The Leadership Skills of Great Sales Organizations
I love developing sales organizations whose culture authentically connects with the motivating values of the customer.
Deep customer loyalty begets the best kind of brand positioning more often than the inverse. Loyalty is, in my opinion, a very personal expression of aligned values and is cemented or eroded through person-to-person relationship.
Companies spend a great deal of money and energy developing their brands so as to be associated with a feeling or emotion (usually shooting for trust or comfort) while often failing to apply the branding iron to their sales organization. The Sales VP must recognize that although s/he has nothing to do with R&D, s/he is in a product development role.
The relationship that his sales rep fosters with his customer can account for perhaps half of the perceived value of the product being purchased by the customer.
It's All About Relationships
For the past 15 years, I have worked in key account sales management and business development with companies whose product and services sold to either health or legal professionals. I have met dozens of customers whose choice of product was predicated more on their degree of satisfaction with the personal connection and relationship they had with their sales rep than on the scientifically validated efficacy or amazing technology of the actual unit product they were purchasing.
Many times I have heard a doctor say "I loved Company X's products. They're effective, but the rep was such an arrogant ass I just started using Company Y so I wouldn't have to deal with him".
All that R&D, marketing effort, copy-writing and branding strategy is wasted because the human relationship piece was neglected.
Becoming a Trusted Resource
For 7 years, I was the president of a sales organization which provided manufacturer's rep services in the NYC and Long Island region. When I took the contract and launched the company, that manufacturer's sales in the region had been completely flat for 4 years prior.
I began by meeting with all of the top accounts to introduce myself, and establish rapport. These were not customers who needed product detailing. They knew the products well. But why were they underutilizing the line?
They needed someone they trusted to help them think through and develop protocols for their tough cases. They needed someone to find a bottle of immune support on a Sunday morning when their daughter had the flu. They needed someone to convince them to hire an admin assistant to do their billing and scheduling so that they could spend their own time being the doctor and helping people get well.
"So what?", you might say. "Consultative solution-selling is old news, and all that other stuff is time wasted when you could be closing or visiting more accounts."
Authentic Relationship Strategy
What my team and I developed over the course of those 7 years, was an authentic relationship strategy. To truly become trusted colleagues with shared values and a well-articulated shared mission. And because our mission was genuine, it gave us complete access to our customer. By our second year, my small sales organization had the highest year over year percentage growth in the country and again the 3rd year.
Within 4 years we had built an $850k/year region into a $3.3Million/year region.
In hiring your sales team, it is most important to ask questions that will draw out one's ability to adopt a values-oriented mission and their capacity to listen and express compassion. When checking references, spend time speaking with the potential candidate's previous customers as much as previous employers. Look for examples of their relationship skills as much as their problem solving skills.
When playing out problem solving scenarios with a potential candidate, look for them to make the emotional connection to the problem before offering solutions.
For example, when a doctor was struggling with a difficult case involving an ailing patient whose care was not yielding optimal results, my first action was to acknowledge and validate the doctor's frustration and disappointment, or even anger, because I knew underneath it, was the motivation to make the patient well and relieve their suffering.
It was this genuine expression of compassion, and recognition of our common humanity, that established trust in me, my care for their patient, and my product guidance.
The Humanity Element
Your sales organization delivers the humanity element to your customer's experience and must wear it's values and mission on it's sleeve.
Your sales reps are the eyes that your customer looks into, for a heart-felt understanding of their needs and goals, well before they are wowed with technical knowledge or your slick widget.
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Max has 15 years in business development, sales leadership, coaching and consulting. For 7 years he served as President at Standard Process of NYC where he built a lean and successful sales organization. Other posts by Max »