By Harrell Kerkhoff,
Maintenance Sales News Editor
The act of selling can take a great deal of time, money and effort when interacting with current and potential customers. The hope is that certain “targeted acts” will lead to mutually beneficial business relationships. The problem is, it’s often hard to get “the ball rolling.”
Certain steps, however, can help sales professionals develop successful in-person and virtual initial meetings, with the following objectives in mind:
■ Understanding how to develop an ideal buyer profile;
■ Creating impactful pre-call plans for each ideal buyer;
■ Developing strong discovery questions aligned with each ideal buyer; and,
■ Qualifying each prospect with BANT (Budget, Authority, Need, and Timeline) objectives.
Ed Wallace, managing director of AchieveNEXT (achievenext.com), offered advice during an educational webinar on how to accomplish those objectives. His presentation was entitled: “Target Conversations With Your Ideal Buyers.”
“I have often heard from sales leaders that their sales teams, in the amount of time granted, have had trouble creating value with current and potential customers. That is a real issue because creating value leads to credibility,” Wallace said. “When it comes to targeting ideal buyers, how do you build value which leads to credibility?”
According to research, he added, company decision makers (including buyers), on average, perceive only six minutes of real value from an average 60-minute sales call. Therefore, the question that must be asked is: “How do sales professionals create more value during that contact with potential and current customers?”
The answer may often lie in building what Wallace referred to as “Relational Capital,” defined as: “The distinctive value created by people in a business relationship.”
Such a relationship involves “people” and “money,” focusing on “the coming together” for something that creates value.
Wallace explained that many people in business create some type of value in their own way, such as through technical expertise, industry knowledge and/or keen people skills.
The question often arises, “How can I advance my own skills to make a difference with a client?”
Building relational capital, Wallace explained, begins with the act of building “credibility.” Two other parts to relational capital are: “integrity” and “authenticity.”
He added the best definition of credibility in sales is: “The power of elicit belief.” That is a better definition than: “Doing what you say you are going to do,” or “keeping promises.” The latter two definitions revolve around “trust,” but Wallace said there is a distinction between “trust” and “credibility.”
“When it comes to credibility, how do you become believable to another person in order to create trust? With a business relationship, you have to be believeable to get an appointment. You have to be believable before you can gain trust, because trust is a two-way street,” Wallace said. “Until someone actually trusts you, by the way you follow up on something and/or keep a commitment, you may not have believability, which can lead to a lack of credibility.”
He added the best way to gain “believability” is through preparation and asking great questions during a sales process. It’s all part of holding a quality conversation with people.
“For example, when I agreed to conduct this webinar, it gave me an opportunity to be on time and deliver a great experience for participants. It allowed me to be believable. That’s how you build credibility, integrity and trust,” Wallace said. “I have found that when sales people get stuck and can’t get past the first step within the sales process, they are often struggling with believability in the eyes of potential customers.”
In an effort to advance believability within a sales/business relationship, one that grows from acquaintance to peer and then advisor, Wallace discussed the merits of The Relational Ladder®. It’s a training process used to transform contacts into high-performing relationships. The Relational Ladder® helps participants learn:
■ How to advance relationship capital and goals;
■ Where they (participants) stand on the ladder based on their contacts’ behaviors;
■ What relationships belong on the ladder and whether they are Acquaintances, Professional Peers, or Respected Advisors; and,
■ Why this approach can be used for every business relationship.
The Relational Ladder® involves five rungs, the lowest one entitled, “Establishing Common Ground.” It’s the first and widest of the rungs, and also the most challenging. It’s the rung where a person starts a conversation with an acquaintance, such as a potential customer, in an effort to build credibility. The goal is to do a good enough job during the initial conversation to be “invited back.”
“The main objective is to advance from the first rung,” Wallace said. “Before you can reach the ‘peer’ or ‘advisory’ level, you have to be credible, which allows you to go beyond that first rung.”
THE VALUE OF
According to Wallace, a high percentage of buyers expect sales staff to properly explain how their products/services will improve/impact the buyer’s business.
“The question is, how many professional sales people can actually do that? A recent survey showed less than 14 percent,” Wallace said. “The good news is, the bar (at less than 14 percent) is really low, which means your competitors may also be failing to meet the needs of customers.”
He added that salespeople can improve on such an abysmal percentage when they better understand how to connect with the right people and ask the right questions. That can be done through the act of “targeted conversations,” helping those in sales align with the “persona” of their desired contacts.
In order to improve the targeted conversation process, salespeople should develop pre-meeting plans. During such planning, those in sales should consider:
■ A customer’s goals and struggles; and,
■ Create credibility-advancing discovery questions, supported by a value proposition.
“The idea is to understand a customer’s struggles, and what he/she is trying to accomplish. That involves the persona of the contact,” Wallace said.
Part of that process is to develop strong “discovery” questions, in order to learn more about a client.
“It’s important to realize discovery questions related to a plant manager may be different from discovery questions to ask a company’s purchasing manager or other representative,” Wallace said. “The objective of discovery questions is to better understand a customer’s business ‘through his/her eyes.’ Ask questions that will allow you (as a salesperson) to learn more about your prospect’s situation, based on the prospect’s persona.”
Wallace provided examples of what he referred to as strong discovery questions:
■ What has been your company’s biggest accomplishment in the past four to six months?;
■ I see from LinkedIn you have been in your current role since (a certain year), what made you want to get in this industry?;
■ I see we are both connected to (a specific company) on LinkedIn. How do you know that company?; and,
■ How has your role changed since the start of the COVID pandemic?
