This week’s guest submission is from Jeb Brooks, Executive Vice President of The Brooks Group, one of the world’s Top Ten Sales Training Firms as ranked by Selling Power Magazine. He is a sought-after commentator on sales and sales management issues, having appeared in numerous publications including the Wall Street Journal. Jeb authored the second edition of the book “Perfect Phrases for the Sales Call” and writes for The Brooks Group’s popular Sales Blog, “Sales Evolution.”
B2B sales professionals face conflicting demands.
First, there is a demand by prospects for a rapid response to their inquiries. Second, B2Bbuying decisions typically take a long time to make.
To add insult to injury — partly as a result of the economic climate — decisions have been pushed up and out. In other words, larger committees of “higher ranking” corporate officials are making decisions. And, every member of these committees has much less time than they ever had in the past.
Put simply, salespeople have to reply to prospects as quickly as possible, but their prospects are unlikely to return the favor.
Here’s an example. We recently proposed a complete sales training program, including the initial training, ongoing reinforcement, and measurement. Our proposal went to the VP of Sales who gave every indication that he had the ability to say, “Yes!” to the initiative. However, at the last minute, the company owners stepped in to provide a final review. Before the economic downturn, the VP would have been in the position to make a decision with no input from anyone. In other words, businesses spend money differently now than before. It’s all changed.
Today, being a salesperson has a lot in common with being a fighter pilot. It’s filled with periods of intolerable boredom punctuated with moments of unimaginable excitement. The secret is to keep a constant flow of fresh leads without losing track of any of your current prospects and customers.
The technology research firm, KnowledgeStorm produced a report in which they stated that a prospect’s receptivity to salespeople declines drastically as time passes. Their data shows, for example, that 88% of prospects were happy to hear from salespeople when their internet inquiry was responded to the same day. That means that salespeople who want positive reactions from prospects should respond to all inquiries immediately after receiving them.
However, quick follow-up is just the first step.
Marketing Sherpa released some research in which they said that 44% of B2B companies say the time between lead creation and customer acquisition is more than 6 months. Only 17% said it was less than one month. http://www.marketingsherpa.com/1news/chartofweek-07-27-10-lp.htm
Knowing that, salespeople must be quick to take action and very, very patient.
A SHIFT IN SELLING
Obviously, all of this upheaval means selling requires a unique mixture of skills. On one hand, a salesperson must exhibit a relative sense of urgency while, on the other hand, also displaying a certain degree of patience. Immediate follow-up and a need to address whatever specific needs a client may have should be combined with a willingness to move at whatever speed the prospect is comfortable.
The most extreme example of a traditional selling mentality comes from a clichéd “used-car pitchman.” However, less extreme examples of the unfortunate traits of traditional selling are all too common: Salespeople who engage in excessive small talk, bash their competition or simply “dump” features and benefitsare all guilty of exhibiting traditional traits. Prospects are busy and don’t have time for these wasteful activities.
The traditional salesperson’s role has been replaced. Today’s sales professionals can no longer “pitch” their product. Instead, they must ask questions, listen to answers, and advise. Sometimes that may even mean facing the difficult reality that their solution isn’t the right one for every person who is in front of them.
While it’s difficult and seemingly counter-intuitive, honesty really is the best policy. If you suggest a prospect use your product or service when it’s not really the right solution, you are setting yourself up for disaster. You might have an angry customer. And that means ongoing headaches for yourself. An unhappy customer will only leave you when they find someone else who can fulfill whatever need you’re there for. Until they find the replacement, however, they’ll be your worst nightmare. It’s a lose-lose situation.
Today, in order to advise a prospect appropriately about the implementation or use of a product or service it is necessary for salespeople to augment their knowledge of a customer with more intimate awareness of their customer’s industry and even their customer’s customer.
Consultative selling requires a salesperson to focus every ounce of attention on the needs and wants of his or her customer. Only after those are identified can a consultative salesperson discuss the product or service and its application to the client.
IMPLEMENTING A CHANGE
Transitioning a traditional sales team into a consultative one is no easy task. Part of the problem rests squarely on the shoulders of sales managers. According to a survey released in Sales and Marketing Management Magazine and conducted by Equation Research, 65% of sales managers say they focus on building volume rather than finding more profitable customers and 63% say they neglected personal skills development. Both of those statistics reveal startling tendencies toward traditional sales techniques rather than consultative sales strategies.
In order to see the maximum return, any change to the structure of a sales force must be accompanied by adequate sales training, evaluation and compensation. In other words, a unilateral decision to transition from traditional to consultative selling will fail.
Training is only one component of a successful transition. However, the most positive effect will come when training is coupled with follow-up and reinforcement components that extend what is taught in the classroom beyond those walls and into the field. Too often, sales-driven organizations believe that an annual sales conference and (supposedly) weekly sales meetings will be sufficient to upgrade the knowledge and skills of salespeople. While those are important pieces, by themselves, they do not complete the puzzle.
Today’s selling environment means that salespeople are thrust into situations where more people take longer to make decisions, but have ever-increasing expectations. Salespeople have to respond quickly and then wait for some seemingly interminable amount of time (depending on industry, offering, and other factors it’s between 6 and 36 months). At its core, the shift is from traditional selling tactics to consultative sales strategies; and it’s here to say. The unstoppable powers of technological advancement, broad market forces, and customer demands aren’t going anywhere. Sales teams that fail to make the transition on this new wave will be left behind by forces larger than any single organization.