What is world-class? In sports, it is easy to define. World champions and Olympic medalists are world-class. But what is world-class in sales? Revenue performance? Maybe, but how do you get there? What are the behaviors that drive world-class sales performance?
At CSO Insights, we are passionate about all things sales performance. We research sales performance from different perspectives, including behavioral and metric perspectives. We investigate, for instance, the roles of sales process and sales management, the growing impact of strategic sales force enablement, and the roles of technology and compensation.
Our CSO Insights 2016 Sales Best Practices Study has just been released. “Drawing Back the Bow” is this year’s cover story. It creates an umbrella theme for the 12 behaviors that have the greatest impact on sales performance.
For the thirteenth year, this study identifies those behaviors that have the biggest impact on sales performance, measured by well known key performance indicators such as quota attainment, qualified opportunities, new account acquisition, YOY existing customer growth or average account billing. Top performers in these areas do a few things differently. They focus on what matters. They focus on the top behaviors that have the greatest impact on sales performance, collectively and consistently. And that makes a huge difference.
The world-class segment is only 7.7% of the overall study population of more than 1,700 respondents, 1,200 of whom work in complex sales. But they achieved 21% better sales performance.
A sales performance difference this large cannot be ignored by any sales leader. Now, what are these top behaviors that drive sales performance, and what does it take to become excellent at those behaviors, to become a world-class performer?
From the top 12 behaviors we have three behaviors that were also top behaviors last year:
Sales and marketing are aligned in what our customers want and need (World-Class 94%, All Respondents 39%)
The key differentiator to successful sales and marketing alignment is this: being aligned to “what our customers want and need.” And that means beginning with the customer’s journey as the main design point when addressing this challenge. Here are four steps to improve sales and marketing alignment in a “customer-core” way:
- Shared vision of success: A shared vision describes how the organization creates value for the customers and how success will be measured. Following the customer’s journey makes it easier to create this vision, and revenue contribution has to be one of the measures of success for both sales and marketing.
- Shared strategy to create value in every interaction: A shared strategy for creating and delivering customer value is necessary―from first contact and all the way through the buying decision and the customers using the products, services, and solutions successfully.
- Shared marketing, sales, and service processes: Based on this shared vision and strategy, sales and marketing have to agree on a shared sales and marketing process, ideally powered by integrated engagement and selling methodologies. It is essential that these efforts continue after the buying decision has been made.
- Shared technology: Integrated processes require integrated technology from the website to marketing automation to sales enablement to the CRM system. Integration is mandatory to leverage the potential of successful sales and marketing alignment.
Our organization is highly effective in allocating the right resources to pursue large deals (World-class 94%, all respondents 40%)
Allocating the right resources to the right opportunities is a challenge for most organizations because resources are like budgets—there is never enough to go around. In many organizations, it’s still the loudest voice that gets the biggest share. But the right resources should only be placed on the most valuable deals to increase the probability of winning those deals. For example, sales managers evaluating deals should consider the strategic value for the customer and the value for the sales organization. It is exactly this deal evaluation process that is often missing in many sales management approaches. When decisions about investments and resource allocation have to be made, the process of making those decisions should be tied to the sales process and the decision gates the customer must go through.
When coaching sales professionals on leads and opportunities, sales managers should always investigate where the customer is along their customer’s journey. As soon as a deal comes close to the customer’s “change the status quo” decision, the sales manager and salesperson should also evaluate this deal against others. Ideally, this step takes place in a funnel coaching session, as it’s about evaluating this deal in the context of other opportunities being worked by the salesperson or the sales team.
We know why our top performers are successful (World-class 94%, all respondents 44%)
Look at the performance rankings of any sales team, and it becomes evident that not all salespeople are created equal. There are often key performers who regularly appear on the top of the chart. Just how valuable are these individuals?
Firms that excel at knowing who their top performers tend to focus on assessing three things. First, they determine the skills and competencies that sales professionals apply in their daily workflow. Doing so, they not only assess what top salespeople are doing, but also how they do it. And that’s a key finding for any sales force enablement approach, especially for onboarding and coaching. Second, they assess talent, the “behavioral DNA.” Third they assess the cultural fit because not every A-player is an A-player in every culture.
