July 25th, 2012

As Buyer Behavior Changes, What Is the Right Approach to Selling?

Selling Solutions

In our work with leading sales organizations, we have certainly seen a change in the buying landscape.  Today’s buyers are more sophisticated, have more data available, and often have already defined a solution before ever involving a salesperson.  This has created a real challenge for sales organizations and reps.  Techniques and methodologies that worked twenty years ago do not necessarily work now.  As buyers change, sellers too must change — but how?

This year, Richardson will work with nearly 200 clients and train over 100,000 sales managers and reps worldwide.  This provides us a unique perspective to observe and understand what works and what does not.  And what we see is that the best reps utilize a COMBINATION of selling solutions with insights and a consultative approach. 

In this era, reps must bring valuable data and insights to the table to credentialize themselves and encourage the customer to think differently.  Providing insights is an approach that should be used in every dialogue with a customer, no matter where you may be in the sales process.  Our latest thinking has taken our approach to bringing valuable insights much earlier in the sales process to actually help create needs and opportunities where they do not currently exist (or at least where the customer has not yet recognized them).

The idea of using insights to create needs is a challenging concept for many salespeople and one where research and expertise pay off in making sure the insight you provide is relevant and timely.  In fact, we believe that a rep’s ability to help a customer navigate the massive amounts of data available to them may be more valuable than actually sharing the data or insight itself!  According to IBM, every day, we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data — so much that 90% of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years alone.  So, there is inherent value in helping a customer cut through the clutter and identify the key best practices and drivers for success.

But along with sharing an insight comes a great deal of risk.  If not done well, a rep sharing an insight may sound arrogant, may share an insight that is off the mark, or may miss an opportunity to gauge the relevance of that insight to that particular customer.

The key is to balance sharing an insight with the core tenant of Consultative Selling and selling solutions: asking good questions.  While clients may want to hear something new, they certainly also want to discuss what matters most to them and how conditions impact their organization and themselves personally.  To ignore a customer’s needs and not spend time asking questions would be perilous.  As with sharing an insight, there is a timing and a method to asking questions.  The best reps utilize powerful questioning skills in front of, alongside of, and after sharing insights.  In addition, the ability to articulate the value of a solution tailored to the customer’s needs remains a critical element to successfully pursuing an opportunity.  The value needs to be demonstrated in the customer’s terms and with an eye towards the metrics that matter most to them.

So, it is through the COMBINATION of selling solutions with insights and a consultative approach that reps can not only create customer opportunities but also win them by demonstrating credibility, creating value, understanding needs, and aligning the value of solutions to customers’ business drivers.

About Richardson

Every day, Richardson works with sales leaders to help them execute strategic account management initiatives in their organization. We evaluate sales talent, create capability and consistency through world-class sales training, and drive change through your ranks. We know what works and what doesn’t. If you are a sales leader planning to implement a new strategic initiative, please call us at 215-940-9255, and we will be pleased to share these insights with you. To learn more about Richardson’s sales training and strategy execution solutions, please visit us on the web at www.richardson.com.

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About The Author: Andrea R. Grodnitzky

As Richardson’s Chief Marketing Officer, Andrea is responsible for demand generation and value creation through strategic marketing, brand awareness, digital optimization, product launch initiatives, and market-facing thought leadership to drive sustained, organic growth. With a passion for sales and customer-centric activity, Andrea and her team work to inspire customers across the engagement lifecycle and support them in their journey to market leadership by delivering fresh perspectives to their sales challenges.

Andrea R. Grodnitzky

6 Responses to “As Buyer Behavior Changes, What Is the Right Approach to Selling?”

  1. August 02, 2012 at 2:37 pm, Kurt Haug said:

    Couldn’t agree more! “Insight” REPLACING “Consultation?” Talk about throwing the baby out with the bathwater!

    “Insight” selling is indeed an important paradigm and I DO believe is PART of the next great breakthrough in sales methodology.

    But from whence comes said “insight?”

    If those “insights” are not developed with a consultative mindset that is CUSTOMER-centric and focused on the CUSTOMER’s perception of value, those insights can be nothing more than a lazy and self-serving attempt to avoid the hard but rewarding work of SELLING and go back to the days of just TELLING customers what we think is best for them.

    An Olympic athlete doesn’t abandon proven, effective and successful training regimens just because an exercise physiologist comes up with a new take on an old exercise. Or even a NEW exercise. Why should our pursuit of excellence in the sales profession be any different?

    And the risk of thinking “insight” or “challenging” the customer is a replacement for deep analysis and preparation of a customer’s needs is HUGE. No fiscally responsible senior sales executive would risk the chance of losing their baseline business just for the POSSIBILITY of some potential upside. “Swinging for the fences” on every pitch is not only a poor game plan, it’s a sure way to strike a lot more of the time than you would otherwise. The vast majority of runs in baseball are RBIs vs. single-pitch homers.

