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Howard Stevens, Theodore Kinni: Achieve Sales Excellence, the 7 Customer Rules for Becoming the New Sales Professional

65 percent of salespeople who fail do not fail from lack of competence or commitment; they fail because they are in the wrong type of sales for their talent and skill base.

Sales Force paradox is that sales has very frequent and intimate contacts with their customers, yet they do not understand the true need of the very customers they face countless times a day.

One of the issues with developing sales capabilities is that it would be hard to find some sales knowledge that could be pass as institutional knowledge. Usually sales knowledge is more a tribal concept, with salespersons learning trade from past experiences of successful members.

If we define sales capabilities based on customer expectations, author puts them in those categories:

The Customer RuleThe Sales Professional’s Role
You must be personally accountable for our results.The Business Agent
You must understand our business.The CEO
You must be on our side.The Advocate & Expediter
You must bring us applications.The Consultant
You must be easily accessible.The Traveler
You must solve our problems.The Troubleshooter
You must be innovative in responding to our needs.The Innovator

Sales managers are usually poor estimators of sales talent. Since they usually prefer more manageable persons and salespeople are not the easiest one to manage.

Sales competences are the most important factor in customer decision making of purchasing with 39%. But the same evolutionary pattern that brought the sales professional to the spot in the customer’s buying decision will eventually create the same kind of competition that transformed price, quality and features from substantial differentiation factors into entry fees.

Highly effective salespeople are so hard to find due to:

  • Leadership isn’t focused on the sales effectiveness advantage.
  • Most employer-sponsored sales training isn’t designed to deliver the right skills and behaviors.
  • Far too few salespeople are prepared for their careers prior to entering the work world.

The most common forms of sales training are self-improvement programming (personal productivity, enthusiasm and energy) and sales process training (prospect, cold call, presentation skills, overcome objectives and closing).

Customer-centricity should be at the core of sales activities. But it is in majority of cases more a wording than actual activity. Reasons for that are:

  • Strategic disconnects
  • Short-term goal conflicts
  • Customer data shortfalls

If sales activities should be focused on customer want, we should understand customer wants. The pyramid goes like this. At the bottom there is want for substantiated value, this is upgraded by getting a solution and not products or service and on the top is want from customer that sales are outsourcing execution and management of a portion of the customer’s business.

Customers expect three main competences from salespeople: to be accountable for managing delivering of value to them, to be knowledgeable about their business so that they can give sound advice and to understand and know salespeople company enough to be able to get what is promised. Possessing all three of them, brings credibility to a salesperson. Credibility is a key ingredient in successful selling.

What sellers see as sales; their customers see as service.


Three competencies salespeople need in order to achieve accountability:

  • Making yourself the single point of contact.
  • Managing teams of experts.
  • Being the ROI expert.

Making salespeople a single point of contact means being a strong communicator. Managing experts is necessary to gain credibility to deliver what customer is expecting. Company should empower salespeople in terms of authority and decision-making. ROI is about showing value to a customer. Satisfaction is transactional, the continual and consistent experience of satisfaction evolves into customer loyalty.

Knowing customers business

Understanding customer is about two kinds of knowledge.

  • Knowledge of market
    • Vertical knowledge (industry)
    • Horizontal knowledge (solution)
    • Specialized knowledge (niche markets)
  • Company (corporate) knowledge
    • Customers customer
    • Health of customer
    • Financial conditions

When you build customer knowledge, you should:

  • Research the customer’s business.
  • Identify the company’s key personnel and their background.
  • Learn the customer’s organizational procedures and cultural preferences.
  • Document the important details so you are not dependent on memory.

Being on customer side

Customer advocacy is a concept on the rise in many corporations. Glen Urban from MIT believes that is sit atop a pyramid that is supported by product and service quality, customer satisfaction and relationship building.

Some of the beliefs salespeople that believe in customer advocacy held are:

  • The customer side is the only side.
  • You should beware of vested interests.
  • Advocacy is the most valuable when the customer is not present.

There are three skills that successful salespeople should have in order to do customer advocacy on the highest level:

  • Know your company.
  • Create your support network.
  • Communicate your customer’s needs and expectations.

High-performing salespeople use their knowledge to manipulate the system so that it works in favor of their customers.

Built on those three base elements of successful salespeople, there are additional four elements that are additionally creating differences in salespeople credibility.

Bringing applications of solutions to a customer

Since customers want substantiative values, solutions rather than products and services and they want to outsource any element of their business that is not a core competence, they want salespeople to bring them solution application.

Salespeople sometimes act like consultant. But just to makes sure, it should be clear that salesperson goals at the end should be to get customers to buy and if they are not moving in this direction, salespeople can be seen as »unpaid consultant« or »professional visitor«.

Levels of solution application sales can be seen as:

  • First level is specification and configuration.
  • Second is installation.
  • Third is integration.
  • Fourth is usage.

There are two different kind of knowledge salespeople need to offer proper solution. Knowledge about products and services and knowledge about customer situation.

Integration is about people, processes or technology.

Usage is about replacement, maintenance or updates. Usage is the most important part, if you don’t do it right, you can lose customer very quickly.

Easy to reach

If customer is willing to outsource part of their activities to outside vendors, they are expecting that their focus contact point, salespeople, must be easily accessible. Some studies on the other hand shows that salespeople spend only 5 % of their time with customers. What is also important to notice is that salespeople spend more time with prospecting than existing customers sometimes, which is not always a good thing for business.

There are two important points regarding accessibility:

  • Technology is an enabler of world-class accessibility.
  • The level and quality of response is the key to world-class accessibility.

Four responses protocols of world-class accessibility:

  • Acknowledgment
  • Proximity
  • Preparation
  • Execution

Solving customer problems

Problems are opportunities to secure the customer’s loyalty. Customer-centric models are essentially problem-solving processes. There are two important qualities for great troubleshooter. What you know and how you approach the problem-solving process. They are more important than creativity and brainpower.

Problem solving steps as defined by James Ziegenfuss Jr. from Penn State are:

  • Identify the problem
  • Investigate the problem
  • Report the investigation results
  • Develop the response to the problem
  • Manage the response plan to ensure resolution

Innovation in responding to customer needs

Customers in B2B segment are looking for innovation and continuous improvements from their business partners and vendors. This was especially seen in the turn of the century, when after a lot of hype about outsourcing, some major contracts were canceled before they run out and the reason for it was lack of clear benefits provided from outsource partners.

Best salespeople develop their expertise in areas like: technical expertise, industry expertise and cross-functional expertise. Inside industry expertise it is important that salespeople are aware of the balance between confidentiality and knowledge sharing.

Five attributes of innovative salespeople:

  • The ability to judge the innovation receptivity and profit potential of customers.
  • A commitment to keep customers up-to-date.
  • A constant search for new applications
  • The ability to recognize unspoken customer needs
  • A willingness to try the untested.

Sales organization

There are eight important questions to define great sales organizations:

  • What drives the company’s culture?
  • How does the company segment its markets?
  • How efficiently does the company adapt to market changes?
  • How are customers served by the company’s IT initiatives?
  • How evolved are the company’s sales, service and technical support systems?
  • How does the company solicit customer feedback and measure customer satisfaction?
  • How does the company recruit and select salespeople?
  • How does the company train and develop its sales force?
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