When you consider that only 3% to 7% of any B2B market is actively looking for a solution at any given time, the chances of getting a positive response to a random call (even if you know they’re the right persona) might be 1 in 20 if you're lucky. Here’s a tactic that few try for potentially overcoming roadblocks.
In an earlier article, I talked about how the widespread use of Salesforce.com software has instilled a largely prescriptive sales process in many organizations.
In that article I talked about how the software, and the sales practices it has brought about, drive the sales ‘engine’ and instill in salespeople and their managers a mindset and goal of getting to a Yes or No (aka Closed Win or Closed Lost in Salesforce lingo). The use of Salesforce has influenced not only processes but also sales organization structure and culture. And not always in a good way.
Every salesperson encounters hurdles and roadblocks at various times and for a range of reasons. During my decades of exposure to B2B marketing and sales teams in companies of all sizes from startup to enterprise, I’ve seen sales leadership so driven by pipeline, goals, forecasts, and metrics that they fail to pause and ask ‘why’ when a salesperson raises concerns about the hurdles and roadblocks they encounter.
It’s almost as if the ‘conveyor belt’ approach to sales instantiated by salesforce creates blinders to reality. And the message that comes from sales leadership and upper levels of leadership - be it spoken or unspoken - is “Just go sell, sell, sell, close deals. Shut the f&$* up and sell.”
What about the flip side? What about walking a few steps in a salesperson’s shoes? Why not ask ‘why’ to uncover the reasons behind the roadblock or challenge when the salesperson raises a flag?
Organizations that do this may find unexpected opportunities - and success. It may even uncover an unexpected approach or tactic that works and can be implemented to make your entire team more successful.
Nobody Wants to Be Sold To
(Well, except maybe the 3% to 7% of any B2B market who are actively looking for a solution at any given time.)
Think about how you typically respond to someone approaching you to sell you something. That caller that interrupts your dinner to talk with you about your car’s extended warranty. The email pushing another credit card. The knock on the door to sell you a pest control or lawn care service. That person that approaches you with a survey or a loyalty card offer as you exit the grocery store.
Our typical reaction is fight or flight, as I discussed in my article on the human psychology of decision making as it relates to marketing. Even if someone realizes they have a problem, if they're not ready to buy, they still don't want to be sold to. They don't want to go through that process. It’s awkward. They feel pressured. And their reptilian brain prompts them to want to fight or flee. They get mad. Or they want to run away.
May We Have Your Opinion? A Potential Alternative to the Hard Sell
Decades ago when I was developing a startup that created RFID technology for the hospitality industry, I discovered a soft approach to sales that I believe can be applied in essentially any size organization with any audience/persona.
Let me share what we did, and then give a few essential, tactical tips for what could make it successful.
Our target markets were hotels, resorts, and casinos, all very large properties. Typically, our target audience was the general manager (GM). It’s a fairly high level position that carries a lot of responsibility, as you can imagine. And it can be difficult to break through to get those appointments.
Our approach was not to go in to sell. Rather, we would approach these GMs with a request for their educated opinion as a valued professional. That approach was completely different and had a response completely different from what one would expect from the typical sales approach.
My business partner and I would introduce ourselves, give a little background, and state up front, “Rest assured, we’re not trying to sell you anything. Rather, we’re thinking of investing in a company that sells a certain technology for hospitality venues like yours. Can we tell you a little bit about it and have you tell us what you think of it and whether it’s valuable in your opinion for the industry and your type of property?”
If they answered yes, we would show them what we had and how it would be used. Not a demo, per se, but we felt like we needed to show versus tell. What we discovered was that almost everyone would give us at least a little bit of time to understand the product and give us their honest feedback on what they thought about it.
That's an excellent way to prospect and understand interest and attitudes, but also to inform the creation, use, evolution, and value creation for a product. But ultimately, those who found it very interesting or really felt that there was a strong value proposition would ask one or two things, if not both.
The first: “Can I invest?”
The second: “Can I try this out for my property?”
Ultimately, we got what we wanted even though we hadn’t explicitly asked for these things or for their business, specifically. There was no ‘hard sell.’
Interestingly, we would try to dissuade people from investing, reminding them that it was a new technology and a new company, with all the inherent risks. We did, however, offer a pilot program as a way to try the product with little to no risk. So that was our approach.
Now, you might give pushback saying “Well, you were a startup. Of course it was easy to say you wanted feedback on a concept, since you hadn’t been in the market that long and you were still devising and fully developing your product.”
True, to a degree. I believe, as I mentioned earlier, that this approach (or sales mindset because it really is more about the mindset) can work in selling to any persona in any size organization.
Opinions Are Like Belly Buttons (Everyone Has One)
Everyone has an opinion. You may have heard the adage that “Opinions are like [a particular orifice]. Everybody has one.”
What’s more, everyone wants to share their opinion, and this may be particularly true on social media, and perhaps most common among Americans. We feel like we want to share our opinion, even if it’s not educated.
If you're speaking to the right target that you're trying to sell to, they are highly qualified to give you feedback and information about your product, services, bundles, what they like or don't like, how it helps them in their profession, what they're looking for, pricing, thoughts on your competitors and their products, why they bought (or would or wouldn’t buy), prerequisites to buying, etc.
What Can Make This Approach Work
If you’re going to try this approach, you need to give up the idea of a classic sales pitch and presentation. The idea is not to do a demo of your product. You need to be very good at speaking very succinctly, in a series of brief elevator pitches to efficiently explain what your product does and how it’s used.
You need to be genuinely inquisitive, and ask a series of questions about what they are using today, what their pain points and needs are, etc. And your approach has to be very conversational. Relaxed. Friendly.
Most of all, you need to be a student of human behavior and communication. You’ll have more success if you can read subtle social and facial cues.
If someone says they don't have time, or at any point says this seems like a sales pitch, be ready to respectfully thank them for their time and state that it really was not your intention.
Ultimately, go into your meeting with your purpose and a direction in mind, yet avoid overly leading where the conversation goes, and remain somewhat open-ended, leaving doors open along the way.
How do you close?
That depends on how the conversation goes. Remember, it’s not always about getting to a Yes or No. “Maybe” and “Not Yet” are valid responses as I shared in an earlier article, and you can handle those, too, if you are prepared. In fact, a salesperson who uses this inquisitive approach may already be more prepared for the more ambiguous responses and may ultimately get farther in building a deeper relationship of mutual trust that can still result in sales, sooner or later.
Cheers to your success!