May 28, 2020

Why It’s Good that Sales Has Changed Forever

By Mark Boundy and Christine Gilroy

For all the sales leaders out there, I have good news and bad news. 

The bad news is: sales will likely never go back to the way things were before the pandemic. There isn’t even going to be a consistent “new normal.” The coming years will be filled with a rolling set of changes – none of which mimic the world we left when pandemic broke out.

Now, for the good news. Elite sellers and sales organizations have practiced something for years that will to transition from difference-maker to survival tool. That practice is discovering and selling value. 

As we discuss in our new book, Radical Value, discovering and selling value will be a matter of survival not just for elite sellers but a required practice for every seller.

You need to stop hoping things will go back to the way they were, and instead, as our colleague David Veech says, “build the new better.” Here are some tips. 

Understand Your Customer’s Perceived Value 

Every customer’s situation has changed, and so has how customers perceive sellers’ value. You don’t even know what to sell a customer until you know how their situation has changed and how they see their future. Helping them understand and work through the change will be part of the value you add.

Elite sellers and sales organizations build every sales interaction around understanding the customer’s current perception of the world and working from outcomes they desire. You and your customer need to co-create their “new better.” 

In the short term, whatever you’re selling must help them stabilize/improve operations, serve customers, preserve cash and/or get their staff back to work. Your ability to help them deliver on these issues will be the key to delivering value. 

Accept the Reality of Rolling Changes

Again, we won’t return to a consistent state of normalcy anytime soon. Physical distancing restrictions will ease gradually. Supply chains will be readjusting and even reconfiguring, probably for years. Some businesses will rocket, some will lag. The result: a “rolling change” normal.

The short-term advice to “check in, show you care, and ask how you can help” is just that: short term. Continuing it only adds to Zoom fatigue and results in buried emails. Instead, reserve your interactions to those that open the opportunity for you to add value. 

In addition, we all know that change (restructuring, market shock, etc.) suspends buying activity as decision teams re-assess the risks of doing anything. This crisis is no different. Sellers who build enough value to overcome the risk of change are going to harvest the first fruits.

Develop Business Acumen Immediately 

You can’t know the customer’s business unless you know business. Microsoft (to name one) feels so strongly about this that it puts their enterprise-level sellers through a specialized MBA program. That kind of sale requires meaningful business discussions with senior executives. (How can any company claim to solve major business issues that their sellers can’t articulate, discuss, and build consensus around?)

Simply discovering a customer’s “pain and gain” points uncovers only what they already understand and can articulate…to you and every competitor who asks. This leads to two or three competing proposals which look identical, and risk-averse buyers either sticking with status quo or choosing the lowest price bid. 

It’s your responsibility to understand the customer’s world and situation better than the buying influencers, so that they build value. Give yourself a chance to add value by doing research on the company and its challenges before calling, and have a few value hypotheses prepared. Then do great value discovery.

Brilliant statements from marketing that challenge buyers’ perspective go nowhere in this environment without a powerful business conversation behind them. If you are going to be a valued resource who offers unique business perspective which break through post-pandemic fear, you are having insightful business conversations. 

Your goal is to close the growing buyer and seller gap, where buyers prefer to gain information from a variety of resources besides a sales representative. Specifically, in a recent Brevit survey, 13 percent of customers state sales reps understand their needs. When you combine that with the study from Blender where a shocking 82 percent of customers think their sales rep is unprepared means most sellers aren’t adding value. 

Always remember: value is why customers buy. Who they buy from is determined by the seller who discovers, communicates, and builds that value in the customer’s mind. 

Christine Gilroy has led both small and Fortune 500 sales organizations for more than 15 years, after a long tenure as VP of sales at Oracle where she focused on selling sales solutions to large enterprises and advising startups.

Mark Boundy is author of Radical Value: How to Take Your Company to the Next Level through Radical Customer Centricity.