“My Blackberry Is Not Working!” is one of the most brilliant sketches, especially when it comes to context. Imagine a fruit and vegetable shop. A customer comes in the shop, starts complaining that his BlackBerry wouldn’t work. Then, he puts a piece of fruit on the table. …
You get the picture. In this case it’s fun–but not a successful sale. Being out of context can be even worse: Imagine you are driving at 140 mph on a pretty wet highway at night. That’s driving out of context with a high risk of crashing due to aquaplaning.
“We don’t sell out of context.” I hear you. … But wait a minute. Let’s see why context in sales matters more than ever and where the challenges are.
Our research says that 89 percent of top-performing sales organizations clearly understand their customers’ issues before they propose a solution to solve their problems. Doing so requires a deep understanding of the customer’s specific context, because customers don’t buy products or services. They buy the value they get from a provider’s capabilities to fix a problem, to accomplish their goals, or to avoid potential problems.
This is why customer context matters in every single interaction. This is why the customer context along the customer journey has to be a major design point regarding selling methodology, sales enablement and execution.
Nevertheless, many customers still complain that sales professionals are very knowledgeable about their own products and company, but not sufficiently knowledgeable about the specific customer’s industry and specific role and challenges, or how to approach the customer.
There seems to be a gap. A variety of challenges must be considered:
- A generic foundation of customer context can be prepared by sales enablement or marketing in various forms and shapes, ideally in content modules that are easy to customize. This covers all information describing the conditions of a certain market/industry, typical roles and personas you have to deal with, their typical business challenges and patterns, and how to approach them.
- The situational customer context, which makes the real difference, requires salespeople. It requires that they know where to find the context data and–even more important–how to adopt the generic findings effectively to the specific selling situation. This is why providing content on context is not enough. As long as people don’t know how to use it effectively, it doesn’t create any value.
- Frontline sales managers have to coach their team members the right way. This is a very powerful key to increasing sales productivity that is often overlooked. As context is changing along the customer journey, it’s important that coaching on specific opportunities is always focused on understanding the changing context picture in order to completely understand the implications and to take the right actions.
Context is the opposite of working with assumptions. Context is the opposite of guessing. Context is about getting precise and specific. Understanding and applying customer context is a prerequisite to providing valuable perspectives to your customers in order to win their business.
This post was written for TopSalesWorld, Feb Magazine, and published @ MillerHeiman Blog
Most of the discussions on cross-functional collaboration are about sales and marketing alignment, which is exactly, how I started this topic a few weeks ago.
Today, let’s discuss how sales and finance can take advantage of a GoToCustomer approach. Often, people assume that different personality types are the main reason why sales and finance relationships are not always easy. That’s comprehensible, but in my experience the challenges have two main root causes:
Sales and Finance have a different view on KPIs – let’s look at leading and lagging indicators
Finance is more focused on how to measure different KPIs, for instance order entry and revenue, and how to process the numbers correctly according to accounting standards. There is more focus on lagging indicators, on the numbers that are measured as results of a closed deal.
Sales is more focused on managing and influencing all activities across the field to make sure that these numbers are made – then, they can be measured. Therefore, sales needs more focus on leading indicators such as conversion rates or number and quality of prospecting calls. Of course, sales also measures results, such as order entry and revenue, but the correct accounting is then based on finance processes. This is where the interfaces between CRM and ERP are discussed. Sales needs both, leading and lagging indicators, but it depends on the level within a sales organization, where your focus is or should be. A front line sales manager should be more focused on the quality of the sales activities that lead to the team’s numbers – which is why coaching is so important especially in this role. Second line sales managers and sales directors are focused on sales objectives and the quality of sales activities, whereas the CSO/VP Sales roles are more focused on sales and business objectives.
Based on the different purposes both functions have, understanding these different views is essential. Bringing these differences to the conscious mind is the first step. The second one is then to work together on clear definitions to improve collaboration and to achieve better results.
Sales and Finance use the same terms, but have a different understanding
The term “forecast” is such an example – but definitely worth to write a separate post. “Account” is another term which is often used in sales and finance, but not defined the same way.
Often, sales people look at an account with a strong focus on their current business (current business, installed services, related relationships etc.) Which means, people look at a few budget centers and at a few business units (“an account is an account – why even asking?”). This perspective is self-limiting, because you don’t see the full potential you actually have. But accounts have to grow and if you want to grow your business, this perspective is not helpful. Finance looks at accounts as reporting objects, but they normally have a definition, as usual in finance.
