Change Selling Behavior — Really?

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Another terrific Boston SMEI breakfast discussion this morning. Lisa Dennis lead a discussion about changing selling behaviors using ideas from Dan Pink’s latest book, To Sell Is Human. Here are my takeaway observations and related thoughts.

Core conclusion: rather than try to change behaviors, select, enable and incent desired behaviors.

The topic of selling and sales behaviors is so broad, it has to be focused for a coherent discussion. Yet so much of what I read and hear never starts that way. Any sales conversation must begin with the nature of the selling process, especially from the buyers perspective — how they see their problems, available solutions, and buying challenges.

My colleague Rob Scanlon developed a simple “Three Level Selling Model” that I’ve found useful. This is based upon the customer’s understanding of their problem, vendor products and solutions available to solve their problem, and their ability to make effective buying and deployment decisions.

For example, the Best Buy tablet or cell phone sales person has a different job, customer, and required competency set than the enterprise rep selling complex IT products and solutions, or the rep introducing business transformation solutions.

Seller Understanding

From this discussion and several client engagements, I question the degree to which most sales people really understand or appreciate the dramatic changes in the way B2B buyers buy. One can’t read a marketing article without this as the de-facto starting point. Yet I see little evidence that sales people are aware of this shift, understand the selling implications, or have developed an effective response strategy.

Here’s a test for your sellers. Ask your sales people to list:

  • The primary stages of your buyer’s buying process
  • Indicators for each stage of the process (ie how they would know where the buyer is?)
  • Buyer needs at each stage, in terms of buyer questions and desired information (hint — these are your indicators)
  • How sales people have adapted the way they sell to address these changes

Implications for Your Business

A primary observation from our conversation was the impact of company and selling culture on sales rep behavior. As an example: listening, having an account selling strategy, knowing how to construct and execute effective story-based business conversations were among key behaviors we identified. How do you recruit and manage for these behaviors? Does your culture and quota pressure over-ride sales process and “customer best interest” approaches to selling?

Rather than investing in sales training for reps, a better investment might be in sales managers. Teaching managers how to train and support reps in a sales process based execution, with relationship and trust building “consultative” behaviors, may be a more effective investment. Holding managers accountable to the process as well as the results could be your most important behavior change.

This conversation highlighted the importance of marketing and selling interdependencies. These will differ of course based upon each selling model. For complex and divergent offers and customer buying environments, there is too much for each rep to figure out for themselves: ideal customer profile, key buyer roles, buyer issues and needs, competitive context, effective messaging, storytelling and customer examples, lead generation, objection handling and proof points ….

These critical elements must be decided and documented in a professional manner. Through tools, content, coaching and other support mechanisms, sales people must be “enabled” — usually in a just-in-time manner. Structure drives behavior. Want different behaviors and outcomes? Check your structures and inputs. Check you culture.

A lot is at stake. Are your sales people a “necessary evil,” or THE BASIS for true (best?) differentiation and competitive advantage?

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