I had a sense of dé·jà vu this morning when I came across a tweet that led me to a blog post by sales strategist Jill Konrath in which she predicts the demise of “nice sales people.” She goes on to explain that sales people who focus on relationship building and being nice are destined to be outsold (or even extinct), because “buyers want to work with savvy professionals who bring them high value on a regular basis.”
It’s not that sales people shouldn’t be nice, but focusing solely on this will not win business. Gone are the days where sales people merely provide information about their services. Customers want solution consultants. Jill suggests that sales people “sharpen their expertise in areas relevant to their customers, help customers achieve business objectives and realise that they are (key) differentiators” not necessarily their product. I believe her predictions apply particularly to the language services industry.
Why? It goes back to the sense of dé·jà vu. This is exactly what my customers were telling me last year (and the year before) when I was still working in localisation sales. One customer was particularly blunt when I asked how we could win more business from them. The reply: “The vendors who pro-actively provide value and solve our business problems are the ones who will be awarded additional business. Those who don’t will be awarded less, if any business.” This customer was facing some very real business issues and not only wanted vendors to come up with cost-effective, time-saving solutions, but also wanted us to make recommendations about how they could improve their internal localisation practices to reduce costs and improve their time-to-market. While I thought I understood their business pretty well, some of their comments forced me to dig deeper into how they actually deliver their products and how our services fit into that process. That was a start. I could begin to see potential solutions based on my experience and understanding of their particular projects.
However localisation can be a rather complex business and I could only go so far with my ideas to solve their business issues. So, I went back to basics in my Customer Centric Selling® (then Solution Selling) practices. Solution Selling talked a lot about having access to power and situational experts within your own organisation. Access to power means having management’s ear. By situational experts I’m talking about members of the production team who do the work, the people who have the in-depth project knowledge and experience to develop workable solutions. To me this is where the true value of the sales person lies: understanding customer business problems, conveying them to production and then taking the lead in developing solutions with their input. This may mean, as it did in the example above, of setting up internal brainstorming sessions, brainstorming sessions between our production team and their counterparts within the customer’s organisation and brainstorming sessions between the customer and senior management (access to power) for solutions that might fundamentally change how and where we produced their work.
There are some important implications based on my example above that can help language service company sales people become the value-based, strategic asset that Jill Konrath advocates.
For sales managers and company executives:
- Sales people can only be experts in so many industries. Being all things to all people weakens their position. Specialisation by industry or having sales people serve selected markets will enable them to develop deeper expertise and differentiate themselves.
- Treat your sales team as a potential differentiator and adopt a value-based sales process such as CustomerCentric Selling®. This will help them develop value-based solutions for customers.
- Help bridge the chasm that can divide sales and production. They are on the same team and when aligned, can be a powerful sales tool.
- Train your sales people in different/new services. It won’t be the in-depth training required by production staff, but an understanding could help them see a potential solution for a customer.
- Become a market-led rather than a production-led company. This will help you to be pro-active rather than reactive to customer needs.
- Customers are busy people. Communicate relevant information to gain traction. Anything else will be ignored.
- Learn about the key industries your company serves and trends within them. This may suggest business challenges your customers are facing. Use this information to have a conversation with your clients. You’ll demonstrate expertise and start a dialogue focused on problem solving.
- Learn about your customers and their specific business issues. Use this information to develop value-based solutions.
- Solicit input and information from production staff who know a lot about your customers. Your sales eyes and ears may pick up on a potential solution that may not be obvious to them, since they are concentrating on project delivery. You might just become your customer’s hero.