Today's post is by Lance Tyson who, over the past two decades, has continually elevated his entrepreneurial skill and spirit in a variety of industries -- always returning to his passion of developing strong business leaders. As president and CEO of PRSPX, Tyson is a facilitator, trainer, and conductor of more than 100 workshops annually in areas such as sales presentations, leadership, management, customer service, and negotiation.
As the president of a mid-size sales training firm, I try to read all the sales literature and advice I can get my hands on. Unfortunately, I often find myself having a sense of déjà vu whenever I pick up a new book or article, since a lot of what is being published is just a warmed-up rehash of what’s gone before it. With so much of the recent advice about sales process steeped in buzzwords and repackaging, I find that coming across something truly unique is always refreshing.
At the root of it, salespeople don’t just need new words to describe what they are already doing – they need a fundamentally new and different approach that enables them to successfully navigate the digital era.
We are currently operating a time of rapid business disruption marked by constant change, unpredictability, and doubt. Cisco’s Global Center for Business Transformation recently released a research study in which they had surveyed 941 business leaders around the world in 12 industries. According to the results, four of today’s top 10 market share leaders in their category will be displaced by digital disruption in the next five years. The threat extends not only to big companies, but entire industries. In this volatile environment, salespeople need to find ways to help buyers cope with constant change.
For salespeople, this era is full of starts and stops in the communication with prospects and customers. With 24/7 Internet connectivity, most buyers have a wealth of information at their fingertips. Not only does every company have a Website to present what they want the world to know about their product, there is also a ton of external information available on Google, Wikipedia, and a host of social media sites to help fill in the gaps. As a result, buyers can quickly form opinions and make decisions much faster than ever before.
Consequently, the way we sell needs to change, as well. In the environment of business disruption, what sufficed as best practice in selling 10 years ago – or even five years ago – no longer applies.
As asserted by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson in their 2011 book The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation, effective salespeople, or “challengers,” need to become subject-matter experts and use their deep understanding of their customers’ business to push their thinking and take control of the sales conversation. Their premise is that salespeople now function as knowledge brokers, so they need to know more about their customers’ industries than the customers do – and they should be assertive, and even provocative, in sharing that knowledge with their customers and their boss.
However, anyone who has actually succeeded in sales understands that coming off like a “know it all” is not always the best strategy. Of course, salespeople have been told for decades to know 10 times more about their industry, products, and verticals than they would ever possibly use. But salespeople shouldn’t function merely as human conduits for information that can be found on company Websites and dozens of other online sources.
We live in a world where everyone has a phone full of apps to serve their every need, and devices to measure the value of every step they take and every penny they spend. Buyers can now do pricing comparisons with just a few taps, find consumer and peer reviews and other information, and quickly assess the value of a business or service. All of this creates marketplace-driven objections around value and cost, and puts salespeople in a tough spot in terms of differentiation. Salespeople who try to compete with the Internet will quickly find themselves outmatched.
Cultivating an encyclopedic knowledge of product may be helpful, but it is not the most critical component to closing the sale. To be truly effective, salespeople need to quickly be able to connect and take the temperature of what their clients/prospects already know, and then create a relationship in which the buyer is comfortable sharing details about their current situation. Relationships fill a fundamental human need, and it takes a human being to build them. By listening to the prospect and establishing a strong rapport based on trust, the salesperson can find out more about what’s currently missing, and then add true value. When this happens, the process is less about “selling” and more about helping the prospect buy.
To survive and thrive in this kind of agile business environment, salespeople also need to go beyond asking questions to providing fast, tailored solutions to customers on the fly. This type of adaptive selling will be the key to success going forward. All buyers want to feel that their problem is unique, and their solution is special. So, it stands to reason that the most effective sales solutions are (or at least feel like they are) highly customized. These days, buyers are looking for “just in time” solutions that are highly tuned to their particular needs.
The concept of “tailoring for resonance” was also popularized in The Challenger Sale as one of the key sales skills in today’s most effective salespeople. It refers to the practice of tailoring value messages to the customer’s specific business goals and objectives – linking their solution directly to what the customer is trying to achieve in their own business. But, again, this type of customization needs to be based on relevant examples or details supplied by the buyer. The essence of trial closing is literally asking the buyer for their opinion. If the salesperson hasn’t established a rapport, tailoring can’t be done effectively.
The concept of tailoring is as innovative as the 1942 Cadillac – not new, but certainly classic, and increasingly valuable! One of the most popular sales approaches of the past 40-50 years has been: “If there’s a way to improve X, you should buy Y.” A good salesperson is constantly driving education and insight for potential clients. And, when you sell, you are, by definition, always challenging the status quo and trying to paint the picture for someone of that gap – want, need, desire – being closed.” In some ways, this is the way sales happened among the earliest humans. As put by Howard Stevens, chairman and founder of Chally Group Worldwide, “The successful sales reps that know, understand, and provide real value to their clients remain relatively constant across time.” So, as much as things are changing, some of the most effective sales principles are timeless.
What it boils down to is that, to avoid getting caught in a downward spiral of pricing pressure, salespeople need to learn new ways to add value to the buying process. Here are five tips to keep in mind for success in adaptive selling:
- Be the thermostat, not just the thermometer. Assessing the situation is a critical first step, but salespeople need to go beyond that to add a new level of value to the buying process.
- Build affinity by connecting quickly and establishing a rapport with the prospect. Building trust is key because it will encourage the prospect to share what they know or don’t know, so you can tailor your solution to their needs.
- Be willing and able to change your approach on the spot. Adaptive selling is all about customizing on the fly.
- Establish a continual feedback loop. Constantly ask the opinion of the buyer to make sure you are still on target, because the target may be moving.
- Play chess, not checkers. The games look the same but the strategy is different. To sell effectively in this environment, you’ll need to take your game to the next level by understanding and utilizing all the capabilities in your wheelhouse.