Q: I support our organization’s Sales function, and am looking to address a persistent challenge. While prospective customers consistently express interest in our company’s solutions, they are less willing to buy. This, combined with rumors of departmental layoffs, has taken its toll on morale among the sales team. I want to help, but don’t know where to start.
A: Selling in today’s economy can be challenging and, therefore, discouraging. At the same time, when things aren’t running smoothly, it can be a great wake-up call for identifying better practices and building on one’s skill set.
Now more than ever, a salesperson’s role is less about providing product information and more about creating value for the customer. In fact, customers’ chief complaint about salespeople is that they spend too much time and energy describing their product—research shows today’s customer would rather consult the Internet for product information. Thus, to be successful, salespeople have to be creative problem solvers—advice and expertise win business nowadays, rather than simply the product or service the salesperson represents.
Start by shifting the team’s mindset from live brochure to trouble-shooter. In a stronger economy, they might have resisted this shift because their products and services were selling despite their lack of skill, and, as such, your company was reluctant to let them go. In today’s business environment, however, they might be more open to your advice.
Once you have their attention, hone their negotiation skills, as well as their ability to tackle challenging conversations.
To get customers to move from expressing interest to buying, sales professionals must uncover their client’s (undisclosed) real and perceived barriers, handle push-back, pursue your organization’s interests (resist capitulation), and persuade clients to buy. It culminates with a signed contract.
An effective negotiation framework will complement your organization’s sales methodology. Whereas most sales approaches focus on surfacing the customer’s needs, often they lack guidance on how to pursue your organization’s interests, especially when they seem to conflict with those of the customer. Negotiation skills will help your sales force advocate for your company while being mindful of client objectives and protecting client relationships.
Negotiation skills are not enough. There will be instances in which your team has to decline a customer request or deliver bad news. Handled improperly, this could result in the loss of (potential) business. For your team to be most effective, they must know how to engage and navigate challenging conversations. This essential skill set can help them win business, as well as protect customer relationships already in place. Honing their “active-listening” skills is also essential.
Both of these competencies will be useful for internal matters, too. Sometimes a salesperson’s biggest challenge is the negotiation he or she must have with another department within their own organization—the salesperson is more than willing to tailor a product or go the extra mile to close a sale, but may encounter naysayers from other functional areas who stand in his or her way. These skills can help your team navigate the labyrinth of business relationships.
Empowering your colleagues with a skill set that matches today’s landscape should enable them to feel more confident about their future with a higher level of engagement. At the very least, you will have given them the tools needed to discuss and influence the situation in a constructive way.
Michael Rosenthal is managing partner of Consensus (www.consensusgroup.com), a negotiation and conflict resolution firm headquartered in New York City and with regional offices in Europe, India, and the Middle East. Consensus provides Talent Development services, including customized training and coaching, as well as Consulting and Peace Building services. For more information, contact 212.391.8100 or firstname.lastname@example.org.