ACTG Sales Management Blog

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Cultivating Business Acumen as a Sales Superpower

Posted by Jack Kasel on Thu, May 23, 2024

Business or sales acumen is the ability to connect with prospects and clients on a deeper level by understanding their unique problems, anticipating their needs, and leveraging knowledge of their business and industry to recommend the best possible solution — regardless of whether or not it results in a closed deal.

The ability to understand a prospect or client’s industry and their market allows a B2B salesperson to understand the big picture. In order to have business acumen, salespeople must understand the forces and factors that impact their industry and it's impact on their clients and potential customers. This knowledge also helps them to differentiate their approach in the sales process. Salespeople with highly developed business acumen are not focused on the sale at hand, but on the broader goal of being a partner and advisor for the long-term.

For those in a producer’s role, whether it’s sales or business development, cultivating business acumen is essential. It allows salespeople the ability to uncover and articulate the challenges faced by the customer or client before they do. This skill involves understanding their problems, the impact of those problems or opportunities, and seeing the world from their perspective.

Business acumen is the key to perceiving the hindrances and challenges impeding their business growth. It’s about comprehending their aspirations to strive and thrive. Every company owner, CEO, or division manager is striving to overcome challenges, bring in new talent, and expand into new markets. Simultaneously, they are thriving by increasing revenue and optimizing costs to enhance the bottom line.

By demonstrating a deeper understanding or business acumen, a salesperson can position themselves as a trusted advisor who comprehends their world. One exercise to test business acumen is to see how long it takes for a salesperson engaged in a conversation with a prospect or customer to introduce their products, services, or company. Are they able to extend the conversation for two minutes, 20 minutes, or even two hours by focusing on the prospect’s needs and challenges before pushing their own solutions?

Developing Business Acumen

In addition to using every industry tool at hand, a well-thought-out pre-call plan can guide a salesperson to organize and articulate the relevant points during the conversation. Instead of entering a sales interaction with the sole aim of making a sale, a salesperson must shift their perspective to building a relationship. They should ask themselves, “How can I establish a meaningful connection with this person?” Developing and exercising their sales superpower – business acumen – is crucial for success in this endeavor.

We partner with Objective Management Group (OMG), the pioneer and industry leader in sales evaluations. According to OMG, these are some of the qualifying competencies that contribute to helping salespeople develop business acumen:

  • Able to Stay in the Moment
  • Self-Limiting Beliefs Won't be an Obstacle
  • Knows Why a Prospect Would Buy
  • Asks about Everything
  • Not Vulnerable to Competition
  • Meet with Decision Maker
  • Uncovers Actual Budget
  • Will Discuss Finances
  • Knows Decision-Making Process
  • Can Influence the Decision-Making Process
  • Handles High-Ticket Pricing
  • Need to Be Liked Doesn't Get in the Way

Salespeople who are successful at developing their business acumen superpower have a frame of reference of continual learning. This includes their desire to fully understand their client’s goals and objectives. In fact, according to Amazon CEO, Andy Jazzy, the second a person thinks they know it all -- or even just enough -- is the second their career generally starts to stall out. Those who continue to grow into greater and greater success, on the other hand, remain hungry for learning. "The biggest difference between the people I started with in the early stage of my career and what they're doing now has to do with how great they were at learning," states Jassy. 


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Topics: Sales Training, motivating sales people, sales training tips, sales tech

Relationship Selling Begins with Asking the Right Questions

Posted by Tony Cole on Fri, May 17, 2024

According to the 2023 Edelman Trust Barometer, “Only 59% percent of the 32,000 global respondents to the firm’s 23rd annual trust and credibility survey trust financial services to do what is right, compared to 75% who trust technology and 71% who trust education and food & beverage companies — the top 3 most trusted industries. In the United States, 57% of consumers trust financial services, an increase of 9 percentage points over 2022 findings. 

These numbers show a huge opportunity for financial institutions and fintechs — who bridge the most trusted industry sector to financial services — to build greater trust.”

This is not new news to those who work within the industry. In fact, most organizations and advisors have been working long term to be more customer-focused. The challenge is for advisors to be focused on relationship selling, asking probing, sometimes assertive questions without coming across to customers as sales-driven.

Assertive (not aggressive) salespeople win more business than others. These people care so much about doing the right thing for their clients that they are willing to risk the relationship and the sale to ensure the prospect or customer makes good decisions. Does this describe you and your people?  

