A few years ago, I took the helm of customer & market intelligence (CMI) for a large vendor. Executives wanted analysis that was more relevant — intelligence that was “deeper,” “more actionable,” and provided “knock-out punches.”
As a CMI leader, you likely hear the same thing. But, as you try to improve, you get feedback such as “the material is not helpful,” “looks the same as before,” or “isn’t specific enough.”
In hindsight, if I were to join a CMI team again, I would take a completely different approach — instead of trying to refine the research itself, I would change the design point.
CMI’s sales-oriented purpose is to prepare sales teams for customer conversations!
Earlier this week, during an interview with Forrester, a CMI leader commented, “CMI can make a strategic impact on sales because it prepares sales teams about important topics and potential surprises in customer conversations.”
But across the tech industry, CMI is not succeeding:
A Forrester survey of technology buyers shows that only 38% of sales “reps understand the customer’s issues and are able to identify how the vendor can help.”
Preliminary data from a Forrester study of marketing executives shows that 65% claim that one of their biggest strengths is “knowledge of the markets and customers we serve.”[i]
I recently talked with a CEO of a mid-sized software company looking to hire a new sales VP. The conversation quickly turned to strategies for assessing sales management candidates and the need the CEO had to better understand the skills and expertise of the entire sales team. He validated a lot of what I'm seeing in other organizations -- the skills of his sales team are shifting (i.e., salespeople need to sell differently).
To summarize the conversation, he wasn’t sure if the sales managers he had in the sales organization were the right people to help the sales organization achieve the vision set forth by senior leadership as they moved to a more consultative selling motion. Additionally, he wasn’t sure what "type of sales VP" he wanted to bring in to replace the other sales VP he just let go. He was really concerned with making sure the new sales VP would execute toward the end state vision for success.
All change is not growth; all movement is not forward.
-- Ellen Glasgow
Sales teams are changing (or have changed already!)
Sales transformation requires some sort of new action and behaviors from reps and managers. Investments in time and effort to change the actions and behaviors of sales team members require a long-term strategy for sales success. More importantly, that strategy needs to be built "outside-in" with the customer as the design point.
For example, a strategy to optimize consultative selling and transactional selling models at the same time requires an adjustment of content, skills, and tools within the team. While there are many other strategies at play in this newly emerging economic reality, one thing's for sure, transformation needs to happen at the individual level.
I often have to remind Sales Enablement professionals we're in the business to make the value communication vehicle more effective and efficient -- and sometimes we have to take a "one person at a time" approach.
To help any change take hold in the trenches, you have to focus on the individual at some point. To support change at this individual level, we have to recognize the strategic importance of creating a culture that is supportive of those changes.
When it comes to creating a culture, I often hear Sales Enablement professionals striving for a "sales coaching culture." In talking with them, I discovered many have a strong belief that a sales coaching culture creates a more collaborative and adaptive team.
Successful sales enablement reaches beyond just sales. Marketing functions such as customer and market intelligence (CMI) supply materials to your direct sales teams. This content can significantly improve sales impact if it is timely, relevant, and in-context, which for CMI means:
Timely - the right information available to sales teams at the right time.
Relevant - content that sales teams can easily adapt into customer content.
In-context - framed by the business outcomes that customers use to make purchasing decisions.
The words of "War," Edwin Starr's 1969 Motown classic, began ringing in my head this morning. It was brought on by a Harvard Business Review blog post by Steve W. Martin, "Why Sales and Marketing Are at Odds — or Even War." Within tech vendors, sales and marketing teams often fail to communicate or align go-to-market strategies. Forrester's sales enablement visionary Scott Santucci discussed the different languages of sales and marketing in his blog over two years ago. As for my own experience with sales and marketing:
A few years ago, I sat with the chief marketing officer and chief sales officer of a Fortune 100 tech vendor. The conversation didn't focus on customer problems, which should be the starting point for sales enablement professionals. The conversation didn't focus on sales efficiency issues such as sales cycle duration or win rates, which should be critical imperatives for all sales and marketing professionals. Each of these executives controlled massive budgets but neither one sincerely trusted the other. Their words were about aligning sales and marketing programs, but the real conversation, when read between the lines, was about control, boundaries, and politics. They were at war!
Have you noticed? A lot of help is heading toward the sales team these days. I've been thinking alot about all the help the sales team gets. I mean, it can come from different areas of the organization like product groups, marketing teams, or sales leadership. And it can come in the form of product or skills training, playbooks, tools, or technology (to name a few).