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Sales agility – the key to succeeding in the new disruptive landscape

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Agility has become something of a buzz word in recent years. Increased disruption, spurred on by technology, stronger competition and cost cutting, is driving the need for organisations to become agile in all areas in order to succeed in this changing landscape. Against this backdrop sales agility may seem like a new and trendy concept. It’s not the case.

In reality, effective sales professionals have always been more agile than their less successful peers especially when it comes to winning complex sales. The correlation between sales success and agility has been around for decades.

Why? Fundamentally because no two customers are alike. Customers’ needs are wide and varied, influenced by their own goals and those of their department as well as their contemporaries within the decision-making unit (DMU) and the organisation at large. And the product or service requirements a customer started out with can morph and change as they journey through the Buying Cycle.

To be persuasive and engaging from customer to customer, to be able to create and articulate value not just for the person in front of you but for everyone involved in the DMU, while all the time keeping tabs on shifting ground, needs skill. And that skill is agility.

David Freedman, Director at sales and negotiation specialists Huthwaite International, sheds light on the crucial attributes of agile selling.

 

  • Active listening

Every customer’s perception of what agile looks like can be different.

Finding out what this means in each case is essential if the salesperson is to respond effectively. It’s not something that can be asked. And it’s not something most customers would think about in depth either, so may find hard to explain. The sales person has to work it out. The first essential skill in sales agility is therefore listening. That means really digesting the words the customer uses and how they choose to communicate their thoughts.

Years ago a not-for-profit organisation had problems with their fund-raising team. When asked by a specialist at Huthwaite to describe their organisation they talked about having poor performers, average performers and prima-donnas. They used a pejorative term to describe the high performers but not the other two groups. When this was pointed out it started to become clear that the charity had no culture of working with commercially successful people, so had difficulty communicating with their own high performers. That one piece of active listening and the insight it gave was all it took to find the right solution.

 

  • Flexible verbal behaviour

As well as deeply understanding how the customer is using language, skilled salespeople are equally careful when choosing the words they use.

It’s often unconscious. Many effective salespeople can’t tell you what it is that makes them successful or they ascribe their success to something that, on closer inspection, isn’t actually what they do. It’s what we call the perception gap or unconscious competence and it’s the reason why Huthwaite’s models are based on observational research – not just the consultative approach taken by many of our contemporaries. Research shows us that perception gaps are much narrower for skilled sales people as they are fully aware of the language they use.

The good news is you can train people to become more aware of their language and narrow that gap themselves. Even better, as people become more self-aware, they can make choices and adapt their verbal behaviours to become more effective. We call that flexible verbal behaviour and it’s the key to success in every verbal business interaction.

 

  • Questioning skills

Salespeople cannot be agile in meeting their customer’s precise needs, priorities, concerns and desired outcomes without an in-depth and complete understanding of what they are. Gaining that understanding needs rigour. When it comes to questioning a seller must develop a systematic, consistent, structured approach. Huthwaite’s SPIN® Selling model is one of the best examples of a questioning methodology; and that’s why it’s used by sales teams around the world including many of the Fortune 100.

Value and risk are important considerations in the decision to buy but they are perceptions first and foremost. The customer’s perception is what counts. They have to work it out and know it for themselves but the seller can help them reach a conclusion by asking insightful questions about the problems they face, the consequences of not solving them, and the benefits of using your solution. That enables the customer to communicate the value of the product or service to the rest of the DMU in a much more compelling way. There’s a huge difference between “the sales person told me we’ll save…” and “I’ve worked out we’ll save…”

 

  • Knowledge

Before a sales professional starts asking more questions it’s crucial to know what questions to ask. No matter how well developed their listening and questioning skills are, if they bombard the customer with questions that are irrelevant nothing will move forward.

Knowing the right background information on the customer will help. Information such as the problems the customer may be experiencing that your product can solve, and particularly where you know you can solve it better than the competition, is useful. As are any industry developments or general trends that may be driving the purchase decision.

 

  • Confidence

One of the most powerful tools in the sales person’s repertoire is their confidence. There is little that impresses potential customers more than the calm, assured demeanour of a genuinely confident sales person.

A confident seller develops trust, provides reassurance and enhances their and their company’s reputation as well as the customer’s experience. Confidence enables the sales person to explore the customer’s needs and offer ideas in the most persuasive manner possible. Confidence cannot be learned, it has to be gained, and there is no better way of gaining it than by being fluent in a sales methodology that works. Investing in high quality sales training can be a wise move for any organisation.

