For those of you from generations younger than myself or are simply not familiar with American pop culture, the phrase “jump the shark” makes reference to one of the most pivotal moments in television sitcom history.
In 1977, after 5 seasons spent developing the coolest character on TV, the creators of Happy Days decided they would take Arthur H. “Fonzie” Fonzarelli to superhuman heights by having him jump a caged shark on water skis while donning his hallmark leather coat and tough-guy haircut. The big surprise here was not that the stunt was a success (come on, it’s The Fonz) but instead that the garishness of the whole thing intended to drive ratings was so transparent it somehow tarnished Fonzie’s well established, cool-guy image.
In many ways I feel that there’s a parallel between this story and the unfolding future of several organizations that I work with as they migrate towards the ever popular notion of an “insight” or “value” based sales approach. Their quest to turn their team into McKinsey level consultants distracts them from their jobs as salespeople and they end up being neither.
There are no doubts that customer buying behaviors and expectations are changing at an increasingly rapid pace. However, I feel that in our fervor to continuously drive greater value into our sales processes and approaches, we as practitioners might sometimes be outpacing the ways in which our clients want us to interact with them. Ironically, this may actually be hindering our ability to deliver that value as salespeople. The question then is not really about “how do we need to change” as it is “how much?”
Here are a few things to consider if you as a salesperson or as a sales leader are looking to adopt a more value-based sales strategy and process:
- Business acumen is here to stay. If you don’t have it, get it and if you can’t get it, find something other than B2B sales as a profession. The nuance here relates to how you are actually applying that knowledge with your customers. Are you calling upon implementers or creators of both strategy and budgets? What does your product or service deliver to your customers and therefore what level of acumen and knowledge do you need about their business? Do your customers want you to help them solve problems or do they want you to be a strategic partner helping them define their next wave of growth? There’s nothing more precious than embarrassing your loyal customer by having an insightful conversation about things they’ll never care to know regarding the operation and future of their business.
- Thoughtful, well researched insights are great but what if you have 100 customers across three verticals in a regional territory? The natural inclination here is to centralize the development of these nuggets of wisdom and send your salespeople forth to enlighten their customers. As a business leader myself, my first response when I hear one of these (even if it is just in that high voice that sometimes creeps into my head and sounds disturbingly like Pee-wee Herman) is “this has nothing to do with my business.” There is an in-between however and that is empowering people with templates that allow them as sales professionals to do their job and populate them with customer specifics that make the tailored version more relevant, believable and impactful.
- Don’t lose sight of the most powerful shift in sales behavior to come out of contemporary research – alignment of your sales cycle with your customer’s buying cycle. Insights only matter if your customer is in a position to hear them properly. Even better, research your own customers and develop a custom buying cycle for the types of services you sell and the people who purchase them. The most successful sales organizations today start here before thinking about what skill gaps they need to close with their teams. They may even find that this delivers a large enough shift in behavior to deliver better results on its own.
I guess all I’m asking for is that before you take that next step in your sales transformation, stop and think about your customers and your team and consider how insightful you really need to be. After all, Fonzie had already jumped his motorcycle over sixteen cars in season 3, did he really need to jump the shark?
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