Buying Iterations And What It Means For Sales Force Enablement

shutterstock_280725407Do you remember the last time you made a significant buying decision as a consumer, such as a decision to buy furniture or a car? How structured and organized was this decision-making process? Or was it perhaps a more iterative process or cycle, because you heard something here and learned something there, and all of sudden, a different, but amazing, offer came your way. If you have professional B2B buying experience, reflect on some of those decision processes. How many were linear, without iterations? Probably not a single one.

Buying happens in iterations, and the buying dynamics have to be navigated

I remember one of my biggest buying decisions in a large corporation, which was about an account management system that should support a newly implemented customer-core account planning and management cycle. The whole buying process took two years, from scoping to developing the solution, to the pilot, up to buying (not including implementation). From start to finish there were phases that were straightforward… until something happened. It might have been a budget freeze, the appointment of a new sales leader, or the IT department changed its strategy. Some stakeholders left the project; others joined, and both the exits and the entries impacted the specific context of the project, based on their different viewpoints and even different goals.

Was that a linear, straight buying process that could be simply managed by following the process? No. Not at all. It was an iterative process with moving targets and various stakeholder changes, and on a global level. Lots of dynamics happened that could not be managed by applying learned mechanics. Those dynamics had to be navigated, situationally, based on a changing context, moving targets and a changing buying team with changing thoughts and expectations. Overall, it was an iterative, dynamic process that had to be navigated carefully, in a very focused way, and with lots of situational awareness, creativity, and adaptations.

More information does not necessarily lead to more understanding – context is often missing

Customer behaviors have fundamentally changed and are still changing, and their expectations are rising. There is no doubt that buyers are much more informed than ever before; exactly as salespeople should be much more informed about their customers and competitors, etc. But often more information does not necessarily lead to more knowledge on the buyer side – it leads to more confusion. Why? Because lots of information is without any context. And context matters. Context is queen, if not king. And that’s where the value of a sales professional comes into play.

Buyers decide how to connect, collaborate and calculate throughout their customer’s journey

Our 2015 MHI Sales Best Practices Study reports that today’s buyers decide how they want to connect, how they want to collaborate with salespeople and how they calculate value. Selling is no longer about products; it’s about the specific value customers can achieve through a provider’s products and services. Value is always specific to the customer, dependent upon their situational context and the buying teams’ approaches on how to tackle the challenge. Professional B2B selling must be dedicated to creating value at each stage of the customer’s journey for each impacted buyer role. Click here to take the survey for the 2016 CSO Insights Sales Best Practices Study.

Customer-core strategies for enablement leaders

Knowing and understanding how buyers want to buy is essential for every enablement leader. Understanding the customer’s journey and working with the customer’s journey and the impacted buyer roles has to be the foundation of any enablement strategy, mapped to the specific challenges of the sales force.

Reflecting these buying dynamics throughout an often formalized, but iterative customer’s journey, three key strategies should be applied by sales enablement leaders:

  • Implement a dynamic customer-core engagement principle: Such an engagement principle – we call ours “Providing Perspective” – defines how to connect and engage with different buyer roles throughout their customer’s journey related to the buyers different focal points in each phase. Furthermore, such an engagement principle sets the stage for a dynamic value messaging approach that also has to be tailored to the customer’s journey phases and the different buyers’ needs in each phase.
  • Align and integrate content and training services: It’s not enough to provide content such as playbooks, messaging guidelines, new case studies, brochures, etc. Salespeople need to know how to use which asset most effectively in which customer interaction. Short videos, featuring salespeople explaining to their peers how to take advantage of a certain asset, are one of the most credible ways to drive adoption. Connecting content and training with small, but impactful steps is always a winning strategy.
  • Build salespeople’s adaptive competencies: One of the biggest competitive advantages a salesforce can have is the ability to shift strategies, activities and behaviors to changed, complex and new situations, fast and effectively. Developing salespeople’s adaptive competencies becomes more and more a strategic necessity to develop a salesforce that can create additional and differentiating value to their prospects and customers – in their context, addressing their desired business value.

