Gary Rhoads, Co-Founder of Xvoyant.com, a SaaS-based software to support effective one-on-one sales management, believes that the current crisis could cause a permanent change in the way organizations engage their people and sell. He believes it is imperative for organizations to inspire their dispersed teams and other stakeholders with a clear culture and to shift from selling to educating and provides concrete recommendations.
“It takes something like this crisis to knock us on the head to let us know what’s most valuable,” says Gary Rhoads, who is also Emeritus Professor of Marketing/Entrepreneurship at Brigham Young University, and Academic Advisor to the Enterprise Engagement Alliance’s engagement curriculum and certification program. He says that anyone who believes business will return to the old normal will be disappointed. The crisis will require a new focus on culture and enterprise engagement to manage newly dispersed teams and demand an entirely new approach to selling that focuses on identifying needs and educating and informing customers, rather than traditional selling practices.
“On the surface, you would think that employee engagement is not an issue, because everyone who has a job right now is happy about that and has nowhere else to go. On the other hand, many executives and managers are wondering what their employees are doing because they are so accustomed to having the teams come regularly to the office, and they know that employees who feel mistreated will be the first to go when good times return. Zoom meetings rapidly show the shortcomings of leaders who really aren’t in charge.” Now is the time, he emphasizes, “for organizations to strengthen their cultures.’
Rhoads believes that work-from-home policies are here to stay in one form or another and that leadership will quickly realize the critical importance of culture. “At many companies, those who are left are their most essential people, so having them engaged and equipped in the organization’s culture, mission, and goals while operating remotely becomes more challenging than ever.” As a result, “the need for an enterprise approach to engagement to establish a clear culture is essential.”
New Sales Mechanics Required
The Covid-19 crisis, Rhoads says, will force sales organizations to change “the fundamental mechanics of their games. This can be an opportunity. The basketball player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar invented his skyhook shot after college basketball banned the dunk. Challenges create opportunities.” Successful firms will be the ones who are the first to adapt in this new ever-changing environment.
Rhoads believes the crisis has exposed the weaknesses of the current approach to sales. “In many organizations, sales leadership is flummoxed. The sales team is hesitant to make calls because they know that most customers and prospects don’t have budgets right now or might not even have their jobs. Some have sales managers pushing them to make calls knowing that that no one wants to hear a sales pitch right now.”
He adds, “We have been talking to sales organizations all around the world. They are all struggling. They are no longer face-to-face with their teams and don’t have a clear playbook. It’s a sales leadership crisis.”
The solution, Rhoads says, is to change the fundamental mechanics of sales, not just for the short-term but post-Covid as well. “We at Xvoyant are like many other companies: we were on a rapid growth path with many large opportunities ready to close, and suddenly almost everything is on hold. We decided to go into the help mode. Based on what we have learned from the data generated by our software sales training platform, we decided to go to our clients and offer a free customized training program for their management on concrete strategies they can employ at their organizations to improve sales effectiveness in this new era. There is no sales pitch involved, nor any charge. We believe this is a good time for sales organizations to develop their talent and do things like get their databases cleaned up but to also evaluate the best approach to sales going forward and prepare their team for the new normal.”
“Help, Not Sell” Is the New Mantra
He believes that the mantra of “help, not sell” is more relevant than ever but that only a small percentage of sales organizations understand what that really means. “We are not running these webinars with our customers to make a sale. We are doing them to help our clients. Sure, we hope the value of these programs will put us in a better light when budgets open again, but it can’t be about a quid pro quo. What is most important of all is authenticity.”
A large percentage of organizations, Rhoads suspects, are unprepared for the new normal. “Most sales and marketing organizations still focus on selling rather than helping and educating customers and prospects. Many marketing campaigns push out questionable claims, and most salespeople are incapable of educational selling. You must be able to ask customers open-ended questions to learn about the client’s business operations and then be able to tell customers something they don’t know about a potential solution. Businesspeople especially tend to buy from salespeople who can inform and help them by knowing more than they do.”
He says that at many organizations, “80% of sales come from 20% of salespeople, because it’s only the relatively few who are comfortable in an open-ended dialog with customers and who have the knowledge to inform instead of sell. Most salespeople are fearful of open-ended dialog because they don’t know what to do with the information customers might share. The top 20% know how to use this information to make recommendations the buyer hadn’t considered before.” Companies have kept the other 80% of salespeople around, he adds, hoping they’ll rise to the top. They may not have that luxury for a while.
Rhoads’ Recommendations for the Coming Culture and Sales Re-Set
Engage your organization in a clear culture. With so many people working more independently than ever, Rhoads says it is important to have a strategy and system to engage the entire enterprise around a clear culture, mission, and values, and to align and integrate coaching, learning, communications, rewards and recognition, etc. and metrics to support that culture. Now, more than ever, firms need to safeguard their culture through unique ways to collaborate and celebrate.
Put more focus on process, and less on outcomes. Rhoads says that that focusing on the best process is a better way to achieve goals than to focus only the outcome. “Too much emphasis on the result frequently leads to a lot of short-cuts and unintended consequences that can come back to haunt you.” Firms today need to reexamine their sales process to develop new mechanics to engage customers throughout the sales process.
Develop a strategy to help clients and prospects right now. There’s no set formula, he says: each company and industry is different—the goal is to find a way to be of value to customers and prospects when everyone is struggling. Take that approach into the post-Covid era and leave behind the old “selling” mentality.
Continue to communicate with your market. “I can’t believe how many companies have gone dead silent in their markets, probably because they don’t know what to communicate if they have to stop selling. Now is the time to communicate—not with sales pitches, but with useful information or some other benefits.” He points out that many that have continued to communicate haven’t stopped selling but have merely tried to put a Covid-19 spin on the same old message.
Develop your people. Now, he believes, is a good time to re-assess the mechanics of selling in your organization and prepare the sales team for the shift to educational selling. “This shift in some cases will require extra training because for educational selling to work, the salespeople have to know more than their clients. You cannot fake this. The biggest challenge for many organizations is that all this must be authentic, or it won’t work.”
Sales authenticity is easier said than done. Authenticity, Rhoads points out, is not an attribute usually associated with the field of sales. To gain trust in difficult times requires authentic empathy and competency. Empathy opens the door and competency keeps the door open.
For More Information
Gary Rhoads, CEO
Xvoyant.com provides technology and services to help sales leaders remove the guesswork and create predictable, sustainable revenue through targeted coaching execution.
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