Future of Selling – move over Virtual, here comes Hybrid
Sounds like quite a brash statement.
It is, and probably one that people would want to challenge me on. Which would be fair because I’m not really saying that virtual selling is over, finished, done and dusted. I’m saying that we should consider where it fits in to the bigger picture.
Selling has evolved and hybrid selling is going to be the thing that the most effective salespeople will have to understand and be able to use in order to operate most effectively.
So, it’s a shift towards the future of sales and it’s a shift that is happening even quicker we may have expected given the current climate.
Covid-19, lockdowns, working from home, improved technology etc. is giving salespeople a real opportunity to take stock and to think about how they can continue to make a difference.
I use the EVOLVE Model, to help people in their thinking as to where they are in this process. Also in the learning that they may have to undertake to be able to make this difference. And, most importantly, in the doing so that day in, day out, they are focusing on things which are going to help.
Let’s just explore what the EVOLVE model is made up of.
The first element of EVOLVE are the essentials. These are the essential for success. I call them this because it reminds me of my very first job with a sales training company, where I was custodian for the open course ‘The Essentials for Success’.
This was great and a real privilege. It was the introduction that many salespeople would have had to the world of professional selling. It was the first training that a lot of them went on. So, we went through the fundamentals. We would talk about understanding and selling benefits as a key or a foundation before people should even start approaching to customers.
We talked about prospecting. We talked about managing meetings. We thought about writing proposals and then how these could be presented face-to-face or live. We talked about planning and understanding where business was coming from, what the best opportunities were, how to qualify and the like. We talked about self-management or time management as people liked to call it back then (the key lesson being we can’t manage time but we can decide what we are going to do with it)
These essentials still ring true, and even though I was training that 20 years ago, they are fundamentally still the basis for good solid sales. It is something that we would expect salespeople to be good at and to be competent in.
I would now add in that, because of the current climate and the way that sales has evolved, that collaborative selling is a prerequisite for success. People may say ‘Of course you would, that’s what you’ve written your book Selling Through Partnering Skills about’. But, I do think it is what can help professional salespeople adopt the right mindset and the right approach to be successful in selling today.
The ‘V’ in EVOLVE is about virtual selling. So yes, I don’t think virtual selling is going away.
It’s going to become part and parcel of the way that we operate. The definition of virtual selling for the purpose of this conversation, is about how we can operate using the tools and the techniques that are given to us by modern technology. The phone is included in this, as is email, and now certainly video conferencing.
It requires being skilled in Zoom, Teams, WebEx, whatever your favourite platform. I would say that a professional salesperson needs more than just competent in delivering messages and having conversations and inspiring collaboration through these platforms. It is about being good to excellent.
I am also going to add social selling in this section.
Let’s consider social selling or using technology and the social media platforms available to build and to influence relationships. I think primarily, for B2B salespeople, this is going to be LinkedIn. Again, salespeople should aspire to be more than just competent in it. They should try to be good at how they use that as platform to communicate and undertake other important selling activity.
Also, if it’s relevant and only if it’s relevant there is Twitter, maybe the Facebook, maybe even Instagram, but if you are a B2B salesperson you would understand that LinkedIn is probably where most of the action is for you.
Social selling is a discipline that is also evolving at pace with regular advancements in use of video, ways of enhancing ‘personal branding’ and use of AI, that a modern salesperson should at least be aware of.
The next element that the EVOLVE model helps us to understand is opportunity management.
Opportunity management is different to account management. There are plenty of similarities, but opportunity management focuses more on the particular opportunity or specific project, an identified chance to win business. To help focus on this more effectively I use what I call the ‘nine box model’. Basically, that is because there are nine boxes, which encourage sales people to think about Data, DMU and Decisions.
It is all about information. It is understanding what we know and what we don’t know – the famous known unknowns. If we recognise that we have things we need to understand better, this becomes a challenge. It is a challenge to ourselves. It is a challenge where we can go and try to understand more about it.
This may be to do with a competitor. It may be the way a company operates, their targets, vision, goals etc. More than likely, it is going to be around the decision-making unit (DMU) or the buying committee.
Understanding the people involved in making the decision is key. How do they do that? What are they thinking? What’s important to them? What challenges do they have? What issues or concerns exist? What goals? What aspirations? The more, as a salesperson, we understand this, the better a job we can do. We can work out how they make decisions. We can help them make decisions. And this in turn affects our own decisions. In other words, the actions that we’re going to take to move the opportunity forward.
This is for me a key area of modern selling – to be able to take opportunities and manage them through to a successful outcome
The L of the EVOLVE model is about Leading.
I have a strong opinion that salespeople are change agents, or certainly should start to think and act like this. More often than not, we will be challenging the status quo. We want customers to do things differently and we know it isn’t always easy. The more comfortable we are with change ourselves, the more that we can help people manage how they move through their change curve. Then we can then start to talk about change as an opportunity.
Thinking like that and being something of a ‘servant leader’, is very much a role that a modern salesperson can fulfil. It brings in a completely new set of skills, which is why I would include this in under the Hybrid selling approach. We need to understand how to help understand. There are ways such as Kotter’s 8-Step Process, VUCA Prime and Lewin’s Unfreeze/Change/Refreeze model that can help with this and are useful additions to a salesperson’s skillset
The V is about value selling
Selling based on value is not anything particularly new. There has been a focus on this since the early 2000’s. However, it doesn’t make that any less important.
As sale people, we really have got to understand what value is. But, as a colleague of mine often says, ‘It’s a mystery’.
We don’t really know what value is. We’ve got to work out what it is to the customer. That’s the secret of value selling. Once we know how we can start to define this with customers, then we can really start to bring the insights and ways of working that are going to help them. We work to discover what value is, and then start to create and to deliver on that.
Again, it’s the whole set of sales skills and things which are modern salesperson should be comfortable with to be able to make that difference to be successful in the modern environment.
Our E is about expanding our relationships and reach.
There is a model that is often talked about, which is ‘land and expand’. In the past I have had a bit of a problem with this because it just sounds a bit manipulative, but I know it makes sense.
It is about starting off on a project, just getting some initial opportunities, delivering on those and helping the customer with their success. So naturally the whole relationship starts to evolve. From this point of view, it’s not a bad thing. It makes a lot of sense. It is what both parties want and where Account Management very much comes into play.
Here we are talking about taking some of the elements used in opportunity management and using these and the associated thinking to keep building the relationship by delivering the value, delivering success and delivering the outcomes that we promise to customers. This is why I think that the discipline of Customer Success Management is something that salespeople should at least understand. Even if not being wholly proficient in it, at least knowing that this is a developing function and that being tasked with making sure the customer gets what we deliver is important. Whist already very popular in IT sector, it is also starting to roll out into other areas.
Hybrid – the future of selling
That is a very quick run through the EVOLVE Model and the key elements. It is why I think that it is time for virtual selling to ‘move over’ or to take it’s position within a broader scheme of things.
These are the elements that professional salespeople can use to think about how they can evolve and how they can adapt to use a more hybrid approach.
This is what is going to make a difference and ensure success through survival of the fittest.
How are you going to adapt?
Fred Copestake is founder of Brindis, a sales training consultancy.
Over the last 22 years he has travelled round the world 14 times visiting 36 countries to work with over 10,000 salespeople.
His book ‘Selling Through Partnering Skills’ looks at the evolving world of sales and sets out what salespeople need to do to refine their approach. It explores how to take things to the next level through understanding partnering intelligence and using the innovative VALUE Framework.