For years sales organizations have been focused on “transforming” their sales teams by shifting the types of conversations and engagements they were having with their customers. There has been an ongoing desire to have sales teams shift their conversation from product (which usually means feature/function/price) to focusing on business outcomes.
Anyone who has been involved in driving sales force transformation knows that it takes time to change behavior. It is not simply a matter of providing some type of training and somehow behavior will magically change. And, contrary to popular belief, a change to the comp plan will not change a sales team’s ability to effectively have new conversations.
The challenge with any type of transformation is that not only does it take time, but it also takes reinforcement, or any attempt at behavior change will fizzle out in six months and people fall back into their old ways. Many companies have been succeeding in making this change included selling to new markets, new audiences, and driving new conversations.
Enter the global pandemic
As a result of the pandemic, even those sales teams who have made forward progress were forced to slow or even stop the momentum and fall back to more traditional sales conversations as their customer’s priorities changed.
What was top of mind for their customers pre-pandemic quickly changed, from revenue growth to revenue preservation, from long-term strategy to near term survival, from investment to cost-cutting. The reality is that for many salespeople these traditional selling conversations fall right into their comfort zone.
In a way you might say that this pandemic period has put many sales organizations on the same playing field. They are all having virtual meetings, remote sales engagements, and cost-cutting conversations.
As the world slowly opens, your prospects and customers are, or soon will back thinking about growth; revenue growth, long-term strategy, and investment. Those sales organizations who recognize this and adjust at the right time will gain the advantage. If your sales team was already engaged in growth and business outcome focused conversations, now is an opportunity to leapfrog where you were as a sales organization pre-pandemic. If your sales teams were not quite there, now is the opportunity to level-up, or surpass your competitors. Regardless of where you might feel your organization is, you are presented with an opportunity to drive that new level of readiness.
However, it may take some reshaping as we all recognize that the pandemic is changing the way many businesses have operated in the past. As such, sales teams must think a little differently on how they engage with their customers, who they engage with, and the conversation they are having. Consider the following:
- New Audiences: Now is the time to upskill field readiness to enable them to have new conversations with audiences beyond your traditional audiences. Right now, a CMO might be thinking about accelerating demand gen. A sales leader is thinking about how to create new and better customer engagements – remotely. A Line of Business leader may be shaping some of their own new offerings based on the changing dynamic of their own markets. The point here is that as you think about these new audiences, think about how this new world is impacting them, not the traditional “issues and challenges” that these leaders may have faced.
- New Conversations: The hardest part about having new conversations with these new audiences as a salesperson is ensuring you are relevant. No relevance translates into a short meeting. Naturally to be effective takes preparation and research. However, your conversations, as elementary as this sounds, needs to be about revenue growth – their revenue, increased market share – their share, and customer experience – their customers.
While having new conversations with new audiences is not a difficult concept to grasp, the execution and success of this behavior change requires upskilling for many sales teams. This is not to say that those sales teams are novices, however I have seen sales teams struggle with executing on these conversations.
Elevating the Conversation
As a sales leader there are two areas of upskilling worth focusing on in the short term: Insight and Business Outcomes.
Insight is about bringing something new to the conversation. This doesn’t mean talking about a new product or handing the customer a new metric about TCO or ROI that your company can drive. Understand that your customer or prospect has heard all of that before. This is about a salesperson creating new insights by combining their knowledge about their technology, their understanding of the customers business and industry, and most importantly some of their own perspective. It’s the combination of these elements, and using a structured approach, that helps sales teams to become confident in developing new insight.
Customers want to hear about the Business Outcomes. How you can impact revenue, impact market share and impact customer satisfaction. There are plenty of potential business outcomes that most likely your offering can touch. In many cases sales teams stop at the technology outcomes. Teams who sell to IT Organizations typically talk about – IT Outcomes. And by doing that your audience will always be those who want to hear about – IT outcomes. There are others in the organization however who are thinking about business impact and outcomes. While bigger, faster, better hardware will work for the IT audiences, the business audiences need to understand what bigger, faster, better means to their business, to the outcomes that this will drive.
This may sound trivial, and some organizations may feel that they do this well. Experience has shown that this is not the case, however. And this point in time is providing the opportunity – the time – to upskill and help your sales teams leapfrog beyond where they were pre-pandemic to prepare them for driving an entirely new level of conversation focused on growth, a customer lens that will be returning shortly.