(Creative Commons licensed from Flickr user Josa Jr.)

If you’re in sales today, you’ve probably noticed that the turbulent economy has created more hesitant and risk-averse B2B customers. This has made the job of sales reps increasingly difficult.

 To help sales reps improve their results and performance, Corporate Executive Board (CEB) identified three proven techniques that they should implement to win business. These insights stem from a recent CEB survey, which analyzed the attributes of more than 6,000 sales professionals around the globe and across numerous industries who are members of CEB.

Here’s how your sales staff can improve their chances of closing the deal:

● Teach your customers something new.

Salespeople tend to think that the most effective sales approach is to show interest and concern by asking their customers open-ended questions like, “How’s business?” and “What’s keeping you up at night?” However, what customers value in a supplier is actually the exact opposite.

Today’s sophisticated customers want salespeople to make them smarter by challenging them on new ideas for making or saving money, or teaching them about opportunities and risks that might be over the horizon. CEB research among its members revealed that more than 53 percent of what drives B2B customers’ purchase decisions is the salesperson’s ability to teach the customer something new or challenge their thinking.

Tailor your message for each stakeholder.

Sales professionals must build consensus with customers. It is imperative to decision-makers that a given supplier has widespread support across their organization. In addition, a finely tuned sense of specific customer objectives and value drivers each individual in the organization wants to achieve is vital in order to be successful and close the deal.

Take control of the sale.

Winning sales reps take control of the conversation to keep the sales process moving forward. CEB research shows that 80 percent of business is lost to “no decision at all.” Using constructive tension is especially important when it comes to the commercial value of the deal.

When customers ask about discounts, it’s important to steer the conversation toward value and not price. Winning sales reps challenge customers by keeping the conversation squarely focused on value in order to successfully close the deal.

  The study of CEB members showed that B2B sales reps who utilize this three-pronged approach — “challenger reps” — are four times more likely to be high performers and represent nearly 40 percent of star performers in a transactional sales environment. In sharp contrast, sales reps who focused on relationship-building tactics only represent seven percent of top performers. The story becomes even more dramatic when you compare the two in complex solution sales — challenger reps represent 54 percent of star performers and “relationship builders” fall off the map almost entirely.   

 By embracing and implementing these proven techniques in your organizations, 2012 could prove to be a very prosperous year.

Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson are managing directors at the Arlington-based Corporate Executive Board (CEB) and are co-authors of the new book “The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation,” which details the study outlined in the column and the pillars of CEB’s Challenger Selling Model.