It’s clear to those of us in sales that many of the tried and true sales methodologies that served well for decades are no longer are working. In the past many sales leaders have been adverse to research in favor of hard earned experience and gut feel. Today, however, many are now turning to sales research firms to gain new perspectives and get answers and an edge needed to compete and win.
ESR Research Group is one such firm and Dave Stein its Founder and CEO is one of the most respected leaders in the field. In my conversation with Dave he discussed the pressing need for sales organizations to change how they sell. He sited recent research in which the average customer does not contact a salesperson until he or she is about 75% through the buying cycle. We all knew that customers were doing more research and were much better prepared for sales calls but 75% makes it a real game changer that impacts the role, function, and approach of the salespeople.
Dave described the gap he consistently finds between how most sales organizations sell and how their customers buy. The gap at times is so significant that “It can be core to the backbone of the selling process”. As a part of its work ESR talks to the customers of its customers. One of its customers learned that the profile it was using to recruit salespeople and depending on to drive revenue was wrong. Its customers needed business advisors, not only professionals who could sell. As a result the client reconstituted its sales methodology and sales training and revise its hiring profile and over time transformed its salesforce to meet the new demands of its customer base.
Dave shared two dimensions he sees as essential to transforming a salesforce and closing the gap from solution sellers to business problem solvers:
- Salespeople must be able to engage in a different kind of sales conversation at the strategic business level — for example be adept at executive level conversations and equipped to negotiate with procurement as a part of the sales negotiation process.
- Because customers are doing so much research and are fairly close to making a decision by the time the salesperson is in the picture, timing has become very important. Salespeople must not only understand what their customers buy but how they buy and align their process accordingly — for example with more diligent preparation in industry, understanding the customer’s purchasing process, reading the company president’s statement … Dave emphasized “The how (the customer buys) is more important than the what.”
While some sales organizations are re-tooling their sale forces to keep up with customers, Dave finds that many sales organizations and sales training companies are “lagging and have been caught off guard” by the dramatic change in the selling environment. He predicted that “Companies that don’t re-tool will be left in the dust”. Re-tooling involves clarifying the sales process, reassessing competencies and hiring profiles, re-evaluating training, and raising the skill and knowledge level of sales professionals.
As for the impetus behind the focus on research today in the field of sales performance, Dave acknowledged that in the past the sales function was often skeptical about research. But he said, “Today professionals who normally could smart their way out of a problem are facing unprecedented change and are turning to research for an independent perspective and fresh ideas that they can weigh as they decide what to do next.”
Dave understands and is passionate about sales and salespeople. He sees the difficulties set before sales organizations and believes that business and financial knowledge is the one big area not yet touched or explored by most sales organizations. He is confident sales organizations and salespeople can make the transition but also feels salespeople too often underestimate what they can add beyond the product solution. Armed with impressive data Dave is both humble and highly confident in his message to sales organizations -“Transform your salespeople into business people.”
On how to make this transition on an individual salesperson level, he advises salespeople to take small steps every day such as spending one hour each week looking at how their customers’ businesses run, how their customers measure success or failure of a department or the company, understanding a P&L, finding out how customers make investment decisions, reading a book on finance, leveraging social media, developing business questions.
His words of wisdom: “Re-tool yourself by adding business and financial knowledge. You will get further, call higher, increase your credibility, and reach your goals.”
You can find out more about Dave Stein HERE