27 Sales Tips Every Modern B2B Seller Should Keep Handy
Tap into this extensive list of sage advice and sales tips to excel in your role as a modern B2B seller.
November 28, 2017
Some parts of B2B selling have completely changed and some remain the same. No matter the era though, it pays to look around and see what’s working for other sales pros. To get you on the right path, we’ve compiled a list of time-tested tips validated by today’s successful sales professionals. Keep these at your fingertips to drive better results for you and your company.
Sales Prospecting Tips
When it comes to prospecting, the main goal is still targeting, vetting, and engaging prospective buyers. Sales professionals who take advantage of the new prospecting tools at their disposal can leapfrog the competition.
1. Prospect smarter, not harder
From personal experience, Anna Bratton finds LinkedIn to be the best tool for business development. As she explains, “With a little detective work, you can quickly build up a picture of who you should be talking to, what they’re like (check out their recommendations) and what they’ve done before. You can also build up a map of who reports to who and gain a clearer picture of the people you’ll need to influence to make the sale.” She also uses LinkedIn advanced search to “find people by title, company, location or keyword. Grab a paid account and you can add company size and seniority level too. By intelligently mixing the different filters you can get really deep and identify key individuals quickly and easily.”
2. Approach prospecting as a relationship-building exercise
“Follow-up and follow-through are keys to prospecting success. Just like gardening, if you don’t water the seeds, the garden will languish. And so it is with prospecting…if you don’t remain in contact, you will never break through,” cautions Adrian Miller.
Sales Research Tips
Research provides a solid foundation for establishing rapport and cultivating a relationship with prospective customers. The key is to tap into all the information surrounding that prospect as you build that foundation.
3. Tap into your tribe’s knowledge
As business strategist, author, and speaker, John Golden advises, “Leverage the tribal knowledge in your organization and try to capture as many data points from all the different functions about what prospects are looking for during the sales cycle in terms of information, sample contract terms, demos, access to product etc....”
4. Listen and observe prospects and their connections
Matt Heinz, president of Heinz Marketing and host of Sales Pipeline Radio, suggests that sales reps “Listen for buying signals from elsewhere in the organization (rather than just with your primary prospect or decision maker).” He also urges reps to follow and listen to their peers, their direct reports, their company, and their competitors using Google Alerts, Ofunnel, and LinkedIn to watch their activity online anywhere. As Matt says, “Just because your prospects weren’t active on social yesterday, doesn’t mean they won’t start today. Use tools such as Google Alerts and LinkedIn to get notified when prospects do get more socially active.”
5. Keep track of prospects without scaring them off
Worried about giving off a stalkerish vibe? Michael de Groot of Staying Alive (UK) Ltd. shares two useful ways to keep track of your buyers without making it obvious to them: ‘Twitter Lists’ and ‘LinkedIn Tagging’. “In Twitter you can create a private list and add Twitter handles to your buyer list. Equally in LinkedIn you can save someone to your connections database without inviting them yet and in the process of saving the prospect you can tag them. This allows you to do more research on them and find a common thread in their profile, their tweets, or anything else that you can find that allows the two of you to have something in common.”
Social Media Tips
It’s a given that you need a social media presence as a modern sales professional. How impressive of a social media presence is up to you.
6. Manage your online reputation
Jeb Blount cautions sellers to keep in mind that, “What is critically important to grasp is because the environment is virtual, you have zero chance of changing first impressions that are made about you online. When potential customers view the ‘online you’ and don’t like what they see, they just move on. Top sales professionals understand how important it is to make a great impression online and in-person. They schedule time to manage their online presence and always think twice before posting something that could damage their reputation.”
7. Build influence
As Andrea Lindal sees it, “The foundation of any social media strategy is to build influence within your community. Influence leads to ‘know, like & trust,’ which leads to future, loyal, customers. Building influence and an authentic community in any social space takes time, work and commitment; but then again, doesn’t everything worth having in life?”
8. Focus on respect and engagement
“Your main mission with social media is to get people to respect you, engage with you (build relationships) and to use those two techniques to build actual revenue…To properly build respect, you need to know something that others don’t…It’s all based on perspective and being able to read people and understand what they NEED…Relationships are basically everything you’re working for with social selling…To grow socially, you need to be (surprise, surprise) SOCIAL. When you’re absolutely genuine in your tactics, people take notice,” advises Marge Bieler.
Sales Engagement Tips
Connecting and engaging with buyers is nothing new. What’s changed is the need to establish and strengthen relationships in the digital realm. It’s also a good idea to take a multi-threaded approach to connect the dots in consensus purchases.
