When you think about it, those of us in sales are all after the same goals: winning more business, sooner, and at higher contract values and margins. But which skills, if mastered by your sales people, will get you to those goals and keep you there? The answer requires a bit of explanation.
For virtually every company for which we have done a sales training requirements definition, we have identified distinct gaps between what is required for their sales people to be consistently effective and their current selling capabilities. In other words, they are equipped to carry out certain required tasks, but they are ineffective at others. To make my point, let me break those skills into two categories: basis selling skills and advanced selling skills.
Here are some basic selling (Sales 101) skills:
- Managing a territory
- Planning and executing an end-to-end sales campaign
- Uncovering and understanding the customer's business challenges and opportunities
- Planning and executing a successful meeting with a prospect
- Articulating their company's value proposition to customer executives
- Delivering a presentation about their company, their products and basic information about their customer's business
- Following their company's sales processes
- Understanding of their competition's company and products
- Managing objections
- Writing a proposal/responding to an RFP
- Effectively leveraging social media
Here are some advanced selling capabilities:
- Determining the competition's selling strategies and devising effective counter-strategies
- Successfully employing competitive selling tactics, such as setting traps and immunizing the customer against a competitor's negative selling
- Linking the strategic value of a product or service to the customer's long-term business objectives and presenting that to the client's executive committee
- Identifying, recruiting and leveraging politically powerful people within an account to influence an evaluation team or decision-maker
- Employing personal capital to effect an introduction to the CEO of a targeted company
- Consistently outselling a competitor who slashes their prices to win
- Being treated as a trusted peer and business adviser by customer executives
- Effectively managing a mutually profitable, long-term relationship with a strategic account
- Negotiating strategically, beginning with the first sales call
- Writing a proposal that significantly differentiates their company from their competition
Here are two problems
One big problem is that there just isn't enough of any type of sales skills training going on. Product training, sure. But not enough companies are investing in the type of training that closes the skill gaps that many of their salespeople have-the very gaps that keep them from delivering their numbers, quarter after quarter. And it's not due to a lack of suitable providers. There are a lot of trainers and training companies that can deliver the content you need.
The other, less conspicuous problem, is that Sales 101 skills will only get your sales people so far. And today, it's not very far. Those basic selling skills alone can't provide your team with what it needs to consistently and predictably outsell your competitors.
The basic skills are critically important for sales effectiveness. If members of your sales team aren't competent with the basics, get them the processes, training and coaching they need. But understand, that alone isn't enough.
Here is a question for you: What happens when you have four companies with basically comparable offerings competing for the same business and none of the salespeople managing the deals have the advanced selling capabilities mentioned above? The decision is more likely than not going to be made on features, a sexy demo, the most well-known brand or, most commonly these days, price. Since in this case no sales rep enjoys competitive advantage through their selling capabilities, they are interchangeable at best, irrelevant at worst. But if one company's sales rep possesses the advanced capabilities in my list above, how do you think they're going to do? Right. They'll likely win.
Not every salesperson needs advanced selling skills. However, if you're in a complex selling environment and you haven't provided your salespeople with the basic and especially the advanced skills required to win, you will get what you paid for.