How is your career reflective of the changes happening in the Sales Function?
My career journey began in Information Technology, and after a long tenure with IT, I made a shift to the sales space. While it was a natural progression as one grows within the organization, it also called for a lot of preparation from my end. Being in sales gives one a peripheral view of the business, and as sales professionals we are expected to be agile and informed, always! From business, to people, to relationships, to management – as sales professionals we must score all round.
In technology, one’s view of the business is limited. Your efforts and time is spent in the backend, which does not put you in front of the customer and you don’t get to experience the exact business problems, customer issues, and how you convince a customer with a suave sales pitch.
And for me too, this transition was not easy, but I prepared myself for it in specific ways. I would suggest the following three ways to make career transitions work and come up to speed quickly.
- Invest in a Coach who can help you navigate your career far easily than alone. They would gently put you on a path of self-discovery and self-awareness and provide pertinent guidance on where and how to improve. Development begins with introspection and reflection. inclusion and so many such things have to be addressed, answered and acknowledged for the culture to evolve.
- This critical input helps in learning, unlearning and relearning, shedding perceptions and biases, and adopting new and flexible styles of working.
- Keep practicing and look at every obstacle as an opportunity to learn new dimensions of sales, market and business
Invest in a Coach who can help you navigate your career far easily than alone. They would gently put you on a path of self-discovery and self-awareness and provide pertinent guidance on where and how to improve.
What is it about technology, that salespeople are refusing to acknowledge?
Here I feel, technology is both a boon and a bane. Some of the older generation sales professionals are not yet leveraging technology fully – they still feel that calling customers relentlessly and making those in person visits is mandatory. On the other hand, some of the new entrants are relying solely on Social Media to engage on practically every dimension of the sales lifecycle, which may fail.
5 to 10% of the top performers will sell and succeed under all circumstances. So, it is only the rest of the sales fraternity that we need to tackle. Sales professionals must understand that selling is predominantly an ‘emotional endeavour’ and that technology is a useful tool. It gives you access to new people from newer geographies, with whom you can connect and get the initial customer connection. But you will have to meet them and provide value (ROI) and ensure their business problem is addressed through your product or sales.
So, there is no change here, the sales professional who can get this intersection of emotions and technology right is the smartest who will be able to survive the rigours of the future.
In your opinion as an author, specialist and practitioner, what would be the top 3 critical skills that sales professionals need to possess?
Firstly, there is a plethora of skills that sales professionals require, and going forward, newer skills will be the need of the hour. However, evergreen ones will be Listening, Empathy and Qualifying.
Secondly, during prospecting, it is very important to listen carefully to what your prospects are saying and what they are not. Equally important would be to understand from their point of view and get a firm handle on the business problem. Beyond all this, is your ability to articulate how your product/services qualify to solve the prospect’s problems. As sales professionals do you have the courage to say “No” to a deal? This is something that’s crucial as well.
There are so many forms of selling, especially in B2B – people talk about digital selling, social selling, insight selling, partner led selling – how can organizations choose the right strategy?
Agree, today’s selling scene is flooded with options. But I strongly believe and would recommend every sales professional to put the customer first. Understanding their market, what is changing in their industry, what are their KPIs, what are their short-term goals and long-term outcomes are all something they need to deep dive. Many of them don’t know their customer persona in entirety and that is the biggest mistake – therefore strategy, and the type of selling, comes only after you understand the customer. If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
What are your thoughts about diversity in sales, sometimes narrowly defined as Women in Sales?
Diversity is an important feature in Sales, because only diversity can bring in a rich repertoire of new ideas. Plus, we are working in a global marketplace with clients from every culture, and background. I think bringing in more women into the sales function is a smart and strategic move by organizations because my experience has been that Saleswomen are particularly great at diligence, responsiveness, passion, listening, empathy and nurturing client relationships.
What are the top sales lessons that you cannot afford to forget?
Never assume anything: Do enough research on your customer before you meet and go with facts.
Selling is never about you: It is all about your customer, their KPIs and their challenges.
Hearing a NO is good, since it allows you to go beyond the No and think what the impediment was, and how you can correct it.
What advice would you provide to millennials considering a career in sales?
According to Pew Research, millennials account for more than a quarter (27%) of the world population (about 2 billion) and will comprise three quarters (75%) of the global workforce by 2025, according to a separate Ernst & Young study.
And this audience segment in your sales team will matter most in emerging millennial economy. Their large numbers, high energy levels, tech laced DNA and market empathy makes them uniquely positioned to become star sales professionals. However, they need to understand that there is no hack for hard work and that with a dose of disciplined working they can be potential high performers. They should not get into the trap of overnight success and intellectual laziness.
Under what circumstances, can sales teams orchestrate more effectively?
There are a lot of variables to this, but the fundamental being the culture of the organization. If the basic tenets of the organization are clearly not in place even the smartest sales professional cannot deliver. The most successful companies have a positive sales culture – a “positive sales culture” is a philosophy that cascades down the company, from the CEOs desk to the newly joined sales representative.
From a shared vision, to open and transparent communication, providing a container of safety, to allowing a fail fast approach. Once all these are in place, demanding excellence from your sales team is a must.
Sales Managers as coaches must inculcate the practice of the basic equation of sales achievement: Quantity of activity x Quality of activity = Results. The performance metrics should assess both quantity and quality of sales activity and salespeople must answer on these parameters. Those who are not scoring must be coached for peak performance and high potentials must be guided for greater accomplishments.
Partnerships are key to selling, what are the principles behind selling as an ecosystem?
Times have changed and will be completely redefined in the years to come – measuring a Channel Partner success as a transaction will be completely off the mark. In this triangulation of Vendor, Partner and Customer each have their own definition of success aligned to their role in the ecosystem. Customers require personalization, and this exerts pressure on the other two stakeholder units. Without pointing fingers at each other, both parties will need to build and deliver according to a customer centric strategy. Some of the key principles:
- Roles of the engagement must have to be spelt out clearly
- Core values need to be transparent
- Trust must be established
- Both need to understand the customers’ business and their own Power/Value equation
How can salespeople learn better?
Paramount will be their ability to listen to customers and learn. Customers are willing to teach you so many aspects of their business, only if you are genuinely interested and listening. Also, you must be mentally engaged while listening and adopt a positive and can-do attitude.
In this era of hyper informed customers how sellers can integrate preparation into their sales strategy?
How salespeople can prevent themselves from becoming a technology armchair quarterback and build real relationships with customers.
How sales leaders should sidestep stereotypes and focus on millennial motivations, strengths, and shortcomings and maximize their effectiveness.
How sales professionals must have customer success and their persona as their operating philosophy.
How sales leaders must invest in building a positive sales culture can transform the mood in the camp and lead to more deal closings and a better company bottom line.