What does assertiveness have to do with effort and execution? If done properly, the early relationship building conversations and meetings will help to qualify or eliminate a suspect. If done well, this will streamline a salesperson’s efforts and pipeline, giving them more time and energy to focus on finding and building relationships with better prospects.

During initial conversations, a financial advisor, banker, or insurance agent is gathering information that leads to a next meeting and eventually to a presentation meeting. It is through the intelligence that is gained and utilized in building superior solutions that your presentation meetings will lead to decisions. This is the focus of relationship selling because any proposal or recommendation is built around the specific client’s identified problems, growth challenges, and revenue goals.

In the process of relationship selling, the skill of asking the right questions, the right way, at the right time is critical. In an effective selling system, for a prospect to qualify they must:

  1. Have compelling reasons to buy, to make a change, or do something different
  2. Have the capability and willingness to invest the necessary time, money, and effort
  3. Be willing and able to make the decision to fix the problem and be able and willing to make the money decision

Uncovering all of these issues requires that a salesperson asks many questions and some of these questions require a salesperson to be somewhat assertive. They could consider and use questions such as:

  • How will you go about telling your current broker / banker / relationship that you are no longer going to do business with them?
  • If you don’t have enough money, how will you solve the problem?
  • The budget you have won’t be enough to get you the outcome you want. What part of the solution do you want to eliminate?
  • What will you tell your partner/executive when they say they don’t want to make the change?

Are your salespeople prepared to ask these types of questions? And think about the relationship building aspect of these gutsy questions:

  • Based on our experience, expertise and knowledge about your business, your best action is this:  ______________.  If that doesn’t work for you, we might not be a good match.
  • If I treated my clients the way you’ve been treated (by your current provider), I would expect to be fired.
  • When we finish our presentation, which will include budget-appropriate solutions to all of the problems you’ve identified and answered all your questions, I’ll ask for you to make a decision on whether we’ll do business together or not.
  • Maybe the most important thing for you to consider is “fit”.  If there isn’t a fit between our two companies, then our products and pricing really don’t matter.

Imagine if salespeople were gutsy enough to have these types of conversations. They might fear that they would lose more business. But suppose that wasn’t the case. Suppose by being more assertive, salespeople eliminated the tire-kickers more quickly. Suppose this led to the elimination of think-it-overs and actually helped prospects to trust them and make decisions more quickly.  Imagine if salespeople stopped making presentations to people who could only say “no” and never had the authority or intention of saying “yes”.  What would happen? Salespeople would sell more, more quickly at higher margins.  They would stop wasting time, stop getting delays, and start building relationships built on trust.


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Topics: Sales Training, motivating sales people, sales training tips, sales tech

3 Barriers to Connecting with Prospects

Posted by Mark Trinkle on Fri, May 10, 2024

In today’s world of banking and insurance, it is increasingly more difficult to get the attention of a prospective buyer after only a few outreach attempts. We are all busier than ever before with multi-media coming from every direction. So, how do you stay consistent (and persistent) in your outreach with a prospect while remaining sensitive to their daily lives and the distractions they face?

It has always been a difficult task for advisors to be able to reach the prospects they call and email each day. They call…and they email…and they keep following up, wondering if anybody will ever do one of two things: 

  1. Answer the phone.
  2. Return a voicemail/reply to an email.

While certainly not a new development in selling, engaging with prospects has become increasingly and dramatically more difficult. If we go back to 2009, it took around 8-10 outreaches on average to engage with a prospect. In today’s world, that number had risen to 16-18 attempts. Keep in mind that these are averages. Sometimes it takes even more attempts to get the prospect to pay attention to you.

Why has the number of outreaches required more than doubled in the last decade? There are three main reasons: 

  1. Distraction: Prospects are busier than ever before and are constantly battling the numerous distractions that come their way. Their mobile device buzzes and they have to look. The email notification on their phone or computer sounds and they can’t resist. Some have estimated that the typical person picks up and puts down their mobile device between more than 100 times each day.
  1. Competition: There is more of it than ever before and it’s fiercer than ever before! In financial services, competition from other financial institutions is only a small portion of the battle. With online companies and non-traditional providers, competition can be, and is, literally any company.
  1. Commodity: Unfortunately, in some industries including banking and insurance, the prospect believes that the vendor calling them and the vendor they currently use are essentially the same. The prospect just doesn’t see any meaningful difference. To them, a bank is a bank. An insurance broker is an insurance broker. A technology provider is a technology provider.

