Despite the significant expenditures that continue to go into training salespeople to “close the deal,” many sales organizations struggle to meet and exceed their targets, and here’s why. Customers have gone through a significant evolution and transformation since the dawn of the new millennium, but the people selling to them have not. How do we know this? Our work with many of the world’s largest sales organizations over the past two decades has validated that much of the sales training available in the market does exactly what it purports to do: it equips salespeople (to one level or another) to focus on a sale after they learn that the customer might buy something.
WHAT SEEMS TO BE THE PROBLEM?
Perhaps on the surface, this doesn’t sound so bad. After all, when it’s time for the customer to buy, most salespeople are ready to spring into action. But this is precisely the problem. In the book, “Beyond the Sales Process: 12 Proven Strategies for a Customer-Driven World,” research shows that the customer is only spending 1 to 2 percent of their time actually buying something from you or your salesperson. Despite this conclusion, sales training continues to focus primarily on this narrow slice of the customer’s time, at the expense of engaging effectively the other 98 to 99 percent (which, more and more, is heavily impacting the 1 to 2 percent).
In a hurried world busily trying to keep up with emerging trends in digital transformation, the internet of things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI), the customer is likely to spend even less time in the future executing their actual buying process due to the increasing speed of business and the ready availability of more information to equip and enable their purchases. This, in turn, means that if we are focusing only on making the sale and “closing the deal,” the result to the salesperson and their organization over time will be less relevant to the customer.
The answer is to evolve sales training to be more about customer value co-creation and measurable business outcomes, which requires a mindset shift to focus on engaging effectively with the customer before, during and after the sale. This approach enables effective, proactive engagement with the customer after their last purchase, during their current purchases and before their next decisions to buy. But getting there will require a change of perspective and behaviors in both the salespeople that are engaging with the customer, as well as the managers and leaders who are coaching their sales performance. Tomorrow’s most successful sales organizations are evolving their training of salespeople to be more than just “sales training.” Here’s how they’re readying themselves to “win the battle for the customer!”
HOW DO YOU SEE YOUR CUSTOMER?
Every company, sales organization, sales manager and salesperson has a choice to make when it comes to how they “see” their customers. Some companies see their customers as their primary source of valuation while some sales organizations see their customers as their primary source of revenue. Accordingly, some sales managers see their customers as their primary source of quota relief while their salespeople see their customers as their primary source of commissions.
Hence, if we engage our customer looking at them through any of these lenses, we get a “view” of them that is really about us. Oftentimes this view of the customer is exacerbated even further as we begin to also see them through the lenses of our products and our offerings. This means that our perspective of the customer originates with what’s most important to us and becomes even more distorted when we try to orient ourselves to what matters most to the customer, a question often missing in sales training.
Is this because we want to see the customer from our vantage point, or is it because many of us have been trained to use whatever sales tips and tricks we can get our hands on to win and close the deal? The sales landscape is changing rapidly and companies and salespeople that fail to evolve to a more customer-focused approach to their sales training are running a significant risk of being deemed less relevant by their customers. Providers that are authentically interested in co-creating value and delivering desired business outcomes to their customers can get a jump on their competition by helping their salespeople see their customer through the lens of what matters most…to the customer.
THREE IMPORTANT WORDS TO KEEP IN MIND
By taking a value-focused, longer-term view of the customer, organizations can begin to shift mindsets by transitioning their sales training to be more about the customer, what matters most to the customer and the value that the customer gains by doing business with them. How can you initiate this sales training evolution? One way to start is by keeping three very important words in mind when selecting, acquiring and deploying sales training.
Everybody wants to be successful, including customers. Yet many interviews of client customers have proven that very few salespeople truly understand what success looks like to their customers. Further, when asking customers what percentage of salespeople ask them to describe what success looks like to them, the overwhelming majority respond with “very few,” if any. Most will agree that it’s much more likely that a customer will want to hear about a provider’s offerings after the provider invests the time and attention to understanding what matters most to the customer they are engaging.
To be effective, sales training must ensure that the salesperson is focusing their attention, best practices and resources on first understanding how the customer expects to be successful as a result of working with them, and second on how their solutions and value will enable this customer success. This understanding requires conversations with the customer about the external pressures being placed upon their organization, the business objectives they are deploying to address these pressures and the internal challenges that they are encountering as they execute their objectives. Sounds obvious, but this mindset shift has proven to be difficult (if not impossible) for organizations that see their customers simply as sources of revenue, deals or commissions.
Success in sales breeds success in sales, and yet again and again stories are told about salespeople who are working with existing customers and accounts and are engaging with them as though there is no history, no track record and no past proven value. If the salesperson and organization have previously helped the customer successfully address their external pressures, meet their business objectives and overcome internal challenges and obstacles, then there is proof that value has been realized in the past, and reason to believe that it can, indeed, be realized again in the future.
To win the battle for the customer, sales training must equip and enable salespeople to understand where they have been successful in the past, with the customer they are engaging with and selling to, as well as with other customers who may be comparable in terms of their pressures, objectives and challenges. By doing so, salespeople enter their next sales opportunity with momentum from their previous opportunities, and these successes speak volumes to the contemporary customer who is under stress to make a selection of a provider (or partner) that can help them mitigate their risk while driving business outcomes and results.
Time and again, sales celebrations (or post-mortems) provide evidence that the victorious salesperson had developed a trust-based relationship with the customer that was a factor in their selection and ultimate win of the business. But if the focus of sales training is driving and closing deals and the customer relationship factor is ignored (or treated lightly), then it’s only logical to assume that we’re training salespeople to largely rely on their products and solutions rather than also building and leveraging trust-based relationships that bring the two organizations into greater alignment.
When you hear story after story about salespeople who win business with a product that wasn’t necessarily the best or a proposal that wasn’t the least expensive, and the reason for the outcome is attributed to the investment of time in developing and growing a trust-based relationship with the customer, it becomes clear that trust-based relationships that bring organizations into greater alignment really do matter. Sales training that focuses on value co-creation, trust-based relationships and customer/provider alignment are the most effective, and position salespeople to win in competitive markets.
KEYS TO MAKING THE SALES TRAINING MINDSET SHIFT
Buyers have changed and will continue to change, and your sales training has to keep up with this change. This requires a mindset shift by salespeople, their managers and their companies and a commitment to see the customer differently. It also requires a mindset shift by those who are training this and the next generation of sales professionals. If we keep doing what we’ve done, then there’s every reason to assume that we’ll keep getting what we’ve gotten…and this is not a recipe for sales success in today’s disrupted and time-challenged world.
To facilitate this change and shift in thinking, consider the following as you evaluate and select sales training courses and curricula for your organization. By focusing on customer success, leveraging momentum from past successes and building trust-based relationships with customers, an organization can establish itself as a leader within its market and gain advantage against competition through more effective engagement with customers. It’s all about advancing one opportunity (and customer success) at a time, and nothing is likely to impact this more than the sales training that is provided to those who are leading the charge to win the battle for the customer.