Sales people are under attack. On one side we have the threat that Artificial Intelligence is growing in sophistication and will soon be carrying out transactional sales roles. On the other, we’re constantly reminded that buyers are up to 90% through their purchase decision before they even approach a company. The sale is a fait accompli before we’ve even had a chance to introduce ourselves.
With an increasingly narrow space in which to operate, the argument goes that the majority of us will become obsolete unless we tool up. We need to become experts in our field and know more than our customers do about our own products and the competition.
Get better, not smarter
Surely, that goes without saying. Knowing your product and what the competition has to throw at you is a standard requirement of the job in both its current and anticipated future states. Here’s an alternative view point: If we don’t want to become obsolete we need to become better salespeople.
Let me explain. I regularly work with industry experts. Their technical, product and market knowledge are second-to-none. When I ask them how they describe their job to friends and family they talk about being engineers, pharmaceutical consultants, or IT experts. Rarely do they call it like it is, ‘I’m in sales’. We’ve put so much value on the expert status we’ve made sales a dirty word.
The idea that you can sell goods or services just because you are an expert is a misnomer. Certainly, your grasp of the market and its trends can convince the customer that you are the right choice for their business but, when it comes down to the brass tacks of closing the deal, rarely is being an expert enough.
If we don’t want to become obsolete we need to become better salespeople.
Time and again I see experts giving away the farm to make a sale. They use their knowledge and expert status to get to the final hurdle but they lack the sales skills to close the deal. They end up discounting or throwing in maintenance or upgrades. They revert to sealing the deal on price rather than the expertise that bring such added value for customers. In short, they lack the confidence and skills to sell themselves.
To remain relevant, sales people need to hone both their expert credentials and their sales skills. Let’s not forget, any sale, even the most seemingly logical or transactional has an emotional element. It could be confusion, worry, the need to please, the need to be ahead of the competition. The role of the sales person is to recognize and address those emotions while, simultaneously delivering the expert guidance that is expected in today’s market.
If your sale team spends more time selling you reasons why you should sign-off their discount or their maintenance upgrade than selling to customers, if you see your experts regularly selling on price over value and, if you want that to change, here’s how:
Know what you need: Look at the environment in which you operate. What are the required skills to do the job well. They’ll be different for each job role. Take time to build a competency framework for each job role. Think of this as your ideal candidate.
Check that you have it: Carry out a skills gap analysis. Pick an online assessment tool, like Strategy to Revenue’s SKILLBuild, that enables your team to carry out a self-assessment. This will identify the strengths and weaknesses in their skill set based on the competency framework you’ve built.
Fill the gaps: Assessing individuals based on this pre-defined framework means that dedicated focus can then be placed on strengthening the weaknesses of the team on a case-by-case basis. Self-paced learning modules enable the team to get up-to-speed on areas where they are weak without wasting their time, or keep them away from customers, to educate them on areas where they’re already performing well.
Leave no room for slippage: Recognize that human nature is what make sales people indispensable, but also fallible. E-learning and training build awareness of the skills the team need in their role but, time pressures and habit mean they’ll undoubtedly revert to old behaviors sooner rather than later. Work with a sales enablement consultancy that delivers training and reinforces that learning with coaching. Manger led-coaching means that you, as a business, begin to own the education and training process, rather than relying on a consultancy to be constantly by your side.
With access to ongoing assessment tools and the right coaching strategies, your industry experts will soon be sales experts too. Who knows, they might even start to refer to themselves as sales experts down the line!
Michael Copestake is Commercial Sales Director at Strategy to Revenue, the award-winning sales enablement consultancy.