Training sessions that make sense for marathon runners are clearly not appropriate for sprinters, even if both want to win an Olympic gold medal. The disciplines are different. The athletes’ objectives determine their activities.
That’s the same in professional B2B selling. The business results and sales objectives determine the appropriateness of various sales activities. World-class sales performers take this practice to heart. Our 2015 MHI Sales Best Practices Study shows that the world-class segment clearly defines the activities that are required for each stage of the sales process to achieve their sales objectives (95% compared to only 43% in the “all respondents” category). This trend has increased from 2014 to 2015 by 13% in the world-class segment, but only by 7% in the all respondents category. Having a strategy and knowing the right things to do seems to be a huge differentiator between top performers and others.
Effectiveness comes first. Efficiency without effectiveness does not know what’s right or wrong.
Imagine that your frontline sales managers are focused on a certain number of prospecting calls per salesperson per day to achieve a stretch revenue goal in a few selected industries. But somehow, the conversion rates don’t improve even if the number of calls increases. Let’s assume that the organization has invested in CRM technology, in lean processes, in customer data, in targeted value messaging, etc. But were they effective? Apparently not.
FSM’s mantra part 1: Manage the right set of activities
Efficiency is clearly not the problem here. Effectiveness is. Question number one, which is in the DNA of world-class sales managers, should be, “Are prospecting calls like these the right activity to achieve our sales objectives?” They don’t ask, “How can we make these prospecting calls better, faster, cheaper?” until they are completely convinced that this is the right thing to do to achieve their desired sales objectives. As we know from Albert Einstein, we cannot continue to do the same things over and over again, but expecting different results. It cannot be emphasized often enough that questioning the current state is a fundamental sales leadership approach to developing high-performance sales teams. It’s absolutely essential. It requires sales managers to hold on for a moment, to put themselves next to the situation and to observe and analyze what’s going on and to question if these sales activities are still the right activities to achieve the desired sales objectives. Maybe it was the right approach last year, but is it still the right thing to do?
FSM’s mantra part 2: Coach the related behaviors
In this situation, the “questioning process” can reach the conclusion that the activity itself is still the right one, but it isn’t being executed with the right level of quality. Or the questioning process can come to the conclusion that the activities are no longer the right ones to achieve the desired sales objectives. Whatever the conclusion is, it has to be driven by facts and data. Maybe the salespeople had only a foundational training, but not enough practice and no regular coaching to improve the quality and the outcome of the calls? Then that’s what we have: a probably efficient activity that leads nowhere. Activities have to be connected to the desired outcomes to develop a performance culture. Therefore we need to establish a culture of learning and coaching first. In the example above – after the initial questioning process – the sales managers measure and analyze the results of the prospecting calls with leading indicators. And they share the results with the sales team. What did salespeople who had success do differently compared to those who were not successful? Analyzing the leading indicators, e.g., conversation rates or percentage of follow-up calls, with salespeople’s positive and negative experiences should lead to a tailored coaching approach that’s specific to each individual on the sales team. World-class sales managers also make sure that the best practices of top performers are leveraged to improve everyone else. Eighty-one percent of the world-class segment executes this behavior consistently and collectively, while only 32% of the all respondents segment does, according to the data of our 2015 MHI Sales Best Practices Study.
World-class frontline sales managers put it all together – in iterations
World-class frontline sales managers analyze sales activities based on leading indicators as they are happening. They are open to recognizing patterns, learning, adjusting the activities and coaching the related behaviors. And they understand that they are in ongoing iterations of analyzing, learning, adjusting and coaching. World-class frontline sales managers are brave enough to stop an activity if the facts show that it is not the best one to achieve certain sales objectives.
Executing the FSM’s mantra “managing the right set of activities, coaching the related behaviors” leads to what sales leaders are looking for: increasing sales results and productivity to achieve ambitious revenue and growth targets.
This article was initially written for Top Sales Magazine, May 5th, 2015.
