Sales Education Differentiator [Part 1]7 Dec, 2010 By: David Ramos, Strategy Development, Inc imageSource
Sales Education Differentiator [Part 1]
First let me say, that like others in the office solutions industry, I have been fortunate in my sales career to have learned the real value that’s derived from an exceptional sales education. My industry experience began at Xerox, who many consider pioneers in the science of selling. There, I experienced the benefits that sales training had on my productivity in the field as a sales executive. Each individual process of the sales cycle was detailed.
My Xerox training armed me with step by step instructions for every scenario: If it is a referral, do it this way; if it is a “cold call,” do it that way, etc. What Xerox taught me was that it wasn’t just the letters in the words that were important but that the value was in the detailed documentation of all the steps, the order, the timing, and all the possible branches on the tree of possible outcomes along the way. I learned how to apply the process to selling any product or service that I had in my stocked bag of tools.
After Xerox, I started with IKON Office Solutions where, after two years as a regional sales manager, I had the opportunity to work for IKON University, teaching salespeople the effect a sales process could have on their productivity, and instructing sales managers on how to effectively develop, lead and execute to a plan. Learning to strategize and execute on a plan is the bottom line for any effective partnership to take place. In my case, while a senior trainer, IKON U was recognized for three consecutive years by Training Magazine as having one of the Top 100 corporate training organizations in North America. The skills learned in my assignments became my foundation for leading sales forces, resulting as National Director of Sales in Mexico and Director of Sales in the North Florida Marketplace.
Today, at Strategy Development, Inc., I recognize that dealer principals and senior sales leaders need information that is relevant to the challenges and issues they face in developing sales employees and achieving company goals. Revenues are down; profitability has suffered in recent years, new customer acquisitions may have slowed to a trickle, and customer retention is difficult to maintain. But not everything is down in a so-called down economy.
Pressure is up
Yes, the pressure is on salespeople and sales managers to buck the trend and increase sales productivity. At the same time, sales departments are experiencing increases in the velocity and complexity of business information. During the boom economy of the ‘90s, many organizations enjoyed robust sales and record-breaking quarterly results. Amid the bounty, there was little incentive for companies to understand the variables that accounted for sales success or failure.
In many companies today, sales data (metrics) analysis on sales team members is used only for the purpose of pointing out the obvious, that sales are down and results must improve. The activity reports turn into demands for the salesperson to make more calls. Pipeline and forecast reports are used to demonstrate a lack of activity and to demand more calls. Commission reports are used to highlight weak sales and demand more calls. Do we really believe the only answer to increased sales is to make more calls?
So what happens to the activity and pipeline reports? They get padded! Salespeople have learned that if you’re going to use the reports as a baseball bat to beat them with, they’re not going to cut the tree down for you to make the bat. Identification of needs for salespeople takes study, practice and well developed analytical skills in order to isolate root issues for their development. Unfortunately, this is a lot of work. Many take the easy way out—take a quick look, determine the root cause is not enough calls and demand more. It makes no difference if call quantity is an issue or not. It makes little difference if the salesperson has been properly trained in prospecting and your marketing strategies. It makes no difference if the real issue is interpersonal skills, sales communication skills, proposal writing skills, or selling skills, and the ability to probe, identify and solve business issues.
For years, product or tele-prospecting training have been the kings of all training with the highest priority over all others. The real key to your team’s ability to meet or exceed expectations is aligning solutions to problems; in other words, how effectively your salespeople can link what they sell to the actual challenges their prospects are facing.
When assessing the players on your sales team today, look at how effective they are with the following:
Ability to build a business case
Ability to align solutions to customer needs
Ability to differentiate competitive products and service offerings
Generate accurate bid/configuration/proposal
Ability to cross-sell and up-sell
Ability to sell value/avoid excessive discounting
Ability to close deals accurately, in the time frame originally forecast
The most important competency a salesperson should possess to execute on is Business Acumen. Business Acumen can be defined as an understanding of the prospect from a financial and operational level. When an individual is identified as lacking business acumen, it comes in two flavors. The first is they don’t know enough about business in general. The second is they don’t know enough about a specific business and industry. In order to make intelligent decisions on what products or services to recommend the sales person needs to understand the agenda, issues and concerns of the actual individuals he/she calls on within the prospect/customer base. To win new sales & secure long-term customer loyalty, salespeople must credibly & confidently position products & services within the context of customer’s financial & strategic objectives.
The development of business acumen for salespeople increases their skill in using a consultative, customer-focused sales approach. When sales training initiatives target financial literacy and business acumen, salespeople become better at offering products and services within the context of a customer’s real business needs. The sales person becomes a trusted partner as they develop long-term customer partnerships. When your salespeople see the priorities as their customers and prospects do, their contributions as a business professional are limitless. Business acumen allows the sales person to see the bigger picture.
If your customers are changing (by change I mean, adjusting to changes in their marketplace and also what they expect from vendors) while your sales teams are standing still, you are setting yourself up for a rude awakening. Lack of training in this area can put your salespeople at a disadvantage in trying to sell into an industry that has changed from what they are used to. Salespeople will develop greater confidence in analyzing customer needs and positioning products & services within the context of a buyer’s financial drivers and strategies. Armed with business acumen, they’ll demonstrate financial literacy in sales situations; engage in more strategic discussions with prospects, and open doors at higher buying levels.
Sales metrics are the tip of the iceberg. Beneath them is a wealth of info that when analyzed, will invariably yield insights to fine tune sales performance and improve understanding of revenue drivers essential to evolve sales performance to a higher level.
David Ramos is a consultant for Strategy Development, Inc., the industry management consulting company providing Sales, Service & MPS information, including workshops for the BTA as well as a MPS Sales eLearning program with InfoTrends. Ramos also instructs a selling skills workshop and is a class presenter at ITEX 2011 National Expo & Conference and you can reach him at www.strategydevelopment.org or firstname.lastname@example.org.