What If Efficiency Is Not Your Problem?

Training sessions that make sense for marathon runners are clearly not appropriate for sprinters, even if both want to win an Olympic gold medal. The disciplines are different. The athletes’ objectives determine their activities.

That’s the same in professional B2B selling. The business results and sales objectives determine the appropriateness of various sales activities. World-class sales performers take this practice to heart. Our 2015 MHI Sales Best Practices Study shows that the world-class segment clearly defines the activities that are required for each stage of the sales process to achieve their sales objectives (95% compared to only 43% in the “all respondents” category). This trend has increased from 2014 to 2015 by 13% in the world-class segment, but only by 7% in the all respondents category. Having a strategy and knowing the right things to do seems to be a huge differentiator between top performers and others.

Effectiveness comes first. Efficiency without effectiveness does not know what’s right or wrong.

Imagine that your frontline sales managers are focused on a certain number of prospecting calls per salesperson per day to achieve a stretch revenue goal in a few selected industries. But somehow, the conversion rates don’t improve even if the number of calls increases. Let’s assume that the organization has invested in CRM technology, in lean processes, in customer data, in targeted value messaging, etc. But were they effective? Apparently not.

FSM’s mantra part 1: Manage the right set of activities

Efficiency is clearly not the problem here. Effectiveness is. Question number one, which is in the DNA of world-class sales managers, should be, “Are prospecting calls like these the right activity to achieve our sales objectives?” They don’t ask, “How can we make these prospecting calls better, faster, cheaper?” until they are completely convinced that this is the right thing to do to achieve their desired sales objectives. As we know from Albert Einstein, we cannot continue to do the same things over and over again, but expecting different results. It cannot be emphasized often enough that questioning the current state is a fundamental sales leadership approach to developing high-performance sales teams. It’s absolutely essential. It requires sales managers to hold on for a moment, to put themselves next to the situation and to observe and analyze what’s going on and to question if these sales activities are still the right activities to achieve the desired sales objectives. Maybe it was the right approach last year, but is it still the right thing to do?

FSM’s mantra part 2: Coach the related behaviors

In this situation, the “questioning process” can reach the conclusion that the activity itself is still the right one, but it isn’t being executed with the right level of quality. Or the questioning process can come to the conclusion that the activities are no longer the right ones to achieve the desired sales objectives. Whatever the conclusion is, it has to be driven by facts and data. Maybe the salespeople had only a foundational training, but not enough practice and no regular coaching to improve the quality and the outcome of the calls? Then that’s what we have: a probably efficient activity that leads nowhere. Activities have to be connected to the desired outcomes to develop a performance culture. Therefore we need to establish a culture of learning and coaching first. In the example above – after the initial questioning process – the sales managers measure and analyze the results of the prospecting calls with leading indicators. And they share the results with the sales team. What did salespeople who had success do differently compared to those who were not successful? Analyzing the leading indicators, e.g., conversation rates or percentage of follow-up calls, with salespeople’s positive and negative experiences should lead to a tailored coaching approach that’s specific to each individual on the sales team. World-class sales managers also make sure that the best practices of top performers are leveraged to improve everyone else. Eighty-one percent of the world-class segment executes this behavior consistently and collectively, while only 32% of the all respondents segment does, according to the data of our 2015 MHI Sales Best Practices Study.

World-class frontline sales managers put it all together – in iterations

World-class frontline sales managers analyze sales activities based on leading indicators as they are happening. They are open to recognizing patterns, learning, adjusting the activities and coaching the related behaviors. And they understand that they are in ongoing iterations of analyzing, learning, adjusting and coaching. World-class frontline sales managers are brave enough to stop an activity if the facts show that it is not the best one to achieve certain sales objectives.

Executing the FSM’s mantra “managing the right set of activities, coaching the related behaviors” leads to what sales leaders are looking for: increasing sales results and productivity to achieve ambitious revenue and growth targets.

This article was initially written for Top Sales Magazine, May 5th, 2015.

Related blog posts:

Frontline Sales Manager’s Mantra: Managing Activities and Coaching Behaviors
Frontline Sales Managers – Balancing Various Priorities
Frontline Sales Managers: Key Role, but Poorly Developed and Enabled

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All Things Frontline Sales Managers: See you at the Sales Innovation Expo in London 13-14 May 2015!

