Tired of laboring through spotty Salesforce win-loss data to figure out what makes your buyers tick? After all, every buyer is different…right? Well, sort of. DoubleCheck interviewed over 100 executives to get a clearer picture. It turns out that many executives identify three similar characteristics of a successful working relationship with a sales executive—knowledge, empathy, and transparency. Do your sales teams exhibit what many business professionals identify as essential to winning the bid and closing that deal?
One of the top key attributes of a strong sales executive, according to our surveys, is knowledge of the client’s business. This includes how the sales executive can fulfill the prospect’s needs, while also sharpening the edge on the competition.
One survey participant illustrates this with an anecdote: In this case, the solution provider’s sales representative was so self-involved that he shared only information about his company and its services in great detail until the prospect finally asked, “Tell me, what do you think our biggest problem is?” The stunned representative replied that he had no idea. “I know,” said the prospect, “because you’ve been talking about you, not about what our problems are.” At that point, the rep was sent out the door, just fifteen minutes after the meeting had begun. Clearly, connecting with the potential client and having insight into their business is an important part of building trust.
This anecdote also shows how imparting too much knowledge at the start can kill the conversation. The sales executive who knows what to ask in an early meeting is not only furthering a wealth of possibilities, but also offering a relationship that goes beyond the initial exchange. On that point, one executive told DoubleCheck, “We’re not looking for a partner to just sell us a platform with all the bells and whistles, but one who will prove a strategic partner who wants to understand how we run our business and how the capabilities of their service are going ensure that we’re all successful.”
Of course, the right balance of pre-research and openness goes a long way in providing such a relationship. In fact, one executive actively looks for “someone who can say, ‘Hey, you’re an expert in you, but we’re an expert with a bunch of people that look just like you.’” By showing that you have knowledge of the prospect’s field, brand, and business structure, while also being open and adaptable, you build credibility. This also rings true of their local culture. What’s more, offering carefully researched knowledge of the relevant geographic area can provide the kind of insights that build trust and possibility. “It’s more difficult when it’s a voice from afar,” one respondent told DoubleCheck, “versus somebody who is really diving in locally and trying to understand the specific needs of a startup.”
In a world where the majority of prospects are seeking an ongoing relationship, “quick fix” approaches to sales don’t work. Many potential clients are most willing to trust and invest when they feel heard and understood. In fact, given the feedback that DoubleCheck receives, listening is one of the most prized characteristics of a sales executive, as is being sensitive to a company’s restrictions, pacing, and needs. As one source puts it, a strong sales executive is “able to ‘read’ the potential client,” understanding where their hot buttons are, and answering to those issues. “This way,” this source explains, “they really nurture the relationship.”
Clients do understand a sales executive’s agenda, however, and can be open to middle ground. “In some ways,” one survey participant told DoubleCheck, “you and the sales executive both have competing agendas, but in other ways you have a common agenda. It’s about finding that common agenda.” In fact, sales executives who connect more fully with their prospects’ needs are more likely to establish an ongoing relationship, even if the immediate sale falls through. And given that a strong relationship will likely be drawn on in the future, establishing such a connection is usually a win. In the words of one source, a successful relationship is offered by “somebody who is really just trying to help us get to the right answer, even if it is not the one that we would want to hear and does not help their case.” By taking a client-centered approach, a sales executive develops strong foundations for mutual success.
Another form of empathy that is commonly mentioned by executives is responsiveness in terms of pacing and mindset. One source told DoubleCheck that slowness to respond to requests for demos and an unwillingness to come onsite for certain things marred the all-important relationship with a sales team. Another source mentioned that their company picks up swiftly on heavy sales techniques and looks instead for “someone who’s aware of the political nuances of the company, and understands that things might not happen right away.”
Sensitivity to the kind of detail that can help in an initial meeting is also a common concern. “You have to be really clear,” said one respondent, when describing what they needed from a sales executive, “and provide concrete examples.” These, they added, could helpfully include the daily tasks that might be involved if the prospect decided to move forward with the deal.
When looking for a trustworthy sales executive, clients often mention transparency. In fact, though trust can be instinctual, more concrete evidence is highly valued. Companies that are public and have transparency on record are desirable, but so are businesses that demonstrate authenticity through action. “If a company were to add a new feature that might be detrimental to our site,” said one source, “transparency helps us to see and understand the thought behind that decision.”
On a more interpersonal level, potential clients look for open interactions and consistency. One source told DoubleCheck, “I am very turned off whenever I ask questions and I’m given one answer, then I ask them later, and I’m given another.” The same source looks for transparency in terms of contracts: “Ultimately, you go into a contract with an organization with the same kind of decision-making process…that you use if you’re going to propose to somebody. I have to trust that person. I have to trust that organization.” A sales executive who is upfront about language or restrictions in a contract—or helps to clarify the contract’s content—demonstrates both honesty and credibility. What’s more, knowledge of what will happen if things go wrong also serves to strengthen trust. “Who’s going to respond and how are they going to respond?” says one client. “That’s what matters.”