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Pivot, Drive, and Accelerate Your Sales Process

Pivot, Drive, and Accelerate Sales With a Better Sales Process

Not too long ago, I offered a comment on a post, “The Death of a (Traditional) Salesman” by Tony Rodoni from Salesforce. Rodoni’s post was well-written, and it presented a common view that I see in the sales blogosphere. Essentially, Rodoni says the ways of the past in selling are dead, and salespeople now to have think more like marketers, be more data-driven, focus on the whole customer experience throughout their sales process, and evolve away from traditional relationship-selling.

Considering Salesforce is clearly doing what it can to move professional sales in the direction of more data-driven, customer-focused sales processes and enabling tools, Rodoni’s post makes perfect sense. It is hard to argue with his premise, but he presents a false dilemma in his article.

Should we build strong business relationships with our clients, or should we function more like modern, customer-focused, data-driven sellers?

From 2003 to 2010, I was in sales and eventually served as the VP of Enterprise Sales for Huthwaite, Incorporated, the company founded by Neil Rackham and the creators of SPIN Selling. Back in those days, we helped large, global and also middle-market companies who wanted to move toward a more consultative, value-oriented approach to selling. Virtually all of those companies were trying to deal with some degree of commoditization, and they sought to escape the price-driven sale by taking a consultative, value-oriented approach to selling.

In client conversations, we frequently referenced the work of Rackham and John DeVincentis and their seminal book, Rethinking the Sales Force. Rackham and DeVincentis made the argument that sales and business success no longer depend on communicating the value of products or services, but they rest on the crucial ability to create value for customers. Value creation depends, they contended, in large part on a seller’s ability to help clients see unrecognized problems, identify unseen opportunities, or arrive at unanticipated solutions to their business issues or opportunities.

Rackham and DeVincentis were ahead of their time, publishing “Rethinking” in 1999, well before many sales organizations recognized the impact of the fast-information age on how buyers perceived them. At the time of the book’s publishing, traditional relationship selling… the back-slapping, golf-playing, let’s-be-buddies-first-then-business-associates variety of relationship selling… was still very much a primary strategy for some sales organizations. The idea of value creation was a world apart from old school relationship selling.

That was seventeen years ago, and the ways in which people establish, develop, and manage business relationships has naturally evolved. Old school relationship building methods have gone by the wayside, replaced by approaches that are more authentic, more substantive, and client-focused. I point to the work of my friend, Ed Wallace, author of the book, Business Relationships That Last, in which he details what it takes now to identify, prioritize, measure, and advance key business relationships in an intentional way. My partner in this joint venture, Dan Smaida, also wrote a fantastic book just last year, Love and Selling, about building strong relationships based on authenticity, customer focus, and real business value. Read both of those books when you have some time to spare.

The concept of value creation has similarly expanded beyond Rackham and DeVincentis’s original notion of customer value drivers. Consider “The Challenger Sale” by Dixon and Adamson at CEB. Their main contention is that in order to create real value for customers, one must challenge customers with key insights that change their perceptions and break paradigms. They’re not wrong, and they’re also not exactly right either.

The point of all this rehashing of key sales concepts down through the years is not simply to demonstrate how well I understand the landscape but to tee up some simple but important questions.

  • Have you attempted to create insight for a client without applying some of your softer skills like showing empathy or interest in a client’s important strategic goals?
  • Have you ever tried to challenge someone’s thinking without first establishing trust? How did that go?
  • If you are in complex B2B sales, have you succeeded at selling recently without following a process?

The big challenge for sales leaders is to consider how customer-focused sales process, client insights informed by data, and relationship development practices can be combined and used to empower salespeople as they pivot from relationship development to data-driven selling to long-term value creation.

What are you doing to empower and enable your sales organization to do “the pivot” better than the competition? Is there anything ingrained in your sales culture that ensures sales people are equipped and encouraged to build trust and create value in a modern, data-driven sort of way?

Consider your sales process for a moment. Is there opportunity to refine or perhaps rebuild your sales process to enable and empower the right behavior? How would you do that?

Work Inside-Out. Start by leveraging YOUR OWN data and insights on the true customer journey and the path to value creation. Resist training or software vendors who offer you their process as a starting point because THEIR data says so.
Action items:
i. Interview, survey, and analyze your customers first.
ii. Ask your salespeople, customer service, anyone who touches customers directly.
iii. Look up and down your customers’ supply chain for additional insight.

Think Tailor-Made, not Off the Rack. Even if you have a sales process today, you can do what expert clothiers do for a customer whose clothes are fine but ill-fitting: Take it apart, re-cut it to the right measurements, and put it back together.
Action items:
i. Disassemble your sales process and test each part for value.
ii. Identify customer milestones and drivers for each and every stage of the process.
iii. Reassemble your process, using customer milestones and drivers as the anchor points throughout.

Validate and iterate. Don’t make the mistake of “rolling out” a new sales process and clinging to it because of all the work that went into changing the CRM. Instead, use smart manufacturing principles to make sure you’re getting it right so sellers use it.
Action items:
i. Stress test your process with customers in each of your key markets/segments.
ii. Use your sales advisory council to validate and refine as you go.
iii. Use low-tech iterations to perfect your process before any changes to CRM structure, drop-downs, et cetera are made.

As always, we are at your service for ideas on how to improve and accelerate your sales process in a modern, customer-focused, and data-driven sort of way. You can contact us by clicking here.

Matt McDarby is a Managing Director at Specialized Sales Systems and can be reached at mmcdarby@specializedsalessystems.com.