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Transforming Your Sales Approach: Q+A

The following questions were asked by attendees during our Off the Page digital event  Transform your sales approach to make your business stand out. As we ran out of time to answer them all, authors  Philip Squire and  Simon Kelly have kindly provided the answers here.

Q: Can you share any examples of companies that have used a different sales approach successfully? (Louise)

Simon: If you look at the results and work backward, then salesforce.com has been extremely successful. A key to their approach is their belief in the need to build trust early in the sales process.

Phil: There is also the original HP story which I describe in Selling Transformed, along with Royal Caribbean Cruises, Sony Mobile and Toshiba.

Q: I conducted an interview experience with a travel agent’s customers and of over 160 people who were invited to participate, less than 10% of their customers believed the salesperson was effective. This is certainly a catalyst for change but where should we be starting? (Grant)

Simon: Yes, I’ve seen all sorts of research over the last few years pointing to the fact that “effectiveness” numbers are low, depending on how it’s defined: E.g., Forrester – only about a ¼ of salespeople understand my business (survey of C level people), Cespedes – on 22% of sales leaders feel they hire salespeople who succeed.

Overall, numbers like this point towards a need for a fundamental review on recruitment, hiring-development and reward strategies. The starting point being your hiring principles and processes.

Phil: The starting point for me is always the mindsets – an evaluation of the mindsets of the sales force, then comparing those results with their customer’s perceptions. There are various tools to do so – including this free self-assessment survey tool on our website here.

Q: If only 10% of people in sales are espousing the critical values - where are the people that do have these values currently working and what would attract them to sales instead? (Edward)

Simon: Great question. It’s highly likely this 10% are in just a few companies. I remember having this debate a good few years ago in BT Major Business, where the type of people we needed in sales were more analytical, more thoughtful. Painting a different picture of what it takes to be an effective salesperson (and killing a few cliched stereotypes of the Del Boy type) is a start.

With final year University students, I make a big deal of telling them how important and serious a business role running major accounts for a company is. We all need to make sales jobs sound more appealing beyond the cash rewards.

Phil: Edward, your assumption perhaps suggests that people’s values don’t change, but I disagree. We are not born with values; we develop and shape them over time. They may be difficult to change but they can change. So, if a salesperson has a desire to change and adapt their values - they can! This has been the fundamental premise of the sales transformation projects I have worked on and the results really do speak for themselves.

Q: Do you believe companies have virtually stopped investing in the benefits of training for their customer-facing people? (Steve Lowndes)

Simon: Not that I have seen. The evidence tends to be the opposite. Typically, about 20% more is spent per head on training salespeople versus other functions. However, to date, much of this has been classroom learning with little follow-up coaching, which means promised benefits are not often realized. The large bulk of training tends to be around ‘skills’ e.g., training out an approach, as opposed to value and behaviours.

Phil: Great question. We have seen a big increase in spend on BSc/MSc post-graduate degrees this past year and in the latter half of the year, we have seen more companies realizing how important it is to equip their sales teams with relevant skills and knowledge. That said, overall, I suspect many companies have stopped investing in their sales force whilst they conserve cash.

Q: Some very useful principles have emerged from today’s event. Can you share any quick thoughts on how I can make this work in the charity sector? (David)

Simon: Yes. Hire against the values and competencies discussed. In some way, this could be easier for a charity as potential employees will have an expectation that your approach will be values-based. You could even tie the sales values you are looking for to the overall values of your charity.

Phil: I am not sure about this sector but imagine that it is possible to use the frameworks covered in my book in very much the same way. Charities must sell what they do and stand for to investors, partners, governments, agencies, so I am quite sure it’s possible to apply the learnings to that sector.

Did you miss the live event? You can still watch the recording of Transform your sales approach to make your business stand out.

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