Monday, October 31, 2016

How to Use Solution Selling to Move from Vendor to Advisor

2 cartoon businessmen sharing ideas with light bulbs over their heads

Solution selling training teaches you how to build valued, long-term relationships with clients where you help your clients to become successful. It helps you act in a more consultative way as you align with your customer’s buying process and business goals. Your ideas and proposed solutions are shared in a way that highlights your value to the client not simply as a vendor but in the much more important role as trusted advisor.

For those of you who have not had the benefit of a proven solution selling training program, here is a quick digest of what you need to do to become that advisor your clients rely upon for information, advice, insights and, ultimately, solutions that address their most critical problems.

Trustworthy solution sellers and business advisors know how to:
  • Demonstrate their unwavering commitment to their customer’s success
    They know how to show that they have the knowledge and experience to address their clients’ concerns. They are not self-serving but are genuinely interested in their clients’ challenges. They know how to ask the right questions and listen to the answers with understanding. They do not push products, features and benefits.  They design specific solutions to help with their clients’ most pressing priorities.

  • Act professionally
    They are on time, appropriately dressed, confident and respectful. And they are always fully prepared for a meeting so no time is wasted.

  • Be true
    Trusted advisors and effective solution sellers are authentic. Whatever their true personality, they do not pretend to be other than who they are.

  • Are forthright and honest
    Solution sellers must be willing to disagree with their customers when they see failure ahead. You may lose the current deal but you will gain the respect of your client and perhaps earn a referral and/or the right to address their next opportunity.

  • Establish rapport
    True solution sales people communicate effectively and naturally. The goal is to establish common ground with clients upon which a working relationship can be solidly built.

  • Develop trust
    When you are accountable for your actions and always keep your word, trust is built. It happens over time with your consistent delivery on commitments. It is the basic building block of all strong interpersonal relationships.

As you prove yourself knowledgeable, experienced, caring and reliable, you will achieve the higher and more respected role of advisor in your customer’s eyes…a much more enviable role than that of a mere vendor.

Download Solution Selling Toolkit for Leaders Now

Friday, October 28, 2016

Sales Coaching + Solution Selling Training = Success

a cartoon man is walking from one mountain top to another with the help of a coach

Coaching in any arena is an interactive process. Whether on the athletic field or on a corporate sales team, it occurs person-to-person and its objective is to provide perspective and improve performance. The focus is not necessarily only on outcomes; coaching more appropriately focuses on the behaviors and strategies that, in the final analysis, get the desired results.

Here are some best practices for sales coaches who work as a follow-on to customized solution selling training programs:
  1. Set up a sales coaching scheduleRegular, frequent, structured meetings are the most effective long-term. With an agreed-upon agenda and a standard meeting time, both the coach and coachee are increasingly committed to the relationship and the specific goals and objectives they have set. The process becomes so embedded in the learner’s weekly program that behavior change is just part of their plan and expectation.

  2. Select (and/or train) the right sales coachesCoaching well requires special solution selling skills. Coaches need to genuinely care about the success of the person they are assigned, know how to give feedback in a constructive way, fully understand the consultative sales process and be experts in sales performance management. The better your sales coaches, the better the sales results. If you don’t have good sales coaches internally, look outside the company for sales coaching experts who know how to do it right.

  3. Provide multiple sales and leadership toolsFace-to-face meetings or side-by-side sessions in the field may be the best venues for sales coaching, but they may not always be possible. When a sales coach must work virtually, try to provide them with a variety of delivery methods. How about simulations that are designed to teach specific skills like negotiating or presenting effectively? There is an element of competition in simulations that increases engagement. Another method is to conduct meetings by webcam. The interpersonal connection is more powerful than meetings by phone.

Sales coaching is the perfect answer to your desire to continue the learning beyond the solution selling training program. Sales coaches can encourage the value selling skills you know breed success and see that those sales skills are practiced correctly on the job. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

5 Steps to Get More Sales Referrals than Your Peers

a graphic depicts a circle of people connected in a referral network

As solution selling salespeople, we know that referrals from clients, friends, partners and peers are one of the best ways to grow a business. So why aren’t salespeople better at obtaining them?

One of the most valuable pieces in our solution selling training program has to do with getting referrals. Every sales training expert will tell you that referrals can significantly boost your revenue but few tell you how to ask effectively. Here is the process we recommend:
  1. Do differentiated work.
    Sales referrals are earned.  And the first step in earning a referral is doing great work and having great solutions.  The second step is using your solution selling training skills to build trusting relationships based upon your competence and character as a sales professional.

  2. Ask the right people.
    Just as you would be reluctant to ask a brand new acquaintance for a favor, so should you be uneasy about asking a target client for a referral until you have proven yourself enough. How have you helped your client succeed? Have you had a chance to show that you have both the character and competence to earn their trust?  It does not have to have been a huge contract or a long length of time. You may simply have provided value with special insight or expertise that helped them look at their problem in a new way. The more delighted the customer, the warmer the referral.

