Sales enablement professionals with responsibility for sales training clearly have a conflict: the desire to help salespeople be successful, and the demands of the organizational leaders who request multiple training activities for Sales. The fact is, many sales training plans are massively diluted by a mish mash of uncoordinated training activities. Training organizations are so bombarded by requests from Marketing, product groups, executives, sales management, and others, that they could deliver many months-worth of full day training events to salespeople every year -- if sales leadership would allow it. So managing demand, expectations, and results is a major challenge for training leaders.
How Effective Is Sales Training?
Considering the amount of time that’s already invested in training, CEOs, sales leaders, sales managers are often asked how effective and impactful they believe sales training is. That’s reasonable given that they foot the bill, right? Nonetheless, their views are a distant second in importance to those whose opinion matter most. The people that best know how effective and impactful your sales training is are your buyers.
Think about it. Salespeople are employed for the sole reason that you sell something complex enough that your customers need to talk with a salesperson to buy it. If that was not the case, they’d buy online and be done with it. Wouldn’t you? So every salesperson’s job is to create value for customers via their conversations. If they don’t accomplish that then there’s little chance of a sales because they’ll go elsewhere. So buyers, ultimately, are the purest judge of whether your sales training is effective in supporting selling (and consequently buying).
This certainly doesn't mean most marketing is useless, but it's a telling statistic about the divide that separates marketing messages that operate at 30,000 feet from sales conversations that happen at 3 feet — the average distance between a salesperson and a prospect during a sit-down meeting.
In this digital age, it's increasingly important for marketing to play a bigger role in helping sales not just get "your" message in front of a customer, but to make it "their" message — something that the buyer cares enough about to talk to your rep and to do something that upsets the status quo as a result. It's about creating content that can play dual roles: attracting and educating buyers while giving sales a deeper understanding about what's attracting that attention in the first place. To achieve both, marketers have to understand their buyers. Better. Deeply. Obsessively.
In our research, executive buyers tell us that referrals are far more effective than other approaches for gaining access to them. Yet the referral strategy is ignored in most corporate sales organizations. If you want your salespeople to have greater success accessing executive buyers, then it’s time to consider this important yet forgotten strategy.
Do salespeople in different roles (e.g., strategic accounts, geographic, inside sales) and with different levels of experience have different perspectives on selling? Not significantly, according to our Q1 2012 North American Technology Seller Insight Online Survey.
Our recently published report “What Do Reps Believe Makes A Meeting Successful?” illuminates how similar the perspectives of sellers in different roles and with different levels of experience really are. If your company has one kind of sales role and one very consistent type of buyer, and they are well aligned, then this data may not much matter to you. But if you have different roles and types of buyer, then it’s worth examining the data in this report.
We found that three-fourths of salespeople agree that the most important aspect of a successful meeting with prospective buyers is their ability to understand the buyers’ business issues and share a way to solve them. The thing is, Forrester’s Q4 2012 Global Executive Buyer Insight Online Survey data, and interviews with executive buyers, clearly illuminate that the majority of buyers believe that salespeople are not successful in meetings with them.
“It's no longer sufficient to say that you are simply ‘customer-centric" or "customer-focused.’ The only successful strategy in the age of the customer is to become customer-obsessed — to focus your strategic decisions first and foremost on how your customers expect you to engage them.
Through our ongoing conversations with executive buyers, professionals in sales enablement, and through survey responses from hundreds of global executive buyers, Forrester’s Sales Enablement practice has discovered a massive gap between buyers’ expectations of salespeople and what they’re actually experiencing when they meet with reps. In fact, less than 40% of executive buyers say that meetings with salespeople meet their expectations (see figure 1). Further, only one in three IT executives said that sales meetings "usually" live up to expectations, and just over two of five business executives said that sales meetings hit that mark (see Norbert Kriebel’s report: Executive Buyer Expectations — The Bar Is Low).
Considering that perhaps 25% or less of the typical sales force is even capable of gaining access to executive buyers, consider the cost when these meetings miss buyer expectations and result in no further opportunity.
Peter O’Neill here with some comments about being truly effective at content marketing. Did you know that B2B buyers say that 70% of the content they read and study before making a purchase decision is actually found by themselves; as opposed to being given to them by marketing or sales? At Forrester, we like to talk about the new interaction model of need-match-engage, where the buyers now initiate the interaction and spend a major part of their buyer journey doing their own research before calling in potential suppliers.
