Mike Schultz is President of RAIN Group, Director of the RAIN Group Center for Sales Research, and bestselling author of Rainmaking Conversations and Insight Selling. He and RAIN Group have worked with clients such as Hitachi, BNY Mellon, Lowes, Aon Hewitt, SAP, Deloitte, and hundreds of others to unleash sales potential. We recently sat down with Mike to find out what’s working (and what isn’t) in today’s world of sales and sales training.

Tell us a bit about your background. Why are you so passionate about sales and sales training?

It’s a fascinating area. One-sixth of all people working are in some kind of sales role, yet it’s wildly underserved compared to finance, leadership and management, marketing, and a number of other roles in the business world.

It’s also changed more in the last 10 years than it had in the previous 40. What worked for selling just a decade ago isn’t working anymore. So there’s always something interesting and new to learn and teach.

Skyrocket

When we apply what we do, and sellers embrace the learning, their careers often skyrocket. We’ve worked with people and companies on the brink of failure, and with changes – not to their product, not to their management or leadership, and not to their structure, but simply in the way they sell – they’ve found tremendous success.

It’s quite fulfilling.

Given that your company has helped sales professionals in over five dozen countries, have you been able to identify any trends or sales challenges that are unique to certain nations, cultures, or geographic regions? Or is sales basically the same wherever you go?

The fundamental reasons why buyers buy stay the same. They want or need an outcome, they believe if they buy something it’ll produce that outcome, and they believe that they are selecting the best choice among available options.

How they come to this understanding happens in different ways. There are some cultures where civility and ceremony are more important. How you interact in New York City is different than how you might do it in Tokyo. However, we find that it’s more individual and company culture-dependent than it is country- or region-dependent.

You’re also an accomplished martial artist. Are there any concepts or approaches that you’ve learned or embraced through your karate or jujitsu instruction that you also apply to sales?

Fudoshin, which translates into “immovable mind,” is one. We’ve heavily studied the concept of top performance in selling. Having what we call a winner’s mindset, including having the resilience to keep getting up when you get knocked down, directly applies.

Another concept is Kuzushi, which translates into “unbalancing.” There’s a trend in selling where if you want something to happen with a buyer, you go on a full frontal assault to get it. Challenge or provoke them, some say, and land your shot right between the eyes. We find that asking questions and providing ideas that can get buyers to simply question their assumptions or see things in a new light is much more powerful. It creates the outcome of being able to influence buyer behavior while at the same time building (and not damaging) the relationship.

Insight Selling Book Cover

Since you’ve written a book about this topic, could you tell us briefly what sales winners do differently than other salespeople?

Let’s be specific. What we studied for Insight Selling was what winners of major sales do from the buyer’s perspective as compared to second-place finishers. From the buyer’s perspective, sellers:

  • Connect the dots between buyer needs and seller solutions, and connect with people as people
  • Convince buyers that their overall value is superior
  • Collaborate with buyers to achieve said convincing

Given that your company conducts a great deal of research on sales, could you tell us about one recent result or discovery that you’ve found from this research that has surprised you?

Sure, and this isn’t even published yet.

We studied 6 different competencies that sellers and strategic account managers exhibit to drive revenue, profit, and satisfaction growth in their strategic accounts.The competencies we studied were:

  1. Technical Expert: The person who crafts the solutions, provides technical information, and solves implementation roadblocks.
  2. Relationship Lead: The embedded player (or players) in the account who create and strengthen relationships. Typically, the lead seller.
  3. Collaborator: The internal team builder that builds internal bridges and trust, and gets the right people involved at the right times to produce the best outcomes.
  4. Results Driver: The leader of driving business inside the account.
  5. Innovator: The person who sees ways to increase value that can be delivered to the account, often in new and creative ways.
  6. Project Manager: The organizer of the process and teams for growing the account.

What we found is that the competencies most commonly found across Top Performing organizations in strategic account management were the exact opposite of the competencies found in all organizations.

Fascinating. We’ll release what these were soon.

When a salesperson is finding and contacting qualified prospects, what are some behaviors for him or her to keep in mind?

Target ruthlessly. Start high. Be extremely customized in your approach. Make getting through a campaign not a one-call or email activity. Finally, in the first call, make sure they get value from talking to you. If you can provide them with an “Aha!” moment by educating them about a new idea or perspective, you’ll start off on the right foot.

What does the future hold for sales and the selling process – and how will salespeople have to adjust in order to succeed?

Since the term was coined in 1970, consultative selling has been the most widely accepted and pursued sales approach. For the following forty years, advice for how to sell had mostly been a variation on the consultative selling theme.

Consultative Selling over time

But as I said earlier, selling has changed more in the last handful of years than it did in the previous forty. It’s changed so much that some respected selling experts and business journals are calling to replace consultative selling altogether – just blow it up and do something completely different. Others claim it’s still relevant today; it just needs to change.

Who’s right? Should we abandon consultative selling? This is a topic for a much larger space.

More from the RAIN Group, Learn what the Elite 8% do vs. Top Performers vs. Everyone Else [Webinar]

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