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Sales Differentiator (Part 2)

4 Jan, 2011 By: David Ramos, Strategy Development, Inc. imageSource

Sales Differentiator (Part 2)

I like to conduct Account Planning Sessions on a
weekly basis. They are designed to assist the sales executive on four fronts:
First is pipeline development; second is to create a strategy to move accounts
along in the sales cycle; third, this allows for coaching and development of the
sales executive on sales process and selling skills, and fourth, this now forces
the sales executive to do research on their accounts, whether current or

When the industry was “young” and technology
advancements occurred regularly, we simply sent a sales professional to the
field and told them to “bring back 50 business cards and find out who purchases
office equipment.” This, as one of our clients so aptly described, is the
equivalent of “catching people in the act of buying.” Well, it is 2011,
technology and solutions have greatly matured and sales professionals need more
developed skills to help their / your company achieve a competitive advantage.

Sales Professionals typically go through several
stages of development as they move from being a career “beginner” to a full
“expert” in their job. For years, product training has been the king of all
training with highest priority and planned budget increases over all other
development areas for sales people. The real key to your team’s ability to
meet/exceed expectations however (aligning solutions to problems) isn’t in how
fast your devices are or in their ability to hold 7,000 sheets of paper, it is
how effective your sales reps are at linking what they sell to the actual
challenges your customers are facing.

According to IDC’s 2010 Customer Experience
Survey with 213 senior technology buyers, salespeople who are able to get
through the door and sit down face to face are, in many cases, unprepared & not
doing a good job during the call.  The IDC research showed that 24% of
senior technology buyers believe salespeople are not prepared during meetings,
while 30% said they are “somewhat” prepared.

Despite an increased focus on advanced tools for
sales enablement, like customer relationship management (CRM) software, the
biggest mistake sales professionals are continuing to make is not doing their
homework, not understanding the business or the needs of the prospect, not
listening during the interview, and presenting a canned pitch. My next door
neighbor is a CIO for an insurance company and I wanted to test this research
and I asked him, “When you meet with sales executives, what are some
frustrations you have experienced with their approach?” His answer was simply,
“If they don’t know my industry and they don’t know my business, I DON’T HAVE
TIME TO EDUCATE THEM!” He went on to say “there is a lot of information
available on the public level – past talks I’ve done and past articles I’ve
written – that they can tie in to their product or service. If they can
demonstrate they have done their homework, that kind of approach gets my brain

Here is a basic checklist that I use to test
sales on their accounts.

  1. Who is the account’s CEO, president or
    owner? Who are the key contacts by department?

  2. What is the company’s highest priority goal
    or objective?

  3. What is the client’s mission/ vision/core

  4. What is their key product or service?

  5. Who is their toughest competitor?

  6. What is the biggest problem they face in
    their industry?

  7. Is there pending legislation that will
    affect their industry?

  8. What is their greatest strength?

  9. What is their strategy: a) Low Cost  b)
    Differentiation c) Niche Player?

  10. Who is their largest customer?

It seems like a simple list. I always give new
and veteran sale professionals the same counsel. Don’t underestimate the
challenges of sales. All of the effort and knowledge necessary to be successful
in sales is extensive. Anyone who has tried to crack into a business through a
cold call or through an e-mail knows this to be true.

Survey Says

The firm Chief Sales Officer Insights conducts an annual study on sales
performance. When they analyzed the top reasons that sales professionals win
deals, the number one reason was “Existing Relationships.” Think about that
statistic! How do you think that a relationship started? Eduardo Conrado, VP of
Technology and Enterprise Mobile Solutions at Motorola put it best, “When it
comes time to make buying decisions, companies are looking for sales
professionals that provide the most value, the deepest level of discussion, and
an understanding of their needs and the general environment of their client’s
vertical market.” Said Conrado, “The challenge I see is that often they (sales
reps) have no clue as to what our company does. They are first learning in the
meeting, which I find completely annoying.”  It is interesting that the
same CSO survey showed that price was only an advantage to winning business 22%
of the time…yet it was also listed as the number one reason why companies lose

When responses from sales teams who conduct win/loss reviews on a monthly basis,
who therefore should have the best input on why they lose, they find 64% of the
time their reason for losing is based on price and terms. So price may well be a
key reason you are losing a deal, but as a representative you also need to
realize that you let that be the case. By I mean, if it boils down to price, we
/you erred somewhere along the cycle. Perhaps qualification was done poorly and
there wasn’t actually strong advantage to rely on to win. Perhaps there was a
good advantage but a poor presentation to the prospect followed. Or perhaps the
business case wasn’t solid enough. If you are losing to price, you need to
understand why and what to do about it. Veteran sales professionals know this
experience but CSO Insights survey data showed statistically that competition
has the relationship the advantage is theirs.

This points to the critical need for getting
very good at identifying stakeholders who could influence the decision and
ensuring that you face time with them. This takes time in researching and
reviewing accounts regularly. Honing basic selling skills, like research and
account planning, will help you achieve greater success. To be successful in our
industry any industry - you need to be more than just a “topical subject matter
expert” on products and services. You need to talk real solutions.

David Ramos is a consultant for Strategy Development, Inc., the industry
management consulting company providing Sales, Service & MPS training including
workshops for the BTA, InfoTrends and others. Ramos consults and instructs
selling skills workshops and is a regular contributor to industry publications.
He is a class presenter at the ITEX 2011 Expo. At


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