How to Build Your Sales Team Around Transformation, Not Only Transactions

 

It was a beautiful accident that out of college I stumbled into a sales engineering (SE) role. I’m an engineer. I love math. I love technology. As an intern at IBM, I was teamed up with an SE. Our goal was to get a seat at the executive table because it meant that we’d successfully demonstrated that we cared about the business and had made discoveries that had tremendous value. We went to customer after customer and helped them solve their problems with technology.

After my experience at IBM, I knew that this kind of interaction with customers was a part of sales I couldn’t let go of. Transaction selling on its own wouldn’t keep me engaged. Some 25 years later, I still haven’t forgotten that. It’s why wherever I’ve worked since — most recently leading solution engineering at Salesforce — I’ve brought this approach with me. 

The Goal

I’m fortunate here that our customers not only love us, but are hungry to hear our point of view. And because customer success is our priority, I knew when I joined that I had the air cover to build a team and explore a new discovery approach to selling. The approach is to go to your customer and walk in their customer’s shoes. For B2C companies, this can involve visiting their stores, acting as a consumer. For B2Bs, it can mean sitting in a call center observing calls for a day.

What we try to uncover is what the customer experience is and where the opportunities for change are. Transformation can come in many forms, including a new service, an improved process, and even a new revenue stream. We’ve found that customers are eager to avoid being disrupted by social, mobile, and big data, but they need advice on the “how.”

The time-to-market and time-to-value that cloud computing offers means we’re not just painting a vision that a customer might be able to execute 20 years from now. They can go from vision to reality in days or months, which builds incredible trust. “That’s our goal with transformational selling, and the speed and flexibility the cloud offers is the wind in our sails to get us there.” 

The Team

I knew I needed to hire differently to sell in this new way. Of course I wanted sales architects and engineers with technical depth. I also wanted visionaries and dreamers. I started to mix in people with an eye for the user experience, MBAs who were more business focused, and even McKinsey alums. Instead of forcing enablement on transformation selling, I started injecting this group into teams to spread this thinking organically.

I told them, “It’s as if I have a pitcher of clear water and you are a drop of blue dye. But I know it only takes a drop for the whole pitcher to turn light blue.” And that’s what started happening. All of a sudden, I noticed all of our demos changing. Everyone began talking persona first. The way they were doing discovery changed. Everyone started embracing this new way of thinking, because they saw how much better they were able to connect with customers. 

The Payoff

We’ve built executive relationships almost immediately because we’ve been able to uncover potential issues the board is worried about. Deeper, persona-based discovery has also earned us trust on all levels. This is demonstrated in several ways. Not only do they want to hire away my people (which is not so good for me), but the deal sizes are much bigger. We’re winning over a company’s entire business because we’ve built a holistic vision, rather than taking an opportunity-only view.

An unexpected benefit of our transformational approach is that attrition on my team has been cut in half, at a time when competition for talent is especially tough. I believe my job is to attract and retain top talent. Great people are staying because this approach is exciting, because they are learning and engaging in new ways, and because it’s rewarding. No one wants to feel like they are pushing product. Just as I experienced during my time as an intern many years ago, they’re seeing their customers succeed and are proud of the work they do. 

We’re winning over a company’s entire business because we’ve built a holistic vision, rather than taking an opportunity-only view.”

Anne DelSanto | EVP, Solution Engineering & Solution Sales, Salesforce
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