Posted by Scott Santucci on September 22, 2009
It used to be that sales people could hit their numbers by responding to inbound inquiries (leads, RFIs, RFP, etc) from various companies within their territory. Now, however, these same reps are forced to develop opportunities from scratch as go-to-market models are increasingly more account–based than in the past. In addition, most firms are finding their win rates for unsolicited RFPs drop below 25%, a fact that contributes to the growing cost of sales. These two realities are forcing sales organizations to improve their ability to manufacture new opportunities within targeted accounts, and do so in a more scaleable and repeatable way.
In most organizations, a small handful of the sales organization (about 20%) accounts for the lion’s share of their new revenues (about 80%). So, the question becomes “How do we get more of the 80% of our reps to perform like the top 20%?”
When I ask top performers the question “why are you so successful” all tell me more or less the same thing — they concentrate on selling a vision.
In my quest for vision, I recently asked one executive at a major energy company “If a vendor helps you frame out a problem or clarify a vision before you have funded a project to address it, how likely are you to work with them over competitors?”
He replied, “This is usually a given, but the key is the vendor has to have credibility and trust to start with.”
Logically then if we could model the steps and techniques used by these stellar performers, then we could improve the success of the entire sales force. However, when pressed to define what a vision is, top performers really struggle to articulate it more concretely. The only lesson learned is that the vision they create is about how the customer can solve the business problems they’re facing.
There is a moment in a buyer’s mind when their thinking shifts from trying to understand their problem to thinking about the approach to solving it. It’s at that moment when an executive develops clarity around a “solution vision” about what their world will look like when complete. This inflection point is the single most important mindshare to gain because vendors who are involved prior to this event have a significant competitive advantage over those who engage after.
So, how does one define a “solution vision?” It really is a guiding conceptual model for achieving a desired end state. It provides a shared understanding to the network of people (internal and external) who must perform related, but unique tasks for the organization to realize the anticipated benefits of the endeavor.
Solution visions that have successfully been implemented all have three common ingredients.
1) Authentic — it has to be real, well-researched, and obtainable.
2) Applicable — it has to be communicated in the context of the account and the stakeholder.
3) Actionable — the path (and the required details) to realizing that vision are mapped out into an understandable approach, but also simplified so the program doesn’t collapse under its own complexity.
If you create a simple checklist of resource allocation based on this definition, you will find that the overwhelming majority of your business development resources (sales, marketing, and solutions) are focused after a customer has developed their solution vision rather than on helping to influence that vision.
Instead of continually investing in programs to incrementally improve how your sales teams manage opportunities after the customer knows what they want, significantly better returns await those who invest in programs to help customers shape a solution vision. This is done by creating scalable and repeatable programs to help sales people more easily collaborate with executives to develop a shared vision of success for a given account.