Content marketing has therefore become much more than product and solutions collateral, campaigns, mailings, and fulfillment. B2B marketers have to be great at being found by buyers in their early research phase (the phases we call discover and explore). In a way, successful marketers will “fool” their buyers into consuming their thought-leadership and educational content in stages 1 through 5 — while hardly realizing its source. And the most successful marketers will learn how to mix their brand "scent" into that content without appearing to be selling — to the extent that buyers will count it as part of their 70%.
I (Lori Wizdo) am on a plane, flying to San Francisco, to participate in Forrester’s Technology Sales Enablement Forum. As I was prepping for my (limited) role in the event, I had a flashback to one of the most famous disses of the sales profession ever written.
It’s contained in the 1960’s article "Marketing Myopia”, written by Theodore Levitt, which has become one of the best known and most quoted of Harvard Business Review's articles. The article is essentially about having a business strategy that concentrates on meeting customer needs rather than selling products. A key take away, which most marketing or business school grads remember, is the observation that “had railroad executives seen themselves as being in the transportation business rather than the railroad business, they would have continued to grow.”
However, it is also in this article that Levitt was breathtakingly critical of the sales profession: "Selling concerns itself with the tricks and techniques of getting people to exchange their cash for your product. It is not concerned with the values that the exchange is all about." He went on to explain that sales "does not...view the entire business process as consisting of a tightly integrated effort to discover, create, arouse, and satisfy customer needs. The customer is somebody 'out there' who, with proper cunning, can be separated from his or her loose change."
Well, that might have been true then (who I am to disagree with a marketing legend) but it’s definitely not true now – and certainly not in the tech industry.
For months, I’ve blogged about the reasons why battle cards are important, ways to evaluate battle cards, and most recently, the need for standards to tighten their value and give battle card creators and users common ground. In an upcoming webinar, that is open to the public and free of charge. I will tie this theme together with a focus on business impact.
Join me on September 7 for a public webinar by Forrester – Register here.
On the webinar, I’ll tackle a straightforward question:
“How do sales enablement professionals work cross-functionally to optimize sales content about competitors for reps so they can improve the win rate in competitive deals?”
I’ll outline the path forward for sales enablement professionals to collaborate with their peers in marketing, product management, and competitive intelligence to build better battle cards by:
Focusing on the problems that buyers are trying to solve
Prioritizing the criteria that drive buyer choices in purchase scenarios
Shaping your content based on how buyers perceive your company and competitors
Communicating the benefits and results that buyers care about
During the first week in August, Forrester launched the Battle Card Standards Group to address head on the challenges and opportunities that they face in creating competitive battle cards for sales teams. This group is meeting weekly to outline industry standards to help sales enablement professionals bridge the gap between what a myriad of groups create and what sales reps actually need to win in competitive deals.
Some challenges mentioned by participants include:
“Sales reps often ask for negative information about competitors - FUD (fear, uncertainty, or doubt) – but, customers usually react negatively when reps say derogatory things about competitors.”
“We struggle to map our battle cards to (1) different selling situations or engagement models (transactional vs. consultative) and (2) the levels of stakeholders that we are addressing (influencers, decision-makers, or purchasing professionals).”
“We structure battle cards in a way that reps can use directly in their conversations with customers.”
Forrester’s sales enablement team is launching a collaborative effort with our clients and other experts to establish standards for competitive battle cards and I invite you to participate – send me an email to join.
If you are on the receiving end of battle cards today, you know the big challenge intimately because I hear you daily in my inquiries saying things like, “how can we standardize battle cards that come from dozens of different teams?” and “How do we equip our sales reps to anticipate and respond to competitive obstacles more effectively?” For those of you on the supply side, I hear you too, saying, “every sales rep asks for different things” and “we don’t have a way to measure the impact of our work, so we keep doing what we think is best.”
Stuck in the middle are the folks battle cards are supposed to be helping in the first place – sales reps – who tell me, “it takes too much work to find and use our battle cards” and “I need competitive insights, but I tap other sources that are more reliable.”
Consider the size of this opportunity! When we get this right, we will be able to connect battle cards with real business outcomes – like faster sales cycles and win rates against key competitors – and isn’t that why we build battle cards in the first place? Opportunities will advance through the pipeline more quickly when sales reps have tools to anticipate and effectively respond to obstacles created by competitors.