The Secret To Sales Success: Stop Selling!

It’s time to implement go-to-market strategies that essentially flip the “good selling” moniker on its head.

The Secret To Sales Success: Stop Selling!

An old mantra was circulating among the Cisco sales force: “Good selling!” Perhaps it was started by CEO John Chambers himself, a former sales executive, or perhaps it just gained currency over the years from what was very much a sales culture within an innovative engineering company.

But during my last two years there, we implemented go-to-market strategies that essentially flipped the “good selling” moniker on its head: Stop selling—and start informing.

The reality is, whether you’re a mom-and-pop small business or a fast-growing SME gazelle or a Silicon Valley startup or a well-established large enterprise, if you’re in a customer-facing role in a company, then you are in sales. That’s nothing new; what is fresh is the way customers prefer to buy or consume IT products and services.

However, in the large, global enterprises that I had the distinction of supporting, our customers, the so-called “end users,” did not want to be sold to. In fact, to a large degree, they already had a preference for Cisco as a trusted brand vendor; the bigger challenge was to create net-new themes and conversations to drive overlay of a broader portfolio of solutions in order to grow wallet share within those existing accounts. And once we were successful demonstrating an even greater rate of penetration of a broader stack of software and services, our somewhat greater change management challenge was to enable that sales motion to the next top 150 “enterprise transformation” accounts.

Parenthetically, while we grew incremental services penetration by over 30% in less than a year, this sales-enablement strategy had absolutely nothing to do with “selling.”

Today plenty of data points in the enterprise IT industry indicate that a vast majority of enterprise customers, perhaps upward of 75% to 85%, have already determined what they will buy; and moving from awareness to preference is all about a compelling vision for how vendor X or Y can illustrate and demonstrate the relevant capabilities for shepherding the customer to a successful journey attached to well-defined business outcomes.

Here are the five strategic value imperatives that help shatter the traditional sales paradigm:

1. The new influencers: Expand your relevancy higher up the decision path. For example, Cisco traditionally sold to the “network admin” level and was frequently referred to pejoratively as an efficient infrastructure “plumbing” vendor. When we shifted the focus to enterprise architects—who are at the continuity stage of major customer business transformation—we were able to increase our pull-through rate of products and incremental services revenue.

2. Word-of-mouth customers sell to themselves: Digitally market-enable your solutions so that customers can sell to themselves. Ensure that every marketing and sales enablement initiative has a Web and social media component, so that word-of-mouth buzz can germinate across conventional silos within the enterprise and make it much easier to measure in terms of hard metrics that prove audience resonance.

4. Self-validation closes the deal: Figure out the best way to pivot from selling to helping educate and inform customers to validate for themselves how your solution solves a specific problem: Deliver highly industry-relevant and client-specific market research and strategic content that speaks to domain expertise but soft-sales vendor technology.

4. Send prospects on a digital journey: Determine how the digital sharing economy creates free market word-of-mouth buzz. According to Gartner survey data, “self-driven search” trumps all other traditional categories of influence, while recommendations from trusted “professional communities” now ranks as a close second. Gartner analyst Tiffani Bova believes that the “digital journey” is the most disruptive trend to the conventional sales model and that enterprise buyers are comfortable with—and sometimes prefer—conducting their own buying cycle with minimal transactional sales interaction.

5. Multichannel approach engages best: Discover and embrace new ways in which social selling can be effective in brand preference selection: Again, according to Bova, “external influences” are now the predominant factors that are disrupting the traditional buying cycle. While social media is not always a direct referral source of leads, social influence and multichannel presence are effective in staving off further erosion of the trust factor by connecting and engaging with customers. They are also helpful in showing customers a progression of information with touch points that can be constantly quantified and tested in real time.

Bova calls the new sales paradigm situational awareness; that is, how sales enablement professionals can extend their core competency to develop a deeper situational understanding of customer care-abouts and tailoring that understanding to deliver a more personalized, contextual experience to buyers and influencers. How do you plan to improve your sales motion to focus on “situational understanding” as a fundamental element of building a customer-driven sales organization?