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When salespeople believe that closing is their top priority — no matter how they get there — they earn your brand labels like “obnoxious” and “rude.” The days of “Glengarry Glen Ross” are over. Consumers today are too wary of being manipulated to be won over by pushy tactics.
But people appreciate finding solutions to their problems. Consumers may not always be able to pinpoint their own stress points, but they love a company that makes their lives easier or more exciting.
Traditional sales tactics focus solely on the product, but a better strategy is to understand consumers’ problems first and then provide solutions through the company’s offerings. This is a relational and empathetic approach. Rather than turn people off, you build trust. This is especially true when selling solutions extends beyond closing deals and into managing problems customers encounter after they’ve made a purchase with your company.
Forming your business around helping consumers disrupts industries and earns customer loyalty, which means more reliable and consistent revenue streams. In “Reorganize for Resilience,” Ranjay Gulati explains that the customer-centric companies he tracked delivered shareholder returns of 150 percent over six years. This is in stark contrast to the S&P 500’s 14 percent.
Small interventions — applied at the right time and to the right issues — can improve customer experiences disproportionately. But turning complaints into happy customers requires appropriate resources and strategies. Here are four ways to turn your sales team members into problem solvers:
1. Open doors across silos.
Perhaps the biggest obstacles sales teams face are their own companies. Suffocating parameters, outdated compensation systems, and tension between departments all hold salespeople back.
Everyone has to rise above internal politics or arguments over resources and recognize that each department plays an important role in the customer experience. Your salespeople need insights from marketing and R&D, among others, to better understand how your brand can solve people’s problems.
One of the things we’ve implemented within my team is a “work backward” approach. Start with what the customer experiences (or should experience), and work backward to improve that experience. This has allowed us to work through silos, competing agendas, and conflicting opinions to focus on what matters most for the customers and, by extension, the company.
Best Buy broke down silos to improve its customer experience and survive Amazon’s and Walmart’s lowered prices. The company did some research and found that women — who made up 55 percent of its customer base, according to research in Gulati’s book — didn’t actually enjoy shopping there.
So Best Buy adjusted its layout, trained its store staff to help more women in the ways they preferred to be helped, and introduced the Geek Squad so women who were seeking installation assistance were no longer turned away. These changes went far beyond a training session for sales reps, but they helped the business survive changes in the industry and even expand its services while competitors faded into oblivion.
2. Focus on the relationship between sales and marketing.
Silos and tensions are notoriously problematic between sales and marketing departments. When a marketing strategy produces poor leads, sales teams often simply get angry because there isn’t a system in place to communicate effectively. Yet marketing can’t adjust its strategy without insights from sales.
These teams should be entwined in a dance — not a street fight. The people on both teams must understand how a lead is defined and when a lead is ready for a sales call. A liaison can help communicate preferences between departments and help both teams move forward as a united front.
3. Develop customer intelligence.
You can and should use data and hard facts to guide strategies. But salespeople need more — they need valuable insights into their audience’s world from a thorough analysis of data. The shift for sales teams to think more like business advisors can be intimidating, especially when current tactics were effective in the past. But becoming solution-based often means changing up some job descriptions.
Strategic collaboration is a huge portion of our sales managers’ responsibilities. They constantly pull team members to their whiteboards, developing strategies together, challenging each other, encouraging creative thinking, and reviewing outcomes. This results in knowledgeable reps who can offer helpful insights and work together to solve each other’s problems — and customers’ issues as well.
4. Don’t be afraid to educate consumers.
When marketing and sales work together to produce quality leads and salespeople help shape strategic decisions, they’ll know more about the challenges customers face than the customers themselves. Don’t be afraid to use that knowledge to educate consumers and teach them new perspectives.
In the past, many companies believed that educating consumers gave them leverage and would empower consumers to find solutions with competitors. In reality, sharing information builds trust. Consumers want companies to be transparent, and receiving information about why a product will genuinely solve their problem is a pleasant and desirable experience. This approach makes sales reps into partners in a customer’s pursuit of satisfaction.
Today’s volatile, high-speed markets make innovative strategies essential. A problem-solving approach to sales can give you a competitive edge by creating loyal and appreciative customers.
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