This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet.
A New Day
In the old days, to be successful in sales you needed to be able to prospect, close, and tell a good story. There were some salespeople that were naturally better at all of these tasks, but they could be taught how to share features and benefits, and they could be taught to overcome objections. They could be taught to ask for the sale. These foundational skills are still critical, but much has changed about how we execute them.
As selling grew up, salespeople needed to be able to differentiate themselves and their offerings in a crowded marketplace, to diagnose their client’s needs, and to negotiate deals that were profitable for both buyer and seller. These three skills have also changed dramatically, but all are still necessary.
Now there are additional skills that are necessary to sell successfully. These are the skills that becoming a level 4 value creator requires of you.
You need business acumen so you can understand your client’s business, your business, and so you can advise your client on how they can produce better results.
You also need the ability to lead change within your client’s organization and your own.
You need the ability to lead a team made up of members of both your company and your client’s.
And you to need to own and manage the outcomes that you sold.
The Business of Business
Let’s deal with business acumen here. The reason business acumen is so important is that it provides you with the foundational understanding of how business works and where your client can improve their results. Your business acumen is made up of your formal business education and training and your situational knowledge (what you have learned through your experiences).
Your business acumen is activated by your resourcefulness, your ability to be creative and to find a way forward when it isn’t easy or obvious. To become your client’s strategic advantage, you have to continually generate new ideas, new opportunities for improvements, new ways that they can produce better business results.
Most people are more resourceful than they allow themselves to be. They have the ability to generate new value creating ideas, but they don’t exercise that ability often enough. To use your business acumen and your resourcefulness together to become your client’s strategic advantage, you need to do something that most people spend too little time doing: thinking.
Here’s how to do some better thinking.
Too few of us spend enough time just thinking. It is easy to allow the urgent to overshadow the important. It is to get caught up in trying to get caught up. To spend time thinking you are going to have to block the time.
Make a commitment and schedule the time you need to think. Block out three hours to get started. Because we don’t do enough thinking, you’ll be surprised out how difficult it is to just sit and think about your clients and how to help them. It’s sometimes hard to get started. That will pass once you get your brain and your pen moving.
And you don’t have to do this thinking alone. You can spend time thinking with a group of smart, thoughtful people. As long as you get the next step right.
If you are going to take an important decision, it is critical that you spend some time thinking about it before you make a decision. But that isn’t the starting point for good thinking. The starting point is generating ideas.
When you sit down to think, just start by generating ideas. Don’t judge the ideas, and don’t dismiss any ideas because it seems difficult or improbable. Just generate the ideas. Bring a yellow legal pad (or your iPad), and just start writing down whatever comes across your mind.
Maybe start with a single question like this: What could I do to help my clients produce better results than they produce now?
Personally, I like to separate idea generation from taking decisions. The act of writing is very different the act of editing, and the act of generating ideas is a very different activity then executing on them.
When you have an idea that you love, that has merit, and that you believe will allow you to create a higher level of value for your clients, then you can do the thinking about execution. Later you can block more time to think about nothing but the execution.
You become a strategic advantage for your clients by thinking about them and by helping them to think about their business. You should do some of their thinking for them. That’s what they hired you to do . . . if you’re a strategic advantage.
How are you most valuable to your clients now?
How could you be more valuable to them in the future?
How much time do you spend thinking about your client’s challenges? Just thinking?
What can you do to give yourself a better opportunity to develop new ideas?
Who do you trust to do some thinking with you?
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