By Carolyn Landesman
You would think selling is selling. But not all salespeople have the same level of skills. You hire or train salespeople with a specific purpose and role in mind.
The bigger the business, the more complex the sale. The more complex the sale, the more important it is to take a strategic approach to selling and ensure you have the right salesperson for the job.
If you don’t hire the right sales person, you won’t get the results you want.
Not all sales people are equal.
An order taker is a sales person, or a person in customer service role who has some product knowledge and either waits for the customer to come to them (as in a retail sales environment) or takes an order over the phone or via the internet. All they do is fulfill the order as per the customer’s request. Online stores operate in this fashion. Take the order and process it.
Many businesses, both large and small are set up this way and training is more focused on customer service, processing of orders and product knowledge.
Developing new business is usually limited to promotional and marketing activities. Sales people are not trained, nor expected to, go out and seek new business. Nor are order takers required to be strategic in their approach to sales.
Inbound sales representatives
Next in line is a sales representative. Sales representatives deal with slightly more complex sales and can operate both inbound or outbound. For example, going to a mobile phone retailer either online or in-store, the sales representative needs to have a few more skills. They need both questioning and listening skills because of the complexities around the sale. Which phone, how much data, talk and text time will the customer need? Is the phone for personal use or business? What kind of plan is needed? You get the picture.
The reason the sales rep needs more training is, there are so many variables in this environment and it’s a question of which product or service meets the needs of the customer the best. The sales person needs an understanding of the sales process and how customers make buying decisions. They also need superior product knowledge along with advanced questioning skills to identify customer needs and match products and services to those needs.
Often inbound sales representatives need the skills to close a sale because once the customer walks out the door, there is a chance they won’t come back.
Outbound sales representatives
Outbound sales representatives often on the road traveling in some capacity. Unlike the inbound sales rep, they are required to call on customers located in a geographical area. Frequently they carry samples or catalogs with them to introduce existing customers to new product lines. Outbound sales reps require a few more skills depending on the relationship they have with the customer.
Outbound sales reps can also develop new business through telemarketing activities. Outbound meaning, reaching out to the customer as opposed to waiting for orders to come in.
Sometimes outbound sales reps are also order takers. They keep a customer’s inventory topped up and don’t have to develop new business. Their success however, does depend on maintaining a good relationship with their customers.
A good sales representative will have a greater understanding of the sales process and knows how to build and maintain rapport – especially if they are dealing with a new customer. They also have in-depth knowledge of products and know how to move a customer through the buying and selling process.
Generally speaking, sales reps on the road don’t do a lot of new business development and rely on their head office to attract and acquire new business either through outbound sales calls or advertising and promotional activities. They may call on a new customer in their territory with the view of landing a new account in which case they need rapport building skills to get them in the door then guide the new customer through the sales process.
Key account managers
In a sales environment where an organization has multiple branches, it can become very cumbersome if a customer has to deal with multiple sales people. This is not only complex, it’s frustrating for the customer having to repeat themselves and deal with different sales people all the time. It’s much easier if they only have to deal with one person.
In this scenario, sellers appoint a key account manager to manage larger business accounts at a more strategic level. This is often the case with banks and financial institutions where one person is assigned to coordinate the buying and selling process so customers deal with one key account manager instead of multiple sales people.
Key account managers usually have a very good understanding of the buying and selling process, have well developed people skills and have excellent product knowledge. It’s generally not a role a person new to sales would take on, it’s a role given to a person who has been in the sales arena for some time or a person who has experience in customer service and has extensive product knowledge.
Their role is not focused on developing new business, it’s focused on maintaining business relationships and serving the customer to retain their business.
Business development specialist
A business development specialist is a sales person who looks to develop new business. You could call them a sales hunter and requires a completely different set of skills from an order taker, sales rep or key account manager. Their focus is on outbound selling which may require cold calling, making outbound sales calls, sending cold emails, attending networking events and a multitude of other business development techniques. Essentially, their focus is keeping the top of the sales funnel full with new leads.
Business development specialists must be self-motivated. Primarily they take a lot of rejection because of the nature of developing new business. They must have the ability to pick themselves up again after receiving no after-no after-no! They virtually ride a sales roller coaster with extreme high and lows daily, weekly and monthly. Sales managers need to take a different approach managing business development specialists to ensure they meet their targets or quotas and to keep them inspired and on track.
A business development specialist doesn’t necessarily manage an account once they have brought he business in. It depends on their role description and if there are enough employees in other roles to support them after the sale is made.
