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New Data Means Your Approach to Selling has to Change … NOW!

The chart almost made me sick. Good selling is no longer what we’ve been saying it is.

Just released new sales research from Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson of the Corporate Executive Board analyzes  what kinds of people are most successful, today, in complex sales. And the data says that relationship builders are least likely to succeed in today’s marketplace.

In Sales Training, we’ve been talking about building relationships for years!

Who’s doing “complex sales”? They include the accountants, consultants, scientists and sales reps that strategize with major retailers and other buyers, with whom I work in my professional practice.

So, who succeeds in sales today?  Challengers.  54% of today’s high performing salespeople are those who educate their prospects, challenge their assumptions, get them to think differently, and then catalyze action.
I can’t help but recall Steve Jobs’s “Think different” ads for Apple.  That’s what’s working in sales now!

It turns out that Relationship Builders -- people focused on developing strong personal and professional relationships, generous with their time, striving to meet their customers’ every need and working hard to resolve tensions in the commercial relationships -- are LOSERS in today’s selling environment.
Why?  Maybe because they’re working to resolve tension rather than build it up!  The WINNERS, the Challengers, push their prospects a bit, challenge them and hold their ground, rather than deferring to their prospect’s point of view.

I wanted to find fault with this new sales research.  Is it small scale?

No.  It’s a study of more than 6,000 sellers across nearly 100 companies, and it’s recent data.

Surely it’s biased to American culture?

No.  The data is cross-cultural.  And though it’s a good idea to be aware of cultural norms, the quality of challenging the buyer’s thinking is a key to sales success globally in this tough market.

So relationships no longer matter?  Of course not.  But it appears that Challengers win by creating constructive tension when they are selling … while Relationship Builders adopt a service mentality and focus on relieving tension.

Read that paragraph again.  When you’re selling, think in terms of creating, not relieving, tension.
Here’s an example:  typically, relationship builders look for their prospects’ pain.  Right now, you’re likely to be told, the pain is “the recession,” “the crisis,” “no money.”  So, being responsive to your prospect’s pain, you back off.  If you’re only going to cost money, that’s the moral thing to do.
But if you’re going to save money or make money for that prospect, that’s the time to challenge!  Does that prospect know what he or she needs?  Can you offer a new perspective, a new opportunity?  If so, step into the fray and educate!

Are you struggling to differentiate yourself on the basis of your product or service being demonstrably better than everyone else’s?  It’s harder and harder to do that now. Prospects, according to sales sage Neil Rackham,  have access to 20 times more information about you and your product or service now than they did just five years ago, and it’s unlikely that what you do is completely unique.
But the new data show that you CAN differentiate yourself from your competitors in the selling process itself. Buyers say their loyalty, now, is based on things like 

The seller offers unique, valuable perspectives on the market
The seller helps me navigate alternatives
The seller helps me avoid potential land mines
The seller educates me on new issues and outcomes

The new book based on this data, The Challenger Sale, will be released on November 10, 2011.  But you can and should change your approach now.
On the Harvard Business Review blog, authors Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson summed it up: “Selling is not about Relationships.”

We need to start teaching our prospects, giving them new ideas tailored to their specific organization for making money or saving money, not wait for them to admit having some "pain" that our services or product might resolve. Maybe the real pain is that they don't know what is possible! Until we make this change in our approach to selling, we are missing opportunities for sales success.

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