Are you listening carefully to your Customer Stakeholders?

As a Sales professional, you know it takes months, even years, to close a complex sale. You have to be patient, yet tenacious, to succeed.

When you start working on a sales opportunity, you identify your internal and external Stakeholders. But when you’re selling sophisticated solutions, you need approval from umpteen Stakeholders, each with different buying criteria.

The longer the buying process, the higher the chance that some of your Stakeholders will change during that period. Some Stakeholders will change roles, some may get sick and others may leave the company. These tiny organisation changes could be enough to derail you. You could find yourself right back at the start of the sales cycle. You’ll need to swiftly gain the trust of a new Stakeholder and satisfy their potential objections. The handsome commission bonus you’d been looking forward to is starting to look a long way off.

How do you make sure you don’t find yourself in this situation?

You’ll never be able to stop changes from happening, but you can reduce their impact. By being vigilant you’ve a better chance of spotting them early in the sales cycle. This means you can take practical, mitigating steps, rather than being tripped up by the news. You need to develop the essential skill of ‘Stakeholder sensibility’. You need to get better at anticipating and preparing for those types of organisational change.

But how?

Social media is a platform we’re all becoming increasingly familiar with, but not necessarily using to best effect in the business world. Sure, LinkedIn helps create and maintain your network, but with customers doing more and more research online and with salespeople generally being called in later, there is new emphasis in being able to build and maintain lasting business relationships.

In my experience there are six attributes you can develop to build stronger relationships with your Stakeholders. None of them should surprise you. They’re pretty simple. But simple habits are easy to break. Once they form part of your daily routine, however, that’s what will give you the edge.

Your ‘Stakeholder sensibility’ is fully developed when you are more responsive, informed, versatile and attentive than your counterparts. Listening to your Stakeholders more than speaking. Fully at ease with social media.

Most sales professionals will claim they’re all these things! But are you honestly practising them all, every day, with every customer?

I’ve come up with a mnemonic to help you remember the attributes you need, RIVALS.

You can be more responsive to Stakeholders if you’re tuned-in.

Sales professionals have always been responsive to their customers’ needs, but now it’s the speed of response that differentiates you.

So you have to be regularly online. You should be searching your Twitter feed and reading LinkedIn updates hourly to glean insights into industry news that affects your potential customer. You should be digesting the news feed in the new Salesforce Lightning

Knowledge is power. But how do you trawl through copious content produced by marketing, when your inbox is already bulging? You have to get smart at finding the right information, fast.

Learn to manage your social feeds so they give you the information you need. For example there are tools that allow you to aggregate different social feeds so that you see all Twitter, LinkedIn or Google+ posts relating to a specific topic. Twitter trends provide immediate insights that market researchers used to dream of. If you’re vigilant, you can stock up with generous supplies of competitor information, industry news and developments in your customer’s own organisation.

To thrive in sales today, organise your social feed so that it informs you, not drowns you.

Versatile sales pros already know that they must adapt their social style to match their Stakeholder’s preferred style. But you also have to be versatile online.

To reach your Stakeholders, find out which social channels each prefers, and ensure you communicate regularly using those. If your Stakeholder responds faster to a Tweet than a phone call, you should monitor their Twitter activity, not leave voicemails!

LinkedIn and Twitter hoard treasures for the attentive sales professional.

Don’t just track your Stakeholder’s work-related tweets. Read what they tweet about at weekends. Find out what really makes them tick.

It’s this personal information that’s critical to developing a deep understanding and rapport with your Stakeholders. Make sure you capture personal interests and motivations in a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system, such as Salesforce or Nimble.

Every salesperson is waving furiously at his customers. Choose me! We’re all trying to push to the front. So how exactly can you stand out from your competitors in the buying process, when they’re trying to do the same?

Don’t step forward. Don’t shout. Stand back and listen.

Listen carefully on social media, and you might just anticipate a take-over bid before your competitor. Your current advocates may even help you identify potential new Stakeholders who’ll soon enter the buying process.

Listen carefully in meetings, and you might notice your Economic Buyer is a little quieter than usual. Perhaps he’s more difficult to get hold of. If you hadn’t noticed the subtle signs on LinkedIn, you may have found yourself back at the start of the qualification process when he later moved companies. Don’t let the loss of a positive advocate hinder your progress. Instead, structure your sale to include small commitments throughout the buying process.

Always be listening for whispers of change.

The best sales professionals are social sleuths.
They’re the ones who are ‘always on’. They’re constantly connected to their smartphone or iPad. You’ll spot them:

  • Searching Twitter to check out the latest industry trends
  • Reading LinkedIn Pulse to keep abreast of the latest news
  • Reviewing their customer’s website or Company Page on LinkedIn for updates
  • Commenting on their Stakeholders’ status updates to support them
  • Checking out who’s updating their LinkedIn profile in anticipation of a career move
  • Congratulating LinkedIn connections who’ve recently changed roles
  • Capturing evolving Stakeholder relationships in their CRM system
  • Updating their CRM system with any pertinent information deduced from their social sleuthing

By being social, you’ll naturally develop those extra attributes required for deep ‘Stakeholder sensibility’.

Leading Sales pros are RIVALS

There are countless statistics about how much research buyers do before they approach a vendor. The Corporate Executive Board (CEB) reckon that on average customers are 57% through the buying process before they engage with salespeople. But that doesn’t mean Sales professionals have to wait for their call. In complex sales, those who anticipate win. You should always be waiting in the wings, aware of your prospect’s issues and needs maybe before they even recognise them themselves.

Sales professionals have no choice but to adapt to this noisy world of social media. But if you can filter out the noise, you’ve a huge opportunity to develop more robust business relationships with your Stakeholders. That can only be good for business.

Vanessa Hunt

Vanessa Hunt

Vanessa is Director at Vanessa Hunt Consulting. Her forte is helping businesses and non-profit organisations improve their sales and marketing. Educated at Exeter University and graduating in French and German, Vanessa has been a training consultant to many of the world's leading tech businesses, focusing more recently on helping organisations realise the value of their CRM platforms.