You get the picture! The finance and sales perspectives are different, a common design point is missing. Both look at an “account” from their own internal perspective.
“We cannot use the same way of thinking to solve a problem, we used when we created the problem.” (Albert Einstein).
This is why a GoToCustomer approach can help to improve your collaboration with finance significantly, by identifying one common design point – the customers. Now, let’s think backwards from the customers, let’s think outside-in.
The GoToCustomer account definition works outside-in
Take the highest legal entity and connect all business units or divisions – you name them – to this highest legal entity. This is a 1:n relation. Then, connect all budget centers that are relevant for your business to these business units. Now, we have a 1:n:n relation.
What’s the rationale of such a definition? Prepare the sales system to leverage your growth potential!
If an account gets defined like this for the first time, it’s often a challenging exercise, due to traditional view points. I have often seen accounts which had a CEO, an IT and a finance unit. Lines of business? No way. It’s a change process. It’s about understanding how an organization is structured from their perspective, how decisions are made and where all the relevant business units and budget centers are.
Calculate your gross and net growth potential, outside-in
Take the revenue numbers from your accounts (the revenue they have in their own markets), then take a benchmark regarding the relevant budgets as a percentage of their revenue (e.g. 5% IT spending, in industry xyz), calculate the two numbers and you have your gross growth potential – 100% wallet share, as Dave Brock explained perfectly here . Then, take your revenue you currently make with this account and build the difference. That’s your net potential, naked and pure. And you will see your real wallet share.
This exercise is simple, but most effective. Whenever I presented those figures, it was much more than an eye opener. It always opened a totally different discussion on new business and driving growth.
What’s in it for sales and finance?
- Key to effectiveness and optimized resource allocation:
The number of accounts, defined outside-in, will often be smaller than before. An advantage for both functions, because less data records have to be maintained, but with more transparency. Due to a reduced number of accounts, sales managers can merge teams that worked in parallel before (or against each other without being aware of that). Growth potential across accounts can be leveraged much better. But don’t mix up account management with territory management at this point.
- Key to efficiency based on another level of transparency on growth potential:
This exercise on net and gross growth potential creates transparency and the required context for every sales leader to really understand your sales system’s growth potential. A must have for the next step, which is account segmentation (then with individual assessments) and a must have for any kind of account performance reviews.
- Perfect preparation for growth-oriented account segmentation…
…which also needs a common foundation for sales and finance – sales productivity. Based on that, account segmentation with different dimensions (not everything that matters is measurable) creates added value for sales and finance.
Account segmentation will be our next topic.
Women in Sales Awards, November 5th, judging day in London! Throwing light on successful women in sales, who are still a rare species, especially in the technology industry, is a very worthwhile initiative and deserves our support, if we are really serious with gender collaboration and role models. That’s why I agreed immediately, when Afi Ofori, Zars Media’s agile managing director asked me earlier this year to act as a judge for the first WIS Awards. Women from all over Europe were nominated by their companies in different categories and industries, more on that here. All about the judges, click here.
So far, I didn’t write specifically about women in sales. I was always more focused on the question “What are A-Players doing differently and what can we learn from them to improve entire teams?”
Nevertheless, I’m more than aware of the differences between women and men at the work place and the challenges of successful gender collaboration in general. Over many years in different industries, building several teams in different consulting, sales and sales enablement roles, I could always prove in facts and figures, how quickly performance and outcomes increased in mixed teams.
What were my expectations regarding top women in sales, their specific success factors, based on my own sales perspective and my sales enablement perspective? What would they do differently, and what would be the same compared to top sales men? The key words in my mind were: Attunement, empathy, meaning, collaboration and relationship building.
Let’s see what I learned. Overall, in many industries, and in different sales roles, these main success factors were always the same:
- Value creation first, early along the customer’s journey:
Not a single sales women said, that she would sell a product. All these top sales women were focused on how to solve customer problems and how to help them to master their business challenges. One account executive in the technology sales category said “I almost never talk about the technology we provide. I use my relationships to get a deep understanding of their underlying business problems. For me, the only way to create specific value for them. And that’s why they see me as a partner, not as a supplier.” Many of these top women were focused on finding a specific area, where they could create unique value for their customers, just based on their intuition. What we always find with A Players: They do the right things, but it’s really hard for them, what they did exactly and how. Ask Michael Schumacher, why he was such a brilliant Formula 1 pilot. He will always have a hard time to explain his genius.
