“There is an undeniable transformational shift occurring in business today. The evidence is clear – since 1955, 89% of the biggest and best Fortune 500 listed companies have come and gone!”
Does it feel like selling is harder and more complicated? There is good reason for this.
Much like a tsunami, the activating event is usually an unseen shift that is often ignored by businesses. In the case of physical tsunamis, a disruption in earth’s tectonic plates causes a resulting wave that is usually less than one meter high. In business, it’s common to focus on ‘our how to sell our stuff’ rather than on ‘what’s happening with our clients’. It’s not until the wave gaining momentum reaches a shoreline and encounters ‘resistance’ (our current culture of HOW we do business) that havoc and destruction is experienced.
The shift that is happening seriously affects how you sell. It’s likely your company is currently experiencing this shift and what you hear as sales people is ‘we gotta sell better, we gotta sell more’. But you only have so many ‘product arrows’ in your quiver. This shift requires a change in HOW you sell not WHAT you sell.
Before going into HOW to navigate this shift, let’s look at the current business landscape.
For the first time in history, businesses have 5 distinct generations in the work force – 30% of the population is under 30 years of age, and more than 50% of the population is over 50 years old. The values these two demographic groups have in terms of who they work for and whom they buy from are changing how we compete and innovate.
As customers, these demographic groups do not want to pay for the ‘best’ product, they want to have an ‘experience’ with a brand that has a high standard of ethics and serves a higher purpose while providing quality and innovation.
In addition, 70million baby boomers will be retiring in next 10 years. In the USA alone 1,000 people turn 65 every day. Can you hear the big sucking sound of the drain of intellectual capital? Because of this, customers today are relying more and more on strategic partnerships with their suppliers and industry insights you could bring to them.
The global marketplace has engendered unparalleled competition for goods and services, virtually re-writing the rules of competition. Globalization, customer consolidation and co-opetition (competitors collaborating) are forcing us to return to the original meaning of competition, “To strive together to get better” – from the Latin ‘competere’. Rather than the dog-eat-dog world approach of beating competitors, we need to leverage traditional and non-traditional competitors as benchmarks and ways to better serve clients.
The Internet of Things
According to the McKinsey & Company report, Disruptive Technologies, “More than nine billion devices around the world are currently connected to the Internet, including computers and smart phones. That number is expected to increase to between 50 billion and one trillion in the coming decade.”
Additionally, crowd sourced innovations are bypassing our monolithic institutions. Examples:
Waze, the world’s largest community-based traffic and navigation app.
Services like Uber. A recent report shows that 46 percent of the ground transportation rides are through Uber. Taxis, limos and shuttles business fell from 85 percent to 53 percent over the same period.
Cryptocurrencies – The number of transactions is doubling every eight months for Bitcoin, a digital currency that operates outside the traditional banking system.
…not to mention the accelerated changes Cloud technology is causing right now.
Additional disruptive technologies that will significantly change the business landscape include: Google’s Magic Leap, HoloLens by Microsoft, Brain Organoids, Cognitive Computing and Neuromorphics, wearable and mobile health devices, machine-machine and human-machine interfaces, distributed manufacturing, Bioprinting, digital genome just to name a few.
If you think these changes are far in the future and not likely to affect you, consider the origins of the ubiquitous webcam. In 1991, the Trojan Room coffee pot was the inspiration for the world’s first webcam. The coffee pot was located in the corridor just outside the Trojan Room within the old computer laboratory of University of Cambridge. The webcam was created to help people working in other parts of the building avoid pointless trips to the coffee pot by providing, on the user’s desktop computer, a live 128×128 grey-scale video of the state of the coffee pot. What may have seemed to be a silly invention in 1991 was, in 1993, connected to the Internet and the rest is history!
Impact to You & Your Clients
1) Your clients may be scrambling to keep up and looking for help.
2) Your prospects have an abundance of information at their finger-tips and don’t need you to be ‘talking brochures or websites’.
Technology has created a more savvy, insightful and demanding buyer, increasing the demands on suppliers, particularly the salespeople with whom they interact. In-person relationships are more, rather than less, important in this environment.
The role of sales person needs to shift from information provider, persuader, order-taker to that of facilitator. ‘Facilitate’ from the Greek word ‘facel’, means to make easy, promote, help forward. Your role then is to make things easier, to guide and to help the client bring about action in the best interests of their business opportunities and challenges.
This is much more advanced than listening to the VOC – Voice of the Customer. We need to move to understanding BOC – Behaviour of the Customer – understanding their business processes not just their ‘product’ needs. Many customers don’t know what they need or want, especially in light of the advances in business today. Also they often have a set perception of what they think you offer as solutions. Consider the famous quote by Henry Ford.
‘If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.’
So the choice today is not whether to transform, but HOW. You can get dragged along the bottom of this tsunami or grab a board and ride the wave.
5Cs to help you ride the Tsunami:
This involves authentic caring about the individual client, their role and their challenges rather than focusing on how to sell your “stuff”. Authentic caring connects us with others and engages the higher level ‘thinking’ brain.