Frontline sales managers have a greater impact on sales execution, sales productivity, and sales transformation than any other role. What makes their role so demanding and complex is the continuous challenge to balance between three often competing areas; customer, business, and people. Having been the best salesperson does not qualify an individual to be a stand-up top frontline sales manager. Poorly developed frontline sales managers drive top performers out of the organisation and promote mediocre performance from those who remain. This is an untenable situation for any sales leader with ambitious performance goals.

World-class sales organisations understand that frontline sales managers are not born. They develop their frontline sales managers with an integrated programme that allows them to grow in the role of a leader, a coach, and a business manager. They know it`s not about adding costs to the bottom line, but adding growth and effectiveness to the top line. They understand that the cost of doing nothing is much greater.

In my keynote seminar “Frontline Sales Manager’s Dilemma – Coach, Leader and Business Manager” on May 13th, I will share our latest research on frontline sales management and what to do with it. I will discuss what triangles have to do with frontline sales managers and their individual effectiveness. And we will discuss why frontline sales managers should benefit from applying a specific mantra that helps them to focus on what really matters in their role.

In addition, I will lead a workshop session called “Mastering the Frontline Sales Managers dilemma: with a triangle, a sharpened focus, and a capability framework”; two times on May 13th and two times on May 14th as part of our MHI Global Sales Performance Masterclass. During this session, I will discuss the latest research on frontline sales managers from the MHI Research Institute. Building on these data points, we will discuss the frontline sales manager triangle and how to use it to balance better various priorities with simple principles. The triangle is about shifting complexity from the unconscious mind to the conscious mind to driving the frontline sales managers’ decision-making quality and their individual effectiveness. Sharpening the FSMs` focus on those activities and behaviours that really matter is the second concept that we will share and discuss how to apply it. Last but not least, we will discuss how a capability framework can enable you to reviewing, adjusting, and designing your own frontline sales manager development programmes.

I’m looking forward to seeing you next week at the Sales Innovation Expo in London!


Related blog posts:

What Triangles Have To Do With Frontline Sales Managers

Frontline Sales Manager’s Mantra: Managing Activities and Coaching Behaviors

Frontline Sales Managers: Key Role, but Poorly Developed and Enabled

Frontline Sales Managers: What Are Their Key Capabilities?

Frontline Sales Managers – Balancing Various Priorities


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Manage Mechanics, Navigate Dynamics

Sailing the ocean requires mechanics and dynamics. What you learn as a sailor are various mechanics – what to do and how to do it on the ship. You have to become an experienced practitioner to be ready to sail the ocean. In addition, you learn the essentials of how to navigate, first in theory, later in practice. You build your sailing experience on all the things you can control – managing the sailing mechanics – and on your ability to navigate nature’s dynamics successfully.

Mechanics describe precisely in which way something is done or operated. Imagine the steps (mechanics) you take to create an opportunity in your CRM. Mechanics have a lot to do with “if/then” clauses. If all the required data are entered, an opportunity will be created in your CRM. Mechanics are predictable.

Dynamics are different. Dynamics are patterns or processes of change or growth. Dynamics include probability, possibility, and uncertainty in often complex environments. Imagine sailing the ocean, or having conversations with a group of B2B buyers. Predictable? Not that much. But the better you have learned your mechanics, the easier it will be to navigate the dynamics successfully.

Navigating change dynamics is essential to avoid stalled deals

Imagine the early stages of a customer’s journey. A situation gets analyzed, and options for tackling the challenge are discussed. Often, the customer stakeholders come from different functions and roles, and have different concepts of how to address the situation. The key question for them is, “Do we change the current state for a better future state: Yes or no?” Every customer makes every decision differently. Every time. Sales professionals have to deal with change dynamics;  this is what they have to navigate. As this change decision is made by a group of different people, there is no clear “if I present this case study, this will be their reaction” scenario. Those dynamics cannot be managed or controlled directly; they have to be navigated. Navigating can only be successful if the sales professionals do their homework. That means they have to understand the customer’s specific context, the stakeholders’ different approaches regarding how to tackle the situation and their desired results and wins. Only then can sales professionals provide tailored perspectives on how these customers can better achieve their desired results and wins. Only then will customers make a decision to change.

