Stop Selling Stuff

stop-selling.jpgNothing happens, as they say, until someone sells something. Unfortunately, many executives and sales people are in the habit of saying the wrong things – and thus they miss opportunities to make things happen.

The odds are that some of your colleagues involved in sales – outbound, inbound or frankly any of those with customer-facing roles – are in the rut of pitching stuff, yapping in jargon or focusing more on their activity levels than on speaking to customer needs.

In recent years I have been helping client sales teams in industries as diverse as medical technologies, insurance, cybersecurity, manufacturing, banking, and web analytics. Despite the differing dynamics across those industries, the keys to building more effective sales conversations have been remarkably similar.

In order to secure an appropriate deal in these environments, the sales team has to ultimately get buy- in from a true decision-maker at a prospect company. The deal will likely go through Accounting or Procurement someday (and we love those people), but first it must survive the corporate minefield of tight budgets and competing priorities. It wouldn’t surprise you to hear that there is less money sitting around for six- and seven-figure expenditures these days, would it?

The less successful sales people tend to live in the world of technical specifications, product demonstrations, reaction to RFPs and zillion-slide presentation decks. They are plenty motivated to succeed and they typically know their stuff, mind you, but they often don’t fully understand their prospects’ businesses or appreciate the results prospects want. Coupled with the pressures of filling out call sheets and trying to hit quotas, these sales people are performing lots of activities yet are frustrated with the result.

(Pet Peeve: Salespeople who substitute questions such as “So what keeps you up at night?” or “Where are you feeling pain these days?” as shortcuts to doing their homework. Were I the prospect my answers might be “One wife, two dogs and three kids” and “At this moment, the rear,” respectively.)

The more successful sales people follow a different path. They tend to bring true business insights and ideas to a genuine conversation, rather than wow the prospect with a shiny new object.

This all makes perfect sense – anybody who’s anybody in marketing knows to sell benefits rather than features – yet that type of sales behavior is not the norm. The weight of research into salesperson behavior and performance also shows that insight-based selling is the way to go.

But it’s hard. The path requires research into the prospect’s world, a laser-like focus on the prospect’s needs (stated and unstated), a certain level of patience and the resolve to avoid being sucked into a price-driven slap fight with competitors.

Many sales managers aren’t helping. According to many self-report surveys, managers admit to spending more time focusing on building volume rather than profitability. They also report having little time or expertise for building the consultative skills of their sales teams.

Executives, you can help by learning how your teams are attempting to engage in solution-driven conversations. I have learned–a bit to my surprise–that even experienced sales people often lack the confidence necessary to be a trusted advisor to customers. Training, practice and reinforcement within the sales team can produce remarkable results in a few months.

In a time when true product differentiation is rare (and, where it exists, typically short-lived), the way your sales people act and speak can actually be a competitive advantage. And that can really remove an executive’s pain point.

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