9. Establish connections naturally
Logan Nathan suggests a different way of connecting with potential buyers. “As you begin to like and comment on others’ posts, complete strangers begin to like your posts because your profile gets linked to the conversation and people begin to notice you. When you get more likes and shares, your network expands beyond your immediate connections. The leverage you gain opens opportunities way beyond what you can get from your direct connections.”
10. Engage the entire buying committee
According to Tamara Schenk, “Understanding the buying team’s context is the prerequisite for creating value for them at each stage of their customer’s journey. Yes, sales professionals do create value for buying teams, especially in complex situations. Because they enable buyers to connect the dots between their specific context and various approaches to leveraging products, services, and solutions to achieve the best business results. The value they create is to enable buying teams to make their best buying decision.”
Tips for Establishing Trust
One reason today’s buyers prefer to self educate is that they’re skeptical of sales professionals. For far too long, they’ve suffered the unrelenting chases and pitches of sales reps who have their own best interests in mind. To upend this unfavorable perception, prove that you are trustworthy.
11. Build trust over time with every action
Here’s what it takes to establish that trust according to Jeb Blount: “Trust is a foundation built one brick at a time. Everything from how quickly you return calls, your product knowledge, what you say and how you say it, to what they read about you on social media sites influences a potential buyer’s perception of you and your ability to deliver on your promises.”
12. Connect with content
As Jill Rowley reminds us, “People buy from people they know, like and trust; no one likes or trusts the ‘Quota Crusher.’ The way you engage with buyers today is no longer all about ‘Mmm, gonna go get me some prospects!’ The modern sales professional uses content as her currency – content that educates and adds value to the buyer.”
13. Be brutally honest
Chris Heffer says your goal “is to help the potential customer make the right buying decision. If you are 100% honest and you tell people when your product is not right for them, in the long run you will be better off. They will be more likely to buy from you when your products do match their requirements and they will be more likely to recommend you to others.”
Relationship Building Tips
Building and cultivating relationships is still the jumping-off point for a successful sales engagement. Just remember: it doesn’t happen overnight.
14. Focus on quality
According to Joanne Black, “Customers don’t buy your technology, your service, or your products. They buy because of the impact your team has on their businesses. People do business with people, not with technology. But too many reps forget it’s the quality of relationships, and not the quantity of connections, that really counts. The art of conversation is your team’s competitive advantage. Conversation is the key to problem-solving and relationship-building, which are critical in sales. These have also become unique skill sets in the digital world.”
15. Take your time
“Much of the stress and anxiety related to sales is rooted in the idea that you must close the deal quickly. This simply isn’t true. In most industries, it takes time to develop a relationship with a prospect. When you understand that you have time to close a deal, you feel much less pressure to perform. Instead, you can take your time and invest in building a relationship – not talking someone into a purchase,” says Syed Balkhi.
Personal Branding Tips
Today’s buyers ignore impersonal sales experiences. They want to know who they’re doing business with. They choose the sales professionals who prove most helpful and knowledgeable – and who can streamline the often-overwhelming process of making complex B2B purchases. Your job is to make yourself known as that sales professional.
16. Build marketplace credibility
To stand out, Chris Carlson of Ephesus Consulting recommends building credibility in your market. “Participate in online discussions, write and share content relevant to your customers, be aware of industry trends, seek referrals from clients and coworkers, and work to be viewed as a subject matter expert in a given field. Connect with industry experts, clients and potential prospects by engaging in social conversations. Most importantly, develop Situational Fluency in your market so you contribute valuable and relevant insights to your social sphere.”
17. Do the work today – it will pay off over time
John Barrows – who calls himself sales trainer to the world’s fastest growing companies – echoes this sentiment. “Build your own personal brand so people eventually come to you and see you as an industry expert, not just a sales person. This takes more time and doesn’t provide the instant gratification that we seemingly all crave more and more these days. It’s all about adding value to your target market...”
Thought Leadership Tips
Buyers are looking for guidance and wisdom as they travel down their purchase path. By establishing yourself as a thought leader, you will attract prospective customers to you. In fact, our research found that B2B buyers are 5x more likely to engage with a sales professional who provides new insights about their business or industry.
Here’s how Marge Bieler explains it: “As people come to appreciate you as an MVP of your field, they want to get to know you. When they understand that you’re genuine and not trying to trick them, they want to build a relationship with you. And when you’re a friend to your leads, you are the first person they think of when they need something in your field. You’re their thought leader. They respect your mindset and trust you to show them the right way. And that trust leads to cold hard revenue.”
