I think we all accept that 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.
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 more relevant 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 – and their commercial objectives.
It is my perception and belief that most businesses need to re-define selling and what constitutes basic selling skills, because in today, there is less and less room for apprenticeship.
The reality is that 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.
On-going 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 entry level 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” and I would urge every company 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.
Successful selling is definitely not about the “hit and run” sale. Top 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 choices, they rely on salespeople 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, I would say this: Many organizations 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.
Since the arrival of Sales 2.0 and Social Media, the development of new marketing techniques has meant that many 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 organizational point of view, however, how they all achieve their goals must be defined in order to identify what kind and the quality of skills that are required.
Finally, I must emphasize that customers are better persuaded when they are part of the process and not part of the audience, but I must also re-iterate that relationships take time to build – rather like trust.