Navigating decision dynamics is key to closing deals

Change dynamics in the awareness phase are followed by decision dynamics in the actual buying phase. Often, the group of stakeholders changes when it comes to the actual buying process. Some senior executives may delegate the project. Procurement people may join the stakeholder network. Decision dynamics are concerned with making the best buying decision, and have different characteristics than the dynamics of the change decision. Decision dynamics are more focused on how to make this happen, how to make this a success with the best possible value and the lowest possible risks. A phased approach to get to the desired future state and exact financial calculations and business cases of the desired solution mapped to the customer’s relevant metrics are key to success. Also here, what makes the difference are the interactions with the stakeholder network to make the buying decision happen. And that’s navigating decision dynamics. What can be managed are those activities that have to be done to prepare those conversations, such as business cases, specifications, or proposals.

Navigating value dynamics is the foundation for future business with this customer

And it’s the same with the value dynamics in the implementation and adoption phase. The stakeholder network will perceive the delivered value differently, based on their perspectives. Navigating these value dynamics successfully – having “value confirmation conversations” with each of the relevant stakeholders, including the initial executive sponsors, is key to developing a long-term value based relationship. And it is the prerequisite to identifying and creating additional business with this customer.

Navigating the different stages of dynamics along the customer’s journey is what makes the difference in today’s complex B2B sales world.

Managing mechanics is the prerequisite to being perfectly prepared for navigating dynamics, to navigate the interactions with the customer stakeholders along their customer’s journey in their specific context.

Related blog posts:

Providing Perspectives: A Customer-Core Engagement Principle

How Sales Professionals Create Value For Their Customers

Excellence Happens In Iterations

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Sharing, Participating, Contributing – The Knowledge Shareconomy

“The more we share, the more we have.”
̶  Leonard Nimoy

This is not only true for our personal lives, but for professional selling as well. But changing to a sharing and learning organization is more challenging in sales than in other functions, because for decades salespeople have the habit of hoarding their knowledge. Sharing is a cultural shift that’s triggered by information symmetry on the Internet, by people’s increasing sense of limited resources on Earth, by information technology that empowers people to connect together on various platforms and by a broader economic concept, the sharing economy.

Driving a car or playing cello is no longer connected to owning the asset. The sharing economy allows people to have access to tangible and intangible assets without the need to own them. A common premise is that when information about goods and services is shared, the value of those assets may increase, for the business, for individuals, and for the community. Various sharing economy models exist, but all of them leverage technology to empower individuals and organizations with information that enables distribution, sharing and reuse of goods and services.

In the world or professional selling, knowledge is the gold standard of the knowledge shareconomy.

Capability knowledge and situational knowledge are the key dimensions of the shareconomy’s gold standard. Capability knowledge covers a provider’s products, services and solutions. But it is the situational knowledge, the deep understanding of a customer’s specific situation and challenges, their stakeholders’ specific concepts and their specific decision dynamics, that allows a sales professional to apply the provider’s capabilities into a valuable and compelling perspective for customers.

Shareconomy models are collaborative consumption models based on three core elements:

  • Sharing instead of hoarding:
    Content and learning assets, such as internal enablement content, best practices, win/loss analyses and client-facing content, are shared on a collaborative, social, and well-integrated platform. This is the opposite of hoarding content on a personal laptop, accessible for the individual only. To become a sharing and collaborative organization, many sales professionals need to change their deeply ingrained attitudes toward sharing knowledge. Changing attitudes toward sharing requires sales leadership to create a compelling transformation story that shows the sales force how they can achieve more when they share knowledge and best practices instead of hoarding them. Getting salespeople to share content developed or contributed by others is a first step.
  • Authorship instead of ownership:
    Especially for younger generations, having a car available when needed is more important than owning a car. A car is a tangible example, but the same principle is true for intangible knowledge assets. Honoring content creators and their expertise ensures that the shared value is credited to the authors. In turn, giving credit where credit is due encourages others to share. The principle of authorship and the related personal recognition is an important enabler for the knowledge     shareconomy. Reflecting the principle of authorship over ownership in performance management systems and commission plans can be of tremendous value as an organization transforms to the knowledge shareconomy.
  • Knowledge flow instead of knowledge stocks:
    A car-sharing business only works if you can get a car when you need it. Likewise, knowledge is only valuable if it can flow to where it is needed. If knowledge is kept locked away, its value is wasted. Think about all the various dead content directories in your organization, where only a few have access and even fewer know about it. Social and collaborative technologies empower knowledge to flow and people to share, re-use, exchange, and evolve knowledge in various forms and shapes. Therefore, flowing knowledge has to be an intrinsic part of the sales professional’s working environment. That is why enablement solutions that are embedded in CRM systems are highly effective in helping salespeople to share knowledge and improve outcomes for everyone.

