Sales? Rethinking what’s the way forward in 2015!

Is there a super sales personality that we need to look for when recruiting for a top class sales team? We often say that a lot of companies are just trying to teach ducks to be eagles and that doesn’t work. Although this sounds catchy and may hit home with many sales directors, it may not be the whole truth, or the truth at all, for that matter.ABC

Based on a longitudinal research by the Sales Executive Council the more complex the environment you are in and the more complex the service is you are selling, the more important the set of habits and attitude the sales person is building on his or her sales style.

We cannot deny the importance of attitude and values, which will deeply influence which of the learned sales skills the sales person, will actually apply in a real life situation. We can pretty much conclude that whatever behavior we will observe from the sales person will be a function of the identity the sales person consciously or unconsciously built up (who am I as a sales person) and the key values around it, which will heavily influence both the way he processes/perceives the real life situations and his or her will to apply certain learned skills. The levels of identity, values, skills and perception and decision-making patterns will equal to what most people call personality.

When selecting the right sales person for the job, we do have to go beyond character and personality. There are so called extraverts who cannot sell because unconsciously they believe that they are just imposing something on the other person that he doesn’t need. There are so called ambiverts who are great at building relationships and coming up with great solutions however, they are not good at closing. This may again be the result of certain limiting beliefs they hold about how the deal should be made, or they may indeed be lacking certain key closing techniques and skills.

What emerges is a key finding from the SEC research though is that the level habits is really key, and we can actually classify sales people into 5 categories best on their sales habits:

  1. „Lonely Wolves” – they are like a black box, very effective and successful but hard to control and they are typically reluctant to share what they do and how they do it – companies often make the mistake of trying make them into mentors which will never work
  2. Problem solvers – they are great at solving problems as long as they get to solve a problem, since they tend to lack to proactivity that is required to even identify the problem – however, once on target they will always come up with the right solution and see it through
  3. „Hard Workes” – they work double as hard as everyone else, their greatest asset is perseverance and loyalty
  4. „Relationship builders” – the people with a lot of empathy and an exquisite ability to build rapport and consensus, and at the same time those who like to avoid conflicts and always believe the customer is right
  5. „Challengers”– who tend to question things, able to apply constructive tension, have a strong drive to bring in new insights to reframe the current way the potential or existing customer sees the world, and also the people who are not afraid to ask for the business when the right moment comes

The above five sales styles will see different levels of success but one of the main finding of the study is that Challengers will account for 54 percent of the best performers if we are talking about a highly complex environment.

So what does that tell us, and what is the right conclusion?

Is it that relationship selling is dead? Or that this is the End of Solution selling, as the authors of The Challenger sale book claim? Do we have the silver bullet?

We don’t think so. One of the key problems with the Challenger sales approach is that it comes from an angle of one size fits all. It forgets two fundamental levels. One is that you can have a challenger sales style and apply the challenger sales steps – but your mindset will determine the outcome of how successfully and ethically you will apply what you learned.

Without a so called Growth Mindset and a set of positive and empowering beliefs that are in line with the company’s values it will not work or will produce ambiguous or counter productive results.

Also, the Challenger style does not work with all types of people. Some people just will not take if you start challenging their assumptions and try to build up tension. You need to be conscious of who is sitting at the other size of the table and sometimes adjust your style.

Another key area we need to touch on is measuring sales process and activities. Most professional businesses will have some kind of a documented sales process and a set of KPIs they measure and perhaps even link compensation to it. There are two interesting finding around that though. One is that KPIs are often not result oriented and measure certain activities that may not necessarily lead to success. For example you might measure the number of account plans your sales people have produced, but if you do not monitor the quality of them then sales people might just do them in a really poor fashion and your CRM will be filled up but no one will use the data. Also, a KPI like the number of customer contact initiation can be played with. I am not saying you don’t need KPIs but that you should really look at the full set so it is balanced on activities that are also linking to the right results you require and more importantly that you constantly need to monitor them and go beyond the numbers to the route causes. Diagnosing the behaviors that drive the numbers will allow you to constantly adjust your set of KPIs so they drive the right results.

Another interesting trend is how bonus systems have evolved over the last 20 years. The traditional thought was that all you need is a good commission system that is uncapped and drives people to earn more if they achieve more.

There is more and more talk about how a high level of commission might actually drive people to ruin long term customer loyalty by selling something the company now needs and later regrets when it turns out that it was counter to the customer’s longer term interest. Therefore, again especially in b2b environments companies are successfully experimenting with higher base salaries combined with some level of commission on top that is linked to longer term stability of revenues earned with a customers, that allows for more long term thinking and careful analysis at the time of making the deal happen.

All in all, we don’t have all the answers. There are certain key conclusions though that are worth considering by every CEO and CSO:

  • You must have a clear idea of what good looks like in terms of sales in your company
  • You must set a number of KPIs which should be as result oriented as possible, and it should be constantly monitored and ADJUSTED
  • You need to consider what the Challenger sales style means in your context, how you can produce insights for your sales people so they can be trusted advisors who add value versus product dumpers
  • You need to have managers who are capable of diagnosing beyond the numbers and understand how to identify root causes and how to coach sales people
  • Last but not Least, you need to consider the effect of Mindset (the pattern of thinking that drives the quality of behavior ultimately). This should be key in both recruiting and also BEFORE and WITH ANY investments into skill development. If your current training provider doesn’t have an answer for how to influence Mindset and Beliefs then you are DOOMED to FAIL and what you spend will be money you throw out of the window.

All of the above should help you to build an environment where expectations are clear, feedback is immediate and one that also allows for creativity, personal initiatives and purpose. This coupled with the right set of habits on sales behavior level will bring you the right results. So the right metaphor that comes to mind when thinking of the best sales methodology is not the silver bullet, but much more a careful and playful playing on the piano with all these factors as your keys on the board or being a conductor for that matter.

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