Business to Business Selling

This article explains a process that will help you earn sales from business clients regardless of your level of experience.  In order, the five-step process includes RESEARCHING, COLD CALLING, FIRST CALL (first meeting), SALES CYCLE, and CLOSING.  All of these steps connect, but here is a more in-depth look at each:    

1.  Research - Before you contact a company, you need to do some research.  These are some basic things that you should know:  

  • What does their company do?  
  • What industry are they in?
  • Who are their competitors? 
  • Do you do business with them already and/or any of their competitors or companies in their industry?  If so, what and how do you help them?   
  • Who do you want to contact?  Is it the Head of Marketing, Head of IT, The CEO etc...?
  • Have any of these people been quoted in the media recently?  
  • What other vendors do they have in place (competitors)? 
  • Is there anything that has happened recently in the news that would impact them?  

While doing research is important, do not do too much research.  You should know enough to have a brief intelligent conversation, and that is all.  Later, when you have a meeting booked, you will need to do more research to prepare, but not now.  Don't suffer from "paralysis of analysis".  This is when you research so much that you never take action or get anything done.  Be mindful of the end results (sales) that you want instead of getting caught up in too much information / data.    

2.  Cold Call - Most people hate and fear the term "cold call".  Entire books discuss overcoming the fear of cold calling, using the right tone of voice and so forth.  All of this is important, but I will leave that for another article.  When you are "cold calling" you are typically trying to arrange a meeting of some sort.  Meetings are in person or over the web and/or a telephone call.  The most effective meetings are always in person, because people like to buy from people that they trust.  Nothing can remove barriers like seeing someone eye to eye.

Decision Makers:  In my experience, aiming for the THE decision maker is the way to go.  The higher up in the organisation the better.  As an example, if you place a call to the Chief Marketing Officer, there are only a few things that can happen.  1.  They will be unavailable and/or too busy to speak.  2.  You will speak with them but they will be in a hurry.  3.  You will reach them and they ask you to send an email. 4. You reach them and they want to hear what you have to say.  5.  You reach them and they don't want to hear what you have to say.  6.  They may tell you to speak with someone else in the company.  There are other potential outcomes, but these will happen most often.  In very few cases will someone be flat-out rude...especially if you have done some research first.  If they do push you off to someone else, your conversation might be taken more seriously simply because you say "Bob, your Chief Marketing Officer, told me to call you".  Once you have reached the decision maker, I recommend the following flexible dialog:  "Hi, may I speak with Bob?  Hi Bob, my name is Tina, and,  I am responsible for Business Development at _____(insert your company here).  We are a  _____ (technology, fashion, consulting etc...) company, and I am calling, because we work with ____ (insert a couple of competitors or someone who would strike a chord).  We have had a lot of success helping them, and I'm calling because I would like to meet with you at some point over the next couple of weeks to share some ideas with you.  Would you be available to meet next Wed or Thurs at 10AM?"  There is no way around it, you will need to adjust this to meet your own personality, company, and culture.  It is essential that you relay this message in an enthusiastic, positive, professional, non-cheesy, and generally professional way.  Above all, attitude is everything!   

Overcoming Objections:  My suggestion is to write out a list of every potential objection that could come your way.  Then come up with a response for every single one..."I'm busy", "We have that taken care of already" etc...  If you prepare for objections, you will be able to set more meetings.  Remember, the more meetings you have, the more sales you will make.  You will need to focus on quality and volume.  Don't treat your prospects like a number, but do step up the calling volumes, because it will only benefit you.  If you are already working for a company, it would be surprising if you are not required to have at least a set number of meetings weekly or month already.  

3.  First Call - The first call is your first meeting.  I suggest using the following format to structure your meeting:   

i.  Introductions - The "first call" is your first in-person (or web/telephone) meeting.  It is important to act professional and to also connect on a human level.  Introduce yourself, and let them know your role in the company.  If it isn't completely obvious, ask them what their role is as well.  

ii.  Agenda (purpose, process, payoff) - Once you have introduced yourself, my advice would be to use this structure until you are very comfortable and running a meeting comes naturally.  The structure is PURPOSE, PROCESS, PAYOFF.  At the moment when you know the meeting needs to kick off, say something like this:  "The PURPOSE of this meeting is to gain a better understanding of your business and tell you more about our services.  I would like to do this (THE PROCESS) by asking you a few questions about your business and then explaining what we do.  The PAYOFF of for you will be that we can clearly show how our services can help you meet your goals."

iii.  Questions -  Never go into a meeting without five or six well thought out questions written down.  This will set you apart from your competition, give you a professional appearance, and give you valuable information to arm you and get the results you want.  For example, if you are meeting with the VP of IT, you might ask "How do you plan on using cloud computing to help you meet your goals over the next year?" etc...  Your questions, should prove that you understand their business as well.  For example, "Your company released six new products over the past year.  How do you see social media playing a role in new product launches this year?"  If you own a social media company, and you know how they plan to use social media, this allows you to explain how you can help them reach their goals with your service.  

iv.  Discussion - In all reality, you will often have an open discussion with your prospect as you ask questions and receive answers.  Armed with answers to some great questions you have asked, you can now explain how your solutions will address each of their concerns.  Typically a client needs to do one or more of three things.  They want to save money, make money, or have a competitive advantage.  If you can show them how to do one (or ideally more), you are in good shape.     

A word of caution for large group meetings; If you are in a meeting with many people, you will need to keep things tightly controlled to remove the risk of running out of time.  It is common in a group meeting to get derailed by people asking irrelevant or too many questions.  To avoid this from happening, always have a printed out agenda in a group meeting.  Get your prospect's to agree with you that your services would help them address their needs.  

v.  Next Steps - Once you have received your client's buy in that your services will help them, schedule a next step.  Typically you will want an in-person meeting booked in the diary.  Don't forget to do this.  Otherwise your efforts may go to waste as people become too busy with other day-to-day issues and your sales opportunity is lost in the mix.       

4.  Sales Cycle - After you have had a meeting with your prospect and there is interest, you must prove yourself and earn their business.  I would always send a follow-up email from your first meeting within 24 hours recapping their requirements, how you will help and next steps.  If you have promised information, make sure you deliver it on time.  Demonstrate the kind of service that they will receive if they were clients.  I can not emphasize how important a high level of customer service is.  This could make all the difference.  If your prospect owes you information, politely chase them for it.  Always be respectful and proactive.  

Sales cycles will vary in every situation.  It may include delivering a presentation, multiple presentations, or going through legal negotiations.  Address each step with professionalism.      

5.  Close  - This is when you get a signed contract from your client.  If you have been client focused, proactive and positioned value properly, there awkward moments will be greatly reduced.  Simply tell the client, "This is what you said was important to you, and this is how we are going to help you.  This is the cost, here is the contract.  What is your process from here?"    

Finally, once you have made a sale, this is often where the real work begins.  You need to deliver on what you have promised.  The sales cycle often continues as well, because often there are other opportunities within the same company.  Gaining business from an existing customer is easier than finding a new one so it is natural to continue prospecting for other ways you can help your client. 

In addition to using this process, you must have quality products with genuine value to your prospects. You will also need to articulate that value in terms that directly address their needs.