Why are sales falling short? Too many companies have a fundamental misunderstanding of the sales process, says Lisa Earle McLeod, author of Selling with Noble Purpose. Her research shows that top sales leaders have a dramatically different view than the rest of us – and we can profit from that knowledge. Here are five things you can start doing differently today.
Understand it’s not about the money. Want to drive sales? Just give the salespeople bigger bonuses – right? After all, “the prevailing conversation and structure in business is money,” says Earle McLeod. No one will turn down a raise, but that’s not what’s driving the best performers. They focus instead on “the positive impact the product has on the customer” (think pharmaceutical reps who are motivated by a desire to cure cancer) or their company’s ability to “make people’s jobs easier” with your product or service, whether it’s through higher quality, faster delivery times, or a more customer-friendly purchase process.
Change the language of leaders. Top executives set the tone for the company. If all they talk about is “hitting the numbers,” what message is actually getting through? Not a good one, says Earle McLeod. “Leaders have to train themselves to speak about the impact they have on customers and always start with that. You can’t just bark orders at people 24/7; you have to provide context and get people’s input.” They can manifest this when coaching the sales team, she says: “When the manager talks to that sales rep, ask them, ‘How will this customer be different as a result of doing business with us?’ If every coaching conversation includes that question, that alone will have a dramatic impact.”
Get off the script. “One of the things that annoys us the most is when telemarketers call us during dinner and use a script,” says Earle McLeod. “Unfortunately, corporate sales calls have devolved into a slightly more sophisticated version of that. The human mind hates uncertainty, and the best way to avoid that is to control every aspect of the interaction.” But that makes for a rote, flavorless interaction. Instead, she says, sales leaders need to “be OK with a little uncertainty” and feel confident they know the product, industry, and customers well enough to improvise and really listen. “The best sales people manage the duality of being very goal driven and being comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty,” she says.
It’s not about ‘the close.’ If sales aren’t up to snuff, leadership immediately knows what’s wrong: their people don’t know how to close! But that’s often just a red herring. “The real problem was in the beginning,” says Earle McLeod. “It’s like looking at an athlete that loses the race by 15 feet and saying, ‘you need to run faster at the end,’ but no, you need to train better six months ago.” Successful sales start by truly understanding the customer, she says. “If you don’t have the purpose of improving your customer’s condition, there’s no magic technique I can give you at the end of a sales call to help you close it.”
Your CRM system may be hurting your cause. Think about your customer relationship management system (CRM) and what it measures. “It’s usually designed around an internal perspective,” says Earle McLeod. “It’s information that’s helpful for senior leadership to understand about customers. And that information is important, but it doesn’t help make your sales call better.” In other words, seeing a customer’s order history (almost always captured in CRM) is nice. But seeing a list of the customer’s top three priorities is infinitely more helpful in identifying areas of need and making a sale.
It’s not luck: top sales leaders really are viewing their relationship to customers in a radically different way. But the good news is, that perspective – and the actions they take stemming from it – can be adopted by all of us. If you embrace the “noble purpose” in selling, says Earle McLeod, your company and your customers will both benefit.
What are your top strategies for sales success?
This post originally appeared on the Forbes website on February 6, 2013.
Dorie Clark is CEO of Clark Strategic Communications and the author of Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013). She is a strategy consultant who has worked with clients including Google, Yale University, and the Ford Foundation. Listen to her podcasts or follow her on Twitter.