John Elsey, President and CEO of Richardson
As the CEO of Richardson sales training, I have the pleasure of speaking to some of the world’s top sales leaders as we support them in driving profitable revenue in their respective organizations. Each year, these sales leaders face a host of challenges as they navigate people, process, and technology to deliver their number. 2017, in particular, delivered a dizzying pace of change that demanded agility from sales leaders who needed to assess their options quickly, distill what matters most, and in many cases, make bold moves to stay ahead and take advantage of opportunities in their markets.
While businesses continue to focus on measurable activities within CRM systems, the most critical activities continue to be those which touch the customer and drive better interactions. Leading sales organizations are learning to move beyond traditional competitive selling to capture market share and instead develop the customer’s competitive advantage. However, learning how to do this often requires enterprise-wide solutions across multi-division companies. Therefore, demand for digitally-led sales enablement solutions is on the rise, as is the need to drive consistency and excellence across all team members involved in an increasingly complex sales process.
The complexity involved in advancing a global sales organization’s approach to the market is in stark contrast to what the customer should experience in their buying process – simplicity and ease of acquisition. Executing against this dichotomy will surely be a top focus area in 2018. Let’s take a closer look at how these trends are unfolding.
Balancing Operational Initiatives with Genuine Customer Value
While businesses remained focused on solving existing sales challenges, they also took a proactive stance, seeking to capitalize on the improving economic climate. In doing so, companies intensified their focus on measurable activities designed to leverage the considerable power of CRM systems. However, sales organizations are still striving to balance process orientation with truly meaningful customer interaction which goes beyond “checking the box.” The initiatives that companies need to focus on are those that reach the customer and add value to the conversation.
Forward-thinking companies are embracing this challenge by shifting their thinking on what it means to leverage competitive advantages. That is, innovative sales leaders are focusing less on promoting their own competitive advantages. Instead, they’re exploring how they can create competitive advantages for their customer and help them lead their market – rather than worry about how to differentiate themselves from the competitor. Ultimately, this sales strategy is more valuable to the customer and sets you apart as a true trusted advisor.
Reaching Stakeholder Consensus
Companies are turning to consultative selling to help their customers develop these competitive advantages. However, embracing this style requires a degree of consistency and uniformity across organizations with thousands of sellers. As a result, more companies are seeking a digitally-led sales transformation. Moreover, these businesses are learning that enterprise-wide tools like this do not need to be one-size-fits-all. We’ve seen many customers benefit from learning technologies that allow for supplemental, add-on content. These additional pieces offer material that’s relevant to specific divisions without losing the customer engagement framework that is core to an effective strategy.
This common framework, distributed across multi-division companies, is critical because more sellers need to work in teams to deliver results. In a team selling environment, a shared understanding of the consultative model is important because subject matter experts and solution architects are often paired with sellers and need to demonstrate a united approach in front of the buyer. Unfortunately, uniting a team selling approach is challenging thanks to the number of stakeholders involved across the business. Yet, stakeholder consensus and alignment are crucial to performance improvement outcomes. Results falter when people take shortcuts. You’ve got to do the hard yards to get the people together, present the facts, and get people to debate and ultimately drive sufficient consensus around a sales strategy and approach. These steps require sustained effort.
A Better, Simpler Customer Experience
With cohesion and consensus, organizations are better equipped to deliver on the goal that’s central to all sales organizations: creating simplicity for the buyer. Today, there’s a lot of complexity in sales as organizations attempt to sell larger, multifaceted solutions. The company that can provide clarity of choice, ease of acquisition and simplicity of implementation stands to outperform in a market characterized by an abundance of options. Achieving this end means that the seller must distill volumes of information into a crisp, clear, and compelling solution. Doing this takes great communication and synthesis of data.
This kind of clarity is needed to accomplish the increasingly important goal of a better customer experience. While traditional financial and operational performance metrics still matter, more organizations are focusing on how well they engage the customer as part of their ongoing sales strategy. Fostering a palpable connection is what ultimately moves the customer from a position of neutrality to one of meaningful change and improvement.
2018 will offer incredible opportunities to the selling organizations that embrace the customer without getting lost in a CRM dashboard. Doing so means adopting a sales pursuit strategy that helps cultivate the seller’s competitive advantage through a consultative framework.
Next year competition for the buyer’s time will only increase necessitating a sales approach which conveys complex, analytic solutions in concise, accessible and compelling language. Reaching this capability, however, first requires alignment and commitment at the C-Suite level to build the necessary skills across the sales organization to bring the customer-focused vision into a reality that the customer can tangibly experience.