How to succeed with B2B sales

Financial advice firms today recognise the significant benefits that accrue from having a rich client base of companies. Whether they are large corporates or SME’s, companies offer fertile ground for advisers as they can open up a wide range of opportunities to advise not only the company, but also the individual directors and the employees about their financial needs. But what skills or attributes does it take to widen your companies client base to open up these opportunities?

B2B selling requires a different skill set than that needed to successfully advise consumers.  This article attempts to identify those skills needed. Hopefully they will help you re-awaken some of your own dormant skills or indeed might help you if you are hiring someone to develop your business client base. Also, excellent account managers working for product providers, promoting their products to financial advisers, also demonstrate these attributes.

So what does it take to build up your corporate client base?


Research capability

Good B2B salespeople will never approach a potential customer without carrying out detailed research of the company. While it might be ok (but certainly not preferable) to meet an individual and know little about them, this won’t work with companies. As there are so many rich sources of information now with websites, LinkedIn profiles and company reports available, you need to use them! As you set out to impress a potential company, you had better be able to confidently articulate how your proposition will be an excellent fit to meet their needs. To do so, you need to know their business.


Be a good listener

However I’m not suggesting in the previous section that you arrive with your pre-prepared solutions to the company’s problems because you’ve first of all got to find out what they are. Don’t dive into solutions! You need to start with strong questioning and close listening to ensure that the solution you eventually propose will address the right problem. Lots of “Open” questions needed here!


Ability to interact at multiple levels

Financial advisers who are dealing with business clients will typically begin a corporate relationship through CEOs, business owners, finance directors or HR directors. These people will share some common characteristics. First of all they usually have pretty good knowledge of their financial services needs as they will have covered the subject areas previously or indeed will have researched the areas themselves. Secondly they have very little time on their hands and they don’t suffer fools gladly! So if you want to be successful, make sure you are on top of your game when it comes to your advice proposition and product knowledge and get to the point – be professional and business-like at all times.

However this is not about being high-brow. If you gain a business client, you need to be able to engage with people right throughout the company, to empathise and build relationships at all levels of the organisation. Your relationship with the company will ultimately fail if you get on great with the finance director but no one else wants to do business with you. So deal appropriately with everyone throughout the company.


Be a problem solver

Company clients will expect you to make their lives easier, to add value both in terms of financial benefits for them and also in terms of addressing any problems quickly. They will expect you to proactively address any issues they might have with any financial institution and to solve these problems quickly and effectively. So basically you need to be more than a salesperson. You need to be a service agent too who will add value to the relationship on an on-going basis. If they feel that they have been left to manage issues themselves, they will question your value and ultimately replace you.

Corporate clients will expect you to be resilient, to manage stressful situations and then to come back looking for more problems to solve!


Use technology and innovative solutions

Business clients will typically use technology in many areas of their business to help them reduce cost and improve efficiency. They will expect no less from you. They will value access to key information online and the use of technology to make on-going servicing easier. And they will expect you to continue to seek out more innovative solutions for them, both in terms of your actual advice and product propositions and also in terms of your service to them.

The best financial advisers dealing with B2B clients realise that this area is not just the responsibility of product providers but an area in which they can actually differentiate themselves.  I’m seeing this in systems being used by advisers to identify the emotional factors influencing individual investors, risk profiling tools, fact finding tools and of course CRM tools.


Highest ethics and integrity

Most companies place huge store in their reputation and actively seek to have a positive impact on their employees, customers and community. While this is of course the right thing to do, they also recognise the benefits they gain through better engagement with these groups, which ultimately will yield financial benefits. As an example, Corporate Social Responsibility programmes are very important processes within a lot of companies today.

The last thing these employers will want is to introduce an adviser who doesn’t share these aspirations. So never let your high ethical standards slip.

These are some of the characteristics I’ve seen in the best B2B salespeople I’ve encountered in both financial advice firms and in life companies. I hope they describe you to a tee!

Are there other characteristics? Please feel free to leave comments below.

Are you planning to increase your sales in 2013?

Are you planning to increase your sales in 2013? The 2 key words here being “planning” and “increase”.

