Sales models and approaches are consistently evolving as the business environment changes. Customers are more sophisticated in conducting research, identifying their available options, and vetting and selecting vendors and partners than in the past. Sales leaders need to regularly review and change their sales approach to meet these changing needs.
According to research undertaken by Harvard Business Review sales managers who closely monitor and strictly enforce a sales process are more likely to exceed their quotas, and the best sales leaders seek to control the daily behaviour of their sales teams.
During my career in sales I have been trained and encouraged to use different approaches including SPIN, Strategic Selling, Customer Centric Selling and the Challenger Sale. While my personal preference in the Challenger model from a leadership perspective, it is important that to acknowledge that high-performing sales cultures are created from deliberate and strategic actions, and they all have one factor that can make or break their success: the quality of sales leadership.
A brief summary of the above sales approaches:
SPIN Selling – SPIN is an acronym for the four types of questions salespeople should ask their customers: Situation, Problem, Implication, and Need-Payoff. These questions help identify buyer pain points and challenges and build rapport between buyer and seller.
Situation questions aim to understand a customer’s current situation (collect facts, information, background data). Research has shown that the more senior the buyer, the less they like answering factual questions – I have been personally told from a buyer to not waste their time by asking questions that I should already have the answers to.
Problem questions get to the heart of the customer’s issue and encourage the customer to state implied needs. The author of SPIN Neil Rackham recommends working backwards from the problems your offerings can solve to generate these questions.
Implication questions probe the customer to think about the consequences of not solving the problem and to ascertain the size and seriousness of the problem. If the buyer views the pain of the problem as greater than the cost of the solution they are more inclined to make a purchase
Need-payoff questions encourage the customer to consider how the situation would change if their problem was solved. They focus on the value or usefulness of the solution to increase the acceptability from the customer of your solution.
Strategic Selling by Miller Heiman
Designed for selling solutions that require approval or input from multiple decision makers in the customer’s organization. It provides visibility into sales opportunities, documenting plans with the program’s Blue Sheet.
This involves first identifying all key players in the customer’s organisation, understanding each player’s degree of influence and their reasons for buying and uncovering essential information. Salespeople are required to evaluate their competitive position, address the business and personal motives of each decision maker in the customer organisation and differentiate their company by leveraging its unique strengths.
I found this approach useful for the top 5% of the sale opportunities I worked on. It provided me with a tool that ensured I had done my homework, forced me to look broader the current contacts I had within that business and reminded me that I needed to tailor my solution depending on the type of decision maker/buyer. It was also useful to working with peers and management for getting their buy-in and assistance. However, I found it a little cumbersome for most the accounts I worked on and became a monitoring tool for management rather than improving my sales efficiency.
The Customer-Centric selling seeks to transform salespeople from product pushers to collaborative consultants where the salesperson plays a critical role in helping discover and quantify their problems. It is based on seven tenets:
- Having relevant, situation specific conversations rather than making presentations
- Ask relevant questions instead of offering opinions
- Focus on the solution instead of the relationship
- Target decision makers instead of users
- Promote product usage to garner interest instead of the product alone
- The salesperson managing their manager rather than needing to be managed
- Empower buyers to buy instead of attempting to sell to them.
While I believe it is somewhat arrogant to think that a salesperson plays a critical role in discovering problems I do believe that authentic, value-add sales conversations are still important.
The Challenger Sale
This is based on the notion that every B2B salesperson fits into one of five personas: Relationship builders, hard workers, lone wolves, reactive problem solvers, and challengers. Research undertaken by the CEB found that while salespeople are almost evenly distributed among these profiles, the most successful by far were the challengers and not the relationship builders that we have traditionally thought as the most successful.
What makes a challenger so effective is that they a teach-tailor-take control process. First, they teach their prospects — not about the product or service in question, but about larger business problems, new ideas, and astute insights. Next, they tailor their communications to their prospect. Finally, they take control of the sale by not being afraid to push back on their customer and focusing more on the end goal rather than being liked.
Yes, people do like to buy from people that they like, and relationships are important. However, customers are too busy, already too well informed and have too many options to either invest the time needed to build a relationship or can no longer base a buying decision solely on how well they like (or dislike) the sales professional.