Have you ever been to a Michelin-starred restaurant? The Michelin Guide was created in 1900 to recognize world-renowned restaurants. Today, its highest-rated 3-star establishments total only 84 worldwide.
While the cuisine gets these restaurants on the Michelin map, it’s not always what keeps them there. It takes innovation, exceptional service, and most importantly, the right people to ensure a restaurant keeps its Michelin stars. The Wall Street Journal has reported on the attention to detail required to retain a position as a server at these restaurants:
“Waiters are expected to be at ease and in command of a wide range of facts and skills. In a 16-course dinner at Eleven Madison Park, a single plate might have 15 ingredients and five preparations. … Servers are expected to have accurate answers to specific questions about food allergens, the type of sea salt in a particular dish or the origin of the duck. Service of one dessert, a seasonal cheesecake with chocolate, requires the server to perform a card trick.”
There are few industries in addition to Michelin-level restaurants in which outstanding service is always expected; one of them is B2B sales. Effective B2B sales and restaurant managers alike evaluate their teams on their ability to recognize each unique customer interaction and execute superiorly every time. Successful restaurant servers and salespeople differentiate themselves by displaying an unparalleled understanding of customers combined with a high level of creativity. They are able to adjust on the fly, recognize the subtle dynamics of a group of customers, and deliver the level of satisfaction that guarantees return visits and thus return sales.
It takes a very special person to own some of these attributes, let alone all of them.
These two careers — B2B sales representative and restaurant server — share another major characteristic. The difference between average and world-class talent is their situational intelligence: how a candidate responds to and executes in various group dynamics, individuals and scenarios. Buyers have come to expect a world-class, highly personalized experience from Michelin restaurants and B2B salespeople.
Like restaurant patrons, each B2B prospect brings a unique background, level of preparation, experiences and preferences to the table. Some prospects have a more in-depth knowledge of the product or service than others, some have preconceived opinions of that product or service based on online reviews or conversations with others, and some like having their hand held from the get-go.
Sales reps with high levels of situational and emotional intelligence can quickly assess the prospect’s emotional state and accommodate it. From my experience, the most effective sales reps are the ones who can quickly and easily read a room, aren’t afraid of stepping outside the box, and use creativity to properly execute on every detail (They’re also some of the most competitive people I know.)
But why does situational intelligence matter? Today’s B2B buying process is very different from that of even 10 years ago. Old-school selling typically required wining and dining a single prospect who was prepared to listen to a pitch and evaluate a product on this single experience. But today, when it takes an average of 5.4 decision makers to sign-off on a single purchase, it takes a skilled salesperson to satisfy the needs and priorities of a wide range of buyers.
Most buyers’ inboxes are chock-full of generic emails from sales reps who mention a few product features and blue-chip logos, and so many in-person meetings get derailed by broad, impersonal sales presentations. Effective sales reps require high levels of situational intelligence to stand out from the clutter. Much like the one server you had many years ago at a favorite restaurant that was immediately able to develop a rapport with you — the one you always think of when deciding where to dine in the evening — the best sales reps are the ones that come to mind when it’s time to make another purchase, often even before the product itself.
The Wall Street Journal article goes on to say that in the restaurant industry, details matter. From preparation to bidding customers adieu, every detail is executed without a single slip. Sales leaders must instill the same level of attention and preparation in their sales reps, and ensure they have the tools they need to execute properly with every customer. When sales leaders hire reps that are situationally intelligent and enable those reps with the customer-first mentality necessary to deliver unparalleled levels of satisfaction, they will build a rapport similar to that of a Michelin-starred restaurant.
When it comes to world-class establishments — in restaurants and sales — word travels fast. Especially today, with the expansion of online reviews and social media, customers talk fast. Sales teams have no choice but to deliver exceptional service to each prospect every time.
Ed Calnan is the president of Seismic Software, a leading end-to-end sales enablement solution. Calnan brings 20 years of sales leadership experience from ADP, Thomson Financial, S&P Capital IQ, Document Sciences, and EMC. He holds a B.A, in political science from St. Michael’s College.
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