Selling Microsoft

Striking a Balance: Competition and Collaboration

Building solid relationships with customers will win out against the aggressive, pushy sales strategy any day.

In today's complex, overheated sales environment, many opportunities involve at least two competitors. At the same time, customers increasingly expect salespeople to serve as trusted business advisors, meaning sales teams must work at building solid relationships as well as winning sales.

Top sales performers have always been competitive. While some executives at Microsoft partner companies have told me they view competitiveness as a negative, the best salespeople I know possess a few basic, winning traits. They must be creative and energetic and be able to out-strategize their rivals, overcome objections and generate the emotion that turns a prospect into a client.

What executives should also recognize is that these same top performers are typically collaborative as well. They focus on more than just making the immediate sale. They try hard to genuinely understand each prospect and develop proposals offering clear long-time value. They work at building long-term partnerships with their customers.

So how do you make sure that your own sales team represents the right balance of competition and collaboration?

First, you must understand your marketplace, including the fact that different vertical markets may require different sales approaches. For example, if someone is great at selling into a nonprofit organization made up of multiple decision makers who must reach a consensus, it's unlikely that that same person will excel at selling into a highly entrepreneurial small or midsize company. Identifying your markets and your customers' buying patterns will help you determine your ideal ratio of competitiveness to collaboration. (One place to start: Interview at least 10 existing clients about the characteristics they prefer in their vendor sales reps.)

Next, set your own ideal standard. Acumen recommends using an online assessment tool that allows you to establish the styles, skills and characteristics -- including competitiveness and collaborative ability -- that you most want in your salespeople. You can then use that tool to interview candidates to see how well they match those requirements. (But remember that such assessment tools are just one option for hiring and the results generated shouldn't, by themselves, be viewed as automatic pass/fail decisions. Interested in learning about tools from several vendors? E-mail me for a list.)

Bottom line: Prospects need help in making decisions. A salesperson's collaborative side helps prospects see why particular options are in their best interests, while the competitive side provides the mental toughness to bring the discussion to a positive close. For that reason, the final step for establishing the right balance is to remind all team members to continue developing both abilities.

About the Author

Ken Thoreson is managing director of the Acumen Management Group Ltd., a North American consulting organization focused on improving sales management functions within growing and transitional organizations. You can reach him at [email protected].