    Play Ball!


  2. September 05, 2012 at 12:15 pm, Dan Brennan said:

    Totally agree that the buyer has evolved and that the answer is a blend of ‘insight’ + ‘consultative sales approach’. From experience ‘insight’ comes more easily, and can be supported by back office research, marketing, and programs. Insight can be original thought or an observation by a really good sales rep. It can be information that is aligned to the client – benchmarks, compares within the client’s industry, best practices, do’s and don’ts, references, etc. Thus, ‘insight’ is the easier of the two elements. From experience I find that training a sales force to execute a consultative sales process is more challenging. Few sales forces are created from scratch, and so it is a challenge to ‘change’ behavior and approaches that have served established sales forces well. For many sales reps, especially those with a ‘product’ orientation, consultative approaches are unnerving. Yet it is a transition that has to be made. What I found helpful is a combination of 1) top down leadership, 2) some structure to support consultative selling ( example: 9 box questioning model developed by Keith Eades ), 3) practice, coaching, reinforcement, 4) upstream alignment by marketing and sales support so that materials and playbooks are built with consultative approaches in mind.


  3. September 05, 2012 at 6:09 pm, Mike Kunkle said:

    Hey Andrea, Jonathan Farrington shared this on Google+ so I dropped by and read it. I appreciated your perspective on this. I admire the CEB’s research and can’t argue much with their findings. My challenge lies more with their implementation recommendations. I remain dubious that you can “develop” Challenger reps or orchestrate insights widespread, which is what they appear to be recommending. I do however, find the “deal desk” concept to be intriguing, which at least one organization I know is implementing. They have created a pipeline/deal review team is staffed with insightful Challenger personas, who aid the planning and insight creation for other reps. The risk, of course, remains in the delivery, as you indicate. I still tend to favor Richardson’s and your viewpoint here, on the discovery and guidance process, enabled by questions and the general consultative approach. Thanks for the great post.

    Kurt, if you read the Challenger Sale, I’m not sure that the CEB is actually recommending that insight selling replace consultative selling, or that they endorse reps telling vs. doing discovery and making recommendations. They do endorse the challenging style of nudging the customer to see things somewhat differently.


    • September 06, 2012 at 1:59 am, Kurt Haug said:


      I have indeed read the Challenger Sale and I think anyone would be hard pressed to NOT read it as a disparagement of “solution selling.” And lest there be any illusion to the contrary, I would direct you to the HBR (July/August, p. 61) article entitled, “The End of Solution Sales” (authored by Adamson, Dixon and Toman) that Andrea references in her post. The first line of the subtitle reads, “The old playbook no longer works….”

      Need I say more? Sounds like they are indeed pretty definitively “recommending that insight selling replace consultative selling.” In fact, on page 63 the authors literally state, “The best salespeople are replacing traditional solution selling with insight selling…”

      If the recommendation was simply to strengthen and sharpen our insight skills (which, coincidentally they do little to define in terms of actionable tasks), I would be in 100% agreement. Especially in the realm of Executive C-Level Sales (my particular expertise), insight is CRUCIAL and greatly undervalued. I’m not sure we should push or even “nudge” clients to “see things somewhat differently,” but we DO need to encourage and even “inspire” them to do so.

      In the end, I’m left feeling the CEB has not only forgotten the value of client-focused research and discovery, but have a poor understanding of exactly what kind of “insight” customers value. The risk of miscalculating is extraordinarily high and disruptive to both seller and purchaser. And I believe the CEB’s reputation as a somewhat independent clearinghouse of research and best practices is at risk as well


      • September 06, 2012 at 7:35 am, Mike Kunkle said:

        Kurt, well played. Perhaps I have filtered some of their communication or intent. I’ve read and listened to some interviews where the authors seemed less extreme to me. In studying and comparing top/middle/bottom reps over the past 20 years, I see some truth to their research, with top reps connecting dots and having insights, as well as “challenging” clients or prospects to see things differently (with the intent of helping/serving the client). I do not agree that solution selling is over – that’s absurd to me. Nor do I believe you can orchestrate insight selling globally or implement it as a way of doing business. I prefer the blend referenced in the original post here: selling solutions with insights in a consultative approach. Thanks for the reminder on the HBR article, Mike


        • September 06, 2012 at 2:28 pm, Kurt Haug said:

          Totally agree, Mike. And good observation about the difficulty of making insight selling in and of itself a global initiative.

          I think what we have been seeing is a bit of a pendulum swing too far in the direction of embracing valid new perspectives at the expense of valuable established principles.


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