The Crux of Selling in a Vexing World: The Need for Perspective
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The Crux of Selling in a Vexing World: The Need for Perspective AN MHI GLOBAL POINT-OF-VIEW PAPER
Who could have guessed 10 years ago that selling would become even more difficult? Today,
• Meet competing demands on them. • Trust the expertise and motives of salespeople and their organizations.
competition is even more intense. Salespeople feel even more pressure to land even more profitable business. And even more savvy customers feel mounting pressure to make smart buying decisions. Flawed as our crystal ball may be, these trends appear even less likely to reverse direction any time soon. 1
• Sort fact from fiction – information from competitive disinformation – in the Himalayas of data on the nearest mobile device. Fulfilling on these daunting needs calls for a salesperson to embody a refined set of skills to succeed in this vexing world. It raises the stakes on the salesperson’s ability to add value by building long-term, mutually beneficial customer relationships. Still, the overall dynamic between salesperson and customer has changed. What once worked to convert leads into sales now requires more sophistication and awareness. The cold truth is that customers these days want everything they buy to produce immediate, measurable results.
Salespeople today inhabit a challenging terrain. To succeed they must leverage technology to perform a range of strategic and process-focused activities. But even these “higher-level” skills fall short if salespeople fail to guide interactions that result in mutually beneficial customer decisions. Customers will no longer hear out a salesperson who seeks no understanding of their goals and concerns. Customers will no longer tolerate a rote sales pitch with no connection to their specific needs. But customers will purchase a solution that meets their needs from someone who facilitates collaboration, embraces accountability, and brings a compelling perspective.
But what exactly separates those who succeed from those who don’t in the maelstrom of today’s selling environment? That question is a central focus for the MHI Research Institute and its comprehensive ongoing study of complex business-to-business selling and related salesmanagement practices. 2 Drawing from that research, this point-of-view paper isolates the bedrock attributes and skills of today’s truly professional salespeople.
Few people selling today even remember when a customer relied solely on them for detailed information about products or services. Yet hyper-informed customers still have urgent needs to: See “It’s a Vexing World,” page 2.
See MHI Research Institute, Sales Best Practices Study: The Pursuit of World-Class Performance, 2014. This study extends our 2013 study, The Growing Gap Between Good and Great, which identified three core attributes of World-Class Sales Organizations: customer core, collaborative culture, and calibration for success.
Professional Selling Skills® | THE CRUX OF SELLING
It’s a Vexing World Today’s complex B2B selling environment holds a range of new and vexing challenges, including:
Buying Committee Challenges
Selling Team Challenges
• Layers of stakeholders and committees • Lack of agreement among stakeholders • Unavailable final decision maker • Access to stakeholders blocked by purchasing • Risk-averse stakeholders • Greater customer access to information • Customers confused by their buying process
• Unavailable internal experts • No time to coordinate team activities • No urgency among team members • Marketing misaligned with customer needs • Failure to deliver on promises
Competitive Challenges • Lack of differentiation • Superior competitive solutions • Entrenched competitors • Low-price competitors • Lack of global reach
System and Process Challenges • Shorter sales cycles to meet higher quotas • Long customer buying cycles • Late entry in the customer’s buying process • Price pressures that limit options
Portrait of a World-Class Performer
conscious study, practice, and application that ultimately flower as unconscious competence. Our long-term research sheds a bright light on these skills by isolating the key attributes of top performers. The brightest light of all: Those who excel focus on the customer’s needs; those who don’t focus on their own.
True sales professionals are easy to spot. They score significantly higher in several key metrics: • Number of qualified opportunities • New account acquisition • Average account billing • Year-over-year existing customer growth • Quota achievement To reach those heights, a top sales professional delivers solutions that meet clear and present needs. In our 2014 study, fully 93 percent of “World-Class Performers” – those who excel in the key metrics – said they clearly understand their customers’ issues before proposing a solution. Leveraging their deep insight into critical needs, these professionals know how to create solutions that deliver the precise results that customers want.
The following section outlines three must-have attributes of a World-Class Sales Professional: collaboration, accountability, and perspective. These attributes go hand in hand with core selling skills that bring success in today’s challenging environment.
So, is this all native talent? You either got it or you don’t? Hardly. World-class performers – with or without a vast amount of talent – hone and apply a small number of core skills, as noted, to create mutually beneficial relationships, even with customers who express concerns or indifference. As with any skill, acquisition and success depend on
94% of World-Class Performers said their organization collaborates across departments in pursuit of large deals.
1. Collaboration In our 2014 study, 94 percent of top performers said their organization collaborates across departments in pursuit of large deals. And small wonder: Closing a complex sale nearly always requires a collective effort. Marketing, sales operations, sales enablement, customer-facing support teams, even the shipping department – every unit of a world-class organization sees every sale as a win for all. Within the sales team proper, topperforming salespeople are the catalyst, leveraging diverse skills to amplify the impact of the group.
93% of World-Class Performers said they clearly understand their customers’ issues before proposing a solution.
Professional Selling Skills® | THE CRUX OF SELLING
• Organizations need to rethink systems that don’t link sales activities to outcomes.
It’s therefore no surprise that 91 percent of top performers in our 2013 study described their culture as collaborative. Key research findings for collaboration: • Under-performing salespeople fail to recognize the importance of their internal support team. High achievers skillfully collaborate to achieve goals.
