Since founding Performance Methods, Inc. (PMI) 17 years ago, the PMI team and I have had the opportunity to work with some of the most successful companies in the world. Each of these engagements is initiated in a similar fashion: a select group of top-performers, thought leaders and stakeholders were scheduled to be interviewed by us, and interview them we did. Our questions tend to focus on what’s working well, and what’s not. When the customer is delighted – why? When they aren’t, why not? When you win against the competition, what are the reasons? When you don’t, why not? And so on.
Conduct enough of these interviews and you begin to see trends…and one of those has been the level of difficulty of the sales job: regardless of the title (Account Executive, Account Manager, etc.), selling is a competitive battlefield, and it always has been. But it’s worth taking notice that the intensity of the battle is not subsiding over time: in fact – quite the opposite. The top performing salespeople, account managers and sales managers that we have talked with over the past 12 months describe a selling environment that has never been more challenging. But what’s even more interesting are the stories that they tell regarding how and why they are successful. And it’s not because their products are fabulous.
Maintaining product superiority has never been more difficult than today: time and again we’ve heard salespeople and account managers indicate that “the product” was not the primary factor that determined the outcome of the sale. Then if it wasn’t product superiority, what did they do to prevail in situations where the product wasn’t “king?” And if the customer can’t tell which product is superior (which is frequently the case), then what are the determinants that are impacting sales, and positioning and differentiating certain sales professionals and not others?
There’s certainly a battle raging out there, but it’s not as much about the product as you might think. The top performing salespeople and account managers that we’re working with tell us that among other things, winning sales outcomes have much to do with what you might think of as a “sequential capture:” the capture of customer mindshare…followed by the capture of customer preference. Despite all of the change swirling around the world of sales, our research and experience indicates that one very important thing has tended to remain constant, and it creates a significant advantage for sellers that understand this advantage and align their customer engagement approaches accordingly.
What still matters most to the customer is their own success, and the providers that are best able to align with customer success will find themselves well positioned. Dave Stein and I published Beyond the Sales Process: 12 Proven Strategies for a Customer-Driven World to discuss what top performers do to “show up differently” from their competition, as well as how they do it, and why it matters to their customers. We also explore how successful salespeople engage effectively with their customers before, during, and after the sale, and how they:
- Build strong customer alignment by developing a network of customer sponsors and supporters.
- Position their solutions to capture customer mindshare by connecting their strengths with what matters most to the customer.
- Differentiate the uniqueness of their “value portfolio” with the customer and capture customer preference.
- Develop and implement effective “plans to win” that are based on proven best practices that distinguish them from the competition.
I think we can all agree that there isn’t a universal “one-size-fits-all” solution to win the battle for the customer, and at PMI, we’re always interested in hearing how you’re “planning to win.” How have your experiences and findings with customers shaped the way you do business today? Have you encountered dynamics similar to those outlined here? Please share some of your winning best practices with us – we would certainly be interested in hearing from you!
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