We live in an attention-based economy. The job of a B2B marketer or sales professional has never been more difficult as the ability to garner a prospect’s attention. In this piece, I will highlight why the first conversation with a prospect is so valuable and how to make it effective. For perspective, an adult between ages thirty-five and forty-nine watches three plus hours per day of TV and interacts with his smart phone over three hours per day. In addition, more professionals are working from home, part or full-time, which has its own set of distractions. The lines between work and home begin to blur. Distractions generally confined to off-hours, or the home, begin to seep into standard work hours.
Compounding the situation is the saturation of the standard channels of communication. Major social media platforms — SMS as a form of marketing, email, and direct mail — are all flooded with volume. The “creator economy” and the explosion of Substack has turned everyone into a writer (yours truly included 😊), making content-marketing more competitive. Discord, Reddit, and Telegram have become 24/7 active communities for projects, topics and communities.
The result looks something like the picture below:
Attention is valuable because it’s a precursor to persuasion.
Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube provide connections, communication, and content to get consumers’ attention. They then sell that attention to vendors, who want to change people’s perceptions, opinions, and behaviors with ads.
Any “attention arbitrage” on the standard outreach channels for B2B marketers has been competed away. As a result, the ROI on many of these channels has declined significantly. For example, in 2016 there were three million active advertisers on Facebook. In Q3 2020, there were ten million, a more than 3x increase in four years. At the same time, the attention available has gone down as people spend more time with new forms of entertainment (Netflix and gaming, for example).
The scarcity of today’s world is NOT information or knowledge. It is attention.
How does this scarcity impact B2B marketing and sales professionals?
The ready availability of quality information through digital channels has made it far easier for buyers to gather information independently; sellers have less access and fewer opportunities to influence customer decisions.
In fact‚ Gartner research finds that when B2B buyers are considering a purchase‚ they spend only 17% of that time meeting with potential suppliers. When buyers are comparing multiple suppliers‚ the amount of time spent with any one sales rep may be only 5% or 6%.
Thus, sales professionals have a very small window to personally affect the sales process within an enterprise. Mutual understanding, live words, and verbal communication are tools unique to a sales professional; they need to be used intelligently. Here are the five steps for a highly effective initial call or meeting with a prospect.
- Get to the point. As we discussed above, people are very busy and their attention is limited. Do NOT waste the first seven minutes going through your background or history of the company, unless called upon by the prospect. You are disrespecting the prospects’ time by chit-chatting at length. Plus, people like working with successful people. And successful salesmen understand time is money. Get to the point.
- Have an agenda. People like to be led, especially if they have a problem they are trying to solve. This simple tactic is underutilized. Yet, it has a big impact on leading the prospect and illustrating professionalism. Here is a sample agenda.
- Brief Introduction.
- Outline Problem.
- Confirm Requirements.
- Set up time for demo or proposal review.
- Identify the problem being solved. Every prospective buyer is trying to solve a problem. But, if you do not clearly understand the business problem to be solved, you are negating your ability to effectively position all the features and benefits of your solution/service. Plus, today’s enterprise problems can be solved a multitude of ways. Consequently, you might be disqualifying yourself by not clearly understanding the problem and proposing a creative solution. This process also establishes CREDIBILITY! Problem-solving is at the heart of sales. I discussed this at length in a previous post (blog.com).
- Clarify all the requirements. This step does two things. First, it forces the prospect to rank the functions and benefits of any proposed solution. Second, it moves the sales process along as you are a step closer to getting a proposal in front of the prospect.
- Close for second call/meeting. In my previous sales job, I had the benefit of having one of the most effective and successful sales executives as my boss. He had a very simple saying: ATFQ. “Ask the f$%^ing question.” Many sales professionals hesitate in confirming the next step and instead agree to “follow up,” avoiding the potential rejection or objection. Bad idea. You have their Politely, and assumptively, close for the next step. “Great John, what time works best next Tuesday or Wednesday afternoon to have a demo with the sales engineer of our product?” At a minimum, they will inform you where they are in executing all the “jobs” they need to perform on this problem.
Prospects have a series of “jobs” to execute when solving a problem within the enterprise. Gartner has clearly laid out the six jobs a buyer needs to complete. Don’t forget, there is a myriad of jobs enterprise buyers need to perform per a recent Gartner study. These jobs are done in parallel.
- Problem identification. “We need to do something.”
- Solution exploration. “What’s out there to solve our problem?”
- Requirements building. “What exactly do we need the purchase to do?”
- Supplier selection. “Does this do what we want it to do?”
- “We think we know the right answer, but we need to be sure.”
- Consensus creation. “We need to get everyone on board.”
Using this framework not only moves deals through the pipeline, but also immediately identifies the level of urgency, and therefore your attention, to each deal. Remember, at the end of the day, the more you help your prospect solve problems and complete the buying jobs above, the more deals you will close. Sales is about problem-solving and live conversations are the most effective way for a sales professional to assist.
– Jim Graf, Kazzcade, Founder, and CEO