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.
Peter O'Neill here with my next edition of the somewhat regular blog in which I highlight something important for you about B2B marketing in Germany. This time, I’ll give you some exclusive German market details from our new report “Interactive Design Agency Overview, Europe 2013” published by my illustrious colleague Jonathan Browne. In the report, fully available to Forrester clients, Jonathan analyzes and compares 54 European agencies according to various criteria:
1. The type of work that the agencies do — from market strategy through web design to app development.
2. Geographic and industry-sector coverage (see below for a specific cut for Germany).
Lots of leaders believe that their sales force (and marketers, product developers, etc.) know their buyers. I disagree. Well, they may know their names and titles and a bit more. But let’s get real. Do the majority of your salespeople really understand how their buyers actually perceive value in what your company provides?
Look, I love the sales profession and am committed to keeping it relevant in the new economy. So I am not bashing Sales. But "Houston, we have a problem" with selling, because too many of our sellers don't understand how buyers really calculate value.
What’s to Understand?
As a sales manager, sales leader, and business coach prior to joining Forrester, I’ve had thousands of opportunities to observe professional B2B salespeople from many companies and industries in meetings with prospective customers and clients. I’ve reviewed countless business proposals and presentations before they were put in front of IT and executive buyers. This experience has informed me that far too many (and I mean FAR too many!) salespeople lack understanding of the basis for which a prospective customer is really making a decision. Let's not point fingers. Let's just help salespeople figure this out.
Think about your own buying experiences. Out of all of the salespeople who you’ve ever interacted with, how many can you think of who asked the right questions to really truly understood what you were trying to accomplish and what you and your company were most concerned about (other than price)? For me, just a small percentage of salespeople stand out in my mind. And they do stand out, even after many years. How about you?
Like many other sales leaders, the sense that tectonic shifts in the dynamics between buyers and salespeople are happening has been palpable to me for a number of years. Researching these changes is why I joined Forrester just weeks before this year’s Forrester Research Sales Enablement Forum. At the Forum, I had a number of surprise learnings or “aha moments” gained from colleagues and members of our Sales Enablement Council who are learning in real time as sales enablement practitioners.
A Cross-Organizational System Issue
The seemingly endless search for the right “solution” to improve sales performance feels like a continuous plodding pilgrimage for many sales leaders. What I learned at the Forrester Sales Enablement Forum, and have experienced with new illumination since, is why the silver bullet solutions (i.e., tools, programs, training, materials, promotions, technology) that leaders in sales, sales operations, HR, and sales training invest in really ever meet our expectations for delivering better overall top-line performance.
There is true chaos that exists in the selling systems of most companies. Various business functions scurry to support the effort of increasing sales. My core learning from the Forum was that we have to ask whether we even have a selling system. My realization in working with clients over the past five months is that most companies “enable” their sales forces through dis-integrated, costly, inefficient, and ineffective multifunction (as opposed to cross-functional) silos of investments that have a poor performance improvement yield.
Peter O'Neill here. Several people have asked me to re-post this blog from a few years ago. Here it is .....
It is January, 2015, and technology sales reps Reg, Xerxes, Francis, and Loretta have been to the movies to watch a rerun of Monty Python’s Life of Brian, probably one of the best film comedies of any time. At dinner afterward, they are reliving the scene where the commandos discuss “what did the Romans ever do for us” when one of their marketing colleagues stops by to say hello. After the marketing manager leaves, they continue their discussion.
Now there’s another point. Those people in marketing. What have they ever done for us?!
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%.
B2B marketing leaders are striving to position their companies as “thought leaders.” And why not? If you do not have a truly disruptive technology, product, service or idea (in which case you actually are a thought leader) being seen as a thought leader gives your company strategic differentiation. It helps you stand-out in the cacophony of messages that your customers must sift through to find you. Given the complexities that B2B buyers face when making decisions for sophisticated solutions, your thought leadership might just be the most important part of your marketing program. It becomes part of your brand value. It converts you from a commodity supplier into a trusted advisor who can lead the customer to achievement of their vision.
Your thought leadership only matters if people read it, see it, or hear it.
Now here is some more “earned media” for Cisco. As usual, full disclosure rules require me (Peter O’Neill here) to note that Cisco invited me to its latest Partner Velocity conference in Cannes last week. As they told, the agenda was truly in my sweet zone of research: the challenges of B2B marketing including channel marketing. This annual worldwide conference was held in Las Vegas last year but the last one I had attended was the previous European event two years ago in Barcelona. As I wrote then, I continue to be truly excited by what I saw and heard at the event.
Cisco is the ONLY tech vendor that holds an event of this strength exclusively for marketers – the marketers who work for its business partners. I’ve been on vendor/partner marketing advisory councils but this one was a marketing training event and which IT vendor besides Cisco thinks it is good enough at its own marketing to be able to hold such an event for others? I had some really great conversations with marketers across the globe – I collected business cards from South Africa, Nigeria, Dubai, Lithuania, plus across Europe and North America. It is interesting to hear that marketing has similar issues (getting enough executive support, proving its value, lack of resources) all over the world.
Two things I noted especially at this year’s event:
This week, Colt launched its Ceano cloud services for SMBs with a particular focus on the reseller channel that actually services these businesses. As this announcement combines the business strategy of a telco provider with an innovative channel strategy, Forrester analysts Dan Bieler and Peter O’Neill have again combined (as in their previous blog on Cisco) to discuss their impressions: