Sage Sales Advice for Any Industry

Sharing ideas to drive customer success from a proven sales leader.


At 5 by 5 Design we believe it’s possible to change the world by posing the right questions, listening to the honest answers, and following the path that emerges from the dialogue. Our conversation today looks at being strategic with your sales approach to accomplish the outcomes you want.  

Ken Steinbauer, President and VP Global Sales & Marketing for SICO Inc, is experienced in diverse industries and has consistently developed and implemented growth strategies. During his career he’s become a proven strategic leader with experience in full P&L accountability and successful guidance of global sales and marketing teams. We’ve asked Ken a few questions to tap into his knowledge and know-how.

1. What are the most important sales principles that apply to any industry?

I believe three fundamental sales principles transcend all industries:

Trusted relationships make things happen.

Zig Ziglar said it best, “If people like you they'll listen to you, but if they trust you they’ll do business with you.” One of the most difficult aspects of selling is building trust with your client. Trust is established over time and depending on the complexity and investment required of the solution being sold, that time needed could be minutes or days. However, regardless of the amount of time you have, the most important aspect is to ask relevant questions which will help your client express their challenges and demonstrate you understand their business. When trust is established the sales professional has earned the right to ask the prospect to invest in the solution.

Sell holistic value, not just products.

Clients do not just buy a product, they make their buying decision considering several factors: the salesperson, the company, the product, the investment, and when to buy. I cannot take 100% credit for this perspective. It’s shared by my friends at the Sales Board, a sales training company in Minneapolis that provides sales skills training based on research on how people make buying decisions. Their approach includes:

  • First, build trust (principle #1) by asking relevant questions.
  • Position your brand as a company with a track record of delivering solutions to other clients with similar challenges.
  • Position the features and expected benefits of the product.
  • Sell the investment and present the ROI.
  • Gain agreement to purchase.

Validate your client’s decision.

A couple of days after your client has decided to invest in your solution, follow up and provide your client with additional justification for selecting your solution. Everybody wants validation they have made the right decision. After your solution is delivered or implemented, follow up again to make sure your customer is satisfied. If there are any issues, as the sales professional, take ownership to get the issue resolved. The best salesperson is a customer who will recommend you, your company, and your solution.

2. What role does a company’s leadership have in supporting sales and marketing?

Sales and marketing teams work in harmony to identify opportunities and secure business. During the customer acquisition process, creating a positive customer experience is essential. Because the sales and marketing teams interact directly with the prospect/customer it is easy to understand how they can impact the customer experience, positively or negatively. However, every person in the company contributes to the customer experience. It’s the responsibility of the leadership team to ensure all employees understand their impact on the customer experience.

Whether it is an employee assembling a product on the factory floor or the accounting staff sending out a customer invoice, all employees interact with the customer through the quality of their work which contributes to the customer’s experience.

If there is an issue with the product when used by the customer, this contributes to a less than favorable customer experience and may impact the customer’s decision to do future business with the company or recommend the product to a potential customer. If accounting sends out an inaccurate invoice, it causes the customer to spend extra time and resources resolving the matter, again, not a great experience for the customer. These examples, along with countless others, can all impact the sales and marketing team’s opportunity to maintain current customers and gain new ones. With that said, the best way for leadership to support sales and marketing is to ensure everyone understands how their actions impact the customer’s experience.

3. Are there any tools, techniques, or processes you have used that create consistent sales results?

Many factors can contribute to generating consistent sales results. From a sales leadership perspective, there is one tool/process I have used, and it has proven to be invaluable in producing consistent sales performance: sales pipeline review meetings.

Before a sales pipeline review meeting can take place, you must define the sales process. The sales process identifies the stages a sales opportunity will progress through leading to a customer decision. A simple sales process would include the following stages:

  • Qualification—Is the prospect a good fit for the solution?
  • Needs Analysis/Discovery—Gain an understanding of the problem the prospect is wanting to solve.
  • Solution Presentation—Present the features and benefits of the proposed solution.
  • Proposal Presentation—Present the investment needed and reinforce the features and benefits of the proposed solution.

Once you have the sales process defined, a sales pipeline review meeting can be conducted. The sales pipeline review meeting is the opportunity to discuss with the salesperson the disposition of each sales opportunity in the sales process. Topics covered should include the accuracy of the sales opportunity profile (sales value, probability of close, expected order date), challenges/objections presented by the prospect, and planned next steps to move the opportunity closer to a purchase decision. The pipeline review meeting provides the perfect forum for collaboration and coaching to support the salesperson in converting opportunities into orders.

4. How has the current pandemic changed the world of sales and marketing?

From a marketing communications perspective, I don’t think the pandemic has created a paradigm shift. What is has done, is emphasize the importance of creating exceptional content and effectively using the landscape of digital delivery platforms to reach prospects and customers.

From a sales perspective, this is a different story for those businesses that have traditionally used field sales models as their primary approach to selling their solutions. But first, let me say, business is all about building trusting relationships and I don’t believe trusting relationships can be established and nurtured only using video/audio platforms. However, numerous studies and articles present compelling data that buyers and sellers have adopted digital/virtual interactions to conduct business. McKinsey & Company published one of the best articles on the impact of selling due to the pandemic.

I think the evidence is clear that sales teams need to be developing strategies that transform their selling approach with a balance between digital and in-person selling, but that balance will be driven by how customers want to engage.

Especially now, it’s important to stay in communication with your customers and do not stop prospecting for new customers. For those companies impacted by the pandemic, keep in mind that it will end. And when the pandemic is over you will want your sales pipeline full. I also believe your customers want to hear from you during these challenging times. You need to show genuine and authentic interest and concern for your customers, this will help build the trusted relationship which is paramount to conducting business. Also, if you are a trusted partner, your customers are interested in how you and your company are doing. So, remember, stay connected with your customers because you care, and you will be top-of-mind when they need to start purchasing again.

5. What common mistakes do you see sales teams making that they shouldn’t?

Sales teams are generally well trained on the features and benefits of their products, in asking the rights questions to understand the customer’s challenges and the customer’s decision-making process. Product knowledge and understanding of the customer’s business is important, but the sales professional must also effectively manage the customer through the decision-making process. This is where I see the most common mistake. Before leaving a customer interaction, the sales professional needs to ask the customer for a commitment to move forward with some specific action. That commitment could be as simple as agreeing to another meeting to discuss needs, or a commitment to provide additional introductions to key stakeholders in the decision-making process. If the sales professional does not gain a commitment for the next action, at best you had a nice meeting, and at worst you have stalled the sales process making it very difficult to re-engage the customer. Always leave a customer interaction with a commitment from the customer to do something which gets you closer to asking for the order.

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