The 57% That Changed Selling

57 Percent Rule

If ever there was one research fact that screamed to the world that “B2B selling” had been atomized and reassembled into a new animal, it is this:

Today’s business buyers do not contact suppliers directly until 57 percent of the purchase process is complete

Think about it: Customers now make their early purchase assessments about your company, your offering, your professional and personal reputation based on what they find online. They do all this outside of your charismatic charm, dynamic intellect, and ultra-professionalism.

This 57% Sales Rule (for lack of a better name) scrunches up a good part of traditional selling into online marketing – but it doesn’t remove the sales function.

In fact, it makes the sales function more important, if narrower. Here’s how.

B2B customers can pre-qualify suppliers onto bidders lists and review generic offerings online – however, they can’t complete their purchase entirely online. They must return to the analog world to:

  • Get their unique SOWs or specifications into RFPs for suppliers to bid
  • Compare apples-to-apples of RFP submittals
  • Hold supplier beauty contests to see whom they can work with
  • Negotiate & execute contracts with their selected suppliers

While the steps above make up the remaining 43% of customers’ B2B buying process, sales reps can’t play in all of them.

As a result of the 57% Rule, reps must narrow their focus and get really good at three areas:

  1. Gather Sales Intel
  2. Sales Proposal Best-Practices
  3. Continually Beef Up Online Professional Presence

1. Gather Sales Intel Gather sales intel

Sales intel from social media and search is available to harvest before RFPs come out, as well as once the RFP is released. You’re looking for intel that paints a picture of your contacts’:

  • Strategic initiatives
  • Company challenges
  • Industry dynamics
  • Personal preferences & workstyle

While sophisticated solutions such as Salesforce.com can be customized to pull various source data into a single interface, or Hootsuite that can pull all your social media into a single dashboard, these solutions can  be costly, complex, or both.

Luckily, a simplistic approach can be just as successful without having to learn an additional technology or adding expense.

The topic of gathering sales intel online is huge. While I don’t profess to have it nailed, I’m happy to share my home grown approach. NOTE: I use LinkedIn predominantly, Twitter occasionally,  Google+ rarely; your preferences may differ.

1.1) Define a Target Profile

Target Profile defined

First, define who you’re researching and why.

Your target profile may be for contacts evaluating an RFP your responding to – or – it may be to create a traditional prospect list in a sales plan (free one here).

Either way, clarify it before progressing any further.

1.2) Find Contacts in LinkedInFind contacts in LinkedIn

LinkedIn is by far the most inhabited B2B space so bite the bullet and use one of their pay services. Working from the definition you created in your Target Profile, do these steps to get that first list of contacts:

  1. Search LinkedIn by company & title as defined in your Target Profile
  2. Save matching contacts
  3. Tag LinkedIn contacts into segments defined in your Target Profile
  4. Find & add additional contacts by checking out the “People Similar to…” on the right hand side of your search for contacts
  5. If contacts don’t display their full name/title – run a search outside LinkedIn with the info you do have, and their LinkedIn profile will likely show up displaying their full name/title – go back to LinkedIn and add them to your tagged segments
  6. Search by segment in LinkedIn by choosing: Connections / Filter by / Tag / your defined segment name

1.3) Search for Contacts’ Online Breadcrumbs

Search for Contacts' Online Breadcrumbs

Once you have contacts’ names/titles, begin gathering sales intel about them by viewing:

LinkedIn Profiles:

  • View recent activity for Posts & Recent Activity – (select the drop list Arrow next to “Send ContactName InMail” button, see the two tabs at top)
  • View the Groups they belong to & scan through discussions to get a sense of what their group’s are about – (Groups are in 2 places: in the right sidebar “In Common with ContactName”, and at the bottom of their profiles)
  • View “How You’re Connected” to see if there’s anyone that could provide more intel – (CAREFUL not to cross the line if an RFP is out and prohibits you from reaching out to their contacts as part of their procurement protocols)

Twitter & Google+

Repeat the appropriate processes to search and view online postings of your targeted contacts, as was done with LinkedIn. As mentioned before, I personally find LinkedIn more useful but you’ll need to go to wherever your contacts socialize online, i.e., Twitter, Google+, etc.

