The traditional customer call once seemed indispensable to the selling process – the time and expense involved were just a basic cost of doing business. In recent years, however, the business community has come to regard the sales call as an expenditure for which there are substitutes. For many companies telemarketing, video conferencing and direct email, have made the sales call a choice, not an inevitability. This is not surprising when various studies suggest that getting one sales person in front of one customer now costs $1500 – this cost has trebled since 1983. As a consequence, professional salespeople have to be more effective than ever to justify the investment in a face to face effort.
In essence, we can draw several conclusions. Taken together, these findings paint a picture of the current state of the sales environment.
Customer Focus Creates Competitive Advantage
The one term that sets top performers apart – customer focus.
Outstanding sales results depend on:
- The ability to think from the customer’s point of view
- Understanding the customer’s agenda, buying cycle and best interests
- Beyond a superficial reading of immediate customer needs, salespeople must gain a deeper understanding of both the buyer’s long-term goals and the overall business climate
- At the heart of customer focus is the art of listening constructively – the best salespeople are masters at capturing information
- Customer focus means taking the customer seriously – today, the salesperson who clings to the product orientation of a decade ago is losing ground
- As client companies branch into new markets and unfamiliar territories, they are demanding unique, flexible solutions from their vendors – customised to support specific goals
- Another myth which can be exploded is that whilst customers value flexibility, being too flexible can undermine the sales relationship. On the whole, salespeople imagine that customers value a vendor’s responsiveness above all. However, recent research shows that their primary concern is reliability
In summary, in order to maintain customer focus, the best salespeople become facilitators – creating a partnership that extends the selling relationship within the customer’s company. The motivation to achieve this should be strong – it costs fifteen times as much to attract and sell to a new customer as it does to an existing one!
The right to do business has to be earned and never assumed
Rather than doggedly asking for the business, the very best sales people work to keep the relationship moving towards a sale. They realise the need to identify how to turn their company’s products into real solutions, which must meet specific needs.
Unfortunately, our surveys confirm that the average salesperson drags the customer over old ground as much as 52% of the time – they are unable to provide continuous stimulation and never know when to treat an existing customer like a new one.
Conversely, exceptional salespeople only make such ‘return calls’ for 10% of the time. Above all, earning the right to proceed requires gaining the customer’s trust – top salespeople work diligently to establish a climate in which the customer is willing to share information and feels comfortable doing so. The key here is integrity.
Customers are persuaded when they are part of the process – and not part of the audience
Sales success today demands a radical shift from the ‘peddler’ mentality of merely demonstrating products and expanding on their features. It requires treating the customer as a participant. More often than not, a ‘flashy’ sales presentation alone alienates, rather than persuades.
The best salespeople regard the sales call as a two-way conversation – not a one sided pitch. They have developed active listening skills. Average salespeople score fairly well in their ability to provide customers with facts and figures, but top performers dramatically outscore the rest when it comes to gathering information. In addition, how a salesperson collects information still distinguishes exceptional achievers from the rest of the pack – i.e. Top performers ask better questions and, as a result, gain much better information. Essentially, they aim to engage customers in the buying process with questions that require thoughtful answers, that stimulate curiosity and that reveal the customers underlying needs.
Businesses need to redefine selling and what constitutes basic selling skills
In today’s world of selling, there is less and less room for apprenticeship. Selling has become an exclusive club of highly skilled professionals, where product knowledge and time management skills, for instance, are the cost of membership, not leadership.
Ongoing research demonstrates that today’s ‘average’ salesperson is just as effective as the high performer in explaining features and benefits effectively, relating a service or product to customer needs and closing a sale. But, above this Level 1 plateau of competence, the exceptional salesperson is busy defining the “basic skills of tomorrow”.
Building an up-to-date foundation in sales competence does mean sacrificing some old notions of what it takes to succeed in a competitive marketplace. For example, a salesperson can no longer just “win by knowing”. Every company needs to test their assumptions about what skills really contribute to sales success. Too often, operating on old sales theories means training and rewarding people to do the wrong things.
When the buyer and seller act as partners, they are building a bridge to profitability
Successful selling is definitely not about the “hit and run” sale. Sales achievers regard their relationships with key customers as a partnership and cultivate it as such. When customers face tough business challenges and complex technological choice, they rely on sales people who can assist them in making the right decisions.
The primary objective of a sales partnership has to be – to create and sustain a mutually productive relationship, which serves the needs of both parties, now and in the future. The key word here is symbiotic. Partnership does not mean eliminating the tension between buyer and seller – it means that top-performing salespeople know how to strike a balance between achieving immediate results and developing the relationship fully.
In Summary – Why Do We Need A Fresh Approach To Selling?
Many organisations have developed without objective analysis of their purpose and structure. The buying power in many industries is no longer evenly distributed – in a large number of markets a few big firms control the majority of purchases.
The development of new marketing techniques has meant that some tasks , traditionally performed by the sales team, can be more effectively handled by other methods. The prime objective of all sales staff is to gain business. From an organisational point of view, however, the manner in which they all achieve their goals must be defined in order to identify what kind, and the quality, of skills that are required.