Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater

It seems pretty obvious that the profound shifts in customer behavior render traditional sales processes obsolete. Why then do so many managers still insist on the compliance of their people to such processes? Most sales managers perceive any change proposed, on how to assure making their numbers, to be as risky as open heart surgery.  Declaring the death of the sales machine (as a metaphor for the traditional sales process) and proposing more reliance on intuition of the sales people might therefore involve too much risk for sales managers.  They prefer to stay in denial that what got them here will not get them further. Maybe a metaphor comparing the adaptation to the new customer behavior with the evolution from using automates (machine) to using robots might be less daunting.

A robot differs from an automate in two aspects. A robot has sensors to be able to recognize context and is built for agility to adapt to and to act within this context. Automates are built to work only in one context. However, the behavior of robots is still guided by rules and principles programmed into the robot.

The new sensor system for Sales
We first have to accept the fact that a single customer can choose different journeys when purchasing goods and services. As sellers, we need thus to develop a sensor system which allows us to predict which journey  the customer is going to choose,  to recognize evidence on what journey the customer is on and where the actual position in this  journey is.    

This implies that we have a set of standards, allowing us to determine the customer evidence needed to answer those questions in an unambiguous way within an entire sales organization. Checking the adherence to these standards, instead of asking for compliance to a given sales process, is then the new foundation for managers to assess whether they will make their numbers. To assure managers that such an approach will work, we can find evidence in research from CSO Insights which shows that continual tracking of customer behavior leads to higher forecast accuracy. This sensor system is actually implemented through comprehensive diagnostics going much beyond the simple process of just probe for a pain in order to be able to offer a solution.

Using principles to achieve agility in Sales
Within a customer journey, there are still logical sequences - the very characteristic of the existence of a process. Ignoring these sequences will have a detrimental impact on the outcome of a sales effort. However spelling out these sequences on the level of granularity of individual activities is ineffective. Therefore, we should work on the level of principles which allow for flexibility on choosing the activity best suited to perform on these principles.  This will Increase the agility of the sales organization.

The sensor system will be used helping sellers in selecting the right sequences of principles that should be applied. By using the proper sequence of principles, the seller can provide added value in guiding the customers through their different journeys. This increases the likelihood of winning the deal. Customers tend to decide in favor of the offering of the sales person having provided the most added value in the journey.

Here is a proposed list of such principles: Rapport Building, Triage, Pain Creation, Vision Engineering, Vision Re-Engineering, Establishing Confidence that expected business outcomes can be obtained with the proposed offering and Value Confirmation.  Triage might be an expression needing some clarification. It is used, prior or during the initial customer interaction for a single sales case. It determines the customer’s choice of the journey and the position within that journey.    Triage, Pain Creation, Establishing Confidence and Value Confirmation are needed in this exact order to help navigate through any customer journey.

The need for Rapport Building is limited to situations where no relationship exists yet between the seller and the buyer. If used, it must precede Triage. Value Engineering or Value Re-engineering are also only relevant as alternatives in some journeys. Value Engineering is needed for customers who have not spent any money neither with us nor the competition for a particular category. Value Re-engineering is used when the customer has spent or currently spends money with competitors for a category where we have to offer viable alternatives. It is also used when we recognize that the customer has adopted a vision before our initial contact with them.  To make the right choice on the alternative, Triage is a prerequisite.

On the level of these principles, there is no freedom what needs to be done when. There are also clear rules when and how to use optional principles. This provides a framework for managers how to coach their salespeople on the application of those principles. In this coaching framework, there is room for intuition when determining the actions on how to best execute on the principles.

Given today’s Customer behavior, replacing the classical sales process by a framework based on standards and principles helping us to become more agile within a well understood context, seems a viable alternative to throwing out the sales machine and depend on more intuition. Establishing this framework however does not guarantee success. Competencies of salespeople and particularly sales managers must equally be augmented for successful execution. The framework helps however to understand the capability gaps.

This article appeared first in the December 2013 issue of Top Sales World Magazine

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