18. Develop industry expertise
Julie Weill Persofsky says one way to achieve thought leadership status is to “Be knowledgeable about your industry and share the good stuff. Read and share a wide range of great content, not just the information you or your company produces. Elevate your profile and be seen as someone with whom your prospects want to speak about a number of diverse and engaging topics – not just someone who can sell their product or service.”
19. Become an information concierge
"The modern sales professional doubles as an information concierge -- providing the right information to the right person at the right time in the right channel. Socially surround your buyers and their ‘sphere of influence’: analysts, thought leaders, experts, peers and colleagues,” explains Jill Rowley.
20. Help prospects zero in on what matters
A wise bit of advice from John Barrows for adding further value: “Don’t just share ebooks and webinars – advise what pages to check out or what minutes to watch.”
Competitive Positioning Tips
They say competition is a good thing: it validates your company’s market and solution. However, facing the competition is not usually a welcome scenario. Here’s how to make the most of the unavoidable.
21. Study the competition
As Aj Agrawal rightly points out, “Social media is often used for researching customers. B2B companies especially should use this tool to find out more about their competition. The leading social media network for B2B companies is LinkedIn. It’s quickly become a hub for professionals in this industry. Follow the major influencers in your niche to learn what they’re doing. The more data you can gather, the better. You don’t necessarily have to copy what others are doing, but you can quickly find out what is and isn’t working for them.”
22. Be prepared
The wise folks at InsideView remind us that you can completely cut the competition out of the picture with the right preparation. “In a Social Selling world, B2B buying decisions can start, move forward, and close business online or over the phone – without a single face-to-face meeting. If a sales rep is not prepared with recommendations, comments, and referrals from people their prospect trusts, how will they be prepared to close a deal that happens online or over the phone? Your prospects are out there talking, asking for advice, and seeking solutions. If you do not prepare and seek out these people raising their hands for help, your competition will.”
Tips for Sales Pitches and Presentations
Though canned sales pitches aren’t what they used to be, you will still need to deliver sales pitches and presentations at some point. Remember that prospects want to know you understand their needs, are being transparent, and are someone they would choose to do business with.
23. Speak naturally
“Speak to your prospect just as you speak to your family or friends. There's never any time that you should switch into ‘sales mode’ with ham-handed persuasion clichés and tag lines. Affected speech patterns, exaggerated tones, and slow, hypnotic sounding ‘sales inductions’ are never acceptable in today's professional selling environments,” advises Len Foley.
24. Tell a story
As Syed Balkhi says, “Customers connect with anecdotes and experiences more than they do with a straightforward call to action or cold sales script. If you aren’t relaying stories to your sales prospects, you’re missing out on a number of leads.” Richard Harris continues in this vein: “You need to be able to paint a picture in a conversation. The lost art of sales is the storytelling side.”
25. Show the ‘before’ and ‘after’
Continuing with this theme, Corporate Visions advises that, “to help prospects see the value of your offering, you need to tell stories with contrast. You need to tell both the ‘before’ and ‘after’ story – and it’s the contrast between the two that creates a powerful perception of value. The bigger the contrast you create between the ‘pain’ the customer experienced before your solution and the ‘gain’ the customer experienced with your solution, the greater the perceived value.”
26. Cut to the chase
Aj Agrawal underscores the importance of respecting your prospect’s time. “Your prospects don’t want to listen to the long speeches and sales fluff you come up with. Think about an elevator pitch approach and how you can pitch your solution in that same amount of your time. Your solution should be easily explained in less than a minute.”
Time Management Tips
It’s a given that you want to focus most of your time on true selling activities (i.e., finding, cultivating, and maintaining relationships with new and existing prospects and customers). Unfortunately, the average rep spends just 22% of the workweek selling.
27. Stay focused and find shortcuts
Andrew Quinn shares proven ways to free up more time and get the most value from all the activities you undertake. “…If you’ve allotted a certain amount of time to an activity – say, two hours for prospecting – don’t stop before the time is up even if you have some success right out of the gate. Momentum is a powerful thing. Once you’ve got it, don’t squander it.” Moreover, he says, “It's vastly inefficient to write a brand-new email every time you contact a prospect. While you should tailor each message to the individual and their situation, you'll save a huge amount of time if you start with a template rather than a blank slate.”
For more top tips on how to excel as a modern sales professional, download The LinkedIn Tactical Plan.