Today’s post is by Deb Calvert, president and founder of People First Productivity Solutions.
Here’s the problem. Modern buyers are empowered by easy access to options and are less loyal to brands and sellers. By working through their own buying process (without sellers) buyers become overly price focused and impatient.
As a result, products are commoditized, sellers struggle to reach quota, and turnover of sales talent bogs down sales managers.
What if sellers abandoned stereotypical sales behaviors that are off-putting to buyers and replaced them with leadership behaviors? We set out to test our theory that buyers would respond favorably to the 30 behaviors of leaders proven in The Leadership Challenge® to mobilize others toward shared aspirations. Working with authors Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, we conducted a study with 530 B2B buyers representing all sectors.
The Research Findings
B2B buyers rated all 30 behaviors as favorable. The ideal frequency of each behavior is higher, they said, than the current frequency demonstrated by sellers with whom they choose to do business. What’s more, buyers would be more likely to meet with and buy from sellers who demonstrated these behaviors.
Our Preliminary Conclusions
While some behaviors ranked higher than others and generated more feedback and stronger reactions with buyers, we believe all 30 have merit and are important to buyers.
To aid in understanding leadership behaviors, we use the Five Practices of Exemplary Leaders® as found in The Leadership Challenge®. Each practice groups six behaviors. For leaders, these have been validated in 600+ research studies with data collected in more than 5 million assessments over 30 years in 72 countries.
Here are the five practices.
Practice #1: Model the Way
Leaders clarify their values and set the example by aligning actions with values.
Buyers wrote more open response comments about this practice than any other. The importance of follow-through, honesty, and integrity came through loud and clear. Buyer loyalty is the reward for these consistent behaviors.
Practice #2: Inspire a Shared Vision
Leaders envision the future by imagining exciting and ennobling possibilities. They enlist others in a common vision by appealing to shared aspirations.
Buyers want to connect with and be inspired by sellers who see the larger purpose of their work together, in service of a mission or vision. Buyers don’t want sellers to over-promise or tell stories without backing them up with follow-through.
Practice #3: Challenge the Process
Leaders search for opportunities by seizing the initiative and by looking outward for innovative ways to improve. They experiment and take risks, learning from experience.
The behaviors related to challenging buyers did not rate as highly as we anticipated. This may suggest that “challenger selling” is not a stand-alone solution.
Practice #4: Enable Others to Act
Leaders foster collaboration by building trust and facilitating relationships. They strengthen others by increasing self-determination and developing competence.
Buyers are making a shift predicted in The Future of Competition: “Consumers will migrate to businesses that allow them to be participants in creating what they want.”
Rather than delivering ready-made insights, buyers want sellers to work with them to brainstorm and co-create insights. Acknowledging and affirming buyer ideas and engaging in two-way dialogue has become increasingly important.
Practice #5: Encourage the Heart
Leaders recognize contributions by showing appreciation for individual excellence, and they celebrate victories by creating a spirit of community.
Buyers want to be praised and recognized for their contributions to a solution – not just thanked for their business. Buyers also want sellers to encourage them along the way and show confidence in buyer decisions made.
How to Get Started
Adopting leadership behaviors requires no special tools and no change in process. This is a simple choice – one that individual sellers can make for themselves. Sales managers and directors can create a sales culture founded in these behaviors. Our work to date with sellers has been met with a pronounced eagerness to make the shift, and even the thought alone to “stop selling and start leading” gives sellers a much-needed confidence boost.
Phase 2 of our research is underway, and we invite all sales professionals to participate by telling us their “Personal Best” stories. The survey link, additional research, and more are available on our Web page: www.peoplefirstps.com/stop-selling-start-leading.