- Collaboration – internally and externally:
In all my interviews, collaboration was a key success factor. First, collaboration internally across the value chain, especially with sales operations, service management, product management and delivery. “I know there are process gates where I have to handover to other teams. I do this, but I also make sure, that I never delegate my customer’s outcome, because I own it.” On collaboration across the customer’s network, all these top sales women, like any A-Player, enjoyed to increase and to develop their customer network, especially toward the lines of business, simply to create more value. “Because I need so many stakeholders to help them to make a decision, I collaborate with them across different functions to create context and to create consensus.”
- Strong relationships – leading the customer network:
Even if there are voices out there who want to tell us, that relationships are no longer that relevant, all these top sales women – and they all had brilliant quota overachievements year by year – built their success on strong relationships, value-based relationships. There was not a single woman who denied the relevance of strong relationships for their sales success. All these top sales women created and maintained deep, strategic relationships focused on long-term value creation and based on providing new perspectives and context in an increasingly complex buying environment, where buyers are not always better informed, but often still confused, but on a higher level. “The value, I actually create for my customers is to provide context and perspective across the customer’s network”, and “I crack new accounts the same way, I build my relationship network across different functions and hierarchies”. Mentoring was an additional, very interesting aspect. “I really enjoy to be a mentor within my customer networks. This is how I help them to develop a shared vision of success”.
That’s female leadership. Excellent.
To sum up a great initiative, which will end December 3 with a fantastic dinner at The Savoy, London, to honor the winners in each category, what else needs to be mentioned?
First, attitude is the foundation of success, not only in sales. All these women proved full commitment, a very strong focus to overachieve their goals regularly, they gave their best in each situation and all the time, and all of them were always fully responsible for their successes and their failures. Nobody ever blamed the economy, the weather, the politics, the customers, the CRM, the sales process, their managers or whatsoever. All found their own way to give their very best and to win on a given Formula 1 course – and they proved that they are absolutely brilliant “sales pilots”.
Second, I was really surprised how humble all these women were, when it came to the question “Why should I win this award?” It was a very female approach to answer: always the team was named first, just as they hadn’t done anything…
Sheryl Sandberg talked about this interesting phenomena. Ladies, just imagine an man’s answer… Your outstanding performance can just be stated as it is: Brilliant. Period.
I’m looking forward to the future of women in sales in general and awards like this one. It would be great to see an award for women and for men and both on a global level.
One can dream. And I’d feel much honored to be a judge again…
“What a question” I hear you, “of course, I know who my customers are and I know them pretty well” Wait a minute and let’s have a look at the variety of answers you can get asking this question across the organization.
“My customers are the VPs for Network Operations”, “I’m calling on the directors and VPs for Application Management”, “I’m selling to Vendor Management”, “I’m selling to senior executives”, “I’m selling higher now”. Other people said “our customers are the Fortune500 corporations” and “we are selling to Dax30 corporations”. Others said “our customers are the CxOs in the xyz industries” and the list goes on and on…
These are answers from sales, marketing and finance. People made these statements from their own departmental perspective, their current situation, based on their own, often unconscious, customer view. Additionally, think about the variety of initiatives that collect customer intelligence and provide customer insights. How many do you count across your organization? Ten, twenty, more? You are in good company, it’s a common scenario in large organizations.
Imagine, you have to design a framework for an entire sales system in a complex selling environment – and you get these answers. Then, you are still confused, but on a higher level, right? What I learned so far: There is no successful way to reduce the matter to a common denominator AND to make it valuable for the entire sales system. Instead, we should change our thinking in the first place.
Albert Einstein nails it: “The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”
Assumption: We distinguish between organizations (legal and contract view) and the people we are selling to (relationship view).
Often, both are named “customers”, but in my experience, it’s much easier to call the organization an “account” and the people “customers” or “buyers”. It simplifies many conversations across the organization.
Step 1: Define accounts in a legal way from the outside to the inside.
An account can consist of several layers: Take the highest legal entity of an organization – as they are organized, not as we look at them. Underneath, you can connect several business units or divisions, and within these business units or divisions, you can connect all relevant budget centers. Find more on the legal account definition here.
Step 2: Let’s look at a few dimensions to define customers in a holistic way
- What’s their level in the organization’s hierarchy?
Are they on a functional level, SME, manager, director, senior director, VP, SVP/EVP or C level?
- What’s their function?
Are they working in the lines of business or within IT (in case you are selling IT related services)? Build a number of categories for lines of business (e.g. sales, marketing, HR, Finance, Controlling, production) as well as for IT (e.g. Application Management, Desktop Management, Network Operations, User Help Desk, Infrastructure, IT Strategy)
- What’s their primary focus – efficiency or effectiveness?
