Last week I had the opportunity to join Microsoft’s 2014 Worldwide Partner Conference in Washington, D.C., with more than 16,000 people from 140 countries representing Microsoft partner companies. While much of the conference was naturally driven around technology, I enjoyed many refreshing conversations with sales leaders about their approaches to working with clients.
One particular theme repeatedly arose in these exchanges—and was echoed in Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s keynote. “Let's collectively serve our customers to be able to transform their businesses and their lives,” he said. “That's the opportunity ahead of us."
I heard this again when I joined a session hosted by the International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners (IAMCP), where Microsoft partners were brought together to share insights on engaging with clients. From that discussion and others throughout the week, it became clear that this idea of winning together—that the more successful you can make your client, then the more successful you will be—is certainly not novel but more than ever seems to resonate.
In many ways, it’s simple common sense—but the issue is that’s not common practice. Many companies lose sight of the importance of focusing on their clients’ success rather than their own. For many sales teams, selling can be broken down into three simple steps: 1) the sale, 2) the closing of the sale, and 3) the implementation of the sold product or solution. In this approach, the relationship’s ultimate goal is to simply ensure the product or solution is properly implemented for the client. Ultimately, the sales agent is performing the bare minimum to complete a transaction.
Throughout the conference, I spoke with many sales leaders about the importance of building relationships with clients by providing value to them that goes beyond the basic mechanics of negotiating and completing a transaction. In particular, sales teams need to commit to working with a client on gaining the maximum benefit of a product or service. Doing so helps to build a connection that is more enduring—something akin to a partnership than a traditional buyer/seller relationship.
Yet I learned that many companies were putting their sales teams through extensive product training. They were working hard to help their sales staff thoroughly understand the technical attributes and operations of products or solutions so that they could be effectively sold. However, they often fell short with the next training step—helping them understand the business driver possibilities of the products so that they could effectively communicate with clients.
In other words, sales teams were learning to show their clients how a product works, but they weren’t learning how to demonstrate a particular product or solution could help improve their client’s business. They were prematurely advocating for the product or solution—selling it before they were ready to explain its true usefulness.
As a result, these sales teams were not forming strong, long-term relationships with clients when they made a sale. The relationship was limited to that single transaction, and they failed to adequately lay the foundation for the next sale.
A sincere intent to help clients succeed can change that. If a company wants to experience growth, then it has to help its clients experience growth, too. When that happens, both sides win. In fact, according to Partner Success with the 3rd Platform: Why Training Matters (a new IDC white paper sponsored by Microsoft on the heels of the conference), strong training and certification programs positively impact both sales and implementation success—leading to at least a 10 percent increase in both sales velocity and project efficiency.
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