Wallace added one of his favorite discovery questions is: “How is the current business environment impacting your business?”
“I like that question because it’s non-specific. In can be asked in both good, neutral and bad economic times,” he said.
During the discovery question process, it’s more import to “ask, ask, ask,” than to start talking about your own company, Wallace said. The asking process does not have to involve difficult questions. In instead, it’s more important to simply “get the ball rolling” when trying to find out more about a company. Simple follow-up questions during a conversation can include: “Why is that?,” “Can you tell me more?,” and, “Is there anything else?”
“Just one great discovery question can allow you to get through an entire initial meeting. A discovery question, and how it’s followed with other questions, can build credibility. The way you ask questions can demonstrate your industry knowledge and interest,” Wallace said. “Afterward, you can then start talking about your own company. That is when you discuss your company’s value statement.”
He added the best type of value statement accurately describes how a buyer can use/benefit from the seller’s product/solution.
“A value statement should focus on what a company can do for a customer. Also, the value statement should not be long. There is no need for multiple sentences or a paragraph of copy. It should, however, be directed at the needs of the customer. The statement should focus on benefits and include such verbs as: increases, decreases and/or eliminates something,” Wallace said. “A potential customer may ask, ‘So, what can you do for us?’ You can respond, through your value statement, by saying, ‘We help you increase (fill in the bank), decrease (fill in the blank), or eliminate (fill in a blank) through (add the solution).’
“You want to use a value statement that will get the attention of your contact, so he/she will then ask, ‘Well, how do you do that?’”
Wallace discussed the benefits of providing a company’s “sources of value” in the statement. There are traps, however, to consider.
“What if I told a potential customer that my company sells products ‘Made in the USA,’ and he/she responds, ‘Well, I like German engineering.’ Now what do I say?” Wallace asked. “It would be best to rather talk about your company’s capabilities to ship products in a timely manner.
“Before citing a value statement to a prospect, ask yourself, ‘Will (that statement) strike home, in a positive way, with the person/company?’”
In summary, when putting together a value statement, Wallace said it’s important to think about the true value a company can offer a customer.
Wallace added that his colleague and sales effectiveness expert, Mark Allen Roberts, advises: “Sit down with your sales team and start thinking about: Who are our current and potential customers? What is on their desks that we can help with? What are the best questions that we can ask those people? What are their sources of value? What are our sources of value? What are our benefits that can be conveyed in their language? And, what does our value statement really mean to them?”
To avoid wasted time, energy and money, the act of “qualifying” current and potential customers should be a common practice, according to Wallace. Such action can translate to greater sales effectiveness.
“I have found a lot of business-related proposals or forecasts are not properly qualified,” Wallace said. “We often think a customer has been ‘qualified’ because that person seems to like us (our company), but that is not enough. It may be that the person (or company) has not done business with us for six months or longer.”
Wallace discussed a process, introduced to him by Roberts, called BANT. It’s designed to help qualify customers and prospects, with the acronym standing for: Budget, Authority, Need and Timeline.
The idea behind BANT is the ask the questions: Does the client/prospect have a targeted Budget? Does the client/prospect have Authority (to make a purchase)? Do we understand the client’s/prospect’s Need? Do we understand the client’s/prospect’s Timeline?
“The idea is to qualify the proper fit between a company and a client/prospect. It’s important to be sure any potential engagement is going to benefit both the company and the customer,” Wallace said. “How can a company leader trust what is forecast if he/she can’t properly qualify future business?”
Using the BANT process helps a company leader learn:
■ Budget — Does (a current/potential customer) have a targeted budget? How much has it spent on similar purchases in the past? Has it been given a budget or will (the seller of products/services) need to create a business plan for such a budget?
Wallace said the idea behind such questions is to help rationalize future business.
■ Authority — Does the buyer (of a current/potential customer) have authority to make a purchase? Who is the decision maker? Is there someone else to include in future discussions?
Wallace said it’s important to be careful when asking someone if he/she has “decision-making authority.”
“It may make the person asking such a question sound pushy. It would be better to rephrase the question by asking: ‘Besides yourself, is there anybody else we should include in the decision-making process?’” he explained.
■ Need — Do we understand (a current/potential customer’s) need? How long has a certain challenge been an issue with that company? What has the company done thus far to try to improve?
According to Wallace, it may take many questions before a company’s needs are fully understood.
■ Timeline — What makes (an issue or request) so urgent (to the client/potential customer) that it must get solved? What is the timeline for the matter to be solved? What is the cost if the matter is not solved?
Wallace said company leaders can add their own qualifying questions when using the BANT process. He added BANT is helpful when initiating a conversation with a company representative and trying to determine if a future relationship can be built.
“BANT also helps when someone, such as a purchasing manager, asks, ‘We already have a similar vendor. What does your company bring to the table?’” Wallace said. “It’s all about building a relationship. Think ‘relationship first’ during every interaction. Building relationships is often a lot easier, and more fun, than just trying to outsell the other guy.
“Feel free to use the word ‘relationship’ often when working with a prospective customer. For example, you could say to the prospect, ‘What I would like to do today is launch a relationship between our organizations and to learn more about your company. I would also like to share what we do. Let’s then talk about if we should meet again.’
“The idea is to have a simple conversation. You are not looking for a purchase order at the moment, but rather looking to launch a relationship.”