While sales coaching aims to improve the performance of salespeople by getting them to change their attitudes and methods of working, some aspects of the sales process seem more difficult to coach.
‘The Challenger Sale’ by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson advocates using ‘insights’ gleaned from working with other leading people in a similar industry and using these to ‘educate’ the prospective client how they could achieve better results. The insight doesn’t even have to come from working with innovative leaders, as much of this new information is often circulated through articles and conferences.
Many insights will be about how to do small things in a better way. Most improvements aren’t earth shattering, but incremental improvements and introducing small insights that the client hadn’t been aware of, or thought about, can be transforming. Should these insights also be linked to your offerings, so much the better, but building trust means they don’t have to be.
These insights are created in the form of templates, tailored to a specific industry, company and role, so that the salesperson has a much better chance of understanding what to discuss and the type of language to use to engage their prospect. This approach is much more successful than the salesperson discussing product features with the CEO and enables them to start understanding how much tailoring needs to be done on an individual basis.
In thinking about this and other aspects of ‘The Challenger Sale’ I was taken back around 25 years to the days of teaching Mike Bosworth’s ‘Solution Selling’ which in many respects was very similar, although a bit more mechanistic with its 9-box method. The basic philosophy though was the same and was about getting the salesperson to understand each individual’s pains and needs, relate that throughout the organization and create a ‘shared vision’ that would drive the sale. Nothing in sales is ever truly new and even Solution Selling owes a great deal to Neil Rackham’s Spin Selling.
Solution Selling used the idea of ‘Pain Sheets’ that were specific to an Industry and role that helped the salesperson in very much the same way as the Challenger ‘insight templates’. The issues then as now, were twofold; creating the templates and getting the salesperson to make use of them, but tailored to the individual.
Creating the sheets back then was difficult for most organizations, as most of this detailed industry and role information was held by the top salespeople and it was normally what made them so successful. They understood how to engage differently with different roles and levels in an organization, but didn’t always want to make this freely available, as it was their ‘trade secret’.
Today marketing departments are much larger and drive much more of the sales process, consequently a great deal of the industry, company and role specific detail is freely available. This would appear to be ‘job done’, but the coach has the pivotal role of translating facts into action.
Coaching how to make best use of the ‘Insights’ developed by marketing is about helping the salesperson really understand the person, in the role, in the company, in the industry. The salesperson needs to gain a detailed understanding of the desired outcomes, focus, concerns and potential values that the person they’re speaking to is likely to relate to. This is where coaching is so vital in helping the salesperson translate the insights into tangible benefits for both sides.