On the fifth episode of the 1 to 10 podcast, we sat down with Dan Nelson, the President of Suncoast Partners International, a sales/marketing consulting firm, to discuss the important decision of how you’re going to connect with your customers.
If you’re leading a B2B technology company, the most important decision you can make for growth is how you’re going to connect with your customers.
I recently had a conversation with Dan Nelson, the President of Suncoast Partners International, a sales/marketing consulting firm.
Escaping retirement, he founded Suncoast Partners in order to help small B2B tech companies scale into bigger organizations.
And after 42 years in the arena, Dan said success is based on how you connect with your customers…
But the key to consistent success depends on whether or not you have a repeatable sales process.
In fact, it’s the most important ingredient responsible for taking you from an Approved Vendor to a Trusted Partner when it comes to engaging with your customers.
Continue reading to learn Dan’s hard-earned secrets.
Most Important Decision – Relating with Your Customers
Engagement with customers can be broken down into 5 different types of relationships; or as Dan put it – 5 Levels. Your goal should be to shoot for level 5:
1. Approved Vendor
They have a legitimate product or service, but they really don’t bring any value to the table. Typically, they are just viewed as another commodity in the marketplace.
2. Preferred Supplier Relationship
This level is based almost solely on your reputation and your past dealings.
3. Solutions Consultants
A lot of organizations find themselves falling into this trap. This is where the prospects they are pursuing, end up viewing them as a resource on how to best use your products or companies services.
4. Strategic Contributor
At this level you become a strategic planning contributor with your customers.
5. Trusted partner
This is the ideal level to shoot for. It is here you develop long term partnerships, where your long term contributions are key to your clients’ success. There are very few organizations that achieve this trusted partnership level.
That’s the ultimate goal and key decision that leaders should strive for (as well as always steering clear of level 1).
But when you’re first starting out as a small to medium sized business it’ll seem near impossible.
You won’t be able to rely on talent to get to the next level…
To put it differently, you won’t be able to afford rock-star-level sales representatives because:
- 6 figure base-salaries that most A-level-players earn are too expensive
- You don’t have access to the benefit-packages bigger corporations can afford
Instead, most companies in this position have to ‘lower their standards’ and hire really solid B-players.
Then over time, business owners should be molding their B-team into a machine ready for the A-level.
Rather than talent, Dan says the most important factor that you need to get in place is a consistent and repeatable sales process.
“I think the most important things is having a consistent and repeatable sales process.”
Have a Repeatable Sales Process for 1 – 10 Growth
One of the quickest ways Dan found in molding B-players into A-players is through formalizing your sales process.
The reason is that the individual in question then knows what to do and, more importantly, when to do it.
Companies typically go through 3 stages when they are on their way to implementing a formal sales process.
The first stage is where a company doesn’t even have a sales process. In some cases, Dan said that businesses even seem almost ‘anti-process’.
The next stage is when a company has an informal or random process. They either don’t enforce the sales process or they don’t do things like measure results.
The bottom-line is they aren’t consistent, so they can’t optimally grow.
Dan said the companies you see consistently winning are those that fall into the last stage.
The final stage is where a company has a formal, repeatable process. They’ve documented the entire process. They enforced it. They measured it.
“The organizations that you see that are consistently winning are those that have a formal process. They’ve documented it. They enforced it. They measured it.”
But it doesn’t matter how well you’ve documented, enforced or measured your sales process…
If you don’t get this one thing right, it won’t matter.
In Alignment with Buying Decisions
In other words – are you in alignment with your buyer’s buying process?
The best way Dan has witnessed organizations get to this point of equilibrium is by developing a very dynamic process, accounting for the various changes and shifting trends that take place in the marketplace.
His philosophy on selling best explains this point:
“I like to win fast. But I also like my sales organization to lose fast; that way I’m not expending a lot of resources on an opportunity that probably didn’t have that big of a chance in the first place.”
The Sales Process in B2B Technology
We’ve all been through a sales pitch at some point.
But it can be a different ball game in the B2B Technology vertical.
Some people still believe the ‘big presentation’ is the biggest part of sales.
They’d actually be dead wrong.
During the last five years alone, consumer expectations have changed dramatically… There probably isn’t a single thing buyers couldn’t find on your product through the internet.
