Today’s Sales Leaders face a daunting two-part challenge…

  1. The era of the product-focused lone-wolf rep is over! With competitive parity becoming the new normal across many sectors, companies must differentiate themselves by adding more value for customers through the sales organization…or else be fed into the procurement margin grinder.
  2. It is painful and risky to reinvent the sales force for value selling! Because leaders are responsible for short-term results, and see the very real gaps preventing change, they often tend to avoid pushing potentially disruptive change…even when they know it is crucial. The result is often death by comfort zone.

Bottom Line: Those not creating their rep of the future today by reinventing around higher-value selling are essentially harvesting their previous momentum…and risking significant share and margin decline over the next 2-4 years. However, getting the change management wrong can set up reps for failure and create significant relationship and revenue disruption.

As part of its best practice research, The Alexander Group’s (AGI) Sales Transformation Practice ran six Executive Roundtables in late 2012 and early 2013 on the topic of Creating The Rep Of The Future…Now! The 95 Participants included VPs of Sales, Sales Strategy, HR and Sales Ops from Fortune 2k companies.

In these spirited discussions, the leaders noted that to sustain growth their reps need to act more like “trusted advisors,” who because they really understand customer issues, can successfully…

– Enable customers to improve quality and efficiency, while elevating their brand
– Use business acumen to deliver value propositions that enhance customer financials
– Sell confidently across the company’s evolving portfolio
– Embrace solution innovation to drive sales growth
– Collaborate synergistically with Specialists, KAMs, Overlays and Sales Support
– Leverage Marketing insight to target the right accounts effectively

Unfortunately, the Roundtable Executives also noted that many of their sales organizations are still stuck in legacy features/benefits mode, in which reps act almost like franchise owners. Specifically, the reps make their own sales strategy decisions, set their own focus across products and customer types, and as a result, often stay solidly in their traditional comfort zone. This too often becomes a recipe for harvesting and winding down the company’s market positioning, instead of investing in enhancing it.

These executives outlined the ways in which their front line sales roles need to shift to move towards value selling. See how this vision of change maps against the three dimensions that define a sales role in AGI’s Job Definition Triangle below:Moving Reps Toward Creating Growth Through Value SellingIn practical terms, AGI’s Sales Transformation research consistently found that getting there is more than half the battle. And this was validated by the Roundtable participants as the second half of the sales leader’s challenge. Specifically, after shaping the right vision for their Rep of The Future, they have to drive that change systematically, forcefully, but also non-disruptively. The research shows some specific best practices in navigating this difficult balance:

– Arming reps with a segmentation that aligns the selling approach with customer needs
– Reinforcing collaboration across roles to create value and reduce the “lone wolf” mentality
– Developing rep judgment in applying the right level of investment for each account
– Helping reps act like high-value Orchestrators not low-value Project Managers or CSRs
– Using “shift and lift” reallocation of activities to free up more rep time for value selling
– Creating a bench of new talent, prepared to jump in as territory openings occur
– Creating a “tough-love” coaching culture, where executing the new model is not considered “optional” (even for stars)

Another key finding from the AGI research is that there are clear detours on the road to growth through value selling. Specifically, as the chart below shows, even when a sales leader works hard to drive growth through value selling, they sometimes end up with either:

slow-growth farmers who are overly focused on fixing every downstream customer problem
– or the opposite, overly-transactional hunters who burn the list

In both cases, reps have mis-interpreted the goal of growth through value selling….in the former, seeing their “value creation” role as acting like a CSR, and in the latter, seeking growth without investing in a planned out value provision process.Avoiding Detours On The Road To Value SellingFinally, the AGI research and the Roundtable executives pointed to some key lessons in avoiding these momentum-killing detours on the road to Value Selling…

– Carefully craft your hiring/selection profile to favor strategic sellers vs lone wolves
– Manage early sales cycle execution rigorously because late cycle losses are expensive
– Don’t  let an overly-rigid short-term “results” focus derail a disciplined value selling process
– Develop the management ability to pull the plug on long cycles that have not produced
– Develop and nurture a culture of openness and trust…so reps are willing to take on new risks
– Coach managers consistently to teach the “how” not just the “what”
– Ensure leaders are adept at change management and able to lead despite ambiguity

Read more about best practices in sales transformation.
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Insight type: Article

Industry: Cross-Industry

Role: C-Suite, Sales and Marketing Leadership

Topic: Sales Transformation

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