Moving Toward Agile Selling

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As new products and services enter the market at skyrocketing rates, salespeople have to become faster too. With the advent of social media, the popularity of smartphones and tablets, and other technological advances, customers have become more connected and demanding, not only in the B2C space, but in the realm of B2B sales as well. In her book Agile Selling, author Jill Konrath reveals her strategies for selling quickly in a chaotic environment and recovering from sales failure. Konrath shared her insights with Associate Editor Maria Minsker.

CRM: Where did the idea for Agile Selling originate?

Jill Konrath: After I wrote my previous book, Snap Selling, everybody said to me: "This book really helped me understand today's changing customers, who are overwhelmed," because Snap Selling was all about how to deal with crazy busy customers. But then salespeople kept telling me that they are overwhelmed, too, and that they need help. They are expected to go after new markets and launch new products and services super fast, but they feel that they don't have the time to familiarize themselves enough with the technology or the product. So I thought about it and I realized: They have a huge need to learn a lot of information quickly, and their entire compensation is based on learning while performing. This compelled me to write a book that would help salespeople assimilate to changes faster.

CRM: In the context of your book, what does agile mean?

Konrath: Agile means being nimble and quick...and able to change with a moment's notice. When market conditions change, you need to be able to move into learning mode rapidly and figure out what's new and different and respond differently. Agile also means iterative—it means you don't have to learn it all at once; you can learn a little bit and then get going. All you need is to find out what the most crucial things are and what to start with, and then add on as you develop your expertise. It's not about being able to learn everything at once. This is especially true for new technologies and social media. If your company just started using a new social network, for example, you've got to become familiar immediately, because your customers' companies are already using it—they're not going to wait for you to catch up.

CRM: Can you share some of the tips you have to increase sales agility?

Konrath: To be nimble and agile, you really have to understand your customers, and what value your company is bringing to your customers. The best way to gauge this might seem kind of counterintuitive, but it's actually more effective to talk to new customers than long-term customers. While it's always nice to hear positive feedback and connect with loyal customers, it doesn't help you understand why somebody would bother changing from the status quo. The best customers to interview are the ones that have recently worked with another vendor and can now give you some very specific business outcomes that they have achieved from working with your product or service but weren't able to achieve with the previous one. This arms salespeople with current information about the kind of value their company is delivering.

CRM: You say that to be agile, sales professionals have to have the right mindset. How can they achieve that?

Konrath: To me, mindset is most important, regardless of what you're selling. In my work with salespeople, the ones who were the most agile never looked at anything as a problem. They always turn it into a challenge. Rather than saying, "Oh no! Sales are down; what am I going to do?" they say, "I have a challenge. I have to figure out some new ways to drive sales." This has been supported by neurological research—when the brain feels like it has a problem, it releases stress hormones, which cause the person to come up with fewer options and be less creative. If it's turned into a challenge and the salesperson asks himself or herself, "How can I increase my sales? How can I penetrate this account? How can I get them to move faster?" the brain becomes an active search center, looking for possible ideas to give an answer.

CRM: In the conclusion of your book, you say there's "no better time to be in sales." Where does this sentiment come from?

Konrath: I believe there's a bifurcation of salespeople. There are those who are committed to becoming the difference—becoming the agile seller who is the differentiator—and then there are those who are just doing their job. There are always going to be people that just come in to work because they have to, and that's never going to change. But now more than ever, you've got professionals out there that are very passionate about their companies' brands and products. If individuals can channel that passion and commit to the agile mindset, and become agile in their learning and in their work, then you've got a combination that's going to be a true asset to your company and your customers. That makes it all worthwhile. It changes the game.

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