By LOU SCHACHTER
Remember Twister, the game where you spin a dial and get instructions to put your left foot on red and your right hand on green? Before long everyone is tangled together and dropping in a heap, laughing hysterically.
Unfortunately, a lot of direction that salespeople receive today is much like, “Put your left hand on yellow. Now place your right foot on blue.” As a result, salespeople are overwhelmed, confused, and quite frankly, tangled – and no one is happy.
I’ve been fortunate to work with many of the leading sales forces in the world, and I’ve noticed a new single-minded focus that differentiates the best from the rest.
Leading sales forces today have recognized that their markets are changing. Customers won’t pay more than rock-bottom prices for basic products, and they are becoming increasingly skeptical about the added value in so-called “packaged solutions.” Instead, what customers seek are suppliers who will help them accelerate their desired business results.
What does this new outcomes-oriented role look like?
Historically, most salespeople have not needed to scratch below the surface in understanding their customers’ businesses. Today, they have to know what the customer’s goals are, what metrics they use to measure success, and what business challenges they face. Only then can they help accelerate the customer’s results.
Top salespeople are learning new ways to ask questions that get at what the customer is trying to achieve, and they are quantifying the end-game value their offerings can provide.
In today’s world, salespeople are becoming change agents for customers. This requires developing and applying skills in change management, facilitation and collaborative negotiation.
No longer is account strategy work an academic exercise. Today’s best sales forces develop joint account strategies in collaboration with the customer and align them around the customer’s goals.
Untwisting the tangled knot of sales activities requires two big things: a vision for where the sales force is headed and articulation of the steps and behaviors that management deems necessary to get there. That’s what we call “sales transformation,” and that is what is separating the best from the rest in today’s difficult economy.
Lou Schachter is managing director of the sales management practice at BTS, a $100 million business simulation and strategy execution consultancy, and author of the highly-ranked book “The Mind of the Customer.”