Sharing, participating, and contributing – three levels of knowledge shareconomy engagement.

Stay tuned!  Next time, we will discuss how to embrace the knowledge shareconomy.


Related blog posts:

Why Being An Expert Requires Expertise To Make A Difference

Enablement Mechanisms: From “Push versus Pull” To “Be Inspired!”

Why World Class Sales Performers Are Always Keen To Learn

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Why Being An Expert Requires Expertise To Make A Difference

“The top experts in the world are ardent students.
The day you stop learning, you’re definitely not an expert.”
–Brendon Burchard

What is an expert in sales?  Often experts in sales are considered as people with in–depth knowledge about a provider’s products and capabilities. Experts in sales often have specific titles, such as solution sales, presales or sales engineers. What about the customer knowledge? How relevant are competencies to being an expert in sales?

In today’s complex and continuously changing world, defining what an expert in sales really means becomes a competitive necessity to make a difference. Defining experts in sales leads directly to a blueprint for required sales enablement services.

“An expert is a person who has made all the mistakes
that can be made in a narrow field.”
– Niels Bohr

Experts know a lot of details in a specific knowledge area. To become an expert in a specific knowledge area, lots of mistakes have to be made. That’s the prerequisite for learning what works and what doesn’t. Mistakes and continuous learning allow people to develop their knowledge and understanding to the next level. In sales, we shouldn’t work on the false assumption that an expert is only knowledgeable about a provider’s capabilities. This capability knowledge area is an entry ticket to open a door. But capability knowledge alone won’t be enough to have relevant and valuable conversations with prospects and customers. Additional areas of knowledge are equally important, such as knowledge about the market and its trends, the customer’s industry, as well as the internal landscape of methods, processes and tools.

Being an expert in products and solutions is important, but not enough. To create real value for customers, sales professionals have to be an expert in the customers’ specific business challenges

Based on the above-mentioned knowledge areas, sales professionals have to become experts in their customers’ environmental and specific context. The way to make a difference in conversations with potential buyers is knowing and understanding their specific context of business challenges, problems and opportunities and being able to connect the dots to the own capabilities. Knowing their context includes understanding their current and their desired financial performance as well as the performance indicators that are relevant and critical for them. It’s no longer enough to be knowledgeable about the ROI or TCO of a provider’s product or solution. The financial impact of the customer’s desired solution (your products and services often are only a part of their solution!) mapped to their relevant financial metrics; that’s what matters to them. Being able to provide perspectives on different approaches to creating an even higher financial impact; that makes a huge difference. Sometimes, this ability enables new providers to win deals over those who are established since years but who didn’t care enough about the specific customer’s business context.

In addition, being an expert means to understand the stakeholders’ different concepts o how to approach a challenge, how to fix a problem or how to avoid a risk. Based on the stakeholders’ functions and roles, identifying their preference to process information and their individual decision-making style makes a sales professional a true expert. Knowing and understanding the decision dynamics of a certain customer stakeholder group and being able to orchestrate these decision dynamics is often what makes the difference in complex deals. These are all requirements a sales professional, an expert in sales needs to provide perspectives for customers; relevant, valuable, creative perspectives that enable customers to achieve or overachieve their desired results and wins.

Knowing is not enough; we must apply.
Willing is not enough; we must do.
– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Being an expert requires applying the various knowledge areas, skills and strategies in specific customer situations. Expertise means to connect the dots between capabilities and customer knowledge, between skills, competencies and strategies.

Being an expert is the prerequisite for expertise.

Expertise means also to recognize when the own level of expertise won’t be enough to make a difference for the customer. Including another expert is not a weakness, it is a strength in a customer-core approach and a true sign of conscious collaboration in sales.

Last but not least – what about the “generalists”? Are they no longer required or are they experts in another area? Think about an executive account manager in a large strategic account, and think about a deal executive in a three digit outsourcing deal. These sales professionals are not necessarily experts in all the knowledge areas as described above, but they are also not generalists. They have to be experts in orchestrating large customer stakeholder communities, and they have to be experts in selling big deals in their own organizations. Additionally they have to be experts in allocating the right domain experts on their deals. Their expertise is understanding decision dynamics; their expertise is leadership and collaboration.

Do you have all the experts on board to make a difference for your customers?

Related blog posts:

How Sales Professionals Create Value for Customers

Providing Perspectives – A Dynamic Customer-Core Engagement Principle


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Providing Perspectives – A Dynamic Customer-Core Engagement Principle

What does “perspective” mean? Is it just a breathtaking view you can enjoy standing on the top of the Eiffel Tower or on top of the Empire state building?

