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In economic downturns, most companies tell their sales forces to step it up a notch and pick up their activity levels. But what does it mean to step it up a notch? Will more activity really bring in more of the right kind of sales? Sales do not just magically happen and selling is more involved than just kicking it up a notch and getting more active. Salespeople must view themselves as the CEO of the sale and develop a well thought out step-by-step system that will lead the sales process in the right direction. Remember, sales growth alone will not increase bottom line results unless it is profitable sales growth. Here we will examine the step-by-step system that can give the salesperson a competitive advantage in bringing the sale to a successful conclusion.
Building your Brand
Salespersons that create and build their personal brand will strengthen their selling relationships. Customers and potential customers have an opinion about the salesperson and tell others within and without their organizations stories about who they perceive that person to be.
An example of a brand is "Listen, understand and solve customers' problems." A brand communicates what makes the salesperson special and the salesperson's values, purpose and what he stands for. The brand will help shape a salesperson’s reputation and makes her stand out from the competition.
Creating the Sales Plan
Can you imagine your favorite sports team taking the field without a game plan? Similarly, salespeople also need a game plan which includes the tactical tools they must use, and they must be able to execute their plan throughout the sales process. A sales plan is the road map that will guide salespeople to where they need to go, and tactical tools are the skills and talents that will get them there. A good sales plan must include what information is needed and where to get it, how to sell into each organization, short and long term goals, what is needed to give a competitive edge, and how the plan will be executed.
Getting the Right Information
Salespeople need a steady flow of reliable information that can be turned into knowledge to help them be better prepared for each customer meeting. Also, knowledge can help salespeople better understand the problems of their customers' industries, individual companies and industry trends. Gaining the right information will provide the insights to better position their products or services in each sales encounter and will increase their productivity.
Salespeople who know before each sales meeting what questions they want to ask can gain great insights into the customers’ needs. Using this technique will help identify each customers' wants, needs and problems and when leveraged properly can position the salesperson as a knowledgeable problem solver. Insightful information can come from within the company, industry networks, customers, and industry experts. Information that produces the right kind of knowledge and insights will be of great value in planning and executing the sales process.
Selling into an Organization
Knowing the difference between selling "to" an organization versus selling "into" an organization is what separates the professional salesperson from the competition. Selling into an organization means understanding the processes and structures of the organization. This information is valuable in order to properly know how, where and to whom to focus on and how to position the sales process. For organizations that are heavily structured, salespeople must know the chain of command and the decision making process. Violating the protocol of an organization's processes and structures will make a salesperson appear uninformed and unprofessional.
Organizations function differently depending on if they are flat or layered. A salesperson might have an opportunity to meet with an executive vice president of the division she is selling to, thinking this will give her an advantage in making the sale. If the executive vice president has no input into the decision making process, and rather the project manager is the main decision maker, the salesperson will end up wasting her time.
By having a solid understanding of the organization the salesperson is selling into, the salesperson will know who the decision makers are, their level of influence, and their ability to network. It is the responsibility of the salesperson to develop the network to know where all the decision makers are and their locations. It is important to know how much weight each person has in the sales decision making process and the company's individual needs in buying the product.
Creating a Competitive Advantage
Salespeople who build a network of influencers within each organization can create sales opportunities that would otherwise pass them by. For example, a garbage bag salesperson has an influencer within his target company who tells him a vice president is getting many complaints from their store managers about the house brand garbage bags not being strong enough. The salesperson uses this information to develop a special promotion offer and presents this idea to help solve the issues they are having. Access to this kind of information is valuable in gaining a competitive advantage in making the sale.
Also, salespeople who are able to prioritize customer’s problems and provide solutions for each problem will create a competitive edge. Even though the salesperson’s product may be identical in every respect to a competitor’s product, including price, using the strategy of prioritizing a customer’s needs will allow the salesperson to add value by being a problem solver.
Today the sales process has many facets. Salespeople who incorporate each facet in developing their sales plans and who have the ability to execute will produce the best results. Gathering the right data, knowing the organization, knowing the decision makers and influencers, and knowing how to create a competitive advantage are all part of planning to make the sale happen. The final sales presentation must focus on solving the customer’s problems and not be a one size fits all approach.
About the Author:
David S. Goldsmith, was Vice President of Sales & Marketing at Key Corp, PIMCO and UBS Global Asset Management. He holds a master's degree from the University of Wisconsin-RF and a master's certificate in change management from E-Cornell University. David can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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