Related blog posts:
Frontline Sales Manager’s Mantra: Managing Activities and Coaching Behaviors
Frontline Sales Managers – Balancing Various Priorities
Frontline Sales Managers: Key Role, but Poorly Developed and Enabled
Remember the last time you have written a blog post or an article. How did that go? I start with an idea and a mind map. Then I capture all my ideas as they flow, followed be rethinking the core idea. Once the focus of the core idea is sharp, I select a few sub-ideas that support the core message well. Then it’s time to write. Once the first version is written, a few more iterations will follow to get a version I’m happy with. Then, sharing to get feedback and in some cases working with a professional editor are next steps. A few more iterations will happen until the desired level of excellence has been reached.
Excellence happens in iterations – and buying too!
You may say “what?” Isn’t she always hammering home the idea of the customer’s journey? Correct. But let’s look what happens within the core phases of a customer’s journey.
In the awareness phase a problem, a challenge occurs. Imagine an organization that wants to change from an on-premise CRM to a cloud-based social CRM solution to lower IT costs and to increase sales performance. The stakeholder community gets established. People analyze the situation to understand the entire impact, to identify potential approaches to achieving the desired results and wins. They will gather data, opinions and expertise, inside and outside of their organization on private, public and other cloud service models. Of course, they will search as much relevant content as they can get. During this awareness phase, opinions will change, ideas are created, some will be dropped, and others will be honed. And the group of stakeholders can change as well. Some stakeholders may leave the group due to low impact; others will try to get into the group. With each next level of learning, other ideas will be prioritized, and approaches will be sharpened. With each new stakeholder, the group has to onboard the new stakeholder that often means to go back one or two iterations. And the outcome can change; again. The awareness phase is finished, when the stakeholder group has made a decision to change the current state for a better future state. Ideally a sales professional is already involved in this early phase to orchestrate the community to a shared vision of success.
So, you get the principle of iterations. In the actual buying phase, iterations happen as well. New stakeholders can show up, and they may question the entire approach. Another reason to go back and bring them on the same page. Additional iterations can happen until a business case, and contract are created, and the list goes on and on…
Understanding iterations means to understand decision dynamics
How organizations approach their challenges and problems happens along the customer’s journey. But within these phases of the customer’s journey, lots of iterations can happen for simple reasons – to identify the best future vision of success, to make the best buying decision and to make the best implementation. All that means striving for excellence. Excellence happens in iterations.
Understanding these iterations is essential for every sales professional. That requires understanding the decisions dynamics in every customer situation. Not only understanding each stakeholders’ role, function, power, and influence, but also their decision-making style is important to understand. And that’s the foundation to define a deal strategy to win their business. As every customer makes every decision differently, iterations and decision dynamics are also different in every situation.
As a prerequisite for “all things excellent”, excellence has to be an attitude and a level of ambition first. Excellence in complex sales requires a certain level of adaptive competencies and the willingness to learn constantly and improve from what has been practiced to achieve an excellent result.
Related blog posts:
How Sales Professionals Create Calue For Their Customers
Why World-Class Sales Performers Are Always Keen To Learn
The series on this thought provoking question “Is Sales Enablement Making Salespeople Stupid?” continues.
In case you missed the first two posts, click here for Part 1 which discussed auto-pilot versus strategic thinking and here for Part 2 where we discussed sales enablement role’s on value messaging. Today, let’s consider another key question that was raised a few weeks ago in Atlanta on a sales enablement panel at the Sales Force Productivity Conference.
How does the need for enablement tools change in transactional versus complex sales environments? When, if ever, is guided selling or following a script critical?
Transactional sales environments may not have more than one key decision maker involved and the products or services are easy to understand. Typically these buyers can find all required information to make a purchasing decision online, and the transaction itself can be made online. B2B buyers are used to making those buying decisions on a regular basis. Often, salespeople are only involved very late along the customer’s journey, if at all. Instead, service roles become more and more important in those transactional environments to connect to the customers’ concepts.
Complex selling environments are primarily defined by two criteria. It’s the complexity of the customer challenge to be mastered. And it’s an increasing number of involved stakeholders from different functions and roles. These buyers often make purchasing decisions in parallel to their day-to-day roles. Various dimensions, such as customer-specific situations, the stakeholders’ different concepts, the buying network’s decision dynamic and a provider’s complex portfolio of capabilities to design tailored solutions are connected to each other and have to be considered as a system.
