I've just completed a four week, eight country tour that included the US, Europe, Southeast Asia and the Middle East. Set aside the critical cultural nuances for a moment and you will find that sales professionals around the world are asking similar questions regarding how to become more successful in this complex and global market.
1. What are the most important skills a sales professional needs in order to succeed in today's competitive environment?
There are critical components that form a foundation for learning and performance for all professionals. They are systems, skills and disciplines. A system is a set process or organized procedure that leads to a predictable result. The skill is in the individual's knowledge and ability to execute the system. Discipline is having the emotional or mental stamina, perhaps even the courage, required to achieve the highest standards of the profession. In short, these three areas represent knowing what to do, how to do it, and having the emotional strength to actually carry it out at a quality level.
That being said, adequately researching and preparing your position before you engage with a new customer or a new opportunity is an important stage for top performers. Organizing a business case for customers gives sales professionals the ability to diagnose the customer's real situation in a manner that brings awareness, clarity and cost ownership of the problem they are experiencing, or the opportunity they are missing. The key skill required to accomplish this is in the ability to help the customer quantify the financial impact of the situation. "How much is it costing them not to have what you are about to propose?" With a cost of the problem established, the customer will have a clear incentive to take action and change their situation. This is a collaboration process with the customer to "co-design" or "co-create" the solution. It helps them gain pride of authorship and gives them the confidence to invest.
Ultimately, the key to success is through the interpersonal communication and relationship skills to manage this process. It enables professionals to interact in a way that builds mutual respect, trust and success.
2. How can I stand out as unique when the buyer treats us all the same?
Differentiation falls under the discipline component, the mental and emotional stamina I mentioned earlier…the stance we take with respect to our customers. Success comes as a result of helping our customers achieve their success. Top professionals approach their customers thinking, "How can I help them succeed?" rather than "What can I sell them?" They think like a business person rather than the traditional salesperson and manage a process "with" the customer rather than selling "to" the customer. Customers are unaccustomed to being treated in this manner and will take notice when someone has their best interest in mind instead of their personal agenda.
3. How can a salesperson convince a stalled customer to make a decision and move forward?
Part of not thinking like a salesperson and thinking like a business person includes stopping yourself from thinking that you have to present, persuade and convince. Customers today have complex decisions to make and many do not have the level of information needed to make sound decisions about something they have little experience with. Presenting solutions to problems the customer doesn't understand, or even knows exist, is fruitless. The true business advisor or diagnostician is looking to guide the customer through a mutual diagnosis of issues to be investigated or problems to be solved. As a result, the customer uncovers the evidence through the guidance of the sales professional and if their problem is significant enough, is ready to fix it and move forward.
Success as a professional is a direct result of providing success for your customers through a very well organized and defined communication process. It is important that you develop the skills and disciplines that ensure you can carry out your responsibilities in a professional and quality fashion.
It is an exciting time for sales professionals. High performers are in great demand and in short supply. I encourage you to test out these perspectives in your client interactions and experience the difference it makes in achieving great success.