In case you sell primarily to procurement or to managers, also vendor managers, their focus is often budget optimization and efficiency. These roles are often involved as impacted stakeholders at later stages along the customer’s journey. And they drive the buying process, if their challenges are focused on process optimization and efficiency within a certain domain and/or if contracts have to be renewed.
In case you sell primarily to executives (lines of business or IT), their focus is often effectiveness and investment, sometimes with a B2B2C perspective. They have to master complex domain-specific or cross-functional challenges of strategic relevance. Their desired business outcomes are focused on effectiveness, and the solutions they are looking for are an enabler along this change management journey.
- What’s the scope of their problems and challenges?
In which domains and for which processes? This question details what was clustered above in efficiency and investment focus. Build on the results from the first three questions and – depending on your business – think about typical problems and challenges and cluster them in the two groups above: efficiency, effectiveness. Think also about domain-specific versus cross-functional challenges, blending business and IT.
All dimensions so far are basic ingredients to design the right value messages for the customers regarding the “why change” and the “why you” story, along the customer’s journey.
- How does the stakeholder network look like?
Map your customers as defined so far and map them to the entire account structure. Build a map and analyze each relationship in terms of e.g. quality, trust, perception and most important – how are these customers working together? Who influences whom for which decisions? You get the picture. It’s time for a power map. Don’t forget to identify the relationship gaps and define activities how to get access. Think about relevant decision makers and impacted stakeholders for the problems and challenges you have identified – to have a general view you can use as a foundation for opportunities and to be able to tailor value messages for different stakeholders.
Almost done: At which stage along the customer’s journey are they involved?
Now, as we have a pretty clear picture of our customers, let’s map who is involved when along their customer’s journey for which problem/challenge scope? Before a problem occurs, when a problem occurs, but the impact is not yet understood, or after problem and impact are pretty clear? When they are already thinking about solutions, when the solution is already designed, or after the RFP is created and the formal buying process is started? Compare these results with the power map you created before and analyze the gaps. A great exercise for an entire organization and for each single account team to check where those strategic relationship gaps are and how to close them.
A lot of work – Why?
To achieve simplicity – key to drive effectiveness and growth
Such a customer model equips people to navigate complexity with a few clear principles and dimensions that are based on one design point – the customers are at the core.
Due to the fact, that customers are defined outside-in with several dimensions that build on each other, different people and different teams can use what’s relevant to them: Finance will only need the account definition. A strategic account team will need all dimensions, and content creating groups will need most of the dimensions. But it is still ONE model.
To get there is hard work, but it’s worth it:
Such a model creates efficiency, transparency and clarity and simplicity.
Simplicity is one of the prerequisites for growth!
GoToCustomer – let’s discuss, how this approach can lead to simplicity!
GoToCustomer is first and foremost a consequent way of thinking and designing your sales system with the customers at the core.
The customers are your central design point. Thinking this way, thinking GoToCustomer, is the most important prerequisite, before you even start to design any kind of framework, processes or enablement services.
A GoToCustomer framework is your foundation, especially in a complex sales environment. The customer’s journey is your design point for all enablement and coaching services. All seller/buyer related interactions are mapped to the customer’s journey with clear milestones. All internal decisions, every sales organizations has to make (e.g. opportunity assessments, resource allocation, delivery checks etc.) are also mapped to the customer’s journey – not the other way around.
It sounds simple. And in fact, it is. But to get there is hard work. It requires consequent, thoughtful execution and change management.
Executing a GoToCustomer strategy based on such a framework can become a challenging endeavor, depending on your organization’s culture.
“We need specific content for specific sales roles”, “content for trainings is completely different”. “I have to create this content, it’s on my check list” and the list goes on and on. I cannot remember how often I got those requests, from many different groups. They have all one element in common: They refer to internal design points, such as sales roles, check lists and products. They don’t refer to the customer. For me, it seems to be an “inside-out muscle memory”.
You can start to work immediately on those requests, which will put you in a reactive enablement role, reinforcing the current state, but not really executing your strategy. The second way is more challenging, but it will lead you toward your goal: executing your GoToCustomer strategy. Discuss these requests with the relevant stakeholders in your organization and develop a deep understanding on the underlying, real problems. Change people’s perspective in these conversations from inside-out to outside-in: What’s the sales outcome, people want to achieve, at which stage of the customer’s journey with which set of stakeholders?
