I contend that your sales reps need to be financial experts about as much as your CFO needs to be a master of working a room. Recently I read a great post on Inc.com, “Selling in the Post-Internet Age” about how the Internet has fundamentally changed the buying and selling process.
As the author points out, customers today are better informed, and the buyer education process has been turned upside down. Customers are doing research on you and your solutions before you get a chance to talk with them. And you’re not necessarily in control of the information that’s out there for them to discover on their own.
Customers are also overwhelmed by choices. When buyers do engage with you, they want a different level of help, and the job of a salesperson has become a lot more complex. It’s no longer enough to simply deliver information. Buyers want you to help them understand how your product or solution fits their unique needs and will deliver results.
I strongly believe -- and many successful salespeople will agree, that there are no shortcuts when it comes to helping customers identify the magnitude of their problems. As the post states, “Today, selling to businesses requires business acumen and in-depth industry experience, so that the seller can take responsibility for key functions inside a customer's account. Selling often requires the ability to build an ironclad case for ROI.”
This last point is a great one. In fact, one of my recent blog posts was about how building a strong case for ROI can help reps gain credibility with prospects. But one point I’d like to make is that reps by no means need an MBA in finance to make that ironclad case.
A financial expert could build a financial analysis from scratch. They would take into account the benefits, how to calculate those benefits, an understanding of the customer’s financial statements, and other details like cost-of-capital to build a cost justification analysis.
However, it would likely take a financial expert around 40 - 80 hours to build this kind of analysis from scratch. That hardly seems to be worth the time, especially when it would need to be done again for each opportunity. A better approach would be to embrace an ROI calculator that can be used over and over again with prospects in your target segment. With simple navigation and ease of use, an ROI calculator built upon a software platform can easily uncover the costs of buyers’ problems. These sales enablement tools seamlessly calculate the key financial metrics (e.g., ROI, NPV, IRR and payback period) that buyers are interested in when evaluating whether or not to invest in your solution.
The key takeaway for sales leaders is to make sure your reps are focused on understanding your customer’s business first, and then provide them the tools to help with the financial analysis. In other words, don’t try to make them financial experts. If you do, they're likely to make mistakes, which will probably hurt their chances of making the sale.
Another way to think about this is to consider what sales reps are good at. You probably wouldn't dream of asking your CFO to act as an account executive. Why? You’d likely wind up with a really great spreadsheet and no sale.
Sales reps are typically good at building rapport, understanding business problems, negotiating, etc. Given the proper sales tools, they can strengthen their repertoire by establishing customer dialog around business value. I believe that is how sales organizations will succeed in the post-Internet age.
What are you doing to arm your sales reps to win in the post-Internet age? Post your comments below.