Conversational intelligence and digital transformation – they are all the rage. Gartner calls it the Sales Tech Mayhem.
As a result, anything that can sift through mountains of information, thousands of customer interactions, and identify the most relevant resources – then serve it up, just in time to sellers – is a good thing.
The question now is what data should the AI tools mine? How do you prioritize and serve up the information that will have the most impact on a seller’s performance? We decided to conduct our own little experiment.
What we found is that there are more efficient ways to access information today, but what hasn’t changed is the best way to leverage information.
To determine which messages produce the greatest results, we chose the most challenging sales environment: the thinking that, “If it works here it will work anywhere.” Therefore, we targeted 500 VPs working in large companies (over $500 million). The goal: Determine what type of message would elicit the highest response rate to a cold email.
Once we nailed down the audience, we had to choose a solution to market to them. We landed on our most popular training solution at the time (Virtual Selling Skills). We then divided the list in half. Group A would receive a typical sales email (labeled “the conventional approach”). Group B would receive a different email (labeled “the other-centered approach”). Here’s the details on the two groups.
This email started off with a creative, attention-grabbing statement.
“EQ replaced IQ as the best predictor of success. Now sales organizations need to develop a new kind of intelligence – Virtual Intelligence.”
After attempting to grab the VP’s attention with a creative opener, we established our credibility in providing virtual selling skills. Due to our work with inside sellers, ASLAN has focused on developing these skills for over 20 years. Then we quickly provided the top five most compelling benefits of the program – closing with a tantalizing offer to read about the 5 Barriers of Selling Virtually, an ebook that was performing well in all our marketing campaigns.
In short, Group A received the most compelling email we could write, following the conventional wisdom about how to promote a solution – like the hundreds of emails we all receive weekly from sellers and marketers. Provide creative and compelling benefits, some proof, and a close with an enticing, soft offer to engage.
And it worked: 9.09% clicked on the offer – three times higher than the 2.9% benchmark set for the clickthrough rate for our industry, likely due to the popularity of the topic.
With Group B, we took a radically different approach – one requiring less creativity but more intelligence, which is a perfect job for AI. We didn’t lead with a creative hook or compelling benefit. In fact, we didn’t focus on our solution, company, or years of experience, or attempt to establish a relational connection. We didn’t tease or try to be overly clever, nor did we include any creative video or audio message.
We just focused on them (hence the name “Other-Centered”). We led with a problem we knew was top of mind to most VPs of sales because we are regularly talking to them:
“Are your reps just riding out the storm? Are they waiting for things to return to normal before prospecting for new opportunities?”
Next, we resisted the temptation to launch into the benefits of the solution but, instead, share what I call a “disruptive truth”: a truth or insight that is counter to the conventional wisdom. Think of it as a principle, stat, or best practice – unknown to the intended recipient – about a better and unexpected way to solve their problem or help them get what they want (e.g., lose weight by eating doughnuts).
Here’s the next section of the email.
“Some reps are thriving. They are getting meetings (outperforming their peers by 4X), learning to demo their products, and sell their solution. However, this requires a new philosophy, process, and strategy. In fact, the traditional approach to selling sabotages a rep’s ability to sell in this environment. They need a new mindset and an advanced skill set.”
The message: Most training backfires. For sellers to pivot and make this transition, they need to abandon the traditional approach to selling and learn something new.
Also, notice the subtle way the message differentiates the solution. Instead of a bulleted list of benefits, the message here is that the solution offers a unique philosophy, process, and strategy. And it’s working.
How did this approach fare against the conventional approach? It crushed it. The clickthrough rate was 33.3%, which was 366% higher than Group A.
In the other-centered approach, the hero of the story was the customer, not the solution. The other-centered email did a better job of answering the three critical questions every decision maker asks at any stage of the sales process.
You will always, always grab someone’s attention if you talk about them. If someone shows you a picture of you, you will always look at it. Therefore, the number one way to grab someone’s attention: Talk about them; lead with what’s on their whiteboard rather than what’s on yours (e.g., make a sale and commission).
Begin an email or presentation or key point with, “Because YOU…”, and the listener will always tune in to it.
According to a recent McKinsey study, the number of customers who would rather talk to a seller when evaluating a solution has declined 120% in the past three years. Why? Because the perception is they don’t have anything more to offer than a Google search. Decision makers have problems to solve and – if you have intel on a better way to solve that problem – they will engage and follow you.
What is the one benefit, related to the customer’s problem, that only you can offer? You may grab their attention by describing their problem, but, if you can’t differentiate yourself from the sea of competitors, nothing will happen.
If you want to have more intelligent conversations, look for and serve up information to sellers that answers these three questions. While you do, remember: When it comes to identifying and delivering the right message to the customer, artificial will never beat the real thing.
Tom Stanfill is CEO of ASLAN Training & Development. Download a free copy of ASLAN’s ebook: How to Write Irresistible Sales Emails & Get More Meetings.