Last but not least, the internal process landscape must allow iterations exactly the same way as customers process their iterations. To adapt internal processes this way, collaborating with sales operations is essential, to better integrate principles and to remove one-way rules.

Questions:

How do you deal with buying iterations, from a sales and a sales force enablement perspective?

Did you already adjust your internal processes; and if so, how?

 

This article was initially written for Top Sales Magazine, October 27, 2015.

How To Enable Salespeople To Navigate B2B Buying Dynamics

shutterstock_310254482Sailing requires a lot of capabilities. As a sailor you learn various mechanical principles – how the equipment works, and based on that, what to do on the sailboat. You have to become an experienced sailing practitioner to be able to sail the ocean. But these mechanical skills aren’t sufficient. You also have to learn the essentials of how to navigate.

Sailing experience is actually built on all the things you can control – managing the sailing mechanics on the boat – and on your ability to navigate all the things you cannot control – nature’s dynamics.

Mechanics are predictable. Dynamics are probabilities in uncertainty

Imagine the mechanical steps you take to create a new account or a new opportunity in your CRM system. Mechanics describe precisely in which way something has to be done. Mechanics have a lot to do with “if/then” clauses. In this example, you need the account data before you can create your opportunity. Mechanics are pretty predictable. If all the required data are entered, a new account or a new opportunity will be created.

Dynamics instead represent probability, possibility, and uncertainty in often complex environments. Imagine your recent conversations with different B2B buying teams. Were these situations predictable? You have probably developed a few scenarios to get prepared for the conversations. But at the end, a slightly different scenario may have happened. Dynamics are not really predictable.

Navigating different dynamics along the customer’s journey

  • Change dynamics in the awareness phase of the customer’s journey:
    A challenge occurs, the situation gets analyzed, and options for tackling the challenge are discussed. Customer stakeholders often come from different functions and roles, and have different approaches regarding how to address the situation. The key question is, “Do we change the current state for a better future state: Yes or no?” The decision can be “yes,” “no,” or “not now.” For sales professionals, the biggest challenge here is to provide perspectives that help the stakeholders make a decision to change the current state for a better future state.
  • Decision dynamics in the actual buying phase of the customer’s journey:
    The buying team may change, because some senior executives may delegate the project and procurement people may join the buying team. Decision dynamics are focused on how to make the best buying decision as a team with different perspectives and approaches to achieve the best results and wins with the lowest possible risks. Decision dynamics have different characteristics than change dynamics. For sales professionals, the biggest challenge is to contribute to the customer’s value calculation in a way that’s beyond TCO or product-driven ROIs to be perceived as the best possible buying option. Business value ideally tackles the top or the bottom line.
  • Value dynamics in the implementation and adoption phase:
    When the implemented products and services deliver the value that has been bought, thoughtful value confirmations tailored for each buyer role are they key to developing future business. This step is often overlooked, but as buyers have different approaches regarding how to tackle a situation, they will also have different perceptions of value.
    For sales professionals, the biggest challenge is to get back to the initially involved senior executives, even if they have delegated the project for implementation. These value confirmation conversations can lead directly to new opportunities.

What makes the difference in these situations? Mechanics or dynamics?

Mechanics, as we defined the term above, are everything that can be controlled by the sales professionals. Dynamics are what happens in reality, in complex situations with different stakeholders, and their different approaches, changing objectives and an often-changing situational context. In those complex, often unpredictable environments, sales professionals need a solid foundation of skills and competencies, customer, market and product knowledge, strategies and specific expertise – just to remain in the game. What makes the difference is their ability to quickly adjust their strategies, behaviors and activities to new, changed and complex situations. That’s navigating dynamics.

Navigating dynamics requires adaptive competencies – a key challenge for sales enablement

Developing adaptive competencies happens in iterations of training, practice, learning and coaching   Whatever the specific challenges in a sales organization 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.  You don’t train a new sailor to navigate the ocean before learning the basics.

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, applying principles instead of rules, and creativity, as well as critical and strategic thinking.

Adaptive competencies are what sales professionals need as an add-on to their mechanics. Adaptive competencies enable them to navigate the dynamics of today’s ever-changing, complex, buyer-driven world.

