What is a sales ‘thought leader’?
Someone called recently to ask if I were a ‘sales thought leader’. I laughed. “It’s a trick question,” I replied.
The term ‘sales thought leader’ is an oxymoron. As the person who developed a sales-related model to facilitate the behind-the-scenes aspects of the buyer’s decision path that can’t be addressed by the sales model (Buying Facilitation®), I’ve sought partners to think outside the box with me. Before he died, David Sandler called to buy me out, saying he thought he’d gone outside the box but hadn’t realized how far ‘outside the box’ was until he read my then-latest book.
So, in my map of the world, there has been nothing new in the field of sales since the Serpent convinced Eve to eat the apple.
WHAT HAS CHANGED?
The internet has made it easier to find prospects. But the field continues to push solutions at the wrong time and ignores the real influencing capability that’s possible far earlier in the buying path. The same-old same-old focus prevails, even in the face of decades, if not centuries, of inadequate results, rendering the term ‘sales thought leader’ moot:
Appointments: Most sales initiatives prospect by attempting to get an appointment, thereby eliminating a huge percentage of real prospects (appx 90% decline, many of whom could be buyers). Thought leaders would define prospects as those who WILL buy rather than who SHOULD, and begin conversations by immediately helping prospects navigate their decision/change journey and enlist the entire Buying Decision Team. The appointment will be requested by the Buying Decision Team and then they are ready to buy!
Solution placement focus: Throughout history, the sales model has assumed that where there is a ‘need’ there’s a buyer – obviously a faulty assumption: The sales model closes approximately 7% of B2B sales regardless of the industry, or size/type of the solution or price. Can you think of any other profession that accedes to that level of failure? Doctors? Airplane safety? Imagine American Airlines advertizing that they have safe flights 8% of the time! Even a baseball player needs at least a 30% success rate! Entering with a solution placement focus – the end before the beginning! – ignores the idiosyncratic buying decision path that starts with an idea and demands appropriate buy in. A thought leader would start with a change management focus.
Disregard of systems: Buyers live in systems of rules, people, history, and a status quo that overrides – and must be included in – change. And a buying decision is a change management problem. When sellers attempt to ‘understand need’ and find those who should buy, they are pushing change into a closed system and get the resistance (homeostasis) that all systems revert to when threatened. And don’t kid yourself: buyers don’t ‘need’ you or they would have bought your solution already: they already have some sort of work-around that’s ‘good enough.’ A thought leader would enter immediately as a part of the system, facilitate buy-in and the change management process, and discuss solutions only when everything was aligned, thereby avoiding resistance.
Incentives, compensation packages: By compensating for closed sales regardless of the number of good prospects lost, the inordinate amount of time to close, or the number of good clients lost that must be replaced, we perpetuate the numbers game. My clients, using Buying Facilitation®, close in 1/2 the time. A thought leader would know how to close more sales in less time and make more money.
BUY-IN FIRST, SOLUTION LAST
Until buyers manage the behind-the-scenes change issues and get buy-in from everyone who touches the final solution, they cannot buy. Yet we continue to seek appointments merely to explain how great we are (and ‘understand need’…so we can explain how great we are), and disregard their start-to-finish decision path, merely perpetuating failure. And wasting valuable seller’s time.
Sales thought leaders would have a different set of beliefs, skills, and outcomes:
1. focus on discovering and creating prospects who WILL buy, overlook those who can’t ever buy, and know the difference – on the first call;
2. on the first call, create and enter onto the Buying Decision Team and facilitate buy in issues (with the tech team, user groups, HR, or whomever touches the solution);
3. discuss needs and solutions only when the Buying Decision Team buys in to change (and are made ready in ½ the time by the seller);
4. marketing automation and lead gen would lead buyers from an idea to solution choice.
Currently sellers wait, and hope, for a sale to close, following prospects around for months and years without knowing which ones will close and going through hoops and time wastage to ‘close the sale’. Why? Because they sales doesn’t facilitate the private non-solution-related private decision issues along the decision path. So the only prospects who buy are those who show up having already achieved necessary buy in. And, unfortunately, the time it takes them to accomplish this is the length of the sales cycle.
But we can change this. A sales thought leader would have two sets of skills: one to manage change, and one to sell a solution. They would enter the conversation with: “How would you and your buying decision team know when it was time to add new banking services to the ones you’re using for those times your current bank couldn’t support you?” for example. And when the change management/buy in process is completed, their solution would fit in immediately (with no proposals or competition or objections) or not.
So I guess I’m a sales thought leader. But I sure wish there were others in the field to play with. Fighting the status quo has been a dark and lonely job for 25 years. Anyone want to join the leadership team with me?