The recession has clearly exposed the weaknesses of many sales organizations. Warren Buffett said it best: “When the tide goes out, you know who has been swimming naked.”
Sales organizations that cling to the old sales paradigms are going to fail in 2010. They will be unable to realize their company’s true potential in the market. The economy has changed, technology has changed, buying behaviors have changed, markets have changed, and many companies see sales slipping because their sales processes, sales technologies, and sales-training methods are stuck in the past.
Salespeople thought of customers as targets to whom they would sell by following the AIDA formula: get the Attention, arouse Interest, fuel Desire, and compel a prospect to Act.
We can no longer think of the customer as an individual decision maker; rather, we need to think of customers as part of a team in which each member is linked to a social network that participates in a global marketplace. We live in a world of interconnected complexity that is often too hard to understand without consulting highly specialized experts.
Many customers are facing complex challenges that are often difficult to describe, diagnose, and resolve in a way that will accelerate their success. While many sales leaders claim that their salespeople are “trusted advisors,” we can no longer assume we know what customers need, since customers are not always clear about what they need to improve the value of their business.
The big paradox is that prospects often say what they want but don’t always mean what they say. What makes this even more challenging is that prospects have less time available than necessary to understand the full extent of their situation, let alone the full extent of the available options.
Successful salespeople need to follow a more rigorous process for diagnosing customer problems, such as one that includes the following steps:
1. Ask the right questions to fully understand the customer’s current situation. What drives his or her business? How does the customer create value? What holds him or her back?
2. Summon the most capable subject matter expert – if needed.
3. Identify the root cause of the problem – and don’t merely rephrase the symptoms.
4. Understand the cost and consequences of doing nothing.
5. Don’t construct a solution solely based on what customers say they want. Henry Ford once said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”
6. Cocreate with the client an effective plan of action . This will get the client invested in the plan and process.
Action Step for Winning in 2010: Adopt question based selling strategies. It will get far better results than solution selling.
Traditional Selling methods are increasingly useless
The sales pitch is dead. Salespeople whose egos are tied to their spiel are suffering from disappointment. They blame the economy for their poor performance. A good manager or coach would tell them to ditch their pitch and adapt to the new buying behaviors.
Salespeople can no longer rely on the traditional ways of building relationships, such as a round of golf with the prospect or client or offering tickets to a ball game. The era of wining and dining has passed. The relationship with the prospect represents only a fraction of the buying decision that’s now heavily influenced by intracompany communications and a rapidly growing social network.
Solution selling is fading. Why? Buyers are becoming increasingly suspicious of salespeople who pitch their solutions in a generic manner. Buyers know that most solution sellers only put lipstick on a pig, which they want to trade for money. Buyers want to solve their unique business problem and collaborate with smart sellers who can help create and deliver a positive outcome. The successful salesperson is a customer success agent, someone who can diagnose a business problem, cocreate the sale with the buyer, and deliver outcomes that accelerate customer success.
Action step for winning in 2010: Prepare your sales force to focus on business outcomes.
Lou Schachtner: "The Mind of the Customer"
Traditional sales processes prevent sales progress
In most companies, the sales process consists of a hodgepodge of “best practice” steps that worked well when companies enjoyed steady growth year after year and managers had discretionary budgets. Customers asked, “What’s the ROI? Is this the best solution? How does this extend my growth? How can I get this product/service at a lower price?”
Many sales organizations have created proposal templates, white papers, and sales messages that provide compelling answers to the above questions. The result: customer indifference. Why? The recession has transformed these questions to, “Do we have time to think about this now? Is this purchase critical to our company’s future? How big is the risk involved in making this purchase? How confident are we that this investment is a safe bet?”
As a general rule, sales organizations like to design their sales processes based on what makes most sense to them. History has shown that sales processes that are designed by the company don’t reflect how customers want to buy. Mark Sellers created the idea of the BuyCycle Funnel™, based on his book The Funnel Principle.
One of the most effective processes for selling in a recession has been developed by Geoffrey Moore. It was described in a Harvard Business Review article in March 2009 as “provocation-based selling.” The process begins with salespeople identifying a burning issue that is mission critical to the company’s future. This burning issue must be framed in a way that will provoke serious concern that even in this recession, money will be found. To test whether or not the provocation will raise serious concern, sales executives must answer three key questions: 1) Is the burning issue sufficiently serious that it will handicap our ability to compete? 2) Are we unable to fix this ourselves with our existing resources? 3) Is the seller the most reliable and competent resource for solving this issue? Once all questions have been answered to your satisfaction, begin formulating your provocative point of view. For example, “We’ve followed your market very carefully and noticed a significant gap when compared to your competition, which could be alarming unless circumstances change.” The provocation-based selling process: 1) Describe the threat. 2) Get agreement that the challenge exists. 3) Describe the hard consequences of ignoring the challenge. 4) Describe what outcomes you can deliver.
While solution selling aligns with the prevailing customer situation, provocative selling challenges the customer’s established point of view.
Action Step for Winning in 2010: Train your sales team in provocation based selling strategies.
An excellent slide show: "Selling In a Downturn Economy- A Summary"
The original HBR article: "In a Downturn, Provoke Your Customers"
The Funnel Principle
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