Gary Hamel, noted business consultant and author, lists innovation as one of the keys to organizations thriving in the years ahead.
I agree. And one of the most important, if least noticed, places for innovation is with your sales force. Do you have a sales process? Do you have a selling culture? Or are you relying on the way you’ve always done it in a world that is changing at light speed. What got you here is not enough to keep your business thriving now and into the future.
Selling is the foundation of any successful business. No matter how great your product or service, no one benefits from it until something is sold. I teach salespeople a proven and powerful sales process based on understanding your customer and aligning around their goal or issue. I hear from the sales managers who contract with me that many of their sales people are “set in their ways” and not open to learning. Some have “retired in place” and others take the approach that they have been selling for thirty years and making a good living so they don’t want to fix what’s not broken. I am always tempted to tell these sellers that their horse and buggy is waiting at the door for them to make their rounds.
Everything we do and how we do it are changing all the time. Just think about the effect the internet has had on buyer behavior and what we expect from sales people. Most of us research possible approaches to our problems or goals on line before ever talking with a seller. Pricing is posted for all to see, along with technical specifications and full descriptions of our products and services.
Our customer’s lives have changed. Many have been down-sized or are performing two jobs because of lay-offs. They are too busy to spend time with their friends, let alone their “sales buddy,” making relationship-selling obsolete. They have invested in sophisticated purchasing systems and other technology to reduce overhead and duplication of effort. They are smarter than they were ten years ago. Are you?
Innovation must be embraced at every level of the organization to achieve a sustainable competitive advantage and long-term success.
E-Business has changed how we interact with customers by providing custom part numbers or catalogues or providing online order history. The personal contact hasn’t gone away, but customers now have one more avenue to get what they need.
Another innovation is investing in customer relationship management software to see where there may be gaps in how you are servicing your clients, and to provide your sales people with a tool for assessing where they really are in a long selling cycle. The best companies are not afraid to innovate.
They don’t fall back on tired excuses like “we tried that once” or “that’s not how we do things.” They encourage brainstorming. They foster a climate of continuous learning. They help their people embrace change. They are open to new ideas and encourage their sales people to learn more about their customers’ business, the changes in their market, and how what they offer can be actually used to achieve a customer goal. They recognize that nothing in nature stands still.
We are either growing and challenging ourselves to get better or we are facing decline, whether or not we admit it to ourselves. Being open to new ideas and to trying new approaches in business as in life is the key to remaining fresh and alive and thriving in a world of constant change.
Editor: Kate Bartolotta