sales strategy

Selling Solutions Requires Linkage to Implications

Photo by  Nick van den Berg  on  Unsplash

Have you ever noticed that sometimes no matter how diligent you’ve been working with a potential client, they have every excuse in the book to not make a decision? 

You’re asking all the right questions, and getting all the right answers to indicate a fit between their problem and your solution—but somehow the dots are just not connecting? 

Assuming that you’ve correctly identified the problem, the missing piece is the connection between solving the problem and the value of the benefits that will be received.  Implication questions can help to uncover this link.

Framed as “what would be the implication of not taking action?” or “how would making this change impact your (name the performance indicator such as: sales, profit, expense, etc.). 

Asking implication questions helps the prospect think through the impact of the investment and can provide the justification needed to commit to the solution.

Sales Success Requires Solid Planning

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

In a complex sale, a good tactical plan is only as good as the strategy that led up to it.  The difference between strategy and tactics in sales is important—tactics refers to the techniques you use when you’re actually face to face with a prospect or customer in a meeting.  It includes the things you learned in “Selling 101” including questioning skills, understanding buying influences, presentation skills and so on.

The strategy for a sales meeting includes a series of less recognized processes that you use to position yourself with the customer before the sales call even begins.  Strategy is a prerequisite to tactical success.  You can only succeed in sales today if you know what you’re doing and why and you’ve created a methodology or process to support your efforts. 

One of my favorite books on this subject was Strategic Selling by Miller & Heiman. It was first published in 1985, and was the foundation for the training I received selling for a Fortune 100 company.  The book was updated and published again in 2005 by the title The New Strategic Selling.  If you can’t answer the question, “why are you successful?” then you may want to consider investing the time and energy to understand and document your strategy for sales success. 

Sales Plan Requires More Science than Art

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When I started in sales for the Business Imaging Systems division of Eastman Kodak after college, my notion of a successful sales person was someone who could talk to anyone, had a good personality and was likeable.  Once I actually got into the position though, I quickly began to realize that true consultative selling is actually more about the science of selling than the art of selling.

The science of selling requires looking at the process from beginning to end, and defining what needs to happen at each step of the way to advance the process forward.  Most complex sales cycles take weeks if not months to come full circle.  This means that the incremental steps that advance the process need to be monitored and measured to insure forward motion is occurring. 

If your organization doesn’t have a defined sales process, consider engaging a systems oriented person in your company, or form a task team to analyze your sales process.  This should include an analysis of the sales cycle from beginning to end including the marketing activities that create opportunities and the success rates at each step of the sales process.  This analysis could also include interviews with your salespeople and perhaps a few customers to get their perspective.  The goal is to have a solid picture or framework of all of the steps that need to occur and some best practices around each of those steps. The time spent understanding the science behind your sales process will be well worth the investment as it leads to stronger sales results over time. 

In Sales—We Get What We Pay For

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I talk to a lot of business owners about their sales process and sales teams as part of our planning and performance work and I sometimes hear the complaint that the sales team is not focused on the right things. 

What I have found as a common theme among these organizations regardless of industry, is that in sales, we get what we pay for. 

Determining a comp plan for a sales team can be tricky and there are specialists who can help work out the finer points of a plan.  But it’s helpful to start with the simple question: “what are the most important activities and behaviors you need from your sales team?” 

If you’re only paying commission on new sales, don’t expect your sales people to spend a lot of time servicing existing customers.  If your sales people have a large book of business that produces enough repeat sales to sustain their income, then don’t expect them to go out prospecting for new accounts.  The key is to create alignment between your expectations, the activities you want and the behavior you’re rewarding.

Selling Strategically Requires Knowing All the Buying Influences

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Back in 1987 when I was District Systems Manager for a Fortune 100 technology company, I made one of the largest sales of my professional career worth about $500,000 to a bank in St. Louis.  We pulled out all the stops to win the account, including flying the client to our headquarters on the corporate jet (it was the eighties after all and companies still did that). 

The interesting thing about winning that sale was that my primary competitor focused their sales efforts on the executive level at the bank.  While I had created relationships with the executives, I focused the majority of my time defining our proposal/solution to a manager within the end user department of the bank who would be using our system.

As it turned out, upper level management relied more heavily on the recommendation of their internal subject matter expert than they did the outside professionals that had been ‘wooing’ their business. 

That sales experience taught me several valuable lessons about selling: 1) You can never assume you’ve ‘won’ a deal just because you have good relationships with the owner/upper management, 2) Sometimes a technical person who can’t officially say “yes” to your proposal, does in fact have the authority to say “no” and 3) You need to be strategic about how you work with potential clients understanding that in a complex sales cycle, multiple buyers will be involved and will have input into the final decision.