Recently, I was chatting with a sales leader who mentioned his reps were having trouble generating enough pipeline (sound familiar?).
“What’s the issue?” I asked. “Do your reps not have enough leads?”
“No,” he said, “they have lots of accounts to call on, but they’re just not calling on enough key stakeholders.”
“Why?” I asked again. “Do they not know how to get customers on the phone?”
“No,” he continued, “I think it’s just that a lot of my reps are new to the team and they’re not confident calling high-level customer executives and talking to them about their business.”
“And why’s that?” I asked. (I’m a fan of the 5 Why’s methodology.)
“Because they feel they don’t have the stories and insights yet. They feel they lack credibility and won’t be able to add value to the conversation. They’re afraid.”
And there lies the root of the problem.
Most modern buyer-seller relationships suffer from an asymmetry of experience. Meaning most sales reps have rarely held the roles of the customers they are calling on. They may not understand what it’s actually like to be in their shoes and that lack of perceived credibility manifests as fear (and even worse, lack of conviction – a critical skill in pipeline development). Unfortunately, that fear can be a big impediment to sales productivity, especially for new, younger, or inexperienced sales reps. And the concern is indeed a real one.
Suppose you had a medical condition that required you to see a specialist. When you walk into the doctor’s office to share your concern, ideally, you want them to take one look at you, say they’ve seen what you have a thousand times before, and confidently recommend a course of treatment to get you well. On the other hand, you’re less likely to value the interaction with a less-experienced but well-intentioned, new physician stumbling through a diagnosis.
So how do you infuse your sales reps with the confidence and credibility they need to make the big calls and drive the pipeline you expect?
Here are 3 simple tips:
1. Write your stories down
Chances are, if you’ve been in business even for a little while, you have some happy customers — customers for whom your solution has delivered value. These customer stories are your greatest source of credibility in a sales cycle, yet you’d be surprised how rarely these stories are written down or memorialized in the form of case studies, white papers, or testimonial videos. If you want your reps to be credible, they need to know these stories intimately.
Don’t just write them down and make sure they read them; take them to task! Have them rattle their stories off to you in a poised, confident, storytelling manner. Have them be very clear about the value realized and the lessons both your organization and the customer learned along the way. The better they are at telling these stories, the more credible they’ll be, the more value they’ll add to the customer, and the more calls they’ll make to high-level stakeholders.
2. Remember who the cred belongs to
Let’s be clear: if you’re new, young, or less experienced, chances are you have very little credibility. That’s why saying things like “What I’ve found is…” or “I think…” carry little weight. Guess what? Unless you’re Oprah, no one cares what you think!
On the other hand, your customers and the collective experience of your organization carry much more weight and credibility. After all, the stories of success and value are rooted in those experiences. So how do you shift the burden of credibility? Easy. Phrase your talk track in the context of the people to whom the credit belongs. Start saying things like “Our customers have consistently found that…” or “What we’ve seen time and time again is…” Note: the positioning of the second phrase is subtle but important. By saying “we” instead of “I,” you invoke the collective experience of your organization.
While this concept seems simple, it requires practice. We’re so used to sharing our personal perspectives that phrasing stories in the context of another’s experience is something you need to get in the habit of doing in customer-facing situations.
3. Cultivate a challenger mentality
I’ve always been a fan of the Challenger Sale methodology because it’s based on the premise that, as a sales professional, you often know more about the latest trends and insights in your field than your customers do. Whether we’re looking to buy a new suit, a car, or a piece of technology, most of us looking to buy a product or service rely on the expertise of a salesperson to help guide our purchase. That’s why, when professional credibility is a blocker to sales, it helps to remind your team that they (with the collective wisdom of your customers and organization behind them) are indeed experts!
If you’re selling a marketing automation solution, for example, ask yourself how many times your customer has purchased a solution like yours versus how many of them you and your organization have sold. I’m willing to bet the advantage sits squarely on your side. Giving your team this perspective will give them with the mojo they need to connect with confidence.
As sales professionals, our goal should always be to add value to the customer experience. For both new and experienced sales reps being held back by fears of credibility and inability to add that value, these few simple tips should get you well on your way!