An earlier version of this article was initially published on LinkedIn.
Most traditional sales training primarily involves the teaching of technique – for example, prospecting techniques, discovery techniques, questioning techniques, qualifying techniques, presenting techniques, demonstration techniques, objection handling techniques, and so on.
But while all of this is useful, if we aren’t at the same time teaching salespeople how to think (for clarification, not what to think), then there’s a real danger that most of the potential benefits associated with mastering the techniques will never be achieved.
If each technique isn’t rooted in context – what is the purpose of using the tactic, when and how should it be used, when should it be avoided, and so on – then all we are doing is teaching a set of tricks – training performers without training the foundations that underpin performance.
That’s why, when we developed the latest iteration of the Outcome-Centric Selling® Academy, we were determined to ensure that we positioned each element in the context of the environment in which it was to be used.
I am personally convinced – and I hope that I can convince you – that if we encourage, equip, and enable salespeople to think clearly and to prepare for their key interactions with their customers, then they will be much better equipped to make and apply the best choices in the heat of the moment while events are unfolding in real-time in front of them.
Thinking about targeting
Let me start with one example: if we simply teach salespeople the tactics and techniques of prospecting without also equipping and enabling them to intelligently target and prioritise their prospecting activities, they will end up wasting a huge amount of time and effort – and may even compromise their future attempts to engage potentially promising prospects by applying good technique in a bad context.
Outcome-Centric Selling® pays particular attention to the thinking and prep work that underpins effective prospecting, equipping salespeople to:
- Clearly identify the key business issues that their offering is particularly effective at addressing – and to articulate them using language that is likely to resonate with potential prospects
- Identify the common demographic, structural and behavioural characteristics of the organisations that are most likely to be suffering from the targeted issues, and to want to do something about them – i.e., their ideal customer profiles
- Identify the key roles within these organisations who are most likely to care about and be responsible for addressing the targeted issues, and anticipate what their key interests and priorities are likely to be
- Watch out for the key internal and external trends and trigger events that are likely to signal that the key roles in their ideal customers are likely to want to address the targeted issues as a matter of urgency
Intelligent, thoughtfully targeted prospecting, based on the above principles, is likely to be far more effective than a more randomised approach. Salespeople and BDRs will find themselves needing to make fewer calls in order to find more prospects that will in turn become well-qualified opportunities – and a much higher percentage of those opportunities will convert into sales and into lastingly satisfied customers.
Assess and justify
A second key thoughtful principle of Outcome-Centric Selling® is that salespeople, as well as assessing the situation, must always be prepared to justify their conclusions and avoid (and rigorously exclude) any element of hope or assumption. This is particularly important when qualifying sales opportunities and mapping stakeholder groups, but also applies to many other aspects of selling.
All too, often, qualification is managed as a “tick box” exercise. The salesperson is expected to confirm that a certain situation exists (such as “budget confirmed” or “champion identified”) without ever being asked to explain how they came to that conclusion.
The situation is exacerbated if ticking a particular box or boxes is a pre-requisite of advancing the sale to the next stage. Systems that adopt this mindset – unless very thoughtfully implemented – almost always end up compromising the quality of the data and misrepresenting the attractiveness of the opportunity.
That’s why Outcome-Centric Selling® requires salespeople to always explain how they arrived at their judgement with regard to every qualification criteria, and why every criteria initially defaults to “unknown” and must remain there until the necessary evidence has been observed and recorded.
Successful salespeople are thoughtful salespeople
We believe that today’s most successful salespeople are – far more frequently than their less-effective colleagues – thoughtful salespeople. They invest time in preparation. They refuse to rely on hope or assumption. They insist on evidence. Perhaps most important of all, they are unwilling to fool themselves or their colleagues, or to waste their or their colleague’s time.
And yes, they have mastered a wide range key sales tactics and techniques. But what sets them apart is that they think carefully before they act, prepare themselves to deal with predictable situations and yet always stay in the moment, and as a result they are also far better equipped to deal with the unexpected.
Think about your current sales training programme. Is it really teaching and encouraging your salespeople to think, or simply expecting them to apply the techniques that are being taught like performing seals?