As strategic sales consultants, we are often asked by clients to “fix” sales force performance problems. In our world, this often means training the sales force to be more consultative and more strategic in the customer interactions. If sellers only asked better questions to understand customer needs, they’d inevitably do a better job at “connecting the dots” to meeting those needs, and increased sales would follow.
However, sales results often do not meet expectations. When this happened, the usual suspects are rounded up and interrogated: no reinforcement, no coaching, no accountability, not customized, too much PowerPoint, not enough PowerPoint (!), not interactive enough, stale, etc. These culprits are often easy to identify, and they definitely are contributors to the problem. But we’re convinced that they are more like accomplices, than the masterminds behind the sales performance crime.
If you asked any garden variety business-to-business seller what he’s supposed to be doing when he’s in front of a customer, he will probably tell you this story: use questions to find customer “pain points” (a favorite selling cliché) and then “connect the dots” between the customer’s pain and our solutions. In fact, our own research bears this out: 72% of sellers believe that need development is the purpose of every sales call. Is this wrong?
Not exactly. Nevertheless, it may be time to reconsider the approach. To switch metaphors, consultative selling as practiced by most sellers is like a hammer. It works when confronted with a nail, but it’s not the right tool in every circumstance (just ask any parent whose toddler has received a toy hammer!).
The world of complex, business-to-business selling has changed dramatically over the last two decades. Among the most significant changes have been the ways in which customers are buying. Some meaningful statistics tell the story:
None of this is really new. In fact, these changes began to make their presence felt at the turn of the century. It appears to be a permanent feature of the business-to-business landscape. But here’s what’s intriguing to us as consultants and researchers. Even though the customer’s buying journey is substantially different, sellers are being taught to engage with them in the same ways we trained them in the 1980s: use questions to find pain points and connect the dots to our solution. In other words, we keep giving them hammers – new ones, shinier ones, made with space-aged polymers or whatever – but customers no longer just have nails. They have screws, or bolts, or wing-nuts. Alternatively, printed circuit boards. It is not that hammers are the wrong tools. It is merely that the time has come for sellers to have different tools to complement their hammers.
Our research into this dilemma, coupled with our own client experience, presents us a simple answer: “It’s the process, stupid.”
Sales processes exist to give meaning to the mystery of the customer’s decision process. Sales processes are like a GPS in a confusing urban jungle, helping sellers navigate from point A to point B – and helping others in the car know where they are and when they’ll reach their destination. Sales processes are like user’s guide to the complicated set of tools that need to be used to win the business. Process, in other words, helps sellers to use the right tool, in the right way, at the right time, with the right customer.
Ignite’s upcoming webinar, “Selling in the Brave New World”, will dive into this more deeply and present some of our insights gained from client experience. You will walk away form this webinar with:
Steve has over 16 years of experience in Performance Improvement, Sales Process, and Training. He has worked for some of the industry’s most notable providers and has helped various organizations achieve sales excellence, profitability, and exceptional business outcomes. He is currently working with many Fortune 500 companies in the healthcare, financial/professional services, technology, CPG, manufacturing, energy and insurance verticals. You can connect with Steve on LinkedIn.