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The 3 Strategies of Top Reps and 'The End of Solution Sales'

Recently, I spoke at a major software vendor's partner and client conference. A few weeks later, I received an e-mail from one of the attendees suggesting I blog about an article published in the Harvard Business Review's July/August 2012 issue titled "The End of Solution Sales."

During a 16-hour flight to Hong Kong where I was going to lead a client's sales leadership workshop, I pulled out the article to read. At 35,000 feet, it woke me up.

As a salesperson and sales manager for many years I understand the concepts and logic behind a solution sale. This article makes one take a deep breath and a step back to reconsider how we as sales leaders not only address the market but also train our sales teams to become more professional. A changing market environment, more access to information and smarter buyers mean we must alter our sales approach. I can't summarize the entire article, but I want to address a few key points.

Essentially, solution sales is a sales methodology designed to increase the discovery aspect of selling wherein the salesperson seeks to understand the problems of the client and addresses those issues by recommending one of the salesperson's products/services to solve the prospect's pain.

The Harvard Business Review article's authors, Brent Adamson, Matthew Dixon and Nicholas Toman, make the point -- by performing extensive research with many top performing salespeople -- that times have changed. Nowadays, prospects know their pain and have researched potential solutions. They are simply looking for a solution that is cost-effective, thus reducing the value of the salesperson and their potential commission.

Front the front page of the article: "The old playbook no longer works. Star salespeople now seek to upend the customer's current approach to doing business."

The authors make the point that is similar to any sales training program -- entering the account prior to the RFP and understanding the customer's issues early on is a good way to counteract the bidding process. Most account planning programs will cover this tactic. While this is an old idea, it sets the stage for the authors' three strategies for star performers.

First, look for the right prospect. Are they agile? Can the customer act quickly and decisively? Does the prospect have an emerging need or is the organization in a state of organizational flux?

After interviewing many top performers, the article's authors uncovered where the new "insight selling" professionals stand out: Rather than uncovering pain or answering an RFP, the "star reps" reframe the discussion and turn a customer with clearly defined requirements into one with emerging needs -- or reveal to the customer needs they didn't know they had. These ideas must be provocative in nature, challenging to the prospects and insightful.

The second strategy describes the seven profiles normally found in any account -- authors call "go-getters," "teachers," "skeptics," "guides," "friends," "climbers" and "blockers." While we have always been trained to find a "coach or advocate" the authors make the case that in today's selling environment, star performers seek only go-getters, teachers and skeptics. In effect, these become the "mobilizers" within an organization. Mobilizers are focused foremost on driving productivity change for their company. And that is what they want to talk about -- their company, not the salesperson's.

The third strategy is simply to assist the buyer in buying!  The salesperson must fully know the buying the cycle and not probe about "the steps to gain approval." Be an asset and provide valued insight to help your prospect cause change.

The article will give any salesperson -- and certainly sales managers -- things to consider in reinventing the sales process, sales training and sales strategy. The key is to review how your salespeople are selling today:  Can you change the game on your competition? Are you including new sales processes/tactics that can make your organization stand out during the sales cycle? Is your sales training program designed to enhance the professionalism of your team?

Have you read any other thought-provoking articles lately? Share them -- or other related sales leadership topics -- with all of the readers on this blog in the comments section below.

From somewhere between Knoxville and Hong Kong, have a great week and month.

Posted by Ken Thoreson on August 03, 2012 at 11:59 AM