This month’s article is focused on some winning ways to approach B2B (business-to-business) selling. There are so many different ways to find prospective customers but, when you have someone you would like to work with, how do you get them over the line?
One good customer can be better than a bunch of bad ones
You will have expended a great deal of time, energy and probably money to get your business to where it is now (unless you are just starting out). In order to progress and grow, it is not about the volume of customers you have but having the right customers. Always remember this; we all have experience of the ones that take up most of our time, can be a little painful to deal with and expect to pay as little as possible… and we have all needed those customers to progress in our journey. However, when the time is right, it makes business sense to see you may have outgrown the not-so-good ones and to move on. It creates space in your business, and your energies, for new customers that will reward you better and that make better business sense. So, if you are busy, there is no need for you to be a busy fool – focus on customers you really want to work with that reward well.
Get a decent CRM system in place
I won’t spend too much on this but please, before you get started, make sure you have a really good Customer Relationship Management tool in place. Something like Zendesk Sell (my favourite), Hubspot or SalesForce will substantially increase your customer win rates simply by keeping you organised. These systems are designed to make sure you track all of your opportunities and follow them up at the right time and in the right way. I would say this is the most central and important tool you will use, period.
Take your time to identify and target properly
Finding great new customers starts with targeting. Think about which businesses you really want to work with and, going back to what I said right at the start, think about how good they really are as opportunities. There’s little point spending all of your time going for a huge customer that has long-term contracts in place any more than one who wants to spend as little as possible and take up all of your time. A great rule to apply when choosing good opportunities is ‘SCOTSMAN’. This acronym means the following:
• (S)olution: Does what you are offering solve a problem for them? Do they use or need your service?
• (C)ompetition: Is the competition for this customer fierce? What chances do you have?
• (O)riginality: How do you differ from the competition and how will you stand-out?
• (T)imebound: Are their expectations on timing workable or will they leave you under substantial pressure that would inevitably lead to failure?
• (S)ize: Are they too big for you, not just too small? Big means expectations – can you deliver? They are too small if they are not going to generate a worthwhile financial return.
• (M)oney: Do they have the budget to afford your product or service, or are they going to want you to undersell yourself? Again, do not be a busy fool.
• (A)uthority: Who will you be dealing with? Do they have the power to make decisions and work with you longer term or might you be wasting your time?
• (N)eed: How much do they really need what you do? After you put all the time and effort into winning their business, is it going to last? Will you get a return in the longer-term?
There is one really important aspect that I feel is missing from this list and that is ‘Chemistry.’ In my opinion, wherever possible, you need to work for and with people you feel a positive connection with. They will value the relationship more and so will you; you will be more respected, appreciated and less disposable if things go wrong. Working for a tyrant is only ever worth it if they pay exceptionally well and, even then, it is questionable how long that relationship will last – look at Donald Trump!
Sales is all about timing
One of the biggest mistakes salespeople make is that they try to rush a sale. I don’t care what any sales guru says, people buy best from you when they are ready to buy and not before. Yes, you can expedite a potential sale and close it quicker, but you will almost never push a client into a meaningful engagement unless they really want to do it. You can pressure some into a sale, but it is far more likely to be a short-lived relationship and that is a waste of all your efforts.
Map out your sales journey and stick to it.
So, we know that timing is crucial to good sales. Sales are usually made by being in the right place, at the right time and with the right offer. Being in the right place is the easy part – it is identifying where your customer will see you and connecting with them. Once you have done this, you need to take your time to learn about them, tailor your offer to their needs and then close them at just the right time.
You will likely have heard of ‘funnels’ and ‘pipelines.’ Both are really just a fancy way or describing the process of whittling down opportunities from ‘no idea’ to ‘ready to sign up.’ This is essentially your roadmap that starts with you introducing yourself and finishes with an order. I recommend you set out a sales journey (your funnel) that has 5 – 10 stages to it. Never try to sell to a client as you introduce yourself; I see it all the time on LinkedIn and people do not respond well to it. This is like trying to close a mattress sale as a customer walks through the door of a bed shop!
I recommend something along these lines as a reliable and effective sales journey. Each of the below stages should, in my opinion, be at least a week apart unless a customer is ready to buy:
1) Introduce yourself and justify your reason for making contact (keep it brief).
2) Explain who you are and what you can offer them (keep it brief and relevant).
3) Demonstrate knowledge about their business and/or market and align your proposition with what you can do for them (prove you want their business and are interested in them).
4) Ask for a brief chat on the phone (don’t ask to go for a coffee or anything else that sounds like it takes up lots of time, it’s way too soon). Learn as much as you can about who they are, who they currently work with and what they really need.
5) Tailor your pitch and present your offer to them.
6) Use your CRM to follow up your offer every 1-4 weeks.
7) If they have not bought from you after 2-3 months, go back to (5) and vary your approach. Think about things you can do that would help to give them a reason to give you a go, like an extra benefit you can give them or an introductory discount.
8) Never give up unless you have reason to believe you are wasting your time. It’s only a ‘no’ today and something could have changed by tomorrow. Just reduce your follow ups to every month or two months.
I never cease to be surprised by opportunities we win at TFA where the prospect has been adamant for many months they were ‘very happy’ with their current arrangements. We then find that, after sometimes more than a year of perseverance, things changed for them and we happened to be in the right place, at the right time… with the right pitch.
Fill your pipeline with the approach above and you will find you close way more than you ever did before.