As we all know, the business world has changed dramatically in recent times. We have seen a near-revolution in the market-place, and in particular – the way that companies buy and sell their products and services. As a result, there are far greater numbers of competitors, much higher levels of commoditization, the ever-increasing pace of business as well as much smarter, more well-informed clients. Consider these facts for one moment:

  • Companies today have twice as many competitors as they did just 5 years ago!
  • Clients have twenty times more information available to them than they did 5 years ago!’
  • Clients see absolutely no difference between your product/service-offering than that of your competitors!
  • 50% of all buying decisions are made before the client even speaks with a sales person!

The impacts of these game-changing developments are as a result of an on-going transformation in the client-supplier relationship – what I call the ‘shifting market’. In the past, sales people were taught that skills such as ‘pitching’, differentiation and ‘closing’ were essential for winning business. Nowadays, these ‘techniques’ have no relevance in the modern business environment. Indeed, research has conclusively found that these kinds of behaviours not only will not win you the initial piece of work – but will seriously damage any possibility of working with that client in the future.

”85% of clients that met with sales consultants that demonstrated ‘traditional’ sales methods and behaviours – said that they would not wish to talk with that sales consultant or their company again”

Today’s sales consultants need to be far smarter and much more skilled in areas such as client meetings and discussions, asking and responding to questions, negotiations, ability to identify client needs, providing insights and value, reaching agreement and commitment. They need to understand clients and their businesses on a much deeper and commercially-focused level. They need to be able to challenge conventional thinking and demonstrate a greater awareness of not only their client’s individual business and industry sectors – but of the global market-place in general.

‘60% of all companies in business today use sales strategies that are ineffective, outdated and seriously damage their ability to sell successfully….’
(Source: Harvard Business School)

The problem is that many companies, sales directors and consultants are still applying ‘traditional’ sales strategies and behaviours. This is a highly dangerous situation – all recent research shows that companies and individuals using these ‘traditional’ sales approaches will fail to make the grade and literally ‘disappear’ from their respective industry sectors in the next 5 to 10 years. (this has already started to happen – the USA is expected to experience a loss of between 13 and 15 million direct sales jobs by 2020). Source: Leading sales ‘guru’, speaker and author – Sharon Drew Morgan

Even more astonishing than this is realization that whilst the market-place has undergone phenomenal and irreversible change in their buying behaviours – suppliers (and their sales teams) have not!

Why is this? Most companies embrace and openly welcome improvements that lead to greater efficiencies, higher performance and better results. Yet it seems almost an anathema to do this in the area of sales. Old, ‘bad’ habits are therefore perpetuated – and even encouraged. For example, during recessionary or difficult times, sales consultants are given unrealistic targets and pressured to bring in more sales. They are told to meet more clients, make more calls each day and so on. This is more-than-likely due to a strategy set in place by sales directors that is also based on an outdated model.

It is a recipe for disaster – and one that ultimately leads to failure. In countless studies on the subject, it has been found that there is absolutely no evidence to support the theory that speaking with a greater number of clients generates more sales. In fact, it usually has the exact opposite effect: under pressure sales people often resort to traditional ‘selling’ behaviours such as ‘hard’, ‘aggressive’ and ‘rushing to close’ selling techniques – which clients react very negatively towards. (‘studies on sales consultants being pressured to increase their sales volumes clearly displayed a tendency to be highly self-oriented, pushy, time-bound and showing signs of desperation to ‘do the deal’. All these ‘characteristics’ were picked up on by the clients and had extremely negative impacts on them’). Source: Cranfield School of Management

A better approach

To paraphrase the old quotation

‘A genuine change must first come from within the individual’

As our environment changes – so must we. The same applies in the business world and those that are not prepared to change, face a very uncertain future. The strange thing is, it is as easy to do something right as it is to do it wrong. So for those that are willing to embrace and apply a new, more effective and relevant approach – that is geared directly to meet the demands of today’s clients – not only will they position themselves far more powerfully in the market-place, but they will be able to generate long-lasting, mutually beneficial client-supplier alliances going forward.

How can you do this?

The solution is basically three-pronged:

  1. Un-learning bad habits. (re-training/re-educating of sales directors, sales teams and consultants)
  2. Learning a new and effective approach (understanding and applying the right kind of strategy and behaviours to ensure success)
  3. Follow-up (evaluation and measurement that the new approach is being applied)

This process of improvement will not be easy. It involves a major mind-set change in the way that sales people both behave and function. They need to take on a far wider range of skills and competencies that they may not have been aware of or exposed to before. (that of a researcher, educator, negotiator, accomplished communicator, business expert, insight-provider, trusted adviser and value creator).

However, if they wish to survive and grow in the current market conditions, it is a decision that they may not have any choice in. So the real question is:

Can you really afford not to change?

Laurie P Smith – Director & Lead Facilitator in Sales strategies at ADVANCE L&D (Laurie has been training companies and individuals in sales strategy for over 20 years. He worked for KPMG China, as well as with other leading companies in a range of business sectors in Hong Kong/China, Japan and more recently in Thailand). If you would like to know more – please visit  advancelearning.org or simply email/call Laurie at info@advancelearning.org / +66 0915808838 

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