As a Sales Person, Are You Relevant?
I’ve been seeing a lot of discussions and blog posts about this topic lately, relative to B2B sales. So, at the prompting of a new connection, I decided to explore sales relevancy and offer my own perspective.SALES RELEVANCE
According to Dictionary.com (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/relevant), “relevant” is an adjective meaning “bearing upon or connected with the matter in hand; pertinent.” Synonyms include applicable, germane, apposite, appropriate, suitable, and fitting. Okay, so, what does that mean for you in sales? Well, first, it means no, you’re not relevant. And secondly, it means yes, you are relevant. Confused? If so, this post is for you. Because your relevance is situational, and depends on a variety of factors. Let’s explore… VIEWPOINTS
There are several ways to approach this. As with 360-degree or multi-rater assessments, you can approach it from multiple angles.
- What do you think?
- What does your customer think?
- What does your sales manager think?
- What do others at your company think?
All of these have a place and an impact, but we’ll just analyze two here:
- What you think
- What your customer thinks
Your viewpoint is critical, because if you don’t feel relevant, it will be hard to convey relevance and pass those feelings to your prospects and customers, with integrity.
More importantly, however, even if you feel you’re relevant, if your customer doesn’t, what you believe (or your manager or others) no longer matters. It’s oddly symbiotic, though. You must believe your relevance to have the best chance of your customer recognizing it. But if you alone recognize your relevance, you’re still irrelevant.So, how do you get a customer to think that you and your products are relevant? To start, stop trying to prove it or “get them” to think it, and go in with an intense curiosity to diagnose and determine if you can be authentically relevant and add value.
Here’s the key… If you can find a way to eliminate vexing problems, minimize current challenges, avoid future ones, improve something that’s important to them, or accomplish a critical business goal – all at a cost that is perceived to be less than the benefits gained – you achieve relevance, from the customer’s perspective. And the faster you can determine whether you have relevance, the better it is for you, your company, your prospect, and their company.PRODUCTS & SERVICES
Let’s continue with a quick discussion of products and services. Other than having influence with your Product Management team, based on market/customer needs and feedback, product development and management is outside the scope of the frontline sales role. You sell what you have.
So for the purpose of this discussion, I believe we must take product design out of the picture, assuming the products and/or services that a sales person can offer are relevant to their target market, or at least under certain circumstances and conditions which create a need.
Sidebar Note: If your product and services aren’t relevant to the market, and your company is not responding appropriately to market feedback or yours, it’s time to jump ship.
With the above foundation laid, the focus transfers to the mindset, approach (process) and skills of the sales person.MINDSET
Mindset already plays an important, recognized, and foundational role in sales success. In this case, I’m referring specifically to your thoughts about yourself, your prospects and customers, and even though we exempted it above to a great degree (assuming market relevance), your products and services. Yourself
Your view of yourself (from your self-worth to your perspective on the value you offer your customers and your knowledge and skills) is a critical foundation. Of course, an over-inflated view of yourself is as detrimental as low self-esteem or poor perception, so be cautious of either extreme.
While we could debate specifics all day, at a minimum, you must believe that from a business perspective, you can offer value to your clients through your knowledge, skills, behavior and integrity. Without this, you’ll have a great deal of difficulty acting authentically, transparently, and confidently, and providing real value – meaning, you will have difficulty conveying relevance. Your prospect may see relevance around you or despite you, but the hope of that that’s certainly not going to fuel your sales success long-term.Prospects / Customers
It’s also important that you value, respect and empathize with your customers and their challenges, obstacles, goals, and plans.
Are you other-focused, rather than selfish, and more concerned with “being interested” than “being interesting? These topics aren’t always discussed this way in sales circles or sales training, but it shifts your perspective and value quickly.
Have you ever not respected someone, and then tried to serve them transparently and authentically or build a trust-based relationship? It’s pretty difficult to act with integrity that way. And often, your true feelings will come through in some way. If your focus is on selling something rather than serving your client, won’t that change your behaviors toward your customers? The way you think and feel about specific customers, or your customer base in general, also makes a difference.