Over time, you will develop a structured questionnaire how to deal with those requests, and how to inspire people to change their perspective to outside-in. Additionally you will identify the root causes of these requests: Maybe, the sales roles are not properly mapped to the customer’s journey. Maybe, you have marketing teams that have to follow a “one size fits all” checklist. Maybe, the trainings and content teams don’t work closely enough together, to be able to adjust their efforts to the customer’s journey, etc.
The bottom line is: People have functional missions. You need their functional expertise – but during execution, not for the design.
- The design perspective has to be the same for all teams: The customer’s journey.
- The execution perspective is based on the design perspective
- GoToCustomer drives efficiency and effectiveness at the same time: You will get rid of unnecessary enablement services and sales people will be more focused on the services that really matter, to make them successful at the customer.
GoToCustomer means simplicity.
Achieving simplicity is hard, but at the end, it’s beautiful.
This post was published initially in a column version @ TopSalesWorld,
This post was published @ The Sales Thought Leaders Blog, Oct 3.
It’s part 1 of a series – how a GoToCustomer approach makes you more effective, when it comes to cross-functional collaboration and alignment.
The essence of a GoToCustomer approach is a consequent way of thinking and designing your sales system in a customer-centric way. GoToCustomer means that your sales system begins with the customers at the core. The customers are your central design point.
Thinking this way, thinking GoToCustomer, is the most important prerequisite, before you even start to design any kind of framework, processes or enablement services.
Maybe, you can imagine that I’m probably not the biggest fan of the various sales and marketing alignment discussions. Right. I’m not. And here is why:
I’m not questioning the need to solve challenges between sales and marketing. Not at all. But I’m questioning the way how these challenges are phrased and discussed – very often based on internal issues, not on customer issues. I have learned, that we can be a lot more effective by changing our perspective, by changing the way to think about these sales & marketing challenges in a GoToCustomer way.
What happens in so many alignment discussions and projects? People, having their functional perspective in mind, try to agree on common goals, the discussions are based on internal design points, internal functions, focused around the interface between these two functions. The alignment discussions are e.g. on lead definitions, lead qualification, measurement of conversion rates, revenue contribution, prequalified leads, marketing nurtured leads, accepted leads by sales and all these kind of terms. Look at the language we are using and the still common definitions called “marketing lead” or “sales lead” and of course – who owns which one?
Let’s step back for a moment and let’s think about the underlying issue, the context of this problem. Obviously, those discussions are focused on internal issues, the customer and the customer’s journey aren’t really the core of many of those discussions.
Here is what I experienced: Three things have to be adjusted to achieve a break-through:
- One design point – the customer:
Make pretty clear that the GoToCustomer framework and especially the customer’s journey are the design point – not your internal functions. All issues that need to be solved have to be mapped backwards from the customer’s journey. Very quickly, you will discover redundancies and unnecessary, complicated processes on the one hand and true value creating activities on the other hand.
- One understanding – we are all “customer-facing” functions:
It means “we are all in sales now”, as Dan Pink said. “Ownership” discussions come to an end. Nobody “owns” a lead or a “customer”. People with different roles have different responsibilities along the customer’s journey in the first place (don’t think of it as a task within a function). But all together own the customer’s outcome and the related sales outcome. Because we are all in sales now!
- One goal – customer value:
Make pretty clear what the goal is – it’s not order entry, revenue, or pipeline build. These are related sales objectives. The overall business objective – why you exist as an organization – is to create a customer, to create value for your customers. Period. Customer value is the prerequisite for a buyer to buy. Customer value is the prerequisite for everything you can measure afterwards, such as order entry, revenue and profit. The goal is not to define activities between two internal functions – these are derived activities that have to be adjusted. But not the other way around. It cannot be said often enough. It makes such a huge difference.
- Last but not least – think outside-in:
Coach your team to think outside-in. Every argument, every issue that needs to be discussed – let people map it to the customer’s journey.
It’s a lot of effort in the beginning to change the way how sales and marketing alignment issues are discussed. But it’s worth the effort – you will get so much redundancy out of the system and so much more customer-centricity and added value into your sales system.
GoToCustomer isn’t only about sales and marketing, GoToCustomer permeates the entire organization, other relevant functions are e.g. finance and hr. The marketing connection is critical because of its proximity and connection to customers – that’s why we discussed this one first.
GoToCustomer is a winning approach, to get there is hard work. It’s a change management journey.
GoToCustomer – the customers at the core of your sales system – is pure simplicity.
Next time, we will discuss how a GoToCustomer approach can help to achieve a better alignment and a more effective collaboration between sales and finance.