The Current Landscape
In today’s fast-changing world of virtual meetings, savvy professional procurement buyers, and emerging needs in the marketplace, it is critical to find new ways to approach customers and prospects and offer a unique buying experience. At SNI, we are discovering that most companies don’t need (or want) to abandon their investment in their sales methodologies to forge ahead in this new world. In some cases, it is working well but organizations are looking to layer on additional skills. In others, their sales methodology is outdated or simply not being used, but with no guarantees that a new methodology will work, they seek other alternatives. The only consistent finding is that organizations are always looking for a competitive edge in the market – and this desire has been magnified due to the rapid changes to the ways people communicate.
SNI has a long track record of working with sales organizations after they have implemented a sales methodology from a company such as Miller-Heiman, Sandler, Corporate Visions, or the Challenger Sale from Gartner. While these are all successful organizations providing proven sales processes that usually satisfy clients, we find that soon after-sales organizations wish to provide their team with additional tools and habits which drive better performance within that sales framework. They are given the “what to do” – even integrated within their CRM systems such as SalesForce, Dynamics, Zoho, and Hubspot – but not the “how to do it”, which is about how their salespeople are making first impressions, asking questions, tailoring pitches, succinctly and persuasively communicating value, and overcoming objections.
The days of being a personable salesperson have changed. Salespeople still have to talk about value, pricing, and service, but they must now leverage technology, be able to manage multiple stakeholders, and develop relationships quickly, even over purely virtual interactions. They find themselves now more than ever in high-stakes, complex sales conversations in which they must be mindful of everything involved in the communication such as, tone, emotions, words, written cues, facial expressions, and behaviors.
SNI & Strategic Selling
This article is the result of the ever-changing and challenging selling environment described above and the countless times that we have successfully integrated our sales, negotiation, or influence training into a Strategic Selling model within an organization.
This article outlines the ways in which SNI’s systematic approaches support Miller Heiman’s Strategic Selling process and helps sales professionals to develop the skills to execute their strategies and helps them to close more business, faster, and at better margins while advancing their relationship.
The business of selling has changed significantly in the 42 years since Miller Heiman Group (MHG) launched their Blue Sheet tool for planning and executing complex B2B sales. Since then, MHG has certainly modified and updated their tool in response to changing needs.
What does the Blue Sheet accomplish? According to their current website, the Blue Sheet helps salespeople by:
- Identifying key players and their role in the decision
- Developing allies and influence within the customer organization
- Identifying sales motives and ‘hidden’ needs and interests
- Providing a common language so sales teams can collaborate easily
- Differentiating their product or service in a way that compels the close
- Knowing when to drop out of a deal when a sale has a low probability of success
Whether we deliver our sales optimization (focusing on further improving sales performance), negotiation (layering on additional negotiation skills and tools), or influencing (developing softer skills around persuasion, influencing, and emotional intelligence), our processes leverage the information in this comprehensive tool to further support its use and not create any redundancies.
Selling in 2020
Salespeople have been building professional relationships and using them to drive sales since early man bartered with neighbors in the prehistoric era. Relationship selling has always been recognized as a fruitful long-term, strategy. However, it takes time to develop trust, especially in a buyer/seller relationship where intentions are often questioned.
Today, buyers are commoditizing products and services through their ability to visit websites and compare prices within seconds, all without speaking with a sales person. So much so that according to MHG 70% of buyers have fully defined needs BEFORE speaking with a salesperson. This not only makes the job of a salesperson much more challenging, but it also arms buyers with the information they need to drive down pricing while demanding higher levels of service.
The current state of sales has salespeople asking themselves – how can they advance the sale and relationship, when:
- Customers further commoditize products/services and buying decisions?
- Buyers have access to most of the same information a salesperson does?
- Most of the buying process occurs remotely and online?
The challenges posed within these questions is why salespeople simply need more skills and tools to succeed. Perhaps the most important in today’s complex selling environment is an understanding of how buyers make decisions. For example, SNI’s influencing model teaches salespeople how to:
- Build credibility and trust faster, even in a virtual world
- Engage a prospect’s emotions, the most powerful way to influence
- Demonstrate logic in the most persuasive and compelling way
- Facilitate action to ensure that a sale continues to progress and does not stall
Having Information Isn’t Enough Anymore
SNI’s Preparation Checklist translates the information from a Blue Sheet into a strategic script designed to get to the heart of the decision earlier in the sales cycle. Our process focuses on asking the right questions to find the highest priority interests quickly and then to utilize a systematic method of communication to speed up the sales cycle and to produce better results for both sides of a sale.