 

  • Understanding the customer’s business strategy

Customer organisations can be complicated things, with any number of challenges that need addressing and almost certainly not enough resources to do it all. Prioritisation is crucial. Doing the important before the urgent is sometimes hard, but it’s an ability all great leaders have.

Whatever is closest to the customer’s strategic direction is what matters most. If the client company has a defined and universally accepted business strategy that lies at the heart of every decision they make – and all good companies do – it’s vital sellers understand it too. They must have the skills and knowledge to uncover and understand their customer’s business strategy. By aligning solutions to strategy, sellers will maximise the chances of their project being prioritised and being allocated the resources to close the deal.

 

  • Consider the whole customer DMU

It’s a fact of life that corporate buying decisions are rarely made by one single individual. It always involves a team. It may be through a formal buying committee or simply asking for a second opinion over the coffee machine. But be aware that somewhere there is someone influencing the buying decision who you will probably never meet and may never hear of.

Current research suggests, on average, there are 6.8 individuals involved in a B2B buying decision. That’s at least six people, all with different needs, alternate, and possibly conflicting decision criteria and varying degrees of enthusiasm (or apathy) about the project, as well as each of the potential suppliers. How does the sales person manage that? In theory, they just get all the key players to the decision point at the same time and with all of them favouring their solution. In practice it requires a deep understanding of the role each person has in making the decision (which incidentally may have nothing to do with their job title) and a clear strategy to address each one.

 

  • Negotiation

So, you invest in sales training, develop your team’s skills, strategies and confidence and give them the knowledge they need to do an outstanding job. And they do; they accurately assess the customer’s view of agility, build both value and clear competitive differentiation, present a persuasive case for your solution and effectively manage the complexities of the buying organisation. You’ve ticked all the boxes – the users love your proposal and your company has signed it off. So that’s it, the deal’s yours, right?

Wrong. Now you have to go and see Procurement – the professional buyer. It’s time to negotiate. It’s Procurement’s job to tell you they like your proposal but they can get the same thing 20% cheaper elsewhere, and what can you do. Of course, what they’ve told you isn’t always true. If they can really get it 20% cheaper, and it really is the same thing, they’d have bought it from someone else. They want to do a deal with you but they want better terms. They claim it’s a buyer’s market and they have all the power but that’s not true either. Unless it’s an entirely frivolous purchase they have to buy from someone. (The clue is in their job title.) But that won’t stop them doing everything they can even to the point of undermining your confidence and devaluing your proposition.

There’s one thing you can be sure of. They are experienced negotiators. Are your sellers equally familiar with the process? If not, they should be. Negotiation skills are the last piece of the jigsaw, the final weapon in the ultimate sales person’s armoury. And don’t think you can cut corners by just training the sales managers to negotiate and sending in the ‘big guns’ at the close. Buyers love it – because the only thing a manager can do that a sales person can’t, is give more concessions.

When used in combination, these attributes unlock a deeper customer intelligence and a clearer understanding of what’s needed to win the business without compromising margin, or undermining the integrity of the product or business behind it.

 

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Top 10

2022: A FUTURE FOR SIMPLE AND FRICTIONLESS CROSS-BORDER PAYMENTS

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Dima Kats, CEO, Clear Junction

Dima Kats, CEO, Clear Junction

 

Even after 18 months of stuttered lockdowns, businesses are still learning how to navigate the effects of the pandemic. However, in 2022 there is a lot more certainty surrounding how events in the future might unfold compared to the start of the series of lockdowns in 2020-2021 – when businesses had to accommodate ever-changing rules.

Ironically, the coronavirus pandemic may be a catalyst for a more globalised world in the near future, which will directly and quickly affect the world of finance and payments.

 

Activity in the fintech sector.

Fintech development flourished over the course of the pandemic. Reducing the need for face-to-face interactions was essential for maintaining economic activity during lockdowns. Many of the trends that are driving the increased economic activity in the fintech sector are a direct result of social distancing: the rise of digital payments, increased work-from-home arrangements, retailers diversifying their payment channels, and an increased use of autonomous finance. As a result of these trends, there has been a large number of fintech start-ups emerging.

Due to the growth of the fintech sector in the past year, there has been a significant increase in demand for industry professionals, and the effects of that demand will be playing out into 2022. This is mainly due to employees being re-trained during the pandemic for new roles, creating a more skilled and mobile workforce.

 

Cross-border payments.

