Overcoming Sales’ Unpredictability

Overcoming Sales’ Unpredictability:

from The Sales Challenger™ 
As many of you know from our work over the past several years at the CEB Sales Leadership Council and confirmed by your experiences with buyers, the empowered customer has fundamentally changed the nature of selling.  It’s a situation we didn’t choose, but rather one that has happened to us.
The “old world” of selling was defined by being a highly efficient, “Six Sigma” sales organization, meant to outperform our competitors to meet customer needs. This is how we won. But today, the “new world” of selling requires reps to reframe customer thinking, to “unteach” what they have already learned. The results of this dramatic shift to our sales approach?  A world of high variability—driven by an increase in information access for customers and our reduced access to them.
It’s also a world where there is no longer a single path to a single outcome, but multiple, possible paths to a variety of outcomes. What do we mean? Let’s look at four key attributes of sales strategy:

  • Qualification Criteria:  What did we do in the old world? We built scorecards. We identified the appropriate criteria we’d need to find that “motivated buyer” to put into the funnel and move through the funnel. The most common? BANT – Budget, Authority, Need, Timeline.  But today, that just gets to the commoditization of products and solutions. It puts you at the RFP place, where we are one of the three suppliers bidding for the deal. So, what do today’s best sellers look for in this new world? Customers in a state of flux. That’s right, they’re looking for change. Customers dealing with and facing internal or external disruption or change.
  • Supplier Intention: What’s our goal as a supplier? In the old world, it’s to convince our customers to purchase our solution. Pretty straight-forward. In the new world, it’s convincing the customer to change their behavior. As one senior executive told us, “my best sellers don’t sell my company’s solutions, they sell change.” That’s a very different goal.
  • Stakeholder Selection: What did we look for in the old world? Follow the money, as I used to be told. We look for who had authority to spend and we would look for coaches or advocates in the customer account. But where does that get us today? Either in procurement or a lack of engagement with the right people. In this new, empowered customer world, where do the best sellers go? As many of you know from our past work, they seek out those open to change. It stands to reason, that if I’m selling change, I need to find people who are open to change—people we have come to call Mobilizers. And the kicker? You can’t find Mobilizers on the org chart. They aren’t the Chief of this or the VP of that. They are Bob, Susan, Jim and Mary.
  • Nature of the Conversation: In the past, to win, we focused our sales conversation on the value of our solution. We nailed that all important value prop and made sure every seller knew it and could articulate it. In the new world, customers can look us in the eye and say, “yep, we know.  We already learned that”. What is the conversation to have in the new world? Insights. Teaching or unteaching the customer that disrupts their learning. A conversation that will then lead to your unique differentiators in the markets that you compete.
All of these dynamics lead to greater variability. Think about all the POSSIBLE activities and outcomes our sellers will have to manage and figure out as they go through those four areas. As many of you have told us (and we’ve seen in the research), sales is as complex as ever before. And it’s because of this increased variability—where there are many paths to the right outcomes, but potentially as many paths to the wrong one. This year is the first time we’ve truly come to appreciate that fact, in our work on understanding the type of climate sales leaders and front-line managers need to create to help sellers succeed in this highly variably environment—one we’re calling “guided rep judgment”.
CEB Sales Members, review the key findings from the study, Empowering Reps to Sell to Empowered Customers, to learn more about what this climate looks like and how to make it happen. Also, register for one of our upcoming Executive Retreat or Regional Briefing sessions.

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