Of these three reasons, #3 is the most concerning (or it should be). And here’s why… If you don’t differentiate yourself from your competition by providing value, your prospect will do the differentiating for you. But they won’t use a measuring stick of value. They will more often than not use a measuring stick of price.

Here is another sobering statistic about the world of modern-day selling. While the average number of needed attempts has increased to at least 18, most salespeople quit after less than 5 attempts. Maybe they think the prospect is being rude by not replying. Maybe they think that, “in the good old days,” people used to return calls. Regardless, the world has changed. Advisors in banking and insurance must be very proficient at breaking through these three barriers, standing out from all the other bankers, and be memorable.

If you or your team need help refining your value proposition, we can help.  Just reach out to one of our Sales Training Experts.


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Topics: Sales Training, motivating sales people, sales training tips, sales tech

Sales Coaching DNA: A Critical Component to Achieving Sales Team Excellence

Posted by Jeni Wehrmeyer on Fri, Apr 26, 2024

DNA is a molecule called deoxyribonucleic acid, which contains the biological instructions that make each species unique.  So, what makes up the very unique and coveted Sales DNA?  Is there a genetic code for successful sales managers and if so, wouldn’t every company like to crack that code?

According to Objective Management Group, the pioneer and leader in sales evaluations, there are 5 Sales DNA Competencies that determine the degree of success for every salesperson and manager. It is a rare occurrence that a non-salesperson is hired into a sales coaching or management role and therefore, a sales leader always brings into their management role their own set of sales DNA based on past experiences. These habits can be supportive in many cases as they have led to their sales success. However, the role of coach is to teach and develop others to sell, which is a very different set of daily activities and sometimes, their learned behaviors are not conducive to achieving sales team success, through others.

The Sales DNA Competencies measure a sales manager's beliefs and actions that support or limit success in sales management. Sales managers are often unaware of how their biases can negatively impact their coaching of their sales team. Here is a breakdown of the 5 core Sales DNA competencies as they relate to success in selling and coaching:

  • Doesn’t Need Approval: As a salesperson, this means a salesperson is able to ask tough questions and challenge their customers to earn their respect. Similarly, as a sales coach, the manager will be able to probe and ask tough questions of the salesperson about their sales process to help them uncover choke points and improve skills. Successful coaches are not worried about being liked as they know that taking someone out of their comfort zone is often where the learning happens. This happens to be one of the toughest areas for a new sales coach to overcome. Most people do want to be liked but in the role of leader, it can get in the way of being truthful, driving skill improvement and earning the respect of the sales team.
  • Stays in the Moment: A successful salesperson is able to remain objective and actively listen to their prospects and customers. They are not thinking forward as to what they will say in response but are listening intently to learn so that they can ask further questions and probe deeper. A sales leader who is ineffective at staying in the moment may not listen well, jump to conclusions and fall back on their own selling approach, telling the salesperson what to do. To be successful at building sales team excellence, a coach must really listen, ask probing questions of their salespeople to help uncover areas in the sales process they may be missing or need coaching. To some degree, they are helping a salesperson self-discover what needs to improve, based on their questions.
  • Supportive Beliefs: Strong salespeople feel empowered to take positive action without being sabotaged by negative sales-specific self-talk. What is in the head often affects actions and behaviors. Certainly, an effective sales leader must have a strong self-image and believe they have the skills to impact the success of their sales team. And they must have supportive sales beliefs too. These beliefs in a coaching role must reflect the importance of teaching and coaching an effective sales process, helping their salespeople understand the buyer’s journey and how to help move prospects from awareness to information gathering to decision-making. Supportive beliefs may well be one of the primary reasons a successful salesperson is promoted into a coaching role. They believe they can and so they do succeed.
  • Supportive Buy Cycle: This means a salesperson has the ability to push back over price objections, competition, and indecision. They do not allow their own buying approach and habits to keep them from asking tough questions of prospects. Similarly, a sales coach will help their salespeople understand how their own buy cycle; how they purchase, may be getting in the way of how they sell and react to their prospects. All people have a buy cycle but truly successful salespeople and leaders are able to separate their own habits from those of their prospects, enabling them to address price objections and delays, instead of inwardly understanding and accepting those reactions.
  • Comfortable Discussing Money: Elite salespeople, or the top 7%, have learned how to lean into discussions about budget and find funding that isn't readily available. In life, talking about money issues is often considered impolite and a salesperson must overcome this reluctance that has been inbred. In a sales role, price objections are inevitable and instead of being taken aback, successful salesperson learn to anticipate and even flush them out. They are able to focus on demonstrating the unique value their product or service provides and how it solves the prospect’s problems or improves their lives in ways a competitor cannot. Imagine the importance of the sales manager’s comfort discussing money in their role as coach. If they are unable to role play, address budget and demonstrate to their salespeople the importance of discussing money, their salespeople will not become proficient in this critical area.

