A WORD FROM DUANE SPARKS
Dear Sales Executive:
Why do so many sales reps perform below quota? Plenty of data exists around this issue. The most reliable estimates suggest that about 50 percent of all salespeople fail to hit their goals. So, how come?
The most common answer I hear from executives whose companies are suffering from a sales slump is that selling is harder today because “it’s more difficult to differentiate our products and services from the competition.” Usually they blame this on the internet, which gives customers access to more information about competitive offerings.
Well, differentiation is the answer, all right. But I’m convinced these executives are barking up the wrong tree. Let me tell you why.
If you have a question about how to supercharge your sales force, click on “Ask The eCoach“.
We are committed to your professional success.
Author of Action Selling
It’s Not What You Sell, It’s How You Sell
I keep hearing that making sales today is more difficult than in the past. The trouble is, I’ve heard the same thing for 30 years. One of the first questions I ask salespeople at the beginning of any training session is: “Would you say that selling is more challenging now than in the past?” I asked the same question in 1990, and I got the same unanimous response I get today. In every case, 100% of salespeople agree that selling is now more challenging.
And why is that, I ask? The No. 1 answer used to be: “It’s harder to differentiate our product from the competition.” Today I’m more likely to hear: “The internet creates more-educated buyers. When we first meet them, they are further along in their decision cycle than ever before.”
But, you know what? The concern about the internet actually just translates to the same issue as in the past: The customer knows more about the competition’s products and services, which are a whole lot like ours. Therefore, it’s harder to differentiate our products and services.
If you want to be a value leader, not a bargain-basement price leader, you need to create a sustainable differentiator. The question is, how?
You need to create a sustainable differentiator. The question is, how?
In a previous life, I sold personal computers manufactured by all of the popular makers. On the surface, the only difference between my products and those of 40 competitors I had in my region was the serial numbers on the back of the machines. I attempted to combine services with our computers (training, installation, preventive maintenance, etc.) but the competition quickly copied all of our best ideas. The result: No discernable difference in our products or services.
In my current life, I now advise people who sell commodities so basic that they make my former problems with personal computers seem laughable. Try differentiating salt. Or potting soil, which is literally dirt in a bag.
That’s why I say that if you’re trying to differentiate yourself based on product features, you’re barking up the wrong tree. Differentiation comes down to proving you are the very best at something. What I pass on to my clients today is the hard-won lesson that finally made me extremely successful in the computer business: Stop trying to differentiate using product or service features. Instead of differentiating what you sell, differentiate how you sell.
To accomplish this, you need high-quality and continuous training. Focus your company’s energy and resources on becoming the best-trained sales force in your Industry. Set that as a goal. Once you have the best-trained sales reps, keep on training. It’s the only sustainable way to truly differentiate yourself and to stay ahead of the competition.
Distinguish yourself based on how you sell, and you’ll break out of any sales slump. Train continuously, and you’ll stay out of it forever.
For a full, detailed explanation of how to train your way out of a sales slump—and stay out of the doldrums for good—see our new White Paper, How to Break Out of a Sales Slump and Get Back on Top.
Action Selling in Action
Tyler Benson is the sales training manager for CHS Inc., a Minnesota-based Fortune 100 company owned by stockholders including agricultural cooperatives, farmers, ranchers, and others. CHS sells many products that are extremely hard to differentiate. One example is propane.
“Everything is commoditized today,” Benson says. “But, when we trained reps on how to differentiate themselves, rather than the product, they increased sales of propane 102% more than reps who hadn’t been trained with Action Selling.”
As a result, CHS’s energy division has remained a steady performer through recent fluctuations in the broader business and in the oil industry as a whole, Benson says. “Now we strive to be the best-trained sales force in our industry.”
For information about how to make sales training pay huge dividends, contact Action Selling at (800) 232-3485.
How, exactly, can you train your way to sales success? Download our new White Paper, How to Break Out of a Sales Slump and Get Back on Top.