I’m not a whiskey drinker, but I do love history, and selling. So when I read this quote from the October 16, 1861 Memphis Daily Appeal in a University of North Carolina blog recently, I couldn’t help get a chuckle and also make a connection to today’s sales enablement challenges.
“Times are tight here, as indeed they seem to be everywhere. Pea-nuts have advanced fifty per cent., and three-cents-a-drink whisky is now so diluted, I am told, that a good sized drink would come near to bursting a five gallon demijohn [a large bottle having a short, narrow neck, and usually encased in wickerwork]. I have noticed several who kept well soaked during the winter season have not been generally more than half drunk during the present, owing to the aqueous element present in the elevating fluids, thus preventing the stomach from holding enough to affect the head.”
This quote relates to sales performance in two ways. First, this article was written at a historically significant time in regard to how your sales force probably sells your offerings today. Second, a trending business strategy — in response to contemporary financial challenges — has diluted the potency of what, until recently, your buyers valued most about your salespeople.
I’ve been covering the sales enablement space here at Forrester for six years. While the concept is certainly more common than it was “back in the day”, I’m not really sure we as a community have a lot of clarity about how to get various Marketing, Human Resources, IT, Finance, and Sales groups on the requisite same page required to drive the desired effectiveness and efficiencies of most sales enablement initiatives across the selling system.
The problem today? Sales is Getting Too Much Well Intended Help and Not Enough Real Support
One of the important realizations that we continue to illuminate for business leaders is that when all of these groups are working independently to support sales, a tremendous amount of uncoordinated, redundant, or conflicting investments are made. Corralling these “random acts of sales support” is job #1 of any strategic sales enablement initiative…but how do you determine whose efforts are the random ones? Whether you are in a small or large organization there are many different people are certain they know what salespeople need to be successful, resulting in an avalanche of sales enablement deliverables, but few real results.
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.
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.