In complex B2B sales, we have to deal with various customer stakeholders who come from different functions, roles, and backgrounds. Their degree of involvement regarding a specific situation is different, and their ideas about how to master the challenge are different across the customer stakeholder community. Now, let’s see what perspective means from a sales professional’s point of view.

Providing perspectives is an engagement and messaging principle that enables the sales professional to create specific customer value at each phase of the customer’s journey and for each buyer role. This principle allows sales professionals to successfully navigate complex customer stakeholder networks.

Providing perspectives works the entire customer’s journey as a main design point. While the core principle of providing perspectives remains the same, the focal points in each phase are different, which evolves the principle to a dynamic level.

Navigating change dynamics to get to a shared vision of future success is the focal point in the customer’s awareness phase

In the customer’s awareness phase, the buyer analyzes a specific situation to understand root causes, impact, and ways to proceed. From doing nothing to buying a product, from service or solution up to postponing the issue to the next fiscal year – everything is possible.

Sales professionals have to be involved early on by providing perspectives with content and value messaging that’s focused on the customer’s specific context (their situation and their desired results and wins; and the impact of doing nothing!), tailored to different buyer roles and their different concepts of how to address the situation. Case studies and success stories that show possible approaches to addressing the situation and achieving their desired results and wins are perfect at this point. The sales professional’s focus is to drive a decision across the customer stakeholder network to change the current state for a better future state – that’s navigating change dynamics! That’s “providing perspective.” Perspectives that are creative, innovative, relevant, and prove how they can achieve the desired goals are valuable and will win buyer mindshare. The client-facing content and the value messages in this phase have to connect the dots between the customer’s context and the stakeholders’ different concepts. This is not the phase for product pitches.

Navigating decision dynamics to provide the customer’s best buying vision is the focal point in the buying phase

The customer’s decision to change the current state is the prerequisite to enter the actual buying phase. New customer stakeholders get involved; others may step back. Large projects are now often delegated to a project leader. This phase is much more competitive than the previous one. Buyers want to make their best decision to achieve both, their desired organizational results and their desired individual wins. Those sales professionals who were successfully involved in the awareness phase (which means they have won the customer’s mindshare) are in a much better position to win the buying phase. Value messaging is now more product- and solution-specific and contains competitive elements, but is always connected to the customer’s desired results and wins, based on the foundation that has been built in the awareness phase. A phased approach for getting from the current state to the desired future state by leveraging products and services has to be outlined. Every business case or other financial projection has to be treated with great care and connected to the specific messaging for specific buyer roles. Providing perspectives here means to provide the best possible buying vision from the customer’s point of view, valuable, creative, innovative, profitable; always connected to their future vision of success and the related results and wins.

Navigating value dynamics in the implementation and adoption phase is key to creating happy customers and building a foundation for future business

The customer’s journey doesn’t end when a deal is closed. For them, the project gets started after the buying decision has been made. The sales professional’s work is not done yet. Furthermore, sales professionals have to own the results they have sold. They have to make sure that the value gets delivered and implemented as promised. When they do, sales professionals create happy customers and potential referrals, and build a foundation for future business. Therefore, navigating the value dynamics is a discipline that has to be mastered. It’s essential, but often overlooked, that the value that has been delivered has to be communicated back to the initial executive sponsors of the project. Often, those executives are no longer actively involved, and communicating with them via steering committees and status reports will not make much of an impression. Having these conversations in person, demonstrating the delivered value, makes it personal, tangible and emotional. That’s how sales professional make sure the executives will remember them for next time.

How do you provide perspectives?

Related blog posts:

Providing Perspective: A Customer Core Principle

How Sales Professionals Create Value For Their Customers

What Excellence and Buying Have in Common

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Adaptive Competencies – Key Differentiator of World-Class Sales Performers

Did you watch the ski world cup in Vail, Colorado a few weeks ago? Try to put yourself in a world-class skier’s shoes and imagine being on the racing track and performing the downhill race. Knowing the racing track is one thing. Knowing that the weather and snow conditions will change while you wait for your turn is another thing. But being able to quickly adjust your decisions, strategies, tactics, actions, and behaviors to the new and changed conditions, and all of that without losing speed – that makes the difference. This is an excellent example of adaptive competencies in action. Now, what has skiing to do with professional selling? A lot.

Every customer makes every decision differently. Every time.