Different requirements in both selling environments
Enablement content services have to address different needs in both environments. Based on the criteria above, the sales content for a transactional environment is focused on the actual buying phase and the service phase, tailored for the key buyer role. The awareness phase, which is essential in complex environments, is something buyers often process on their own, and online. Complex sales environments require modular and dynamic content and messaging approaches, not only to cover the entire customer’s journey, but also to address different buyer roles adequately. Therefore, enablement content designed for a transactional environment is easier to provide and can guide much more precisely than in a complex sales environment. And that’s why the competencies in transactional sales roles are different from those in complex sales roles. The level of critical and strategic thinking that is required from a salesperson to connect all the dots in a complex buying situation is very different from what a salesperson in a transactional sales role will ever need.
Scripting – who wants to be in a “scripted” conversation?
Put yourself in your buyer’s shoes – would you tolerate a scripted conversation for more than two minutes? There is a possibility to script typical conversations to help salespeople to be more effective. That can work in a more transactional environments, but only if related training services help people to play with these scripts and ultimately get away from the scripts. But very often the training part doesn’t take place, and conversations sound just “scripted.” Does that differentiate anybody in anything from competitors? No, not at all. So, come full circle with scripts or don’t work with scripts at all.
To be successful, guided selling requires strategic thinking – embedded in a sales methodology
Guided selling works backwards from typical patterns of customer challenges and problems, and is responsive to different buyer roles along the entire customer’s journey. That requires a modular and dynamic content approach which has to be organized in a collaborative way. Often, that doesn’t happen, and salespeople are overwhelmed by the variety of content that’s available. If so, they’re likely to just switch off the noise. In this case, content packages or interactive playbooks for different customer challenges can guide salespeople along the customer’s journey and help them to find the right entry point for different buyer roles and different situations in different industries.
But in all these complex selling and buying situations, critical and strategic thinking can never be replaced by content and messaging. Strategic thinking is the key to connecting the dots across a large stakeholder network, and to analyzing and synthesizing the specific customer context and each buyer’s concepts. Critical and strategic thinking requires a sales methodology that can deliver scalable results. A sales methodology explains the how and the why, and guides people through different steps to create or manage opportunities.
Is Sales Enablement Making Salespeople Stupid? Auto-Pilot Versus Strategic Thinking
Is Sales Enablement Making Salespeople Stupid? Sales Enablement’s Role In Value Messaging
Understanding different buying environments – where are your customers?
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!
Three weeks to go – three weeks to share your insights and to receive research in return – immediately after taking the survey and with first-access to the results in Q1/2015.
For us at the MHI Research Institute, we begin with giving and sharing our findings from the 2014 MHI Sales Best Practices Study. In my last post featuring the study, I discussed a framework of world-class sales performance, consisting of three organizational attributes and three connected individual behaviors, each pair connected by a cultural component.
Today, let’s take a deeper look at one of the individual behaviors – providing perspective. What it is and how it works – that was the core topic of Top Sales World Magazine’s cover story, Oct 28.
Dr. Jonathan Farrington, CEO of Top Sales World, interviewed me and we discussed the defining difference of world-class sales performance. This defining difference, according to our research at the MHI Research Institute, is based on the combination of the organizational attributes and the individual behaviors. Learn more about this framework here. But there is one behavior that plays a special role when it comes to how you connect and engage with your prospects and customers. And that’s providing perspective. Please download your exclusive copy of last week’s Top Sales Magazine’s interview and learn more about providing perspective as a customer-core based engagement and messaging principle. Dr. Farrington also asked me what the success factors for providing perspective are. Read more about the relevance of coaching, value messaging and collaboration as part of a successful providing perspective approach.
From giving to receiving – this is where we ask you for your help!
The 2015 MHI Sales Best Practices Study is still open until end of November. We kindly ask you to take some time to take this survey. We need your data and insights now to complete this state-of-the-art research early in 2015. Participants will have first access to the results.
