February 8, 2017 | by Maureen Grinnell, founder and co-principal of Beyond Quota LLC

The Changing Landscape of Sales and Buyer Behavior

Solutions to navigate successfully

Any company looking to grow, needs to identify new sources for business.  Especially when the economy—and the metals industry in particular—haven’t fully recovered.  Yet the traditional approach to “dialing for dollars” no longer works with today’s buyers.

As Millennials enter the workforce and step into buying and procurement positions, we’re seeing new patterns in metals buyer behavior. Customers don’t want to be “sold to,” preferring quick, email communication to phone conversations. This younger buyer often makes decisions transaction by transaction based on vendors’ online presence and price instead of relationships. According to a recent American Metals Market article, the steel industry is a mere five years away from losing 50% of its current workforce to retirement, which suggests Millennials will be reshaping the way buying and selling is done across the industrial metals supply chain.   

Traditional “cold calling” just won’t cut it with a busy Millennial buyer. And the failure that results only frustrates and demoralizes sales teams. But prospecting efforts can be successful if managers help inside sales staff develop confidence and competence in their outreach skills. Targeted, intentional outbound contact, offering value-added solutions to anticipated customer needs makes efficient use of a buyer’s time, thereby earning the right to be a relationship seller.

Here are five key ways to equip your inside sales staff to increase sales through prospecting:

Establish Realistic Goals. Without clear measures for activity and results, and specific times dedicated for prospecting, inside sales teams will find it difficult to break away from responding to incoming calls and emails. 

Prioritize. Identify your “ideal” customer types, those with the greatest reasons to buy from your metals organization. Build reps’ confidence by targeting one or two prospect groups (e.g. new markets, new geographies) at a time before moving to the next.

Research and Prepare. Set expectations with inside sales reps for research and preparation before customer contact. Insight gained through company websites, LinkedIn, and even outside sales counterparts into the prospect’s business, potential needs and current buying relationships demonstrates that your reps have “done their homework.” Teach reps to make a call plan, including a reason for the call. 

Strengthen Prospecting Communication Skills. Prospecting involves more advanced sales skills at each stage of the business development cycle. Train reps to gain buyers’ attention; manage initial resistance; differentiate through added value; create outreach “campaigns” that leverage email; phone and social media; gain commitment; and stay in touch. The salesperson must learn to ask one more question, to have one more reason to call, or to request a visit to the facility in tandem with outside sales. The goal is to develop a preferred relationship with the buyer as your salespeople provide more complete solutions. 

Revisit, Reinforce and Coach. Encourage sellers to share what’s working and what needs to be reworked. Role play to practice challenging calls and gain input from peers. Brainstorm ways to overcome resistance and objections. Listen to calls and coach reps individually to strengthen their skills.

The right approach to prospecting can do more for your metals organization than simply adding new accounts and additional sales.  It enables inside sales staff to be proactive and work more collaboratively with outside sales—and your customers.  Done right, a dreaded prospecting call can be transformed into an efficient use of time that leads to a strong, lasting partnership.

Learn more and register for the March 15 Reaching Out: Prospecting for Results course.

Maureen Grinnell is one of MSCI’s professional development partners for sales education. Her newest course, specifically tailored to the metals industry,  “Reaching Out: Prospecting for Results” trains inside sales reps, sales managers, and outside reps in proven outreach approaches and skills.