You can’t fake authenticity! What you ‘think or feel’ about your clients exposes itself through micro expressions, brief (1/15 to 1/25 of a second) involuntary facial expressions of emotion that are picked up unconsciously. If a client doesn’t detect an authentic or caring connection with you, the relationship will be damaged or simply not exist. Many of your subsequent efforts will be in vain.
Simply put, you must CARE about your clients.
Developing new, expanded opportunities for you and your client requires a shift from traditional solution selling to an approach that connects your business relevance to all levels of a client’s business. This requires a deep understanding of their business, from their point of view, knowing their priorities, processes, strategies and problems.
According to Forrester Research only 36% of salespeople can identify their customers’ problems and fewer can connect the problems to the business impact; 64% of senior executives believe that the salesperson does not know enough about their business to bring any value. In fact, only 25% of them are prepared to take a second meeting.
Sharing product agnostic, industry and business insights as a core part of your sales engagement strategy is a way to demonstrate your connection to your client’s business and lead to more successful sales calls. Providing industry and business expertise is four times more valuable than having product knowledge according to recent research from SiriusDecisions.
The purpose of an insight is not to confuse, but to illuminate. Unlike traditional marketing or product materials, the insights themselves provide something of intrinsic value to the customer. Furthermore, sharing these insights with your clients can disrupt their current thinking and bring about new perspectives connected to their current business challenges.
When it’s time to position your offering you must demonstrate the impact it will have on their business challenges and CONNECT it to their business outcomes.
If you are in the right job/company/industry and you have a passion for what you do and for continuous learning, being interested in your client’s business will come easily to you. Without this passion to learn, you will find it difficult to be naturally inquisitive.
You need to be curious about what matters to your clients and less focused on what ‘interesting’ stuff you have to say.
It is far more valuable if you can create that ‘a-ha’ moment for your client by asking astute, thought-provoking questions that disrupt their assumptions and promote innovative thinking. Nothing is more powerful than when a client says “That’s interesting, I never thought about it that way before.”
Questions should challenge the brain not the ego. Thought-provoking questions evoke the neocortex, stirs up the brain chemicals and create a dissonance. The brain LOVES a challenge – the ‘ego’ does not.
Do your typical questions transform brainpower into innovation or do they sound like inquisitions?
Do they connect to relevant business issues vs. product needs?
Do they elicit a client ‘a-ha’ moment – where they learn something new that is relevant to them?
And if you are asking someone for their precious time to solve their problems, don’t waste it by asking questions that in fact solve your sales problem. Stay away from questions that are likely to get you ‘thrown out’ by the client. Opening the conversation with “So, tell me about a little bit about your business” and asking “What keeps you up at night?” are fatal mistakes. There is no way back from here. You must know about their business and have a sense of their challenges before your initial meeting. Come prepared with insights to share and experiences that you have gleaned from other similar companies or industry intel.
Your role as facilitator is to make things easier, to guide without directing, bring about action, knock down walls between people while co-creating a solution with your client.
Gone are the days where you can just knock on the door of a C-level office and close a deal. Whether selling to a customer with 50 or 50,000 employees, it’s rare to find one unilateral decision maker. The decision to act rests with multiple divisions and many times with groups that have conflicting priorities. Reaching consensus and obtaining approval from these diverse groups is often the most painful process for your client contact. In a recent CEB study it was found that on average 5.4 people now have to formally sign off on each purchase and the number of diverse groups involved in decisions (IT, marketing, COO, CFO, legal, procurement) has increased, resulting in longer sales cycles, smaller deals, lower margins and often, customer deadlocks.
Helping your contacts facilitate collaboration earlier in the sales cycle can be the greatest value you bring. Rather than waiting for the solution identification stage, professional sales people involve themselves proactively in the problem definition stage and best-in-class are involved in helping the client at the strategy and goal definition stage.
World-class sales organizations differentiate themselves from their competitors by their ability to quickly deploy their resources to customers and opportunities.
Do you have the internal influence to collaborate with your teams to bring the right resources, at the right time to serve your clients?
Do you act as an internal customer champion, challenging your organization to provide high levels of customer engagement, innovation and service?
Caring, connecting, curiosity and collaboration naturally results in new information that your client or your competitors won’t necessarily have.
This information and an environment of trust creates fruitful ground for collaborative, creative problem-solving with your client and your internal teams.
Unfortunately, many sales people are stymied by lack of in-depth knowledge of their client’s business priorities, processes and problems. Additionally, many salespeople are stopped by what seem to be barriers – lack of budget, time, resources etc. Luckily a well-known fact in innovation circles today is that creativity loves constraint. Obstacles are in fact opportunities to innovate new solutions that differentiate you from the competition.
Selling in the Shift
Are you ready to sell in the shift?
Are you depending on your product superiority, your operational efficiency or your connection with your clients?
This tsunami-like business shift will continue to get faster and bigger and more complex in the coming years. HOW you do business is as important as WHAT results you get.
Sales professionals practicing the 5C’s of Caring, Connection, Curiosity, Collaboration and Creativity build and maintain long-term, trusting relationships with their clients. Deep understanding, shared values, trust, assurance of quality and a believable commitment to make it right for the client will outlive all other innovations.