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How Salespeople Squander Conversations With Senior Level Customers


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How Salespeople Squander Conversations With Senior Level Customers

  1. 1. Point of view At a Loss for Words How Salespeople Squander Conversations with Senior-Level Customers, and What to Do About It "Sell higher, sell more!" a sales manager at a global high-tech firm used to encourage his Authored by Forum’s staff. The exhortation was based on impeccable logic—get into the offices of senior Sales Force executives and your opportunity increases to make larger sales repeatedly over longer Development Practice, periods of time. You have the chance to become an indispensable business partner. with special Unfortunately, for this sales organization, that was where the logic ended. Salespeople acknowledgement to dutifully followed the sales manager's instruction, but without the desired results. Winning Jocelyn Davis appointments with senior executives became the objective. Knowing what to say—that was another matter entirely. Having secured face time with a key executive, salespeople squandered the opportunity by treating the executive as they would any other prospect. Instead of proving themselves to be an invaluable business partner, they proved themselves to be unworthy of the executive's continued attention and time. The experiences left the sales organization literally at a loss for words. Having conversations with senior business leaders presents a new and difficult challenge requiring superior skill, preparation, and knowledge that only the most accomplished salespeople have mastered. High-performing salespeople are experts at using communication skills in sophisticated ways, so that their customers see them as adding exceptional value and insight to every conversation. Not only do they communicate differently, but they also approach these discussions with different objectives than other salespeople; the goal is not to make a sale, but rather to develop a solid business relationship that will be regarded as valuable by the client and will lead to many sales over time. Getting and staying at the top requires an understanding that the audience is unique, and the means to the end are different. The stakes are higher, and so are the expectations.
  2. 2. Point of view Being a Business Partner, Not a Salesperson The Forum Corporation's research on world-class sales To become a trusted advisor, the salesperson needs sound organizations indicates that senior-level customers are account strategies, solid preparation, good insights, in-depth looking for salespeople who can help them achieve new customer knowledge, and broad business knowledge. insights and develop new strategies, not just identify Additionally, and importantly, he or she must have solutions to predefined problems. Salespeople who deliver outstanding communication skills. are rewarded with long-term business relationships that are Imagine a salesperson and a senior-level customer talking beneficial to the about a problem the customer and Know Your Audience customer is facing. profitable to the sales A salesperson's first meeting with a senior-level customer is no time to begin The salesperson organization. searching for answers to fundamental questions. Senior-level customers expect salespeople to know, in advance, the basics of their business. A salesperson thinks he knows The same research who is ready for such a conversation will know the answers to the following 10 exactly what the questions before the first customer meeting: shows that high- customer needs (and 1) What products and or services does the organization offer? performing he also knows exactly 2) What are its major markets and/or customers? salespeople who form what he wants to sell). 3) What are the most important issues or trends in its industry? these long-term 4) Who are its major competitors? The customer also business relationships 5) How is it organized? Who are its top managers? thinks he knows are experts at 6) What strategies are key to its long-term success? What capabilities are exactly what he strategically important to it? conversations with needs, and he wants 7) What is its mission or vision? senior-level to know whether the 8) What important initiatives is it implementing now? customers. In these 9) What problems or hot spots is it faced with? salesperson can offer conversations, they 10) What has been the organization's performance in the past 1 to 2 years? it. Both salesperson How does it measure success? are able to: and customer are operating from their • Engage the interest of the customer and draw them into assumptions about what the problem is and how to solve it. meaningful, in-depth conversations Imagine them, however, breaking free of those assumptions • Educate the customer, not only about the sales and exploring some other ways of viewing the situation. organization's products and services, but also about They might discover, together, that the problem is altogether industry trends and business issues different from what it seems, or they might find an innovative • Enlighten the customer about new possibilities, and act solution that is superior to anything either of them brought to as a catalyst for innovative ideas the table. The salesperson who helps the customer arrive at that new understanding will likely be perceived as a These high-performing salespeople go beyond "managing valued business partner. the sales process" and "closing deals." To senior-level customers, they are trusted advisors—people whom That shift in perspective makes all the difference, because customers call when they are in need of information, some studies suggest that customers make buying counsel, or even a sounding board. They are adept at decisions based on an emotional connection with the helping customers break out of old assumptions and create salesperson, and then justify their decision with facts and new value. They can have the kind of conversations that data. make senior-level customers say, "I never thought of it that way before." 2 Copyright © 2003 by The Forum Corporation