There are currently three trends that are reshaping cross-border payments, and in a sector that is predicted to reach over $156 trillion in 2022, staying ahead of those trends may prove to be a lucrative decision.

The first trend is the changing consumer demands. Customers are less inclined to pay for banking services while still expecting them to be fast and intuitive. Alternative service providers that can offer the customer more of what they want while being faster, cheaper and more transparent will gain a competitive advantage over banks.

The second trend is the increase in trade with emerging markets. As the share of international transactions involving emerging markets grows, cross-border payment solution providers are focusing on these markets. Growth in these emerging markets is bolstered by free trade initiatives, while some countries have established protectionist policies that slow them down. Growth in emerging markets is expected to be at around 11% per year, while the overall growth of cross-border trade is estimated at just 5% per year.

The third trend is that the accessibility of mobile phones has increased. As people gain a larger online presence, there is more opportunity for people to make online payments. The percentage of mobile phones ownership among adults in emerging countries is at 83%, compared with just 62% in 2014. This figure is expected to increase even further, and subsequently increase the number of e-payments being completed.

 

Cryptocurrency in 2022.

We expect to see cryptocurrency develop even more mainstream appeal as it becomes less speculative and more widely accepted. This will cause banks to increase their investment in fintech, in conjunction with governments introducing new regulations to ensure that transactions that involve both traditional currency and cryptocurrency are safer. One of the most tangible effects of the pandemic was the need to use online payment solutions. In the same way, people are beginning to trust and realise that cryptocurrencies may be a feasible payment solution even in the post-pandemic world.

Consumers are increasingly dependent on digital devices, but over half of them prefer to make online purchases over a computer than a mobile device. Mobile screens on smartphones or tablets are smaller than desktop monitors, which leaves users feeling discouraged and less secure while shopping compared to completing transactions over a desktop.

Mobile shopping or M-commerce has benefitted from several innovations that encourage users to finish payments on their phones: instant checkout solutions like Apple Pay, the use of augmented reality to show consumers the products they are buying, and sites building mobile-friendly user interfaces. Due to these innovations, Insider Intelligence predicts that shoppers will inch closer to using their mobile devices as a preferred channel in the next few years.

 

Open banking and the need for collaboration.

As the industry grows and becomes more diverse, there will be an increasing need for partnerships and collaboration to take advantage of the emerging opportunities.

One direction we’ll be seeing them in will be in the form of open banking. Traditional firms are beginning to see open banking as something more appealing due to the opportunity for partnerships. The rise of alliances within the finance industry began to take place long before the ongoing pandemic. Currently, over 30 partner banks represent hundreds of fintech  relationships and financial services. We think firms who adopt open banking early and secure partnerships will reap the rewards compared to their competitors.  firms who adopt open banking early and secure partnerships will see themselves reaping the rewards compared to their competitors.

2022 will likely be the year that open finance starts reshaping financial services and the year that banks savvy up to the opportunities that open finance represents. With regulators in the EU and UK proposing measures to heighten data sharing principles across a broader set of financial products, 2022 will see many banks experimenting and evolving their business models toward a more open, collaborative platform approach.

The multiple challenges to the finance industry over the last year have highlighted the need for fresh thinking, to face the future with strength and confidence. Fintech partnerships can create a significant opportunity for levelling the playing field, streamlining internal processes, adding technological capabilities, and improving the end customer experience.

Companies like Clear Junction offer businesses a mix of these benefits and opportunities at one time. Continued and original collaboration and partnerships between fintech companies and banks are essential for the future of the financial services industry and the finance sector. The digital marketplace is indeed growing, and the future belongs to the financial institutions that can stay ahead of the curve.

I think we need to add some context about the Fintech industry over the last 12 months, and how the pandemic has actually affected the industry. Need for innovation etc etc how much money has been put into it etc. And then lead on the predictions around talents and retraining. Otherwise this byline reads as just a list of predictions, without adding the relevant context.

 

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CHRISTMAS IS COMING: WHAT MAKES A GREAT ECOMMERCE STRATEGY FOR THE FESTIVE SEASON?

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Christmas Gifts

By Laura Lough, Director of Ecommerce Operations at Digital River

 

There is no doubt the year 2020 presented an array of economic and personal challenges worldwide. But, there was a silver lining for the world of ecommerce. By necessity, the pandemic encouraged people to shop online, which grew the ecommerce industry rapidly. The outlook for 2021 is cautiously optimistic. While consumers may react to lifted social distancing restrictions with exuberant spending, they could also continue to hang on to their money over fear COVID variants might cause more economic upheaval during the winter of 2021-22. Experts are predicting another year of growth, but not at the breath-taking rates seen in 2020.

