We are very proud to post the first published interview with Dave Stein and Steve Andersen, co-authors of the just-released book, Beyond The Sales Process.
The book is predicated on the idea that salespeople who focus on the immediate sale are miscalculating the ways they should be expending effort. The average buyer spends only 5% of their time buying products or services. Dave and Steve build their case for taking an expanded view of any sale — using case studies for companies like Siemens, Merck, and Hilton Worldwide. They show, through evidence, that there is a better – proven – methodology to drive success before, during, and after every sale.
The book details 12 strategies that encompass the successful sale in our customer-driven business environment today.
I asked Dave and Steve some questions about some of the key tenets of this 12-part methodology.
Why have trust-based relationships become so crucial in sales?
It’s virtually impossible to maintain product superiority in the customer-driven world in which we live, and customers have told us that they value trust-based relationships. In fact, there are practically no suppliers that are considered strategic by the customer that aren’t in this type of relationship.
What would you say to the people who contend that neither the buyer nor seller have time for this kind of relationship building in today’s selling environment?
Together, we have interviewed thousands of salespeople, account managers, and sales managers — and hundreds, perhaps even over a thousand, of their customers. We have never heard a single customer say that they don’t value relationships with their suppliers, and the vast majority will admit that the relationship is frequently a primary determining factor in the outcomes of their purchasing decisions.
I couldn’t help but notice, as I read your book, that you use the word success again and again, and that you put the customer as the focal point of your sales approach. This is radically different from the more conventional mandate to “close the deal and move on to the next opportunity.”
It’s about perspective. If the salesperson sees the conclusion of the sales process as the end, and yet the buyer sees it as the beginning of the determination of their success, we have a disconnect at the moment the sale is consummated. The old conventional wisdom of close and move on simply doesn’t work anymore, unless your objective is to sell to the customer, at most, one time.
It’s clear from your case studies and research that you are convinced that it is, indeed, possible for both buyer and seller to be successful if they follow your approach to “engage, win and grow” together. Is this what you mean by suggesting that salespeople go “beyond the sales process?”
Yes, but it’s more than that. Customers are smarter, more informed, under more pressure – and have more options than ever before. They can sense when the salesperson is only there for the deal, and it only makes sense that if they spend more time not buying than buying, there is much influence occurring when the “pure seller” is simply not there. This is why so many salespeople get surprised by things that shouldn’t have surprised them – only they weren’t involved until the customer announced an intent to buy.
But hold on – Isn’t it conventional wisdom that if the salesperson has a sales process and just uses it, that things are going to turn out just fine? Why mess with something that works?
It doesn’t work and we don’t think it ever did. But even if it was enough long ago, customers realize that the salesperson who is only there when they are buying will not be there when they are trying to be successful – which is always after the sale. It’s like buying a house or a car or anything expensive from someone who you know doesn’t care whether you are satisfied with it or not. Isn’t it almost always true that you will never buy from that salesperson again? Well, B2B customers are becoming more and more that way, and the savvy salespeople and account managers are evolving their approach to ensure that they engage, win, and grow with their customers…before, during and after each sale.
I think one of the most important traits of a successful salesperson is curiosity. Do you agree with this, and if so, how does Beyond the Sales Process support this assertion?
When we help companies build profiles for hiring salespeople and account managers, curiosity is always there as an important trait. It’s very hard to perform effective research, exploration, and discovery (Strategies 1, 2, and 5) without innate curiosity. Of course there are a number of skills required (you learn skills, you’re born with traits) that enable one to leverage that curiosity – questioning and listening being among the most important.
Getting inside your customer’s head so you can understand what they need and want and position and differentiate yourself (Strategies 7 and 8), your solution, and your company so together you can reach a future desired state is difficult, if not impossible, without someone on the team having curiosity.
The 12 proven strategies that you introduce certainly seem to offer an opportunity for practically every salesperson to learn something new. What do you suggest to the reader who wants to take something away that will help them this year?
They should begin reading the book with a specific customer and opportunity in mind. We spent a lot of time engineering diagnostic questions that will enable the salesperson (and manager) to determine where the gaps or weaknesses in their approach lie. When those weaknesses are eliminated as part of devising a plan to win, the likelihood of winning goes up dramatically. This is what we learned from working with and interviewing the top performers in nearly every industry. One person who read the book came back to us saying that they were in a hurry and wanted to skip through part of the book but found they couldn’t. There is definitely something in there for everyone at every level of experience, no matter what their sales or account management role is.
You talk about “what customers care most about,” and explain the types of things that tend to be most important to the contemporary B2B customer. What do you think are the biggest disconnects between what customers want and need versus where salespeople tend to focus their selling efforts?
Customers tend to see suppliers through the lenses of their objectives and challenges, while salespeople tend to see customers through the lenses of their products and offerings. The focus of the successful salesperson should always be on what the customer values most, and our case studies prove – real companies, salespeople and sales managers (and CEO’s!) as well as real customers – that when buyer and seller align, it almost always results in a win for both parties.
I think “proving your value” is one of the hardest hurdles for a salesperson. Other than reading your book, what are some of the ways that salespeople can put themselves in the right mindset for this strategy?
Even today, value is just a word to most salespeople. How do we know this? Because we have observed that, under stress and pressure, most salespeople revert to talking about the things they are most comfortable discussing: their company, their products and themselves. Why is this happening? Because most sales books and sales training are too quick to tell people what to do without explaining how to do it. Our book is a “how to” guide for the contemporary sales professional who wants to engage, win, and grow with his or her customers.
We hear a lot of talk about metrics and measures, but at the end of the day, most salespeople are measured by one thing: closing the deal. Shouldn’t measuring success be more than this, and where does the customer’s success fit into this equation?
This is interesting, because if you ask the customer what they care about, it’s usually not the things that suppliers most want to measure (time to close, discount level, non-standard terms and conditions, win rates, etc.). As long as buyer and seller see accountability differently, it makes it very difficult for them to be successful together. But on the other hand, when buyer and seller are able to align objectives in a way in which both are pursuing success together, something special happens and relationships that felt like vendor or supplier evolve into partner and trusted advisor.
You assert that if you do the right things after your last sale, you will find yourself standing before your next one. Is this why your model is circular rather than linear, as most sales processes tend to be?
Yes, and it’s why it wraps around from after the last sale to before the next. Think about it this way: If after the sale, the salesperson helps the customer realize value, measure success, and learn from mistakes (and successes), it only makes sense that, in the process, relationships will be strengthened as a result and that the customer will be willing to explore possibilities and vision future success with the salesperson again. This is the essence of the Engage/Win/Grow model. If you do the right things after your last sale, you will likely find yourself standing before your next one!
What was the most important lesson you learned as you wrote the book?
There is a huge opportunity for most salespeople to leverage their last sale to set the table for their next, but many, perhaps most, don’t do so. Why? Because they aren’t willing to go beyond their sales process. But on the other hand, for those who do, they are in a very different type of relationship with their customer, and it’s one that is very hard for the pure “sales processor” to compete against, other than on price.
About the Authors of Beyond the Sales Process:
Dave Stein is a sales consultant and strategist whose expertise has been featured in Fast Company, Harvard Business Review, The Wall Street Journal, Fortune, and Forbes and an advisor to Sales and Marketing Management magazine. He lives in West Tisbury, Massachusetts.
Steve Andersen is President and Founder of Performance Methods, Inc., a sales and account management best-practices consulting firm, whose clients include industry leaders and many of the world’s top companies. He lives in Alpharetta, Georgia.