  3. Make your request specific.
    Some people resist giving a referral because sales people ask in a way that creates too much additional work and time. Make it easy for people to provide you with referrals by telling them exactly who you would like to speak with. 

    Be specific about your sweet spot client in terms of title, responsibility, and industry – even company name and specific person if possible. You might say something like, “I’m so glad our solution made a really positive impact on your sales growth. 80% of our business comes through referrals from clients just like you.  What high tech sales leaders do you know who would like to improve sales performance?”

  4. Ask for an email or phone call introduction.
    Though your referral source may not always provide this, it certainly helps to break down the door. If you need to introduce yourself using their name, craft a succinct email or voicemail message that asks only for a brief call to explore possible opportunities to work together.

  5. Circle back.
    Keep your referral source informed as to your progress. And, if the referral ends up with a sale, a handwritten thank you note or small gift would be in order.
Too many salespeople resist asking for referrals or ask ineffectively. But they shouldn’t. Most clients are happy to help salespeople who provide consistent and measurable value.  It is far easier than most salespeople think as long as you do it right. Go in with the attitude that you have something of real value to share. Then it’s not so much asking for a favor than spreading the word of a good deal.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

How to Improve Your Weekly Sales Meetings and Why

The words "Time to Improve" are printed on a blackboard

At almost every solution selling training workshop we hear sales reps complain about internal sales meetings.

We’d be surprised if you have not heard the same complaints from the sales team that the weekly meetings are a waste of time.  Shame on sales leaders. It is time to improve. If you are going to take your team off the streets on a weekly basis, make sure you make their attendance worthwhile.

Maybe it’s time to get back to square one and remember why you scheduled these sales meetings in the first place. In general, the purpose of sales meetings should be to help your salesforce to succeed through some combination of:

  • Clarifying, monitoring and adjusting sales strategies and sales plans
  • Modeling and rewarding behaviors that align with your desired sales culture
  • Building relationships
  • Celebrating successes and brainstorming challenges
  • Working together to solve problems
  • Sharing market knowledge, expertise and best practices
  • Reinforcing key sales skills learned in solution selling training
  • Discussing what is happening at the corporate level

With the purpose in mind, think about how to keep a tight agenda that provides real value. Sales meetings should instruct, inform and inspire. 

  1. Instruct
    Focus on a specific solution selling skill or step in your sales methodology that needs fine tuning. Your primary responsibility as a sales manager is to improve the performance of your team. Improvement requires the opportunity to learn and grow. What is it that is holding them back? Perhaps they need more work on overcoming objections or presenting more effectively. Make sure you equip your team with what they need to succeed.

  2. Inform
    Every sales team member should be very clear about what they are expected to do and how their success will be measured and rewarded. Check in each week for a quick measure of where the team stands in relation to your top 2-3 sales targets. Work together to figure out what buttons need to be pushed to succeed.

  3. Inspire
    As a sales leader, you need to inspire your sales team. Your confidence in them, your support, your readiness to provide sales performance coaching, and your upbeat attitude will set an example for them to follow. And, don’t forget to have fun. Sales team meetings should help forge the bonds that tie a high performing sales team together. Enjoying and respecting one another is a prime motivator for putting in the extra discretionary effort and committing to common goals.

With the purpose and content back in the forefront as you plan each sales meeting, don’t forget the basics of good sales meetings management. You need an agenda, a strict start and stop, and a facilitator who can keep you on task while encouraging open communication.

Now let’s see what your sales team says about your next sales team meeting! 

Sunday, July 31, 2016

3 Smart Ways Top Performers Close In On Sales Targets

A cartoon of a signed contract with 3 main points checked

If you are a sales leader, you no doubt spend a good deal of time worrying about reaching your sales targets for the month, the quarter and the year. It is often a constant source of tension for sales managers and sales teams.

Sales managers through their team are held accountable for attaining their revenue targets. They become successes or failures each and every quarter and then the sales cycle begins all over again…the cycle of trying to meet and exceed sales expectations. Wouldn’t it be great if you could spend less time agonizing over making quota and more time encouraging your sales team across the finish line?

Here are three ways you can improve your sales outcomes and rest easier at night:

  1. Make clear what your sales team should be doing to succeed.
    Do you know what critical few behaviors and activities drive sales success in your marketplace? Do you know the top 5-10 sales scenarios that matter most?  If not, you absolutely should. You and your sales team should know explicitly what drives success for you and your target customers.

    First establish a profile of sales success by analyzing what your top performers do that works. Then see that the rest of the team is trained to follow a proven sales methodology and incentivized to practice those critical few behaviors. Unless you are selling a simple commodity, your team should receive customized solution selling training so they know how to solve real customer problems. Complex sales require business savvy, great communication skills and the ability to persuade customers that the solutions you sell are exactly what they need to succeed.

