How the world of sales has changed

Jonathan Keighley discusses how his experience in sales has changed and most importantly, why.

Jonathan Keighley
May 17, 2022

In my reasonably long sales career, I’ve been taught both Huthwaite SPIN Selling and TAS Blue Sheet / Green Sheet. These sales methodologies are still knocking around today and there are others too; Challenger, Sandler etc. all of which provide huge motivational and fresh approaches for selling to customers. The concept of selling to people and companies that want to buy things has been around for 100’s of years, but in more recent years the ‘how’ has changed, because the way in which people and companies want to buy has also changed. Just one of the common themes that I’ve drawn from various sales methodologies is the ability to build stronger relationships, through identifying possible problems and challenges that their customers might be having (driven by industry research data, peer-to-peer analysis etc.) and presenting a solution (or what many now call ‘insights’) that align their products to solve those problems.

Many moons ago, I used huge A1 sized Blue Sheets for some of my TAS opportunities in the Telco industry, which most of the time were rolled up in the corner of plush newly built offices, and when opened, spread across the table like opening a military operation. You had to put your ‘Red Flag’ stickers against those departments, people, or functions within the account that you hadn’t addressed or were struggling to address, and ‘Dumbbell’ weight stickers next to the areas where you were strong and already confident that person or department had been addressed, or function fulfilled. Well, let me put it this way most of the Blue Sheets I saw had what looked like my local gym next to ‘Demoed the product’ (Dumbbell stickers everywhere), ‘Arrange a follow-up meeting’ (Dumbbell), ‘Quoted’ (Dumbbell) but guess what ‘Address the economic buyer’ (Red Flag), ‘Presented to C-Level’ (Red Flag), like a surfing beach on a very windy day.

These methodologies never told you how to address the economic buyer or how to present to a C-level person. They never said, ‘you must create a narrative, educate, and provide insights to your customer and this is how you do it’. Do you know why? Because they didn’t have the know-how, the tools to do it, or processes to manage it. Now, of course times have changed. There are tools and platforms to help with this, but guess what, with all these great things in the world we still haven’t got to the bottom of how the salesperson really addresses economic buyers. CROs, CFOs, CTOs are all committed to the longevity and growth of their employer’s organisation, all really wanting to understand if they invest in something, will it improve operational efficiencies and improve shareholder value?

Due to the lack of capable and easy-to-use platforms for salespeople to use in this area, it’s almost created an invisible force field where a salesperson shall not pass. But if we look again at these sales methodologies and the roles of internal sales operations to provide great content for sales teams, the discovery of potential value with your customer could actually be easier than you think. The customers themselves have most of the data (most of the time), but they often want a negotiation on what it could look like for their company, this in turn creates trust and conversation starters with other stakeholders, to get to the all-important ‘agreed’ number. Suggest, don’t dictate. Shell do not run their business in the same way as BP, but they’re both oil companies. Tesco do not run their business in the same way as Waitrose, but they are both in food retail. No two business cases should be the same, remember it’s the customer’s business case not yours. In a nutshell, that’s value discovery, value selling, value pitching right there, but it’s still the ghost zone for most salespeople, a world where finance might be spoken, EBITDA, WACC and not one word of it makes sense. Any opportunity where the budget busting, charismatic sales jockey has the potential to crack open a chink in their armour, well that’s road runner time… “meep, meep”!!

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