In business and life, when looking for a solution to a particular challenge, you reach for your mobile and start to search for answers. Asking peers and people in your network for recommendations is another natural step. But speaking directly to a new supplier to ask them questions is quite rare.
It’s no surprise to see that 68% of people prefer to research on their own online before making a purchase decision. Millennials also like to research before making a decision and they now make up 73% of all B2B purchasing decisions. So when a buyer meets a sales person, they’re already very informed about the product or service and think the solution is potentially a good strategic fit. The last thing they’ll want to spend their precious time doing is listening to the marketing messages all over again.
This is where the traditional sales approach needs to focus more on building a relationship with the buyer.
When you have the best product, or market leading brand you win more sales. Some businesses want the best in the market, they will gravitate towards the market leaders as they believe they are the most trusted solution, so are relationships that important? If you sell a niche product or service, competition may be low so does the traditional approach really need to change?
In both scenarios, yes, building a strong relationship from the very first encounter is essential. It increases up sell, cross sell opportunities and the more a customer purchases from you the more likely they are to stay and refer you to others. If there is an opportunity for a competitor to disrupt an industry, it can happen almost overnight. And whilst features and processes can easily be copied, relationships cannot.
The old saying, people buy from people, is very true today. So when you meet a new prospect who’s researched your company and your solution, how do you make a good first impression and start to build a positive relationship that leads to a sale? Here are some proven tips to get you started.
Research, research, research. Search for all the latest news, PR releases, social media and speak to your network to see if anyone has worked with or for them in the past. Try to get a feel for their culture and decision making process. Research their market, competitors, consider any political or legislation changes that may affect their business going forward plus simple things like acronyms and key phrases. The aim of the research is to help you feel confident you understand the business and can have an informed conversation about their future and how you can help achieve their objectives.
Storing all the information you’ve found is just as important as the work itself. There are many options but if you use a CRM system it makes sense to store everything there. Not only will it be easy to find before the meeting but others can access it too. This is especially important if another opportunity for the same business is picked up by another member of the team.
When you’re fully informed, you'll likely find the meeting is more focused, conversational and constructive as you won’t need to spend time understanding the basics. This all helps to build an easy rapport quickly.
As a buyer, when a sales representative has thoroughly researched the company, you respect the time and effort they’ve spent doing so and immediately feel valued. Even if the solution is not a strategic fit, you regard them highly and potentially refer them to others or get back in touch later down the line with a different opportunity.
Your first meeting with a potential client is sometimes referred to as a ‘consultation’ or a ‘discovery meeting.’ Whilst you may have researched the broader market, competitive landscape and business, you don’t yet know the details of their particular challenge.
To truly understand, ask the right questions and listen intently. Take note of the body language of the buyer and between colleagues. Glances across the table after a particular question can sometimes tell you all you need to know about the future deal.
The ideal meeting is conversational rather than a Q & A, which is why the research is so important. It’s easier to provide useful insights and fully understand their pain points, which has a results in more winning deals.
Being fully present in the meeting and actively listening is key to success too. Balancing this with note taking can be tricky if you don’t want to lose the chemistry during your discussions. It’s certainly worth documenting all that you’ve seen and heard straight after the meeting so you don’t forget the detail. The usual place to store your notes is in your CRM. You can make efficiencies here too by assigning tasks, while you make notes, to the people who can help deliver next steps. More importantly you can schedule the next follow up so you don’t forget.
While people may have a clear idea of how you can help them before you meet, they won’t have thought of everything. This is where you can really stand out from the competition and get great value from the insight you’ve gathered early on.
Share your perspective on untapped opportunities or future challenges you’ve identified that are in context with the buyer’s situation. This is especially powerful if they’ve not already recognized any of the points raised. But even if they have, it’s impressive to see you’re strategically aligned. When the buyer feels this and the empathy you’re showing towards the business, they’ll instantly start to feel a connection with you.
Without honesty and authenticity all the above can be a wasted effort. When you believe in the product you’re selling and have a real passion for helping businesses overcome their challenges, selling becomes a much easier process. This authentic belief in your product is infectious and when it’s coupled with complete honesty around what can be delivered and when, it’s proven to have a positive impact on sales conversions.
It’s easier to connect with people who are honest and authentic - they’re also very difficult to forget.
Sometimes being honest may end up with you not being the right fit for the buyer but this loss can sometimes be a win further down the line. No business works in isolation, so it’s highly likely that if you connect with a buyer they will recommend your company to others too. If it’s a timing issue, people will likely come back.
Honesty builds trust and trust is one of the key foundations of a successful relationship.
Communication is another ingredient to building strong relationships. It’s important to stay in touch after the meeting and keep people up to date on any progress but there’s a fine line between this and pestering.
Whilst the deal is at the top of your priority list it may not be at the top of your buyers. A week can fly by in a busy office so staying in touch more often than that (unless already agreed) can quickly become an annoyance. If the business is considering your solution and someone else, the more often you chase the more likely you are to lose the deal.
There is no winning approach to follow ups. If you actively listen, ask the right questions during your discovery meeting and reflect on how easy it was to set up the initial meeting, you’ll get a good sense of what’s right for that person. It’ll be different for everyone.
A useful approach is arranging a followup date before you leave and suggesting how often to catch up afterwards. If you know they’re about to hit a busy period, you’ll be less likely to worry when you don’t hear back straight away. Use technology, like your CRM, to record this information and schedule the next followup so you don’t forget.
Staying in touch doesn’t always have to be an email or call asking for an update.
If you learned something new during the meeting and have some relevant content to send, such as a whitepaper, a webinar or some useful stats, making this the focus of the message is a more positive way of staying in touch. Adding extra value to the followup message will always be received more positively.
What if you don’t hear back after your follow ups? It’s best not to leave the opportunity hanging, find a way of kindly asking if your solution is no longer relevant and make the difficult job of them saying, ‘no’ slightly easier.
Always follow up on your promises, which is always easier to do when you set realistic expectations. When people keep their promises it builds trust in the relationship. It signals a sign of respect to the buyer and that carries a lot of weight early on in a relationship.
Delivering on your promises is also an area where you can differentiate yourself from the competition.
Research shoes it takes seven positive experiences to counteract one negative one, so it’s not something that can be rectified quickly. Agreeing to something you can’t actually deliver also puts a lot of strain on the rest of the business as people frantically try to deliver the impossible for the buyer.
Building strong relationships with a potential buyer during the sales process will help you convert more sales and increase referrals. Following the steps above will make it easier for you to adapt your approach and have a strong, successful year.