Do many advice firms just continue on in a never-ending sales cycle without proper planning? Well of course some do. However these businesses are really missing the opportunity to reinvigorate their sales effort every year. Carrying out structured planning gives you valuable focus on your customers, your market and your own internal capabilities. It gives you a structure to work to and a basis on which you can track progress. It also helps you identify dependencies your sales team have on other areas of your business to help them achieve their numbers.

Sales planning needs to happen at every level of your organisation. There needs to be an overall sales plan for the business as a whole. However this then needs to be translated into a relevant sales plan by every region, team or indeed every individual sales member. Yes, each individual sales person needs their own sales plan to ensure they maximise their own opportunities. A sales plan gives the individual sales person the focus and structure needed to achieve their goals. It also gives them a mechanism to report fully on progress and indeed to highlight supports they need from other areas of the business.

So what should you expect to see in a well thought out sales plan for a financial advice firm or sales person? Here are a few thoughts of what might be included.

Know your numbers

It might seem obvious but it is really important to be crystal clear on your sales numbers, whatever the most relevant numbers are. What level of income do you need, what level of assets do you need to secure, how many new customers do you need? You’ve got to be clear exactly what is needed to ensure you can achieve and indeed exceed expectations.

Consider external impacts

There are lots of factors at play in the market over which you’ve no control that will impact your sales effort – some positive, others negative. Identifying these at the outset is really important. How will you leverage these positive impacts (maybe the opportunities offered by technology for example) or deal with the negative factors (what if tax relief is reduced on pensions in the Budget this week – your income needs won’t reduce with this!).

What makes you different

What are the unique strengths and opportunities that will help you stand apart from your competitors? What areas of your proposition, your skill set or your relationships can you leverage to your benefit? On the other hand, what weaknesses do you have, gaps that you need to close or particular threats that you need to prepare to deal with? Now is the time to be thinking about all of these.

Plan to beat your competitors

Who are your competitors, what are their particular strengths and weaknesses and what strategies have you considered to win against each of them? What do you need to do to get yourself fit to face your competitors down?

Capture your target market groups

You obviously need to know who you hope to sell to. You need to articulate these groups and write them down. Further on in the planning process, you will need to tailor your sales activities depending on the profile of each group. Your approach for example to prospective business owner clients will be very different to how you drive sales from within your existing personal lines clients.

Know your sales objectives

At this stage, you’ve actually broken the back of the planning process as based on all your earlier work, your sales objectives will start to become clear. Typical sales objectives could include the likes of,

  • 10 new SME business owner clients secured during 2013
  • Carry out financial reviews, identify additional needs and cross sell an additional financial product to 20 existing clients who currently have a single policy with you.
  • Secure 3 new clients from introducer relationships.

With each of your sales objectives, you then need to put a measure against them. These measures in turn should add up to 100% of your sales target identified at the outset.

Identify the activities to achieve the objectives

For each of your objectives, what activities will be needed to achieve the goal? These might include making a set number of phone calls to prospects each week, securing planning meetings, presentations, seminars, entertaining etc.

Then it is a case of using your CRM system (or mapping out on a spreadsheet) the sales activities needed to be carried out with the actual target customers. This then becomes a dynamic business process that is updated every day. As you target a new customer, they are added. As you carry out an activity, that customer record gets updated. This will quickly demonstrate to you gaps or areas of particular activity needing more focus in your sales effort.

Make the activities happen!

Your next step is to make sure the activities actually happen. For “big” activities such as seminars, these should be planned out for the year and the customers to be targeted identified at the outset. Yes, this picture will change as the year progresses.

For the more “day to day” activities, it is important to set aside time (and allow your sales people time) to  plan your activities for the upcoming week. This then should enable you to also have identifiable periods during the week that are solely for time out in front of customers.

Review Relentlessly

If your sales people are planning at the outset, keeping the plan updated and producing realistic sales forecasts, it makes your conversations with them more meaningful and gives you the opportunity to help them. If they plan effectively, it also ups the ante on you as any reasons for sales under-performance that are outside of the salesperson’s control become more apparent. These are your challenges to address!

These are just a few thoughts in relation to sales planning. Yes it takes time, particularly so at the outset and it takes ongoing commitment to continue planning and monitoring throughout the year. However the focus and structure that you gain will result in the rewards outweighing these costs through increased sales!

What tips do you have for sales planning? All comments are very welcome.