When using a Blue Sheet, the salesperson gathers and organizes a lot of information, such as Key Influencers, Roles, Decision-Making Criteria, Competition, Red Flags, and Buying Motives to help salespeople understand and manage the complexity of working through a long sales cycle with multiple buyers and influencers. In our opinion, the Blue Sheet leaves no stone unturned, which should come as no surprise as it is one of the most widely used (and successful) tools in the sales world. The challenge is that some sales pros find it cumbersome to find all of the information, and then even more so overwhelming to use it in a practical way.
This is why SNI offers a set of easy-to-implement habits that organize sales conversation to maximize the usefulness of the Blue Sheet information in the context of the customer’s needs and their desired outcomes. SNI teaches people to think, ask questions, and speak in terms of:
- Precedents – What has happened before? What can I learn from it? How does that impact the other side? And, how can I use that to my advantage?
- Alternatives – What are my alternatives? The alternatives of the other side?
- Interests – What does each stakeholder desire? Do I know this or am I making assumptions?
- Script – How do I plan for this? Write it down and then briefly roleplay or review it with a fresh mind
This is done so that salespeople can easily recall and use the information to:
- Craft questions prior to important meetings to execute deeper discover, develop better relationships, and set the default habit as asking a question rather than speaking
- Communicate value in terms of benefits that provide business impact rather than features not specific to their organization
- Continue to progress a sale, whether communication is in-person or remote
- Avoid leaking profit in the face of objections or positional bargaining
Asking the Right Questions Speeds Up the Process
The ‘Information Needed’ section of the Blue Sheet requires the user to write down the questions that need to be asked to complete the Blue Sheet and the sale. This aligns perfectly with SNI’s maxim that “If you write it down, you are more likely to actually ask the question.” However, when you are caught by surprise by an unscheduled call from a prospect (or an influencer) and you don’t have the time (or chance) to break out the Blue Sheet – this is where SNI’s Probing habits can save the day.
We teach people that our probing model should be our habitual “safe place.” This should be the go-to under pressure or caught off guard – rather than talking. We suggested they start broad with questions such as “What is important?” which allows the client to share, without restriction. They then should flush as much as possible by asking “What else?” until they learn the key priorities – all of this before responding to any of them. This is the first portion of our probing model – our clients say that not only does it help their sales people with much deeper discovery it also helps slow them down and become more methodical.
Our probing model can seamlessly be integrated into the Blue Sheet as a way to complete it faster, more efficiently, and more accurately. Sales teams learn techniques for opening up and encouraging two-way dialogue throughout the conversation to gather information without giving the prospect the feeling of an interrogating. In some cases, we also adjust the Blue Sheet or merge it with one of our preparation tools – based on the actual behavior and results of the sales team.
Closing with Confidence
Nothing convinces like conviction, and conviction comes from confidence. The Blue Sheet has a section to develop an action plan, and SNI’s guidelines for proposing are designed to go hand-in-hand to maximize results when under 11th-hour pressure to close a sale. One of the most common takeaways with our work with clients is their salespeople learning to avoid pitfalls such as negotiating with themselves, using ranges in offers, improperly making trades, and accepting offers too quickly. Developing these proposing habits not only improves performance but also gives sales professionals confidence.
Strategic Selling is a leading sales framework for so many organizations because it allows salespeople to categorize information within a complex sale that often has many stakeholders.
SNI’s role is to deliver customized content and tools to fit the current needs, challenges, and resources of your organization. This customization takes the form of facilitator selection, content selection, development of new learning points, creation of custom tools, and integration into what is already in place – all done for one purpose, to improve performance.
Our goal is to make Strategic Selling more efficient and effective when the pressure is on to drive results.
Give us a call at 410-662-4764 if you are interested in learning more about SNI and the integration of our sales, negotiation, and influence training within Strategic Selling.