Apart from the strategies themselves, there were other commonalties heard in our interviews—themes among the way that executives viewed their challenges and the environment in which they operated.
Change is constant. There was an acceptance that change was a constant part of sales organizations. Structures would never be permanent and markets would never stabilize. Therefore, the focus was on being agile and the need to build an organization that could navigate change without being derailed with every new initiative.
Everything is additive. New channels are added, but the old ones do not disappear. New customer requirements appear, but the old ones are not forgotten. As a result, there was a feeling that sales organizations will just continue to work in greater and greater complexity. Leaders were resigned to this and were concerned with which infrastructure and support systems would need to be improved to create order in this complexity.
The next big thing is the last big thing. There were few ideas that were thought of as completely original—that is, not thought of before or a derivative of earlier ideas. Organizations were still talking about consultative selling. They were still trying to integrate channels and up-sell customers. Leaders, however, saw that now they were truly running out of time for philosophy without execution. There was a sense of urgency. They felt that unless they were able to really deliver on these strategies, they would suffer in the market.
The tougher selling environment is permanent. There was also a common feeling that the recent economic downturn was a wake-up call that brought long-time festering issues to the forefront. Leaders were very quick to point out that these changes were permanent—that economic improvement was not going to return them to past selling environments. They were concerned that organizations would lose sight of these issues if the economy improved, and the results would be disastrous.
Everyone wants to be a consultant. Building Trusted Advisor relationships with clients was viewed as the endgame for creating differentiation in the marketplace. Leaders felt that they could still, even in this demanding environment, build relationships with clients that added value. These would be hard to come by and would require higher levels of skill and knowledge, but would deliver partnerships that would move them beyond commodity status.
Applying the Customer Filter
While our survey study of small to mid-sized information technology (IT) buyers does not presume to speak for the entire world of customers, it does offer an interesting perspective on the strategies discussed in this text. The good news for sales organizations is that the customers in our survey do find a salesperson who “understands my business” to be differentiating. They are clearly more influenced by salespeople who “know the product” and are “responsive” over “friendly,” and they do feel that there are more factors, such as “service reputation” and “product reputation,” that can be more important than price.
On the flipside, there was little evidence that the buyers in this survey felt like their salespeople were becoming trusted business advisors. They valued their salespeople’s knowledge of product features and benefits but did not look to them for “diagnosing my IT problems” or for “identifying strategic IT opportunities for me.” If you think back to the Sales Impact Ladder in Chapter 5, customers in this survey characterized their salespeople as price sellers and content sellers. There is clearly, then, still a long road ahead for sales professionals. Not only will it be harder and harder to earn Trusted Advisor status with a customer, there are more and more competitors who are trying to position themselves the same way.