The key benefits of this approach are to understand what makes your top performers successful (we all know who they are!). Then, sales force enablement has to ensure that best practices can be shared and that the hiring process is consistently adjusted based on the latest assessment findings. Furthermore, enablement leaders have to ensure that their onboarding process is tailored accordingly.
Click here, download your copy and check out the other top behaviors!
This article was initially published @ Top Sales Magazine, July 2016
Sailing 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.
What was your last bad experience as a prospect – just a short time after you downloaded something from a website? Maybe this example sounds familiar for you, too. I was interested in a report that had been published on a vendor’s blog. I downloaded the document. Less than an hour later, I got a call to “follow-up.” Would I be interested in the vendor’s products? Bad, very bad. I asked her if she had checked out my LinkedIn or my Twitter profile to prepare this call? Of course, she did not. Even more interesting, she made this call for a large provider of social technology. Ouch.
What’s wrong? The call was out of any context, not connected to my role, my potential challenges and the company I’m working for. Not valuable for me. And not relevant.
I care about lead management behaviors for two reasons. First, because I care about all things sales force enablement and how to get more effective in a “customer-core” way. Second, because I work as an analyst in this fascinating space and I do believe that successful sales enablement begins very early along the customer’s journey. So, I have skin in the game.
Bad lead management practices like this follow-up call happen every minute a thousand times. These practices not only ruin your brand reputation, but they also wreck potential future business opportunities.
According to our CSO Insights 2015 Lead Management and Social Engagement Study (login required), increasing new customer acquisition is the number one marketing priority. Additionally, social media and website design/content are the main areas for more investments in lead generation.
Quantity over quality leads only to more bad calls – focus on effectiveness first
The problem with so many bad lead follow-up calls has one cause: measuring quantity over quality. Why should it be the right way to measure the number of calls instead of the outcomes of those calls? Yes, we have to be quick with follow-up calls. And yes, we need to know how many calls are made by person by time frame. But there is a difference between a bad call half an hour after the web page interaction or a much better call within the next few hours. But more bad lead follow-up calls are not effective, regardless how efficient they are processed. Even worse, bad follow-up calls damage not only your brand reputation, but they also block this customer’s potential future interest in any of your products and services. Whether you conduct those lead follow-up calls internally or with an agency, measuring success must be based on effectiveness, not on efficiency only, if you want to move the performance needle in any way.
Call preparation begins with – social media
“We have no time to prepare our calls.” I hear you. Please explain to me why you have time to make lots of bad calls with poor outcomes? Why not make fewer calls with better outcomes? Please ensure just one mandatory step: The person must check the prospect’s social profiles before the call (not just taking the mapped CRM data, or even worse – nothing) such as the prospect’s current role, potential areas of interest and challenges to connect the dots to your products and services. Only then can the salesperson open the call in a smarter way that connects the dots to the potential prospect’s role and context. A much better idea in the case, as mentioned above, could have been to say “Hello…, we appreciate your interest in our content. How was the XYZ document valuable or relevant for you? … As I have seen on LinkedIn, you are working as an analyst. So, what’s of specific relevance for you in your role?” Etc…
Needless to say, I would have been much more engaged in such a conversation than the above-mentioned bad examples, and with no damage to the vendors’ brand. What’s so difficult about doing it this way? It only requires evident homework, preparation that would prove that someone would care about me as a potential customer. Instead, I felt treated just like another damned prospect.
Making lead follow-up calls effective with coaching
This simple step helps to sort out prospect roles that are not relevant as a potential buyer (e.g., me in an analyst role) which reduces the number of calls to make and increases the potential effectiveness of those calls. Now, let’s look at how to increase the effectiveness of those calls. There are lots of ways to get the necessary insights for coaching sales or marketing people running these calls: riding along, analyzing recorded versions, and so on, always combined with predictive analytics regarding call outcomes from the prospect’s perspective. Also, compare the approaches different people on the team may take. Understanding what works and what doesn’t, and where and how to make the necessary changes, is key to success. Maybe the messaging has to be adjusted for specific buyer roles; maybe the guided script has to be changed. Or maybe, just more and better practice and coaching is the key to more effectiveness. Understanding what works and what doesn’t, adjusting the activities and behaviors. Only then, when we know that we process the right activities in the best possible set-up, can training, practicing and coaching really improve the effectiveness of those calls.