  3. 3. Point of view Be Prepared 2) Time-bounded goals: The salesperson who asks targeted questions about the senior-level customer's Forum's research shows that the high performers who goals for a specific time horizon can further demonstrate succeed in establishing relationships with senior-level knowledge of the customer's metrics and focus areas. customers do three things exceptionally well: 3) Opportunities and problems: Asking high-gain questions 1) They treat their initial conversation with the senior-level about opportunities and problems that the senior-level customer as if it were an interview for the job of business customer faces can provide insight to pressing issues partner. and possible solutions. 2) They prepare a questioning strategy tailored to the 4) Benefits and insights: Recognizing that they are not organization and customer. trying to overtly sell but rather are trying to win the job of 3) They offer information and insights oriented toward the business partner, expert salespeople offer solid benefits future. and insights related to the customer's goals and Superior execution in these three areas yields great opportunities. They avoid discussing product features advantage but requires much work. The salesperson must and functions and instead offer new ideas that will lead develop a deep understanding of the customer's company; to enhanced business results. its products, services, and markets; and its organizational 5) Criteria for a business relationship: By establishing strategy, mission, and structure. He must learn the industry themselves as credible and insightful, top-performing issues and trends affecting the company, as well as the salespeople drive the conversation toward a central profile of the customer's competitors. And he must learn the question: What does the customer typically look for in major problems and issues facing the customer today and in good business partnerships? "What will it take for us to the immediate future. Are margins healthy? Is capacity work with you this year?" being fully utilized? Is customer satisfaction high? Can the same be said for employee morale? With other customers, those questions might form the basis for conversation. At the senior-customer level, knowing the Conversant in Conversation answers to those questions before the conversation begins With research in hand and a strategy to follow, all the is the price of admission. It demonstrates credibility and salesperson must do now is talk—which is easier said than insight, and builds confidence and trust. done. That's because high-performing salespeople optimize their conversations by striking a delicate balance of inquiry and advocacy. Each of us has a tendency to use more of one area than the other. Journalists are trained to use Can We Talk? inquiry; lawyers are trained more in advocacy. Salespeople But having done research is only part of the battle. should be excellent at both. For example, a salesperson Preparing a strategy for the conversation requires as much might ask a prospective client, "What's your opinion of XYZ attention. Research shows that the most successful Co.'s merger and its potential impact on your business?" Or, conversation strategies address five critical areas: "Tell me about what's been going on with your new automation efforts." At the same time, the salesperson will 1) Strategic priorities: Confirming the customer's underlying advocate for his point of view: "I believe that merger could strategic priorities and critical success factors not only provide an opportunity for your organization, because my enables salespeople to verify the accuracy of their contacts within the industry tell me that the newly merged assumptions, but also earns them credibility by company's integration and communication efforts are demonstrating that they have done their homework. Copyright © 2003 by The Forum Corporation 3
  4. 4. Point of view suffering." Or, "From my experience, I've learned there are a Conclusion few key matters to address when introducing automation." Moving a customer to view a salesperson not as a vendor When salespeople balance inquiry and advocacy and use but as a strategic business partner is a critical transformation, both effectively, they can achieve a skillful discussion with but no more critical than the transformation the salesperson customers in which they lay out their own reasoning and must undergo in order to succeed at this level. The experiences in a compelling way, and then encourage the salesperson's perspective must change from closing the deal customer to challenge and question. They listen actively to to opening the mind, from having the answers to generating what the customer says and then probe to uncover the discussion, from getting a point across to sparking the customer's reasoning and experiences. They are passionate imagination. about their own ideas and, at the same time, are open to the Adopting a strategic approach to conversations with senior- customer's ideas. level customers can lead to new and deeper opportunities for Too much advocacy, and the salesperson comes across as a sales organizations and provide salespeople with the hard sell. Too much inquiry, and the salesperson appears to structure for succeeding at one of selling's most difficult not have done his homework. Finding just the right balance, tasks. In this new and more complex world of sales, the however, opens up a dialogue that can be creative, exhortation to "sell higher, sell more," while still impeccably imaginative, and ultimately valuable to both sides. logical, deserves some refinement. "First, earn the right" to sell higher is more to the point. That's what selling at the senior customer level is all about. The Forum Corporation is a global leader in workplace learning. For more than three decades, Forum has helped Fortune 1000 clients address their most important business challenges with learning solutions. Whether your issue is driving growth and profitability, minimizing employee turnover, developing leaders at all levels, increasing sales force productivity, or improving customer satisfaction and retention, Forum aligns your people with your strategy to deliver tangible business results. Our research-based content is Organized to Customize™ to provide learning solutions that meet the unique needs of our clients’ with off-the-shelf speed and efficiency. Forum consultants are recognized experts in developing leadership talent, delivering a Branded Customer Experience®, and building world-class sales and customer service teams. For more information on helping your salespeople conduct effective senior-level conversations, contact us: Forum North America 800.FORUM.11 Forum Europe +44 (0) 20.7850.7500 Forum Asia Ltd 852.2810.7071 4 Copyright © 2003 by The Forum Corporation