As sales forces in many organizations face a busy fiscal year-end, they are also planning for how to grow revenues in 2015. I’ve been working with clients who are looking for insights and ideas on how to increase their revenue footprint in their key accounts next year. In our discussions, we often discover that their organizations lack comprehensive understanding of where untapped opportunity resides in accounts – for example in other departments, divisions or business units, or other geographies. They also determine that they have operational barriers that inhibit sales teams from collaborating with each other to add more value to their customers. If you believe that your firm has untapped opportunities to better serve your customers across additional departments, business units, or geographies, now is the time to take action. But where should you start?
First, Figure Out Who Needs To Be Involved
To ensure that you maximize the potential of your key accounts, you need the participation of people beyond just your sales reps. To get this right, you need leaders from sales, sales operations, marketing, and potentially product groups and your tech management team, as well as front line sales teams, to come together to inventory your current key account presence or penetration.
Next, Ensure Your Sales Force Has Accurate Information . . .
To help your sales force plan and execute their key account growth strategies, you’ll need to ensure that they have accurate information about the legal and financial structure of accounts. Providers like Dun & Bradstreet utilize established legal and financial organizing structures (i.e., SEC) and data to gain accurate visibility into the legal, financial, and organizational structures of your accounts, as well as contact information.
Recently, I spoke with the CEO of a company who grumbled about the dozens of calls he receives from salespeople each week that land in his voicemail. He told me, “They clearly don’t even understand what business we’re in” and “They should know that their subject was for a person three layers below me.” When conducting a workshop on aligning their sales force with executive buyers later the same day, it was interesting to discover that this company’s own inside sales team has a performance metric of making a minimum of 100 outbound calls to targeted executive buyers per rep per day.
Does your company understand your buyers and how they want to be engaged?
When your salespeople are good enough — or lucky enough — to gain a meeting with an executive-level buyer, it’s a precious opportunity to create a revenue opportunity. Yet executive buyers tell us that only 20% of the salespeople they meet with are successful in achieving their expectations and creating value. Only one in four of these salespeople get agreement from executive buyers to meet again. Following are executive buyer responses to the question, “Are vendor salespeople frequently prepared for your meetings in the following ways?”:
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.
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).
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.
Last week I spoke with the VP of Sales for a tech company that used to have the hottest product in his market. In housing terms, they used to be an exclusive and much sought after neighborhood, but now the competition has moved in on all sides and sales are down. His sales force is facing a vastly growing number of competitors. Some are much larger and have broader portfolios that give them better presence in customer accounts. They’re getting squeezed and are finding it harder to compete in deals where they used to be the only solution.
Your only true differentiation comes from how your reps interact with your buyers
What’s interesting is that the vendor mentioned above is still experiencing consistent success when his company’s salespeople gain access to executive buyers early in their decision process and work in a consultative manner with those buyers to shape a vision of a solution. When that happens, salespeople are confident discussing the business issues faced by those buyers. They’ve found certain industries that they know well where they are able to do this consistently. They are not getting squeezed by competitors and they are winning. But often, they're chasing deals that competitors started and reps are drawn into an RFP frenzy that chews up time and resources. After all, they used to win these deals, but now they're pretty demoralized and reps are starting to leave.
Sales Managers Err In Biasing Toward Years Of Sales Experience In Making Hiring Decisions
Thousands of sales managers, and the human resources (HR) teams that support them, consider years of relevant sales experience to be a key criterion for recruiting and hiring salespeople. In the new economy, however, sales experience is an unreliable indicator of future success versus another key characteristic. In fact, assumptions about sales experience that have guided sales hiring for more than a hundred years should be discarded in the age of the customer, in which buying dynamics have radically changed.
Successful sales managers, now, will focus on hiring salespeople who are best able to deeply understand their customers and align with their buyer's communication needs and preferences, as opposed to their product or vendor-industry expertise. Buyer empathy may be found in highly experienced salespeople or developed in inexperienced salespeople.
Sales Experience Is Not An Inherent Advantage For Engaging With Executive Buyers
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.
Who is your company’s Number One competitor? Actually, it’s not who you think it is. In fact, it’s probably not “who” at all, but rather “what” that is taking away the most sales from your sales team(s).
We recently asked 180 IT salespeople with greater than three years of experience this question: “Thinking about the opportunities you’ve lost in the last 12 months, what is the most common reason for the loss?” They replied that in 43% of losses the reason was “Lost funding or lost to no decision: customer stopped the procurement process.”
Your Real #1 Competitor
Your company’s “competition,” more often than not, is actually buyers deciding not to make a decision at all. You lose to a “no decision.” Your perceived competitors didn’t win either. No transaction happened, no value was created; only cost was incurred by all parties involved. OK, so is this really a "new competitor." No. However, due to changes that I'll discuss below, it is a competitor that has gained far more of a foothold on business that you would like to have. So what happened?