Last week, I had another meeting with a Head of Sales in order to determine improvement opportunities within his sales team. Once again, the Head of Sales expressed to me the closing skills of his account managers should better.
While this might be true for some, the reality is that this is mostly the symptom of another problem.
While conducting several assessments to determine skill and proficiency levels within and across sales teams in several organisations, we noticed a recurring pattern: sales professionals induce the difficulty of closing themselves.
How? They often go for the kill too soon in the selling process.
Let me explain. We all know buyers go through their own buying journey. After being triggered by something, their interest is raised, they become aware something should change, start exploring,… to finally end up deciding what specific solution they need and whom shall be the best provider of this solution.
If, as a sales rep, you start proposing a specific solution while the buyer just became aware something in his current situation should change, or worse, if you start telling him why he should collaborate with you, you will create a lot of friction.
When you think of it, it is no rocket science. It all has to do with the mental phases we all go through in our decision process towards change. This mental journey is illustrated by buyer journeys. This is something your sales reps should be aware of so they can determine what they should and should not do, and when to do it.
So, what about your sales reps’ closing skills? It is quite simple, really. If you want them to be efficient in applying their closing skills, first ask yourself if your selling process is aligned to the buyer journey. If so, your sales reps are able to identify the buying readiness of prospects, know what to do accordingly, and when to close.
Want to know if your selling processes is truly buyer aligned?
Our customers’ buying behaviour has changed dramatically since the emergence of the internet, and since social media took over some of the salespeople’s tasks. The recent Connected Commerce paper from Nielsen once again confirms how much we’re all shopping with smartphones in hand, comparing prices and searching online for product specifications and reviews. Phenomena such as webrooming and showrooming fit in seamlessly with this trend.
Before you read on, we’d first like to reveal that showroom salespeople do still have an important role to play in the digital era! But the job is different nowadays, and certainly hasn’t become any easier.
We’re still buying expensive (customised) products from real-life salespeople
Showrooming is when customers go into a shop to look at, try on and test products such as clothes and electronics, but then place their orders online. Webrooming is the opposite: customers search for information online, but then validate their choice in the shop or showroom, and ultimately buy from a salesperson in the flesh.
However … the higher a product’s value and/or complexity, and the less often you buy it, the greater the sense of risk. You can quickly choose and pay for a new vacuum cleaner online, for example. But for bigger investments – especially when there’s some customisation, e.g. kitchens, patios, doors and windows, tiles or a car – most buyers still want to complete their buying process with some form of human interaction. This is therefore a typical product category for webrooming.
Challenges for showroom salespeople
Potential buyers of higher value (customised) products are still going to showrooms, but only less than twice on average. We’re also seeing that good, experienced salespeople are spending much more time and energy completing sales nowadays. But why?
Webrooming, discussed above
Increasingly competitive markets – sometimes with several suppliers offering similar products in the same street – mean that salespeople need to convince customers why their products are the best option. Customers don’t always have a clear overview of any differences, and so are tempted to simply choose the cheapest.
In order to convince potential customers to complete a purchase, our salespeople generally have two options, each with their own disadvantages:
Immediately finalise all the details for a product sale with the customer (e.g. design a kitchen, configure options for a car, etc.), provide a quote straight away, and try to seal the deal. Disadvantage: this takes a lot of time. But mainly: the potential customer then has all the information they need, meaning in principle that they no longer need the salesperson, and can instead use the information gained to negotiate a price with your competitor
Or the salesperson tries to make a second appointment. Disadvantage: waiting too long to find out all the information and receive a quote increases the risk that a potential customer will seek a solution elsewhere and buy from your competitor in the meantime
Dovy Keukens: what competences do salespeople need today?
You used to be a product salesperson who knew your product inside-out. Or you were good at building relationships, and you made sales based on the trust you earned. But you need more than that nowadays.
Johan Verbeke, Sales Manager at Dovy Keukens, a leading Belgian supplier of tailor-made kitchens:
“Like all companies, we had to adapt to the digital era. We’ve realised that salespeople need to do the right thing at the right time to meet each individual customer’s wishes. So they need to work out rapidly what to do- and what not to do- and decide if it might be better to make a follow-up appointment.”
“Salespeople need to translate the desired experience into a proposal that makes the most of our product strengths. They also need to capitalise on the company’s strengths, because the way we approach things can also make the difference. Sealing the deal at the right time keeps us ahead of our competitors.”
“Salespeople are therefore expected to be real all-rounders these days. Together with Perpetos, we’re actively working to develop all these competences in our sales team. And we clearly see the positive impact this has on our conversion rates.”
Important role for Sales Management: keep the team focused
Sales Management can help keep salespeople focused by providing sales support and coaching the team- to take advantage of each individual situation in practice. Digital tools, such as CRM, are often still seen as an administrative burden, even though they can help with coaching and improve performance. This does require the CRM being adapted as a sales support tool, however, and not just a reporting tool.
Is there room for improving your sales performance? Do you want to optimise your margins or sales cost? Would you like to discuss your experiences without any obligation? Contact our experts
Commercial excellence means you know your customers so well, that you fully understand them as well as their context. This allows your company to anticipate their needs and expectations. And via sales and marketing to communicate the right thing at the right time, and to show the impact and value of what you have to offer.
To achieve commercial success, it no longer suffices to promote your company. Nor to merely listen and ask questions. Buyers increasingly expect the right information at the right time. And a number of elements are important in this regard.
Commercial Excellence: really know your customer
We need to align activities to the customer’s expectations. Any contact with your company, personal or online, needs to contain the right message aligned to the customer’s readiness to buy. You can accelerate the sales process considerably by meeting their expectations with every contact.
In terms of results
It’s not about what your service or product can do, but about its value to the customer. How does it impact their organisation? What specific results can they expect?
Highest market price
A customer-oriented organisation strives for the highest market price for its products and services. But at the lowest cost from the customer’s perspective. Commercial excellence has a positive impact on your cost of sales and enables you to get results twice as fast.
How can you achieve this? You may ask yourself the following questions:
Do your product developers and officers understand the importance of your products and services to the customer?
Do they know how the customer will work differently? And what improvements he will accomplish?
Are all persons involved aware of how your strengths will contribute to a better result?
Can you say whether your products or services will give a better result than those of your competitors?
Do your customers recognise the link between your strengths and their accomplishments?
Becoming a customer-oriented organisation
Not every industry has noticed crucial changes in customer behaviour yet. Determine to what extent your customer target groups are already part of the experience economy. To what extent do they use the Internet and social media to inform themselves? If this is the case, follow these four steps to achieve a more customer-oriented approach:
Ensure that your market is segmented on the basis of equal needs and reasons to buy. So that your sales messages can be used on a wider scale and are at the same time aligned in detail to each segment’s unique character
Map the obstacles preventing your employees from embracing new ways of working. Also map possible motivating factors to change work patterns
What current processes and KPIs obstruct a more customer-oriented approach?
Develop and implement a change project taking into account all of the above. Take special care to implement the required changes on a human scale. And clearly communicate the benefits for each person involved so as to stimulate willingness to change.