During a recent training event with a client, I recommended that, if a sales person wants to take their job seriously and really treat it like a profession, they should do some reading. And three books they should read regarding the interaction with a client are SPIN Selling (Rackham), The Challenger Sales (Dixon and Adamson) and Insight Selling (Schultz and Doerr).
Why should they read them? Because they are each research based texts (well, SPIN definitely is, Challenger's research has been questioned and I don't know enough about the Insight Selling research) on how best to interact with a customer during a sales meeting and they have contrasting views. Or do they?
One of the main claims of the Challenger Sale is that solution selling (asking lots of questions to define and tailor a solution), and to a certain extent, relationship selling, are dead (Harvard Business Review, August 2012). The authors of Insight Selling refute this claim, saying their research shows relationships are still important, a critical component to winning business and that solution selling is still relevant (they call this stage Connecting). However, they go on to say Connecting is now only the starting point and the minimum requirement for winning business, with Convincing and Collaborating the other two stages.
Both the Challenger Sales and Insight Selling, from an objective perspective of someone who is not trying to promote either methodology, have resonance and relevance, particularly with respects to demand creation. They do also have some similarities; in particularly on how it’s imperative to take the customer on an emotional journey during a sales meeting. Doing this effectively is achieved through telling stories and asking questions. In my opinion, taking the customer on an emotional journey is also what SPIN Selling does, however it promotes this is achieved through initially asking questions and then giving benefit statements.
If you read all the texts and then take a step back, one common theme around the emotional journey (although its not portrayed like this) is that a good interaction with the customer involves an exchange of opinions; both seeking the customers opinions, through questions, and giving yours, as the seller, through robust story telling and ‘insight'.
Having spent some time in the field with sales people observing their behaviour, and having worked on a number of demand creation projects with customers, there is a case to say that the right approach (questioning lead or story telling lead) can be influenced by a few factors:
1. The personality and capability of the seller; some people are great at persuading through telling stories that really hook people in; others are great persuaders by asking well targeted, astute questions that get customers thinking in a way they haven’t had to before.
2. Where the customer is in their buying cycle; Has the seller earned the right to ask questions? If so, and if the customer understands why they are being asked, they will answer a whole load of questions if they help shape their thinking around a challenge or an opportunity.
3. The selling organisation’s proposition and ability to create insight; with the clients I have been working with on this method, we call this the Insight Bomb presentation and it undoubtedly works if the correct insight is available. However, as a colleague of mine, Richard Nockolds, MD at Fugleman, suggested to me, “genuine insights can be rare”, although “nuanced differentiators, repackaged research and entertaining stories can all pose as insight.”
4. Whether the seller is involved in demand creation or demand fulfillment; the story led approach is undoubtedly effective for demand creation, where the seller creates a message that becomes the trigger event for a buying cycle. However, once engaged, questions of the customer are still an imperative.
So, regardless of the methodology employed, ensuring the customer is emotionally engaged and experiencing an emotional shift in the conversation is essential to sales success. However, a one-size fits all approach may not suit all of your sellers…and that potential challenge could be your emotional journey!