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From Flat Lining to Thriving: 3 Steps to Sales Transformation By Bob Nicols, Jr.


For the last several years, the focus for business management has been finding ways to cut costs. There has been no shortage of highly skilled individuals with a significant level of expertise and experience cutting every possible penny of expense from business operations.

Now, senior leadership is realizing there is little left to cut. Top-line revenue is becoming the primary focus. Companies are turning to their sales organizations in an effort to find ways in which they differentiate their offerings and drive profitable sales growth. As a result, “Sales Transformation” has become the catch phrase for many C-level executives.

Unfortunately, if you ask 10 different executives what “Sales Transformation” means, you may get 10 different answers. As a result, few, if any, have successfully transformed. Sales are still flat, margins continue to erode and sales-force turnover remains high.

Traditionally, increasing sales means finding ways in which companies differentiate products and service. Being faster, better, more feature rich and cost effective are differences that drive product strategies, R&D efforts, marketing and advertising campaigns, sales approaches and collateral materials.

But, oh, how things have changed.

“It doesn’t matter what products you buy. Most products are now good enough to serve the majority of users most of the time,” says Simon Hayward, VP and Gartner Fellow.

Most products, especially those from the technology sector, do more than the average customer could ever use. Product manuals are inches thick. Just the number of features and functions, in some cases, make them too overwhelming to consider.

So what is Sales Transformation?

Increasing sales isn’t dependent on a company’s ability to produce differentiated products and services, but how they engage and interact with their customers to become the best partner possible.

That’s right. It’s not about introducing the “next big thing”. We can’t all be Apple. In order to gain market share and protect/grow existing customer relationships, organizations must affect a shift in perception among their prospects and customers. They must move from being perceived as an “Approved Vendor” to being viewed as a “Trusted Advisor/Partner”.

CSO Insights (csoinsights.com), a highly respected research firm that surveys thousands of Chief Sales Officers representing a broad spectrum of businesses, defines Approved Vendor as “a company seen by the majority of customers as a legitimate provider of the products or services offered, but are not recognized for having any significant sustainable, competitive edge over alternative offerings.” A Trusted Partner is defined by CSO as “a company seen as a long-term partner whose contributions (products, insights, processes, etc.), are viewed as key to client’s long-term success.”

Data from CSO Insights Sales Performance Optimization Report shows that while sales performance improved in many areas last year, less than one-third of the organizations surveyed had reached “Trusted Partner” status. For companies achieving it, the rewards were plentiful. Nearly two-thirds of their reps met or exceeded quota, 90% met company plan while experiencing the lowest sales-force turnover rate.

So what’s the key to transition from flat-line to thriving? You have to be an asset. That means your entire sales organization, from field to senior management, has to find ways to become indispensable to your customers. You have to bring more value in your interactions with them, finding ways in which you interpret the power of your products and services into measurable, strategic value to what they are trying to accomplish with their business. Here are a few examples:

1. Invest in a Formal Sales Process for your Entire Sales Organization1.

71% of companies not yet attaining “Trusted Partner” status with their customers in CSO’s survey used random or informal sales processes with their customers. The majority of the 29% reaping benefit identified and utilized either formal processes or dynamically altered their formal process in response to changes in market conditions, competitive landscape and/or shifts in the economy to earn and maintain “Trusted Partner” status. The process itself has to be focused on bringing more value to customers.

2. Change the conversation

For an organization to reach “Trusted Partner” status, they have to be seen as a long-term partner whose contributions are key to their client’s long-term success. That means the conversation with your customers has to shift from product/features/functions to the customer’s business. It has to shift from IT and purchasing departments to a broad spectrum of people throughout your customer’s organization.

Forget about your products and services. In most situations, the only true differentiator will be the amount of measurable impact you have on what your customers are trying to accomplish as a business. If you don’t know their vision, goals, plans, etc., you end up being just another “Approved Vendor” peddling the same products and services as others in your category. As a result, customers can perceive there are little, if any, significant differences in your offering. In those cases, if they make a decision to buy, price becomes the determining factor. Salespeople having BUSINESS conversations and understanding how customers measure success BEFORE talking products and services become the “Trusted Partner”.

3. Senior Managers must be actively involved

A real commitment to Transformation is evidenced not only by management acknowledging the requirement to change, but actually EXPERIENCING the change with the rest of the organization. True Sales Transformation doesn’t happen when an individual on a team assumes the role of a Trusted Partner. It happens when YOUR ENTIRE COMPANY assumes that role. A company cannot assume the role unless representatives at the most senior levels understand the formal sales process, set the example and hold everyone in the organization accountable for transformation.

In conclusion, sales transformation requires changing the behaviors of the people in your organization. All processes – each interaction with customers, every program, everything you do – have to be focused on better understanding your customer’s business and finding ways in which you are the best partner possible. The only way to rise above your competition and thrive is to stop focusing on your end results, and begin focusing on your customer’s.
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Bob Nicols, Jr. has 34 years of experience in sales, sales management, executive management and sales force development. He has managed and mentored thousands of sales people, sales managers and senior managers and been responsible for hundreds of millions of dollars in sales. For more than 21 years he has developed and delivered sales programs that have become the standard for many Fortune 100 companies. Visit him at axiomsfd.com