Have you looked up the word “strategy” in the dictionary? I did. Imagine my surprise when I saw that there was an example with salespeople. Here’s what it said. “Strategy is the skillful use of a stratagem: The salesperson’s strategy was to seem always to agree with the customer.” It takes work to have your selling strategy always agree with your customers. Here are some ideas to consider for your strategic selling.
To help your customers make better business decisions you have to first understand their long term objectives and their strategies for getting there. Just remember that the term “strategy” means different things to different people. Start by looking at alignments from departments with company strategies. Determine if a department’s strategy is aligned with the company strategy. What you’re looking for is congruence or conflict between departments. Ask questions like “How does your department contribute to the achievement of the objectives of the company?” or “How effective are you in your current programs?” or “Do you conflict with other departments?” If there’s conflict, you may have a selling challenge if the conflict goes unaddressed.
In some companies, the marketing department has one strategy while the engineering department has another. Functional strategies (such as marketing, production, or even technology) can sometimes work at cross purposes. For example, marketing departments want to maximize sales by keeping the price down while the engineering department wants to add costly features. When you hear this dichotomy on the department level, address it there. If you wait until you present your idea on improvement at the executive level, your idea may get shot down in the middle of the department infighting.
Adding value is the next step to sell strategically. You’ll need to know the company’s strategic horizon. The strategic horizon is the answer to the question ‘How far in the future are you making plans?’ Strategic horizons vary by industry. The high-tech industry could have a 6-month to 18-month strategic horizon. Consumer products have less than a year to 2 to 3 years. Your job is to see how your products and services improve your customer’s business in the strategic horizon.
One way to determine the strategic business issues, trends and problems that will impact your customer’s business is to read industry trade journals and The Wall Street Journal. You can also go to local trade association meetings where you can meet industry members. Business professionals will talk more openly when they’re in a comfortable setting. You can get other perspectives, too. Call your customers’ suppliers and customers to get their perspective of your customer. That information is invaluable as you may be able to feed your prospect valuable information he can use to both look good as an individual and also improve business.
Once you determine the strategic issues, you can also ask your customer, “How is this (trend) going to impact your business? How can I help you?” Your research might show that competition is going in one direction and your customer is going in a different direction. By pointing this out to your customer you are now a business advisor, not a salesman. With the information you gather, your job is to show your customer how your product or service will help get them where they want to be. You have shifted from selling products and services to being viewed as a person who improves their business.