We are pleased to have Peter Ostrow, Vice President & Research Director of the Aberdeen Group, as our guest blogger. Peter is a nationally recognized expert in Sales Effectiveness, and this blog is the third in a five-blog series that Peter has prepared for readers of SRG’s Sales Blog.
In the previous blog in this series, we discussed call planning as a vital component of contemporary sales best practices. Because today's buyers are incredibly educated and savvy, it is crucial for sellers to control the sales conversation in ways other than simply providing information. Aberdeen's most recent Sales Training research indicates that the top strategic action taken by Best-in-Class companies, in the context of achieving better sales performance, is to leverage best practices in call planning, sales intelligence, and sales training in order to create better conversations that speak more directly to what the buyer needs … rather than what the seller wants to sell (Figure 1).
Figure 1: Best-in-Class Strategies for Sales Effectiveness
Source: Aberdeen Group, September 2012
The concept of "consultative selling” is well-supported here: sellers need to spend more time listening, rather than speaking, when they interact with prospects or customers. As simple as this approach sounds, plenty of contemporary salespeople have difficulty resisting the temptation to "show up and throw up,” preferring to focus the conversation on their product’s features rather than on how to fulfill the other party's business needs. The second most popular top-two strategy among the Best-in-Class is training on specific selling skills, a strong complement to creating more meaningful sales conversations. Unfortunately, some sales leaders interpret “sales prospecting, nurturing, negotiating, closing, and executing skills” as a single rigid methodology, often procured as “industry neutral” from an external sales training provider. These non-customized solutions often fail to account for differences in products, markets or customers among sales organizations, and can result in poor outcomes. The top-performing sales organizations — defined as those with the most reps achieving quota, and the best annual improvement in growing revenue and deal size — are more adept at focusing on the “skills” element of the strategy, customizing the solution, and insisting on a "train the trainer" component from their solution provider. This scenario allows for professional, external sales skills training expertise to be introduced to your sales team, and provides the flexibility necessary to adapt those learnings to the ever-changing markets to which your team sells.
What exactly is a "meaningful conversation,” and how can sales professionals be trained to engage in them? Among a long list of suggestions, here are some good ways to start:
- Avoid traditional "cold calling." Your prospects will smell a smile-and-dial approach within seconds. Even for high-volume, transactional sales floors, it is still worth noting that 62% of all companies, including the Best-in-Class, engage in call / presentation simulation training activities in order to support their front line.
- It is often said that "God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason." While every business developer can and should have an agenda for their sales conversation, the fastest way to tune out the other party is to mindlessly follow the seller's talk track rather than the buyer’s “need track.”
- Sixty-four percent (64%) of Best-in-Class companies analyze existing customers' data to promote cross- and up-selling opportunities, while 46% of All Others do the same. For account reps tasked primarily with farming current accounts for fresh deals, be sure to create a 360° customer view, fully integrated into the CRM, and provide ongoing training for reps to independently understand the full nature of your company's elation shipped with every account.
- Continue reading these blogs and Aberdeen’s Sales Training expertise. All of this content is based on how your peers, contemporaries, and competitors are achieving superior results through the deployment of best practices in sales training and development. And, don’t do this…
Please stay tuned for my next blog: Social Selling 101: Three Steps to Leveraging Social Media.