Collaboration Kills Commoditization

There is a trend developing in the sales world that has caught my eye over the past couple years.  This Sales & Marketing Management article opens with a terrific summary of what I have experienced (emphasis mine):

According to Harvard Business Review, “Traditional sales methods are increasingly unproductive. In fact, aggressive sales styles and product-focused selling are now so outdated that some customers are simply refusing to meet with salespeople using these techniques. In this situation, focusing on product features in the sales meeting is a waste of everyone’s time. In fact, there is plenty of evidence that high-performing sales people are those who listen and respond, who are flexible, and who think in terms of developing a solution to an emerging customer problem.”

That entire paragraph is spot on.  The “aggressive sales styles” they reference is the High D (Dominance).  These salespeople have a driven, aggressive, even confrontational style.  This style is often considered the classic sales hunter style, but that stereotype is changing.

Here’s why – the High D style has done well in the past when they were able to control information (product info, tech specs, etc.).  The High D’s were able to leverage that information for meetings and commitments from prospects.  Today, that information is on the web so the need is for salespeople who have the ability to connect with prospects to get in front of them.  This is not the High D’s strength.

So where is it going?  Back to the article:

What customers increasingly want from their vendors are collaborators.

The author goes on to acutely describe the possible definitions of the collaboration.  This collaborative approach will eventually fit in nicely with the upcoming Millennial generation.  That generation, in general terms, has a desire to work on projects/tasks in a completely collaborative way.  As the Millennials move up the proverbial sales ladder, the collaborative culture will become prominent in most sales departments.

The closing paragraph from the article wraps it up nicely:

Order taking may make your salesperson’s job easier, but typically what your customer really wants is a trusted partner. Collaborating with your customers builds relationships, adds value, and helps further entrench your key strategic accounts. It helps keep the competition at bay. And, it keeps your offering from being commoditized.

Do Not Trust Myers-Briggs

Well, that is my paraphrasing of this author’s post.  The Myers-Briggs test is common throughout many business-world assessments and it serves a purpose.  The difficulty I have always had with it is the binary aspect of the assessment.  You are either Extroverted or Introverted…there is no grey area.  I think the author explains it well:

More problematic, though, is that it classifies personalities by a binary preference for a particular trait. In reality, however, most people exist on a spectrum between the two and can vary between them from week to week…

Agreed.  People are the ultimate variable and far from binary.  I think the best use of the Myers-Briggs assessment is to define preferences, but not to make hiring decisions based off of it.

If you are looking for a reliable assessment tool that does provide grayscale depth, I recommend our DISC-based, Selling Style Assessment (more details here).

Rapport Sells More

This is one of those topics I always believe people inherently know…and then I come across a robotic salesperson.  Apparently not everyone is aware of this truth.  This quick post from Selling Power speaks to the importance of rapport-building and successful selling (and I lifted the title from them).

A quick refresher:

1. Match your customer’s style. Pay attention to how your customer prefers to communicate and get in step. Does your customer prefer to get right down to business or warm up by engaging in some small talk? What kind of a sense of humor does your customer have? If your customer talks fast and loud, you certainly won’t build rapport by talking slow and soft.

So true and yet many salespeople miss it.  Matching, not mimicking, your prospect is an important tool on a first call.  It is simple to do if you pay attention to their communication style.  The implication here is that you have to listen to them which means you are not talking.  Most of the communication trouble I see when riding along with salespeople is their desire to simply show up and throw up.  We live by this rule – if you are talking, you are not selling.

Social Skills vs. Sales Skills

If you’re talking you’re not selling.  That is an old axiom I learned early in my sales career and it is always true.  Talking does not equal selling.

Unfortunately, people not experienced in sales hiring often have the opposite view.  Their stereotypical belief is that the best salespeople are the ones who are perceived to be the best talkers.  This misguided view often leads to bad hires.

Here is where the mistake occurs – hiring managers assume that social skills are equivalent to sales skills.  Ok, maybe that is too strong, but the assumption is that the social skills are the key to successful selling.  Social skills are a component to selling, but they are not indicative of sales skills.

Social Skills

Social skills are important to sales and certainly are not to be ignored.  However, my experience has been that the truly terrible sales hires usually involved bad salespeople with good social skills.  These salespeople had excellent empathetic skills – they could read body language, adjust their tonality, find common ground with the hiring manager.  Again, all valuable skills.  However, they had next to no sales skills which became evident once they were on the payroll torpedoing good prospects.

