The Ultimate Advantage: Real-Time Knowledge Applied Well
Buckminster Fuller created the “Knowledge Doubling Curve”; he noted that until 1900 human knowledge doubled every century.
By the end of World War II, knowledge was doubling every 25 years.
Today . . . on average, human knowledge is doubling every 13 months.
IBM believes that because of the growth of the “internet of things,” knowledge will begin to double every 12 hours.1
Every 12 hours. Our heads will explode.
So if this is where we’re headed, be very pleased with what I am asking you to do today. It’s far easier than mastering new knowledge every 12 hours.
Knowledge as a Competitive Advantage
The sales profession is one of the most knowledge-intensive endeavors in the world of business. You need to know human behavior, complex products and services, far-reaching industries. And business. Most of all, you need to know yourself.
So to be viewed as a key resource in your prospect’s decision-making process, salespeople must achieve a distinct knowledge advantage over their competition and their prospects. It’s fair to say, salespeople should never be outsmarted by their prospects.
Prospects, competitors, and salespeople all have access to the same publicly available sources of data and information. How they turn that data and information into applied knowledge depends on the exceptionality of each person. In particular, sales professionals face multiple decision cycles every day compared to prospects who may make knowledge-dependent decisions every few years.
Learn from Others
Watch any courtroom scene, and you will see the defense lawyer and the prosecutor lay out their case to the jury. As the case unfolds, the jury sees more evidence introduced, as well as new witnesses. We watch the jury as they listen to the testimony of witnesses.
We see the drama peak when the prosecutor shares some intimate detail, knowledge or perspective of the crime that connects the dots for the jury and establishes the guilt of the defendant. Unfortunately, B2B selling isn’t scripted for TV or movies. Repeatable, sustainable success requires the sales professional to acquire and leverage every bit of “evidence” available to win their case.
Information is Ubiquitous
Since we all have the same access to the same information, how do we use it to competitive advantage? Google any subject and you will find thousands of pages of information on the subject. Prospects can easily look at your website, or your competitors, to try to understand your company’s values and differentiation.
The real challenge for prospects is to distill all of this data and information, separating what’s meaningful and relevant to them. That process produces knowledge.
Some prospects are very directed, doing exhaustive research, and completing a lot of their buying process long before a conversation with salespeople. Others may take a more ad hoc approach, with each decision maker looking at information based only on what impacts them. Arguably, buying influences today are armed with much more knowledge than ever before.
Marketing and Sales Support Tools
In most companies, legacy CRM systems, marketing strategies, and sales-training solutions do little to provide salespeople with real-time knowledge. For example, consider how these three tools are no longer supporting sales teams as in the past.
Legacy CRM systems: Many organizations today report a low-adoption rate for CRM systems. The fact is, salespeople need to use CRM systems as a tool and not as a task. Instead of using technology to ask salespeople to fill out forms, use technology to deliver competitive knowledge salespeople can use to stay ahead of rapid changes in the market.
The CSO’s Guide to Transforming Sales states, “while technology makes a great contribution to optimizing sales and marketing performance, it is not by itself the answer. The real art lies in wrapping technology around a company, much like a glove, so that the company can more flexibly extend its reach and take advantage of the new opportunities it finds there.”
This realization needs to become the cornerstone of understanding the role that technology plays in a company’s sales strategy. I often hear sales teams lament about how they focused too much on technology too soon in developing their sales processes. They become intrigued by CRM product presentations and neglected to determine if the technology effectively addressed the specific challenges they faced.
Marketing: The American Management Association reports that 90 percent of what sales receives from marketing goes unused. Read that again.
Marketing and product management needs to replace generic feature/benefit statements with real-time messaging and a knowledge base that reflects rapid shifts in sales strategy, value propositions, and customer/client needs.
Sales training: American companies spend billions of dollars annually on sales training, yet CSO Insights reports that 70 percent of that learning exits the brain within 30 days.
Make the shift from generic process and sales methodology to a knowledge-based approach. In this way, you give salespeople real-time, actionable data that allows them to compete at the speed of change.
If they don’t do it now, the doubling of knowledge will completely overtake them. What’s more, salespeople also need to be trained in how to leverage knowledge in customer/client conversations rather than simply how to execute methodology.
The Ultimate Advantage
One way to achieve the ultimate advantage for a sales professional: Understand the prospect. While some information about the prospect is publicly available, it is the inside intelligence on the prospect’s context, the sales professional’s understanding of the prospect’s business issues, and how the prospect will make decisions that leads to the knowledge advantage.
The sales professional who can unravel these three dimensions of the prospect’s decision process will be best positioned to win her business. Sales professionals who choose to present their capabilities in a product or general-issue pitch without first understanding the prospect must rely on a decisive product advantage or an uninformed prospect to win consistently.
Prospects will typically share information about their physical environment and their situation with qualified salespeople who ask basic customer-context questions relevant to the decision. Contextual customer/client (or prospect) information clarifies where and how the proposed capabilities provide value.
Even the most basic of products have to reside in an environment defined by a number of employees, locations or technology. The entrenched sales professional maintains a decided advantage over newcomers, as he has already worked with the prospect and should clearly understand his context.
Earn the Right
Not everyone earns the more detailed information about what the prospect/customer/client views as their alternatives and potential solutions. Sales professionals must be worthy of the right to that information by asking insightful questions that probe the prospect’s concept or vision of success.
Importantly, you must uncover multiple buying influences with different views and opinions. Again, the advantage goes to the existing sales professional who has maintained relationships with the relevant buying influences and has first-hand knowledge of the organization’s history.
Awareness of the cultural nuances and political alignment of the various buying influences is the key to developing the winning strategy. As the decision process weaves its way to a conclusion, some buyers may not fully understand how the decision will be made or who will make it.
Different buying influences will engage at different points, and the initial focus of the decision may change as the process unfolds. An understanding of the decision dynamic is a major advantage for the incumbent sales professional who has seen how this customer/client organization makes decisions. However, if your pursuit is a new opportunity, your process has to uncover this information.
By achieving a knowledge advantage, sales professionals can provide their unique perspective in the customer/client’s context. Then, connect it to the collective concept of the executive buying influences who will ultimately make the decision and be accountable for its success.
Build intimate knowledge on your prospect or customer/client’s context, buying concept, and how its buying team will make this decision this time. That’s the ultimate knowledge advantage.
And did I mention you may have only 12 hours to do it before it changes.
Keep your hat on. It’s going to get very interesting.
See you on the upside,
For more information on how to simplify the complex sale, go to www.pleinairestrategies.com Or call William L. MacDonald in San Diego at PleinAire Strategies LLC at 760.340.4277 or 213.598.4700
- As cited in a LinkedIn blogpost by David Russell Schilling
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