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Topics: Sales Training, motivating sales people, sales training tips, sales tech

Required for Sales Success Today – A Strong Sales Technology Competency

Posted by Jeni Wehrmeyer on Fri, Apr 19, 2024

Technology is transforming businesses and disrupting entire industries, including the world of selling, which has traditionally been categorized as primarily a “people business”. From prospecting to closing, today’s mobile, social, big data, and cloud technologies are revamping the sales process in ways that would have been inconceivable a few decades ago. As a result, top companies and their salespeople are embracing new technologies to drive productivity, profitability, and gain a competitive advantage in the market.

As defined by our sales evaluation partner, Objective Management Group, the Sales Technology Competency measures an individual's ability to successfully leverage CRM, professional social media, and video selling tools. Being proficient with sales tech helps salespeople stay in touch and handle client conversations in a personal and relevant manner. Many sales tools integrate marketing, sales, and analytics data into one convenient platform which helps salespeople see what leads come from marketing and curate their approach to effectively target prospects.

Let’s take a deeper dive into the three-legged Sales Tech stack:

CRM Savvy
Most companies have invested in a CRM tool and using the cumulative data captured within, are able to provide revenue projections for the sales team and understand profitable customer segments. For the salesperson, the CRM is a helpful tool to segment clients into profitable verticals for them to pursue.  Some companies are investing in adding market research to their CRMs to help salespeople become industry experts. Additionally, a salesperson can turn to their CRM to review their sales pipeline and determine what needs to be done to further a prospect in the pipeline. Bottom line, successful salespeople today understand the importance of their CRM and embrace it as a necessary part of their sales process.

Social Selling
Social media platforms, when used strategically, can expand reach and enhance brand visibility. Focusing in on LinkedIn for example can help a salesperson develop a profile to attract the right target, follow and reach out to specific titled individuals and companies and share their professional knowledge in group discussions. LinkedIn is essential for any B2B professional. Most companies have also invested in some level of email and use automation tools to ensure consistent communication, nurturing leads through the sales funnel. In many cases a salesperson is able to see the “footprint” of the prospect as they consume content on the website which provides information as to their needs and interests. Success in today’s world, requires a passion and experience using social selling tools for business development purposes.

Video Proficiency
Video conferencing tools, such as Zoom or Google Meet, help salespeople communicate with prospects and customers in a more personal and engaging way. Video conferencing is very common today and it is essential for a salesperson to be comfortable using the technology. Video can help build rapport, demonstrate products or services, and address objections or questions. Companies have invested in video technology for salespeople to use as conferencing tools to conduct webinars, demos, or training sessions for prospects and customers. Video conferencing can also help managers communicate and collaborate with their sales team and share best practices and feedback. Bottom line – video is here to stay and successful salespeople utilize various video options as a regular part of their sales activity.

Mastering the use of Sales technology can seem overwhelming due to the many options available, however the companies and salespeople who identify the right channels and use them consistently to build a voice and a brand are able to differentiate from their competitors and achieve sales excellence. A salesperson’s focus is always about better understanding their prospect’s business, industry, challenges and aspirations for growth and effectively utilizing sales technology can help them along this path. In fact, it could be said that salespeople who use outdated sales approaches may become obsolete. Sales leaders must help their team find and develop the resources and skills needed for sales tech competency.


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Topics: Sales Training, motivating sales people, sales training tips, sales tech


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    About our Blog

    Anthony Cole Training Group has been working with financial firms for close to 30 years helping them become more effective in their markets and closing their sales opportunity gap.  ACTG has mastered the art of using science-based data and finely honed coaching strategies to help build effective sales teams.  Don’t miss our weekly sales management blog insights from our team of expert contributors.

     

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