The only constant is change—-everything about selling has changed and will continue to change.
How we engage our customers, our processes, methodologies, tools, systems, programs continue to change. Technologies accelerate the rate of change, also providing us insights and capabilities we have never imagined. And, in the coming years, we will see technologies like AI and others that will provide new capabilities.
Despite all these changes, the fundamental principles of selling remain constant.
I tend to think of roughly 4 fundamental principles underlying everything in selling. When we lose sight of them, we struggle, our performance suffers.
The four principles are:
- Focusing on the right customer.
- Recognizing that selling (and buying) is a people to people endeavor.
- Selling is about creating value with the customer.
- Consistency in execution is critical to success.
Let’s dive into them more deeply:
Focusing on the right customer: Not everyone is our customer, regardless of what we sell. We determine our customers by first understanding, “What problem are we the best in the world at solving?” Then understanding “Who has those problems?” Doing this demands honesty and pragmatism. Sometimes, our pride and egos make us think we can serve a broader group of customers than we can. While we can address some of their issues, there are probably others that do it better. There are some that are, theoretically, in our Ideal Customer Profile, yet aren’t experiencing the problems we solve, or don’t feel any urgency to change. These might be future customers, but until they experience the problems and have a high sense of urgency in changing, we will be unsuccessful in engaging them.
We need to understand the right customer—what industries or markets do they serve. What are the demographics, firmographics, behavioralgraphics of the organizations that have the problems we solve. Who are the people in those organizations that are most impacted by those problem, how does the problem impact each of them, how do they work with each other to both recognize the problem and choose to address it. What drives each person, as individials; what are their dreams, hopes, and fears? When they work together on these issues, how do they work together, how do they align around a project plan, goals and objectives? How do they develop and maintain consensus through the process? How do they reach agreement, how do they achieve success in implementing the change?
Selling is a people to people endeavor. In complex B2B sales, there are many people involved, directly and indirectly, in the buying process. On the selling side, there may be many people involved in working with these customers in their buying. Each of these display all the behaviors that make people humans. Each has strengths and weaknesses, ambitions/desires/goals, fears/uncertainties. Each has varying experiences, biases, values, and beliefs. Each has varying ways in which they learn, grow, change—some are open minded in looking at new things, some are closed minded. We communicate differently–while we may speak the same language, how each of us hears and comprehends the same sentences differs. This causes us to interact differently with each other. And these things change based on the situation at a moment in time. Connecting with people on a human to human basis, developing, maintaining, and growing the trust we have in each other is critical to our ability to change, achieve, and work together to get things done.
Selling is about value creation. It’s not something we do and bestow on the customer, but something we do with the customer, others in our organization, and our partners. We create value in the learning/growth process, with each of us changing and improving as part of that process. We create value through helping each other organize to consider and implement a change process. We create value in the solutions that are part of the change and critical to helping the customer achieve their goals. We create value in the human interactions–recognizing fears, uncertainties, risk; helping people develop confidence in what is being done and the ability to achieve the goals. We create value in helping the customer make sense of the contradictory information and perspectives they encounter, to sort through identifying that which is most important to them as the move forward. We create value in demonstrating, in every interaction, how much we care about them as human beings, how we want to make sure they make the choices that are most meaningful to them. We create value in recognizing each of us makes mistakes, we help other learn, and we forgive. We create and maintain value by trusting and being trustworthy—always.
And we and our customers to this, time after time, through consistent execution. We learn what works, what serves our customers and us. We constantly tune those things that work, improving our ability to execute them. We develop processes, programs, methodologies, and tools than enable us to execute more effectively and efficiently. When we make mistakes, we learn from them, we learn what we must change to better achieve our shared goals. We focus on sharpening our abilities to do what works, eliminating what doesn’t work.
We recognize that performance is based on consistent execution and improvement, not random acts.
And we recognize, that as things no longer works as they had, we have to change, we have to develop new approaches, we have to change. But as we implement those changes, we learn, improve our ability to execute, tune them, and move forward. Purposeful growth and success is not an accident, but the result of consistent execution.
I’ll stop here. But these have been fundamental principles in selling and engaging customers, since the very first sales transaction. How we do these things, they system, processes, tools, methodologies, programs have changed profoundly, and will continue to do so. The organizational structures, the talent requirements/skills/experiences have and will continue to change.
Why is this important? Why am I spending time going back to the fundamental principles of selling? A couple of thoughts:
These principles become our “North Star.” As we look at changes in how we do things differently, how we change, we assess them against these core principles. Sadly, as I look at how selling (and buying) have evolved over the past 10+years, we seem to have lost sight of some of these principles. We’ve done so much to remove the “humanity” from the process. We’ve forgotten about value creation, focused more on what we get from an interchange. We have disciplined execution, but as those things fail to work, we don’t go back to fundamentals to understand and rebuild. The challenges we face today. The failure to perform and meet our goals, the preference of customers to have rep-free experiences, the inability we have to attract and retain our people, growing their capabilities are all symptoms of losing our way and not paying attention to the fundamentals.
The second, related thought, is that when things start going wrong–whether on a call, managing a deal, building our pipelines, achieving our goals, going back to the fundamental principles always helps us think, in a disciplined way, about hot to correct things and get back on course. They have always given me confidence that I could find a solution, that I could figure out how to move forward and achieve my goals.
Mark your calendars, on April 27, I’ve been invited by the folks at The Brooks Group to do a deeper dive into these issues. I’m looking forward to an exciting conversation about these basic principles with Michelle Richardson. Start thinking about your questions, join us!
Afterword: If you are a manager or executive. Think about how these principles apply to you working with your people. They are your customers.