for territory bound sales executives and teams) brand based on expertise and best selling behaviors are musts to prepare one’s self. But that is not enough. Referral selling has become a science. Working with our clients to implement such an approach, we have seen an 80% success rate from introduction from a trusted source to first conversation using this process correctly.

In the next installment of our series, I’ll discuss how traditional selling approaches, like product and solution-based selling, have become obsolete.

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