The open door of opportunity.

Opportunity is said to be everywhere in B2B sales; data logged in January 2020 lists 5.9 million private businesses in the U.K. at the start of 2019 – more than 99% are small or medium-sized businesses (S.M.E.s) with 1 to 249 employees.

In the United States, In 2020, the number of small businesses in the U.S. reached 31.7 million, making up nearly all (99.9 %) U.S. businesses. The majority of small businesses hire fewer than 100 employees.

As 2019 turned into 2020, the Covid 19 pandemic revealed its self. Covid 19 has undoubtedly damaged and destroyed many lives, many lively hoods and continues to rewrite how we see our futures.

It may be some time before we know the full extent of the impact on life, health, well-being, business, the prosperity of our nations, and the world.

Business transitioning.

Many businesses are now starting to create a vision for their future post-Covid 19 for their enterprises; inevitably, much of the rebuilding of revenue streams will fall to sales & marketing.

While sales & marketing departments start picking through the bones of the challenge of replacing those customers that have been lost to the Business in the last months, the coming months are filled with challenge and change.

Commoditisation of products and services has taken a huge step forward; NOT being online is not an option anymore. An eCommerce tab on your website has become part of the company’s core website activities.

Companies shift towards the commoditisation of their products and services online. The rebalancing of the revenue streams will fall to the sales & marketing to absorb and transition.

Building back.

Outbound sales activities, for those working at the coal face good stats, are a core requirement; I keep hearing some resight that prospecting is not a numbers game, spoiler alert, yes it is.

The number and frequency of the times you hit the target matters. The length and time you take to get there also counts.

Despite the constant advances in sales aid TECH, the trusty phone still outperforms all others forms of outreach; and until the bots take over place orders, it will continue.

Humans as social creatures will keep being required to have a conversation; our emotions and gut feelings will always form part of the decision making process.

B.O.T.s & A.I. as buyers.

Those with a desire to have B.O.T.’s / A.I. take over the decision making in buying for us; pure logic dictates that they would always buy the cheapest option.

Banging the drum.

Banging the drum on the need to have more quality conversations, I defiantly am not the one banging that drum; sales & marketing seem to have an inherent ability to overuse the tools available to it, email being the most common example.

Somehow having a conversation with a prospect seems not to appear on any list example of overuse.

Perhaps like me, you are struggling to think of an occasion when you have heard of a salesperson brought to task for having too many conversations with prospects.

Quality engagement.

Selling to others, it’s not about the number of outbound activities actioned, but rather the number of successful engagements you have. “Spray and Pray” should be a feature of sales activities left in the past.

Judging by the number of emails that land in my trash folder daily address to  info@ or mail@ and a few other variations, “Spray & Pray” is alive and still kicking.

And yes, I know that most are being generated using a B.O.T. tool – A.I. algorithm; regardless of the low cost of creation, poor data always end up in the trash bin. The only exception to poorly addressed outreach is those to Father Christmas.

Regardless of whether you’re an S.D.R., B.D.R., or any of the many titles that sales like to churn out for sales roles, hitting your sales number requires you to calculate what you have to do to get there; it has always been about the maths.

Doing the maths to hit the required number I will cover in detail in a future article.

Success pays the bills and puts food on the table.

Suppose you send out 1000 targeted emails; your read rate is 5 per 100. In that case, you may have 50 leads, creating 50 conversations; if then those 50 conversations result in 10 costed proposals, this may well be felt as a good result.

Significant spoiler alert, we are in an age when 50% of all proposals result in a ‘No decision outcome.’ Have you taken this into account?

Perhaps you’re an S.D.R. or a B.D.R…. on the phones doing targeted B2B outreach; your company has invested in some quality Tech aids to reduce lost time. Having a conversation with those that don’t fit even the most basic of qualifying criteria is damaging.

Qualifying criteria.

Let’s start with the most basic of criteria (Old School)  Money, Authority & Need. or at least a conversation with someone that can direct you to those that have M.A.N. this basic of all criteria still has value.

M.A.N. & BANT and other acronym forms that might help you to qualify a potential lead. I will cover in a future article.

Having a conversation with someone that does not fit the basic criteria even at M.A.N. is, by definition, no more than having a conversation with a nice person using a phone.

Such activities fall into procrastination, distraction, avoidance and waste all of which will hinder potential success.

Spending time over researching a prospect is also a form of avoidance, like procrastination, distraction all significantly impact the success of those engaged in sales roles. I will be covering this in more detail in the future article.

Success is won by skill, effort and determination.

Success comes from using the best people with the best tools available and combining them with the best data and support available.

It would be inappropriate for me to misjudge the level of fear and anxiety held by many salespeople ringing significant numbers of strangers to discover possible opportunities are not easy. Cold calling is defiantly not for everyone.

My first sales role was in face to face cold calling; it consisted of me driving to a Village, Town, or City parking up. Then folder in hand walking into retail outlets & hospitality outlets promoting my companies range of capital equipment.

Cold calling in that ways is, I believe, now fairly rare, mostly due to R.O.I., technical advances, marketplace and the information age we live in today.

One thing I fondly miss from those days is the prevalence of the sign on the door that read, “Reps by appointment only.”

Reps by appointment only.

Not that it worked that well; it just meant that I and many like me changed our script. My favourite script at the time was.

“Hi, Your notice says I need to make an appointment, can I.”

I never felt I was disrespectful to those I sought; I was just following orders as instructed by the people who resided in the build I was stood in.

For Retail and Hospitality, I did not come against the “Reps by appointment only.” That often, I notice it more when I moved on to my next sales position.

