Remember the movie “The Gauntlet” with Clint Eastwood? He’s been ordered to pick up a prisoner and deliver her to the courthouse a few hundred miles away. What he doesn’t know at the time is that he was selected to fail. As the plot progresses, it seems like everyone is out to kill him. The conspiracy runs right up to and includes the police commissioner.
The same goes for sales reps that are chartered to sell consultatively, or in current vernacular, as a challenger. It’s almost as if everyone is against them as well. From the moment they finish their introduction to a consultative selling model, it’s as if the world is against them.
Imagine this scenario that plays out every day all around the world. A successful sales person has just completed the world’s best consultative sales training workshop and they are anxious to engage their first prospect to practice their newly acquired knowledge.
The first obstacle they encounter is the customer. The first words out of the contact’s mouth are usually something to the effect of, “so what does your product do?” If a seller is particularly tenacious and holds her ground by asking to understand more about the customer’s business, it’s not uncommon to hear the prospect elevate the defense by stating, “you don’t need to know that, just tell me what your product does”. We used to call these prospects “See-Mores”, as in “let me see more”. A very seasoned consultative seller can navigate past a See-more, but the new consultative seller will need some help and guidance, especially if they run into multiple See-more’s.
Let’s talk about the second obstacle. Clint’s character, Ben Shockley, was chosen for this job because his lone wolf behaviors had produced many failures in his career. Like Ben, many sales people can be their own worst enemy. When their product expertise is the primary source of their value to a prospect, their strength becomes their weakness. At the first sign of a difficult consultative dialog, many reps will readily fall back to educating on product capabilities. Worse, when the prospect provides positive feedback for an deep dive on the product capabilities, the sales rep internalizes it as good behavior. Nothing could be further from the truth. Focusing on the product keeps access to other stakeholders to a low level, and hands over the only thing the prospect values too early in the process.
Now let’s go to the wolf in sheep’s clothing: the sales manager. Unfortunately, this person was usually given a battlefield promotion for selling more product than the next rep, but that doesn’t often translate to possessing consultative selling skills. They are often ill equipped to role model the expected behavior and are equally inclined to forego more extensive diagnostic dialogs under the pressure of a looming quarter end. Many are also not prepared or developed to coach effectively. They tend to fall back on “watch how I do it”, only to role model the best product centric habits. While it seems intuitive that the sales manager plays the most critical role in transforming a product centric seller to a consultative centric seller, they are a leading reason many sales reps’s fall back to previous behaviors.
Now the invisible enemy; consider the company that is expecting the seller to suddenly begin consultatively selling and reap the rewards of larger orders in shorter time periods with greater forecast accuracy. Unfortunately, their marketing messaging is still touting product capabilities, their recognition and reward systems still incentivizes old behaviors, their leadership hasn’t defined success in a very tangible way or probably didn’t attend the same training experience, and their solution training is still product centric. Imagine moving to a foreign country to learn a new language, but everyone speaks nothing but your primary language. You’re not likely to learn very much.
The transformation of a single sales person to sell consultatively includes many enemies, most of which are unconscious about undermining success. The transformation of an entire sales organization only magnifies the problem.
So how did Clint finally deliver on his promise? He had help. You may remember that his former partner helped him with information and coaching. For a sales team to succeed with this task, they need help as well. They need help from their manager, from their company, and from their customers. Further, each of these players needs help. The company needs to become aware of how their processes and ecosystem support old behaviors, not new ones. The manager needs to be developed to be a better coach and role model. And the customer needs to understand why engaging in a different dialog is in their best interest. Lastly, the rep needs to know about these traps in their quest so they can more effectively navigate the challenge.
Kevin Temple guides sales teams to be more agile and improve revenue outcomes. He can be contacted at email@example.com. The Enterprise Selling Group is a leader in delivering sales training, coaching and project oversight to improve the agility of sales teams around the world.