PROBLEM # 1- NOBODY "gets" it all, let alone DOES it all.
Yes, establishing presence and building executive-style relationships are important. Being able to understand and address executive KPIs is critical. And being able to effectively converse in executive language to communicate the unique business value you can bring is crucial. But no one of these things is nearly enough. And frankly, the "training" you get from most of these companies, while sufficient for lower to upper-middle management sales, is not equally applicable at senior/executive levels.
WHY? Largely because the vast majority of "sales trainers" have little or no real business experience, let alone account-level and higher sales experience. And even MORE significantly, they have never BOUGHT anything. Which leads to....
PROBLEM #2- They're teaching you from the WRONG side of the table.
You've heard me say it before--
”If you want to know why John Smith buys WHAT John Smith buys,
you have to see the world through John Smiths eyes.”
Most sales trainers are great trainers. Some were even sales professionals themselves at one time-- though that's no guarantee they were successful. But very, very few were ever C-LEVEL BUYERS. There names may be Zig Ziglar or Brian Tracy, but almost NEVER are they the fore-mentioned "John Smith."
In my "sales" career, I have successfully carried over 1/2 billion dollars of quota and hit or surpassed my quarterly target 48 out of 50 consecutive quarters. But of more value to you as a sales professional targeting the upper tier of executive sales, I have PURCHASED over 1/2 billion dollars of goods and services over the course of my "executive" career. I AM John Smith.
Corner Office Conversations has been a place for me to share my thoughts primarily about how to "talk" to a C-level executive, understanding his or her KPIs and communicating in the appropriate "language" to enhance your value and credibility. I'd like to expand our conversation a bit to address the overall challenge of achieving true credibility with the C-Suite-- based on an insider’s perspective. NOT what some trainer or even another successful sales professional has researched, experienced or observed, but what my colleagues and I are actually thinking on the buyer's side of the table-- and what we say about you amongst ourselves after the meeting is over (it’s not always pretty).
In my next post we’ll begin to really see "why the CEO buys what the CEO buys-- through the CEOs eyes."
"It's a wall!” said one. Another said, “no, its a rope!” The third said, “not a rope, but a fire hose!“ The next declared it a “palm leaf” and his neighbor, a "tree." The final blind man, wisest of all, slowly circled the object, probing here and there, carefully considering the claims of his compatriots. Eventually he paused, smiling smugly as he discovered a point of reference the others had obviously missed.
With a smirk he chuckled knowingly. “You are all hopelessly misguided. It’s not a wall, hose, rope, palm leaf or even a tree! Having already considered all of your opinions, I have found a new, true perspective--It is clearly a spear!”
At that moment, the "object-- an ELEPHANT-- knelt to the ground where a young boy, his mahout (elephant trainer), effortlessly climbed up on his back and with a word, turned the beast and headed for home.
A recent article in the Harvard Business Review trumpets “The End of Solution Sales,” and suggests that real top performers are abandoning consultative selling techniques in favor of what the Sales Executive Council calls “insight selling.” The article displays a dramatic and fundamental misunderstanding and misrepresentation of the underlying tenets of “solution selling,” while boldly proclaiming that successful salespeople almost by definition exclusively and explicitly favor the SEC’s flavor of the month, the “Challenger” sale.
Let’s look at the history of sales “training.” First we had the development a hundred years ago of the “hunter/farmer” sales model used in insurance sales. In the 20’s and 30’s, Edward K. Strong (a Professor of Psychology at Stanford’s Business School-- best known for his development of the Strong Interest Inventory of vocational interests) wrote a number of treatises on the psychology of selling, and introduced the concept of mastering specific sales techniques. More recently we’ve seen the onslaught of a vast array of quasi-consultative sales models-- SPIN selling. Relationship selling, “Sales 2.0,” high-touch vs. self-service, and more conversion funnels, lead pipelines, and value pyramids than you can imagine. In fact, Robert DeGroot has identified 12 specific sales models, containing 31 differentiated categories covering 204 sales skill competencies. Talk about overkill!
Now we have the Next Big Thing, “insight” or “Challenger” selling, and supposedly in one fell swoop it supersedes everything that has come before.
The limited vision of the blind wise men lead them to identify the elephant's side as a wall, trunk as a hose, tail as a rope, ear as a palm leaf, leg as a tree, and finally it's tusk as a spear. And yet an elephant is NONE of those things-- a fact readily discernible by anyone who knows the nature of the beast.
A superb sales professional is NOT a blind man fumbling around the elephant, convinced it is a rope, a wall or even a spear-- he or she is an "elephant whisperer." someone who can see and understand the big picture of what the "elephant" is really all about, including what is in its head.
And how do you know what's in the "elephant's head?" By exercising ALL of your skills, including intelligent, thoughtful questioning and listening. i.e. appropriately applied consultative selling techniques.
Insight that is INFORMED by a consultative “solution-driven” approach is invaluable. But focusing on “insight” as a style or skill in and of itself, supplanting the need to develop a real understanding of the customer from the CUSTOMER’s perspective, is not only short-sighted, it can be downright dangerous.
More on that soon.
- Basic Sales Training. Corner Office Conversations is NOT another “sales training” blog. There are a lot of good ones out there, and from time to time I may even refer to a few of them. We won’t be covering “tie-downs,” “overcoming objections,” “takeaways,” and the myriad tricks and tactics of typical sales training. No “SPIN Selling,” “Little Red Books,” or even “Solution Selling.”
- Presentation Skills. Figure out how to dress for success and create PowerPoint slide animations on your own. It doesn’t matter how charismatic you are or how snazzy your presentation is if I (as a C-level executive) don’t understand what you’re talking about or even worse, couldn’t care less.
- Decisionmaker Matrices. Yes, in typical sales situations it is sometimes difficult to figure out who really makes the decisions, and ever harder to get to them. In our world, it’s not that difficult. We may drop a few hints along the way as to how to get there, but for the most part I’m assuming you can figure that one out.
- Sales “Tools.” Don’t get me wrong-- I’m a huge believer in leveraging technology and other tools of the information age. And I will point you towards specific resources that support my particular perspective here. But you’re not going to get tips on maximizing the efficiency of your SFA system or implementing solutions for a distributed mobile workforce.