With the world of sales dramatically shifting due to ecommerce and emerging AI automation technologies, business leaders need to adapt fast. The old sales clichés no longer hold water, and sales leaders who want to meet investor targets and survive the current harsh economic climate need to embrace a new world of sales best practice. Only once these five core myths have been debunked can businesses grow and flourish.
Myth 1: Salespeople Are Born, Not Made
Many assume that sellers are born with or without the natural capacity to sell. Either they have the requisite natural talent or they don’t. In reality, success is not solely due to a seller’s character. Rather, developing a great sales team involves coaching each individual seller to consistently prospect and generate business to maximise their potential. Remote learning means that imbuing your sales team with the right skills and self-assuredness no longer need to be a costly and time-consuming process. Gathering a team to a central venue for biannual training sessions is both expensive and time-consuming, but 2-3 hour remote sessions ‘little and often’ ensures learnt skills aren’t quickly forgotten. Regular training brings about incremental improvement, and the more the seller can ‘own’ their development, the more prepared and willing they will be to continue on that journey.
Another route to becoming a star performer is via exposure therapy. For sellers, it’s important to find comfort in the uncomfortable by reaching out to, and actively seeking, new customers. The more they do it, the less uncomfortable it will become. Too many sellers fear resistance or rejection when prospecting customers, which has a stigma for being intrusive. Done incorrectly, this may be so. Reaching out to people directly is nonetheless always better than not reaching out at all when sellers realise that they are helping their prospects by uniting them with a product or service they need.
Early interactions with customers are crucial and qualifying the potential opportunity is vital. Sellers should ask the correct questions and not shy away from difficult ones. Meaningful and valuable conversations are more easily facilitated when sellers pre-emptively assess how much time and effort is needed for an opportunity in order to steer its effectiveness. Once the seller realises that Active Commitment as opposed to Passive Commitment is the first and best way to attract new business, methods like prospecting will feel more like an enactment of their duty to sell or provide a service than a nuisance to a potential client.
Myth 2: Industry and Product Knowledge Are All That Matter
In the same way that great sellers ask great questions and don’t try to pitch a solution until they have fully identified the issues, great sellers don’t ‘show up and throw up’. While the value of sector and product knowledge should not not be overlooked, regurgitating this information without tailoring solutions is a good way to quickly lose a customer’s interest.
A more efficient method for client interaction involves assessing their needs and asking questions that uncover an issue that is concerning them. By using this method the opportunity presents itself to offer insights based on specialised expertise. Solutions based on past customer interaction can be drawn upon. Leveraging expertise involves three key steps: set-up, deliver, explore (SDE). The set-up involves asking questions to enable the customer to share their observations; deliver is where the seller introduces their expertise or insights; explore uses questions to encourage the customer to reflect on the implications of what they have learned and the potential consequences of not addressing certain issues that could prevent them from achieving their goals. At this stage, listening is more important than telling.
Myth 3: The Customer Is Always Right
No matter how the saying goes, customers cannot be expected to have all the necessary information to know precisely what they need. It’s the seller’s job to uncover the customer’s most desired outcome and bring it to fruition. This may involve challenging the client’s thinking and providing insights based on the company or individual’s experience. A mutual relationship based on credibility and respect is created when the client is treated as an equal, when questions are asked with the intention of learning more about the customer and not imposing solutions upon them prematurely.
Myth 4: Clients Prioritize Price as a Key Factor When Making Purchasing Decisions
Price will always be a factor when it comes to purchasing or investing in a product or a service, however in reality it is rarely the most important factor (unless when purchasing a pure commodity). Budgets aside, value (the cost set against the size of the problem) is more important. There are abundant examples of this: many of the biggest and best brands across the globe are not the cheapest. When it comes to services, a manager of a manufacturing business will not necessarily prefer a supplier that is cheaper over one that is more communicative and reliable in their deliveries, albeit for a slightly higher price. After all, a cheaper service may cost more in the long-term if employees are working overtime to process unexpected deliveries.
Once again, it all comes back to value. If you build the value of the offering and allow the client to envision how this will help them achieve their desired outcome, negotiation diminishes in importance. Negotiating a lower price is likely to do little or nothing to improve the end result for the client, in fact when profit margins reduce it usually leads to a diminished service level.
Myth 5: Relationships Are Based on Knowing Your Customer’s Kids’ Names
Relationships and communication are a cornerstone of sales. This does mean sellers should cultivate professional relationships that are strained by transparent attempts at friendly familiarity. Too many sellers think that their relationships are based on personal matters like knowing their customers’ hobbies or sending a birthday card every year. Customers don’t need another friend, they need an adviser. By being the former, it is possible to miss out on opportunities to challenge the customer. For example, sellers can easily fall into the trap of providing overly generous quotes because they fear disrupting a friendly rapport with their client. Instead, insightful questioning, understanding client concerns and executing based on tested knowledge will ensure the best results. Like with any professional operation, manage customer expectations by staying realistic and ensure not to over promise and under deliver.
Myths Debunked, What Now?
It’s clear that despite the fast and furious growth of generative AI technologies, sellers can stay in the race by putting concerted effort into advancing their skills and offering themselves as consultants who help their customers achieve desired outcomes. Though AI technologies and ecommerce platforms may be able to manage simple transactional sales, they will never acquire the human touch that so many customers feel reassured by when making small and big business decisions. AI is a transformational tool for streamlining business processes, but conversation and tailored solutions co-created through productive questioning is a wholly separate, and far more difficult art to master.