How to Sell Invisible IoT Solutions That Deliver Verifiable Customer Outcomes – Part 3

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Mike Kunkle

Last time, in Part 2 of this post, I identified some of the key mindsets and skill sets that are foundational to true consultative selling.

In this final post in the series, I will discuss how to:

  • Lay the consultative foundation, upon which you can layer even more advanced skills.
  • Implement the foundational and advanced methodologies in such a way to guide sales behavior change.
  • Ensure your sales force stays focused on delivering verifiable customer outcomes.

Laying the Consultative Foundation

Make no mistake, “laying the consultative foundation” means driving sales behavior change. Most organizations fail at this. They fail, not because it can’t be done, but because they are (knowingly or unwittingly) unwilling to do what it takes to guide organizational change. Organizational behavior change doesn’t happen haphazardly, by luck, or even just by training people. It requires a purposeful effort.

With the commitment to lead change established as a prerequisite, the next step is to lay a solid foundation of consultative skills before attempting to layer even more advanced skills. It’s exceptionally rare that organizations invest in developing advanced communication skills. And odd, since selling is just a specific type of human communication. After watching so many sales reps, over so many years, struggle in training classes to do simple things such as ask an open question or make an “other‑focused” empathy statement, I’ve become convinced that these skills are often missing and just as important as the ability to follow a sales methodology – in fact, perhaps more so. These skills fuel the sales methodology, and allow reps to execute it effectively, with competitive advantage, when done well.

I’ll go as far as to say that sales methodology exists today (the frameworks, models, and skill steps), in part, to make up for our general lack of communication and business dialogue skills. I doubt many will heed this advice, but if I were a CEO or Chief Revenue Officer today, I would invest more in developing deep dialogue skills than standard sales training. I believe whole-heartedly you’d see as large as return, if not larger.

Whether you go that far or simply lay a solid foundation to build upon, you should develop both core and advanced skills.

 

THE CORE SKILLS

These are a great foundation on which you can teach and maximize a consultative selling methodology, and layer advanced methodologies (such as insight selling).

The Consultative Mindset

This includes changing how you think and talk about your customers and how you think and talk about selling to them (from the previous post). It also embodies Stephen Covey’s “Seek First to Understand, Then Be Understood” from his “7 Habits” work.

Active Listening

Listening is one of the most important consultative skills, and so often done poorly. Sales pros must listen to hear, interpret and understand, not just to plan their next move or prepare to talk about their products.

Conversational interjections such as, "Mmm, hmm, I see, uh-huh" and others are helpful, especially when not communicating face-to-face, but for even better results, focus more on summarizing to confirm and making empathy statements. One of the most basic and powerful human needs is to feel understood. Remembering is as important as listening, so record meetings (with permission), keep conversations focused and on point, and take great notes or assign a partner who is with you to do it. If you’re face-to-face, pay attention to body language, as well.

Questioning Skills

There is generally a lot of room for improvement here, especially during discovery meetings. Intentional and logical questioning skills are paramount and can truly be a differentiator. Most reps question to uncover an opportunity to present their products. Instead, have a logic path that helps you understand your customer’s business, the current state, the implications of staying there, their desired future state, and the desired business outcomes they’ll attain when they reach it.

Teaching Skills

The ability to explain concepts simply and chunk, sequence, and layer more complex ideas, so people can follow you and comprehend, is a skill that is worth fostering. It’s almost impossible to deliver data, insights, or thought leadership without this skill (sometimes referred to as “commercial teaching”).

Story-telling Skills

We all know that story-telling is an effective form of communication and applied judiciously, an excellent skill for sales professionals to possess. Gaining attention, engaging listeners’ emotions, and fostering an Aha Moment, are three key benefits to good story telling. 

Presentation Skills

This aligns with both teaching and story-telling, but there is more to presenting effectively and it’s a skill worth developing. As you do, consider the ability to ascertain others’ communication preferences and adapt to them, when possible. And, as always, a dialogue about solutions, vs. a one-way pitch, is always preferred and far more effective.

