In recent years, surveys have shown that what customers want more than anything from salespeople is to be inspired with new ideas, to help them think differently and to find creative and innovative ways to compete the most. This way of thinking has lead to some dramatic changes in relationship-based selling.
But how did we get here? Is this shift in trend going to continue? And how have sales winners aligned their techniques to the new reality of sales? These are all great questions and if you are asking them it’s because you want to succeed! Let’s examine briefly how we got to this stage and cast back about 100 years ago or so.
It is the insurance industry who are accredited with the categorization of the sales ‘hunter’ and ‘farmer’ roles; roles that grouped salespeople into the ones that were focused on chasing new business (hunter) from the ones that were concerned with collecting premiums and managing existing accounts (farmer). Did salespeople naturally fall into one of these classifications? It wasn’t until the 1920’s that Edward Strong’s book ‘The Psychology of
Selling’ opened the door of proposition and forwarded the notion that salespeople are not born a salesperson, rather that sales are learned and developed.
Furthermore, specific techniques like open and closed questioning, negotiating techniques and handling objections can improve effectiveness and progress the sales conversion. These concepts were very quickly taken on and the mindset gave meteoric rise to the ‘Sales training industry’. As the 1970’s rolled around a convergence to ‘Consultative selling’ set in, salespeople took on the aim of understanding what it was that kept the client ‘up at night’ and uncovering their needs in order to be able to position their solution.
At the same time a recognisable difference arose between the skills required for small sales versus the requirements for greater and more complex ones. And, for the last 40 years or so, most selling practices have aligned closely (in one way or another) with this ‘consultative’ approach.
We have already identified in a previous article ‘Selling in 2018’ how developing relationships in sales has always been important but that’s now coming second to sharing competitive knowledge and offering the kind of value that links back to your solutions. It’s simple really, and it’s a trend that has been growing consistently for the past 10 years or so; we are not selling to buyer-users anymore, a greater consensus across the organisation is required due to an increasing number of players at the decision-making table and more often than not, the relationship has been completely de-coupled from the decision makers.
Forrester Research has forecasted that a staggering 1 million sales positions in the U.S. B2B market place will be lost by 2020, in real terms that’s an incredible 20% chunk of the workforce. If truth be told, the ability to teach the client something they don’t yet know is rapidly becoming a core-skill of the future. It’s stark but plain to see that anyone just taking orders, not cold-calling enough, anyone relying solely on referrals and/or networking and anyone implementing poor prospecting strategies are going to see their chances of workplace survival drastically reduced.
Why are sales techniques that were conceived 40+ years ago being applied when we know that B2B buyers are moving towards a digital, self-service and e-commerce world? Can we avoid being part of the ill-fated 80% of salespeople who struggle to meet their target?
The answer is yes, we can, and it’s an answer that lies with today’s sales-winners and what it is that they are doing differently.
I like to call it the ‘triple AAA technique’ Adopt, Adapt, Adept. Successful sales methodology and best practices can be learned and Adopted; more importantly Adapting them to your own individual style and practicing them will lead you to being Adept at them.
With this technique in mind, the salespersons pitch isn’t really about their product or service at all. Everything is about the client! Incredulously many salespeople are still having conversations that lead with their differentiators and their solutions, even stranger still is that many salespeople still fear coming across as aggressive or pushing too hard for business, while others are coming across as rude, obnoxious and are going too far.
Statistically, the best sales performers have discovered that irrespective of how good their products or services are, the conversation that peaks the prospects interest is one that revolves around the clients’ business. Offering unique perspectives, teaching them something new about how they can compete more effectively in their market, get into new markets, reduce risk versus cost and improve performance has become invaluable.
What these high achievers are doing is highly effective, they are giving form and comprehension to the prospects reality first above all else; then they lead the conversation to their differentiators, not with. This has a very positive impact on the conversion rate because the solution has been positioned in context of a thorough understanding of the clients’ reality.
This also fundamentally changes the dynamic of how the prospect values your involvement, because you have provided new insight the trust needed for developing a new professional relationship has been created. It is evident that these relationships are the reward for winning the new client and not the reason for it happening.
Standing out as a sales person in the eyes of the client is what we should be focused on achieving, and what better way to stand out than to know your clients’ world better than they do, shape their reality convincingly and then lead to the value of your solution. Winning a client always starts with great prospecting and then during the sales conversation if you:
Offer comprehensive insight
Outperform your competitors throughout the sales experience itself and
Teach something valuable to your clients that connect to a solution you offer and that is better than anyone else
You will see the odds of winning the business move to your favour. Understanding your clients’ business and offering that insight will allow you to link your solution as the answer to the client's question “how do I make it happen”?
Let’s look at a very common problem salespeople and organisations alike have difficulty with – identifying and communicating what their actual strengths and unique points are. Pretty much everyone says that they are the market-leaders, the most innovative, the ones with an all-singing and dancing client support service, the largest or the first at one thing or another.
Is it true that everyone can be number one? No of course not, so how does your prospect navigate through all of this noise when there is very little difference in suppliers? Price!
I worked for a large global company that started implementing weekly ‘Deal-Desks’, attended by both the CEO and the Global Head of Sales to encourage the salesforce to negotiate and drive deals that used strategies other than discounting the price. The meetings were specifically designed for us to:
Articulate the value we were providing to our prospect
Prove a deep understanding of their reality and then
Demonstrate how and where we were out-performing the competition, before our case was even considered.
To try and achieve this, every business owner or organisation needs to start with a long hard look at themselves and their business to reliably identify and communicate this value to the client; easier said than done!
To this end, it's never been more important for sales and marketing teams to work together. For far too long these two functions have been linked to rivalries, disagreements and way too many politics, yet together they have the power and ability to generate and deliver amazing insight, share it consistently to their market, across all platforms, and improve the lead-to-close ratio of the sales process.
When Marketing is increasing brand awareness and relevance, as well as understanding who the client is, where they need to go, and what the challenges to getting there are, they create incredible insight that empowers salespeople to stand-out when prospecting or communicating with their clients. The impact this close partnership can generate is invaluable to protecting the future sustainability every business should be worried about creating.
You can join our forum at www.lead-results.com where we will be keeping you up-to-date with tips, hints and great advice that improve your prospecting strategies and sales results.
Until then, sell with value.