Howard Stevens is the Founder and Chairman of Chally Group Worldwide, a leading global sales improvement and talent management firm. His first competency assessment research project was for the Justice Department for the selection of law enforcement officers at all levels. He then switched his focus to sales.
Howard loves the business of sales and besides chairing a global business he is committed to elevating the sales profession through university education. As Co-founder and chair of the Sales Education Foundation (SEF), he is helping inject sales education into the curriculum of colleges and universities in the US – which surely is an uphill battle. The goals of the Foundation are to combat the negative image of selling that persists and is reinforced in movies and books, to get the profession of sales recognized as a legitimate academic subject, and to prepare the 50% of all college graduates whose first jobs regardless of major will be in sales. Unfortunately, at present, nearly one third of college graduates not participating in these sales programs but who still go into sales will fail within their first two years.
Chally has its finger on the pulse of 400,000 salespeople and assesses 100,000 salespeople per year. They developed the most sophisticated talent analytics data gathering and analysis tools to identify actuarially predictive sales force competencies to compete in specific markets versus traditional and often misguided opinion. These processes typically increase revenue streams by up to 15-20%. Howard sees technology, specialization, and globalization as the factors that have changed the face of selling.
Technology has changed the role of salespeople. If you think about the spectrum of selling at one extreme there is a high level sales force often involving a team of sales specialists involved in the complex sale. On the other end are the now increasingly very sophisticated telesales people engaging customers, including face to face communication through today’s digitally based media systems replacing those traveling salespeople traditionally referred to as the “road warriors” who made up about 60% of salespeople in territories.
A chain reaction is taking place with the low end telemarketing person as well as the road warrior being replaced by the new high end telesales professional. For example, nearly all the members of one major tele-selling group have college degrees in an appropriate major; some even have master’s degrees in specialized subjects. These professionals serve as dedicated account managers equipped with video conferencing equipment to sell to, support, train, and work through the product with their clients. They work an eight hour day and can earn well into the six figure range. Moreover, their reduced travel costs, which otherwise would be about $20,000+ per year per salesperson, add significantly to their companies’ profitability.
The second factor contributing to the change in the sales landscape is the demand for specialization and expertise. Salespeople must have competence in delivering value themselves. On the new sales map selling skills are becoming an entry level requirement to providing those technical, consultative, and specialized service skills that provide the added value customers demand. Just being a trusted advisor is “table stakes” because products and services can be delivered by many alternative providers that customers view as equal. It is the salesperson him or herself who has become the distinguishing difference in the sale of solutions that don’t have the advantage of being unique.
The third factor is the demise of product differentiation as a sufficient competitive distinguishing factor. Reverse engineering solves or un-solves almost any companies’ proprietary product capability and intellectual property laws are so weakly enforced globally that it is increasingly hard to protect services based intellectual property.
What can you do in a world in which selling as we knew it is gone? Howard’s advice is first and foremost decide what added value you can bring to a segment of the market that is better than what your customers are able to produce internally. Make your choice and decide what it is you are going to be very good at. He sees service as a way for you to differentiate from your competitors to supplement your expertise. Data shows that sales organizations lose about 15% to 20% of business each year (which is huge) and that if a new business development star or “hunter” keeps responsibility for a customer, his motivation (and often his or her incentives), focus on closing the next deal versus continuing to follow an “already done” deal. The sales organization can expect to keep his customers for less than three years.
With that in mind it behooves most sales companies to get a lot better at servicing customers to keep the business they have won. Customers are more interested in who is going to continue to service their business than who won their business. Ask yourself: How frequently should you make contact? How much responsibility do you have to make sure the solution is installed right, used right, maintained right? How can you follow-up to provide the data that shows proof of value? In fact, few sales organizations focus on the service in the sales training they provide. When you realize the churn rate of companies that choose to change providers is 27 months and the only worse business churn rate is among CEOs, there is a strong argument for paying greater attention to service.
Whether for clients or the sales students in the 70 colleges and universities (and growing nearly 20% a year) The Sales Education Foundation supports, Howard is dedicated to improving sales performance and helping people succeed. Every day Chally Group Worldwide examines what the best and the worst salespeople are doing. In closing I asked for a tip every salesperson could use that strives toward the success of the magical top 20% of sales superstars. His answer at first stunned me but then I realized he was right. His advice is to learn how to manage, manipulate, and work within your own company. Of course, he supported that with data: A substantial sales research project conducted by Dr. Arum Sharma (University of Miami, Florida) Discovered that the top 20% of sales performers actually consume 50%+ of their companies’ resources.