Are You A Pest, Peddler or Demand Creator
For the last 20+ years, I’ve spent my life working with businesses and salespeople. I’ve seen quite a bit change over that time – things that have both encouraged and discouraged me. On the encouraging front, I feel confident that today, the best, most capable and professional salespeople are there. Despite several calls for “The End of the Salesforce,” there are salespeople creating more economic value for both their employers and their buyers than ever before. Today, more than ever, the need for highly trained, capable salespeople is a must-have for businesses.
On the discouraging front, everyday, I see a majority of salespeople failing to create the very economic value that exist to create. While many salespeople have truly become professionals and executives, the overall “center of gravity,” if you will, of the sales profession has not moved markedly. This is damaging for two compelling reasons:
- First, in today’s ultra-competitive marketplace caused by the recent drought, salespeople cannot afford to be anything less than excellent to create economic value for the selling organization, and
- Second, the overall lack of professionalism and value creation on the part of sellers is causing an exponential increase in the number of buyers who actively finding ways to avoid dealing with salespeople altogether. They figure that since so many salespeople are commoditizing themselves, they might as well just treat them that way. This had led to the rapid increases in RFPs and the increase in power of procurement in buying processes.
Part of my company’s underlying mission is to end all of this bad selling and to support the understanding and growth of the strategic importance that sales and salespeople have. So, for the last 15 years, I’ve been keeping copious notes on the difference between bad salespeople, decent ones, good ones, and great ones. This has led to the creation of what I call The 5 Levels of Sales Excellence. Understanding these levels is important to ensuring that your sales efforts create value.
The 5 Levels of Sales Excellence
At the bottom are the pests. These are the salespeople who just go out and bother people. Their disciples of the “sales is purely a numbers game,” and gosh darn it if they don’t go out there pushing numbers. They’re the ones who show up at a networking event and greet all comers with the battle cry, “Nice to meet you, here’s my card.” They’re poor at asking questions, they don’t listen and they extract value from the process. The biggest problem they represent (even if you don’t have pests on your team) is that it is the profile of the pest that first comes to mind, and is most associated, with salespeople. When executives in your buyer’s organization here a salesperson from your company is coming, pest is the picture that comes to mind, even if they know that your salesperson isn’t one. So, you must always manage against this perception.
The peddler is focused on the “stuff they’re selling.” Often times, they’re great conversationalists (in that they can tell some terrific stories and have much charisma), and they play the part of resource, but you know you’re dealing with a peddler because they spend far more time talking than working to understand. Their “solution” is always the right one “if you’d just understand.” Peddlers don’t listen well, when they ask questions they’re not high value questions, and they don’t “go deep”. A peddler focuses on getting to the presentation/proposal/recommendation as quickly as possible and firmly believes that you have to ask someone to say “yes” five times to have a real chance at success. They thrive on objections, as they’re “buying signs.” Peddlers create little or no value in the sales process, and as a result they lengthen sales cycles and increase sales costs.
I used to call the commoditizer a “professional peddler.” The commoditizer is clearly focused on the solution. Typically, they have a significant level of expertise when it comes to the solution, and they believe firmly in it. Commoditizers ask a lot of questions (they’ve learned that’s important in selling), but the questions are very low value questions, and do not provoke and probe deeper issues. The problem the commoditzer has is that they are so clear about the solution that they suffer from the curse of knowledge. This means that to be fully understood and valued, the buyer must fully understand their problem (which they rarely do). Because they are so focused on the solution, buyer’s don’t view them as important until they have already decided that they need what the seller provides. At this point, decision criteria have been established and the buyer is typically in a shop mode, price becomes increasingly important in the selection process and differentiation is difficult (hence why we call this level the commoditizer). At this level, the sales person is doing an awful lot right, but because they are solutions focused they do not create value.
Important Point: This brings me to an important point. If the focus of your go-to-market efforts is on your solution and attempting to “explain why your solution is best” rather than on diagnosing you buyer’s issues, then you are peddling or commoditizing – at best!
The professional is focused on what the buyer needs. It is the professional that begins to earn a “seat at the table” and is viewed as an important player by the buyer. Buyers value professionals because they know that their best interests are being looked after. Professional’s ask high value questions, probe deeply and help to refine the decision criteria. Professionals create value in the sales process. Their primary drawback is that they limit their focus to the direct issues that their solution addresses and they rely heavily on “treating” the buyer’s awareness. While they do diagnose, they are not diagnosticians, so if the buyer is misunderstanding their problem or is merely aware of their symptoms, professionals will struggle in changing the perceived need, hence, they do not create demand.
Which brings me to the fifth, and highest, level of sales excellence: The Demand Creator. Demand Creators are superstars and when you think of them, you rarely think of them as “salespeople.” When Demand Creators sell (and believe me, they’re the most powerful sellers there are), it doesn’t feel like selling. Demand Creators are completely buyer focused, possess a tremendous degree of business acumen, and are viewed as critical resources by their buyers. Demand Creators have mastered results oriented conversations with buying organizations, have the ability to speak to a variety of levels of buyers and create value in everything they do. Demand Creators are tremendous advantages to their selling organizations, the selling organization doesn’t have to worry about “differentiating” because the Demand Creator is different. The Demand Creator is able to take the conversation with a buyer so deep that they eliminate competition. Demand Creators are comfortable that not everyone should buy from them, and that “now” may not be the best time to solve a problem. While Demand Creators work very hard, they make selling look and feel effortless. When you’re working with a Demand Creator, you know it.
So, where are you – and why? What stories can you share about salespeople you’ve encountered at each level?