Be A Captain of Change


Many moons ago I was a Pharmaceutical Sales Rep, selling a high blood pressure medicine and I started my job straight after the New Year. I can remember it like yesterday, the motivation and anxiety to get ready for the new role. I came out of a tough recruitment process. In those days, you had to go through a two-week training followed by a one-week exam. Only after that, did you know, if you had the job or not. Of all the candidates, 30% of us did not make it. Once I had my contract and my company car, I was ready to jump out of the starting blocks.

With my dad also being in Sales, he sat me down and said: You’ve got to start with a plan. If you don’t have a plan, you become a part of someone else’s plan. What is your plan?”. I pictured an excellent paycheck and bonuses every quarter. I told him I would be super productive, meeting the required sales calls and visits per day, week, month. My goal was to be ranked in the top 10 of the company’s sales reps. Of course, I would be well-organized and every Friday I would have my meetings for the following week planned out. I looked up to him, seeking approval and he said: “No, what you described is what you want.”. He continued with, “You need to figure out what your customers want, and they need to perceive you as someone with the knowledge they don’t have. If not, your meetings will only be about your products, they will control the meeting and you will be out of their door in 5 minutes flat. So, what is your plan?”.

That took me a bit off-guard, but it was an important lesson. I was thinking about commissions, productivity, and closing ratios, while he was thinking about a plan to make every visit a successful one, for the customer. I needed to figure out what my customer’s challenges were and be able to have a conversation with them as a peer. The latter was not too difficult, because I have never been afraid of doctors. And in order to have a conversation with them about their challenges, I needed to control the process of change. Because, in the end, I wanted my customers to make a change of supplier, displacing my competitor.

Fast forward a few decades, what has changed? Nothing and a lot. In general, salespeople are still self-focused (like I was initially) and not other-focused enough. But what really has changed, is the way we control the process of change. In my days, as a frontline sales rep, you controlled the process of change by orchestrating the meeting to follow your sales process. We were focused on identifying dissatisfaction gaps and define with the customer, solution statements that would fit our product offering. Applying this approach nowadays will end up with you holding the short end of the stick.

In my three New Year’s Resolutions for Sales Executives, I spoke about the need to be more other-focused and stop discovering dissatisfactions. The discovery process is where you spend most of your time with your customer and this is evolving into something different. To control the process of change, you have got to be the captain that controls the modern discovery approach.

Modern Discovery Approach

In contrary to the traditional sales process, the modern discovery approach is non-linear. This is more challenging and hence controlling the direction, the speed, and the final destination is even more important. Meaning:

  • You are not leading the customer step-by-step to your solutions, instead, you influence stakeholders, depending on where they are in the buying process, and build the consensus that a change is needed for their company.
  • This is all very much depending on how well you understand the company’s vision and strategy and what the stakeholders really have in common. Are they focused on what is good for the company or are they driving their own agenda? Where are they in the buying process and what is their willingness to change?
  • You act as a Trusted Advisor, facilitate meetings, and keep the success of the company as the main focus. You have ideas on how you can help your customer to prosper, to advance their competitiveness with an increase in profit.
  • And above all, you are not scared to share your view on risks you see when no change is made.

With you as the captain, the modern discovery approach is your new way of controlling the process of change. Little did I know, that advice decades ago would still be so relevant today.

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