Magazine article Talent Development

The New Sales Pitch: Customer Habits Are Changing the Way Salespeople Do Their Jobs, Which Means a New Sales Training Plan Is Needed

Magazine article Talent Development

The New Sales Pitch: Customer Habits Are Changing the Way Salespeople Do Their Jobs, Which Means a New Sales Training Plan Is Needed

Article excerpt

A recent and dramatic shift in customers' buying habits has changed the sales landscape for the foreseeable future--and perhaps forever. The Corporate Executive Board tells us that business-to-business clients today are 57 percent through their buying cycle before they even begin to engage with a salesperson. Sirius Decisions has the number as high as 70 percent.

The time salespeople have to influence their customers' buying decisions has been truncated. As a result, many of the sales methodologies that salespeople relied on for the past 30 years are obsolete; indeed, many are hurting sales. Many sales training programs are outmoded too.

Changing landscape

Just a few years ago customers depended on salespeople to learn about their product solution options. Today they turn to the Internet, peers, and their teams before engaging with salespeople.

To mitigate risk and broaden perspective, they explore options and make decisions by consensus. Because customers and their teams are scoping out their needs and solutions on their own, they place much less value on product-driven conversations. Instead, they demand expertise, insights, and proof of value that is laser-focused on business outcomes. In short, the pendulum of power has shifted to the customer.

Forrester Research reveals that only 15 percent of customers find their conversations with salespeople valuable. Data like this tells us that it is time to change the sales conversation.

Before the conversations that salespeople have with their customers change, the internal conversations within the selling organization must change first. These critical conversations are not happening in many organizations. In your role as a learning and development professional, you are ideally positioned to initiate these conversations.

Your voice is needed. You can mobilize the multiple players in your organization and help them prioritize the challenges that must be met, define the new selling, and support its successful execution.


As you know, internal conversations can be more challenging than those with customers. There is a variety of stakeholders--including sales leadership, line, operations, product groups, technical, and marketing--from whom support and consensus must be secured.

Just as customers expect a yield--a "value add"--if they are to invest time with a salesperson, your stakeholders are looking for insights and informed questions that let them know you understand their world.

Learn as much as you can before your meetings: What are the sales challenges? What has changed? What is the strategy? What do sales leaders see as the obstacles? What outcomes are they seeking? What has to be in place to achieve those outcomes? How is knowledge being shared? What sales tools are available to salespeople? Which are being used now? What tools are needed going forward? What support is marketing providing? What does the technical team see as the issues and opportunities? What percentage of the salesforce met their 2013 goals? What are the goals for 2014? What is the plan to achieve those goals?

Build the output of your conversations into the content of your training materials across all modalities, tools, and most importantly coaching conversations. Be prepared to listen and to make recommendations. Collaboration will help you secure the much-needed buy-in and support from sales leadership and sales managers needed to successfully execute and reinforce your sales training plan.

Clients often ask me where to start making the necessary changes to their sales curriculum. There is no one-size-fits-all answer. However, I am finding that for many organizations an important first step is to define their sales process by identifying the stages of their sale(s) mapped to the customers' buying cycle and spelling out best practice activities, tools, and customer verifiers (actions customers must take to trigger moving to the next stage), as well as dialogue models for each stage. …

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