Traditional solution selling encourages sales people to understand the customer’s business challenges well enough to align their solution to those challenges, and then show how their solution can help the customer mitigate or eliminate those challenges. But in today’s sales environment traditional solution selling isn’t enough; today’s best sales people take solution selling to the next level by teaching their customers something new, or challenging them to think about their businesses in a slightly different way. Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson in their book The Challenger Sale call this “teaching for differentiation” and identify it as one of the key skills to effective selling in today’s hyper-competitive, customer-knowledgeable sales environments.
But is is realistic to think that your sales people know enough or can learn enough about a customer’s business or industry to actually teach the customer something new? Can a young, relatively inexperienced technology sales rep credibly teach a veteran industry or business discipline worker something they didn’t already know? Absolutely! Teaching for differentiation doesn’t have to be mind-blowing or earth-shattering, it just has to provide the customer a new or different way to think about something in their business or in the way they leverage technology. And even the young, relatively inexperienced sales person has what it takes to execute on this – IF they are paying attention!
Sales people have a tremendous knowledge advantage over their customers. The typical customer individual works in the same industry or business discipline their entire career, and very often only works at a few different companies within that industry or business discipline over a 30 to 35 year period. Sales people on the other hand, have the opportunity to meet with, engage, and discuss business challenges and best practice solutions with hundreds of customers, often in many different industries and business disciplines, in just a couple of years! While the sales person may not know the industry or business discipline to the same depth and detail as the customer individual, they have significantly more breadth and exposure.
The best sales people ask lots of questions, pay close attention to what their customers tell them, and take careful notes on what solutions have worked for what challenges. Then they position themselves with their other customers not as the expert, but as a conduit for truly helpful and insightful information from highly credible sources: the customer individual’s professional peers and counterparts. A well executed sales discussion not only provides the sales rep what he/she needs to advance their sales, but differentiates them from the competition by providing the customer invaluable information about new ways to address their business challenges and think about their business.
How well are your salespeople teaching for differentiation?