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Andrew Dugdale, ICDL
Andrew Dugdale: what do customers want?
of ICDL asks: if companies have stopped spending, how are we to survive?

Where have all the buyers gone? A salesperson told me just the other day that the only response they seem to get from customers today is ‘budgets are on hold until we see how the “credit crunch” is going to affect us’.

That’s a challenge, because if companies have stopped spending, how is everyone else going to survive?

Don’t just survive

The brutal answer is that many companies won’t survive; and many that do will be mortally wounded. So what can be done to ensure you and your company doesn’t just survive, but actually thrives during the aftermath of this global business shakedown?

Sell more effectively is the answer – but what does this mean in practice?

Solution selling

Most organisations today have grown up through the era of the 80s and 90s when ‘solution selling’ was the golden mantra. Solution selling forces companies to benchmark their offering against other suppliers in their market to enable them to demonstrate to the customer how well their particular offering meets the customer’s needs.

The trouble today is that customers do not know what they need anymore, so this ‘traditional’ sales approach is letting people down. Everyone is struggling to find that elusive business advantage which is going to ensure they survive whether their competitors do or not. The difference between those organisations that survive and those that thrive is simple: the ones that win will be those who add most competitive advantage to their customers.

So what’s the problem? The challenge is that most organisations today have trained their sales people to sell against identified customer needs – but the world had already started to expect more even before the credit crunch. Why? Because no one could really see any advantage to buying one supplier’s offering rather than another’s, anyway. Very often they were simply presenting different ways to skin the same cat – often in the same way and, in many cases, even using the same language, benefits and approaches.

Innovative suppliers

Today, that need for competitive advantage and differentiation has become the highest priority for every business: customers no longer even want to waste time talking to those supplier organisations that simply solve identified needs, because the world is changing too fast for customers to have the luxury of identifying what they want. What customers want today are innovative suppliers who are ahead of them, thinking strategically about how they can help their customers create real market competitive advantage.

This is when effective selling becomes a reality. But, to achieve this, suppliers need to gain a much better understanding of their customers’ markets; they need to understand better how to use their own capabilities and the capabilities of partners to create real business impact for their customers; and they need to be able to position the value they create in such a way that the customers can see clearly why they should be talking to one particular supplier, ideally you, even if not to others.

Impetus for change

The credit crunch is not the end of business as we know it, but it is the impetus for beginning to change the way you sell – at least it is if you want to thrive.

ICDL specialises in transforming organisations from solution selling to sales effectiveness, with consultancy, workshops, research, coaching and now, the first tool that genuinely can identify who, within your current team, or your potential recruits, actually has the potential to take this transformational step and what skills gaps they currently have.

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