A Social Conversation
Selling Power founder and publisher Gerhard Gschwandtner and Dave DiStefano, president and chief executive officer of Richardson, a leading sales performance improvement company, discuss the role of technology in professional selling today.
Gschwandtner: How does technology affect the sales process?
DiStefano: Technology has a positive effect if done properly. You have people linked in to a sales process that is built to enable sales on a global scale. It affords managers the chance to investigate the process from the time an opportunity is initiated to when it closes, across the whole spectrum and at all levels. It also gives managers a look inside deals, and they can determine the quality of each sales opportunity.
Another technology is social media. This is a real way to transfer knowledge, both inside the firm and outside in the community. With social media, you can find the right points of contact.
Finally, technology should speed up the sales process. There are steps in the sales process that would have to be done manually without technology.
Gschwandtner: Which is more important, having the right technology or having the right sales process?
DiStefano: By far, the sales process is more important. The sales process has rules and activities for best-in-class selling. If you do these things and hit these mileposts, you will achieve success. Technology is record keeping.
Richardson has evolved from focusing on just sales skills to [focusing on] the whole concept of sales performance, which includes readiness, development, and sustainment. We determine what sales organizations have done well and where they are best in class, not based on external standards but on what they, themselves, have done well.
Then we look at roles in the sales organization. Does [the sales team] have the talent to sell in a more scientific way? Then we look at the leading indicators, metrics at different levels of the pipeline, that need to exist. What are the ideal profiles of leads? Has [the organization] developed the ideal customer profile?
Then we teach the consulting dialogue model. You must be able to start the dialogue, describe value, conduct the validation dialogue, and so forth. You cannot do best practice if you can’t do these dialogues.
Then we go to the CRM enablers. These must be bidirectional, with plans going into CRM and results going from CRM directly to management.
Gschwandtner: What are the keys to making sure that sales training is effective?
DiStefano: If you do just sales training, it fades in about 120 days. Sales training alone will not give you a sustained lift. It is not a sales transformation. One problem is who owns it. There are three stakeholding groups: HR and learning, sales, and senior management. For high-performance methods, there are obstacles at every step. Who owns the sales process? Who owns training? This has yet to be figured out in B2B.
You have to bring real life into training. There is no general method that you can say, “Follow this and you will sell.” [The training] may work to a degree, but it does not affect the organization’s footprint and character. Sales training must be customized to the organization’s sales process and the way it goes to market.
First-line sales managers must be involved. Once you set outcomes, give managers the tools to inspect these outcomes. Give the managers questions to ask on research completed and prospect buying styles. If managers ask these questions over and over, it will affect behavior. Reps will know these questions are coming and will not try to bluff.
Gschwandtner: What challenges are B2B sales organizations still facing as a result of economic pressures?
DiStefano: The big one is uncertainty. I can look at my pipeline, but I do not know how much I can rely on. This causes people to be indecisive. Then some customers had a bad quarter and want to know if they can delay an order. Then there is the personal impact. People want to hold on to their jobs and can’t risk leaving.
Gschwandtner: How would you define sales transformation?
DiStefano: It’s a balance of training, technology, and culture. You have to get the right people in the right roles, the right processes in place, and the right technologies. And you have to follow through; it’s not just coaching. One method is short-interval control. You map out the changes that have to occur, and then you check month by month how well reps are doing it.
Gschwandtner: How can sales leaders help their sales teams adjust to changes in clients’ buying behavior?
DiStefano: Some buyers know much more than they did before; others do not. You cannot give everyone the complete pitch. It will turn off some buyers. We train salespeople to have the agility to ask great diagnostic questions to determine where prospects are [in the sales process]. You must have the right people to do it – they must have business acumen and understand customer management and team-based selling. They must ask high-impact questions and learn if the prospect is willing to give back. If they are not willing to give back, you can qualify them out early.
– Henry Canaday
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