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Solution Sales Competencies

7 Sep, 2010 By: Teresa Hiatt, Ricoh Americas Corporation imageSource

Solution Sales Competencies

HTML clipboardThe sales professional will not be the main resource providing technical
details, but a savvy customer expects fundamental competency…

Competencies are used in two ways in a
typical business environment.  First, a business will identify the
competencies required for a particular job role so that they can recruit
and hire people that have evidence of these competencies. By creating a
hiring profile with the right skill sets, the odds of hiring and
retaining a top performer are greatly increased.

The second place a competency model is used
is in the design of training for a specific job family, so that the
courses being delivered helps further develop the skill sets that the
job actually requires. This saves a lot of money that is typically spent
on training that people enjoy, but doesn’t deliver results in the
field. For the “solutions sales professional” (including MPS solution
sales specialists) there are five key competencies that should be hired
against, actively encouraged, and form the focus for any strategic
education plans.


 1. Sales
While all sales managers agree that adequate sales
activity is important, the biggest room for improvement is the ratio mix
of activity.  In the past, sales reps spent most of their time
prospecting, “feet on the street” cold calling, and using shortcuts to
close deals. Today the solutions sales professionals must adjust their
activities to focus more on conducting real needs assessment while
building on customer relationships.

Recruiting and training
should be focused on finding and developing the skill sets associated
with understanding a customer’s business and conducting needs analysis
of business environments.

This summary can be used against a
sales professional’s actual activity to reveal if they are solutions

See below: Activity and
then Percentage of Time Spent

Finding and Qualifying
Customers - Traditional 30% / Solutions Provider 20%
Business Goals & Needs Assessment - Traditional 5% / Solutions
Provider 30%
Preparing Proposal/Quote - Traditional 20%  / Solutions
Provider 20%
Closing the Customer - Traditional 40%  / Solutions
Provider 10%
Building Relationships - Traditional 5%  / Solutions
Provider 20%

2. Business Acumen- Closely related to sales activity,
solutions sales professionals need to be able to understand a business
model to perform good needs assessments. A recent white paper from the
Perth Leadership Institute argues that the economic downturn demands
that the development of business acumen should be the top priority. E.
Ted Prince, founder and CEO of the institute said, “When times are good
and money is plentiful, the focus is on interpersonal skills because the
priority is not on profitability. When times are bad, the focus needs
to move to business acumen because company survival is often at stake.”

sales force conducting business-to-business (B2B) sales today should be
trained in business acumen and have a fundamental knowledge of
financial statements and business accounting. Sales people need to
understand how their ability to offer new products and services
increases gross margins, how the use of company resources impacts
margins, and to be able to demonstrate to customers the links between
implementing solutions and financial outcomes.  

3.  Technical Knowledge- Historically,
sales reps have left technical knowledge of products and services to
the role of pre-sales technical support (sales engineers).  The
solutions sales professional does not have that luxury.  Solution
selling requires an understanding of combining products and services in
unique combinations. It is too costly to involve a technical resource
for every prospect, so sales professionals in this new model must have a
basic understanding of the capabilities of the products and services
that might meet a customer’s needs. Obviously, the sales professional
will not be the main resource providing technical details, but a savvy
customer expects fundamental competency from a sales person.  

good way to judge sales force readiness in this area is to query how
long it has been since a sales professional has attended a real hands-on
workshop, lab or onsite instructor-led training on products or
services?  If it has been more than one year ago, the sales force is
more than likely reverting to box-selling. There is some concern with a
move to the more cost-efficient, but less effective, eLearning-only
training models. Caution: not all are credible or enriching. Sales
staffs can end up with topical knowledge that can break apart when faced
with a real-world customer asking for in depth information.

4. Account
Sales professionals in the solution provider model
have to plan out their strategy with customers. They need a Customer
Relationship Management (CRM) process and it needs to be used
effectively; meaning sharable between technical resources, management
and other sales team members.  

When you find a sales rep
hoarding account information in a local-only ACT, Goldmine or even a
personal folder, they are not approaching accounts strategically.
Solution selling can often require a team of resources, including 3rd
party providers. Without the ability to prepare a proper project plan,
or assign tasks to the right resource and track the execution of the
plan, important details can be lost. A good interview question for a
potential sales hire would be to ask, “What CRM tools have you used
successfully?”  It will be easy to tell by their answer whether this
sales candidate will be able to manage accounts strategically.

5.  Building
Customer Relationships-
The final factor that truly defines a
solutions sales professional revolves around how he/she develops
customer relationships. Traditionally, salespeople close a deal and then
file the customer away to resume the relationship months or years down
the road when the customer will be in the market for equipment again.

the solutions provider model, the sales professional follows up during
the install, ensures that the value promised is delivered, and continues
to review the customer’s environment for incremental improvements. They
become a trusted adviser to the customer and build true customer
loyalty. As indicated, 20% of a sales professional’s time is spent
growing deeper and wider into the customer account.

One easy
tell-tale sign for existing sales teams is to review recent sales
histories and see how often the salespeople are expanding existing
customers into other services and products, not replacing previously
sold equipment. If it is rare, this is a great opportunity to conduct
Trusted Advisor training with your sales force.

The five
competencies listed here are not a comprehensive list of everything a
sales professional should be, but it does highlight some of the more
neglected issues that need to be addressed in order to be effective
solutions providers today.

Teresa Hiatt is the Director of Sales
Education at Ricoh Americas Corporation. She is also the current
President of the Professional Society of Sales and Marketing Training:

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