By Patricia Jacoby, Publications Editor, Events, Frost & Sullivan

As increasingly empowered customers and seemingly endless new technologies continue to impact the sales landscape, we asked Ethan Smith, Frost & Sullivan Vice President and Best Practice Leader for Global Client Management, a few key questions about selling in such a rapidly evolving marketplace. Here are his key insights:

Can you share some key lessons larned throughout your career in enterprise selling?

In my 20 years of sales and sales management, I have picked up several key lessons that have proven successful with enterprise selling. You have two sets of customers: external and internal. With enterprise selling, you need to spend as much time with your internal product champions as you do with your direct customers. Go into every sales call with an open mind. Never assume what your customer wants going into a sales call. This limits the direction the call can take. By asking the right questions, your customer will lead the conversation towards the best solution. Come to work each day with a plan such as keeping a simple ‘To-Do’ list of task you need to accomplish before the day is over. Always have at least two appointments scheduled for each day. This ensures you will have a minimum number of customer meetings, while keeping your schedule on track.

As John Ruggles, Senior Vice President, Global Sales and Client Value Enhancement, Frost & Sullivan, recently stated, “A big difference today is that “customers no longer buy our products or services. They buy into our approach to solving their problems.” Do you agree? Can you elaborate on his statement?

Products and services are what customers purchased 5-10 years ago. Today, customers are looking for solutions and something that will take a burden off of their shoulders. We are all doing a job that would have taken 3-4 people 10 years ago. In order to be relevant to today’s customers you must solve their problems, as John suggested. Customers will buy from people they trust and companies with a solid reputation. This bodes well for the top sales people as price becomes less of an issue. If you can build trust and design a solution to address their problems, value rather than price will win out.

How can B2B sales executives differentiate themselves in today’s fast-moving marketplace?

Awareness and problem solving is what sells. In a complex solutions sale, if you want the business, you need to be physically in front of your customer. If you don’t invest (travel costs, preparation time, presentation development, etc.) you won’t get the business. Customers will buy from people they trust, companies with a stellar reputation, and most importantly, whoever will solve their problem. They just don’t have time to evaluate every single vendor. Remember, purchase decisions are still made by human beings. The stronger the bond a sales person makes with a customer, the more painful it will be for the customer to turn the sales person down. Until Artificial Intelligence takes over buying decisions, there will be an emotional attachment to a sales person who maintains a presence with her customer.

Tips for selling to prospects and customers who are more informed and empowered than ever? (through data, Google, etc)

The playing field has been leveled by the likes of Google. The transparency the internet and other tools provide no longer gives the sales person an advantage on information. You should go into the proposal and negotiation assuming the customer has all the information at their fingertips including the prices and margins of all solutions offered by your company and your competitors. With pricing taken out of the equation to differentiate your proposal, the focus needs to be on the solution and how it will impact the customer.

Can you comment on how understanding the industry you are selling to (ie Frost & Sullivan’s understanding of MegaTrends) can give the sales team a competitive advantage?

I’m going to come across as a bit of a contrarian, however, I believe as a sales person your understanding of the industry is a bit overrated. More than anything, you need to understand your customer’s issues and ask the right questions to come across as credible. Empathy is a much greater skill to have than industry knowledge. Leave the industry expertise to the technical team. An ideal team will comprise of one commercial person and one technical person. This ‘two in a box’ concept has been successfully implemented by Fortune 50 companies like Dow Chemical for years. Developing the right team will give any sales team a competitive advantage.

Can you share strategies and best practices for selling to and managing clients globally? Pitfalls to avoid?

Global Account sales is possibly the most challenging of all sales roles. Not only does the Global Account leader need to dedicate a large percentage of time to only one client, you need to develop a multi-faceted team that can sell on behalf of the leader. The account leader must establish protocols for all regional sales team members to follow. Consistency of message and solution is imperative.

Best Practices:
1) Develop collateral that can be used for any client around the globe. Include references and testimonials for existing customers. Let your existing customers do the selling for you.
2) Set proper expectations, goals, and incentives for the regional sales team. More than likely, they will not be as committed as you to this one customer.
3) Treat your regional sales team as your customer. Provide a solution that will make their job easier. Help them sell to the local customer.
4) Inform your client that there is a global account structure to support their operations in all regions. Ask for the best contacts in each region for your local team to engage with. Ask if your customer is open to being a reference to share with regional customers.
5) Communication must be transparent across the entire global account team structure. All current and future interaction must be recorded and available for all account team members and management. The Global Account Leader must have frequent touch points with the regional account team.

Pitfalls to avoid:
1) Try not to have a different sales strategy for each region. A consistent message is critical to a Global Account’s success.
2) The Global Account Leader must have the final say on the account strategy. This includes pricing, account assignment, targets, and investments to drive business. Once these decisions become decentralized, the global account structure falls apart.
3) Global Accounts are high-risk, high-reward clients. The more resources a company places towards any single client, the more chances of success are multiplied. However, any one misstep anywhere in the world can derail this success. Hence, only the very top sales professionals should be aligned with any Global Account.

Ethan Smith is responsible for helping to accelerate the digital transformation in Oil & Gas and industrial companies across the globe. Ethan is also Frost & Sullivan’s best practice leader for global client management. Initiatives he leads include strategic planning, new product introduction and development, monetization of new business models, and achieving disproportional growth through innovation.

Prior to this role, Ethan led the marketing and sales teams for Frost & Sullivan’s emerging technologies business. Ethan has authored several papers on innovation best practices in upstream Oil & Gas.