Sales Performance – Are We Achieving What is Possible?

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This is an excellent blog and should be circulated to sales leaders and sales trainers throughout the country.  The selling environment today is certainly very difficult.  Techniques that worked over the past 5 years, past year or even yesterday are ineffective today, yet so many of the old skill sets remain in active use.

Salespeople often confuse activity with effectiveness.

If I have all these great relationships and work hard, that’s all I’ll need to do.  I’m active.  I’m busy. 

The truth is that relationship building and hard work can also be great hiding places.  Sometimes we need to step back to honestly assess how truly effective our activity has been from an actual sales success standpoint.  Yes, we make some sales through relationship building, and yes, we make some sales through other kinds of hard work.  However …

Here are some questions to consider:

  • Are we achieving what is possible?
  • Is our “success” actually underperformance?
  • How many sales are we missing because of our old skill set?

Because of the downsized and flattened nature of today’s corporate structures, companies need the skill set of a challenger.  A challenger can be a strategic business partner without necessarily being on the payroll.  Companies need all the help they can get in today’s competitive business environment – an effective challenger can help unlock the gap between current sales performance and what is achievable.

Sales leaders – you must call out of all those great hiding places and old skill sets in your sales workforce and zero in on what is effective and ineffective.

Sales trainers – you must ensure that you are training the right skills and the right mindset.  Rehashing and reinforcing yesterday’s skills and behaviors will be costly for your organization.

Original HBR Blog Post Below: 

Selling Is Not About Relationships By: Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson

This post, the first of a four-part series, is also part of the HBR Insight Center Growing the Top Line.

Ask any sales leader how selling has changed in the past decade, and you’ll hear a lot of answers but only one recurring theme: It’s a lot harder. Yet even in these difficult times, every sales organization has a few stellar performers. Who are these people? How can we bottle their magic?

To understand what sets apart this special group of sales reps, the Sales Executive Council launched a global study of sales rep productivity three years ago involving more than 6,000 reps across nearly 100 companies in multiple industries.

We now have an answer, which we’ve captured in the following three insights:

1. Every sales professional falls into one of five distinct profiles.

Quantitatively speaking, just about every B2B sales rep in the world is one of the following types, characterized by a specific set of skills and behaviors that defines the rep’s primary mode of interacting with customers:

  • Relationship Builders focus on developing strong personal and professional relationships and advocates across the customer organization. They are generous with their time, strive to meet customers’ every need, and work hard to resolve tensions in the commercial relationship.
  • Hard Workers show up early, stay late, and always go the extra mile. They’ll make more calls in an hour and conduct more visits in a week than just about anyone else on the team.
  • Lone Wolves are the deeply self-confident, the rule-breaking cowboys of the sales force who do things their way or not at all.
  • Reactive Problem Solvers are, from the customers’ standpoint, highly reliable and detail-oriented. They focus on post-sales follow-up, ensuring that service issues related to implementation and execution are addressed quickly and thoroughly.
  • Challengers use their deep understanding of their customers’ business to push their thinking and take control of the sales conversation. They’re not afraid to share even potentially controversial views and are assertive — with both their customers and bosses.

2. Challengers dramatically outperform the other profiles, particularly Relationship Builders.

When we look at average reps, we find a fairly even distribution across all five of these profiles. But while there may be five ways to be average, there’s only one way to be a star. We found that Challenger reps dominate the high-performer population, making up close to 40% of star reps in our study.

What makes the Challenger approach different?

The data tell us that these reps are defined by three key capabilities:

Challengers teach their customers. They focus the sales conversation not on features and benefits but on insight, bringing a unique (and typically provocative) perspective on the customer’s business. They come to the table with new ideas for their customers that can make money or save money — often opportunities the customer hadn’t realized even existed.

Challengers tailor their sales message to the customer They have a finely tuned sense of individual customer objectives and value drivers and use this knowledge to effectively position their sales pitch to different types of customer stakeholders within the organization.

Challengers take control of the sale. While not aggressive, they are certainly assertive. They are comfortable with tension and are unlikely to acquiesce to every customer demand. When necessary, they can press customers a bit — not just in terms of their thinking but around things like price.

We’ll discuss each of these capabilities in more depth in our upcoming posts, but just as surprising as it is that Challengers win, it’s almost more eye-opening who loses. In our study, Relationship Builders come in dead last, accounting for only 7% of all high performers.

Why is this? It’s certainly not because relationships no longer matter in B2B sales–that would be a naïve conclusion. Rather, what the data tell us is that it is the nature of the relationships that matter. Challengers win by pushing customers to think differently, using insight to create constructive tension in the sale. Relationship Builders, on the other hand, focus on relieving tension by giving in to the customer’s every demand. Where Challengers push customers outside their comfort zone, Relationship Builders are focused on being accepted into it. They focus on building strong personal relationships across the customer organization, being likable and generous with their time. The Relationship Builder adopts a service mentality. While the Challenger is focused on customer value, the Relationship Builder is more concerned with convenience. At the end of the day, a conversation with a Relationship Builder is probably professional, even enjoyable, but it isn’t as effective because it doesn’t ultimately help customers make progress against their goals.

This finding — that Challengers win and Relationship Builders lose — is one that sales leaders often find deeply troubling, because their organizations have placed by far their biggest bet on recruiting, developing, and rewarding Relationship Builders, the profile least likely to win.

Here’s how one of our members in the hospitality industry put it when he saw these results: “You know, this is really hard to look at. For the past 10 years, it’s been our explicit strategy to hire effective Relationship Builders. After all, we’re in the hospitality business. And, for a while, that approach worked well. But ever since the economy crashed, my Relationship Builders are completely lost. They can’t sell a thing. And as I look at this, now I know why.”

3. Challengers dominate the world of complex “solution-selling”

Given the first two findings, it might be reasonable to conclude that Challengers are the down-economy reps and that when things return to normal, Relationship Builders will once again prevail. But our data suggest that this is wishful thinking.

When we cut the data by complexity of sale — that is, separating out transactional, product-selling reps from complex, solution-selling reps — we find that Challengers absolutely dominate as selling gets more complex. Fully 54% of all star reps in a solution-selling environment are Challengers. At the same time, Relationship Builders fall off the map almost entirely, representing only 4% of high-performing reps in complex environments.

Put differently, Challengers win because they’ve mastered the complex sale, not because they’ve mastered a complex economy. Your very best sales reps — the ones who carried you through the downturn — aren’t just the top performers of today but the top performers of tomorrow, as they are far better able to drive sales and deliver customer value in any kind of economic environment. For any company on a journey from selling products to selling solutions — which is a migration that more than 75% of the companies I work with say they are pursuing — the Challenger selling approach represents a dramatically improved recipe for driving top-line growth.

In the next post, we’ll look at how Challengers teach their customers and how leading companies are equipping their salespeople to do the same.

 

 

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About Jack Dempsey

Jack Dempsey, CEO, heads Pretium Solutions’ Customer Experience & Sales Area focusing on Customer Loyalty, Brand Loyalty and Customer Retention Strategies. He directs Pretium’s revolutionary customer loyalty program, the Golden Touchpoint™. Pretium Solutions is a premier provider of cutting-edge, sustainable and globally-recognized customer experience management solutions and customer service, call center and sales training, consulting and leadership programs. Pretium shows companies how to create, build and maintain customer loyalty, the most important measure of a company’s success with its customers and the most profitable customer service outcome.

One Response to “Sales Performance – Are We Achieving What is Possible?”

  1. Lisa October 10, 2011 at 7:46 pm #

    Really great article

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