Developing Sales Professionals
in Today's Complex Selling Environment
By Jeff Thull, CEO, Prime Resource Group
How do you develop and motivate your sales force to operate in today's challenging environment? What do you do when you know you have unique and valuable financial solutions but you are not reaching or connecting to the right customers?
If you can guide your customers through the process of thoroughly understanding the problems they face, and develop an optimal solution that sets them apart from their competitors, both your salesperson and your company clearly will be on the path to sustained profitability.
Designing optimal sales programs in this complex market starts with understanding how your role as a financial services sales professional has evolved. Your role today is to be a business advisor and a source of "competitive advantage" for your clients. This role requires skills that are more similar to those of a process analyst or project manager and less like traditional sales skills — those of being a persuader. As a sales professional, your objective today is to create a solution that your customer would have been unable to conceive of on his or her own. The sales professional looks at the issues that extend beyond the expertise of the customer and then collaborates with the customer to create the ideal solution.
As a sales professional, you must learn how to become your client's "trusted business advisor." As such you must understand the requirements of guiding customers through quality business decisions. The sales process is no longer about presenting volumes of solution information. The information you deliver needs to be presented within the context of the client's working environment and mutually agreed upon customer requirements. Furthermore, you need to present your information in a way that bridges the value gap by connecting the customer's business drivers to the value sources within your solution.
Following is a series of key elements in a bridge that will help you connect your value to your customer's situation. The bridge extends significantly beyond the one-to-one nature of the feature/benefit relationship.
- You need to show how your customer's business drivers relate to various job responsibilities within the customer's organization. For example, shareholder value would be a business driver for a CEO, while eroding margins would be a concern for a CFO, and cost of goods sold would be a driver for a plant operations manager. As a salesperson, you want to focus your diagnosis on issues of concern to both the function and level of the person with whom you are speaking.
- Through thorough diagnosis of the problem, you then connect job responsibilities to physical indicators or symptoms in a way that illustrates how current job performance — the status quo — may make achieving the customer's desired goal unattainable. This clarifies the impact of your solution and increases the urgency to implement your solution.
- When discussing the customer's business challenge, the symptoms must be associated with specific consequences that are or may be experienced by the individual with whom you are speaking. For example, when talking to a plant manager, you address issues related to machine downtime. In constrast, when talking with a CEO, you address how your solution will affect earnings and net profit.
- Your solution needs to be tied directly to the causes of the problem to be solved, noting how the solution eliminates those causes. If the cause of the problem is eliminated, so are the consequences of that problem.
The net effect provides a direct connection between the absence of your solution and the customer's inability to attain their desired business driver performance. The questions you ask will create a diagnostic conversation that leads to an agreement on an optimal solution which will deliver maximum results.
Many financial organizations and sales professionals ask, "What will it take to become successful in this competitive environment?" First, the learning path must be precise and include specific field applications. As you create a development plan, include how the individuals will be supported, how they will be coached and what reference materials are available. With this in place, individuals who know what they want to accomplish will understand exactly what is required to get there. This allows them to make an informed decision to "pay the price and do what it takes."
Specific application steps should be described as part of the process, and coaching guidelines should be built into the design of the program. Built-in application and accountability ensures that people understand what is expected, that they will take action and that their managers understand they are expected to coach.
Finally, it is imperative to a salesperson's motivation that management help them recognize the progress they have made. This requires first defining measurable and relevant milestones for each learned behavior. The milestones should tie directly to the desired success and be defined in both quantitative and qualitative terms.
The challenges today's sales professional face have vastly surpassed the level of learning required by historic feature benefit/product training. Accordingly, we need to develop systems that guide performance, expand the skills that will enable the individual to execute the system and cultivate the disciplines required to overcome the emotional inhibitors of success. If you accomplish that, you will have delivered an effective program that equips your sales organization with the skills and mindset needed to successfully bridge the value gap and make your sales team "trusted business advisors" to your customers.
About the author
Jeff Thull is a leading-edge sales and marketing strategist and valued executive advisor at major companies including Shell Global Solutions, 3M, Microsoft, Intel, Citicorp, IBM and Georgia-Pacific.
He is also the author of the best-selling books Mastering the Complex Sale: How to Compete and Win When the Stakes are High and The Prime Solution: Close the Value Gap, Increase Margins, and Win the Complex Sale. Jeff’s new book, Exceptional Selling: How the Best Connect and Win in High Stakes Sales, is now available.
For more information, please contact: Prime Resource Group, 3655 Plymouth Blvd., Suite 110, Plymouth, MN 55446, [email protected], www.primeresource.com, 1.800.876.0378 or 763.473.7529, Fax: 763.473.0792.
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