Focus on Your Circle of Competence

4.00min well invested Read 🙂

In his book, the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (1989) Stephen Covey distinguishes between proactive people – who focus on what they can do and can influence – and reactive people who focus their energy on things beyond their control. By focusing on those things that you can influence, your circle of influence, you increase your chances of making effective changes. For example, you cannot do much about the inflation of the economy but as a salesperson, you can help customers to manage the impact of inflation by advising them how they can reduce their operational cost. The Circle of Influence concept is already old, but still very effective when applied.

Recently I read about another type of circle, Your Circle of Competence mentioned by Rolf Dobelli in his book ‘The Art of the good life’. Dobelli claims the better you are at managing your Circle of Competence the greater and more effective you will be at managing your Circle of Influence. What has this to do with the new way of selling? Well, a lot.

In the past salespeople would use their sales process and questioning techniques until they uncover dissatisfaction or a need with their prospective customers, label these as a problem so that they could match their products and services as the solution to the problem. In this old way of selling many meetings would have a similar cadence as if the salesperson could orchestra the conversation to a predictive outcome.

The world we live in is not predictive, but dynamic, complex and unpredictable. Buyers face changes impacting their business every day and they need help to make sense of the complexity. The questions they ask themselves are: Should they remain to partner with the suppliers they have? Or, is it time for a change to something or someone that enables them to be more competitive? To help businesses with answers the salesperson’s model based on a predictable choreography needs to be replaced by a model of adaptability. For that, new skills are required.

Your new Circle of Competence looks different in several ways. Sales reps claim they are insanely customer-centric, meaning they do anything to ensure the customer rewards them with their loyalty. In the new world, this competency is not good enough. Being customer-centric is not any longer about maintaining loyalty but instead about creating growth and profit opportunities. Your Circle of Competence will set you apart from your competitor sales reps not because you have pre-defined answers and solutions but because you have become an expert in adapting. Here is an (incomplete) Circle of Competence list you can start on now:

Your Approach

Your new mindset focus is on the customer’s success, not yours. You are an active listener stepping in the customer’s shoes. You understand changes in their industry from their view, see risks and opportunities through their glasses. When you summarize and verify with your prospective customer if you have understood their situation well, you hear the response: “Exactly, that is absolutely the challenge we are facing”. The customer meeting is not about you, your products and services but it’s about the customer’s challenging journey to remain competitive and profitable. And how you can help.

Your Preparation

If on average the buyer’s process has been completed for nearly 60% before they reach out to a salesperson then the new expectation is your understanding of their 60%. You figure out through research or sales enablement tools what external and internal changes and challenges they are talking about in their senior management meetings. By being well prepared you gain credibility within the first 5minutes of your meeting. You ask less basic situational knowledge questions and more verifying questions about their challenges.

Your Business Acumen

In this complex world, great sales acumen will not differentiate you from other sales executives. Your dream customer requires you to be also a business person. For that, you do not have to go back to university. You progress by asking your prospective customers questions about their growth plans, write down your knowledge gaps and in your next team meeting ask advice from the more experienced team members. Access a couple of Annual Reports from corporations on your books and discuss with your sales colleagues their growth, cost, margins, and profit percentages. Buy a couple of industry magazines and discuss in a team meeting your understanding of the industry movers and shakers. To improve in this competency there is no silver bullet (is there ever?), you and your colleagues are in the same boat. Together you learn more.

Your Trust and Advice

Here is where your approach, your preparation and business acumen come together. You build trust by being focused on your customer’s success, not yours. You demonstrate trust by being well prepared and have a grip on basic situational knowledge of your customer’s business. Understanding their growth and profit challenges, you have ideas about how you can help. You share ideas and insights into what you see is working well with similar customers, and also what isn’t.  Your area of advice is where your knowledge intersects with their challenges. You focus on strategic advantages for your prospective customers when changing supplier.  Seeking advancements, your new customer is willing to pay a higher price because they want to acquire your offered strategic advantages. You have become a Trusted Advisor and your company is perceived as a strategic partner.

In this complex world, to be more successful in sales, it is worthwhile to focus on your circle of competence.

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