Increasing Sales Productivity by Getting Salespeople to Work Smarter

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Written by on . Posted in Miscellaneous Productivity, Sales Productivity 1 Comment

The Thinker

How’s that for a title? Straight out of what we’re all trying to do today with tools like sales automation and CRM; with devices like smartphones and tablets; with interactions by webinars and web conferencing in addition to phone and email; with Big Data and Drip Marketing and High-Velocity Selling; and with training in the principles of adaptive selling.

Wait. Adaptive selling? What’s that?

Before I explain, I have a confession. The title of this article is plagiarized. Yes, I stole it verbatim from three PhD’s – Harish Sujan, Barton Weitz, and Mita Sujan. It appeared in the August, 1988 edition of the Journal of Personal Selling and Sales Management. Is there a statute of limitations on plagiarism, because that makes the title nearly 25 years old.

Anyway, back to the question, what is adaptive selling and how can I learn to do it and work smarter? Well, according to their paper, adaptive selling is altering your “sales approaches based on the nature of the customer.” That seems pretty basic, doesn’t it? But is it so basic that the term is gone? Google it. From my computer the first five hits were for simplistic definitions from Investopedia and The Business Dictionary, a referral by the American Marketing Association to a 1990 paper in some other journal, a scholarly paper from 2nd World Conference on Innovation and Computer Science held in Kuşadası, Turkey, and this paper. Not exactly your top search term, apparently.

The paper makes some very cogent points, ones that are just as applicable today as they were in 1988 when it was written, or even 1981 when much of the basic research for the paper was done. Here are just three of those cogent points.

“However, a salesperson’s personal contact with a customer is, and is likely to remain, the most effective method of making a sale.”

Don’t you just love the phrase is likely to remain? I expect these three academics would get some push back today from all of the “death of a salesman” types, but not from me.

Here’s the thing, if you expect that computers and the Internet are going to obsolesce the salesperson, you’re wrong. Even if you have the world’s best and cheapest thingamajig and you display it effectively on your web site with videos and literature and endorsements, and then sit by the phone waiting for orders to roll in, you’re going to be disappointed.

Why? Because the guy with the second-best thingamajig is in your customer’s office telling him his is the best and cheapest. And most customers will believe him because they are expert in what they do, not in thingamajigs, and a smart salesperson will provide the education they need to make the right decision, which is of course buy his product.

“Increasing the salesperson’s effectiveness during an interaction continues to be a major management task.”

Goes without saying (see above), but I’ll say something anyway. Two key issues here – what is effectiveness, and how does management execute on the task? Simply stated, sales effectiveness is winning more sales. During an interaction, it is listening and communicating with the right person in such a way as to win more sales. (I’ll be doing an article on sales effectiveness soon, so I’ll get less simple then. I hope.)

Management executes the task by first, training and re-training sales people in what they need to be effective – knowledge and the ability to transmit it. And just as importantly, by giving sales people the tools to use that training. One of the most important (maybe the most important) is a proven sales process, applied consistently, and reinforced in the daily activity of the sales person, typically his computer software interface.

“Performance … is more strongly related to what salespeople do than to how hard they work.”

That’s pretty much true in any endeavor that doesn’t involve a shovel. In sales, it means not only what they do, but who they do it with. You can be as knowledgeable as possible and communicate beautifully and have a price below the competition’s, but if your competition has three machines in place at the customer’s shop already, chances are he’s going to buy the fourth from them. Setting your priorities is just as important to effectiveness as implementing your strategy.

There is more cogency in the paper, and it is a goldmine of topics for future articles, so I guess I’ll write a few. These are going to be about the suggestions they make in the section called “10 Ways To Increase Salesperson Productivity.”

Wow. They got it down to 10.

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  • Keith

    Sounds like the writers from 1988 had read a book on my shelf that dates to 1957 😉

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