Welcome to the new sales reality. Demographic, technological and—above all—disruptive changes are rendering everything you thought you knew about doing business obsolete. To survive, you’ll need to overhaul your sales processes and organizational structure.
In business, it’s common to focus on “ how to sell our stuff” rather than “what’s happening with our clients.” But by only paying attention to deal making, you’re missing the underwater movement that could soon turn into a business-destroying tsunami.
Just like you, your clients are scrambling to keep up with the new world of business, but they’re also more empowered than they’ve ever been before. With an abundance of online information and data at their fingertips, prospective customers don’t need your sales teams to be talking brochures or websites.
Technology has created a more savvy, insightful and demanding buyer, increasing the demands on suppliers—particularly the salespeople with whom they interact. In-person relationships are more, rather than less, important in this environment.
The role of sales person needs to shift from information provider/persuader/order-taker to that of facilitator. Their role is now to make things easier, to guide and to help the client bring about action that will address their business opportunities and challenges.
Winning business in this new sales reality takes much more than the traditional requirement to listen to the Voice of the Customer (VOC). Your sales teams need to move to understanding the Behaviour of the Customer (BOC)— their business processes, not just their product needs. Many customers don’t know what they need or want, especially in light of the advances in business today. They often have a set perception of what they think you offer as solutions. Consider the famous quote by Henry Ford: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”
So the choice today is not whether to transform, but how. Here are the five Cs you need to grab a board and ride the wave instead of getting dragged along the bottom of this tsunami.
This involves authentic caring about the individual client, their role and their challenges rather than focusing on how to sell your stuff. You can’t fake authenticity! What you think or feel about your clients exposes itself through micro expressions, brief (1/15 to 1/25 of a second) involuntary facial expressions of emotion that are picked up unconsciously.
If a client doesn’t detect an authentic or caring connection with you, the relationship will be damaged or simply not exist. Many of your subsequent efforts will be in vain.
Developing new, expanded opportunities for you and your client requires a shift from traditional solution selling to an approach that connects your business to all levels of your client’s. This requires a deep understanding of their organization, including their priorities, processes, strategies and problems.
According to Forrester Research only 36% of salespeople can identify their customers’ problems and fewer still can connect the problems of the clients’ business to the value their own offering can provide. With this blatant disregard for their needs, it’s not surprising that only 25% of senior executives at potential client firms are prepared to take a second meeting.
Sharing product-agnostic industry and business insights demonstrates your connection to your client’s business, and leads to more successful sales calls. Providing such expertise is four times more valuable than having product knowledge, according to recent research from SiriusDecisions.
Unlike traditional marketing or product materials, these insights must provide something of intrinsic value to the customer by themselves.
If your salespeople are in the right job, company, or industry and they have a passion for what they do and for continuous learning, being interested in your client’s business will come naturally. Salespeople need to be curious about what matters to your clients, and less focused on the stuff they have to say
Try to create an ‘aha’ moment for your client by asking astute, thought-provoking questions that disrupt their assumptions and promote innovative thinking. Nothing is more powerful than when a client says, “That’s interesting, I never thought about it that way before.”
Questions should challenge the brain, not the ego. Thought-provoking questions evoke the neocortex, stirs up the brain chemicals and create a dissonance. The brain loves a challenge—the ego does not.
So ask yourself: Do your typical questions transform brainpower into innovation or do they sound like inquisitions? Do they connect to relevant business issues or to product needs? Do they elicit a client ‘a-ha’ moment, where they learn something new that is relevant to them?
Don’t ask someone for their precious time to solve their problems simply to solve your own sales problem. And stay away from questions that are likely to get you thrown out by the client. Opening the conversation with “So, tell me about a little bit about your business” or “What keeps you up at night?” are fatal mistakes. There is no way back from here. You must know about their business and have a sense of their challenges before your initial meeting. Come prepared with insights to share and experiences that you have gleaned from other similar companies or industry intel.
Gone are the days where you can just knock on the door of a C-suite office and close a deal. Whether you’re selling to a customer with 50 or 50,000 employees, it’s rare to find one unilateral decision maker. The decision to act rests with multiple divisions and many times with groups that have conflicting priorities.
Reaching consensus and obtaining approval from these diverse groups is often the most painful process in signing a client contact. A recent CEB found that on average 5.4 people now have to formally sign off on each purchase. And the number of diverse groups involved in decisions (IT, marketing, COO, CFO, legal, procurement) has increased, resulting in longer sales cycles, smaller deals, lower margins and customer deadlocks.
Helping your contacts facilitate collaboration earlier in the sales cycle can be the greatest value you can bring to them. Rather than waiting for the solution identification stage, professional salespeople involve themselves proactively in the problem definition stage and at the strategy and goal definition stage.
World-class sales organizations differentiate themselves from their competitors by their ability to quickly deploy their resources to customers and opportunities. Ask yourself: Do your salespeople have the internal influence to collaborate with your other teams and produce the right resources at the right time to serve your clients? Do they act as internal customer champions, challenging your organization to provide high levels of customer engagement, innovation and service? If the answer to either of these questions is negative, you might need new salespeople, or a new culture.
Caring, connecting, curiosity and collaboration naturally result in new information that your client or your competitors won’t necessarily have. This information and an environment of trust creates fruitful ground for collaborative, creative problem-solving with your client and your internal teams.
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Unfortunately many sales people are stymied by lack of in-depth knowledge of their client’s business priorities, processes and problems. They are also are stopped by what seem to be barriers—lack of budget, time, resources, etc. But creativity loves constraint. Obstacles are in fact opportunities to innovate new solutions that differentiate you from the competition.
Lorella DePieri is Program Director at theCentre of Excellence (CoE) in Sales Leadership at York University’s Schulich Executive Education Centre. She is also CEO ofResults By Design Consultants Inc., designing and delivering learning solutions that lead to sales culture transformation since 1989. And she is Co-Founder of1-degree shift Inc., an organization whose mission is to serve and support leaders who have an appetite to transform their cultures.
MORE ON THE NEW SALES REALITY:
- How to Win the New Sales Game »
- Why Your Sales Team is Obsolete »
- Who Controls Key Purchasing Decisions Today? »
- Stop Wasting Your Time Cold Calling »
- 5 Moneyball Tactics to Build a Winning Sales Team »
Do you agree? How do you plan to succeed in the new sales reality? Share your strategies by commenting below.