My view is that there are two categories when it comes to selling: One defines sales as beating your competition, and customers happen to be involved; the other defines sales as serving your clients well, and competition happens to be involved.
I believe strongly in the latter—that customer-centric approaches rule. In fact, a recent article from Forbes suggests that “Your Competitor Isn't Your Real Competition: Status Quo Is.” According to Tim Riesterer, co-author of Conversations that Win the Complex Sale, most sales training programs aren’t effective because salespeople are being taught how to beat out the competition, not how to convince a prospect to make a change. It’s no surprise that 60 percent of qualified leads fall by the wayside because the customer doesn’t find value in purchasing something new.
If you’re focused on your competition, you’re simply not focused on your clients. You’re not concentrating on how you can help your client—how to prevent something bad from happening or how to enable a positive change. Customers who do business with these types of firms feel this—they know they are working with a salesforce solely focused on beating competition. Doing so can ultimately alienate your clients.
On the other hand, if you’re always focusing on the customer, then you may not always be competitively aware. Setting the client aside, if you’re not thinking about your own business and lack competitive awareness, you could be squandering your BD dollars and working on a deal that you can’t win. Even if you could serve the client well, you’re competitively disadvantaged. And you may not have the skills and capabilities to sell in a competitively strategic way.
The sales approach I prefer and recommend is to focus on your customers, while certainly being aware of your competitors. As the Corporate Executive Board has articulately captured in The Challenger Sale, when you focus on your clients, you should focus on bringing them insights and new ideas. While The Challenger Sale discusses this from an organizational perspective, I believe that individuals can do this, too. There are many individuals who have the intelligence—both “IQ” and “EQ” (intellectually and emotionally)—to execute an insight-driven sales strategy, bring new ideas to their customers and help them think about things they haven’t before. And in doing so, that approach in itself is a strong competitive strategy—they’re creating the opportunity rather than simply responding to it.
I received some sage advice early on in my career, when an experienced sales executive told me, “Pick one thing and know it well if you want to be in sales.” I’ve found that focus of sticking with something to be critical to success. This idea of the Challenger, of insight-driven selling, can be executed by an individual when they pay the price: when they choose a specific area, a type of client or a given problem they devote their entire career to studying—as opposed to rattling back-and-forth across different products, employers, and so forth.
Without picking something and making it your life’s work, it would be virtually impossible to provide valuable insight to your client.
Learn more about focusing on customers and how to put them first by attending a complimentary Helping Clients Succeed webcast.
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