Based on heaps of available research, your prospects are well along the sales journey before they even make contact or agree to meeting you in person. The frightening fact is there are many sales going on out there where the customer is not making any contact with anybody until they have narrowed the shortlist to one, two or three vendors.
This situation is not going to reverse. There are plenty of strategies and tactics to help you boost your company and personal visibility to reduce the risk of being left out of sales process. However, once engaged in the sales process with a prospect, there is a new paradigm that must govern how you manage the relationship and and the sale process.
Education may seem a strange word used in the sales profession. The best sales professionals involved in enterprise solutions, management consulting, infrastructure, energy, construction, among others, use an education model to differentiate themselves and succeed in winning deals. The education model requires a mindset change and for some this may be difficult after years of using the more traditional sales model.
Your prospects are information hungry while suffering from information overload. The way to overcome this is being laser focused on the ‘education’ you deliver to that there is no question of relevance and your prospect does not get the same type of information they can get with a simple Google search. There is a critical first step that must be well executed prior to engaging in the sale process.
This first step is getting clear on what gaps exist in your prospect’s knowledge of their issues, relevant solutions and required outcomes. If you fail in this step you will overload your prospect. You need to be prepared with questions that are crafted to identify knowledge gaps. Once these gaps are identified, the ‘education plan’ can be designed. There are 3 primary categories of questions you need to craft, these are:
- The issues and problems that have prompted the search for solutions. In this category I will include other factors such as timeline, level of commitment, status of their solution research among others.
- The role your primary contact is playing in the research and decision process and the other key people that you need to connect with.
- Define what success is going to look and feel like for your primary contact and the organisation as a whole. I usually include financial questions here around budget, ongoing costs, resource intensity etc. here. I do this because these factors are critical to determining the success or failure of a project.
Now you are ready to delivery real value to your prospect by educating and not pitching. I teach my clients how to use different channels for delivering content to prospects. Based on client feedback the most popular channel for prospects is the learning management system. The second most popular channel is webinars and the least favoured is email and phone calls. The following is an example of how a business uses the education model in the sales process using an online learning management system.
The prospect is provided a login and password to the learning management system. The landing page and interface are all branded to the prospects’ style. When the prospect logs in they are greeted with an information rich environment. For example, a major accounting and consulting firm I work with their content segmented into catalogues. The prospect may look at a video of the CEO welcoming them and explaining the firm and how they deliver services. This provides a personal and professional experience for the prospect.
Prospects are offered three catalogues. One catalogue is full of downloadable worksheets and templates for business owners and managers to use in their business. These are all free. Another catalogue has a series of video presented by senior accountants and management consultants in the firm discussing issues facing businesses. The sales professional ensures the videos most relevant to the prospect’s needs are prominent on the landing page. The third catalogue is a series of self and business assessments that provides instant feedback to the client on key business drivers like financial management, compliance, exit strategies, tax planning and others that are aligned with the accounting firm’s services.
I have clients in software, systems integration, management consulting, building products and others who have adopted this same strategy with excellent results. We can see what the prospect views and engages with inside the learning environment. The sales person is able to collaborate with the prospect in the learning environment via messaging and email. The basis of all discussions is feedback on the content and answering questions about topics that are relevant to the prospect. There is no need to overtly pitch for business because the prospect has enjoyed an education experience and is convinced of the firm’s capabilities.
Stop pitching and start educating. You do not need to spend big money to make this happen for your business. We have developed sales focused learning platforms for very small businesses using commonly used and free technology platforms and developed others for firms with sales teams and partner spread all over the globe.