The starting point in the redefining of any customer facing activity should be the customer. So what has happened to the patterns of buyer behaviour that means we have to review the way we sell to customers?
Original sales training was focused on getting sales people to fully understand the features and benefits of their own products, and be able to talk the customer through a presentation focused purely on their products. Even though this is seen as retro-selling many sales people, and their managers who were trained this way, still believe this is the way to make sales.
The next generation of sales training focused on understanding the customer’s needs through a relentless Q&A session covering the customer’s current situation and delving into potential problems. These ideas have now been expanded to concentrate on getting the customer to understand the implications of their problems and driving action towards the sales person’s solution.
What both these approaches fail to recognise is that the way customers (buyers) now want to engage with sales people has fundamentally changed. These changes are not a short term blip, but a longer term trend that makes both of the above approaches redundant.
So what are these changes and why have they come about? This is a huge topic in its own right but needs to be identified here so that we understand the changes in the supplier/customer relationship and how that affects the role of the sales manager. As you work through them, think about the way you and your company now interact with sales people from your suppliers.
- Buyers have been fatigued by questioning, can you imagine 5 sales people from different companies coming in and do a thorough needs analysis.
- Executive time is at a premium and executives have reduced the time they are willing to spend with sales people
- The internet allows buyers to thoroughly research any potential purchase and compare features, benefits and prices long before the sales person is involved. This phenomenon has led to an interesting corollary that for some purchases the buying cycle is actually reducing.
- However, in other purchasing scenarios, buying cycles are lengthening not only through economic uncertainty but also driven by a greater need for consensus across a number of buying influences.
- Buyers are much more savvy, many have attended buyer courses, and many have also been “burnt” by the promises of past sales people regarding how their solutions would transform their businesses.
So how can sales people respond to this new buyer behaviour? What can they do to stand out from the crowd and add value to the buying process? What can sales managers do to help their sales people navigate this new reality?
In the next 4 posts, we will explore four areas where the sales manager can make a tremendous difference to the fortunes of their team:
- Creating meaningful value propositions
- Fishing where the fish are – segmentation
- Knowing your metrics – driving the pipeline
- Coaching for sales success
Let me know what you think.