New Rules for Selling to Big Companies

Corporate executives wield tremendous buying clout. According to the 2007 U.S. Business Elite Survey by Ipsos Media, senior executives make or influence more than $1.7 trillion a year in spending decisions. These executives have purchasing responsibility for information technology, telecommunications, office and industrial equipment, financial and insurance services, automobiles, and business services. Yet, over the past decade, selling to corporate clients has become more difficult. Corporate buyers are facing pressure to accomplish more with fewer resources. Many companies have consolidated, making it difficult to locate the appropriate internal decision makers. Voicemail is the new gatekeeper, making it harder—if not impossible—to reach the very people within large companies who are critical to begin the selling process. With filters intercepting e-mail and telephone solicitations, sellers must reengineer their strategies. “Corporate decision makers have no time for self-serving salespeople,” says Jill Konrath, author of Selling to Big Companies and founder of Sales Shebang. “They want to work with people who possess keen insights into issues and trends that impact their companies.” Konrath asserts that effective corporate sales strategies must shun traditional self-promotion in favor of thought leadership marketing, which focuses on improving a prospect’s business, solving problems, and creating value through unique ideas and insights. She offers three rules: 1. Focus on making a difference, not getting a sale. Successful sellers understand that corporate buyers work with vendors who provide value through their knowledge and expertise, not well-honed sales pitches or elevator speeches. “Thought leadership marketing appeals to the corporate decision makers’ need for relevant, useful information. It helps you stand out from a crowd of cold callers,” says Konrath. “Thought leaders strive to make a difference by delivering value to prospects. They position themselves as visible, credible, prospect-focused resources.” As products and services become more commoditized, successful sellers articulate their value by providing relevant information that helps prospects see why change is imperative and why their business is part of the answer. “Selling must combine your offering with your expertise and depth of knowledge,” Konrath remarks. “Instead of sending self-promotional brochures, you can publish articles about business issues and send them to prospects. You can create blog entries and podcasts that discuss issues facing their best prospects. This approach positions you as a business improvement specialist; prospects will view interactions as valuable consultations rather than as sales meetings.” 2. Understand the role of the Internet. The Internet creates new opportunities for sellers. It also empowers corporate buyers with easy access to information about products and services. “Corporate buyers perform online research to avoid meetings with salespeople whenever possible,” says Konrath. “This effectively eliminates the traditional role of the salesperson as a provider of basic facts and features about their products and services.” People expect to find basic information about your company at the click of a mouse. Those who continue to rely on traditional selling techniques risk becoming obsolete. To make the Internet an effective part of your selling strategy, you must focus on showing your value, demonstrating your worth, and making a difference. A credible web presence delivers value. Your website should provide fresh, educational content that helps corporate prospects see your business as a solution. “Corporate buyers visit and read vendor websites throughout the sales cycle,” says Konrath. “Your website must scream credibility. Show prospects that you contribute to your industry by including articles, case studies, and success stories. If your website is only an online brochure, they’ll disregard it as biased and self-promotional.” 3. Seek outside validation. Thought leaders are recognized by their industry and peers. Strive to obtain third-party endorsements from trusted resources. Publish articles and offer quotes to trade magazines. Contribute to respected industry websites and blogs. Give talks and take part in panel discussions at conferences and professional association meetings. According to a recent KnowledgeStorm/CMO Council study, “Define What’s Valued Online,” buyers access independent, third-party content to make more informed buying decisions. The top six most trusted sources were industry associations, analysts, journalists, independent product reviews, peer forums, and online discussion groups. “Buyers go to trusted sources for tactical tips, for higher-level strategic insights, and to stay on top of emerging industry trends,” says Heather Foster, director of marketing at KnowledgeStorm. “These buyers want to know what other people—especially experts—think about solutions and information in your industry.” Konrath adds, “Your expert knowledge may seem like common sense, but it’s exactly what corporate prospects want and need. When you give away your knowledge and expertise, it comes back to you in greater abundance. Ultimately, if you keep up these strategies, clients and prospects will say, ’I see your name everywhere.’”

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