Adapting Sales Techniques for Business Growth
Are you a small business on the verge of growth? A small business looking for that strategic move to work towards growth to a medium-sized enterprise? It doesn’t have to be complicated, but what you do need are the right people using the right selling techniques.
The sales profession has been undergoing something of a revolution. "New technology, regulation and the changing nature of buyers makes ‘selling’ far more complex than even five years ago”, explains Nels Wroe, SHL Product Manager. “Today’s top performers need different skills and competencies at almost every stage of the sales cycle. Yet many organisations are trying to recruit sales people based on what success looked like five years ago. Sales organisations need to rethink old assumptions to be successful in the new sales environment.”
Extensive worldwide research undertaken by Wroe's organisation into the attributes of top performing sales people found significant new factors that influence top sales performers. Today’s top performing sales people are likely to be as adaptable, capable of growth and able to rapidly embrace change as well as the more traditional sales success factors such as confidence and competitiveness.
So what sales attributes and skills should you be looking for from your professional sales team? As a pivotal part of your business growth you should assess the skills of your selling team and ensure they are ready for the road ahead.
Sales professionals must adapt and be willing to enhance their skill-set.
As an example, the internet has dramatically changed how selling is conducted and how relationships are built and managed. How are companies supposed to grow when they may have sales staff with skills that are no longer needed or a team that lacks the attributes to succeed in today's tech-savvy brave new world?
Russell Brett, market development director of British American Tobacco, says there are new roles developing within sales and marketing, which require different skill-sets and varying channels to market. An article in the Washington Post also explains that in today’s rapidly changing sales world, past experience may no longer predict future performance nearly as well as it used to. Definitely food for thought!
Today, customers learn on their own prior to engaging a sales person. For example, people now walk into car dealerships having researched what they need to know, including the price they are willing to pay. A business-to-business customer can approach a supplier with everything figured out and the only real decision to make the sale is the size of the discount that the supplier is willing to offer. In the age of technology and increasingly transparent information, the consumer is no longer solely relying on the sales person for the information.
This widespread pressure no longer results from getting outsold by the competition, but rather outlearned by your own customers. Now, it is not the competitors’ sales ability but rather the customer’s learning ability that could make the difference in the success of the sale.
So how does an organization compete against its own customers and continue to grow?
Businesses must now find sales talent who can “unteach” their customers. The best sales professionals challenge customers’ thinking, demonstrating in a diplomatic and professional way that despite all of their learning and due diligence, the customer has missed something materially important to their business.
Because this ability to challenge customer thinking wasn’t nearly as important in the past, there’s no guarantee that past success will automatically translate to future performance when you are recruiting your sales team. Instead, if challenging customers is the operative sales skill now, businesses looking for sales professionals now can cast an entirely different net based on a simple question - "Is it easier to find experienced sellers who are able to challenge, or proven challengers who are able and willing to sell?"
Research at SHL indicates that proven challengers make up only 17 percent of the total sales professional population, so they’re hard to find and even harder to afford. At the same time, however, many businesses have found dramatic success hiring and training professionals with wildly diverse backgrounds to sell effectively in this new environment, based largely on their natural willingness and ability to challenge customers’ thinking. SHL found that these “challenger” sales people are up to four times more likely to be a top performer and outperform their “average” peers by 14 percent.
To overcome the hurdle of finding and building challengers, sales leaders need to revisit how they assess the potential of employees, how they measure performance and from there develop challengers. Assessments that bring out critical thinking and communication skills, programs that help salespeople learn to teach and performance measurement programs that focus on career paths and rewards are all ways to attract and retain this important group.
For long-term growth it is critical that organisations enable this new kind of salesperson. The evidence shows that when they do, customers will buy more and stay longer with them as a supplier — outcomes that even the most tenured sales team is struggling to deliver.
Peter McKeon is a CCIQ Board Member and Managing Director of Salesmasters International, a leading Sales Training company in Australia. 1300 950 073 or email email@example.com.