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A Reminder of the Basics

Much of my focus lately has been on helping organizations develop their capabilities for attracting customers through improved marketing processes and the automation of those processes through state of the art technology. Without question pretty much all companies that I have encountered find themselves with opportunities to raise their ability to increase revenue through better utilization of marketing best practices. This is a part of the organization where most can find gains.

However, this week I had an experience that reminded me that all of the most effective marketing automation in the world cannot replace the need for positive human contact when it comes to winning over a new customer. There are some elements in the rainmaking equation that simply come down to good people skills. If you are uncomfortable with the person or people you are dealing with it can really get in the way of the purchase.

I enjoyed the role of the customer this week, for a change. We were investigating two prospective vendors that we believed had similar products to offer, but needed to dig a bit deeper to understand which of the two would be the better fit. One simply outshined the other and it was totally because of the people we encountered as we were performing our comparative shopping. We focused on these two vendors as a result of excellent marketing that each performed well. But one of them dropped the ball when the true selling started. But, this left me a bit dissatisfied – I was worried that we would fall into the position to make our decision without fully understanding the pros and cons of each of the two offerings. The selling process was so poor due to the people from one of the vendors that they literally short-changed themselves. We did not get a full appreciation for the product and its virtues.

So, I reflected on this a bit. Buried deep within the proprietary framework we utilize to assist clients with Sales Force Effectiveness is the recognition that a successful selling process requires strong fundamental people skills. Reflecting on this a bit more, I now believe this gets overlooked too often. We get so focused on process and technology we forget that good selling is very much centered upon the ability to develop rapport and trust.

I ran across a study a while back that identified those behavioral skills that help to delineate effective sales reps from those that are less effective. Some of these skills are to be expected, such as the ability to develop comfort with the prospect and possess the competence to explain how the product satisfies the prospective customers’ specific needs. Others that were identified might not be as expected, such as honoring the buyer’s purchasing process (instead of the seller’s process), helping to address problems for the buyer (outside of the sale), and not being perceived as aggressive in pushing for the close.

Interestingly, we encountered negative examples of these skills with the vendor who performed poorly. They did not take the time to understand our needs; they followed a standard process rather than working within our buying approach; and they totally failed at developing rapport or demonstrating competence with the product. Ironically, the vendor who bombed with the human contact was actually best with the marketing.

If I were to use my experience this week to sum up these behavioral sales competencies from the study, I would conclude that it is all about confidence – confidence in the individual as representing the capability of the vendor and its products. You have to feel confident that the individual will help you be successful as a result of the sale. Anything that erodes this confidence reduces the likelihood of the sale. While this probably all seems pretty obvious to everyone, I believe we don’t give enough attention to this foundational component of sales force effectiveness. In my line of business there is an underlying assumption that someone else is attending to this necessary capability, such as the training function or the sales coaching process. However, a solid focus on SFE needs to have a focus on sales competencies, especially as they pertain to human relations.

So, the question is whether anyone is keeping an eye on this within your company. Does the training function know what skills are needed to be successful and do they have programs that really assist the individual develop them? Do your sales managers have the ability to assess individual strengths and do they have the tools for proper coaching? If not, these fundamental skills may be getting in the way of your further success.

Rent a Wreck

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