A new and pernicious myth as taken hold in many B2B Sales and Marketing organizations. The myth - that buyers are 60-70% of the way through their buying cycle before they talk with a salesperson - is an intentional fallacy based on a false generalization that “buyers” means “all buyers”. Search the web for phrases around this topic and you’ll find a substantial volume of vendors selling the myth as truth, much to their short term benefit. In my discussions with both vendors and practitioners (leaders in Sales and Marketing), it is disturbing when they throw out the "60-70% ..." statement as if it were "fact" when, in reality, it is not only false but damaging to the revenue engine of companies who sell in the B2B space.
Not All Buyers Know What They Need
Our point of view is that not only are there different types of B2B buyers (we've identified four categories we call archetypes), but that in today's economy there are multiple buyers involved in decisions and they operate in what we call agreement networks. Some of these buyers - especially most executive buyers - want help in understanding complex problems in their business (including “unrealized opportunities”) before they ever think about products. They may not yet be aware of a problem they are faced with, or they may know that they have a problem but don’t yet understand its patterns or implications or impact on their organization. They are (appropriately) weeks or months away from a search for a product or service. It is these buyers who set the direction, before asking others in the agreement network (e.g. their teams) to get deeper into the details, including acquiring solutions.
In most cases, the answers to life’s more complex questions have really simple answers. In today’s selling environment it’s often hard to determine who exactly is “the buyer.” Your salespeople are given a lot of inputs:
Your executive leadership want them calling on “business people” or “executives.”
The sales training courses they have been to instruct them to find “champions,” “decision-makers,” and “influencers.”
Marketers produce information about “personas.”
Business unit leaders and other subject matter experts talk about “users” or “doers.”
Sales managers tend to be more interested in understanding the opportunity (Access to power? Is it qualified? Is there budget allocate? When is the account going to make a decision?).
Their contacts within an given account give them different people or process steps to follow, or kick them over to procurement.
With all of the different voices – “You should do this,” “You should say that,” “You need to present this way” – echoing in the heads of your salespeople, things can get very confusing.
A Tale Of Two Sales
The thing is – the buying environment for most of us has changed, leaving us with two distinctively different buying patterns:
On the one hand, the customer knows what they want and have developed fairly sophisticated procurements steps to acquired what they need at the best possible price.
On the other hand, the customer is looking for the expertise to help them get value from their investment and solve a problem.
Why are sales and marketing professionals working harder and longer than ever before? Why are they seemingly in a constant firefighting mode, moving from one fire drill to the next, one meeting to another?
We are in the middle of a major transformation in the B2B sales model. Your company is caught between a rock and a hard place because your investors want to see accelerated growth and improved margins. However, your customers have the same pressures, and all have some form of enterprisewide strategic procurement initiatives underway. Your goal: sell at a higher price. Their goal: buy only what they need at the lowest possible price. Something has to give.
In response to these tectonic forces, we find many companies have a variety of internal projects designed to combat the commoditization trend. Some common efforts include:
Training salespeople to get access to executives.
Creating "solution selling kits" (in marketing).
Developing return-on-investment tools.
Focusing on demand-generation campaigns.
Developing sales-coaching frameworks.
Creating more structured opportunity identification and account scorecards.
Fine-tuning the customer relationship management (CRM) system to improve reporting and forecasting processes.
Pricing and packaging exercises and corresponding negotiation training.
Reinventing product marketing functions into "solution" marketing roles.
In a recent post, I introduced on a common scenario that sales leaders encounter whereby the CEO asks the chief sales officer to substantially add salespeople to the sales force to grow the bottom line. We see this strategy repeated over and over again and, unfortunately, it very frequently leads to deeply disappointing results for the CEO, investors, the board of directors, and the sales leader. Growing the sales force to grow the bottom line seems to make common sense, right? Well not exactly. Here’s why.
What is the desired impact of adding salespeople?
First, let’s look at what impact the stakeholders envision with the “add salespeople” strategy. Driving increased revenue and bottom line growth is anticipated from more salespeople acquiring more new customers. These representatives may be deployed in new geography to broaden the company’s footprint, or they may be added within the existing footprint where, with more salespeople, the company can reduce the number of accounts per salesperson with the expectation that those reps will invest more time with each buying customer to sell more offerings (cross-selling) per company.
Why doesn't adding salespeople produce increased revenue and bottom line growth?
