Want to shut down a prospect faster than Garfield finds pizza? Break out some discovery questions.
I’m a marketer, so I get it: Sellers want to learn as much as possible about potential buyers. But for heaven’s sake, asking about a prospect’s role and responsibilities isn’t the way to jumpstart a cold call. When hit by a litany of canned questions, most buyers inevitably thinking, “Good grief! Why doesn’t this rep know all of this already?” Why indeed. Discovery questions, rather than moving a buyer closer to a deal, actually take an interaction several steps back.
This unfortunate circumstance can be remedied – at least in part – with better sales intelligence. But knowing more about prospects’ businesses, industries, and struggles before the first “hello” may not fix what is often a more chronic sales problem – faltering momentum. Multiple studies show that 25 to 50 percent of forecasted deals is lost in no decision. In an extended B2B sales cycle, where considerable time and resources are invested in deepening connections, this is particularly hard-hitting.
Bottom line: enterprise B2B marketers and sellers must become better at combatting stalled deals. The best way to achieve this is for them to become relationship builders, adroitly skilled in the art of sales acceleration.
This isn’t a race to a closed deal. It’s a carefully mapped marathon. Over a series of interactions, “accelerated” sellers use data and analytics to guide enterprise buyers in an ongoing, deepening conversation that eventually blossoms into a valuable relationship. It’s this relationship that paves the way to long-term value – punctuated by purchases, problem-solving, brand advocacy, product collaborations, and beyond.
Sound like a ton of work? Consider this: In eight out of 10 cases, B2B buyers have already selected a vendor before the review process starts. Clearly, B2B marketers and sellers need to connect with buyers much earlier if they hope to forge a relationship. And when they do manage to connect, they need to understand their buyers’ worlds and engage with relevance. Sellers who want to achieve this make significant headway by concentrating on three key strategies of accelerated selling.
1. Be the Best Answer (and Best Asker)
“What would you say your company is best known for?” and “Who does your company sell to?” Fairly frequently, I get sales calls that use these hapless openers. It’s particularly ironic because the sellers on the other end of the line clearly lack vital prospecting information, and my employer just happens to sell commercial data and insights to sales and marketing professionals – and others – to help them grow business relationships. Regardless, I’m pretty sure I’m not the only B2B buyer who resents helping sellers with pre-call research in real time.
While no one likes wasting time, this specific case of irritation springs from a far more fundamental assumption: B2B buyers expect sellers to have answers. In fact, if brands hope to differentiate themselves, they should arm their sales teams with the best answers. (Props to Lee Odden for increasing awareness of this point via his search-inspired, “be-the-best-answer” guideline to good content marketing.) What makes an answer “best”? At its most basic, Odden says, it’s an in-depth exploration that’s also informative and useful. In addition, best answers are relevant to buyers – and better than your competitors’ responses.
There’s a yawning gap between what customers want from sellers and where sellers invest the most time.
Although the “best answer” is a well-intentioned goal for sellers to pursue, it’s also a bit squirrelly. Consider the wide array of questions buyers lob at a sales team: Not all (or, in some cases, even the majority) of B2B buyer questions require consultative answers. Plenty are transactional, like “How much is your enterprise subscription?” These inquiries place an immediate cap on the value a B2B seller can offer to a prospect. It’s as if sales has pulled out Grandma’s good china, and the prospect responds by dishing out some lighter-fluid-laced BBQ and passing the plate back. It’s not much to build a conversation on.
Steering a price-point Q&A into a “best-answer” conversation is a feat for any seller. However, if the issue of price doesn’t kick off a call (hallelujah!), sellers have more breathing room. Remember, the accelerated seller’s goal here is to set the stage for an exchange of value rather than a product pitch. One way for sellers to prepare for this interaction is to anticipate questions buyers are most likely to ask.
This is where analytics comes in. Drawing on various data (from website visits, marketing automation systems, customer surveys, CRM records, discussion forums, and more), analytics teams can use segment analysis to identify the most popular questions over time – including those asked by buyers fitting a vendor’s ideal customer profile(s). Additional layers could be added to this “question” data, such as query information from website search, social conversations, user group activity, chat logs, and customer care records. Ideally, analytics teams could also use this data to identify emerging market trends. This might happen when, for example, a growing number of buyers outside of an “ideal customer” profile start raising questions similar to those asked by the “ideal” group.
