Sales Culture

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There isn’t a sales person alive today who doesn’t know that they shouldn’t be selling product, but instead should be selling to help meet the needs of their customers.  The problem is that, despite this, customers are still reporting a very low level of value from time spent with sales people. Why the disconnect?

As customers, we’ve all been on the receiving end of one or more of the common selling strategies. Here are a few you’ve probably seen:

  • A product focus is when salespeople spend most of their time showing and talking about their product or service, its features, advantages and benefits. Objective: Help people understand their product or service so that they’ll want to buy it.
  • A transaction focus is used by salespeople whose main goal is to “get people to the yes”-in other words, to agree to buy whatever they’re selling. Objective: Make the sale, whatever it takes.
  • A customer-needs focus is when salespeople go through a discovery process to determine if customers have needs, wants, problems or objectives they want filled, satisfied or solved. Objective: Establish a need before initiating any selling activity.

Thinking back to your experiences as a customer, how did you feel in these different scenarios? Were you bored? On the defensive? Did you learn something about your needs or discover a pressing challenge that you hadn’t even realized existed before? Or did you just want to get off the phone or run for the nearest exit as fast as you could?

With both product- and transaction-focused selling approaches, the salesperson is essentially trying to convince you that this product or this “deal” is so great that you simply must have it. Their success comes down to how effective they are at persuading you to believe their position.

In fact, many salespeople will say they take a customer-needs-focused approach, but their actions say otherwise. You can tell because they’re still falling back on this idea that they need to sway you or influence you to do something (the implication being that it’s something you don’t really want to do). No wonder customers often feel like they need to push back in these situations. It’s basically a battle of wills, one that’s being fought on a simmering ground of doubt and distrust.

With a true customer-needs approach, on the other hand, the salesperson is focused on helping you get a clearer picture of your own situation so that, together, you can identify what the requirements are and how they can best be satisfied. Their success comes down to how effective they are at bringing your true needs to the surface and the overall value they deliver in filling those needs.

Instead of trying to convince you to buy something, these salespeople spend most of their time finding out if you have needs that they can address. No solutions are even offered until your wants or needs have been admitted.

Here’s the kicker: Our research shows that when people sell this way, they can experience a 15 to 30 percent increase in their sales.

To understand why, we have to look at what we know about the art of persuasion: The more we attempt to persuade people, the more they tend to resist us. But the more we attempt to understand them and create value for them, the more they tend to persuade themselves.

What is your focus?

If you’re in sales, one easy way to identify your own central sales focus is to think about how you spend your time when talking to customers.

Do you spend most of your time in the first half of your contact talking about your product or service? Or do you spend most of your time asking questions that focus on the customer’s needs?

In the interview stage of an effective customer-needs-focused selling process, you should be spending at least 80% of the time listening. And when you do talk, it should be mostly in the form of questions and paraphrasing back to customers what they tell you to make sure you understand them. You explore, ask questions and get feedback, and you make no attempt to sell anything until the customer:

  1. admits needs, wants, problems or objectives they want filled, satisfied or solved.
  2. agrees that not only do they have needs but that they are open to solutions.
  3. agrees to talk to you about a solution.
  4. confirms that they can make purchase decisions.

Generally, if they don’t agree to all four of these steps, you probably don’t have a good prospect. Or they aren’t the real decision makers. Or they don’t have a compelling reason to take action. Or they aren’t favorably disposed to buying from you.

Take a closer look at your own approach to make sure you’re truly focused on creating value for your customers rather than wearing them down to buy from you. One of the most important questions you can start with is this:

In your typical selling situations, who does most of the talking?

If it’s you, chances are, your focus is more product-oriented or transactional, and it’s likely keeping you from reaching your full sales potential.

Re-blogged from Integrity Solutions.

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Handshake of a mature manager with a happy young couple at offic

In the wake of recent revelations about widespread illegal practices at Wells Fargo, Training Industry reached out to Integrity Solutions’ CEO Mike Esterday to get his thoughts on what financial services organizations should be doing to ensure all employees are following the highest ethical standards in their actions and behaviors.

In the article, Ethics and Sales Training in the Financial Services Industry, Mike shared that a big part of the problem—and often a key contributor to ethically questionable behavior—is sales cultures that promote selling as something that you do to a customer rather than for or with a customer. Most sales training then reinforces that position by emphasizing product knowledge and techniques for persuading (or sometimes manipulating) customers into buying, whether what they’re buying meets their needs or not.

This cultural view of selling can have a significant impact. It influences how the sales manager leads the team, what gets the most “air time,” how salespeople are developed and coached, and how salespeople themselves view selling.

Mike explains that a person’s view of selling is linked to their mindset, which could manifest in one of the following ways:

1- Product mindset, where the emphasis is almost entirely on the product
2- Transaction mindset, where the emphasis is on doing the same transaction over and over again
3- Needs-focused mindset, where the emphasis is on uncovering and addressing customer needs

In other words, their mindset determines whether their goal is to push product—the more the better—or to create value and serve the customer’s needs.

With product and transaction mindsets, the door is open for misbehavior, especially when the environment created by the managers supports it, either subtly or overtly.

But when the salesperson is driven by a guiding belief that says, my role isn’t to push product but to uncover and fill customer needs, there’s an entirely different motivation, which leads to entirely different behavior.

A needs-focused mindset also releases a great deal of power within salespeople—an “x factor” that we call achievement drive. When people believe they’re doing right by the customer, they feel good about themselves. They have more confidence, more passion and more determination, and as a result, they’re able to build their own momentum.

A Quick Self-Audit for Your Sales Culture

Here are some questions you can ask to help determine whether or not your organization is at risk or on the right path:

  • How do our salespeople view selling? Do we need to shift mindsets?
  • Are our salespeople driven by the question, How can I help this customer with their problems and needs? Or is their primary focus, How can I sell this product today?
  • Do our salespeople have the skills to apply a needs-focused mindset, including knowing how to empathize with customers, ask the right questions and best serve their needs?
  • Are our sales managers effectively coaching their teams to help customers and identify unmet needs, or are they focused almost exclusively on driving numbers around product?

Through their words, behaviors and actions, do our sales managers encourage a positive view of selling and a customer-focused approach?

The difference is clear: Focusing on the product breeds a product culture, where selling the product—no matter how questionable the methods or how high the ethical costs—is all the matters.

Focusing on needs breeds a customer-centric culture where everyone wins—because when you teach people how to ask the right questions, they’ll uncover more needs, cross-sell more and build high-value, long-lasting customer relationships.



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