It’s rare that any company has the great fortune to sell in a market where it has no competition. Instead, most companies work in markets where there is a glut of competitors and where it is difficult to differentiate their offerings. Most salespeople, therefore, work for companies where their success depends on acquiring new clients from their competitors, something we euphemistically call a “competitive displacement.” The skill sets required now are different than the ones required in the past.
In the past, we taught salespeople to prospect, to present, to overcome objection and to close the business. Let’s call these skills first-generation sales skills. While still necessary, first-generation sales skills presume that the prospective customer is engaged with the salesperson and that the value the salesperson offers is enough to win his or her business. This condition is no longer true, as there are many companies with great products and services, and differentiation is difficult at best.
As the market matured and salespeople were forced to evolve, salespeople were trained to diagnose their clients’ challenges, differentiate their solution and negotiate. When different solutions are available, different value can be created and captured. These competencies might be called second-generation sales competencies. They lent themselves to displacing competitors when the customer was already dissatisfied enough to change.
But now, most salespeople struggle to win business because their prospective clients are already being served by their competition and are not compelled to change. Many of the new competencies required of salespeople can be trained and developed. When growing the business requires that salespeople take customers from the competition, one of the primary skills they need is the ability to compel change.
Most salespeople are still taught and trained to share their company’s history, their products and services, and proof of their bona fides by showing their prospective clients a slide with the logos of the big companies they presently serve. None of this information compels change.
Instead, the right approach now is to focus on the client’s most strategic objectives and build the case for change by helping them understand why they need to change, how they should change, and how they will better position themselves and their company for the future. In an endeavor that is more and more dependent on possessing an “other” orientation, value creation is a defining characteristic of success.
How should a salesperson create a compelling case for change? Trusted advisors and consultants have been doing this work going back to the time of Pharaohs, who always surrounded themselves with smart people whose role it was to help them create a better future. What’s changed now for sales is the need to provide advice. Getting a client to pay attention to their advice starts with capturing mindshare.
Salespeople only need two things to be a trusted advisor: trust and advice. We now need to train salespeople to follow the trends that are going to have an impact on their prospective clients’ businesses. They need to stay on top of their industry, the client’s industry, the general economy, advances in science and technology, legal and political forces, and demographic and cultural shifts. Change start with understanding and being able to explain the implication of your prospective client’s changing world and what they should do about it.
As the world moves ever faster and creating success becomes more complex, complicated and difficult, salespeople need to be trained and developed in the skills and competencies that allow them create greater value for their clients and guide their thinking.