In addition to working with marketing to prepare “best answers,” accelerated sellers develop responsive questions that convey good listening. Author and sales consultant Dan Seidman suggests using the following:
- Can you tell me more about that?
- How long has this been going on, and what has it cost you?
- What have you done in the past, and how has that worked out?
- How is this decision affecting you personally, and how does this make you feel?
- What if you did nothing and just left things as they are?
These questions work well, Seidman explains, because they seat the buyer and seller on the same side of the table. When both sides are trying to figure out what’s best for the buyer, it’s easier to tee up a value exchange.
2. Draw a Provocative Contrast
Establishing common ground with a buyer is indeed critical, but sellers often attempt it in ineffective ways. A frequent offender is the good old “pain points” slide that appears at the beginning of so many pitch decks. Sellers often use this to show that they understand a new prospect’s world. However, the buyers' takeaway is quite different – i.e.,“You have nothing new to share with me.” Once again, the seller believes they’ve taken one step forward, while the buyer feels they’ve taken two steps back.
Do these “pain points” offer a compelling reason for buyers to abandon the status quo and move forward to make a change? Nope. Nada. This sales approach stunts the dialogue before it starts.
However, when sellers share something buyers don’t know, it can be a red-hot conversation catalyst. This “unknown” material includes raising questions buyers aren’t asking – but should be. In fact, according to Corporate Visions research, the most effective sales conversation starters introduce “unconsidered needs” (as opposed to “discovered” problems or known pain points).
The best way for sellers to surface “unconsidered needs,” says Corporate Visions, is to start with an “edgy” insight. While third-party statistics by revered analyst firms are interesting, they’re not unusual enough (competing vendors are probably using them, too). Ideally, companies will conduct their own primary research. If this isn’t possible, sellers can collaborate with their marketing team to develop visionary insights, tapping in-house experts and their take on “what’s next” in the industry. These insights should be counterintuitive, running against the grain of commonly accepted perspectives.
After sharing an “edgy insight” about the future of the prospect’s business, sellers should explain why the status quo (i.e., not changing) is unsafe, given the industry’s forward trajectory. Corporate Visions recommends highlighting the business goals that are in jeopardy of not being met if the buyer sticks with the current situation. Next, sellers should describe how the buyer can move from the current (unsafe) scenario to a safer reality by making a change. Finally, sellers can demonstrate how other businesses have successfully made this change, resolving their challenges by switching to a better alternative.
Completing all of these steps helps sellers build a persuasive case for change. Only at this point – and no sooner – should sellers progress to the “Why us?” portion of the conversation, explaining of how their solution can successfully move the buyer to a safer, more advantageous state.
Once sellers show how their solution fulfils the “unconsidered need,” they’ve smoothly moved their offering into a new pricing quadrant – one to which the buyer may be less confident in assigning a price tag. When it comes to demonstrating value, this is a far more effective sales approach than rattling off a laundry list of “value-added” features (some for which the buyer may not have a use).
3. Get Interconnected
Pitching product features that don’t connect to a buyer’s world is more than just a sales gaffe. For many sellers, it’s the result of having an unclear sense of whom they’re selling to. This spells disaster for accelerated selling, which delivers value within an individual buyer’s context on demand. When this isn’t possible, it’s usually because sellers don’t have access to relevant, holistic customer data and insights at the point of interaction. Essentially, what’s missing here is the ability to plot a B2B buyer’s identity graph across an enterprise’s channels and systems.
This challenge brings us to the third strategy of accelerated selling, which is also a prerequisite to the other two: interconnected data. The key to this is to standardize your company’s data structure so it can be interconnected across its martech, ad tech, CRM, and analytics technologies.
To enterprise sellers, this is at the heart of having a trusted view of your customers, so it’s important stuff. If this organizational data structure isn’t in place, the data feeding into sales intelligence tools won’t be uniform, accurate, and complete. This directly impacts the sales triggers and alerts and may wrongly skew account prioritization. It can also result in an unclear view of a relationship, which can cause a seller to call a subsidiary without knowing about its parent business, for example. In short, it’s yet another first-class example of a one-step-forward-two-steps-back selling situation.
In the world of accelerated selling, interconnected data is the food that nourishes business relationships. Armed with this sustenance, B2B sellers are equipped to guide buyers to the next action, heightening forward-moving momentum, ever closer to an evolving relationship.
But without interconnected data, accelerated selling lingers beyond reach. Like Odie, these unfortunate sellers are destined to be kicked under the table.
And Garfield gets the pizza all to himself.