• Collaboration doesn’t just happen. Managers need to foster a culture of collaboration through compensation plans and recognition that encourages teamwork. • Sales operations must ensure that knowledge management and other support systems promote crossfunctional collaboration.
93% of World-Class Performers said their performance metrics align with business objectives.
3. Perspective Sharing perspectives with the customer is a natural outgrowth of collaboration and accountability. To create perspective, top performers assemble facts and articulate how a complex solution satisfies a customer’s needs. In contrast, mid-pack and lower performers simply pitch a solution, so customers fail to see the value of a next step. A unified perspective, valid for this particular customer, builds trust and moves the sale forward. Once established, trust allows top performers to challenge the customer, as appropriate, and showcase their solutions. This kind of perspective matches the proposed solution to urgent customer needs and moves dialogue toward a mutually beneficial decision. 4 To act on that decision, the whole support infrastructure – sales management, marketing, sales operations, and sales enablement – must make customers their central focus. Key research findings for perspective:
91% of World-Class Performers said their culture is collaborative.
2. Accountability Ninety-three percent of World-Class Salespeople in our 2014 study said their performance metrics align with business objectives. To reach their goals, top performers hold themselves accountable – to the organization and, equally important, to the customer. In short, top performers know how to build relationships that balance customer needs with standards and expectations set by management. They know their sales goals and seek the best (if not always the shortest) path to reach them. They follow their organization’s proven strategies and learn from outside examples. Effective sales leaders, for their part, support accountability with metrics for the activities that bring success, often using technology to link these activities to opportunity outcomes. 3 Key research findings for accountability:
• A sales professional puts customers at the core by learning about their needs and linking a solution directly to those needs. • Marketing must work with sales to create messaging and collateral that highlight solution benefits, in a form easily adapted in the field to the customer’s needs.
• Professional salespeople hold themselves accountable for their own performance as well as for the success of the team.
• Sales operations must provide a structure – including technologies, compensation plans, and reporting – that keeps the customer at the core.
• They predicate their success on their customer’s success. In other words, they know that their own long-term success depends on the success of their customers.
Collaboration, accountability, and perspective are the foundation of world-class sales performance. Yet “attributes” alone, whether of the salesperson or the organization, do not close a sale. Only skills – applied during focused dialogue with the customer – can close a sale.
• More is not always better. Effective sales leaders understand which activities breed success and develop metrics around them.
The 2013 MHI Research Institute Sales Best Practices Study refers to this use of technology as “Calibrate for Success.”
The 2013 MHI Research Institute Sales Best Practices Study refers to this attribute as “Customer Core.”
See “A ‘Russian Doll’ of World-Class Sales Skills,” page 4.
Professional Selling Skills® | THE CRUX OF SELLING
The Skill That Amplifies All Other Skills
• Resolve customer indifference by creating awareness of unrealized needs.
Wouldn’t it be lovely if salespeople had a kind of Swiss Army knife, a single device containing every essential skill for sales success? What they really need, however, is more like a Russian doll: skills of different orders, from tactical to strategic, each contained within the next. 5 Top performers carry out a range of distinct yet complementary and equally important activities, among them developing big-picture strategy; prospecting; managing opportunities, channels, and accounts; understanding the buyer’s process; and negotiating the deal.
• Satisfy confirmed needs by describing how relevant features benefit the customer. • Resolve three main types of customer concerns: skepticism, misunderstandings, and drawbacks. • Close the call by asking for a clear, mutually beneficial commitment when the customer is ready to move ahead in the sales cycle. Mastering these skills can help any salesperson fully engage customers and sustain solid business relationships. An accomplished need-satisfaction seller proposes solutions that meet critical needs, facilitates fact-based buying decisions, and develops lasting partnerships based on a deep understanding of the customer’s business realities.
Fortunately, at the core of all these overlapping capabilities is a single skill set vital to virtually every customer touchpoint: need-satisfaction selling. Top performers effectively guide live customer interactions by facilitating dialogue whose central purpose is to uncover and satisfy a customer’s relevant business needs. In this way, salespeople both move the sale forward and establish a mutually beneficial relationship. What are the distinct skills collectively known as need-satisfaction selling? World-class sales professionals:
Finding the Core For world-class sales professionals, the customer is always the core. To engage the customer in the most important moments – during real-time dialogue – they apply their core skill: need-satisfaction selling. So yes, to drive performance in a vexing world, prepare your salespeople – whether seasoned or new – to do the one thing that amplifies the impact of every other sales activity. In an “even-more” world, need-satisfaction selling brings even more results.
• Build customer engagement in sales calls by listening attentively, acknowledging what customers say, showing respect and empathy, transitioning among topics, and confirming mutual understanding. • Collaborate to define the focus of a sales call and move smoothly from rapport building to business • Discover needs by facilitating an open exchange of information about customer circumstances and needs and about the deeper need that ultimately motivates a desire to purchase.
A “Russian Doll” of World-Class Sales Skills Like a Russian doll, with figures inside of figures, the skills of a true professional nest inside one another. Top performers: • Clarify goals and strategy to guide all sales activities, including prospecting. • Match their CRM process to the customer’s buying process, guide the sales team, and profile the concerns of key customer stakeholders. • Keep the customer at the center of all activities by using their need-satisfaction selling skills to guide live interactions with customers.
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