Based on our foundation from Outcome Selling Part 1, let’s discuss today what specific skills are relevant for successful outcome selling, building on general selling skills and general knowledge regarding a vendor’s portfolio. Then, let’s map those skills to the customer’s journey – which is especially relevant for the sales managers.
First of all, sales people need business acumen. “Not another famous buzz word!” you might say. So, let’s clarify how the term is defined, let’s check Wikipedia:
“Business acumen is keenness and quickness in understanding and dealing with a business situation in a manner that is likely to lead to a good outcome.”
What does that mean? Business acumen is not about vendors, it has nothing to do with product and solution knowledge and special benefits. Business acumen is the capability to understand a certain business challenges, to understand the complexity of different business drivers and strategic needs, to create different scenarios to solve a problem, to think differently about a business problem, to create and to understand strategy maps, to analyze a given CEO agenda and so forth – with the aim to discover desired and potential customer outcomes and to map a vendor’s capabilities to customer challenges and to those desired outcomes.
Business acumen works from the outside to the inside, it works backwards from the customer’s journey. Business acumen is a “must have” skill set for sales people in order to switch conversations from what services are and what they do (inside-out), to conversations that are focused on how those services could help customers to achieve their desired outcomes. These are conversations designed backwards from the customer (outside-in), focused on what services could mean in terms of value for the customer’s business.
Second, the sellers need industry expertise. It’s about understanding the specific color of an industry’s language, speaking this language, understanding the industry’s core processes and core challenges, trends and innovations on a high level. This high level includes to look at the challenges from the perspective of our customer’s customers. And don’t forget to be up-to-date about the latest gossip within your industry. Using social networks, groups and communities is perfect to remain up-to-date and to build the necessary industry relationships.
“Right, but we are missing a lot!” I hear you…Wait a minute!
I think, we need at least one additional skill, but it’s not about more knowledge on solutions and services, it’s the capability to map and to translate the general value of a vendor’s portfolio into a specific value focused on the customer’s challenges and desired outcomes. Therefore, we need an additional pretty rare skill set, the combination of analyzing and synthesizing. What does that mean? Let’s check again Wikipedia:
“Analysis is the process of breaking a complex topic or substance into smaller parts to gain a better understanding of it.”
“…the noun synthesis refers to a combination of two or more entities that together form something new; alternately, it refers to the creating of something by artificial means.”
To give you some color on that: Analyzing is understanding all the single ingredients you have in your kitchen, for instance mushrooms, pasta, olive oil, garlic, herbs etc. Synthesizing is creating a menu and adding something special, such as spinach, nuts and seeds, etc.
This is exactly what we need to do – to create value in a a unique way to help our customers to achieve their outcomes.
Now, let’s have a look how these skills can be mapped to the customer’s journey and what does that mean for the sales managers. To make that pretty simple, let’s distinguish between two phases:
- The first phase is about making the customers aware of a problem, a challenge and the entire impact of that challenge – in order to create or to reinforce dissatisfaction and the need to change to achieve a future vision of success. This phase is all about “why change”. This is so important because the biggest barrier out there is a customer in a “doing nothing” mode. This happens very often when we try to address a customer with “why you” messages and the customer doesn’t see the whole challenge and impact. So, all our messaging efforts here have to be about “why change”. So, this phase is all about them, the customers.
- The second phase, when the customer has made a decision to tackle the problem and to start a buying process, then it’s about why you are the best vendor on the planet to help the customers to achieve their desired outcomes. All messaging efforts – based on the already created future vision of success – are about “why you”, why only you as a vendor can offer a specific and unique value to help them to achieve their outcomes.
Mapping those skill sets to the customer’s journey:
- In the “why change” phase, you need the maximum of business acumen, industry knowledge and analyzing, synthesizing skills, to help the customer to create a unique future vision of success, that’s more attractive and bigger than the current dissatisfaction, the invest and the risk together. The level of required specific solution and service know-how is medium.
- In the “why you” phase, you need the above mentioned skills still in the background. But crucial for success here is the specific solution and service knowledge, solution design skills, designing step-by-step approaches with the customer, creating detailed business cases and negotiation skills. These are skills you would probably associate with opportunity management.
Why is this so important for the sales managers? It’s important for the question how to optimize the resource allocation. So, sellers with the above mentioned skills for the “why change” phase should be focused on that phase and not be forced to focus on the “why you” phase, and sellers with skills on the “why you” phase should join the opportunity, when the executive owner and the major stakeholder have been addressed successfully and the actual buying process begins.
Especially if a sales organization’s comfort zone is in the “why you” phase, it will be very important to identify the rare “why change” skills within the organization (often they are in many different teams) and to allocate these resources accordingly to increase the overall value for customers and the sales performance.
In a named account strategy, there is an additional challenge – allocating the identified people with “why change” skills to those accounts with high growth potential and ambitious growth targets: Accounts, you have to be successful with new business related growth strategies.
Additionally, sales managers need a coaching map derived from the customer’s journey, mapped to these different skill sets to provide optimal and tailored coaching support for “why change” and for “why you” to scale and to increase both – the value for customers and the sales productivity.