A few months ago I read an article in the Harvard Business Review entitled ”Dismantling the Sales Machine” that I thought provided some vital insights into the ways in which the selling paradigm has shifted over the past 20 years. The proposition was that B2B sales leadership has always been fixated upon building a repeatable, sustainable process as the keys to success. These processes were accompanied by a myriad of KPIs and scorecards, qualifying criteria and activity metrics, all designed to paint a picture of sales productivity, process and results. Focus and discipline in this view of the world were the keys to success. B.A.N.T. was a required viewpoint.
If you could create one of these built-to-outlast-the-competition machines, if you could train the players, build a set of world-class tools (CRM, Marketing Automation, et al.) to support it, and create an environment in which the expectations were clear and the formal processes focused, you could win out.
But, as the article points out, buying behavior and stakeholder expectations have changed. Customers are far more empowered than ever. They now have the means to research what they need and craft an understanding of the solutions that are available independent of the technically trained sales rep. In a way, it disrupts the solution-selling paradigm before it gets off the ground. What’s left is to compete on the old sales paradigm of price or another of commoditized characteristic.
The article suggests that in order to compete successfully in the “new” environment, the sales rep needs to move from solutions to insights. If you can build a comprehensive understanding of the prospect companies needs, the solutions they have selected to meet those needs and, if you can identify the full array of stakeholders in the decision making process (all of those whose work is affected by the solution), you can contribute to their success by offering insights they may not have considered which would serve to disrupt and redirect the process, helping them to rethink their solution decision, thereby opening it up to you.
When we at ETI work with our clients to develop new business in their target market, engage consultatively with the key stakeholders and, ultimately, uncover qualified sales opportunities, we view a major part of our role as one of profile building on behalf of the sales rep. We’re the ones who are asking “how are you accomplishing these tasks now” and “what made you choose that path.” We follow up with questions like “to what degree are you satisfied with your current solution” and “if you could imagine making a change to improve your current solution, what changes would you envision.” It is probing at that level that gives the sales reps the foundation they need to craft relevant insights to engage prospects constructively.
The sales rep’s ability to deliver just the right insight at the right juncture in the process, and demonstrate how their solution can both meet the existing needs and achieve an improved solution, gives them the ability to compete in the new B2B sales environment. The challenge to sales leaders in this new environment is to move from thinking about sales as a linear process in which prospects move from stage to stage or in a direction down a funnel (or some variation of those sequences) into raising and leading a generation of sales reps who can think about business more creatively and bring more value and insight to prospect relationships than ever before.
Their success is now driven by their creativity and flexibility, not by their adherence to established process-oriented behavior. The rules and formal lines of authority in the new order shift dramatically and the incentives move from competition, contests and campaigns to creativity, collaboration and cooperation. Teamwork replaces individual achievement. And more sales are closed.