Currently, “about two-thirds of companies have a strategy horizon of four years or less,” according to ATKearney. The reason: products and services are no longer a durable competitive advantage.
At one time, companies could sell a product and build revenues behind protective barriers. These barriers insulated the company from threats. The high cost of technology, long innovation periods, and developmental lead time all meant that competitors had many walls to scale if they wanted to grab market share. Those walls have fallen. What remains is a new reality that Columbia Business School professor Rita McGrath calls “transient advantage.”
In this new setting, “companies can’t afford to spend months at a time crafting a single long-term strategy. To stay ahead, they need to constantly start new strategic initiatives,” according to McGrath’s research.
As a result, companies are discovering that their people, their skills, and how they engage customers will differentiate them in a noisy marketplace.
Developing skills that can track the customer’s needs in a constantly changing environment means becoming agile.
The Three Skills for Selling with Agility
Agility in selling requires a modern set of selling skills. These skills transcend familiar capabilities like product knowledge. Instead, sales professionals need to understand how the customer’s business works, why they are seeking a solution, the structure of the decision process, and areas for growth. Specifically, they need three key capabilities:
- Understanding Buying Factors
- Building Consensus
- Exploring the Customer’s White Space
Understanding Buying Factors
The customer’s journey revolves around a set of buying factors, which are the set of facts, influences, and circumstances that all contribute to the result of a decision to buy or not buy. These factors are dynamic and interrelated and exert pressure on the customer throughout all stages of the customer’s buying journey. By understanding and identifying these factors, a sales professional can organize a messy buying journey.
Once a sales professional understands their customer’s unique buying factors, they can begin to build consensus by building alignment. Doing so is an increasingly important skill as buying decisions become more diffused in organizations. The challenge, however, is that alignment is not natural. Each stakeholder has individual leanings and likely wants something different from the solution.
Exploring the Customer’s White Space
Agility in selling requires a spectrum of skills and the ability to seamlessly shift between them. This endeavor is demanding. Therefore, sales professionals need to capitalize on their efforts by expanding into the existing customer’s white space. This approach is crucial, given that it is six to seven times more expensive to acquire a new customer than it is to retain an existing one, according to Bain. In fact, increasing customer retention by just five percent increases profits by 25 to 95 percent.
When a sales professional identifies the white space in an existing account, they are creating opportunities by positioning solutions that align with the customer’s goals, challenges, and initiatives. An agile approach fits this strategy because sales professionals benefit from the momentum they’ve already created. With an existing understanding of the buying factors and the stages for alignment, it is easier to find the areas in the customer’s business in which the solution will add value.
Download the eBook: Three Skills for Selling with Agility to discover the internal and external practices that make a sales team truly agile.