Don’t disable sales with bad lead follow-up-call behaviors. Instead, enabling sales begins exactly here.
This article was initially written for Top Sales Magazine Sept 1, 2015
This application management deal is a “must-win” deal. We have the best solution, we have a great relationship with the customer and we save them a lot of money with this new cloud-based service. We all know overconfident sales statements like this one, don’t we? But then, all of a sudden, the deal goes south. The customer makes a decision for a competitor. Why? Because this competitor offered a much bigger business impact, connected to the customer’s relevant financial metrics. It’s a disaster for the sales team, the funnel and the quarter.
Cost savings are a translation of features and functions into a financial equivalent. Cost savings don’t connect to the customer’s desired business results per se. They are a prerequisite for getting to their specific business value.
Cost savings are still in the category of what a product, a service or a solution IS (features and functions) and what it DOES (saving money), but not what these cost savings MEAN to the customer. The typical question of a CFO kind of role will be: “So what?” In our 2015 MHI Sales Best Practices Study, we identified critical customer behaviors. One of these behaviors is that customers decide how they calculate value. In this year’s study, 61% of the world-class sales performers indicated that their customers require formal calculations on business value (ROI, TCO, and specific business cases, etc.) before making a buying decision, compared to 39% the year before. Look at this huge hike from 2014 to 2015, and consider that only 35% of all respondents indicated the same customer requirement (versus 26% in 2014). Now, what are world-class sales performers doing differently?
World-class sales performers know that their products, services, and solutions are only one element in the customer’s approach to solving a problem or mastering a challenge.
Value always lies in the eyes of the beholder, the customer. As customers make every decision differently, every time, the customer’s desired business value has to be different from the provider’s product-oriented cost savings. There is a natural gap by definition. This gap is one of the reasons why traditional ROI calculators never impress a customer stakeholder who has a financial focus. Those ROI calculators are, most of the time, product-oriented, which means they only cover one element of the customer’s solution, the provider’s offerings.
World-class sales performers map their product’s cost savings to their customers’ broader business value calculation.
That means that in the customer’s business case, the offered product’s cost savings will often be only one line item. World-class sales performers know how their cost savings can impact other financial metrics in general. Their expertise in understanding the customer’s context and the stakeholders’ different concepts allows them to figure out which financial metrics are important for this buying team, this time. They also identify the strategic business initiatives and connect the dots between their product-based cost savings, the directly impacted financial metrics and their impact on the customer’s strategic business initiatives.
Understand your customer’s financial performance and identify financial metrics that matter to them
Many sales professionals were trained to focus on their ROI and TCO as discussed above. That worked as long as (in our example of a cloud-based application management), IT departments and technical buyers made the decisions alone. Now, as we observe a huge shift to business buyers and cross-functional and complex buying teams, business value calculations become very different. Why is this the case? Because there are no IT projects anymore. Every IT project that exists has at least one business reason, why it exists. Consequently, business values are calculated differently. In general there is a switch from efficiency and budget optimization to effectiveness and investment thinking.
Understanding your customers’ current financial performance and their goals are the first step to identifying metrics that make a difference to them. Financial reports, analyst views, strategic initiatives are great sources to educate yourself. Learning additional financial metrics such as e.g. return on assets (ROA), return on equity (ROE), operating costs, cash flow, EBIT and EBITDA, as well as net and gross profit margins are essential to create outstanding value for your customers next time.
Create a value mapping chart for the entire buying team
Such a document includes the business reasons for every buyer, their desired solution and their desired tangible results and intangible wins, and how they measure success. Then, map back to the relevant metrics of the strategic initiatives, identify alignments, gaps and maybe inconsistencies. Then, come up with an overall approach to your customer’s business value calculation, integrating the stakeholders’ relevant metrics. Being prepared like this shows that you work backward from the customer’s context, and the stakeholders’ different concepts and that you made a lot of efforts to create extraordinary value for them. That’s the entry ticket to have effectiveness and investment focused conversations on eye-level. This is where you should be to win the next deals.