“The last thing a buyer wants to do is listen to a sales pitch”, said Dan. “What today’s buyers are looking for is a perspective from today’s professional salesmen.”
Instead, they want to see that you know:
- Their company
- Their industry
- Their competitors
And ultimately, they want to know how to fix and avoid their unavoidable problems.
Sales Professionals that Win have this in Common
The professionals who consistently follow through with the promise given when finalizing a sale, are the ones who are the most successful.
By wielding the right perspective, cultivating in-depth knowledge about the industry and you’re passionate about their product/service, you’ll be adding serious value.
You’ll also be well on your way to becoming a trusted partner.
To do that, remember this – Don’t be focus on getting the sale.
Focus on what’s going to happen after the sale has been completed and fulfilling the promise you gave during.
To do so consistently and effectively, directly requires that you obtain and retain sales talent… Dan’s got tips on that, too.
To Retain Talent, Don’t Skimp on the Onboarding
The reputation of your organization is perhaps your greatest asset in obtaining talent.
However, when it comes to retaining talent on the other hand, you have to develop the keen understanding that the sales process doesn’t end when you do.
A sale, in other words, is every step from ‘A’ to ‘Z’.
But not all steps are weighted equal. In fact, there are 2 steps that are most important – implementation and ongoing customer support.
These two steps imply that your sales team must be on point.
But so many organizations can’t seem to maintain consistent results and retain talent.
Dan explained that the biggest reason for this is that they skimp on their onboarding process…
In the B2B Technology world, the Industry average says it says it takes a couple of months to obtain professionals. But what’s far less understood is that it takes approximately 9 more months to get that sales professional working at 100% productivity.
That means it should be taking you about a years time to go from finding that professional to getting them functioning at peak productivity.
And thinking of it in these new terms, Dan says that coaching and training should also be seen as an ongoing endeavour in any size organization.
It’s also a really great way for a small/medium sized company owner to transform B-level-players into A-level-players.
Once that’s nailed down, there are two strategies you can easily follow to get to the coveted Trusted Partnership level.
Become Trusted Partners with these 2 Strategies
Prepping for any successful sales opportunity Involves 2 different strategies:
- Your account strategy
- Your call strategy (or, every time you get face to face with a prospect)
Before going on a call, you need to completely understand what the opportunity is.
One question he asks himself is, ‘how is our company positioned to sell x number of units at the value of 2 million dollars, expected close day of 4th quarter 2018’?
The next thing is to make sure the prospect fits into their ideal profile, from both demographic and psychic standpoints.
Next, Dan determines the competition he will have to deal with both internally and externally.
Dollars may be spent on something else, the prospect doesn’t commit to the opportunity, and sometimes, they even decide to perform the solution being offered by themselves.
They might also decide not to do anything, which is what Dan calls, “Losing to the status quo”
But if all went well the last thing before getting on a call would be to determine whether they are in a growth mode or trouble mode.
“Trouble and growth are only the two ways that I can make a deal”, is what he told me.
Call Strategy (Two questions to every professional)
Dan says that he asks two things to every one of his sales professionals:
- Is there a valid reason that we’re going on this business meeting with this potential customer?
- What’s the action commitment we are going to ask that potential prospect to make to move this opportunity forward and through the funnel.
Come in with two action commitments.
One corresponding to the end of sales action commitment.
Another corresponding to the middle of sales action commitment.
From there you are ready to take action with and through this strategy. Dan also wanted to leave you with this one piece of advice that will help you get started and maintain that level of growth.
Dan’s Advice for Taking & Maintaining Action
He said that everyone thinks he’s crazy for his sentiment where he desires that his sales team loses fast.
But in a small to medium sized technology company, you don’t have the luxury of expending resources on deals that aren’t going to end up winning for you.
But that doesn’t mean that you have to spend 60 plus hours a week on work to achieve the level of growth you want for your company.
It only leads to one thing…
The best advice to small and medium business owner is to balance your work.
Dan said in order to strike balance, it requires that you determine your priorities.
For example, he’s always been an early morning business type of guy; he’d be in the office at 7 or 7:30 each day.
But he also made a commitment to raising his family.
He said that he always made it a point to be home at 6, no matter what the circumstances.
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