Q&A with BTS Executives Lou Schachter and Rick Cheatham, co-authors of Selling Vision: The X-XY-Y Formula for Driving Results by Selling Change.

Q: BTS is specialized on helping its customers to improve and accelerate their business results; in order to do that, your methodologies evolve at the same pace as the market does, or even faster.

Of course we have to stay in front of the market. We do that in two ways. First, we are lucky to work with many of the world’s best sales forces, so every day we see what the best salespeople are doing that is different from what others do. We also see how they are changing their approaches. We also have that same level of observation with sales managers and sales leaders. Second, we do research with executive-level customers worldwide. By surveying and interviewing them, we identify the gaps between what they want from salespeople and what they are getting. Those two types of research are what created the inspiration for Selling Vision.

Q: What are you working on right now?

A number of our clients have asked them to help execute the kind of X-to-Y sales transformation that we describe in Selling Vision. That’s about moving, as many businesses are, from selling a lot of “X” and a little bit of “Y” today, to a future where they expect to be selling much more of Y and much less of X. We are providing consulting, building tools, and deploying training for clients who want to make these transformations work quickly and successfully. An increasing amount of our work is in training salespeople to understand their customers’ X-to-Y transformations and to sell in ways that supports their transformations.

Q: In a couple of days you’ll present your book “Selling Vision” in Madrid. You defend the idea that sales transformation processes need to be handled differently in order to be successful on this days of accelerated change. What are the key elements of your new scope to manage sales transformations?

The book outlines a new sales transformation model that focuses on a crucial phase of change that is frequently overlooked. It addresses organizations that are trying to change what or how they sell, and the book makes the case that the reason for failed change efforts is a lack of planning for selling the combination of old and new, and instead only planning for the envisioned future.

Q: What are the key roles to navigate successfully sales organizations through the transformation process? What’s the role of the C-level?

No sales transformation can be successful without top executive support, and often it is the CEO who initiates the transformation. The CEO and other C-level executives, to be successful, in our view must not only describe the bright, shiny future that will come from the new approach, but they must also continue to value the legacy success and way of doing things. Managing that balance between the old and new, and continuing to recognize the value of the existing approaches, while also sharing a vision of what new and old look like together, is the secret to success. The mistake that frequently gets made is that top executives focus exclusively on the vision for a new approach, and many salespeople come to a mistaken conclusion that they are no longer valued or will not be successful in the future.

Q: This new methodology relies on the idea that customers have changed, and they want different things. How is this new customer? What are the drivers behind the customer’s change?

Several factors are driving customer change. One is that their companies have created more demanding requirements for proving ROI for every purchase that is made. Purchases can no longer just fill a need or solve a problem. They have to positively impact business results. Another is that more stakeholders are involved in every buying decision. Still another is that changing strategic initiatives are making certain purchases more important for a time, but those priorities change frequently.

Q: The sales rep is the fundamental actor, responsible for the daily execution of the new sales strategy. Which skills and behaviors they need to have in order to be successful? What’s the role of the sales managers?

Watching the best sales forces, we have identified seven behavioral areas that are critical. Among the seven, the particular skills that are critical vary by company.

  • Customer Understanding: Demonstrating deep knowledge of the customer’s business and industry.
  • Plan: Preparing for the customer interaction (not filling out a fancy, complicated worksheet, but sufficient time to do the necessary research, set objectives for the meeting, and create an agenda).
  • Discover: Asking questions that get deep inside the customer’s view of their business.
  • Engage: Rather than presenting, involving the customer in a compelling discussion of the value the salesperson’s company offers, ideally one where the offering is co-created with the customer.
  • Advance: Moving the customer to the next stage in their buying process, no matter where they are in their buying cycle. Of course this includes closing.
  • Manage: Creating strategies to manage opportunities, accounts, and territories.
  • Collaborate: Working with others in the selling company on behalf of the customer.

Q: How can leaders generate alignment and the proper mindset in their people to embrace change?

It’s a great question because, according to BTS research, many initiatives of all kinds fail precisely because leaders do a few company-wide presentations, and they expect that will drive the necessary change. But it doesn’t. We have found that successful execution requires alignment, mindset, and capabilities. Many companies go right to capability-building after those presentations, but training people doesn’t work if they don’t understand (alignment) and believe in (mindset) the change initiative. To create alignment, leaders have to create multiple pathways for employees to understand why the change is important, how it relates to the changing market they operate in, and how their job is critical to the necessary change. To change mindsets, you need everyone to believe that the change is the right thing for the company, for its customers, and for themselves. We find that experiences create beliefs. So you have to put people into highly designed experiences, like simulations for example, where they can experience the old world and the new. Ultimately, it is peers talking to one another in these experiences that changes mindsets.

Q: How can BTS help its customers to better execute their sales transformation processes?

We believe that every company is unique. No list of standard best practices works everywhere. So we start by helping our clients “define great,” which is to say what does high-performance look like, in their company, given their strategy and culture. That is very different from an approach that defines “average” into a set of standard competencies. Second, we then help our clients “assess great” for purposes of selection and development, and for prioritizing organizational gaps. Third, through our simulations and other forms of experiential learning we build alignment, mindset, and capability. Seeing what “great” looks like and getting multiple, fast cycles of deep practice is what changes behavior. We call this, “experiencing great.” Finally, in today’s world, everyone is learning in the field, on the job. The tools we create in “execute great,” make it easier for people to get better even when they are not in the classroom.

Lou Schachter is managing director of the global Sales Practice at BTS, where he is responsible for ensuring client success and the growth of the practice worldwide, leading the 30-person global practice team, and driving thought leadership. He is the co-author of The Mind of the Customer.

Rick Cheatham leads the Sales Practice at BTS for the United States. As a thought partner for organizations who want to transform their sales teams, Rick has worked with clients such as Google, Salesforce, and IBM to accelerate the execution of their sales strategies and transform their sales forces from transactional to consultative.