You know the drill. Sellers need to offer their buyers insights and information they don’t already have. They need to be provocative and consultative. Disrupt all the time, and you will win. But, it’s just not that simple. And, we have research to prove it.
It’s true that salespeople are often viewed by their buyers as a source of information—especially when those buyers are looking to understand and address a challenge they are facing. But, who you are to that buyer, in terms of history and business partnership, impacts how you should act.
Consultative vs. Disruptive
We have found that, the more defined a problem, the less likely a buyer is to go outside of its network to solve it. In that case, an incumbent rep has the edge. And to keep that edge, your incumbent salesperson needs to push to quickly and fully structure a problem–and create a sense of urgency around a solution. Interestingly, our study also found that framing the problem in terms of gains will help ensure that your incumbent salespeople are included by the buyer in problem definition.
So, what if you are the new guy? Our research says that you must take a completely different approach if you are not incumbent in an account. Let’s be clear: we are talking sales reps with no real successful closes in an account and/or with no long-term relationship with the decision maker. In that scenario, you want to start by casting doubt on the problem as it’s viewed and structured and increase that uncertainty by slowing things down. That’s right: you have to decelerate problem resolution—meaning the sale itself—if you are not the incumbent. And further, your non-incumbent reps should emphasize loss to help ensure an invitation into the problem definition phase.
|If you are the…|
|Incumbent seller||Non-incumbent seller|
|Consultative sale||Disruptive sale|
|Help the buyer see the issue in a way that you can best address it.||Cast doubt on the buyer’s current view of the issue.|
|Push as hard as you can to quickly frame a problem and create a sense of urgency around resolution.||Continually push for further problem definition and understanding and emphasize the need for time.|
|Talk in terms of gains, like improvements and increases.|
Talk in terms of losses, like decreases and declines.
Lean on the research
We have empirical, independent research to back this up, but we know it will be hard to accept for many. It’s counterintuitive, so it was surprising to us, too. But, it supports another of our most important and startling findings around sales training: “one-size-fits-all” sales methodologies fail about 75% of the time because they are simply not always appropriate for a specific selling scenario.
Our research shows that salespeople who trust a company’s official methodology and use it consistently tend to end up average or low performers. Those who recognize the methodology’s shortcomings, however, will often try other approaches during a specific deal. And chances are, your best reps are doing the same. When we evaluated 1,500 salespeople from three different industries, we found that high performers were basing their selling approach on the scenario they were facing. In fact, while low performers’ toolkits had only one or two approaches to selling, high performers had up to five different strategies in their bags–and used them regularly—and depending on the situation.
Disruption is not always the answer. Just like so many other sales approaches and methodologies, it works well in specific situations. But sometimes, taking that approach will work against you. Other times, when it is appropriate, it’s also necessary to slow down the sales process.