At times, it feels as though we’re half stuck in the late 1970s. Even in today’s digital age of profitable, effective marketing, the methods and assumptions we stick with for selling to our leads are a throwback to the era when disco and bell-bottom pants seemed like good ideas.

In the last week alone, I have witnessed:

  • A software seller using the “puppy dog close
  • A cold email from Singapore to my office claiming “you requested information” that I clearly did not
  • Financial sellers trying to build rapport with a prospect and being told “I gave that information to your inside salesperson last week!” as a response
  • A senior seller admitting to his manager that he would have to get his wife to show him how to use social media
  • A manager calling me in frustration because his team won’t use their customer relationship management (CRM) solution

This has to change.

Today’s marketing programs provide sales departments with an overflowing bounty of insights on buyer behavior, high-quality leads, and quick-changing market trends. And yet far too many sellers squander this power. They pair all that knowledge with a completely outdated way of managing prospects and interacting with our customers: selling to them, rather than working with them.

Look at the facts: My research shows that sales closing ratios today are stagnating at 33%. A client this week (one with a highly advanced marketing department) admitted their closing rate was 25%. That’s in spite of widespread research showing that buyers are now well on their way through the sales cycle before a salesperson is even contacted. That’s also in spite of modern methods of marketing and automation that are running 24/7 to keep sales pipelines filled to the brim with prequalified buyers. What’s happening to all these quality leads?

Sales ratios haven’t improved because sales leaders keep telling themselves that this is just the way selling is done, rather than seeing it for what it is: a problem that’s in need of fixing.

It’s time to start demanding less disco in your sales force. Here’s how you can do something about that.

Far too many salespeople harbor a mistrust of marketing and ignore the leads that come from there. Among my own clients, I have had three this year alone that hit speed bumps in their growth charts because their sales teams resisted following up on marketing-generated leads.

When pushed to accept marketing-generated leads, each call to those leads turned into new sales. Tribal warfare has no place in business. Salespeople should ensure regular communication between sales and marketing, get agreement on what needs to be done, and get a commitment from sales to schedule calls to every new prospect. For example, a client of mine just set their KPIs for the year, including joint KPIs between sales and marketing that measure the number of leads to be generated and the percentage to be converted.

Marketing today has been become so efficient producing great leads that sellers can’t keep pace. As a result, salespeople notoriously call leads too few times, and then give up. Stop looking for excuses to blame marketing for what you think are less-than-quality leads. And don’t assume that a nonresponsive prospect is an uninterested one. Understand that today, the most common response is for leads to call you back after seven attempts to reach them. Most sellers are giving up at three tries.

When you greet a prequalified buyer as though they’ve not yet been through the qualification process, it takes them back to square one and gives the impression they’re not being listened to. Think how you feel when you must repeat your complete account number and all personal information each time you’re passed to a different contact when you call the cable company.

Instead, engage these prequalified prospects in conversation, working with the information they’ve already shared. You know a bit about them already, so act accordingly. Don’t just ask “What can I help with?” Instead, invite conversation: “Tell me more about how you’re planning on using our product,” or “I’d like to hear your thoughts on how what you are looking for will be useful to your business.”

Your sales team exists today to facilitate a buying a decision, not to create a sale as though it were made out of thin air. They must see buyers as peers, associates, and equals whose product knowledge rivals their own. Have your team do their work as though they were conducting an investigation. Ask probing, specific questions that encourage conversation: “Besides our solution, what’ve you found elsewhere that you like?” Treat competing products as legitimate alternatives.

In doing so, you instill in the buyer’s mind that they have a choice to make rather than being compelled by a hard sell. Our clients that have shunned pitchy selling and have instead embraced building a solution together are growing the fastest and have the highest retention rates. Why? Because buyers like to be part of the solution.

Realistic use-case examples of how your buyer can use your product or service create a buying vision. These examples include case studies, metaphor-driven stories, and social-proof-powered testimonials. Create a community that your prospective buyers can join and learn from. Prospects believe peers before they believe you. Always. A community works better to influence prospects than testimonials because prospects can pick and choose whom they speak with, instilling in them the sense they are in control.

The bottom line on selling methods: they need an overhaul. Right now. Not soon. Now. Just as marketing has already adapted handily to this hyperconnected, mobile-driven world (and has the track record to prove it), so too must sales. The smart sellers have put an end to disco-era assumptions about selling. By embracing this digital era instead, they’re saying yes to accelerated sales, higher closing ratios, and better, more loyal customers.

Today’s marketing programs provide sales departments with an overflowing bounty of insights. And yet far too many sellers squander this power.”

Colleen Francis | Owner, Engage Selling Solutions