Selling Experts: Sales People are Saying the Wrong Things

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DSG Consulting ( marks its twentieth year of serving Fortune 500 and other top companies by sharing advice to professional sales people and teams nationwide: changes in conversations can lead to more trust and better opportunities. Experts with DSG offer details.

They jump into the weeds of detail, too quickly and for the wrong reasons.

For all of their talking, sales people often say the wrong things. According to a consultancy which specializes in sales effectiveness, the problem is costing sales professionals and their employers dearly.

This month DSG Consulting is marking the end of its second decade of work with client companies in North America, Europe and Asia. Among its recent milestones: DSG recorded work for its tenth Fortune 500 client this year. Along the way, DSG's leaders have developed several insights about the keys to effective selling.

“A sales person cannot build trust, or results, without the right conversational skills,” said Matt McClendon, president of DSG Consulting. “We’ve seen hundreds of clients’ win/loss analyses, in which the team reviews why a pitch was or was not successful. The recurring theme that most determines success has been trust – the buyer’s belief that a salesperson’s solution is ultimately going to pay off for them.”

Professional sales teams often have a hard time delivering on trustworthiness. According to McClendon, even veteran members of the sales force can lack the skills, tools and confidence they need to be viewed as a problem-solver. The unfortunate results include an inability to secure meetings with decision-makers, longer-than-necessary sales cycles, low win rates and even lower margins.

The extent of the problem is keeping firms such as DSG growing; they occupy a niche between large strategy-consulting firms and traditional marketing or advertising agencies. DSG's practice in what it calls “sales messaging” (establishing and leading sales conversations) began about 12 years ago. Sales messaging now accounts for nearly half of DSG’s revenue stream.

Why messaging has become more important

During the Great Recession, companies focused on cost control. This often included cuts to headcount, salaries and support within their professional sales teams. As cost-cutting opportunities have been exhausted and companies still need to grow, they are seeking efficient ways to get the most out of their people and existing go-to-market strategies. According to surveys, sales managers typically spend more time trying to build volume than on profitability. They also admit to having little time or expertise for building the conversational skills of their team members.

“Messaging improvements represent a way to generate short-term results from the assets companies already have in place,” said Tanner Mezel, a DSG principal who heads the firm’s business-development efforts. “It is the low-hanging fruit that companies often use to get started, as they begin to make more fundamental changes in their selling efforts.”

‘They jump into the weeds’

So where do sales people tend to get messaging wrong? “They jump into the weeds of detail, too quickly and for the wrong reasons,” said Jim Karrh, Ph.D., one of DSG’s consulting principals and a former corporate chief marketing officer. “Many sales people feel compelled to tell a prospect about their product, and give a demonstration, without fully understanding why a customer might need something different in the first place.”

That is a natural inclination, according to Karrh, because sales people focus on their products as well as the personal pressure to meet near-term quotas and budgets. “But this is a self-defeating cycle. The sales person typically ends up with a lot of calling activity but little in the way of profitable results. The way to break the cycle is to become skilled at leading the customer’s buying process.” That means understanding the prospect’s business pressures and goals, knowing how to create an environment for changing their status quo, keeping a sense of urgency and creating true differentiation in the prospect’s mind.

“Our job with messaging clients is to build those individual skills within the sales force, and to also make sure that product and marketing teams are on board. Everyone needs to be saying and reinforcing the same things,” said Karrh.

Correcting the problem

According to DSG, there are a few vital elements involved in any sales transformation process. When it comes to messaging, one key to success stands out: the sales people must believe in it themselves. “Sales professionals are a tough audience,” said McClendon. “They need to believe any new approach is customized for the realities of their selling environments, and that ultimately the tools created in the process are ones they can personally use with success.”

So how does a marketing and sales leader get past the team’s natural reluctance to change? DSG works directly with sales teams as well as the product managers, subject-matter experts and marketing managers who contribute to the sales process. According to McClendon, “Our clients’ sales teams tend to adopt new approaches and tools faster than most because they have played a role in creating them.”

Mezel, who spends his days in conversations pitching DSG’s prospective clients, said “It becomes an easy case to make once executives consider the thousands of conversations and opportunities that a typical sales or marketing team has every week. They understand that their companies can’t afford to let those opportunities slip away anymore.”


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Jim Karrh
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