Are you hitting or beating your sales target or quota? If not, are you blaming the market, the customers or your competition? If you are making your target are you taking the credit for yourself rather than giving it to any of these factors?
Regardless of actual sales performance, success or a lack of it will be due to a combination of things. Key within these will be the sales person and their approach and skills. A significant challenge in achieving sales success is that there is no let up! Month on month you need to keep getting orders. No market is constant. There are many variables changing and a lot of organisations, and individuals, do not adapt their sales approach to suit the current situation in their market. What I want is to encourage you to look at your sales approach and offer some thoughts about how you might change it to improve your chances of success.
Whether you are in a sales role yourself or are responsible for sales within your organisation, you need to think about how you are approaching sales. Most of the time people connected with sales are good at paying attention to the “what” – i.e. what the figures are. They forecast them, they report on them, they analyse and discuss them especially when there is a shortfall! (How much time is spent analysing sales success compared with missed targets?) Not enough is spent in looking at “how” the sales were achieved, or not. This is crazy as the “whats” are an outcome of the “hows”. This is going to consider the “how” of your sales approach with the intention of delivering the “what”.
After many years of working in sales and sales related roles I believe that too often the focus is wrong. It is too internal! This might sound crazy as you are selling to customers outside your organisation. However, the drivers and constraints around sales are usually tied in with the internal budget, structure and systems. The sales operation is given a target based on what is needed in terms of revenue for the business. Typically, it is a lift on the previous year’s target through some financial debate to arrive at a percentage increase. OK, businesses do need to grow, where they can. However, research carried out over 10 years showed that:
58% of sales people under-perform against their target.
42% over-perform and of these 12% contribute 50% of the total results.
Despite this organisations continue to increase their sales targets across the board!! If 58% are not achieving their targets – why will they suddenly reach even higher ones???? I believe that the first step in exploring your sales approach is to make sure that the organisation reframes itself towards a genuine customer focus. It might assist in more accurate and realistic target setting. In turn, this could have a surprising benefit on the morale of the sales people.
I do acknowledge that there are some cultural differences in the way people will go about buying and selling. When looking at business to business sales, I am not sure they are as widespread as some may think. A starting point for many sales training programmes I run is to look at definitions of “to sell”, and “salesmanship”. Each has a phrase which I keep stressing, “to convince of value” and “to influence or persuade purchaser to buy.” As I state, if you can find out what is value as far as they prospect or customer is concerned, show them how you can deliver it and they will be eager to buy. The point of the effective sales approach is that it is about helping people to arrive at the buying decision, not making them feel they have been sold something. Ask yourself, if you have ever been in the position of feeling you were sold something, how did you feel afterwards? Psychologically it is a major shift from being sold something to feeling as though you are making a decision to buy.
Too often the language of sales, and sales managers, is gung ho and even as though the whole approach is competitive and a battle. In the world of business to business sales, surely the approach should be more collaborative and co-operative, especially if you want to build a relationship for more, on-going business? There is evidence that many sales operations seem to be out of sync with the buying process within their customers.
* The % of leads which result in meetings is down
* The % of meetings which result in presentations is down
* The % of presentations which become sales is down
There are a variety of reasons for these results. One factor is that the buying process is often well underway before the sellers are making contact. When sales people have the chance to meet with prospects they are frequently too keen to get into talking about their product or service. Although experienced sales people understand the principle of asking questions, practice is that they are too quick to move to telling. They overlook the old saying, “telling is not selling”!
Rather than put the emphasis on finding the right sales approach, the various sales techniques, benefit selling, objection handling and closing, think about looking at your sales approach from the other side. (Going back to the two definitions mentioned earlier.) Do you understand the buying process(es) your customers use? Some of your clients may have a formal process they have to go through before committing to purchases. Others will still go through a process, even if it is unwritten. A key to a good sales approach is to understand the buying process and be able to connect your sales process to fit with it. You may even think about looking at Sharon Drew Morgen’s Buying Facilitation Method® which helps the prospects and customers clarify their situation and wants in a rather different manner – and helps them towards buying.
A good exercise is to identify the steps involved with a buying process. It may be something simple such as this:
An effective way of doing this is to use a number of the sales team to share their thoughts and experiences to arrive at the typical process for your marketplace. Then break it down with some further questions:
* What is involved at each stage?
* Who is involved at each stage?
* What can we do to influence things at each stage?
By carrying out this exercise you naturally lead on to thinking about who is involved. Do you know what the Decision Making Unit (the DMU)is within your customers? There are a number of different models for this. Fundamentally, there will be people who contribute through influencing the decision, some who specify what is required, some who have a say as they will be the users, and some who can sign off the expenditure. How well can you map the DMU? Who has what level of influence and at what stage? What are their drivers? Why will they opt for you? Making this an essential part of the preparation can improve your success rate with your sales activity. Taking an honest assessment of the buying process and your knowledge of the buying process you can identify areas where the sales organisation and sales approach can be improved.
Working with the buying process and building contacts and relationships within the DMU may change your sales approach, moving more towards influencing buying decisions. It gives you a good basis from which to develop your sales process, ensuring it fits with the way your customers buy. Rather than so many sales models which tend to be “push” style of influencing, this switch takes you to more of a “pull” style. This has the advantage of creating a smoother path to an order, with fewer objections being raised. The sales skills required to achieve success with this approach may be different to those which have been currently considered important up to now. Putting more emphasis on different skills and steps to fit more closely with the way your customers buy can help your sales results and your account management.
To embed this sales approach – encouraging buying approach might be a better name – make sure it becomes part of the sales operation and sales culture. Incorporate information about the buying process and the DMU within your customer record system. Insist it is completed and maintained – it is not negotiable! Discuss the approach and the detail at sales meetings. Encourage the sales team to share their experiences, especially their successes. If people do not know the buying processes for their customers or cannot map the DMU establish the reasons. Maybe it is an opportunity for coaching and training to give them the confidence and skills? At the end of the day, your sales approach needs to be one which encourages or influences people to buy so the sales team have to follow the process which achieves this. After all, in order to sell you need people to buy your products or services!
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