ADVANCED SKILLS

This is about “putting it all together.” With a few exceptions, the previous set of skills is required to navigate the advanced skills below.

Trust-building Skills

Study and learn trust-building skills, as they are a key set of competencies that not enough organizations develop in their sales pros.

Influence Skills

It makes sense to study Cialdini’s work on influence skills, but you can lay a firm foundation with Aristotle’s writings on Ethos (establish credibility), Pathos (make an emotional appeal), and Logos (justify with logic).

Critical Thinking Skills / Problem-Solving Skills

In the increasingly complex work of IoT sales, possessing a strong base of critical thinking and problem-solving skills will become the ticket to entry. It’s worth the investment. This can be coupled by training in design thinking (which system architects and engineers will use in co-creating IoT solutions with customers) and systems thinking.

Guiding Sales Behavior Change

Hopefully that’s provided some food for thought. These skills are often assumed, rarely mastered, and an important foundation for professional, consultative selling. When these skills are present, learning and executing a sales methodology becomes far easier.

Whether you are developing consultative communication and business dialogue skills or implementing a sales methodology (basic or advanced, such as insight selling), if you want to maximize your returns and drive better business outcomes, you will need to guide sales reps (your entire sales force) through a series of behavior changes, over time.

This is where my Sales Learning System, specifically the 5 Phases of Behavior Change that we employ at DTI, can help.

Sales Learning System: The 5 Phases of Behavior Stage

As you look through the above chart, you’ll see a logic path from top-to-bottom of the phase name (red box), what it entails (grey box), how you can do it (gold box) and lastly, the premise behind the phase or why you should do it (red text). Then, from left-to-right, you’ll see how a learner/performer will move through the phases that you’ve orchestrated to guide their behavior change.

If you truly want to enable new behaviors in your sales force to drive new results, this approach will help you get there. There is enough here for a full post, so this is a topic I’ll come back to in the future.

Delivering Verifiable Customer Outcomes

Putting all of this together, from the first post in this series to now, will set the stage for this next piece. I won’t say delivering verifiable customer outcomes is easy – it rarely is. But it is simple to position to accomplish it. It’s a natural outgrowth of a modern sales methodology that is buyer-oriented, consultative in nature, and outcome-focused. If you lay the right foundation as described above, have products or services that solve the problems your buyers are experiencing (hopefully offering some competitive advantages), and you select a methodology that is laser-focused on detailing and understanding the outcomes your buyers want, you are most of the way there.

Sticking with our theme of sales behaviors, let’s focus there. Look closely at the next chart.

Most sales professionals focus on understanding what their buyers need (assuming they know and recognize the need) and match what their products and services offer to meet that need. This is often referred to as needs-based selling and by some, as consultative selling. It is far from the original consultative selling, however, as written about by Mack Hanan 47 years ago. In fact, much of this chart (the implications and outcomes) might not even come into play in needs-based selling.

Mack intended consultative selling to be what we refer to more often today as outcome selling, with the implications and outcomes defined, with a strong focus on the outcomes and a Profit Improvement Proposal (as he called it). The focus isn’t on the seller’s product or service – it’s about improving the customer’s business results in a profitable manner than delivers payback.

This next chart shows where the real value is built and influence is gained… through a focus on the implications and outcomes, to create a compelling business case to move forward, and deliver value to the customer. The real work is in understanding your customer better than competitive reps will (including developing trusting relationships so the buyers will share the needed information with you), and detailing the current and desired future states, with implications and outcomes documented in the metrics that matter to your buyers.

Assuming your implementation/customer success team can work with the customer’s team to deliver on the value from your products and services, and provide the opportunity for the customer to track and achieve their desired outcomes, you’ve done what you can as a sales professional to set your buyers up for success and deliver verifiable customer outcomes.

And that, ending Part 3 of this series, is how you can prepare your sales force to sell invisible IoT solutions that deliver verifiable customer outcomes.

Subscribe today to get more articles and posts like this from DTI and catch the future posts where I will more deeply detail some of the concepts and content in this series.

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