    When your sales team has the solution selling skills combined with the understanding of what activities make the most sense for your specific sales strategy and culture, you will see improved results.

  2. Know what you need to do to enable your sales team members.
    How should you best spend your time to see that your sales team is successful? It may be to coach them on-the-spot toward those customer-centric behaviors you know work. Or it may be that you need to re-vamp the sales compensation system to reward the activities that foster success. Or perhaps you should review the sales territory maps for more efficient use of your team’s time. Figure it out.

  3. Measure and track.
    How else will you know if you are making a difference? As the sales team adjusts to applying new solution selling skills and behaviors and as you adjust to how you spend your time enabling the success of your sales team, gather the data that will tell you if you are moving in the right direction.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Do Not Underinvest in Sales Management Training

one cartoon figure is way behind others in a running race

When you are looking to boost the performance of your sales team, don’t forget that your sales managers probably need training too…not how to sell but how to motivate and support the sales team in their efforts to better sell solutions. This takes a whole different set of skills.

Go ahead and select a top quality provider to customize and deliver customize and deliver solution selling training for the sales group. The team will learn what they need to succeed at complex sales. They will learn how to build a mutually beneficial relationship with the customer, work together to diagnose and define the problem that needs solving and co-create a plan that is designed to bring real business results. All well and good. But if your sales manager does not know how to create the environment for sales skill adoption and lasting behavior change, little will change.

Managing a sales team is a critical job. Done well, the team will reach their full potential. Each salesperson will have the skills they need, the traits that work in your unique sales culture and the commitment to perform at their best because they care about delivering results for themselves, the team, the company and their clients. Done poorly, the sales team will lack the motivation and commitment required to excel.

Sales managers are a key lever in improving sales performance. Make sure they are equipped to get their job done well. See that they know how to:

  • Assess salesperson performance.
    The best sales managers know their team members on an individual basis. They know what motivates each salesperson and what each still needs to learn in order to reach their full potential and to help their clients to succeed.

  • Coach their team.
    Sales coaching has been identified as one of the most critical skill for successful sales managers. Our research shows that consistent sales performance coaching creates a 4-to-1 performance difference.  When sales managers can support their team through on-the-spot coaching toward the critical few behaviors that matter most, sales teams perform at an ever higher level.

  • Manage the sales pipeline.
    The best sales managers keep their eye on future opportunities and know how to prioritize those opportunities for maximum return.

  • Forecast with accuracy.
    Company leaders rely upon their sales managers for good sales forecasts that help them make sound decisions for the future health of the business. The best sales managers know how to set up a system that incorporates individual sales reports in a way that is realistic and predictive of future revenue. 

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Thursday, June 16, 2016

Is Solution Selling for You? The Two Levels of Sales Expertise

two men are pushing two giant puzzle pieces together

There are two main levels of sales expertise.  Depending upon your sales strategy, you may have need of both as a sales leader.  

It depends upon your target market, value proposition, growth goals, product and service mix, and the complexity of your solutions. To execute your sales plan, it helps to understand just what critical sales competencies make the most difference for your unique sales strategy, culture and workforce.  Then you should be able to identify “if, where and when” more advanced sales competencies and experience matter.

Level #1 Transactional Selling
As the name implies, at this level, salespeople sell just what they have in their “bag of tricks” as long as they can match what the customer says they want. Typically, these transactional sales reps don’t have the experience, business acumen, time, or flexibility to adapt their simple offerings to a broader, more complex or less obvious customer need. And though they hope for repeat business through excellent service and personal relationships, they are typically more interested in closing deals and customer satisfaction rather than measurably impacting their customer’s business or becoming a trusted business advisor. They usually win on the basis of better products, faster or cheaper. Though a pleasing manner will get them in the door, they will be often subject to competition on the basis of product quality and price.

Level #2 Solution and Value Selling
At level 2, salespeople who are successful at solution selling have learned how to uncover their customer’s real personal and professional needs and are able to consult with their clients to find a true solution to the most pressing issues at hand. They become a trusted business advisor and strategic resource working in partnership with their customer to move business metrics that matter to their customer and their customer’s business. Effective solution sellers know how to operate in a collaborative way, sell consultatively and add valuable insights to help their clients to succeed. Then when they graduate to a more elevated and complex sale that requires maneuvering confidently at the C-level, these salespeople become ever more valuable to their clients and their organizations. 

How do you build what it takes to sell solutions rather than simple products?  Once your sales strategy is clear and you have created a high performance sales culture, your investment in a quality solution selling training program will be well worth it. Your sales reps can learn the value selling skills required to craft solutions that are unique to each customer’s needs, gain the business savvy to identify key players and sidetrack competitors, navigate through the inevitable politics that influence complex sales and communicate comfortably with executives. They are then at the pinnacle of sales expertise and success.

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