There are really three factors for why significantly increasing the number of salespeople often doesn't result in expected financial growth. These are:
Unrealistic timelines associated with the expected results
Unanticipated expenses with adding and supporting salespeople
Your CEO just gave you your marching orders. “We’re going to organically grow the top line and profits by 30% over the next year. We’re going to grow the sales force to make this happen. I’ve discussed this with the Board and they agree with the strategy. So tell me what you need to accomplish this and let’s move forward.”
As a sales leader the opportunity to rapidly grow sales seems exciting. You’ve got the backing of the CEO, and the Board of Directors. You’ve got air cover. You’ve got a mandate. This is the stuff that great success stories are written about (and great resume’s), right? Yes it’ll be hard work, but you can just envision a year from now when your boss recognizes your success in growing the business on a big stage.
As the Chief Sales Officer, one of two options is now available to you.
Your boss, the CEO, told you to jump and you answer “How high?” You’re going to do exactly what your CEO told you to do. So you gather your management team and enthusiastically communicate the challenge and opportunity ahead. They’re all for it and will help rapidly put the plan together. You talk with your counterparts in Human Resources, Training, and Sales Operations (who will coordinate with Facilities and IT for the required resources). They’re all behind you (after all, this comes from the CEO). A week later, you present your formal plan to the CEO and tell her that interview scheduling is already in process. You’re on your way to growing sales and being a visible leader in a great success story.
When you put the word “sales” and “enablement” together – it sure can mean a lot of different things – to a lot of different people.
As the Research Director on Forrester’s Sales Enablement team – it’s a problem I see every day.
What’s entertaining about this (or aggravating, if you are a sales enablement professional inside a large company) is that not only do many people view those two combined words differently – many of those people are extremely confident their own perspective is the right one. Given what we publish, the number of presentations we give, all of the cross-functional group settings we run into – you might imagine we’ve heard our fair share of strong opinions.
Here are a few highlights of my favorite “certainties:”
· Sales enablement is just lipstick on a knowledge management pig.
· Sales enablement is the new label for sales training.
· Product marketers have been enabling sellers for years, what’s the big deal?
· Sales people should be enabling themselves with all of the resources we provide them.
· Marketing should own sales enablement, because it is clearly a content issue, and the sales force doesn’t have access to good content.
Many of our clients are building named account or strategic customer programs in order to drive more revenue from their existing customers. Unfortunately, few are even close to realizing their expected results. Understanding the challenges associated with cross-selling within large account structures is one of the track sessions at our upcoming Sales Enablement Forum.
Joining me in my track will be Tamara Schenk, VP of sales enablement at T-Systems. Tamara has definitely followed the path of the manager of “broken things” to evolving sales enablement as a more strategic function within her company. Here are some of her thoughts:
1. How has the role of sales enablement changed inside your company?
The role of sales enablement changed fundamentally inside T-Systems. We started with sales enablement three years ago after the consolidation of many different portfolio views to ONE portfolio. Consequently, we also consolidated the variety of different sales portals by implementing one cross-functional multidimensional sales enablement platform called SPOT ON. The hard work behind SPOT ON was to analyze existing sales content, to be brave enough to throw away thousands of documents and to define everything else in terms of target groups, content, purpose, mapping to sales outcomes, RACI matrix for each content type, content generation and content publishing activities including a content localization process.
During the first week of June, we had one of our quarterly Sales Enablement Leadership Council meetings in Barcelona, Spain. (A leadership council is comprised of executives from leading companies who work with us to set the direction for the near-term and long-term role of sales enablement.) For an entire day, we discussed the application of Forrester’s SIMPLE framework, which is a model designed to help combat the random acts of sales support that persist within most B2B companies, to common sales enablement leadership challenges.
The sheer volume of insight, ideas, new research topics, and techniques shared during that session was tremendous – far too much to share in one blog post. So, I am going to pick two issues that came up.
First off, Tamara, I hear you. I was told point blank that I need to participate in the social community more. I’m going to make a more dedicated effort to do this moving forward, but I need your help. Please tell me what you’d like me to share and how. Honestly, I get a little caught up around the axle about the many deliverable formats I’m responsible for (research reports, teleconferences, conference presentations, facilitating council meetings, client deliverables, etc.) so I would love the coaching from the community on what would be the most useful.
Secondly, at the beginning of our council meeting, we had a good discussion about where the sales enablement profession is heading. I’ve written a very detailed document defining the scope and role of sales enablement strategically, but there is an easier way to summarize the trends based on how you define the word “sales.”
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!