Transforming Salespeople to Thought leaders
10 Tips to Turn Your Sales People into Thought Leaders to Drive Market Growth
If you are asking WHY a salesperson should become a thought leader then this paper may not be for you. If you agree then you are keenly aware of how the sales process actually works in today’s business environment. Calling people on the phone doesn’t work, that is unless you want to call 30 to 40 times before just getting a live person on the phone. Sending brochures and collateral doesn’t really work anymore either. Bombarding helpless recipients of spam might put the probabilities on your side but you run the risk of doing more damage than good. Standing in a booth grabbing people at random and giving them your “pitch” has limited effectiveness also. The only way to sell these days is to be of significant value as an information resource to your prospects. That means every salesperson must become develop a unique knowledge base or market perspective to offer prospects a consultative sale or insight into their needs not realized previously. The challenge is evolving salespeople to be thought leaders and to make them offer something more than straightforward product information. In many ways, the development of thought leadership capability is as critical in the portfolio of salesperson skills as the art of closing a deal.
The following are some specific recommendations that can help guide CEOs in how to transform their salespeople into more effective revenue generators; that being experts in providing value and insight for their prospects.
- Recommit to competitive knowledge and analysis. If your sales people can save the prospect time and energy objectively accumulating competitive information then the prospect will rely on your people. Knowing the features and specs of your competition and providing prospects with this information allows them to report accurately to internal audiences (i.e., senior management). This speeds up the sales cycle on your terms and makes your people more valuable to the process. It also generates even more opportunities to be in the face of the prospect. More face time = better chance at winning the deal.
- Study the economics of your market. Growth, stable, laggard. Know how to address the issues with the right focus. Developing a sense of urgency can be done by providing compelling economic and market trends that point to convergence of opportunity. Elevating the discussion with your prospects beyond simple product feeds and speeds turns the conversation into a business strategy discussion. There is plenty of time for speeds and feeds after establishing credibility in your prospects mind.
- Raid the academic literature on core technology surrounding your market. Swim upstream! Go to what technologies are in the labs and in the beta stages of development. Your people will seem more knowledgeable and can simultaneously meter the interests of your market. Fair warning though: little actually hits the market. But knowing what the brightest minds in the country are trying to accomplish is a great way to begin developing knowledge that others may not have the wherewithal to seek out.
- Become friends with your R&D department. Having sales people in the R&D lab is very dangerous to current revenue of course. But having them interact about issues and new challenges provides a greater foundation for developing insight for prospects. Talk about products under development at your peril however.
- Gather and share unique case study applications of your product. Case studies are the unsung heroes of sales. Having a healthy cross pollination of case studies and applied examples of your product allow your sales people to project experience. Prospects are looking for the exact same thing your sales people are: concrete examples of solutions that yield results from similar circumstances. Triple your case study write-ups and your sales people will love you.
Force yourself to go one level deeper on the science and technology that make up your product. The science behind your product is not necessarily something that should be ignored. The old saying of “what does it matter what is inside the product if it solves the problem” is not enough anymore. Prospects are smarter and more educated. They have the internet to be an instant scientist and be dangerous with their knowledge. Your sales people need to not only understand your product but the underlying physics/electronics/chemistry. It is no secret that engineers are increasingly playing the role of salesperson.
- Build a personal thought leadership presentation. Even if you don’t ever deliver it as a presentation; this is equivalent to a dissertation. Every sales person should deliver a well-organized “futures” presentation. The domain of Corporate Strategy should be disseminated to salespeople. The salesperson that can deliver a market strategy presentation will be in a better position in front of a customer. He/She will talk the talk of decision makers.
- Think in Blog Posts. Learn the art of “Top Ten”, “Key Ideas”, “Next Things” thinking to enhance your unique perspective. Being able to rattle of a list of creative perspectives around a prospects needs and interests is the equivalent to the Rule of 3 in Toastmasters. Don’t know what Toastmasters is? O.K. forget this paper and start there.
- Make your connection to your product personal. Everyone can learn from other’s perspective. Even big ticket items can benefit from the craftsmanship of talking about products as if you personally own them. If you can’t physically use the locomotive you sell you can talk about it as if you were the engineer. People like to listen and learn from others that have actually used a product; other customers or your salespeople. This personal experience will yield valuable insights that add to thought leadership.
- Subscribe to content services surrounding your market and your core technologies. Your prospects are subscribing to content services and joining Linked In groups that pertain to them. Your salespeople must do the same thing. Joining Linked In groups about sales skill development is not the right idea if you want to understand your prospect better.