I’ve had the privilege of working with many outstanding sales professionals in my years of training, but the ones who stand out are the sales intrapreneurs, those who go above and beyond consultative selling to create and deliver superior value to their customers and their own companies.
We admire the consultative salesperson. Regardless of whether you call it consultative selling or challenger selling or something similar, it’s seen as the pinnacle of sales professionalism and skill: the valuable elite who create value for their customers by going beyond what they want or think they need; who solve problems the customers don’t yet know they have; who bring new ideas and insights to improve their business.
But, as important as consultative selling is, it still carries an important limitation. It implies a one-way flow of information: the seller has superior insight and knowledge and imparts that to the buyer.
But the extensive sales literature seems to overlook the fact that customers may just possibly be as smart as we are, or might have a bit more insight into the problems than we give them credit for. They may actually know about needs that we’re not aware of.
Or sometimes during the creative exchange of ideas between buyer and seller a need emerges that the seller is not prepared to fill. Maybe they don’t offer the right solution, or maybe because it’s a newly discovered need the solution does not even exist.
What happens in that case? Does the salesperson wish the customer good luck with their problem and just walk away? That would be the prudent thing to do; why spend time chasing something that doesn’t exist?
But while it may be prudent in the short term, there are two problems with walking away. First, once a need is known somebody will eventually figure out how to fill it and steal your customer. Second, there is a lot of value that is being left on the table.
Enter the intrepreneurial salesperson, the rare individual who refuses to accept the risk and cost of walking away from the customer’s needs. The intrapreneurial salesperson turns his or her consultative skills internally, brings fresh and challenging insights to management, acquaints them with undiscovered problems or opportunities, develops internal champions, and agitates for change. The intrapreneurial salesperson thinks and creates.
They work just like an entrepreneur, the person who sees a need and finds a way to fill it by creating the right solution. Intrapreneurs do the same thing, but do it within their own company. Entrepreneurs work for themselves, but intrapreneurs work for their employers. They work internally to develop new products, services, processes, offerings, and capabilities, which remain the property of the company they work for.
Keep in mind that a sales intrapreneur is not just resourceful. There are salespeople who know how to get things done internally for their customers, such as pushing up delivery dates or securing sale engineering resources. That’s a great talent to have, but it does not make one an intrapreneur. Intrepreneurs create something new.
When they succeed, they may simply win a difficult deal, which is a good thing. Or, as in several cases I’ve seen, they may even create a whole new product category or market, which is a great thing.
Every intrepreneur, regardless of their function within a company, is a salesperson—they have to be, to get their idea accepted—but remarkably few salespeople are intrapreneurs. We’ll look at why that is in the next article in this series.