As sales people we hear it all the time – it’s all about driving to The Close. When are you going to close that deal? What do you need to do wrap this up?
The majority of sales training for the last several decades has been focused helping the sales person close the deal. There are techniques to Trial Close, to Pre-Close, to Soft Close, and even to Reverse Close. That one is where you actually tell the client that you can certainly see that they are not yet ready to take advantage of this great offer, so let’s just forget it for now – a bit of negative psychology that sadly worked. And sadly many complex B2B sales people in this world are still doggedly working on their Close.
For them, for all of us, I have just two words – STOP CLOSING!
Yeah, I just said that. Stop closing. You’re probably thinking, what do you mean, I should stop asking for the order? Nope, I did not say that. I’ll explain a bit later.
It’s time to make a mindset shift. Then we will shift our methodology. Shifting our thinking about The Close is critical. In the past The Close was seen as the grand finale. We all fell prey to that central theme. And while once The Close was the end, now it’s just another point on the way to this question: What’s next?
In past years, (for me decades), we have all been a part of or led sales training where a group of trainees is give a sales role playing situation to analyze, create a client pitch deck and then present a story to a panel of sales judges. The winners of the competition get the sales geek of the year award. Been there and done that a bunch!
As a trainer and a judge, I was always amazed by the groups of professional sales people that would do all that work and make brilliant customer pitches, and then neglect to ask for the order.
My experience has been that about half of the teams would not ask for the order. In my early years I saw this as a fatal flaw of the trainees. Teams that did not ask for the order were booted out fast. However, a role-playing simulation like this has a fundamental limitation: it cannot capture the scope of client engagement that needs to happen in the sales process. We were busy scripting a great pitch that ended with handing the client a pen to have them sign on the dotted line. The Close was also The End.
This is the real problem: we have assumed that the most important step in the selling process is the close. We see it as the end point of our client engagement –we “drive to the close” – when really, asking for the order is not the end at all.
Even in highly transactional selling like the Fuller Brush man or selling Girl Scout cookies door-to-door, the seeming end point of closing is really just the NEXT step in the never ending client engagement process. Right on the heels of getting the order, comes the Verification process where our aim is to clearly get a shared understanding of the value that has been created in the clients eyes by the work that you have done. From the verification process you escalate the discussion to other needs that that were identified through the journey in the first transaction. And the cycle of client engagement starts again.
There are 5 basic sections to the development and delivery of insight to a client and the drive to a closure is one of them. You’ve gotta ask for the order – it’s just not the end that it seems it would be. It is actually the springboard to the NEXT piece of business with the client. The door is never CLOSED!
Building blocks are not just for kids! Sales people need them now more than ever.
Let me expand and explain.
As sales people we are told to “just go sell”. Get more face time with our clients. Understand what they need and then deliver it. Simple, right? From that single perspective yes it is. And once upon a time that worked.
In the world of the complex “solution” sell of today it is no longer effective, and it never really was what the best of the best did in any case. The very best “sellers” have always had a lot more internal knowledge and intellectual curiosity, and just plain cared more than the average bloke. And it showed.
When the CEB published The Challenger Sale they did not invent a class of person that rose to the top. Their research simply identified a selling style that firmly and totally existed already. This selling style was the best combination of attributes that marked the best producers. What the CEB team did was label things clearly and define them accurately so that we could finally figure out how to search for, find, hire, and enable more of what we wanted in our teams.
(We are finding that hiring for attitude as Mark Murphy has taught us is the most important shift in hiring that we have ever made. We now hire for traits not skills. And it is making a HUGE difference. But, let’s go back to building blocks for the moment.)
As we hire for attitude and train to teach, tailor, and take control, we also find that the new normal in the co-creation and delivery of insight with our clients requires that our team have a total and detailed understanding of all of the elements of business as the client sees it.
Now to do the job we need to have all of the chapters of the book engrained in our soul. The fundamental elements of the trade now consist of having a full grasp of:
As any good builder knows the strength and stability of every tall building is its foundation that it is formed on, its baseline building blocks. They must be solid and well-defined. So must our knowledge of our own building blocks… ALL of them. To make a real difference with our clients we have to be experts at the client engagement process.
The sales world that we thrive in today demands uniqueness, but only if we want differentiation from commoditization. And where once that was achieved by having the best products and/or services, it is now achieved by the sales professional and their approach to serving their clients. Now, more than ever our best sales pros have a complete grasp of all of the building blocks that are a part of the complex mosaic of today’s business. Building blocks are now for big kids… like me!
In the beginning there were people who made stuff and people who needed stuff. Then there were the peddlers of stuff who helped the makers and the buyers find each other. The peddlers of stuff were very successful for hundreds of years, because both the makers and the buyers needed them. Stuff was bought and sold and everyone was okay. Then things changed.
Today’s business landscape is rapidly and radically changing and people and organizations are struggling to keep up. Product information was once the golden nugget that every salesperson owned and shared only with those people who they chose to enlighten. The salespeople were once the Kings and Queens of data and information and they reigned supreme. The true product that the salesperson offered up was the information that the client could not easily find. That was then.
Consider this: between the beginning of time and 2003, 5 exabytes of data were created. In 2013, 5 exabytes of data were created each day. In 2014, 90% of the total data and information in the world had been created in the last 2 years. And the prognosis is that the amount of data and information in the world will double every year shortly, and then every 6 months, and on and on. This commoditization of data and information has totally changed the value that a salesperson must deliver today. This rapid change in the creation of information is closely tied to the shifting trends in the nature of work and business. Some futurists estimate that close to 50% of jobs will be extinct in 20 years.
The jobs on the endangered list are not just the obvious ones like travel agents and the milkman. Accountants, air traffic controllers, utility engineers and teachers are all at risk – and so is the sales professional.
The sales professional is on the verge of extinction. Up until now the salesperson was the keeper and deliverer of information, but now they are not really needed for that anymore.
So what do they do?
The good news is that there are clear and valuable answers to that question. In recent months and years there have been a number of sales methodologies presented to bring relevance to the field of selling. The Challenger Sale is the best of those in my opinion. The basic tenets of Teach, Tailor, and Take Control only come from an in-depth understanding of the true value of insight and how best to create and deliver it. Done poorly it is just another substitute for commoditized information. And even in the domain of insight there are key differences that you can make. We will explore those as well as many elements in this journey.
The key difference in the work that Hendre Coetzee and I have done over the last several years shows us that methodology shifts are not sufficient. To stay relevant and avoid obsolescence you will need to make a mindset shift FIRST. Only from there can you properly attack making a shift in what you DO. The specific actions needed to make the shift will be detailed in the book and in the works from Hendre and myself.
Shifting mindset AND methodology is required for completely reversing the erosion of the sales professional’s relevance in a highly commoditized world.