Ask yourself… What habits have you formed? Do you whine and complain about your customers and their issues and quirks? Or do you hold them up, with high regard for their good traits, respect what they are trying to accomplish, and value the diversity of your differences? Even the way you speak about your customers when they’re not around, creates a foundation on which you’ll build your business – or not. Choose carefully, because it can impact your relevance and success.Products / Services
For this discussion of mindset about products and services, let’s separate the general perception of relevance of your products and services in the marketplace from your personal perception. Because even if most reasonable people agree that your products and services meet a need and are relevant, if you don’t agree, you will struggle to convey relevance. So, even if the market deems your products and services relevant, you must too. (If you can’t, again, this is a sign to move on.) To greatly increase your relevance, especially with the products and services you offer, understand first what makes you relevant to your best customers. What situations did they face? What problems did they experience? What goals did they have? What were they desperately trying to avoid?
When you understand what MAKES you relevant, from THEIR perspective… you can prospect other companies and buyers who are in those same situations, face the same problems, want to avoid the same thing, and who have the same goals.PROCESS
There is a lot of talk today about sales process. To me, this is just a replicable set of tasks, steps and stages you move through with a customer, while interacting with them to determine if your products and services add value and are relevant for them.
There are debates and opinions everywhere these days about the folly of approaching sales process from the sales person’s or selling company’s perspective, versus the client-focused perspective of matching your sales process to the customer’s buying process.
The real world is rarely so black and white. I think having (generally) replicable processes and definable stages make sense. I advocate what I call “organized fluidity.” Structure and process help most people perform better (and often, serve customers better), so having a sense of organization and being able to define and replicate steps and stages are important. At the same time, I do also believe that you lose relevance quickly if you can’t adapt to whatever your customer’s buying processes and preferences may be, and work within them, to prove your relevance and add value.
Don’t build a cage with your sales process, then, but rather build the skills necessary to determine where you and the customer are in the process at any given time and to respond accordingly. Internally, it’s helpful to have the infrastructure to record this, report it, and track it, but that’s on your side and is generally a lag indicator of what’s happening, not a force for developing the relevance necessary to keep things moving forward.SKILLS
So much has been written on the need for:
- Strong diagnostic and questioning skills
- Business acumen
- Logic and reasoning
- Interpersonal communication skills
- Emotional intelligence
- Relationship and trust building skills…
… and most importantly, the ability to forge solutions that solve problems, avoid problems or accomplish goals – but these are truly the skills that are often required for business and sales success.
But for me, in terms of relevance, nothing is more critical than understanding the business needs and the personal needs and motivators of decision-makers, and finding solutions that accommodate both. An approach that is authentic, exploratory, and involves partnering to build solutions may not always be possible, but it certainly is ideal. Because in the end, your competitor may be relevant, too… or their products and services may be. So working to find the best win-win solution and being personally relevant by doing so openly, with trust, integrity and transparency, can provide the exact edge you need ion today’s difficult business climate to win deals.LITMUS TEST
So, ask yourself, do you:
- Believe in yourself, your company and your products and services (given the right set of conditions, where they can make a difference)?
- Support and thoughtfully consider your customers and their viewpoints and situations, with empathy?
- Make a difference yourself through curiosity, authenticity, transparency, integrity and client focus?
- Focus where it matters? And where you can be relevant and make a difference? (Why waste time if you can’t?)
- Do what homework and research you can, to determine in advance how you might be relevant – even if you still need to verify or expand that opportunity through discovery?
- Modify your approach, within reason, to fit the customer’s buying process, rather than force fit them into yours?
- Shift the focus from trying to sell something, to trying to serve others, and sell something as a result?
- Worry less about being interesting, and focus more on being interested?
- Through the above, find a way to help your customers eliminate vexing problems, minimize current challenges or avoid future ones, improve something that’s important, or accomplish a critical goal – all at a cost that is perceived to be less than the benefits gained from their perspective?
If so, or when so, the answer to the original question in this post is “Yes.” As a sales person… you are relevant!
Thanks for Reading!
As always, praise, feedback, or disagreements may be posted here or sent to me privately at mike_kunkle at mindspring dot com, at your discretion.Be safe out there, and happy selling! Mike
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