The MHI Sales Best Practices Study, now in its 12th year, is the world’s largest survey for complex B2B sales, covering all regions and many different industries and roles in sales. In case this is important to you, this is NOT an MHI client study. Less than thirty percent of all past participants have been clients.
What you can expect from the study as a participant:
- Timely business intelligence—exclusive, first access to the full study results when they’re published in Q1 2015
- A complimentary report from the MHI Research Institute, Perspectives on Productivity: The Next Level of Transparency
- Entry into a drawing for a World-Class Sales Performance Gap Analysis – an opportunity to take advantage of a service provided by the Institute’s research analysts that compares the participant’s organizational behaviors to those of World-Class Sales Performers as identified in this study.
Click here to get to the study – it’s open until Nov 30, 2014.
In Part 1 of this series we discussed the question: Do salespeople rely too much on the organization to get things right at the expense of strategic thinking? This was a panel topic a few weeks ago in Atlanta, at the Sales Force Productivity Conference, organized by the Sales Management Association. Today, let’s consider another question the panel discussed:
Has sales enablement led to an inability to communicate value messages?
Thought provoking, indeed! Our research at the MHI Research Institute shows that the inability to communicate value messaging is year over year the biggest inhibitor to sales success. On the other hand, one of sales enablement’s main goals is exactly that: Equipping salespeople to have more valuable conversations with prospects and clients along their entire customer’s journey – to increase sales growth and performance. Something seems to be wrong. Let’s take a deeper look.
Value messaging is dynamic and modular – but not scripted
Value messages express the business value of a product, solution or service, mapped to the customers’ specific challenges and their desired results and wins. Furthermore, value messages have to be tailored to the different phases of the customer’s journey as well as to each buyer role.
There is no “one size fits all” value message or value proposition. To be effective, value messages have to be focused on what a product, solution or service means for the customer’s specific situation and their desired results and wins, rather than what a product is and what it does. As the customer’s focal points change along the customer’s journey, the value messages must also change. Additionally, they have to be tailored to different buyer roles and often per industry. That requires a dynamic messaging approach that helps salespeople to quickly access and customize value messages for specific selling situations.
But dynamic value messages – just as any other piece of sales content – can never be used without the salesperson’s strategic and critical thinking (see Part 1 of this series).
Creating value messages has to be changed first
We design value messages by working backwards from the customers’ journey and their specific challenges. This may feel counterintuitive for product and marketing people who have done it the other way around for decades. Often, different product (marketing) teams compete against each other to get salespeople’s attention for what may be product-centered sales content. That’s simply not how buyers buy. Buyers buy the value of products and services to achieve their desired results and wins.
Changing the design point in content creation and value messaging from a product to a customer core approach is a serious change process that shouldn’t be underestimated. Such a transformation should be orchestrated by a strategic sales enablement function that understands both the customer and salespeople.
Applying value messages effectively is an ongoing training and development issue
It’s not enough to get the creation process right and to provide value messages on an enablement platform. To be effective, salespeople have to be trained to deliver the value messages effectively. This is a challenge that’s often overlooked. Messaging training has to cover two dimensions in parallel: knowledge transfer and behavioral change because value messaging is different from pushing products.
Sales enablement per se doesn’t lead to salespeople’s inability to communicate value messages. Only the inability to change does.
Sales enablement can create real value if the messaging creation process is changed and if salespeople are trained to deliver those value messages in different situations.
Often overlooked, but key to success: The front line sales managers’ coaching approach has to support exactly this transformation to reinforce continuous improvement – training, practicing, coaching, adjusting, practicing -> learning.
Finally, salespeople are always responsible for the messages they use in front of customers. Only they can decide, based on synthesizing the customer’s context, the different stakeholders’ concepts and their specific decision dynamic, what kind of messages will create value and support their perspectives.
Related blog posts:
The Inability To Communicate Value Messages – Biggest Inhibitor To Communicate To Sales Success 2014
Sales Enablement: Customer Core Framework to Provide Perspectives
“The Expert” – Why Understanding Your Customer Is Key To Provide Perspective
Providing Perspective – A Customer Core Principle