Our customers today have access to overwhelming volumes of information, have so many choices and are ever more discerning. The ability for our customers to truly understand what we can offer them can simply be lost in the white noise.
How we connect to customers and sell them our purpose, our values and our offerings can be critical in cutting through this white noise and drive business success. Great sales people are therefore a prerequisite of success – and you need them right across your business.
As organisations become more social and customer centric, every person within the organisation not only becomes a brand ambassador, but a ‘salesperson’ of the organisation, and for the organisation, to its customers. The old days of salespeople on the ‘outside’ and everyone else huddled within are definitely gone.
So what really makes a great salesperson?
If you had to identify the profile that would make a salesperson a consistent high achiever, what would you select?
Would it be:
- Someone who is diligent and hard working?
- Or how about someone who is detail focused and a real problem solver?
- Maybe the ‘lone wolf’ who goes out and does it with their own special skills?
- How about a relationship builder, who obsesses over the relationships?
- Or the trader, who wants to just close a deal?
In fact, whilst aspects of each of these profiles can be valuable and can land sales, research has found that the most consistent high performers do something different- they are prepared to challenge the clients beliefs and behaviours, and seek to authentically engage and debate the customer about what they are doing, and what else could be possible.
It reminds me of an old mentor of mine, who would suggest that if you have never been thrown out of a sales call, perhaps you have never challenged hard enough. Whilst this is somewhat extreme, salespeople who don’t challenge can leave too much on the table. Because without challenge, we simply agree with the client’s story and world view, which often does not involve us helping them be better. We are not changing hearts, minds or behaviours, simply providing the customer with agreeable sameness.
Challenging, however, is not enough. People who challenge for the sake of being right; because they can; or because they simply love the cut and thrust of the argument do not make great salespeople. I bet they annoy more customers that serve them.
The type of challenge I would encourage is insightful and respectful – that is, the ‘insightful challenger’ seeks to gain an intimate knowledge of the customer’s situation, and are passionate about improving it.
When your purpose is to deeply and authentically serve the purpose of your client, then you both win, every time.
Think about it for a moment: Imagine being served by a salesperson that is incredibly passionate about the benefits their product or service, and how it can make a difference to you. They have a purpose- to help you see how the product or service can change their circumstances for the better, not just meet their quota. They are prepared to deeply understand your needs and to respectfully challenge your thoughts, behaviours and beliefs to make the benefits clear to you. Isn’t that the sort of person that you would appreciate serving you?
So what about the other styles?
Relationship builders are useful in setting the scene and gaining trust, but they often worry too much about being liked rather than upsetting the customer with a reframe of their world view. I once had two highly experienced sales reps on neighbouring territories. After a couple of years, sales on both territories was flat. On coaching calls, I noticed how there was no more ‘challenge’ in the conversations, and both reps were so focused on being ‘liked’ by their customers. I switched the reps to the other’s territories – and within a quarter, sales were up 11% on one territory, and 16% on the other. This change forced them to start asking real questions to understand the customer and to start ‘respectfully challenging’ based on uncovered insights again! Relationship builders are often the worst performers in complex sales situations.
Hard workers often labour through the process, rather than use insights and bigger picture thinking to open out conversations. They are often keen to tick the boxes and go through the motions. I have seen entire sales teams that are focused on just meeting the call rate, getting the paperwork done and spending time completing the CRM that they don’t deeply engage the customer. The results certainly showed.
Problem solvers get lost in the details and often get sucked into the clients view of the world, rather than standing as observer and challenging it for their benefit. I have known reps who find problems the customer has that they solve, which take huge time and effort, but are completely unrelated to the product or service that they are selling. They get stuck in the details too often and miss connecting the insights to the possibilities.
Lone wolves believe they know what is best and will do things their own way to get the sale. They will often damage the brand by not sticking to the message. I have seen a lone wolf walk out of a sales briefing and say “it sounds nice, this new plan, but I’ll keep doing my own thing, thanks”. Message consistency is therefore out the window, which can really damage a brand in the marketplace.
Traders are so focused on the deal and closing it, that the customer often feels like they come second. It is not the benefit of the customer that matters to them, but the deal (and the customer knows it!). Often they use pressure tactics and are most likely to create buyer’s remorse. Often these salesperson styles are seen in one-off sales environments where it’s all about the immediate deal.
The main issue with these styles is that they do not work to fundamentally change the worldview of the client, to one in which the product or service is a valued solution. In contrast, the insightful style of rep asks great questions to really understand the circumstances and purpose of the customer, including questions which get the client to test their own realities.
So how do we make this a reality in your business?
- Firstly, hire the right people. This is where most organisations and managers get it wrong. The people that you hire should demonstrate a strong customer centricity, a capacity to ask great questions and be curious, and to be incredibly respectful whist confident in debate. Great storytelling capability should also be highly valued. Being clear about your hiring process (rather than allowing it to be decided on ‘gut feel’) is critical to hiring success. Great salespeople come in all shapes and sizes, not just ‘same as the boss’.
- Train them deeply in the products or services, customer segments and insights. Give them the best chance of matching the offer to the purpose and needs of the customer. The more the customer genuinely believes that what the rep is offering is valuable to them, the more likely they will be to transact.
- Support them with brilliant marketing and focused messaging, along with market and customer data. As a critical channel to customer, sales reps need high quality support to enhance their ability to get, and deliver upon, the sale.
- Give them infrastructure that matters. Car, mobile, tablet, CRM, etc. are standards of rep toolkits. However, reps also need access to social media tools to speak to customers where they are at, and to create the social basis for the sales engagement. It’s about integrating the rep and their service into the world of the customer, in a way that works for the customer.
- Coach them continuously, on sales process and practices. Keep pushing to create excellence in every situation and action. Be relentless in this.
- Measure what matters, ignore what doesn’t (for example, you would be better off measuring customer NPS feedback rather than calls per day if you want results)
- Reward generously.
Some people in your organisation are less likely to engage customers than others, but having a really clear mindset that every employee (from the chairman of the board, all the way down to cleaning staff) are engaged in customer care, and therefore in part ‘salespeople,’ can really help the business.
Leaders also need to recognise that they are constantly selling the vision, mission and purpose of the organisation to the employees, and what they want is for the employees to “buy in” (how could that not be a sale, of sorts!)
Each employee is then selling the organisation and its wares at family functions (“What do you do?”), to social media postings and discussions. In the end, everyone is a salesperson for your brand.
Sales can also be a tough and challenging role. For long term success, we would want our sales people to show resilience, internal locus of control (they know the results they get are based on their actions), adaptability, flexibility in social and processing styles, courage, focus and readily engaged.
How does your sales team rate? How about your staff, and your leadership?
What can you do to have everyone in your organisation being ‘insightful, respectful challengers’ to really drive your business success?