Solutions Sales Reps are Born, Not Made

Greta Roberts, CEO, Talent Analytics, Corp.

Today’s business solutions are increasingly complex. Solutions are rarely bought, delivered or deployed off the shelf. By the time a prospect engages a sales rep they are highly educated and ask questions like “How could this solution integrate with my specific set of technologies?” or “How could this be deployed internationally across many time zones and languages?”

Prospect questions are no longer trivial. They are difficult to anticipate and answer. Sales managers find it difficult to document standard questions and answers, as each customer has a different set of technologies, international issues, security issues, privacy issues, currency issues and other questions dealing with how this solution will be deployed in their custom environment.

Some Sales Reps Thrive While Others Continually Struggle
Despite increased complexity, there are sales reps that thrive. They love the chance to learn a customer’s environment. They are a wealth of knowledge and are somehow able to discuss at a strategic level how their solutions could be implemented into a customer environment at multiple levels. These sales reps are known as solution (or enterprise) sales reps. They craft a custom solution for each customer.

As successful businesses mature they add product lines, connect them as solution sets and encourage customers to purchase several products to implement as a solution. As this happens, sales become more complex and require customization. This is the inflection point where sales managers begin to see historically top performers begin to struggle. Instead of a quick sale, product sales reps encounter complex questions that require research and a mindset that loves the chance to assimilate the complex requirements and create a custom solution.

Mindset Differences: Product Sales vs. Solutions Sales Reps.
Product sales reps don't like having to research and answer a constant barrage of “one off” questions. These questions get in the way of selling products. On the other hand, born solution sales reps find the questions intriguing. The resulting need to learn and find the answers is invigorating and exercises their brain.

Is Training the Answer?
No. You’ve likely had numerous experiences training and retraining and retraining sales reps. It’s predictable. Twenty percent will respond positively to the training while 80 percent continue to struggle.

Sales reps and sales management often blame “poor training.” New training is developed or purchased and the sales team is put through another round of training. The same 20 percent have a positive experience and become even more successful while the same 80 percent continue to underperform.

Using an analytics approach to measure the mindset and natural abilities of both product and solutions sales reps, the data clearly shows that product sales reps have a different mindset than solutions sales reps. No amount of training will change their nature.

Is There Hope?
Yes and no. There is a lot of hope to find natural-born solutions sales reps and there are a lot of things sales managers can do to optimize sales when their sales processes move from product sales to solutions sales. There is not a lot of hope in taking product sales reps and trying to retrain them to be solution enterprise sales reps. You simply can't change someone's natural abilities by retraining them.

3 Steps to Follow to Optimize Sales.
Identify those who have naturally moved into the solution sales role. Provide them with simple coaching and mentoring as these are your best bet for being top performers. They've volunteered because they love the requirements of the role.

Identify those who are struggling with the new solution sales role. They know they are struggling. They feel inferior already. They may already be disengaged and want a way out. They may already be bringing down the rest of your sales team and causing damage. Unless they need a quick bit of help, deep and prolonged coaching, mentoring, training and more management time is not going to change their nature. The two options you have are to change their role or ask them to leave. They didn’t turn into a bad rep – the job changed.

Use an analytics approach to quantify the mindset of your top Solution Sales reps. Compare this to your entire sales team to identify reps who are a close fit to this profile and who could benefit from more extensive training and coaching. 

Solution Sales Reps Are Born, Not Made.
It’s possible (even easy) to measure and predict sales reps natural abilities – before you even hire them. This benefits everyone involved. When considering why sales reps struggle in a solution sales rep role, consider that it might be the person selling before spending time and money on activities that will have little or no impact.

Greta Roberts is the CEO and co-founder of Talent Analytics, Corp., chair of Predictive Analytics World for Workforce and faculty member of the International Institute for Analytics. Follow her on twitter @gretaroberts.