Targets, quotas, numbers, growth and more growth – these are the terms loaded on overburdened sales consultants within most organisations today. The focus is on chasing numbers and profits, as opposed to focussing on the individualised requests and requirements of customers.
“Unfortunately this has resulted in unethical selling practices,” says Peter Grist, managing director of Grist Consulting, an Australian-based company that helps organisations drive better sales conversations. “Incentives structured around product quotas and sales representatives create a misalignment between what is good for the customer and what is good for the sales person and that organisation.”
Consumers are pushing back. Their ability to use social media to have a voice has given them unprecedented power and this has fuelled the trend towards “trustability”. In other words: “I trust you to sell me what you know will be beneficial for my current needs in my lifecycle, and not sell me products that I do not need or cannot afford.”
As a result, regulators in Australia are clamping down and ensuring that customers are well looked after with no unnecessary, or untoward, selling of products and services. Organisations now have to justify why they sold a particular product in a stipulated way, or why they made certain recommendations to customers.
It’s about behaviours
“When you can’t manage just by numbers anymore, all you have left are behaviours,” says Grist. “Progressive-thinking organisations are saying let’s remove, or review, widget-type KPIs because it is promoting poor behaviours. KPIs should then act as the ‘lighthouse’ for overall sales goals while the focus is placed on behaviours that enable agility in sales consultants to make decisions ‘on-the-fly’ that drive real value for customers – and hence result in sales.”
In the 1950s and 1960s consumerism was more service-oriented and the focus was on developing and nurturing great, personalised relationships with customers. “With time, it became quite inefficient to service customers in this way without producing any income from so many service interactions,” says David McQueen, senior partner of sales, at Grist. “It’s now coming full circle back to service-oriented customer interaction with genuine outcomes.”
Being genuinely curious
Deep discovery with the customer is required to understand exactly what they need in the context of their lifestyle. “The agenda should be set before sales conversations happen with the notion that: ‘I don’t know where this conversation is going to go, but I am going to have a really good conversation with the customer, and when I do that I will meet and fulfil their individual needs,” says Grist.
“This requires behaviours that frame up conversations to really understand what the customer actually wants to do today, and the time they have. What’s the appropriate level of advice I should be providing them? What’s their capacity to understand that advice?”
Being genuinely curious, with good cross-examination, is required to uncover all the answers to those questions. Paraphrasing, summarising and looking for emotional motivators – while having genuine care – are also required. Sales consultants should then let the customer take the lead with regards to where they want to go while they just guide the conversation and process.
This swing to behaviours requires a 180-degree leadership shift that also compels leaders to coach appropriately.
“As an example, in the insurance industry we need sales leaders that say ‘we do need to sell more home insurance products because we know that customers are under-insured in that area. However, if customers do not need home insurance but do require health insurance, the conversations we have with them will guide us to that result,” says McQueen.
“The leader will then pick the right behaviours that produce results and drive and instil these behaviours in sales consultants. The organisation then needs to setup systems and processes for measuring this behaviour.”
A fanatical focus to produce results
Sales leaders and teams should then adopt a fanatical focus on these behaviours and have confidence that they will produce results. Behaviours should be clearly defined and measured with proper benchmarking, assessments, coaching, development and refinement.
Organisations that have done this successfully include private health insurer, nib, who have culturally embedded all these elements into their organisation and have witnessed a 43% lift in conversion rates as a result. NAB Retail also achieved a 40% increase in sales productivity that included a 31% increase in cross-selling initiatives. Customer retention, feedback and employee engagement were also significantly boosted for these organisations.