The Big Change
by Kevin D. Crone
Because of the Internet, everyone has easier access to markets – and that means you – and your competitors as well. The companies that haven’t had to sell – and who think of “selling” as a dirty word – have to change. For example, professional firms that have technically-oriented, left-brained thinkers are now required to be comfortable in a people/customer-oriented world. Customers want to be listened to, advised rather than told, and approached and consulted regarding how to advance their business. The whole process called “selling” is foreign to those who have been paid for what they know, and whose main focus and commitment is doing big technical projects effectively, not finding and keeping customers.
I have worked with many professional firms who weren’t that interested in either learning the process what it takes to get and keep customers, or even picking up the phone to call a profiled target or even an old client. The folks at those firms knew that if they learned it, they would be expected to do it. Why? They don’t want to do something they don’t enjoy doing. So, they’re not interested in doing anything that might mildly offend their sense of modesty, and certainly not anything that exposes them to personal rejection as a result of doing it. Also, fear is a factor. It is still the single biggest barrier to doing anything that is uncomfortable, and selling, with all its required habits is very stretching. For any organization to change, it needs a strong leader and management team at the helm. It takes someone who will declare that the change will be made, and who can help create a common vision of what it takes, something that fits their nature and engages everyone in plans to make it work.
Ideas and strategies:
I worked extensively with one such leader of a large engineering firm who did the following to create a cohesive culture for his team and help them to face turbulent economic storms…
- We engaged his top ten clients by conducting a two-hour meeting between the clients (one firm at a time) and the team, to see what kind of offering the client wanted from this engineering firm or from any other engineering provider with their capability. We then debriefed the team on what they heard, and no blaming, denying, or justifying was allowed. They got busy at improving their offering. Most of the improvements concerned how to act as true partners with their customers’ teams. We also worked with hundreds of their key people on people and communications skills, and to expand their confidence. The managers became more comfortable using the right side of their brains.
- One executive led a small team to determine which potential clients matched up best with what they offered. Another management team worked on the design of how they partnered with their clients. The design wasn’t frivolous or fuzzy stuff. It laid out specific actionable steps for what they would do, as well as why and how.
- They went to market by inviting those targets/old clients to workshops where the potential clients were exposed to innovation team processes to help them find solutions for their businesses. This value-added, relationship-building service made a valuable impression. Along the way, their offering was described to everyone. Some engineers immediately implemented the new models with clients.
- Together we designed a follow-up one-on-one meeting with a structured agenda for all those in attendance, one that could be used for any approach or presentation.
- We coached the team members on the ‘agenda call ‘, a consultative approach. We practiced and practiced until everyone became more comfortable with it.
- The team members made some calls, we conducted debriefings, recorded what was learned, and celebrated quite a number of accomplishments.
As I look back, I would say that it was an uncomfortable experience for many of the individuals from the engineering firm, especially the old guard on the management team. The younger ones seemed to be willing to do the re-think, re-design, and practice, while too often the old guard were conveniently too busy to attend our meetings.
Trying to get people to sell – whose primary job it is to deliver – is a different model from the usual one. What is more complicated than that? Because of an idea that high fees are involved, as well as uncertainty and perceived risk, the client wants an advisor who can be trusted. The biggest challenge facing the professional service seller is incorporating ‘sales-mindedness’ into their view of professionalism. Most technically-based sellers think that a buyer should be rational and concerned about the representative’s expertise and qualifications. In contrast, the buyer wants to experience trust during interactions about their real issues. It could be more natural to integrate delivery work into the selling process, rather than separating the two. The real growth happens when the buyer becomes interested in the client. The old guard never seemed to believe any progress could be made, but many managed to hang in there until they became more comfortable. This is what happens when you go after behaviour change: you go through peaks and valleys until confidence and skills arrive and stay in the form of habits. However, Intellectual discussions and academic workshops do not have that much effect.
If you or your team needs to sell more, or sell for the first time, I suggest you learn from my client’s ideas and strategies.
In summary, it takes a leader willing to own the change and one who is openly committed to it; someone who is patient with their management; a person who is willing to examine their offering and to improve it – because it is difficult selling anything that doesn’t fully match up with customer wants and motives; a leader who can find a way to take the offering to a targeted group of prospects and old customers that impresses the new prospects with who you are; someone who can make one-on-one calls that follow an agenda using a consultative approach, and practice, practice, practice; and a leader who is willing to keep recording learnings and accomplishments. To fit the seller/doer model, it is best to arrange experiences where the client can see a demonstration of the competency and where you can build trust.
What ‘aha’ did you get this morning for your business, team or yourself? What is your first step?
Kevin D. Crone
Dale Carnegie Business Group
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