September 15, 2016

The Most Important Sales Skill

With more than 20 years’ experience in high tech sales, I’ve had the privilege of participating in many sales calls with a wide variety of sales teams.  These include initial discovery calls as well as calls focused specifically on closing a prospect.  I’ve also participated in calls focused on install base customers who already committed to the technology; however, the vendor may be focused on selling a complete platform instead of a single product.  I’ve seen vendors be wildly successful in the endeavor as well as dismally fail.  Most importantly, I’ve noticed a distinct pattern of behavior on the part of the vendor that ultimately leads to either success or failure.

Depending on the nature of the sale, the stage in the technology lifecycle of the customer, their willingness to adapt or change, the art of the sale involves a delicate balance of educating the customer, moving them out of their comfort zone if necessary and creating a vision that is compelling.  How to create that delicate balance really depends on the customer, their environment and their overall objectives in the short and the long term as a business.  Therefore, it is critical to understand your customer, their business objectives (both long and short term) and what is top of the mind for the organization…listening to your customer.  Successful sales teams and vendors understand that demonstration of listening skills is just as important as (or more important than) presenting information.

I have been in many presentations where the vendor is very enthusiastic and persuasive about their technology and product… so much so that the majority of the sales call is presentation mode – of data, technology, market data and benchmarks etc.  Although this is a valuable step, the more successful sales calls that I have participated in have one theme in common. Let’s use this time with our customer to understand who they are, what their pain points are, their business objectives and how they measure success.  The art of the sale is dependent upon the depth of knowledge that you have about your customer and their industry…in other words, listening vs. talking.  The better that a vendor intimately knows their customer, the more likely they are to create a solution that solves the precise pain that a customer is feeling as well as align seamlessly to the customer’s corporate initiatives.  In other words, are there specific key business initiatives?  Is your customer focused on revenue growth? Utilization rate? Earnings growth? Margin preservation? Or perhaps reducing SG&A or increasing cash flow?  The only way to find out is to ask, then listen closely for as long as it takes.

Ultimately the vendor is responsible for providing the right type of training curriculum for its sales teams.  The training should encompass how to perform the right research, what questions to ask the customer to gain a thorough understanding of the customer’s current state and how to create a roadmap for the customer on how to get to their desired state. This training is critical to ensure this pivotal step in the selling process.  How well equipped are your sales teams to sell to executives?

There is no use in trying to sell your customer an apple if they need an orange.  For the best outcomes, do research, ask the right questions, and have the patience and self-control to hear what they have to say.


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