As the recovery takes shape, selling organisations will need to become:
- More agile to track changing customer needs
- More influential to guide the customer’s thinking
- More adept in virtual outreach
These three skills will be critical for success in the environment that awaits in 2021. Customers change direction faster than ever, more factors shape their thinking, and their expectations for streamlined virtual engagement are high.
In this setting, product knowledge is not enough. Sales reps need to rethink social selling, communication skills and relationship management to thrive.
Here, we look at the ways sales professionals can develop the three capabilities above and drive more sales.
Becoming More Agile in the Sales Pursuit
The sales cycle has always included twists and turns. Today, those turns have become sharper and more frequent. Adjusting means becoming more agile.
Sales teams must continually revise their understanding of the customer’s needs. This characteristic of selling is due to the increasing number of stakeholders involved in decision-making. Each member of the buying team has their own leanings, their own pain points and their own value drivers. Therefore, the sales professional’s job has become more difficult. They must track these differences and the ways they change across numerous people.
One way to do so is through active listening which means focusing intensively on the speaker’s words. Active listening goes beyond good listening. When someone engages in active listening they are concentrating on what the other person is saying. Importantly, active listening means remembering what is said and considering ways to respond. The more the sales professional listens the more information they gather. This connection is critical because information reveals the path to the sale. The customer’s words indicate what aspects of the product or service will resonate. Listening skills take time to develop.
Agility also means understanding the buying factors. These factors consist of three things:
The Case for Change
This is the what and why of the buying decision. Customers are determining if the desired outcomes, solution options and value vs. risk are all strong enough to warrant making a purchase.
The Stakeholder Dynamics
Sales professionals must be able to identify which stakeholder has the greatest level of influence over the sale at each stage of the buying journey.
The Decision Process
Each business has a procedure for making a decision. Understanding this sequence informs the sales professional about where they are in the sales process.
Agility is what enables the sales professional to adjust to change. However, success requires more than adapting to change. Sales professionals must also be able to identify when, where and how change is occurring. By doing so they are prepared to speak to the issues that are most important to the customer in the moment.
Influencing the Customer’s Thinking
To influence the customer’s thinking the sales professional must be able to assert a point of view without being aggressive. Doing so requires four steps.
First, sales professionals must normalise discussions of risk. Rather than attempt to minimise, or eliminate all risks associated with a solution, sales professionals should acclimate customers to any risks that are present. This approach means helping the customer to recognise that all risks are right-sized and outweighed by the benefits of the solution. Normalising risk not only helps the customer to develop confidence in buying, it also develops trust in the relationship because the sales professional is demonstrating candour.
Second, sales professionals must ask reflection questions. These kinds of questions encourage the customer to think critically about the product or service. Most reflection questions fall into one of five categories, reactions, relevance, viability, value v. risk and reservations. Together these questions help give dimension to the customer’s perspective. They also indicate what unresolved issues stand in the way of the sale. By having the answers to these questions the sales professional can offer responses and insights that are pertinent to the most pressing concerns.
Third, to be an influential voice sales professionals must use clear, nontechnical language. Jargon only obscures messaging. There are specific scenarios in which technical language might be appropriate. For example, a sales professional may need to engage in a detailed, technical discussion when articulating a solution to a member of an IT team. However, in most conversations simple, direct language is best because it allows the value of the solution to speak for itself.
Fourth, sales professionals must build trust through transparency. Developing transparency means encouraging the customer to discuss their hesitations. The sales professional can only address these concerns if they know they exist. For many customers, the fact that the sales professional is willing to share information is more important than the content of the information.
Develop More Effective Virtual Outreach Techniques
Today, virtual prospecting remains the only option for nearly all sales professionals. Though this change is limiting it also presents three advantages. First, virtual prospecting allows sales professionals to focus all their efforts on one channel rather than trying to manage several. Second, traditional prospecting skills translate to those needed in a virtual setting, Third, developing skills for virtual selling will immediately generate competitive advantages because all other sales professionals are also limited to this one channel.
To benefit from this setting sales managers must help their teams develop competencies around virtual outreach. To yield the most from this initiative teams should take three steps.
First, sales professionals need to be better prepared for the larger role gatekeepers have today. Restrictions on in-person meetings mean that nearly all outreach must go through a gatekeeper. To be successful, sales professionals must learn to work with gatekeepers rather than attempt to work around them. Doing so means taking the time to understand the gatekeeper’s larger role in the company and how granting access to the sales professional may benefit them.
Second, sales professionals can build a relationship with prospects virtually by engaging in the law of reciprocity. Doing so means offering some kind of valuable insight to the customer. In most cases, the customer eventually feels compelled to offer something of value in return like their time. When the sales professional offers an insight they should be sure that it will be relevant and meaningful to the customer. A good insight rises above a sales pitch. It is important that these insights connect to the customer rather than just the solution.
Third, sales professionals must build value creation incrementally because virtual prospecting takes time. Therefore, the sales professional must gradually show that they are a good fit for the customer. As sales professionals find ways to consistently add value with recommendations, content and insights they will qualify themselves and become a familiar and reliable voice to the customer.
Reaching the next level of sales success today means engaging a strategy that is smarter than merely doing more of what sales professionals did in the past. The sales process is complex and team players must change their approach by becoming agile, getting better at influencing the customer’s thinking and leveraging a virtual setting to their advantage.