By Sam Reese & Joe Galvin
Sales leaders have long fixated on performance, productivity and the achievement of quota. They have created opportunity scorecards, qualification criteria, and activity metrics—all part of a formal sales process designed to replicate how customers have made decisions. This is the world of professional selling, built to align with successful buying patterns learned through the hard lessons that only experience can teach.
For years, optimizing this process has been the primary means of boosting sales productivity. But recently, economies have stalled and buying has become more complicated than ever before. Sales leaders have recognized the importance of aligning their activities and customer management strategies with a more complex buyer’s environment. Sales leadership has recognized the importance of ensuring their salespeople understand the customer’s cadence and concept instead of delivering a pitch developed by someone, usually in marketing. The sales machine hums to the tune of the customer.
The good news is that the way forward is clear, for those who truly understand the realities of selling. In our research at the Miller Heiman Research Institute, we have confirmed our beliefs that relationships matter. That getting closer to the customer and the issues they are trying to fix, accomplish or avoid is the only path to repeatable, sustainable performance. We have identified that understanding the customer’s concept is the prerequisite to connecting to their issues and becoming their key resource.
Customers today have access to more information than ever before, that’s not new news. This has created longer sales and buying cycles as customers must wade through the absurd amount of misinformation put forward by academics and imposters who lack the experience and perspective to understand the issues of the customer and the challenges faced by today’s technology-powered sales professional. Customers seek sales professionals who first understand their issues before proposing a solution. In this world, the customer-oriented sales organization leverages a proven structure, framework and common terminology to creatively collaborate with each other and their knowledgeable customers. A culture of chaos only works on the whiteboard.
The most effective approach to each customer varies, sometimes radically, from deal to deal. Every customer makes every decision differently – every time. However, the steps involved in a customer’s knowledge acquisition process remain common to the decision dynamic. World-class sales professionals have recognized the motions and essential sales activities tied to specific outcomes is the driver to predictable progress in the customer’s buying dynamic.
At Miller Heiman, we have been helping our clients navigate the nuances of their customer management strategies for over 30 years, helping sales professionals connect with their ever-changing customers to achieve predictable and repeatable success. No one has more active clients, in more vertical markets, time zones and with more diverse structures and sizes than Miller Heiman.
The Miller Heiman Sales Best Practices Study, now in its 11th year, has captured the thoughts and behaviors of more than 30,000 sales leaders, managers and sales professionals. Our research demonstrates that understanding the customer’s concept is the straight-line path to success. We’ve found that a pitch first, ask questions later approach is simply a gimmick, put forward by “carpetbaggers” that neither achieves results nor can be implemented. Our research highlights the sales manager’s role as coach and the importance of having a proven structure, language and approach to understanding the customer is the hallmark of world-class sales organizations.