Selling into large organizations
Unlike a small business, where the decision making process is relatively straight forward, selling into larger organizations takes time and more skill. Sometimes the sales cycle can take up to a year or more depending on the product or service offering. To ensure you are spending your efforts wisely, you must plan your sales strategy and execute your sales tactics in a timely manner.
Strategic selling requires a completely different approach because if you spend time and effort in the wrong place, or hire the wrong type of sales person, you could be wasting your time and valuable resources. Before tackling large accounts, it’s important to analyze if their business is right for you, is it right for them and is it right for the market?
The terms tactic and strategy are often confused in the sales arena: tactics are the actual means used to gain an objective, while strategy is the overall campaign plan, which may involve complex operational patterns, activity, and decision-making that lead to tactical execution.
Every tactic must suit your overarching sales strategy and contribute toward achieving your strategic outcomes.
Tactics are the actions that lead to the execution of the sales strategy and consist of:
- An action
- A purpose
- A schedule
- A measurable result
A strategic approach to selling is the planning and controlling of the sales effort across an extended period whereas tactics are how you execute the sales strategy itself.
To successfully operate in a strategic sales environment, you need highly skilled sales people.
Complex sales environments
It’s more straight forward selling to an individual owner operator of a small business than selling into a large organization. This is because it’s easier to identify the decision maker. With smaller businesses you can get instant decisions or decisions within a relatively short period of time. Conversely, selling into large organizations or the public sector can be extremely complex and requires a strategic approach to selling along with highly trained and skilled salespeople.
Selling into large accounts takes selling to a whole new level and often involves complex business to business sales. The reason it’s more complex is, larger corporations usually have stringent purchasing requirements. There may be limits as to how much an individual employee or business function can spend depending on their departmental budgets. They may require prior approval to release funds over a certain amount or there may be an internal purchasing requirement which could involve soliciting multiple quotes or running a tender process. This is true of the public sector where transparency of the purchasing process is vital.
Sales people who operate in a strategic sales environment need a completely different set of skills again. They must understand the internal workings of the organization they are looking to sell in to. This means doing their research and identifying the following about their potential target customer:
- What is their purchasing process?
- What is their purchasing timeline?
- Who are the key decision makers?
- Who is on the decision-making team?
- Who are the technical or expert influencers?
- Who are the actual users of the product or service?
- Who holds the purse strings?
- Who has the final say?
These are just some of the critical questions a sales person must research before attacking the complex sale. The reason these questions are important in complex sales, you may be dealing with multiple people each of whom has a different agenda.
For instance a finance person will most likely be interested in the cheapest price. The actual user of the product will most likely be interested in how the product will work for them. They will want to know if the products suit their needs and cares less about the price and more about functionality. The technical person may be the one to define the specifications based on information given and if in a tender process, be part of the decision making team. A CEO might not do the research, or be the actual user, but has the final say based on the information given to them by the decision making team.
The decision making process
The most important question you need to know if selling in a complex environment is the answer to; “What is their decision making process?”
Who, how and when are decisions made? This gives you an understanding of the lead time it will take for the organization to make a decision. It can take up to 18 months to sell into a large account depending on timing, financial year, budgets, and decision making processes. For instance, if the board are involved in the process and they only meet every two months – you know you can’t expect to deliver your products and services immediately.
Other critical questions to find out the answers to when selling into larger organizations are:
- Who has influence over the decision-makers?
- What drives the decision-makers/influences? (tension, bias, personality)
- How much do they want to act or change? (problem or opportunity)
- Among these influences, who has the real power?
- If they were to do business with you – how do they feel about you, your products or services and your organization? (perception)
Hiring the right sales person
As with any hiring decision, it’s essential to hire the right sales person for the role. Each type of sales person as described above needs to have a different set of skills. For instance, you would not turn a customer service person or order taker into a business development specialist overnight. It takes time, patience and training.
Personality also comes into it. A person who is laid back and good with people may not be the best at developing new business yet they may be fantastic order takers or sales representatives. A business development specialist must have more drive and independence. They must also be more resilient to knock-backs and rejection without losing their motivation and move onto the next prospect.
Regardless of what type of sales person you require for your business, training and ongoing personal development is critical to success.
On a final note
Approach sales with the right strategy and right sales people and you will grow your business accordingly
In a nutshell
- Order takers need very basic customer service training.
- Inbound sales representatives can be like order takers but need a little more product knoweldge and have reasonable questioning and listening skills to identify customer needs.
- Outbound sales representatives need some business development skills along with exceptional relationship building skills.
- Key Account managers are appointed for their ability to look after major customers and have well-developed people skills along with excellent product knowledge.
- Business development specialists are good at prospecting and cold calling and know how to close a sale.
- Strategic selling requires a different set of skills which is a combination of the above.
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