When I began my career at Xerox as a sales professional some time ago, telephones and fax machines were the most advanced technological tools at my disposal. Since then, selling has both radically changed and, yet, remained the same. I had the opportunity to discuss this paradox with Andy Paul, another sales veteran, on his podcast, Accelerate!
It’s a rare privilege to chat about selling with another professional who also possesses the long view of the challenges facing sales. We both agreed that what has remained unchanged for sales professionals throughout the past generation is that time is the enemy and to make the most of their time, sales must focus on the needs of the buyer.
Help or Hindrance
Yet, the technology that was created to maximize sales productivity is too often a hindrance. To build the kinds of relationships that result in deals, sellers need to close their computers, put down their smartphones, and really listen. Here’s why: While technology can support relationship-building, it can’t replace it. We have heard it many times: Successful salespeople are trusted advisors to their clients.
Furthermore, Paul argued that sales professionals are getting worse at communicating with buyers. I countered that’s because sales professionals are being bombarded with too much information and are becoming more inefficient as a result. They need to cut through the noise and pay attention to what matters most - what the buyer really needs at the moment. In the podcast, I overviewed how Modus achieves this with our own clients - global enterprises with complex products. We don’t follow the lead of other technology providers. Instead, we are keenly focused on buyer needs, even if that means not getting the sale.
What my company practices, in essence, is buyer enablement. While we’re charter members of the Twin Cities Sales Enablement Society, I believe that sales professionals have been overly focused on how they’re selling and not how their prospects are buying. They view the buying process as a linear journey where the prospect prioritizes needs, then defines requirements, then reviews capabilities, readiness, success criteria and so on, step by step, until the sale closes.
However, a study conducted last year by CEB, a subsidiary of Gartner, proves the buying process is anything but linear1. The steps that go into making a buying decision - such as problem identification, requirements building, and supplier selection - are discrete processes. They often happen simultaneously and are undertaken by multiple people.
Confusing the buying process further is that these processes are often repeated to validate conclusions. As a result, buyers must often overcome several roadblocks to move forward. Moreover, the process can easily become derailed from within their organization. Buying a sales enablement solution, for example, involves sales operations, marketing, and IT departments. Their buying requirements can change well into the process. In fact, vendor selection can change right up to the end. This makes the decision much more complex, time-consuming, and riskier.
Finally, after many steps forward and back, they achieve consensus, by coming together to sign on the dotted line.
The only effective way to meet the needs of buyers who are on this complicated buying journey is through relationship, which begins by listening and showing up with the information buyers need when they need it. Successful salespeople know their primary role in the buying process is to be information providers. This is the role of a trusted advisor. They anticipate their buyers’ needs, and share useful information to help them move forward and overcome obstacles. As a result, the likelihood that everyone ends up with a high-value, low-regret deal is three times higher.
Unfortunately, only about a third of sales organizations get this right. If you want to find out how you can make sure your organization is among them, and how Modus works with its own team to support buying enablement, check out the free, on-demand Accelerate! podcast. Learn from the 80 years of combined selling wisdom of Paul and me.
1 Toman, Nicholas; Adamson, Brent and Gomez, Cristina, “The New Sales Imperative.” Harvard Business Review, March-April, 2017.