With executives focused on forming the strategies that will build resilience and drive growth in recovery, winning over gatekeepers has never been more difficult. Add to this challenge the pressure to make quota during a downturn, and many reps resort to a haphazard mix of cold calls and emails that only serves to alienate the busy executives who are key to any sales effort.

So, as a sales leader, how do you help your teams make a memorable first impression on decision-makers? By adopting a prospect-centric approach that uses strategically relevant insights to demonstrate how your organization will deliver value to your customers in both the short and long term.

Instead of asking, “Why are executives not returning my calls?”, salespeople should ask, “What have I done to incentivize executives to pick up the phone?” It’s important to remember that many companies have had to make significant changes to their business models or supply chains in recent months. In this environment, decision-makers are constantly reevaluating initiatives to separate the essentials from the “nice-to-haves.” To engage executive-level buyers, reps must present as credible and knowledgeable salespeople who possess the business acumen to quickly and confidently explain why someone should trust your company to deliver value that will resolve critical business issues.

Executives and buyers spend their time before they spend their money. With this in mind, how can sales leaders coach their teams to win over gatekeepers and close more and larger deals? Here are the answers to the three most common questions salespeople have when developing the skills to sell higher and sell with confidence.

1. Which Roles Should I Target?

Given the complexity of modern business-to-business (B2B) buying journeys, salespeople are often at a loss as to which decision-maker to target. This challenge is compounded by the differences in organizational structure from company to company: One buying group may be chiefly composed of managers, while the next might involve the entire C-suite. It becomes even more challenging during a crisis; what was a high-potential opportunity earlier in the year may now be a dead end, which is why sales leaders should start by working with their teams to requalify all opportunities in the pipeline.

Once your sales reps have identified potential prospects, have them begin with who they know. Searching LinkedIn for second- or third-degree connections who are willing to make a warm introduction to the potential buyer goes a long way. If there’s no one in their network who can make such an introduction, they may need to do some additional research to better understand their target prospect.

Understanding the content that an executive is liking, sharing and commenting on helps reps craft messages that resonate and pique interest. Groups are another effective way to leverage social networks, helping salespeople increase their status as thought leaders and forge connections with peers who might be in a position to refer them to potential buyers in the near future.

It’s also important to coach your reps on the importance of developing more than one point of contact. If a sale hinges on one individual, and he or she stops returning calls, there’s little that sellers can do to further the sales cycle.

2. How Do I Develop Effective Messaging?

It’s common for sales reps to focus their efforts on four or five typical buyer personas. However, given the changed B2B landscape, sales leaders should ensure that their teams are fully imagining the personas they’re targeting to account for possible shifts. Reps can begin by constructing a “day in the life” narrative:

    • What does a typical day at work look like for these individuals?
    • Given their areas of responsibility, what pressing issues are they likely trying to solve?
    • Which key performance indicators (KPIs) is this individual evaluated on?

From here, it’s a matter of building on that high-level research on personas, industries and companies to craft personal messages. Ultimately, it’s targeted research on individuals that enables sales reps to differentiate their messaging from impersonal tactics like email blasts. Research enables reps to tailor messages and personalize outreach.

Another crucial element of the equation is timing. At first glance, timing may seem completely out of the seller’s control. However, we’ve found that teams that have taken the time to develop business acumen are also able to craft more relevant, timely messaging. If sellers do the necessary research and ensure that their product or solution solves a problem already on an executive’s radar, then they’ll set themselves up to more readily identify patterns and emerging trends, which they can then address in their messages to become a value-added interruption.

In other words, the more targeted and consistent the message, the higher the likelihood of good timing and engagement.

3. What’s the Best Way to Differentiate?

While developing business acumen is a crucial part of the journey, it won’t get sellers very far if they can’t set themselves apart from the competition. In times of financial turmoil, your solution must be the best alternative out there — and that’s merely the first hurdle. Next, your sales reps will have to be able to communicate a believable value proposition to win the fight for capital.

Business value is rooted in business knowledge and application. World-class reps must master this critical skill set to engage all buyers at all levels in the organization. After all, research by Gartner indicates that 77% of B2B buyers characterize modern purchases as “very complex and difficult.” Training your reps to position themselves as respected and appreciated business partners will enable them to facilitate a frictionless buying process.

We don’t have a clear roadmap for what recovery from the pandemic will look like, so we must work with our teams to help them sell on value. By focusing on the prospect and positioning themselves as business partners with the insights and solutions that will drive success, sales reps will be able to win over gatekeepers and sell higher — with confidence.