Questions for you:

  • How do you navigate complex B2B buying dynamics?
  • How important is the alignment of your sales process to the customer’s journey to successfully navigate buying dynamics?
  • How does your engagement principle reflect buying dynamics?

Related blog posts:

 

This article was initially written for Top Sales Magazine, September 29, 2015.

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.

 

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.

 

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

Rethinking Renewals

A big deal is in the funnel; a must win, a secure deal – it’s a renewal. This one will make the quarter a great success. We all know this situation and the feeling when such a “must win deal” is lost. Hectic win/loss reviews are conducted to understand what has happened. Often, a competitor came out of nowhere, changed the game and won the deal.

Every customer makes every decision differently – every time

Underestimating this fact – that every customer makes every decision differently, every time – can lead to four “renewal pitfalls,” especially in complex sales:

  • The sales team feels over-confident and doesn’t pay enough attention to the current buying situation. Copying the previous approach is a dangerous behavior. Every buying situation is different.
  • Sales managers don’t pay enough attention to renewals, especially in the early phases of the deal when coaching can have the most impact.
  • Sales professionals are not involved early enough, based on the false belief that there is no customer awareness phase in the renewal. That’s dangerous, too. The awareness phase for renewals exists, but it is different.
  • If the renewal is based on an RFP, many sales organizations have a tendency to declare the deal a must win deal and to announce executive sponsors. But that’s too late to make a real difference in terms of approach and value creation. The customers have already made up their minds how to approach the situation this time.

The lesson here is that a renewal is a deal, and it must be sold, just like any other deal.

Context matters, and context is different in every buying situation

The sales team has to engage with existing customers very early in their new customer’s journey. The key is to analyze the current customer’s context precisely, from an environmental and a situational perspective. What has changed and what hasn’t? Are the decision makers the same? What is different or no longer relevant to the customer? Is the capability being used to its full potential? How happy is the customer? Has the expected value been created? What are their desired results and wins this time? Analyzing the customer’s current financial situation and how it may have changed since the previous contract is an essential foundation. Understanding the current business strategy is another key element. The approach has to be connected to the customer’s business strategy and to their financial situation. Often, a deep understanding of these elements opens additional possibilities for creating new value for the customers. A renewal should be treated as a new opportunity with all the advantages of knowing the past and the ambition to create extraordinary value for the customers.

Orchestrating the customer community to build a shared vision of future success

In complex buying environments, sales teams have to orchestrate and lead many different stakeholders that build the customer community. If buying decisions involve different functions, such as technology and business, very different buyer roles with different concepts about this particular purchase have to be aligned. The challenge for any sales professional is to establish a shared vision of future success, together with the network of stakeholders, the customer community. Based on the unique context and understanding the stakeholders’ different concepts leads to a deeper understanding how this customer community is going to make a decision this time. Building a shared vision of future success requires a salesperson’s individual expertise to address each buyer role with content and messages they need to feel comfortable in their role to make a decision to change. Without this shared vision of success – that will be different from the last contract – the customer community will never make a buying decision. Some salespeople believe that a renewal has nothing to do with changing the current state or solving an issue. That’s not the case. If your services are not required to achieve a certain result or a better future state, customers will never buy. Why should they?

Developing a customer community by providing perspective

Developing a customer community doesn’t happen by accident. It’s based on a systematic customer core engagement and messaging principle called providing perspective. Dynamic value messages play a central role, tailored to each stage of the customer’s journey and to each buyer role. Sales enablement not only has to provide those value messages; it also has to make sure that salespeople learn how to apply those value messages effectively. Sales professionals who can successfully provide perspective bring to the table their experience and professionalism, their skills and competencies, their knowledge base and their adaptive competencies. They know how to quickly adjust behavior, activities and messages to a specific situation. That also includes addressing different buyer roles, even if it feels uncomfortable. Sales enablement’s job is to develop salespeople’s messaging capabilities to feel comfortable in those conversations. Applying providing perspectives as an engagement and messaging principle helps to establish a shared future vision of success and to win the customer’s business – again.

Change the renewal game on your own – before a competitor does!