In this three-part series Dr. Roy Whitten and Scott Roy, founders and directors of international sales consultancy Whitten & Roy Partnership, share expert advice on going after a true sales transformation in the new year. Following the first two articles on sales competence and managing attitude in this final article the authors explain how to best plan and execute sales activities.
If you are determined to waste your salespeople's time keep trying to convince your clients to buy - or make one simple shift in your thinking and watch everything change for the better.
No matter which of our diverse clients we are serving - from multi-national companies engaged in B2B sales, to social entrepreneurships doing B2C sales to the rural poor – we keep uncovering one fundamental conviction about the act of selling that leads to significant, crippling wastes of time, resource and effort.
When we sit down with clients to examine in depth the real causes of their disappointing sales figures, we always discover that they are operating out of one version or another of this fundamental conviction about sales: Selling is convincing people to buy.
How can you tell if this conviction is driving your sales operation? Take a breath, and then take a look – a penetrating, gut-level honest look – at three critical elements that determine success or failure in sales.
Attitude - what is the ultimate purpose of your salespeople's conversations with prospective customers? What is your salesperson's state of mind when speaking with your prospects, especially when the pressure is on?
Competence – what skills, abilities, and competencies do you believe your salespeople must master to really hit their sales targets?
Execution – list all the systems, procedures, processes, forms, meetings, etc. that you require of your salespeople…what are all of these things intended to help them do? A special note: look at the sales stages embedded in your CRM; what do the order and the content of these stages say about what selling really is?
Unless you are from another planet that we’ve not yet served, you’re most likely going to find the following beliefs and behaviours:
Attitude – an overwhelming need to prepare, convince, persuade, compel, outsmart, out-think, and generally talk customers into buying.
Competence – a significant premium placed on the ability to talk well, ‘build relationships,’ inspire, present, anticipate objections and prepare convincing answers, persuade, and smoothly work customers to a point of decision to buy.
Execution – a (possibly exhausting) series of required steps including, but not limited to, customer research, contact mapping, qualifying, identifying pain points, developing value propositions, anticipating objections and preparing convincing answers, preparing slide decks and rehearsing presentations…and, inevitably, report all this effort into a CRM.
Can you see that all of this activity is a direct result of this one simple conviction: selling is convincing people to buy? Remove that conviction as a driving force, and an entirely new world of possibilities opens up.
You don’t have to remove that conviction, but – hey, you’re taking time to read this article – why not consider an alternative approach and see if it not only saves your people significant time, but actually sets them on a path to generating sales that are surer, larger, and swifter. We know it's a big promise, but, in our experience, that is exactly what happens.
You can get off this new path at any point that it becomes too confusing, distracting, or just too damn hard. But, here are the steps companies take who want to see where this journey leads.
Step 1: Map your customer's buying process
We’ve written last year about the problem-led selling framework DQ Sales®. This focuses the salesperson on the development of their customers ‘decision intelligence.’ It replaces the purpose of convincing the customer to buy with an intention that is far more interesting, liberating, and trust-inducing: leading the customer to make the best possible decision.
Write down the specific actions your customer needs to take in order to fully answer the following four questions:
- What are the problems I am trying to solve?
- What is it the current cost to my business of leaving these problems unsolved (always a mix of misspent resources and opportunity cost)?
- What exactly is the solution that will solve these problems?
- What is the value of that solution to my business?
These are the specific stages of the journey your customer must take if they are to develop the decision intelligence required to make the best decision for their business.
What might these stages look like?
Here's an example from one of our recent clients, a global firm specializing in providing expert human resources to companies facing a project need. Their sales team pooled their experience and decided that their customers – in order to develop their decision intelligence - needed to take these ten steps, in this order:
- Discuss their problems (issues, challenges, opportunities) instead of demanding solutions (quotes, proposals, case studies, demonstrations)
- Give us access to others in their business who had information about these problems
- Identify the top three problems to solve
- Estimate what it's costing them to leave these problems unsolved, and decide that the cost justifies finding a solution
- Identify the people who need to be part of developing the solution
- Collaborate with us in developing a solution (understanding our proposed solution, working together to get to approval of it)
- Present our proposal to their decision-makers
- Sign the contract
- Implement the solution
- Calculate the ROI when the work is completed
Step 2: Map your selling process to your customer's buying process
Now is when things start to look very different. Now, your salespeople’s job is to lead your customer to an understanding of problems to be solved before developing solutions to them (i.e. offering a product or a service).
Map your internal selling process to the customer's buying process and you’ll change the order of what your people do. They will develop problem propositions before putting the time in on value propositions. They will tactfully and skillfully turn customers from discussion of price and proof to explorations of problem and cost, and they will avoid presenting their solutions until their customer takes the previous five steps. This changes everything.
Step 3: Turn your CRM into a planning tool instead of a reporting tool
Replace your default selling stages with the customer buying stages. Enroll your sales team to use those stages to plan their selling activity in advance by choosing the activities that will lead their customers to and through their next stage in the process.
This requires a shift in mindset and behaviour. Succeed in it, and your CRM data will be up to date and all those compensatory spreadsheets, review meetings, and general gnashing of teeth and pulling of hair gradually cease to exist. Time is saved - time that can be spent assisting customers to make an informed decision to buy – and, by the way, usually they buy your product, because you are the one who took the time to improve their decision intelligence.
Step 4: Train your people in the skills required and monitor their performance
Train them, develop metrics to help them become effective at each stage, focus your management on their inputs (planning, leading through stages, etc.) to drive an increase in outputs (sales results). Inputs lead to outputs. It isn’t complicated, but it is effective, and your people will feel more confident as they control things they need to control.
Does this take attention and work? Oh, yes.
Are there significant benefits? Of course, and here are a few of them:
- You get into customer conversations more quickly. Less wandering around the wilderness before engaging potential new clients.
- Problem-led conversations are the conversations that turn your salespeople into trusted advisors.
- The stages are self-qualifying – if a customer won’t talk about their issues, but instead just wants to wring a quote out of you, you know what's going on and can make your choices accordingly.
- You require a high standard of selling competence – you retain the salespeople who want to learn and excel, and you let go the ones who want to coast on their gift of gab and persuasive smoothness.
- You have a framework for selling that provides common ground, common language, and a way to recruit, train, and refresh your sales force.
We teach this process because we use it ourselves. It has brought us significant rewards, internally and externally, and we are delighted to share it with you.
Happy sales force development!
Dr Roy Whitten is an expert in attitude and its role in human performance. In over 40 years as a trainer, consultant and coach, he has personally coached and trained over 100,000 people. Scott Roy, an expert in the art of selling and sales management, built and ran large sales teams as well as founding a nationwide insurance company. In 2009 they both founded Whitten & Roy Partnership, which takes a radically different approach to sales training. Today operating in 34 countries around the world, Whitten & Roy Partnership is an international sales consultancy that helps leading global businesses and organisations in the developing world transform their sales results. For more information visit their website.
© 2017 W Roy Whitten, PhD & Scott A Roy