There is a time to work on improving your sales approach, and then there is a time to get back to basics. At heart, I am concerned with effectiveness. Sometimes that means explaining the new fundamentals, and other times it means doing a few practices that are necessary to pursue success in sales.
I expect you will recognize there is absolutely nothing new here. Instead, you are going to look at this list and identify several best practices that you haven't acted on since before Twitter, the era also defined as B.T. (2007, for the curious). Some of the practices may not be as important to your results as others. I have no way of knowing which of these will be most valuable to you; some will be more compelling to you than others.
The Best Sales Practice of Planning Your Week
If you are going to make the most of the 168 hours that make up your week, the very best way to ensure you are productive is to plan your week before it starts. Most salespeople, and if we are being honest, most people, don't plan their week before it starts. Instead, they wake up on Monday morning, open their inbox, and search for tasks others have sent them. It can take hours before they ever do anything you might call sales.
Take an hour on Saturday morning or Sunday afternoon to schedule your week. Idle hands are the Devil's workshop. Here is what you need to get on your calendar:
- Schedule your prospecting blocks.
- Schedule your follow-up on opportunities you have created.
- Schedule two blocks of time for answering emails and returning voicemails or text messages.
- Put time on the calendar for preparing for upcoming sales meetings.
By doing this work, you don't waste time trying to figure out what to do, so you can be productive right away.
The Best Practice for Preparing for Sales Meetings
There was a time that I was so confident and fluid that I felt like I didn't have to prepare for meetings. At some point, I realized that I missed doing the work to prepare. For a recent sales call, I spent close to two hours preparing. I had four pages of notes in front of me when I met with the client. One of the stakeholders thanked me for having prepared well enough to provide answers to all of their questions.
The act of going back over your notes, going out to LinkedIn to download the PDF of the new contact's profiles, drafting talk tracks that you are certain your prospective clients will find valuable and following up on any promises you made in the past. Your confidence will be much greater and your sales conversation more effective by preparing for client meetings.
Deep Discovery as a Best Practice in B2B Sales
If the only reason you ask questions is to force a confession that allows you to introduce your product or service, you are not doing discovery at all. You are justifying pitching what you will call a "solution."
Let's agree that this is the worst practice, as it doesn't create any value for your contacts.
Discovery is not a search for the presenting problem. It's a search for the truth, the real cause of the client’s poor results, no matter what they may be (including your contacts themselves). The best practice in discovery is to identify the root causes of the client's challenges, something that when done well will have the contact learning as much or more than you did.
One of the problems experienced salespeople face comes from doing weak discovery. This arises from racing through the many conversations needed to identify the root cause and the changes the client needs to make. It's like sitting down to take your final exam after memorizing the answers. It leaves the client behind, needing more conversation.
Ensuring Client Outcomes as a Best Practice
In my upcoming book Leading Growth: The Proven Formula for Consistently Increasing Revenue, I have argued that salespeople should focus their time and energy on creating and winning new opportunities. However, they still need to follow-up post sale, even if they have an account manager or customer success person following up.
Because the salesperson sold the deal, they are responsible for ensuring the client is generating the better outcomes they needed. The salesperson who disappears after the full-court press they executed to acquire a meeting and create an opportunity can leave contacts feeling that the salesperson got what they wanted, whether or not their client has improved their outcomes.
Even though you, the salesperson, can't and shouldn't do the work the client needs to succeed, the salesperson must be the one who initiates a conversation and leads their team in straightening things out.
The Best Best Sales Practice: Expressing Gratitude
It's important to be grateful for the opportunities and the relationships you develop while selling. We have allowed sales to become more transactional, and many of our new technology and business models require a transactional approach. It's one thing to be grateful for your client's decision to buy from you, and another to be grateful for the trust and the relationship.
A handwritten card (unless your handwriting is bad as mine) is a quaint custom that will never go out of style. The same is true of a call for no other reason than catching up with your contacts, even when there is no opportunity—especially when there is no opportunity for you.
"The fundamentals are forever, that's what makes them fundamental."
Even though we tend to seek the next big thing, the shiny new object that captivates the industry, trading what's forever for what’s next is a poor decision. The fundamentals are forever, that's what makes them fundamental. While some best practices lose their effectiveness, what you find in this article is likely to be true for the next hundred years. Choose the sales best practices that you believe will provide you with better results.