Customer situations, like skiing conditions, are never the same. Customers may be confronted with the same environmental context, but what counts is what it means to them. And that’s always specific. Every customer stakeholder group is different, especially the stakeholders’ different viewpoints on how to approach the situation. The customer’s desired results and wins are also different, every time. That does not mean that there are no clusters and patterns to work with. Of course, there are efficiency and growth challenges, transformational and effectiveness challenges, and the list goes on and on. Additionally, there are different, but formalized, buying processes. But the characteristics of each specific challenge and the related buying culture are different in each customer situation. And this uniqueness requires adaptive competencies to win business in a scalable way.

Selling approaches have to be relevant, valuable and differentiating – and that requires adaptive competencies

Whatever the methodology is you trained your sales force on, the difference between average and world-class goes beyond execution – it’s about salespeople’s adaptive competencies based on a learning culture. Adaptive competencies encompass the sales professional’s ability to adjust skills, shift knowledge and align strategies and behaviors to new, changing and complex customer situations. For sales professionals, that means being fluent in all relevant selling skills and competencies, and being fluent in various knowledge areas (customer and capability knowledge) and their specific area of expertise. Only on such a solid foundation can adaptive competencies be developed and then applied effectively. Only world-class ski athletes can win completely different races such as the Beaver Creek race and then the Kandahar race the following week. And that’s the same in sales with your A-Players.

Building adaptive competencies happens in iterations of training, practice, learning and coaching

Every sales force has different and specific challenges, a unique enablement and training history and, therefore, a different point of departure. Whatever your specific situation might be, a solid foundation of selling competencies, various knowledge areas, and customer management strategies has to be in place before adaptive competencies can be developed.  This foundation is mandatory. You don’t train a ski athlete on the Beaver Creek racing track before the athlete is a highly skilled and experienced skier.

Adaptive training sessions can consist of various highly interactive sessions, including real-world simulations. Those curriculums should consider cycles of training, practice, and learning, reinforced by coaching before the next cycle begins with training. Those cycles ensure that people can learn what works for them and adjust what didn’t work so far. This approach also requires that coaching is an integral part of reinforcing and building adaptive competencies. Integrating the frontline sales managers early builds the foundation for execution and reinforcement.

Key learning objectives should include situational awareness (the twin to adaptive competencies), applying principles instead of rules, and creativity as well as critical and strategic thinking.

Adaptive competencies, well applied on a solid foundation in a learning organization, reinforced by coaching, are a key differentiator in today’s complex, constantly changing B2B environment.

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What Excellence And Buying Have In Common

Remember the last time you have written a blog post or an article. How did that go? I start with an idea and a mind map. Then I capture all my ideas as they flow, followed be rethinking the core idea. Once the focus of the core idea is sharp, I select a few sub-ideas that support the core message well. Then it’s time to write. Once the first version is written, a few more iterations will follow to get a version I’m happy with. Then, sharing to get feedback and in some cases working with a professional editor are next steps. A few more iterations will happen until the desired level of excellence has been reached.

Excellence happens in iterations – and buying too!

You may say “what?” Isn’t she always hammering home the idea of the customer’s journey? Correct. But let’s look what happens within the core phases of a customer’s journey.

In the awareness phase a problem, a challenge occurs. Imagine an organization that wants to change from an on-premise CRM to a cloud-based social CRM solution to lower IT costs and to increase sales performance. The stakeholder community gets established. People analyze the situation to understand the entire impact, to identify potential approaches to achieving the desired results and wins. They will gather data, opinions and expertise, inside and outside of their organization on private, public and other cloud service models. Of course, they will search as much relevant content as they can get. During this awareness phase, opinions will change, ideas are created, some will be dropped, and others will be honed. And the group of stakeholders can change as well. Some stakeholders may leave the group due to low impact; others will try to get into the group. With each next level of learning, other ideas will be prioritized, and approaches will be sharpened. With each new stakeholder, the group has to onboard the new stakeholder that often means to go back one or two iterations. And the outcome can change; again. The awareness phase is finished, when the stakeholder group has made a decision to change the current state for a better future state. Ideally a sales professional is already involved in this early phase to orchestrate the community to a shared vision of success.

