In most industries today, a handful of ideal customers have become universal targets. Nearly every industrial salesperson dreams of calling on the CEOs or managing directors of those top companies, which logically means that there are maybe 500 customers for a million sellers.
With such intense competition, conventional approaches are not up to the challenge. Salespeople need to develop strategies that distinguish their products, services and their organizations in the mind of the customer.
Making a sale has always involved an element of systematic planning, but strategic selling means more than rehearsing product information and timing the close. Strategic selling begins with understanding your company's strategy, vision and distinctiveness, and then selecting high-profile customers.
The next step, logically, is anticipating each stage of the buying process, from analyzing the competition to identifying the influencers and decision-makers and being switched in to the buyer's political issues. In other words, there is a need for a comprehensive strategic profile and a rigorous opportunity-assessment process.
Most important, strategic selling means strategizing from the customer's point of view. Top achievers see strategic selling as a routine part of their work -- not a final resort.
What Are the Implications for Sales Management?
For companies to remain competitive now, their sales organization must be able to respond positively to changing economic tides. As businesses strive to establish customer orientation, sales partnerships and a strategic approach to selling, they are demanding more and more from their salespeople -- but ensuring that these new methods are widely practiced and smoothly implemented falls to sales management.
Sales productivity is a strategic issue. That's why problems in this area stem from salespeople being unclear about their company's priorities, i.e., what their message should be and what they should be selling.
The trend in industry of removing layers of management between the sales force and the general manager presents a challenge to those sales managers who remain. To begin with, the sales manager becomes an essential link between company strategy and what takes place in the customer's office. He or she must not only grasp the corporate vision, but be able to communicate it to the sales force in terms of the real effects on sales practices.
Sales managers with an intimate feel for the selling process succeed because their staff members regard them as part of the sales team, but coaching the team is as important as playing in it. In other words, sales managers must be prepared to provide training, feedback and support to every individual within the team.
Once committed to the training process, they must routinely reinforce new ways of behaving in real sales situations. They must provide a clear sense of direction on a daily basis, not just at the monthly sales meeting, quarterly review or annual appraisal.
The very best sales managers engage in frequent coaching and feedback, even when their salespeople work in remote locations. While encouraging salespeople to air their problems openly and discuss their concerns, sales managers must be able to offer clear and specific feedback for improving sales performance.
The sales manager is charged with translating the company's reward system into specific improvements in sales performance. Both salespeople and corporate managers count on the sales manager to recognize and reward outstanding achievement, formally and informally.
The process of promoting new attitudes about the customer and the role of the salesperson can be frustrating and slow. Reverting back to recent research, there is compelling evidence to suggest that companies will see results sooner if they recognize and reward salespeople -- "You get more of the behavior and results that you reward."
The trend in sales compensation appears to be away from commission to guaranteed salary, from compensation based on orders to compensation based on delivery and sign-off. Interestingly, some organizations base their "salesperson of the year" award on customer satisfaction or customer retention rather than sheer volume of orders or activity.
And Now the Good News
It is now a given fact in any sales-related seminar or conference you may attend that traditional sales methods are being relegated to the annals of history. The new, more discerning customers of today have seen to that. They now wield greater bargaining power, demand more value for money, and have become more knowledgeable and professional when it comes to decision-making.
Suppliers are now faced with rising customer expectations and the need to become more flexible to the requirements of each individual client.
Yet the key to differentiation lies within these expectations, since more complex buying decisions lead customers to value closer links with their suppliers.