Editor’s Note: Mike Schultz and John Doerr start off their bestselling book Insight Selling: Surprising Research on What Sales Winners Do Differently with a quote from Tolkien’s hobbit character, Bilbo Baggins: “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
For salespeople, this is a familiar feeling. But for those of them willing to read and follow Schultz and Doerr’s advice in Insight Selling, they may just find themselves swept into success.
The advice in this bestseller is just, well, superior — as Neil Rackham says in the Foreword. (And I have the feeling he doesn’t give praise lightly!)
This question and answer session with Mike Schultz should prove enlightening, and give salespeople a roadmap to follow as we enter 2015 with social selling continuing to trend up — and continuing to prove that it’s the way of the future of Sales.
1. Why do you think people have lost touch with the need to connect, convince, and collaborate during the sales process?
I don’t think a lot of people ever had touch with connect, convince, and collaborate.
With connect, even though the prevailing thinking in sales has been focused on uncovering needs and crafting compelling solutions to solve those needs, sellers still fall into the pattern of not listening, not investigating, and not tailoring what they sell to the needs of the buyer.
With convince, it’s been drilled into the minds of so many sellers not to pitch or sell anything too strongly that they are unwilling to take a point of view or advocate for a particular idea or strategy.
With collaborate, too many sellers have been trained to think of sales as me versus them. Or to just try to find ways of selling what they offer.
In any case, it’s not important whether a seller had touch with these concepts or not. What’s important is that these are the things that buyers value, so they’re the things sellers need to do.
2. There’s a lot of discussion around H2H (human to human) business. Does H2H selling go hand in hand with insight selling?
Insight sellers harness the power of ideas when selling. In order for buyers to ‘drink the punch’ of the ideas, they need to trust the sellers.
There’s nothing more human to human than trust. Insight sellers inspire buyers to do new things. New things are risky. Thus insight sellers must, of their nature, be great at 1-to-1 relationship building, and must be able to inspire trust.
3. Can you talk about one best practice from your research that was a bit surprising to you? Something you wouldn’t have expected to see on the list of things that work?
We studied 42 factors that were common pieces of advice given to sellers in order to determine what sales winners do differently.
In our training programs, we poll our audiences on what sales winners do most differently than second-place finishers. They usually pick things like, ‘was trustworthy,’ or ‘listened to me,’ or ‘understood my needs,’ and so on.
They rarely pick ‘educated me with new ideas or perspectives,’ which, according to buyers, was the number one factor separating winners from second-place finishers.
And they rarely pick ‘collaborated with me,’ which was the number two factor most separating winners from second-place finishers.
With this last point, there’s been a lot of buzz that the new trend in selling is to challenge buyers. Our training participants often say to us, “Isn’t collaboration a bit of the opposite of challenging?” Perhaps. So it’s not only surprising to our training participants, but also to us because these two factors are not what we would have guessed to be what most separates the winners from the rest.
4. Are the techniques in the book as useful for small business sales activities as for complex sales? Are there special best practices for one size sale vs. another?
We didn’t find much difference between sellers from smaller versus larger businesses, and didn’t find much preference from the buyers for purchasing from one size business versus another. Small businesses often have a complex sale. It’s not about the size of the seller’s business, it’s about what they sell.
It doesn’t matter if the buyer was buying from a big versus a small company—they were still buying from a person. And they appreciated when that person connected with them, convinced them of the right things, and collaborated with them in the process.
5. What would you tell salespeople about changing their thinking with regard to traditional sales methods — people have trouble managing change, so how can they make it easier to win in insight selling?
What was it Deming said? “Don’t worry, change isn’t mandatory. Then again, neither is survival.”
The definition of ‘traditional’ selling is pretty varied. If the seller views traditional as ‘selling features and benefits,’ they are in trouble because buyers see products as similar across companies. If they all have the same features and benefits, it’s certainly hard to differentiate and win.
If a seller views traditional as solution selling—understanding needs and crafting a compelling solution—this is a good starting place, but we found that it doesn’t get you the win anymore, it’s just table stakes.
What I’d tell people about change is if they’re not willing to do it and they keep overachieving, don’t change! But if what used to work isn’t working as well anymore, they have 3 choices: change, suffer, or retire. If you’re not ready for fruity drinks in Boca, and you don’t like pain, then the first choice seems like a good one.
In terms of making it easier to win with insight, it’s not easy. It takes effort, learning, and focus. This is not a quick fix solution. But if you’re not willing to retire and you’re in the game to win it, then insight is the way to go.
6. Can you give us an example of a tactical change a team might make to implement a connect/convince/collaborate culture?
Lots of sellers are taught just to ask questions to uncover need. But many companies have things buyers should be buying but aren’t because they don’t know a better way even exists.
Sometimes sellers need to focus on inspiring buyers with new ideas rather than just asking great questions.
On the flip side, some sellers still have a find-the-need – demo-the-offering – close-the-deal mentality to selling. They pitch, but they don’t inquire. They don’t ask tough questions—questions that push buyers out of their comfort zones and help them make the best decisions.
Depending on what we find, these are two tactical changes—the flip sides of the same coin—that we often see companies need to implement.
7. How do you explain that buyers are willing to pay strong prices even though they consider a product or service “replaceable”? Isn’t that a bit of a paradox?
Every accounting firm we know says, “Don’t just hire us because we know how to audit and do taxes, hire us because we’ll help you make better decisions. We’ll push your thinking. We’ll add value!”
We know of one buyer who issued a request for proposals for accounting services. Every firm said the same things, but only one firm actually pushed the buyer’s thinking during the sales process. In fact, the buyer asked for things in their RFP that the firm thought was a waste of money, and also pointed out that the buyer should have asked for other things.
The buyer told us, “If this is how they work with us during our buying process, we expect they’ll work with us like this when we actually hire them. That’s what we want!”
The buyer ended up selecting this firm even though they were the highest price for audit services because they valued the advice and the thinking.
So it’s not a paradox because the overall value is superior, and the overall value goes above and beyond the product or service itself.
8. Both you and your co-author John Doerr are identified as sales and marketing influencers. What’s changed the most in that universe over the past few years? And, what do you hope the next 10 years will bring?
What changed the most is that solution selling used to get sellers the win. Now, as we noted, it’s just table stakes. Sellers still need to do it, but they also need to do more to put them in the winner’s circle. This is a massive change in the mindset of many sellers, and it’s created quite the turmoil in the industry.
Turmoil is good for those willing to find the opportunity in the tornado. Based on our research and fieldwork, that opportunity is to differentiate and win with insight.
Because of all the turmoil in the industry, we’ve seen the rise of snake-oil salesmen pitching a lot of ‘new secrets to success’ with selling. We think they’re capitalizing on fear, and they’re doing a disservice to the industry. What’s going to happen in the next 10 years is that we’re going to see some fads come and go. And we never mind it when fads go.