So, you get the principle of iterations. In the actual buying phase, iterations happen as well. New stakeholders can show up, and they may question the entire approach. Another reason to go back and bring them on the same page. Additional iterations can happen until a business case, and contract are created, and the list goes on and on…

Understanding iterations means to understand decision dynamics

How organizations approach their challenges and problems happens along the customer’s journey. But within these phases of the customer’s journey, lots of iterations can happen for simple reasons – to identify the best future vision of success, to make the best buying decision and to make the best implementation. All that means striving for excellence. Excellence happens in iterations.

Understanding these iterations is essential for every sales professional. That requires understanding the decisions dynamics in every customer situation. Not only understanding each stakeholders’ role, function, power, and influence, but also their decision-making style is important to understand. And that’s the foundation to define a deal strategy to win their business. As every customer makes every decision differently, iterations and decision dynamics are also different in every situation.

As a prerequisite for “all things excellent”, excellence has to be an attitude and a level of ambition first. Excellence in complex sales requires a certain level of adaptive competencies and the willingness to learn constantly and improve from what has been practiced to achieve an excellent result.

Related blog posts:

How Sales Professionals Create Calue For Their Customers

Why World-Class Sales Performers Are Always Keen To Learn



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Enablement Mechanisms: From “Push versus Pull” To “Be Inspired!”

Providing all the content that was available to the sales force and let them search – that’s where sales enablement has its early roots. Stand-alone knowledge management and enablement platforms were invented, sold and implemented. Everything was designed to provide content on a platform for sales. Various search options and taxonomies often made it difficult for salespeople to quickly find what they were looking for. Many of us walked this sometimes painful path.

Was that a push or a pull approach? It depends…

As a sales enablement leader, you may look at this issue from this role’s perspective. Then, it is a push approach; pushing everything you have on enablement content to sales. Now, change the perspective to the salesperson, and it is just the other way around. They don’t feel pushed; as everything depends on their initiative. They have to take the initiative; they have to search to find what they need. For them, it’s more of a pull approach.

Nowadays, sales enablement strives for enablement solutions that are highly integrated with the CRM landscape. The aim is to provide the right enablement and client-facing content at the right time for salespeople when they need it, along the stages of their opportunities. It depends on enablement to create a modular enablement framework that leads to these “customer challenge/industry/buyer role/deal stage” matches. The salespeople are at the receiving end. Again, it depends on your perspective whether you may consider this as a push or pull approach. Ask ten people with different roles in the same industry, and you will get as many push as pull answers.

The “pull versus push” question actually describes a content delivery mechanism, depending on our perspective and interpretation. Why not take these approaches to a level of more descriptive imperatives from the customer’s perspective? Imperatives for salespeople, the enablement clients. Then, approaches that are based on salespeople’s responsibility to search in order to get what they need can be described as “Search & Find.” This is not exactly what salespeople like to do or what makes them really effective. Approaches that provide client-facing and internal content at the salespeople’s fingertips, exactly when they need it and how they need it, can be described as “Be Inspired!” approaches.

“Be Inspired!” models in sales enablement – think about design, content services, technology and adoption

  • “Be Inspired” design means designing a customer core sales enablement framework. The customer’s journey and all involved stakeholders are the design points. The customer’s journey has to be mapped to the internal process landscape, from marketing to sales and  services/delivery. The goal is creating tangible value for customers, to help them to achieve their desired results and wins.
  • “Be Inspired” content services are tailored to the different phases of the customer’s journey, and then tailored to the relevant buyer roles in different industries and to different situations. In complex B2B environments, it’s hard to predict what a salesperson will need in which exact combination. That’s why content modules became more and more important. Ideally, those modules are designed as templates that allow salespeople to edit and customize customer-facing content, powered by technology where appropriate.
  • “Be Inspired” enablement technology is integrated with CRM systems. Salespeople don’t have to go to another system, log in, and search for what they need. Pull technology suggests content (and related training services) based on the characteristics of salespeople’s opportunities and accounts. To make this mechanism work, the customer-core enablement framework and the content creation process as described above are an essential foundation. The future vision of success is that salespeople have one collaborative platform they are working with.  The foundation is often the CRM system that integrates enablement and playbook systems, learning content, and predictive analytics to support them along their deals. Additionally, those platforms provide the foundation for the frontline sales managers’ coaching approach.
  • “Be Inspired” adoption is the ultimate advantage. All the efforts that have to be made earlier regarding the customer-core enablement process are worth the energy. Adoption will be much easier. When salespeople don’t need to go to another system, when they get the content (and related training refreshers) they need at their fingertips, pull systems unfold their ultimate advantage – increasing productivity and performance and higher adoption rates.

