Customers are more sophisticated and better informed than ever. Competition has increased; even the venerable “old” names (like Microsoft) have upstarts nipping successfully at their heels. Deals are larger, more complex, increasing buyer’s concerns about making a bad decision. This extends sales cycles and brings more decision makers into the equation. Trust between the seller and the customer becomes more important than ever.
Unfortunately, salespeople haven’t kept pace with the changes. Their perception by customers is still negative. Never ones to inspire a great deal of trust due to the pressure-filled, manipulative tactics used by the stereotypical salesman, even today salespeople are treated with suspicion by customers, yet for different reasons.
The research by The Sales Board substantiates this:
• 82% of salespeople can’t differentiate themselves from their competition, according to the buyers surveyed.
• 95% of salespeople talk too much, the buyers say.
• 86% of salespeople ask the wrong questions.
• Only 18% of salespeople can close without needing to offer discounts or incentives of some kind.
How Selling Has Evolved
A recent article by Jeff Thul, of the Prime Resource Group, summarizes the evolution in selling as well as anyone has.
Features & Benefit (Transactional) Selling (1950’s to early 1970’s) was very much sales pitch oriented. “Here’s what we offer. Let me tell you about everything we’ve got and you can tell me what interests you.” It was the classic product pusher approach. The role of salesman (I use the masculine purposefully) was to be a persuader; closing techniques, overcoming objections, and presentation skills were highly valued. Training was entirely product knowledge based. Salespeople were almost universally disliked because of the pressure tactics they used.
Based Selling was the successor to the features & benefit approach. In the vogue from the mid 1970’s through the end of the 20th century, solution selling positioned the salesperson as a problem solver, although the customer usually had to diagnose the problem himself, and often did a poor job of it. The solution offered by the salesperson was typically little more than some off the shelf feature & benefit canned presentation. Product knowledge was still king, while the emphasis on closing and pressure had diminished only slightly. Salespeople were still seen with some suspicion because they continued to give canned presentations, and brought little value to the customer.
In the last few years things have gotten so complex that often prospects have difficulty understanding the real causes and impacts of their problems, let alone be able to distinguish between you and your competitors. This presents a wonderful opportunity for the salesperson that has a process that can help the prospect diagnose the problem, and then prescribe a unique solution. It’s no longer about psychological games and forceful personalities. It’s about trust; about helping, not selling. Both parties are (metaphorically) on the same side of the table, working together, and the buyer wants freedom of choice.
Product Pushers v. Problem Solvers
The sad fact is that most salespeople, even the young ones that should know better, are still back in the 1950’s selling features and benefits…despite and training they may have had in consultative selling methodologies. They’ve become a new generation of dinosaurs. They have not made the transition for transactional selling to consultative, relationship selling. Maybe that’s why sales leaders like you are so frustrated. You know that your team should be performing at a higher level, yet for most companies the selling chaos continues.
How to Spot a Dinosaur on Your Team
• They think making great presentations is more important than asking insightful questions.
• They don’t follow a sales process.
• They talk too much.
• Their prospects shop their proposals.
• They can’t effectively differentiate themselves from their competition.
• They rely on discounting to close business.
• Their sales forecasts are more fiction than reality.
Yet often management exacerbates the problem by focusing on the wrong selling skills for their people. Are you emphasizing….
• Product knowledge at the expense of selling skills?
• Presentation skills versus asking insightful questions and listening well?
• Closing & overcoming objections or building trust?
Doctors and Pharmacists
Doctors make more than pharmacists because they are able to diagnose problems and prescribe a solution. Pharmacists, not to demean their profession, simply fill orders. Today, you customers don’t want order takers. They want the kind of help from your salespeople that doctors provide to their patients, and, yes, they’re willing to pay for it.
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