Debunking and moving beyond the good old needs-based selling myth and more…

Everyone recognizes that growth is the best remedy for reversing sluggish performance, but I’m less certain enough business leaders really know how to inspire growth or exactly where their organizations might be lacking.

Continuing my “Fundamentals Rule” theme, I’d like to focus on sales excellence this week by summarizing a project I just concluded for a small business services company that has dramatically turned the growth corner by improving sales performance.

Because my sales strategies and tactics deviate from the convention, I’m used to the initial skepticism that always greets me in a new assignment! This latest project was no exception, but we were able to more rapidly transform the organization thanks to the commitment of the sales force and an executive team determined to fight for their company’s survival.

In less than 2 quarters they have gone from negative year-over-year growth to posting record sales months in June & July; the corporate pipeline shows August and September will shatter the prior month’s records!

Though there are several nuances explaining their great transformation I will focus on one aspect that typically causes the initial skepticism and because it is also a core point to creating these unsurpassed results: debunking and moving beyond needs-based selling.

At best, a sales force that “sells to the (prospective) customer’s needs” is selling to lagging indicators. By very definition, needs are determined by yesterday’s news–not nearly sharp enough or fast enough to truly solve a (prospective) customer’s compelling business issues! But in these turbulent economic times, a great majority of targeted customers (even at the most senior levels) have a difficult time figuring out where their business even stands in its competitive industry making it rather difficult to properly articulate needs.

Consequently, needs-based selling invariably leads the discussion to price and is a primary cause for commoditization. In practice, needs-based selling is purely a tactical exercise and as a process it is now so familiar to all that what should be a critical dialogue takes on a recognizable pattern between sales person and buying influence.

Fundamentally, needs-based selling is all wrong for today’s economy and in my view it’s the biggest culprit for poor sales performance.

I showed my client (as a company) how to replace the purely tactical lagging indicator needs-based selling with the more strategic, forward-looking method of selling to leading indicators.

This process focuses on the prospect’s current and anticipated business conditions. While it is collaborative and fully integrates all aspects of the prospect’s business, it forces the sales professional to take a leadership position.

My client’s sales force became so good at this so quickly they not only are growing a record clips they are also charging a premium for their services.

Working extremely hard and closely together, we also debunked a second myth: in recessions, customers will always buy on price.

My experience shows, and my client’s success further validates, organizations that create unrivaled value will always be in great demand–particularly when their targeted market needs help.

The last myth debunked (and one I hear all the time) is “you don’t know our sales force, they will never change the way they do things, we’ll try it and support it, but it’s tough to teach our old dogs new tricks.”

Respectfully, I find that an unfortunate number of senior management teams just don’t know their sales force and unwittingly institutionalize mediocrity by continually underestimating what can be achieved.

There was a time when the sales profession migrated from feature/function product-pitching to needs-based selling: the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. I don’t believe it’s coincidental that was also a period of great economic uncertainly and distress.

I preach what I practice and I am utterly convinced that companies must compel their sales forces to adopt a leading indicator style of selling.

My client did it so superbly that I’ve also achieved a primary project milestone: produce swift, significant & sustained results so they can carry on without me.

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