Cold calling on Construction companies, Builders and Subcontractor’s offices the “Reps by appointment only.” was a part of the fixtures and fittings; however, I can’t recall being turned away.

I might not have spoken there and then to the key person; however, I always came away with their name; on many occasions, I nearly always received the offer to arrange an appointment there and then.

Regardless of any perceptions I or others may hold, I did get to have many conversations with the person I sought there and then.

Even if it was for just 10 minutes; at least the door was slightly open for next time.

Exemptions and Opinions.

Before, somebody jumps in and says, but that was then not now; a year ago, I took on a short term project a side hustle to set up and revamp some old and establish some new distributors for European manufacture.

Yes, you can still walk on in regardless of a sign that reads; Reps by appointment only. Yes, again, there is Business out there that might not be appropriate, and yes, again, there are those that would be a waste of time to call in on the off chance.

But as indicated in numbers quoted in the opening words at the start of this article, the B2B market place is considerable in size and diverse.

However, having said cold calling into B2B is rare; I did meet a chap a year or so ago at a networking event that still sells his photocopiers in that way. And a couple of years back, I had a young chap ring the bell from a local Conservatory company asking if I had thought of having a Conservatory on the house.

In our brief conversation, he did reveal that he was not having much success, mostly due to not many people being at home during the day. Prospecting into B2B or B2C as in comedy timing is everything.

Walking & talking into Business 100% cold is definitely not for everyone; I’ve worked with many who could not.

100% cold prospecting is hard and requires resilience, determination, self-motivation and more than natural ability. But if you can, then you are one of the few you have a niche ability many would live to have, If you possess the niche and find yourself looking for a job put it at the top of your C.V.

If you are reading this article you may be screaming out; “But I do cold call face to face outreach into B2B.” If so I would love to have a conversation with you.

Eating their lunch.

In those early days of my first sales role, I always felt at a slight disadvantage that I did not have the Home office/showroom in my sales area; consequently, I never had the advantage of a flow of enquiries.

For six years, my territory always had me working in my competitors back yard; every sale I made was a win for me and a loss for them. My example of ‘Eating their lunch.’

‘Eating their Lunch’, a book by Anthony Iannarino, is one of my top ten sales book reads, essential reading for those engaged in account development at this time when more and more buyers are turning towards trusted advisors rather than account managers.

Selling in my competitor’s backyard, and a reasonable distance from my companies Home office/showroom did have some advantages; my director was not able at a moments notice to decide to spend time with me as he did with those with their territory encompassing the Home office/showroom.

Within my list of takeaway from my early years in sales, my number one is my need to develop a high level of independence and self-confidence in my sales ability.

The second takeaway would be working for a group of directors committed to investing in sales training for those in their care; I still carry the value of their investment today.

Moving on to the next level.

When I moved on to my next sales role, working for my first multinational, my sales activities were split into 40% developing existing accounts, 30% following up sales leads, and 30% prospecting.

Regardless of the marketplace change, my prospecting calls now being on building sites, I never felt out of my depth. Even if on occasion I received a cry out from the chaps on site. “Can I have that suit when you’re done with it?”

As I moved on to my next sales role, it was just as the sales world started turning from sales-centric to customer-centric; the personal computer, the internet, and mobile phones quickly came as part of my tool kit, even if my first mobile was the size of a shoebox.

At that time, my employer’s marketing department’s role consisted of producing posters & giveaways and making sure the sales force had an adequate flow of literature.

Fear and anxiety are real and understandable.

Fear and anxiety is a reality held by many salespeople; the ability to have a meaningful conversation with strangers constantly has to be part of a salesperson’s D.N.A. I do not put my success down over the years to my natural ability alone; I would always put an element of it down to my need and ignorance at the time.

D.N.A./Natural ability is helpful; I do not feel it is essential, and it is no guarantee of success; training, knowledge, understanding, and practice are essential for success. Past life experience can play a part; my several school changes undoubtedly prepared me for connecting to strangers.

Time, systems and process for sales engagement have moved on significantly during the 30 years of my career in sales and sales operational management. I would like to believe the days of just sitting a newbie down at a desk with a script to read from and telling them to ring these numbers have passed. Spoiler alert; it’s still happening. “WHY?”

Going deep into your mental resolve.

Post- Covid 19. Many sales roles the mix of serving existing customers and prospecting for new the mix is likely to change; for every customer lost to the consequences of the pandemic, a replacement customer will have to be found.

If 80% of your revenue is derived from just 20% of your customer base, you are both stable and vulnerable, even pre-pandemic.

Ultimately the cost of not replacing lost Business for a company is measured in the employees and those directly connected, ultimately measured in the employment statistics.

“When the going gets tough; the tough get going.”  And was constantly resighted by one of my early sales managers as a cure for all sales aliments.

Growth Post-Covid 19.

One small piece of business trivia I have discovered in my career is that most ignore or place only a small amount of resources in the direction of the 80% of their customer base that provides just 20% of the revenue.

However, when one of your 20% accounts that giving you 80% of your revenue fails, their replacement is nearly always found from one/two of the 80% ignore.

Strangely in my experience, nearly all established companies I come across ignore those past customers that have dropped into the lapsed customer category.

Those often forgotten the qualities held by lapsed B2B customers:

  • You have a history together.
  • You know a past need they had.
  • You are a known commodity to them.
  • You will most likely hold the name and number of direct contact.
  • You ringing a lapsed customer does not carry the same feel as a cold call.
  • You will have better results when having a conversation with a lapsed customer than cold calling.

 

Constant perpetual prospecting for new customers is and has never been easy or overly enjoyable; facing the fear of what awaits you beyond the open door of opportunity will test many and break some.