What do salespeople do when the pressure comes on to hit their numbers and they need to sell more? The natural response is often to try pushing their existing and new customers to buy more products or services and if this doesn’t work push them even harder! This ‘hard sell’ approach to gaining more business is seen as the macho response to the challenge of selling more which is in contrast to the ‘soft sell’ approach of building relationships with customers by understanding their needs and tailoring the product or service offer to deliver the desired outcome. This ‘soft sell’ approach can take longer to achieve the objective of increased sales and during times when the business needs to sell more it may be viewed as a luxury that can’t be sustained. So what’s the answer, do you take the short-term hard sell route or the longer term soft sell path? Every situation is different but my preference in selling situations, as both a customer and a seller, is to take a balanced and open approach to find out how the seller can help the customer by understandng their situation and needs and then confidently recommending and discussing what is best for the customer with clear next step actions. As with most things in life I think it’s about achieving the right balance!
I know it’s not easy being a senior manager. You have to keep producing the results, meet the challenges from customers and competitors and make sure that you’re organisation is headed in the right direction when change is happening all around you (technology, economy etc.). One of the most impressive senior managers I have worked for as a consultant was appointed to head a global organisation and spent the first 3 months just meeting internal and external stakeholders and listening to their views. The manager wanted to make changes to the organisation structure but asked me to conduct a review where I would interview a cross-section of the commercial organisation at head office and in the countries for their detailed feedback on what was working and what wasn’t. Several weeks later I presented back to the senior manager who was pleased that his original plan was correct but even more happy that the organisation had identified lots more opportunities for improvement which the senior management team were able to implement with the full support of the organisation. It was a great example of creating change from within rather than trying to make it happen through force of will from above.
I’ve enjoyed working with many leading businesses in lots of different markets but food and drink has been a favourite for some reason! One of the most memorable was when I worked with a top soft drinks company (you can guess which one) getting involved in helping one of their business divisions which was underperforming. After passing the test with senior management, by understanding what they wanted to achieve and demonstrating that I could add-value, my first step as always, was to spend time with the front-line team. I worked with the managers and most importantly a cross-section of the field sales force, observing them in action and listening to their views, as well as gaining access to several other sales teams in similar markets (snacks, confectionery) to use as a benchmark and to pick-up any ‘outside’ ideas. The review led to the creation of a small project team including myself that was tasked with introducing new systems, objectives, measures, training and sales processes. When the re-structured division was launched it very quickly achieved its business targets for the first time and made serious inroads into the market share of the competition. I really enjoyed being part of a process and team which helped to transform the business and I always look forward to using this tried and tested review approach in new situations and challenges!