VOC skills that drive B2B sales

Want to sell more? Paradoxically, you need to do less “selling.” Instead, ask the right questions about your customer’s problems. We’ve known this since 1988 from the research supporting SPIN Selling. But which probing questions separate the best sales professionals from the rest? To answer this, we surveyed 396 B2B sales professionals with over 6,000 years of combined experience concerning 12 voice-of-customer skills.

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Preview: VOC skills that drive B2B sales

Some survey questions were about listening, some about probing, and others about related VOC (voice of customer) skills. The survey also measured the selling success of respondents, both in terms of their self-assessment vs. peers, and their success against their sales quotas. Here are 11 takeaways:

1. The average salesperson thinks listening skills are the most important … and believes they personally are quite competent at listening.

2. Understanding context—the customer’s task or job-to-be-done—is also viewed as extremely important, on par with listening.

3. The average salesperson sees probing skills as less important than listening… and is less competent in probing than listening.

4. Probing skills are greater differentiators than listening when comparing those claiming to be the most successful sellers with average sellers.

5. Probing skills are also greater differentiators than listening when comparing those exceeding their sales quotas with those missing them.

6. Salespeople with more years of experience are more skillful at probing … but aren’t much better at listening than those less experienced.

7. Prior sales training has little impact on VOC competencies. The lone exception is that “probing for value” improves with training.

8. Three related VOC skills: Capturing CRM notes and virtual VOC skills are seen as less important than skills in taking customer tours.

9. The ability to gain insights on customer tours is a strong differentiator in selling success… on par with probing skills.

10. Capturing CRM notes was a very strong differentiator when comparing those exceeding their sales quotas with those missing them.

11. These survey results are essentially the same for all types of B2B offerings: materials, components, finished goods, and services.

In a nutshell, here were the most revealing findings: (A) Probing skills are the strongest differentiators of selling success. (B) Salespeople can improve these skills, but it takes them decades. (C) Traditional sales training does little to improve probing skills.

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