Q&A | Jill Konrath
Sales expert Jill Konrath doesn’t mince words. Asked if sales executives will be over a barrel the next 18 months because of the economic downturn and a lack of consensus on when things are going to turn around, Konrath said: “They’re over a barrel for the rest of their lives.”
Konrath is a best-selling author and the chief sales officer of Selling to Big Companies. Konrath, whose clients include Hilton Hotels, IBM Corp. and General Electric, said that profound changes in buyer dynamics over the last few years have irrevocably altered the sales process (regardless of the ebb and flow of the larger economy) and put salespeople in a tougher position.
“It’s difficult to get into the door, there are more influencers to consider and second meetings are dramatically falling,” Konrath said, pointing to a 2009 study by CSO Insights showing that 53% of sales organizations reported a conversion rate of less than 50% from first meetings to second meetings; that figure has jumped 25% since 2005.
“It’s not a blip on the screen,” Konrath said, referring to dramatic changes in how buyers approach sellers. “This is a shift to a new way of selling and the economic situation has accelerated the shift.”
ZoomInfo: Why are sellers having such difficulties cracking into corporate accounts today?
Konrath: There are multiple reasons. The first is that corporations are running so lean and mean and the fact that each decision maker in an organization has way too much work to do and not enough time to get it done – and fewer resources. So, people who try and set up an appointment are competing with every other use of their time to get their attention.
To protect their time, decision makers roll all of their calls to voice mail and never call anybody back. Whether it is an e-mail or a phone message, their finger is on the delete button, ready to blast you into oblivion unless you can capture that person’s attention in five seconds.
ZoomInfo: What do you think are some of the most effective ways for sales executives to start cultivating corporate accounts so they don’t automatically get deleted?
Konrath: They have to think in terms of a multipronged campaign that’s spread over several weeks. They need to target the company that they’re going after and they need to do research on the organization so they have reasonable intelligence when first making contact. They have to be able to approach people in multiple ways: It’s a combination of leaving phone messages, e-mail and direct mail to engage the decision maker. The seller’s message should never, ever be about products or services; they’re totally irrelevant. The only thing decision makers are interested in is to know you can help them achieve their business goals and remove issues and problems that are causing severe pain and aggravation.
ZoomInfo: In your book you talk about the “price of admission” sellers have to pay to get access to large companies. What do you mean by that?
Konrath: When I talk about the ‘price of admission,’ I talk about the perspective of the crazy-busy buyer. These are the buyers evaluating how much homework you have done prior to contacting them. If you can’t demonstrate that you have an understanding of this person’s company, their direction, their challenges or their issues, they won’t take time for you.
Getting their time is demonstrated by verbiage such as: ‘Eric, this is Jill Konrath calling. I’ve been doing research on your company and I noticed that…’ or ‘Eric, in today’s Wall Street Journal, your company announced…’
When you say that from the get-go, the crazy-busy buyer says, ‘This is not a self-serving salesperson who is trying to get me to buy their stuff…This is an intelligent person who will invest time in me prior to expecting me to invest time in them.’ That’s the price of admission.
ZoomInfo: How can sellers best put this to practice?
Konrath: They use this information by crafting very tight messages that show they have researched the company and invested time to come up with ideas that are relevant to the buyer(s). If you discover that one company has just bought another company you can expect that there’ll be a number of merger or acquisition issues that the (acquiring) organization will face.
For example, if you sell IT services, you know there will be a consolidation of the system. And if you sell sales, you know there’s going to be sales training needs; there’ll be rebranding and changes in marketing and advertising. If salespeople are aware, specifically, of what’s happening in an organization (right now) they need to ask: How does this trigger event impact the organization in a way I can address?
Jill Konrath runs several Web sites focusing on different aspects of sales. She shares sales expertise (and has a bit of fun) at www.greatsalesgive.com; provides information on training programs or speaking engagements at www.sellingtobigcompanies.com and provides advice and insight for women in sales at www.salesshebang.com.