Why Sales Teams Need to Trade Their Pitches for Conversations

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For years we have been using three primary tools to communicate with a client through the sales process: a phone call to reach out and engage, email to communicate and deliver content, and meetings to share insights and present proposals.  This approach was optimized based on available technology such as a mobile phone, email and presentation tools.

A volume game

Today many companies still approach their prospective clients the very same way.  However clients started to turn a deaf ear to this approach long ago, here are some stats from technology buyers in the Bay Area where:

  • It takes as many as 8-9 phone calls to connect with a client, and
  • it takes as many as 10 to 15 emails to get a response.


These numbers vary by market and vertical segment.  For example, people in HR departments tend to respond better to phone calls. Marketers and IT Managers, on the other hand, don’t respond well to either email or phone outreach.

Sales looked at this problem as a numbers game—if the same amount of calls generate only half the amount of leads, then let’s make twice as many calls. This can be done by adding more people to the team or using advanced dialing tools. Similarly, if it takes five times as many emails, then deploy sales automation tools to help us create and deliver ten times as many emails.

The customer journey

To nobody’s surprise, clients have moved on to other ways of educating themselves, and they have turned a deaf ear to all the sales calls, and emails. I am sure that many of you delete every day 50 to a 100 emails without even thinking twice about it, and listening to voicemails from unidentified callers for many has become a once-a-week (if that) activity.  Not to long ago, listening to voicemail was the highest priority!

Clients are increasingly turning to social media tools such as Twitter and LinkedIn to develop peer-to-peer relationships.  Before long, hungry sales teams realized the power of social media—as in “social = public”. On social networks, we can see where clients hang out, we can go “hang with them”, befriend them (connect), and target their networks to influence their decisions. This may seem a lot like stalking; some refer to this as “social selling.”

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The “Aha” moment

If volume techniques and stalking does not work, what does?  To understand that we’d have to go back to the key moment in the sales we discussed in the previous webinar(“How storytelling will up your online sales game”): The AHA moment.  This is the moment in which the client understands that they have a problem and they have a clear idea about the solution.  However today this AHA moment often occurs online as a client surfs the web and is putting the pieces together.

We have identified three pieces of content to help achieve this AHA moment:

  • The vision experience, explaining why the problem occurs
  • The whiteboard experience, explaining how the problem can be solved
  • The modern online white paper, providing insights into what actions can be taken

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The traditional sales process is all about maintaining control

Once we have established the Aha moment, our clients are engaging with our content online. Let’s get a SDR to follow-up! We now have to learn how to have a conversation online. Online conversations have a distinct different nature. Let me explain:

In a traditional sales model, what follows the “Aha moment” is a sales funnel with the following characteristics:

  • A sales-centric process based on stages—the stage in which a client is categorized is defined by sales, and often refers to the next steps needed; for example, “lead,” “opportunity,” “qualified,” “negotiation,” “closed,” etc.
  • A process focused on closing the deal—this is a key issue; if your primary objective is to score a goal, you can lose the game 3 to 1.
  • A linear process —clients move from one stage to the next, and after moving stage by stage you eventually end up with the goal, a closed deal.
  • A synchronous process—buyers and sellers move through the same stages at approximately the same pace.  If a client wants to learn more about functionality, the seller trades these details in turn for decision criteria.  Pricing is provided against budget, and decision timeframe for delivery times.
  • A process based on static data—the data used by the client does not change too much on a week-by-week basis, and clients move a stage on average every 2-3 weeks.

In this process, controlling the deal is often referred to as THE key skill that determines if sales people are going to be successful.

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The online sales process is very different

Grab their attention by making your presentation more interactive

Because of the internet, we perceive that a big part of the sales process has been dis-intermediated.  You may have heard the stat that says as much as 65% of the buyer’s journey is completed before they contact anyone from sales. Although there is truth to that statement, it is too simplistic to draw action out of that. Here are a few more details that give you insight into the online sales process:

  • A customer-centric process based on experiences—to address the customer you have to understand the experience they are having. Are they in the “Oh sh*t, I have a problem” experience, or are they in the “Aha” experience?
  • A process focused on solving the customer’s problem—this is THE key differentiator. Your sales process must follow-through until the customer has achieved success. Just as in golf, you don’t stop on contact (close), but finish the entire swing (customer becomes successful).
  • A journey of experiences that is non-linear—clients move back and forth through the various experiences, and this can come across as totally random. They appear to have the “Aha” experience, and the next moment they are back in the “Oh sh*t” experience. Then they jump to the pricing tab on your web-site, and you think that they must be in the “selection” stage, because asking for price is a clear buying signal. Nope, they were just checking the sticker price, and were WOW’d by the simplicity of your pricing model.  They now go back thinking “this is worth it.”
  • It is an asynchronous process—sellers will have to accept this is an asynchronous process. A client can go through the entire experience, from “Aha” to “Close” to “Deployed” in a matter of minutes. Think for example, how you buy an annual subscription from LinkedIn.

A process based on real-time data—not to micro-control a particular client’s journey, because we said that this is stalking, but instead we need the real-time data to learn from trends and to see the “deer trails” so we can help provide customers with the right information at the right time.

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So what is the key skill in this journey? It is the ability to have a conversation with a client through a variety of online tools. For example:

  • A client likes the BLOG article you published on LinkedIn in which you described the problem the market is experiencing. This allows you to follow-up with an online conversation: “Thank you for the like—want more?”
  • A client retweets your “Vision pitch” via twitter—this requires a follow-up with an online conversation “Thanks for the retweet @XXXX, check this link out ___”
  • Your client subscribes to your Youtube channel—this requires you to keep recording and sharing content on the key issues in your market.

Content as your outbound

What you will see in this online conversation is the key role that content plays, content in which you share insights, such as blog posts, prezis, infographics, etc. Content acts as fuel for all of your online conversations. Instead of emailing, calling, and giving a live presentation, your sales process has changed to:

  • Provide content, such as an “online” presentation to get to the “Aha” moment—think of a prezi that shares your vision;
  • Follow-up with an online conversation when the client engages with your content along a client-centric process.

And then:

  • Perform a short online meeting in which you assist the client during every stage of the process by providing valuable insights relevant to the experience. But this is a topic for another time.

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So what can you do?

Step 1: Use content as outbound; blog more describing relevant problems, develop content that presents your case. Modern tools for this are: Medium, LinkedIn, Prezi, and Youtube/Vimeo.

Action 1: Here is a description of 3 pieces of online content, 3 examples, and 3 templates.

Step 2: Have an online conversation: Don’t drop phone and email overnight.  Start with one hour a day having online conversations. Look for questions on Quora related to your service or industry, or comment threads on Medium and LinkedIn’s publishing platform.

Action 2: Here is a step-by-step guide how to start now and develop an online conversation.

Step 3: Develop excellence in online meeting skills; Learn how to have a 15 minute meeting that results in progress against one action.  Do this 4x in 2 weeks and you will have more progress than one 60 minute meeting.  Look for desktop sharing and voice conference tools such as Zoom and Google Hangouts.

Action 3: Here are two plays from the Winning By Design playbook that you can download to help you develop excellent in online meeting skills.

Want to Learn More About Sales?

These and many more insights on how to build, and operate sales organizations can be found in the book, “Blueprints for a SaaS Sales Organization”.

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This hardcover coffee table sized book was entirely created in a Prezi and provides a series of detailed blueprints on how to design, implement and launch a scalable SaaS Sales organization. You can find the book on Amazon.

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