“The reason it seems that price is all your customers care about is that you haven’t given them anything else to care about,” writes Seth Godin.
Godin’s words resonate with an approach that one of our clients, a global energy company, is working to implement for their salespeople that we think is worth sharing. The Lubricants Division of the company sells products to businesses across a variety of industries including Power Generation, Heavy Equipment, Rental Centers, Manufacturing and many others.
Truth be told, there isn’t a lot of difference between lubricants. It’s fair to say that this is a commodity market, so selling on price is a slippery slope likely to lead to low profitability and sliding sales. Rather, this company understands that the way to improve sales and margins is for salespeople to focus on the business of the buyer - the company wants its sales team to get under the hood of the customer’s business and recommend the best product in the context of their needs.
The company’s unique sales approach for achieving a positive buying experience
The company’s lubrication sales team needs to distinguish themselves not by price or quality but by understanding their customers’ business. In this way, their sales people can present solutions that deliver the greatest value. This is a cornerstone of The Challenger methodology, an approach to selling that tailors the sales process by assessing or even anticipating the needs of customers.
If the Challenger sales approach sounds as though it may only be suited for a particular personality or require a specialized skill set, the methodology argues otherwise. The Challenger model contends that anyone can become a ‘challenger’ if they build the right combination of skills. Enter: the two-pronged lubricant sales training approach this organization is implementing. Research has shown the Challenger methods have been evidenced most in high performing business-to-business sales, with 39% of high performers described as ‘Challengers.’
Enabling the Challenger method
The company sought to enable the Challenger philosophy for salespeople selling to different verticals and used two key strategies. The first was about preparation. An important part of the Challenger method occurs before salespeople go out on a sales call. They need to understand the client’s business - the KPIs (key performance indicators), processes and equipment in use. If salespeople needed to understand the theory behind lubricants, the information should be easily accessible. If they needed to sharpen their knowledge on the KPIs of a nuclear power plant, the information should be made available to them. This knowledge empowers the salesperson to match their customer with the right products and services in order to have the greatest impact on their business.
Here are two strategies for doing more than just making the material available. By embedding the training right into the SalesForce CRM, content can be launched for the salesperson at the point of need. By using a personalization tool, we can make certain the salesperson gets the most appropriate content based on their experience and the client attributes.
The second part of the training program is to apply a kind of scaffolding to actual sales opportunities. For two opportunities a year, the company adds a coaching and review cycle to the preparation steps of the Challenger Method. The salespeople are asked to prepare and share their preparation for the opportunity with a coach. Building opportunities into the program is important for trainees to learn by doing. According to research by McKinsey, this kind of experiential learning lends to capability building, which is one of the highest priorities for executives around the world. The client has already seen improved close rates on opportunities that include coaching.
If this embedded sales and training program piqued your interest, learn more about adding value to your courses with content curation by listening to our recording, Learning to scale: designing a learning platform that adapts to evolving needs.