In many parts of the world, sales people have a bad reputation. They are often described as liars who trick people into buying things they don’t need, or painted as ultra-competitive mercenaries willing to do anything to reach their goals. When people are asked how they came to this conclusion, you’ll hear stories about used car sales men, or aggressive telemarketers interrupting family dinners. Such experiences give the sales profession a poor reputation.
Contrary to popular belief, selling is really about helping people get from one point to a more attractive one. In b2b sales, people at one company sell goods and services to help people at another company save or gain resources, money and intangibles, such as goodwill. In order to help your clients, the value of your offering needs to be perceived as higher than the risks and costs associated with changing the status quo.
The spectrum of sales is vast, ranging from highly transactional to varying degrees of complexity. Usually, people think complexity increases proportionally to the price tag. However, this is not always the case; rather, complexity is determined by the perceived risk for the buyer.
For example, purchasing new computers for all employees may be expensive, but a budget will be allocated and the nature of the sale is actually quite transactional. Treating such a sale as complex would be a waste of time and resources, unless the selling company can skillfully reposition the buyer’s definition and change the decision criteria from that of a hardware purchase to a question of productivity boosts, time-savings and environmental gains. By reframing the conversation this way, additional avenues for bundled services may also open up.
This type of business creativity could convert a transactional, low-margin deal into a high-margin opportunity. To successfully implement and sustain such best sales practices, a more complex sales process and methodology is required.
Selling transactional products over the phone can work, although it’s getting more and more difficult because it’s not how most people prefer to buy. Nowadays, people tend to buy these kinds of products online.
That said, activity level is key when you have very short sales cycles, which is only possible if the buyer can make the decision alone and the product or service has a low perceived risk. In this equation, the old expression “it’s a numbers game” actually holds true. The person successful in this type of sale is not afraid of conflict, does not take “no” personally and is motivated by the competitive nature of getting to the “yes”. They often need to see quick returns on their efforts and tend to get bored when projects take too long and instead move on to the next one.
When the purchase becomes more risky for the buyer and more people are affected, the stakes are raised. One or two phone calls with a “special offer” will not do the trick. The sales person now needs to really understand the customer’s business objectives and prove she can help achieve them with the least perceived risk possible. Often, the sales person must be able to help reframe the customer’s priorities. This requires business acumen, industry knowledge and interpersonal skills.
If the solution to be purchased will affect many people and processes in the buying company, the perceived risk increases. When more people are impacted by the decision, their needs and fears need to be taken into consideration. In truly complex sales, there will be a lot of stakeholders on both ends and politics will come into play. Do you think a person successful in a transactional sales environment will automatically shine in this type of sales project? Very unlikely.
When I hear people describe the characteristics of “sales people” using words like “winning mentality”, “ruthless”, “a talker” and “fast-paced”, they are describing someone who could be a winning sales person selling low-risk products with very short sales cycles. These words are found in lots of job postings, even when the solutions offered are complex. A person who gets bored with a long sales cycle and start pushing for a close without having completely understood the customer, their politics and ambitions, will unfortunately sabotage a lot of deals. Subsequently, make sure you understand where your sales is on the complexity spectrum and recruit your team accordingly.
Online, offerings look very similar to buyers. Therefore, HOW you sell will become even more important in the future. Building a world-class sales team is probably one of the most important endeavors you can pursue to ensure your company’s survival and future success. Who you recruit and how you support and coach them will be key.
George is the founder & CEO of Membrain, the Sales Enablement CRM that makes it easy to execute your sales strategy. A life-long entrepreneur with 20 years of experience in the software space and a passion for sales and marketing. With the life motto "Don't settle for mainstream", he is always looking for new ways to achieve improved business results using innovative software, skills, and processes. George is also the author of the book Stop Killing Deals and the host of the Stop Killing Deals webinar and podcast series.
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