 1.4) Create an Org Chart

Org Chart

For sales intel purposes, the goal of an org chart is to understand who reports to who, and how the strategic initiatives, challenges, and industry dynamics of the higher-ups impact those evaluating RFP responses – and the final purchase.

It also helps point to further your investigations by seeing contacts plugged into an org chart.

The surest solution is to secure an official org chart of your contact’s firm. However, if you can’t, create a working mock up. Even an incomplete version, or one that’s 50% accurate is better than no picture at all.

CAREFUL not to cross the line if an RFP is out and prohibits you from reaching out to their contacts as part of their procurement protocol.

1.5) Search for Company News & Info

Research Company News

Using search engines, find out how the company is doing in its market. Include what analysts are saying about the company and its business opportunities.

Visit the company’s web site to learn what it’s saying to the market about its future, challenges, and opportunities. Review its annual report and other public regulatory statements. Get a sense of where the company is, and where it’s intending to go. Specifically, look for the high profile, life-or-death initiatives. These tell you what all your contacts are focused on trying to collectively achieve.

1.6) Update Regularly

Update sales intel regularly

If your sales intel gathering is for a traditional prospect list in a sales plan (free one here), you’ll want to update it regularly. Setup Google Alerts for your target contacts and companies.

If you’re under an RFP deadline, you’ll need to immediately gather as much sales intel as quickly as possible.

The limited time available in RFPs points to the benefits of getting ahead of the curve and beginning your investigative work before the RFP comes out. Part of your sales intel will help determine when approximately the RFP may come out. Obviously, the more time you have up front, the deeper you can dig and flesh out your understanding of that upcoming opportunity.

2. Sales Proposal Best-PracticesSales proposals best-practices

Best-practices for sales proposals begin with deep and insightful sales intel.

Ideally, sales reps must:

  • Understand the business situation in which the RFP is asking for solutions
  • Identify the individuals who will be involved in the decision
  • Learn their personal, professional, & departmental motivations

That’s a lot to come up with once an RFP is released for bid and it’s the driving reason sales intel is so crucial to B2B proposal success.

Best-practices bring all sales intel into a single document for consumption by your sales team. This distillation of various pieces of intel requires  editing skills to make it quick to read and easy to understand.

From this single-document sales intel, an analysis is done to define a proposal strategy: one that places your strengths against competitors’ weaknesses, and delivers high customer value.

It must reveal the critical points for sales teams to quickly comprehend and then design the solution. It  is this sales intel-based solution that is the response to the RFP.

3. Continually Beef Up Online Professional PresenceContinually beef up your online professional presence

There are tons of online resources to learn from, so I won’t dive into it here other than to share several resources I use:

Summary

The 57% Rule is a blessing in disguise as it forces sales reps to focus on the steps in the buying process that only sales reps can win (the 43%) – and not confusing it with marketing’s responsibilities in the first 57%.

Now, post-57% Rule, sales reps must:

1. Gather Sales Intel

1.1) Define a Target Profile
1.2) Find Contacts in LinkedIn
1.3) Search for Contacts’ Online Breadcrumbs
1.4) Create an Org Chart
1.5) Search for Company News & Info
1.6) Update Regularly

2. Sales Proposal Best-Practices

  • Analyze sales intel when the RFP comes out
  • Define a proposal strategy from the analysis
  • Design a custom solution based on the proposal strategy
  • Respond to RFP questions from the custom solution

3. Continually Beef Up Your Online Professional Presence

Go forth, sell well, and work the good work.

This article, “The 57% That Changed Selling” was originally published in LinkedIn.

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