Real Leaders

Like It or Not, as a Leader You Must Learn the Secrets of Selling

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The rapid pace of change in business, and the need for speed and agility in managing change, requires grit and resilience. A good way to marshal that grit and resilience is to mirror how top salespeople operate.

In order to influence the changes needed within your organization to meet the needs of the markets you serve in the face of supply chain disruptions, inflation, labor shortages, global macro market trends and environmental, social and governance compliance, consider developing a growth mindset based on the behaviors and techniques of the best salespeople.  

We often think of salespeople as being slick, cunning and unwilling to take “no” for an answer in their quest to close the deal. But in reality the opposite is true. Top salespeople score high in modesty and humility. They’re team oriented and have high levels of attentiveness, a strong sense of duty and are extremely reliable — all of which enable them to build credibility with customers. They’re focused on achievement and continuously measure performance in comparison to their goals. Further, they’re curious and ask questions to get the information they need in order to match capabilities to customer needs. True, they may not be easily discouraged, yet they can handle emotional disappointments, bounce back from losses and mentally prepare for the next opportunity.  

Such agility and resilience are important behaviors for all business leaders responding to a fast-changing world.  

Early in my career I was trained in a consultative style of selling, called “Need Satisfaction Selling.” It’s an approach based on the notion of engaging customers to find out their needs, and then providing a differentiated solution to satisfy them. Alongside my need to master this selling style, I also needed to influence change internally within the company. This approach helped me to lead cross functional teams in defining needs and finding solutions that we could then propose to managers — and all the way up to the board of directors.  

Utilizing the strategies of Need Satisfaction Selling, I was able to not only hone my salesmanship abilities, but also contribute value-adding system changes that led to promotions, and eventually landed me in the C-suite. Since serving as CEO in different companies, I’ve made Need Satisfaction Selling and the behaviors that underpin it a core part of the business culture within the companies I’ve run.  

The theory of Need Satisfaction Selling is so powerful because it’s a simple and thoughtful process with three stages — need development, need identification and need satisfaction. The trick is learning and practicing the behaviors involved at each stage so that they become second nature.  

To acquire the agility and resilience needed as an effective business leader, refine these separate, yet complementary skills that drive the three stages of Need Satisfaction Selling:  

1. Engage in active listening to assist with need development. By asking open-ended questions and attentively listening to the customer’s (or team members’) responses, the salesperson or business leader is able to uncover the needs and potential roadblocks or limitations in the way. Open ended questions allow those being questioned to feel duly heard and enable them to air their anxieties, concerns and tensions that are getting in the way of their goals. By carefully listening and asking probing questions you gain insights. Using questions such as, “What is it that you’re trying to achieve?” or “I read your annual report and you discuss your sustainability goals; can you help us understand your strategy?” or “From what you know about us, how do you think we could best help you?” With these answers you can then follow up with more specific questions to narrow down and identify specific needs. 

2. Find agreement to facilitate need identification. In this stage, salespeople or leaders summarize what they heard to ensure agreement on the specific needs and why they’re important to address. This summing up is important in ascertaining mutual understanding. 

3. Influence solutions to arrive at need satisfaction. Influencing others is an art form. Sharpen it by applying active listening and agreement on needs to provide a meaningful solution that addresses the needs. Use facts and figures, as well as the overall benefits of the proposed solution. Be prepared to respond to any objections raised.  

Learning these skills increases the probability of successfully selling innovative solutions to customers or improved business processes to internal teams. The ability to make positive changes requires influencing outcomes. By knowing how to sell, leaders can influence the changes required to remain innovative and competitive. 

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