The danger here is that these social skills are quite disarming.  They can be used to get the strongest of interviewers off their game.  I have seen many sales candidates who possessed remarkable social skills but little in the way of sales skills.

Sales Skills

These skills are the ones that lead to profitable revenue generation.  The main skill set involves qualifying.  If there was only one ability you could have in a salesperson, qualifying would be it.  This skill involves asking the right questions to learn about a potential customers’ budget, need, time frame, decision process and more.  This skill is where salespeople earn their keep.

Other sales skills areas are prospecting, influencing, closing and presenting.  These areas are also important to successful selling.  In terms of sales candidates, these skills are more difficult to discover.  The best approach is to assess for these skills and then follow up a face-to-face interview with the candidate to probe the information you have gathered through the assessment.

Objectivity is key and it is critical in making a hiring decision.  The strongest sales candidate isn’t necessarily the most talkative, humorous or outgoing.  Pay close attention to the questions they ask and the answers they provide to your probing questions about their sales skills.

And be sure to assess them.

Introverts Make Great Salespeople

You heard me right, that is an indirect quote from this Inc.com article.  This topic comes up often in our sales hiring activities as the conventional wisdom is that extroverts make better salespeople.  Not true.  Successful salespeople have a wide variety of abilities that go far beyond their communication style.  And that is the point here, introvert/extrovert is more of a communication style than anything else.  It is important to know a salesperson’s style, but it is not predictive of sales success.

Here is some excellent advice from the article (emphasis mine):

“When selling as an introvert, use your abilities as a good researcher to really know audience, know what matters to them, and figure out a product match before you go in. You’ll be meeting with people, so rest up before social interactions with those you are selling to or speaking in front of. Prepare and practice because as an introvert you will think before you speak – as opposed to extroverts who speak as they think. So having a few lines ready, or thoughts composed in advance will be beneficial. Rest, prepare and practice is the magic formula because of the way introverts are wired.”

Extroverts need to start talking to get to their point.  Introverts have to think of their response before they speak.  This point is never more obvious than when you are interviewing sales candidates.  When I sit in on interviews with my customers, I always make sure to tell them if the candidate is more extroverted or introverted.

My experience is this – an introverted hiring manager will be unimpressed by an extroverted sales candidate in terms of communication.  The hiring manager has a tendency to comment on the candidate’s rambling answers, long-windedness and tangential topics.  At this point I explain that the candidate is extroverted and needs to start talking to get to his or her response.  If they are strongly extroverted, they will have to rev up their answer a bit before delivering the point.  This isn’t necessarily a weakness, it is simply a style issue.

I have seen a recent rise of the introvert in one key sales area – relationship selling.  The reason is this:

Introverts do well with deep relationships and conversations rather than chit-chat.

If you have a relatively long or extended sales cycle, an introverted selling style is probably a more natural fit for your sale’s requirements.  As sales move away from one-call closes and on to relationship-based deals, introverts will play a prominent part in a sales team’s success.

Levers

A lever is “an inducing or compelling force.”  Selling in a down economy is best handled through the use of levers.  I recently discovered a lever with a material that has certain properties and uses that are not offered by the market leader in this space.  The market leader has such a dominant position that most prospects are unaware of the alternate option.  In talking to customers and prospects, the lever became quite obvious.

Of course, discovering a lever is one thing, defining it within the marketplace is another.  The work that now must occur is to translate the lever into the prospect’s world.  Brevity is key.  Real-world application is needed.  Solution-based, problem-solving, market-expanding wording is the template.

Once the translation is complete, it is time to test it with cold prospects to see if it snaps them out of their dismissive state.  The bar here is low – I simply want them to do a double take.  What is this?  How do they do that?  Could we use it?  Simple, straight-forward intrigue is the target.  From there, it is up to the salesperson to qualify the prospect for fit.

Levers work well in any economy, but I think they are heightened in this economy.  Features/benefits are nice for marketing, but you’ll get run over like a speed bump attempting to sell that way in this economy.  Money is tight so the best way to shorten the sales cycle is to couch the discussion completely in the prospect’s world.  Don’t make them translate your solution.  Find the lever and define it in their world by their terms.