“Be Inspired” enablement systems are designed for salespeople. “Be Inspired!” systems give them what they need, when they need it, on all devices and wherever they currently are, at the pace of technology.

Interested in more details? Join me for my session at the Qvidian Connect Conference, March 24, 3:15pm in San Antonio, TX.


Posted in Buyer Enablement, Content Management, Go-to-customer, Sales Enablement, Strategy | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

How Sales Professionals Create Value for Customers

In complex B2B sales, why do buyers buy? Not because a salesperson could present all the required functions and features. That was already available online and didn’t create additional value. No, buyers buy because they learned along their journey how various solution approaches would help them to achieve their desired results and wins. Somebody provided a valuable perspective – sales professionals. Let’s have a deeper look at how sales professionals create value for B2B buyers.

Sales professionals understand the customer’s context and the stakeholders’ different concepts

Sales professionals design their solutions around their customers, not around their own portfolio of capabilities. Sales professionals try to approach their customers early along their customer’s journey. For this reason, understanding their specific environmental and situational context is essential homework; followed by analyzing the involved stakeholders, their roles, functions and potential viewpoints on how to approach this situation. Sales professionals take advantage of various social selling tools to make sure that their conversations with prospects and customers will be relevant and valuable to them. Only if these preparations are done can sales professionals know what they don’t know. And that’s the perfect way to create meaningful questions for the next conversation. Showing customers the bigger picture, the real business impact of the issue they are trying to master or different approaches that could lead to better outcomes – all that creates immediate value for customers. Meaningful questions that inspire the customers to look at their situation from a different perspective – that’s what makes a sales professional an expert, a respected, valuable resource for buyers.

Sales professionals develop a shared vision of future success – with the customers

The decision to change the current state for a better future state is the most crucial milestone along the customer’s journey. Such a decision to change the current state has one key prerequisite – a better future vision of success. Often, this future vision is not yet clearly articulated, apart from the desired business metrics. What needs to be developed is a holistic big picture that considers all key aspects, tangibles, and intangibles. The challenge for the sales professional is to develop, to sharpen and to align this vision across the entire group of involved stakeholders. Once this vision is defined, the way to get to this future state has to be described. Customers need to understand how to get to their future vision, ideally in a phased approach. They need to know what it means to their business and to them personally. Only then can they evaluate the related risks. Remember when IT providers first sold cloud services? Customers simply didn’t understand the proposals. Many salespeople tried to win the business by discounting, when the customers simply wanted to understand what this new technology would mean to them. The ultimate goal in the awareness phase of the customer’s journey is to establish a shared vision of success, because without the customer’s decision to change the current state for a better future state, no buying phase will ever happen. In terms of value creation for the customers, this is by far the most impactful phase along the customer’s journey.

Sales professionals navigate the customer’s decision dynamic

Decision dynamics: That’s how a specific group of buyers/stakeholders is going to make a decision this time. As we know from research, customers make every decision differently, every time. That does not mean that there are no formalized buying processes. It means that the combination of situations, goals, desired results and wins, the group of stakeholders and their roles and functions, and many other criteria are different every time. This is one of the reasons why renewals can be challenging. For sales professionals, it’s key to understand the stakeholders’ different roles within this group, for instance who is influencing whom and why, who has the most organizational power, who is the opinion leader, etc. Sales professionals’ situational awareness, their adaptive competencies and their ability to understand complex environments make the difference in those situations. Sales professionals with those capabilities earn the buyers’ respect and trust by orchestrating the group successfully through the buying phase – to enable them to make their best buying decision. In parallel, sales professionals who have followed the steps outlined here are confident that they have offered the best approach they ever could – to make their customers successful.

Sales professionals own the customer’s outcome and orchestrate the value dynamics

Sales professionals don’t walk away when a deal is closed. They know that their success comes only from their customers’ success. Sales professionals are accountable for the value they have sold to the customers. They make sure that the value gets delivered during the implementation and adoption phase. They make sure that the customers can achieve their desired results and wins. Ideally they try to create even more value as they discover more options along the way. Orchestrating the value dynamics is the key challenge after the deal has been closed. It’s the end of the sales process, but it’s the beginning for the customer, and it can be the beginning of another sales process if the value gets delivered and the customers are happy. Customer experience just continues along the customer’s journey. Sales professionals make sure that the value gets communicated across the entire stakeholder network and specifically to the executives who were involved in the very beginning.

Sales professionals know that “after the game is before the game.”

Image source: Shutterstock

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