Over the past fifty years, much thought and effort has gone into analysing and improving sales performance.  Of the thousands of books, academic courses and training workshops translated into multiple languages, no page has gone unturned.  Organisations across the world embrace each new sales methodology like the latest diet craze.  We listen in earnest to psychologists, motivational speakers, and elite athletes amongst others to learn everything we can about how to differentiate ourselves from the competition.

In the B2B space, we have worked in and alongside sales teams over nearly two decades and witnessed a variety of sales methodologies – some applied brilliantly, others far less so.  SPIN selling, Value Based Selling, Solution Selling, Social Selling, the Challenger Sale, Outcome Selling – you name it, we’ve seen it and worn the t-shirt.

Given our general obsession with How To Sell, you’d be forgiven for thinking that by now, we’d all have it cracked – right?!  It doesn’t matter whether you’re a huge multinational, or a one-man-band working from the kitchen table.  One thing’s for sure, each and every salesperson brings their own style and personality to the sale.

On the whole though, the salespeople we work with still spend a disproportionate amount of time talking about their product and service features.  The flashing lights, the bells, the whistles.  Now we’re not suggesting that there isn’t a right time and place to articulate the issues our solutions can solve.  In fact that should form part of any robust value proposition.  The problem is that the presentation of the ‘bells and whistles’ is often completed without a real understanding of exactly how these features relate to what the customer is trying to achieve.  The starting point for any relationship-based sale should be to understand what makes the client tick.  Why do they feel they need this?  What are they ultimately trying to achieve?  In the Digital Age, our clients are overwhelmed by choice, channels and change.  We need to help them cut out the noise by enabling them to focus on their highest priorities.  In doing so we will help to deliver the outcomes they want and the experiences their customers demand.

Recently we were approached by a prospective client in the Property sector to deliver a Presentation Skills course.  When asked why they felt they needed this, they responded by saying they believed their low win rate at pitch stage was due to a lack of pitching and presenting skills.  We resisted the temptation to tell them all about our wonderful Presentation Skills training – our flashing light!  Just a few basic questions allowed us to  scratch beneath the surface.  We discovered that in the vast majority of cases, our client was being introduced to these opportunities at proposal stage – potentially far later in the game than their competition.  We helped them recognise that earlier engagement on the part of the competition put the competition at a distinct advantage, that our client risked simply being used as a pricing benchmark.  Had we not taken the time to truly understand, we may well have delivered a world-class Presentation Skills programme, but actually never hit the root cause of the problem.  Instead we designed and delivered a comprehensive Customer Engagement programme highlighting how to engage with the customer earlier in the buying process, build better relationships and gain sight of opportunities earlier.  As a result the client’s sales team were far better prepared for success.  Interestingly this approach also saw the team increase their number of ‘No Bids’ by strengthening their qualification process.  In short they felt better equipped to recognise when they were being used as ‘Column Fodder’.

Whichever sales methodology you adopt, never has it been truer that it’s far less about WHAT you sell than HOW you sell.  Asking appropriate questions and truly listening to understand the outcomes your customer wants to achieve will serve you far better than the flashing lights on your latest widget.

– Caroline