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Four Ways Every Salesperson Can Innovate to Win Business

Four Ways Every Salesperson Can Innovate to Win Business

Times have changed, and it’s time for sales leaders to take action. Making basic changes to the way you manage and motivate your team can lead to big results. Sticking with the status quo means getting left behind. Business performance expert Ryan Estis challenges conventional thinking on corporate culture, communication, client acquisition, brand ambassadorship and change. The former chief strategy officer for the marketing division of McCann Erickson, he helps companies, leaders, and sellers more effectively connect to their two most important audiences: employees and customers. In his latest article for, Ryan challenges salespeople to think about whether or their own strategy is evolving as fast as their customers are changing:

The best salespeople are also marketers, constantly connecting, learning and sharing.If you’re a sales producer, you might read that and pause. You don’t influence your company website, write white papers or contribute to the company Twitter feed. You deliver the sales plan. So why do people like me keep talking about trends in social selling and building connections and credibility online? A few reasons:1. I hate making cold calls.
2. I hate trade show booth duty.But more than anything…3. I hate losing.

I spend time inside a lot of sales organizations and one question I like to ask is:Is sales harder or easier than it was 5 years ago? 10 years ago?

It’s a loaded question. The answer is that it depends. It depends almost entirely on you.

Your customers are overwhelmed.

They’re checking email 30 times an hour and looking at their smart phones 150 times a day.

In a recent focus group with CIOs (often the most sold-to people in an organization), we found that the average CIO gets more than 250 emails per day. Barriers to customer attention have never been more severe. The last thing anyone has time for is another cold sales pitch.

Recognizing this shift, top producers remain on high alert, always looking for opportunities to innovate in an effort to break through and make a meaningful connection. You don’t need permission to be innovative, think differently and experiment. You can do this from where you are.

I’ve been there.

Ten years ago, I worked for an ad agency. We were heavy proponents of trade show marketing (I’m always reluctant to call that sales). No one ever questioned our investment in trade shows, largely because that’s the way we had conducted business for years. It amounted to some exposure, face time with clients and a steak dinner for a few executives. As a salesperson, I wanted my time to count on the bottom line.

I remember one moment at a big industry trade show. I found myself sitting in our booth handing out swag (nail clippers with our logo, to be precise). From where I sat, I could make eye contact with three competitors, who were sitting in their own booths with their own tables of swag. I was done. I knew I had to find a better way to do my job in spite of the established precedent around trade show booth duty.

I never advocated for abandoning trade shows. I just wanted to find a way to get a lot more out of our investment and my time. It was time to experiment.

The first step was offering to conduct conference breakout sessions. I got off the trade show floor and in front of potential customers. That provided me with undivided attention for one hour on a topic that immediately helped qualify everyone in the room. Subsequently, those sessions served to immediately elevate engagement back on the trade show floor and separate me from my competition.

Developing the content and getting approved to speak was heavy lifting at first. Over time, it made selling a whole lot easier. And we started having a lot more fun!

While I’m a huge proponent of social selling and content marketing, I’m not challenging every sales pro to speak, start a blog, or even become a LinkedIn power user.

Here’s what I am challenging you to do: Think about whether or not your own strategy is evolving as fast as your customers are changing.What is still working really well? What isn’t? How can you stop spending your time on low-yield activities and start surfacing more qualified opportunities?

Here’s the formula I use: Spend 90% of your time doing what you’ve always been doing if you’re crushing plan — but also spend 10% of your time experimenting and testing. Too many salespeople are stuck using the same traditional tactics that aren’t going to deliver results. The market share will increasingly move toward the producers who are willing to test, measure, iterate and evolve.

Here are 4 ways every salesperson can be an innovator:

Start auditing everything. The best salespeople audit everything. After every call, meeting, conversation and decision, they reverse-engineer what happened to understand what worked and what didn’t. Ask yourself critical questions about how your own performance can improve — whether you win or lose the sale.

Look at what your most successful and inspiring peers are doing. If you’re stuck for inspiration, look around you. What are the most successful salespeople at your company doing differently? What about the best salespeople at competing companies? I’m willing to bet they’re not making cold calls. Take notes and emulate that winning behavior. Or, build on what’s working to make it even better.

Read everything you can get your hands on. We’re working in an exciting time. You have endless amounts of information available to you — about your industry, about your role in sales, and about your customers and competitors. Start reading and researching. Follow the best blogs. Keep an eye on competitors’ social sites. Pay attention to Twitter chats and LinkedIn group conversations. Soak up all of the knowledge that’s floating, for free, right in front of you.

Test and measure. Try new things. Reach out to prospects in new ways. Brainstorm new groups of customers you’re not targeting today. If you’ve never tried building a relationship with a customer by sharing an interesting article about their business, start. What do you have to lose? Everyone can spare 10% of their time to experiment and innovate.

Is sales harder or easier than it was 5 years ago? 10 years ago?The answer depends almost entirely on you.

By Ryan Estis/Business2Buiness/August, 2014