Earlier this summer, a dynamic group of sales executives from near and far convened at the 4th Annual Sales Team Accelerator Retreat: A Frost & Sullivan Executive MindXchange in New York City to discuss the changing nature of selling today. Thought leaders like Darrell Gunter, Professor, Salesmanship and Sales Management at Seton Hall University, Charles Forsgard, Vice President of Global Sales at Honeywell and Renee Joseph, Vice President, Global Customer and Sales Enablement, Johnson Controls, shared their insights and strategies for attracting and retaining B2B and B2C customers in today’s challenging sales environment.
Many of their presentations had a common theme: the importance of leveraging data to optimally engage prospects and customers both online and off. All emphasized how using good data helped them better target and engage prospects and customers and provide greater value.
Become a “digital-first” seller
Opening headliner Darrell Gunter shared several compelling insights in his presentation, What’s Next: Engaging Customers in New Ways Throughout the Buying Journey, including industry statistics indicating that by 2025:
- 80% of B2B sales interactions between buyers and suppliers will take place in digital channels
- 60% of B2B sales organizations will transition to data-driven selling, merging processes, applications and analytics into one operational practice
- Currently, 44% of millennials prefer no sales rep interaction in a B2B purchase setting
Stating that “the future of sales is adaptive,” Gunter advised participants to become “digital-first sellers” and to note the increasing adaption of hyper-automation and the use of technologies and applications like AI and machine learning to target and service buyers. He encouraged sellers to be prepared to engage customers anywhere at any time, and to provide relevant information to help them solve business problems.
Use the right data to help your sellers
Throughout his presentation, Reimagining Hybrid Sales Teams, Charles Forsgard contrasted selling approaches at his organization, Honeywell, before and after the pandemic. Noting that in-person customer visits shifted from an average of eight per week to zero during the pandemic, he explained how the change in circumstances spurred Honeywell to revisit and improve the way they approached the sales mission. Planning, follow up and customer engagement strategies were reevaluated and improved, and data was more frequently leveraged to help sales professionals target, understand and serve their customers. As a result:
- Customer touches went up
- Sales visit planning and follow up improved
- Customer engagement on deals went up
- A record increase in won deals took place
Things that did not work included:
- An extreme focus on numbers – doing so previously led to gaming of the system
- Too much desk time caused sellers to get pulled into thorny back office issues
- No travel time resulted in back to back meetings – with no time to review, reflect or re-engage customers
- Lack of ride-alongs made coaching much harder
As a result, Honeywell is now using a hybrid approach to selling, utilizing in-person visits for first meetings and difficult or complex discussions and closings. Virtual visits are reserved for check-ins, quick questions and more routine interactions. Overall, this more data-driven, proactive sales approach trumped their previous focus on sales numbers — and more deals are being closed.
Rethink your partner relationship strategy
Renee Joseph of Johnson Controls concurred with her peers and echoed that traditional selling methods are transitioning to new digital models. As she stated, “To meet the demands of the modern buyer, sellers must leverage digital platforms to find, engage and connect.” She also noted that one third of customers’ worldwide say their digital customer experience expectations have increased in the past year.
According to Joseph, now is a good time for sellers to rethink their partner relationship management strategies. She underscored the importance of understanding your partner’s pain points and helping them solve issues for mutual benefit. This might be achieved by co-creating an improved user interface or designing a customer experience roadmap to help improve the customer experience. These types of actions are likely to improve partner ROI.
It’s all about the customer
In his capstone presentation, Innovative Ideas to Grow Your Customers, Michael Levin, President, Custom Solutions Inc., shared a different kind of sales philosophy, captivating listeners with psychological insights and unique pointers for success. Levin is not a fan of lengthy power point decks or doing all the talking when interacting with potential customers. He believes that customers want you to know and understand them, so you can ultimately offer them what they need. And that’s hard to do that if you’re using up all the air time – and opportunities to truly connect – “pitching.” Yes, there are great new digital tools out there, but selling can also be simple.
Levin reminded participants to keep their focus on the customer and to refrain from selling to prospects or customers until they give you “permission” to do so. (Hint: don’t sell until they ask about you.) In terms of process, he offered the following LACE methodology:
L is for LISTEN without interrupting, in silence.
A is for “ASK: what else?” More may come. Continue to explore.
C is for CLARIFY: gather more information and context if needed.
E is for EXPLORE a collaborative solution. Suggest a scenario that works for both of you. For example, here is what I’ve thought about, what do you like about this idea? Remember, people often just wanted to be heard.
All of the strategies discussed here have their place on the sales canvas. And it’s fair to say that winning approaches will likely combine an astute use of good data with human engagement and relationship building, both online and off.
By Patricia Jacoby
Content Specialist, Marketing
Frost & Sullivan