With changing economies and market globalization, companies now face competitor behaviors that they may not have ever experienced before. Customers have instant access to purchase goods worldwide with little problems and the more comfortable they become with the experience, the further a field they are willing to travel.
Customer decision makers are under increased scrutiny to justify their decisions with sound business cases, plausible reasons and minimal risk to continue with or change suppliers. The longevity of a supplier is no longer the plausible reason for purchasing; it's about the best offer in the market and that doesn't necessarily mean price. Rather, it's a businesses’ ability to add value, be easy to deal with, share mutual interactions and continually improve on their offering that will win or maintain customers.
Companies are now faced with smarter buyers, increased competitors and the need to make a difference when selling. The old cliché of ‘save you time’ and ‘save you money’ no longer cut it. Customers now want a sound business case? How does it improve their business? What are the associated costs and lifetime value? Consultancies now specialize in reviewing procurement practices to find smarter ways of doing business and sales people have to respond.
So where does this leave the humble sales person and a company steeped in tradition?
If you challenge the most fundamental tradition in sales forces, you can start to see where the potential openings have been left unguarded to competitors.
Over the years, there has been a strong tendency within organisations to operate sales forces based on the individual's knowledge and longevity - notwithstanding that this long-held knowledge is not actually recorded anywhere, allegedly because there is too much of it to document. ‘Knowledgeable’ long-term sales personnel have been traditionally perceived as making a high value contribution and one that must be respected and retained. They did not require systems nor reviewed of efficiencies as they ‘knew what to do’. Directors felt comfortable with a person who is deemed to be the industry expert; the industry stayer with many years of nurtured relationships that they can draw on to support the sales effort. They have been part of the company for such a long period of time that they cannot imagine any other method of operation available to them.
Then one day, a new competitor arrives in the market and suddenly you start to see the business decay around you. Though they may not have as much experience, relationships or good products, they are nevertheless making in-roads into your customer base. You realize that it's time to make changes and address this increasing problem.
The sales people are unsure how to respond other than by price and seem to be bruised by the lack of loyalty demonstrated by the customer. Regardless of your strong customer relationships, knowledgeable sales personnel and long history of interaction with customers, sales figures are slowly corroding but you just cannot put your finger on the problem. At this stage, the decay has set in.
Customers start dropping away and you are amazed when you find out they have moved to your new competitor. The product is not as good, the company is not as known as yours and you can make a list of things that are not right in their decision.
How did this happen?
Whilst your sales people are selling based on relationships, the tenacious sales person working for the competitor is a trained professional in consultative selling. They have gone into your account and completed an in-depth diagnostic on the customer, learnt the buying reasons and issues of the customer and opened their mind to potential improvements. They have whittled away at this customer for sometime, building their confidence through the credibility of the sales person, the questions they ask and the focus of their meetings. The customer is being convinced that there is something here to listen to and when the sales pitch arrived, the case was strong enough to motivate the decision maker to raise it across the business as an opportunity to cut costs, eliminate a problem or become more competitive; all plausible reasons to engage in the new sales process.
Your sales person still does not fully understand the customer's business requirements and is attempting to do features and benefits selling from a by-gone era. They have not been trained nor wanted to be trained in new ways and consequently the market and selling styles shifted without them being on the journey.
Over the next few months, you notice your sales force getting defensive when you demand more reports. You ask for more feedback but gain nothing you already don't know. Frustration starts to kick in and causes a string of resignations of those unable to cope with the changes. Desperate to lift moral, you start encouraging and even get some training for them. Nevertheless, your customer base is still diminishing leaving you no choice but to focus on retaining existing customers rather than seeking new business.
You need to make changes - dramatic changes. So how do you take that next step forward?
Implementing the right structures and systems for your sales forces to operate within is crucial if you want to be successful in this fast-moving, competitive world today. Sales systems and structures guide sales teams not only in how to perform their role in the company but how to interact with the customer base to a high standard. It guides them in their interaction with potential and existing customers and empowers them with the knowledge and methodologies to be consummate solution sellers, rather than relationship reliant.
Systems also provide the necessary structures for sales activity to be documented, measured and performance managed against best practice standards. It acts as a tangible goal for sales forces to strive towards whilst providing management with real-time facts, accurate data and realistic forecasting ability. Systems remove the mystic out of selling by documenting facts and increasing transparency across the business. This enables managers to diagnose problems accurately and give credit where it's due ensuring that the business is always on the right track and not missing any opportunities.
©Copyright 2008 Sales Focus International
Adele Crane is author of best selling book, “Get Sales Focused", an inspiring resource outlining the structures, systems and requirements of sales forces and their management for a productive and results-driven team. It promises to practically guide sales management through the daunting task of change in a timeframe that is realistic for today's businesses whilst providing the knowledge necessary to build a sales focused organisation and a successful team to drive it into future success. A world renowned business consultant with over two decades of experience in cultural change, Adele Crane has an outstanding ability in the diagnosis of business and individuals that contribute to change. Her clients span over many countries where she has effectively delivered change. Her ability to deliver significant change and results in 90-120 days is unprecedented combined with increases above 25% in growth during that period of time. Through her consulting business, organisations have access to that methodology directly or through partners. “Get Sales Focused" and Adele's other title, “Improving Sales Force Efficiencies" are available through http://www.amazon.com in Europe & USA or directly via Sales Focus International (http://www.salesfocusintl.com ).