Related blog posts:
Providing Perspectives – A Dynamic Customer-Core Engagement Principle
Manage Mechanics, Navigate Dynamics
How Sales Professionals Create Value for Customers
This article was initially written for the Top Sales Magazine June 30th, 2015
A few weeks ago, I signed up for a video conferencing service. The reason was simple: I was invited to a video meeting based on this service, so I needed an account. I signed up for a two-week free trial, the only option I had. I loved the service; the setup was easy, and the video service during the meeting worked pretty well. So far, so good. But then, the situation became strange. I got a message from a salesperson beginning with “Hey there” which is not my name, obviously. If the salesperson knows to whom he or she sends a message, why making it as impersonal as possible?
Then, a few nice sentences, followed by “I would be happy to assist with licensing options for you. Could you also answer a few questions so I may better understand your company?” A list of bullet points followed regarding the number of employees and technology workers (what’s that?), country headquarters, number of room video conferencing systems, collaboration tools used today and timeframe for making a purchasing decision. The message makes pretty clear that the salesperson assumed me to be in a buying process, without even questioning that.
Misinterpreting an individual interest for an organizational pain leads to misalignment and misunderstanding
Signing up for a free trial, or downloading a whitepaper are signs of an individual interest. Not more. Not less. At this point, nobody should even assume an individual pain, not to mention an organizational challenge that needs to be tackled. There is no proof point. Problem number one is making false assumptions such as putting a prospect in a buying process who didn’t even enter the awareness phase of the customer’s journey. Problem number two is not listening and not observing. Subscribers of free trials are normally tracked and monitored. In my case, it was easy to figure out that I used this service only once to be able to attend a specific video conference. Also here, the false assumption “a subscriber is always a prospect pretty close to making a buying decision” led to this misleading email message. Problem number three is not questioning these assumptions. In this specific case, the core mistake was not questioning my motivation to sign up for a free trial. I just had to attend a video meeting that was based on this service. I didn’t have a problem to solve, and I didn’t have an organizational challenge to master.
The buying process is one phase of the customer’s journey. Best practice is to identify the prospect’s position along the customer’s journey, not the buying process only.
The customer’s journey begins with an awareness phase in which a need, a challenge or a problem occurs. The situation is analyzed, diagnosed, and evaluated. The customers’ involved stakeholders must first decide that the situation is both important and urgent and need to be tackled. Next, they must have a vision of a better future state that will allow them to solve a problem, master a challenge and achieve or overachieve their goals. Only then will a decision to change the current state be made. Avoiding a risk can also be a reason to change. And this decision to change the current state for a better future state is the “must-have” prerequisite to entering any buying phase. No decision to change the current state, no buying process. It’s as simple as that.
In this case, world-class sales professionals would have tried to discover my real motivation, and my role in my organization to identify where I was along the customer’s journey and where my organization would probably be. The result would have been that I’m at the very beginning of the awareness phase, dealing with an individual issue that is not at all an organizational pain at this time. The best practice would have been to show me the business value of these services, to provide me with a potential future vision of success, but not proposing a solution with features and functions I didn’t even ask for.
Relationships matter – especially those that are based on the business issues that are relevant and valuable for the prospect
The salesperson not only missed the opportunity to discover my context and my motivation, but also to build a relationship, to create value for me and my organization. Creating value couldn’t happen as the salesperson did not invest time to discover what my specific situation was and what would have been valuable and relevant for me. Opportunities have to be created, and that’s work, often hard work. Opportunities don’t fall from heaven.
Furthermore, my experience was that I as a human being didn’t matter at all. Not my context, not my motivation, nothing. If they don’t care about me as a prospect, how will they treat me as a customer?
Customer-core engagement principles look differently. Providing Perspectives is a dynamic engagement and messaging principle that is based on the customer’s journey and the involved stakeholders as the main design point.
Related blog posts:
Providing Perspectives: A Dynamic Customer-Core Engagement Principle
Providing Perspectives: Customer-Core Principle
This article was initially written for the Top Sales Magazine May 26th, 2015
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