Thursday, July 31, 2008

Strategic Selling Begins In The Boardroom

Writen by Jonathan Farrington

In most industries to-day, a handful of ideal customers have become universal targets. Nearly every industrial salesperson dreams of calling on the CEO's or managing directors of those top companies, which logically means that there are maybe 500 customers for a million sellers. With such intense competition, conventional approaches are not equal to the challenge. Salespeople need to develop strategies that distinguish their products, services and their organisations in the mind of the customer.

Making a sale has always involved an element of systematic planning but strategic selling means more than rehearsing product information and timing the close. Strategic selling begins with understanding your company's strategy, vision, and distinctiveness and then selecting high profile customers.

The next step, logically, is anticipating each stage of the buying process, from analysing the competition to identifying the influencers and decision-makers and being switched in to the buyer's political issues. In other words, there is a need for a comprehensive strategic profile and rigorous opportunity assessment process. Most important, strategic selling means strategising from the customer's point of view. Top achievers see strategic selling as a routine part of their work - not a final resort.

What Are The Implications For Sales Management?

For companies to remain competitive now, their sales organisation must be able to respond positively to changing economic tides. As businesses strive to establish customer orientation, sales partnerships and a strategic approach to selling, they are demanding more and more from their salespeople but ensuring that these new methods are widely practised and smoothly implemented falls to sales management

Building Productivity:

Sales productivity is a strategic issue. That's why problems in this area stem from salespeople being unclear about their company's priorities i.e. what their message should be and what they should be selling.

The trend in industry of removing layers of management between the sale force and the general manager presents a challenge to those sales managers who remain. To begin with, the sales manager becomes an essential link between company strategy and what takes place in the customer's office. He or she must not only grasp the corporate vision but be able to communicate it to the sales force in terms of the real effects on sales practices

Creating Direction:

Sales managers with an intimate feel for the selling process succeed because their staff regard them as part of the sales team but coaching the team is as important as playing in it. In other words, sales managers must be prepared to provide training, feedback and support to every individual within the team.

Once committed to the training process, they must routinely reinforce new ways of behaving in real sales situations. They must provide a clear sense of direction on a daily basis, not just at the monthly sales meeting / quarterly review / annual appraisal

The very best sales managers engage in frequent coaching and feedback, even when their sales people work in remote locations. While encouraging salespeople to air their problems openly and discuss their concerns, sales managers must be able to offer clear and specific feedback for improving sales performance

Rewarding Change:

The sales manager is charged with translating the company's reward system into specific improvements in sales performance. Both salespeople and corporate managers count on the sales manager to recognise and reward outstanding achievement, formally and informally.

The process of promoting new attitudes about the customer and the role of the salesperson can be frustrating and slow. Reverting back to recent research there is compelling evidence to suggest that companies will see results sooner if they recognise and reward salespeople - "you get more of the behaviour and results that you reward".

The trend in sales compensation appears to be away from commission to guaranteed salary, from compensation based on orders to compensation based on delivery and sign-off. Interestingly some organisations we know, base their 'salesperson of the year' award on the basis of customer satisfaction or customer retention rather than sheer volume of orders or activity

Summary – And Now the Good News:

It is now a given fact in any sales-related seminar or conference you may attend that traditional sales methods are being relegated to the annals of history. The new, more discerning customers of today have seen to that. They now wield greater bargaining power, demand more value for money and have become more knowledgeable and professional when it comes to decision-making. Suppliers are now faced with rising customer expectations and the need to become more flexible to the requirements of each individual client.

Yet the key to differentiation lies within these expectations, since more complex buying decisions lead customers to value closer links with their suppliers.

The moral right of the author, Jonathan Farrington, has been asserted. All rights reserved. This publication or any part thereof may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means electronic or mechanical including photocopying, recording, storage in an information retrieval system or otherwise, unless this notification of copyright is retained.

Jonathan Farrington is the Managing Partner of The jfa Group jf-assocs.

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