Selling in the Age of Experience

by Matt Thompson

posted on 08-24-2017

In today’s business climate, you’re either evolving or dying—there’s little middle ground.

Advances in digital— analytics, AI, and personalization to name a few—are transforming every business and empowering customers with new levels of knowledge and increased expectations.

In this competitive environment, the ability of sales to understand and engage accounts with meaningful information and solutions at every step of the lifecycle is more than a differentiator. It’s a requirement for success.

More than that, internal stakeholders—whether they’re in marketing or elsewhere in the business—are relying on sales’ knowledge of the customer to inform their own strategies for delivering engaging experiences.

With this in mind, here are four lessons from my own journey to help sales—and, by association, their companies—win in the Era of Experience:

1. Make data-driven insight a part of your DNA

You can’t sell by gut instinct anymore. Basic product knowledge and good judgment are no longer enough. Your customer is already doing their own research and competitive intelligence; so, successful sales must be built around compelling data and the unique insight it brings to the table.

It’s eye opening when you get beyond basic metric tracking and embrace analytics as a science. Although it’s becoming cliché in the business world to embrace the notion of big data, few sales organizations have truly made the shift to being insight-driven. A 2016 report from ZS found that 94% of enterprises have implemented big data infrastructure, but only 8% have fully integrated their analytics capabilities across the business. There’s tremendous upside here.

Whether you’re selling inside a data-driven company or not, you need more insight into your customer’s challenges. You must:

2. Learn to operate at scale

It’s not enough to simply embrace data into your sales process. You need to be able to do it at scale, again and again, with an ever-expanding set of stakeholders.

Today, it’s nearly impossible to close a sale with a single decision maker. Usually, it requires working with a complex matrix of stakeholders, each of whom brings different needs and expertise to the table. CEB now reports an average of 6.8 decision makers are included in each B2B sale. You need to be able to influence a diverse group within each account, identify advocates and arm them with the story of value and ROI they need to help close the sale on your behalf.

Navigating matrixed sales environments is challenging enough when you only have a handful of accounts. Now imagine doing it across thousands of accounts and multiple verticals and geos.

It’s certainly transformed what I expect my own team to do, the skill sets we look for when we hire and how we organize ourselves to call upon customers.

Every salesperson needs to prioritize operational efficiency and embrace the technologies that will help them sell at scale.

3.Build stronger relationships, with a twist

Good relationships are still important, but you have to build them differently (hint: it doesn’t just happen on the golf course or over dinner anymore).

The RAIN group says that, “sales winners educate buyers with new ideas and perspectives 3X more often than second-place finishers.” The ability to do that starts with genuine empathy for what your accounts are trying to accomplish, and then helping them achieve it. It takes solutions that solve real problems and offer competitive advantage beyond incremental speeds and feeds.

Most importantly, relationships that stop with the sale aren’t really relationships at all—and that’s unacceptable. Help your customers realize the full value out of what you sold them by asking yourself:

When you do it right, you’ll delight (and retain) your customers. They’ll stop thinking of you as a salesperson and start thinking of you as a true partner. They’ll even help you win new business.

4.Double down on core skills

With so much changing in the way we think about sales, it can be easy to lose sight of the skills and personality traits that make a winning salesperson. So, while you’re focused on transformation, don’t forget:

These four principles have emerged out of the digital transformation in my organization, and continue to guide us as we enhance the way we structure teams, hold each other accountable, collaborate with internal stakeholders, and build strong relationships with our customers.

Look for opportunities to apply these lessons to your own challenges, and you’ll be amazed by the results—closer customer partnerships, operational efficiency, and happier, more productive sales teams.

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