Whether the growth rate surges or stabilises, one thing is certain: new shopping behaviours learned by consumers because of COVID are here to stay. Contactless payments, mobile wallets and social spending all saw new consumer use in 2020, and consumers who appreciate their convenience aren’t likely to abandon those new habits.

There are some fundamentals that eCommerce providers must take onboard now if they want to have a successful holiday season.

 

Meet your customers’ high expectations

Gone are the days when fulfilment and supply chain were little-known ecommerce topics. Shipping delays due to a surge in ecommerce demand in 2020 as well as the Suez Canal blockage in March of 2021 brought fulfilment issues to the front page, literally.

Adding to the challenges are current lorry driver shortages and supply chain disruptions. The upshot is supply chain issues will continue to challenge ecommerce brands. Those ramping up closer to the holidays are likely to face some headwinds. However, whether you’re ahead of the game or playing catch-up, you can develop fulfilment strategies that will serve you well in the years to come, as supply chain issues are not going away anytime soon.

Laura Lough

Businesses can use their data to intelligently predict consumer behaviour, allowing them to be ready for surges in demand for different products and locations. Avoid costly returns by giving the shopper an overload of information such as product images, comparison charts and reviews. To simplify reverse logistics and appeal to your customers, consider partnering with third-party drop-off sites for brands that don’t have physical stores.

Most critically, brands must communicate clearly, effectively and transparently with customers. They cannot expect sympathy from customers if fulfilment issues outside of their control delay delivery. Customers have come to expect shipping that fulfils their needs and desires—not the needs of retailers.

 

Accessibility for all

Many ecommerce marketing best practices that were true pre-COVID will continue to hold true this season. Retailers must develop unique customer acquisition strategies and marketing collateral for each market they enter — translated content isn’t enough. They should also use local channels, and messaging should remain cohesive across channels.

It’s critical to incorporate social buying into your marketing strategy as more customers are engaging with brands on their preferred platforms, which are increasingly social. Mobile commerce is another critical component to your marketing strategy, and it’s important to develop an optimised and responsive mobile experience for your customers.

Another important consideration is making sure your D2C platform is accessible to those with disabilities. In addition, brands need to pay attention to how COVID has affected various areas of the world, so tailoring your messaging to local realities is critical.

 

Payment strategies as a tool for business success

Payment systems are so important for brands that they should constitute a strategy in and of themselves, rather than just a back-office tactic. Over the pandemic several payment systems have become business-critical:

  • Digital Wallets: Consumer use of digital wallets surged during the pandemic. Chinese shoppers made the bulk of digital wallet purchases. In the US, digital wallet usage was up nearly 24% over 2019 numbers.
  • BNPL: Buy now, pay later (BNPL) is another payment method that is quickly rising in popularity. Brands offering BNPL have reported a 45% increase in average order value when customers pay in four instalments.
  • Mobile: Consumers will continue to rely more heavily on their smartphones to make purchases in 2021 and beyond. It’s critical for brands to optimise the mobile experience with payment methods that allow shoppers to pay with one touch of a button rather than entering a credit card number.
  • Direct Debit: Direct debit is another payment method that brands should consider adding to their online store. In this scenario, which is most popular in Europe, the retailer withdraws money directly from a consumer’s bank account.

 

Lean on tech

Underpinning every aspect of an eCommerce strategy is data. Businesses must leverage their data by developing a comprehensive customer-centric system that includes the entire customer lifecycle, including search, payment methods, and sales and shopper support data.

eCommerce providers can boost conversion rates, improve customer experience and reduce false declines by using a local payments processor that understands each market you’re in. Ensure that your payments partners are using retry logic to automatically route payments in a way that maximises the likelihood of authorisation.

Retailers simply must prepare well in advance for a surge in traffic to their platforms. If 2020 is any indication, the number of shoppers transacting through your platforms at any given time can vary wildly. That’s why it’s critical to test your system well ahead of time to ensure it can handle the load and make the adjustments early. More than any time of year, a failure to prepare spells trouble.

Finally, companies should select their partners carefully. They should look to work with back-office experts with specific tech and market experience. Appropriate partners can facilitate your brand to deliver tangible results this holiday season, ensuring you finish the year with a bang.

 

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