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A Sales Leader’s Perspectives on Digital Transformation, Sales Psychology and Selling in the New Normal


Arseny Tarasov

Global CEO, HiPer IT

How are you observing sales to transform in the new abnormal?

The fact is, selling is more difficult now than ever before, as there is less demand for almost any product or service (unless it is a face mask or a hand sanitizer!) and everyone is cost conscious. This is a good and bad situation, and it is our response to it that will shape our future.

Deploying the Challenger Sales Model of taking control of the customer conversation and demonstrating the business value and benefits is a proven way to tide over the trying turbulence of the present. Sales profession is no longer about fulfilment of needs, but more about challenging the existing ways of thinking and functioning with a more forward-looking outlook to addressing client needs.

Let me illustrate this with an example:

In conversation with a business travel organization wanting to go digital, I proposed a strategy session on digital transformation with key decision makers and stakeholders. This session was all about me not as a seller but as a catalyst and partner bringing out the deep expertise and business value that the client will experience if they opt for this approach – Clearly defining the where and how the client can leverage the solution and next steps in no uncertain terms. As a result, I became the independent director and board member overseeing digital transformation and this flagship digital solution for this business travel client who launched the digital business trip web service.

With travel being severely impacted, mid, and smaller players are disappearing. However, when your product is user friendly, reduces costs and is convenient you can increase your market share. Assuming they have a 5% market share presently but with a digital extension likely they can increase this to 30%. This is how sellers must think differently with an eye on the future and executive agenda.

In the past the need was expressed by the customer and then action begins right after. However, now creating the need or the demand from the customer side itself is the first step.

How can digital transformation be explained in simple yet sophisticated manner?

Well, some of the best and well-known brands globally are the IT companies, and if you scrutinize closely as to what makes them tick – there are four business areas that they have figured out well.

1. Digital Product or Digital Business Model

2. Digital Interaction with the market

3. Digital Assets and Processes, and

4. Digital Culture

And digital transformation has very little to do with digital but everything to do with transformation, driven by the goal of achieving better business results by becoming more “digital-like”. And the key word is Reform – conscious and professionally planned reform and culture change at all levels of the organization, focused on 1 or 2 of the 4 business areas. Constant communication is paramount at all levels rallying for a common digital cause.

And irrespective of whether it is traditional or digital business the digital transformation fundamentals remain the same as they are based on social psychology.

As a seller do you have the credentials, brand, and knowledge to lead the conversation and show them the path ahead with clarity and confidence?

What would be your advice for sellers to overcome their resistance to change?

In the past the need was expressed by the customer and then action begins right after. However, now creating the need or the demand from the customer side itself is the first step. Let me cite an interesting experiment on this context: Three types of chimpanzees in a zoo were observed for behavioural changes:

  • Alpha, the dominant leaders of the tribe do not care much for change for they have an established authority.
  • The middle level (sub-dominants) are those that aspire for change as they desire to move up the ladder.
  • The last set of chimpanzees who did not care much were happy eating their bananas.

Therefore, the only approach to make dominant leaders change is to put them in sub- dominant situation, when their status is challenged by same level peers.

In a similar manner people need to be made aware of competition and references at their level to drive desire to change. Once this reference point is provided, they immediately wake up to the change – The bottom line being showing actual references of how others are achieving business outcomes because of specific actions can shake up the stakeholders sufficiently to act. In the current pandemic situation, businesses that lacked agility and resistance to transformation have suffered the maximum.

Personally, how have you changed over the last 6 months?

I began my transformation a year ago, when I realized that I wanted to expand my horizons outside the corporate corridors. So, I signed up for higher education, and connected with leaders to discuss this specific sales advisory and digital transformation agenda that I wanted to drive. The pandemic has only accelerated the need in this space. The big difference is when you are on your own everything you need to do has to be figured out by yourself. And this is when, I believe maximum growth has happened within me.

What personal experiences would you share for sales organizations to thrive now?

Recently in one of my virtual client meetings where I had a good relationship with the client, I attended the meeting with insufficient preparation, counting on the relationship – and we did not do well. On the other hand, if this meeting were face to face in a restaurant we could have walked away easily. The virtual meetings are making us understand the importance of preparation and articulation of value in the customer context.

  • Virtual is a positive change – earlier it was three meetings a day for sales professionals, now I can have 8 meetings simply because you do not have to travel.
  • Relationship Building which used to be a smart sales technique once upon a time is passe now. Right now, it is all about delivering specific business value to the client without which not much can be done.
  • Sales professionals who are prepared, understand the business and industry trends are the only ones who will survive.

With the mad rush to the cloud, what capabilities are sales organizations missing?

In the past, a normal sales cycle would end with the deal closures or maybe sometimes with implementation. You were pretty much done with the sales cycle. On the contrary, cloud sales are about the key important inclusion of the customer success component within the sales organization. It is a new role for new adopters of the digital but not so for the digitally savvy organization. This is a revenue generating role with tremendous potential for the upselling and cross selling. For example, let me share some counter intuitive practices through customer success to retain and expand within existing customers:

1. You may sometimes have experienced customer success representatives of Amazon web services calling up to inform customers of lower tariff on some of the services the customers are using.

2. Some of the electricity providers in some countries are calling up customers to provide suggestions on ways to reduce power consumption.

These practices are counter-intuitive to a normal sales organization lens, but truly help build the long-term relationship with customers, especially when the cloud becomes a commodity – customer trust provides the differentiation.

What is the best piece of advice you have received that is still relevant today?

Do not Sell but Help to Build: Sales professionals are so intent on achieving their quotas that they often miss out on helping customers. If that is reversed and they focus fully on solving business issues of the customer, the latter will fall into place automatically.

Do not Cut Corners with Preparation: Earlier spending more time with customers was considered a best sales practice, but now it would be wise for sales professionals to spend more time preparing, so that when you meet the client the time is spent in actual business value demonstration.

How can sales professionals gain their customers respect during client conversations? We would love to hear you share some personal experiences.

I have experienced a sea change in the way I sell now. Previously it was all about product-based discussions and it benefits. However, after my coaching sojourn I have learnt to ask questions, often uncomfortable ones that will elicit the right responses and stimulates new thinking. This is when the conversation takes a different turn, and you obtain critical and valuable information. Sales professionals enjoy talking with their customers but often enough have not mastered the art of asking the right questions. Consciously improving the quality of business acumen and engaging in intelligent conversations with the client will be a key long-term success strategy. Training and education are powerful tools to help sales professional master the art of differentiated client conversations.

As a sales leader what have you done to maintain your physical, emotional and mental health?

As we call it in Russia, in my life I try to balance time and energy between 3 S’s – Self, Salary (job related time) and Son (family and friends). It all begins with “Self” where you invest in your overall wellbeing and health. Golfing helps me stay focused and the short meditation and breathing exercises takes my mind off work to restart rejuvenated.

What are your personal values that has given you the maximum returns?

The two values that I believe have always helped me are,

  1. Engineering approach to sales and helping build solutions with customers. Never push or sell, but always see how you can partner to build something tangible for the customer.
  2. Always keep learning, as there is so much of change happening all around, it is important to continually learn and be updated.

Arseny Tarasov

Global CEO, HiPer IT

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