Sales Enablement Perspectives
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.
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This article was initially written for the Top Sales Magazine June 30th, 2015
Coach, Leader And Business Manager: Frontline Sales Managers Need Enablement | See You In London, June 18!
Frontline sales managers (FSMs) are the most important role in any sales organization when it comes to sales execution and driving sales force transformation. Just think about their span of control in your organization. This role can decide what sales professionals sell, where they sell, to whom they sell, and how they sell. This is why frontline sales managers have such a huge leverage effect, why it makes good sense to invest in developing their effectiveness and their productivity.
However, our research shows that developing frontline sales mangers is still not a high-priority investment in sales productivity. Only 55% of sales productivity investments (data from our 2014 MHI Sales Performance and Productivity Study) are dedicated to developing frontline sales managers. At the top of the list (82%) are still investments in the skills, competencies and knowledge bases of individual contributors.
This disconnect has to be solved with holistic frameworks that address the FSMs’ challenging role, where the three key areas of customers, people and business compete for their attention. Our FSM Triangle is one such framework that has proved to be effective in frontline sales manager development. Our FSM Mantra is another valuable framework; it helps shift the frontline sales manager’s focus to what really matters and what they can control directly in their role. And that’s all about managing the right set of activities and coaching the related behaviors. FSMs often feel like they are on a motorway without speed limits: How should they divide their attention between looking ahead and looking behind? So, we will talk about “rear view mirrors and windscreens” – when and where to focus.
Developing frontline sales managers can be done in different phases. But the most important capability that has to be developed right away is coaching. Coaching is a capability that’s not required in a sales role, but it’s the must-have capability that makes all the difference. Not many people are born coaches, but many have become great coaches. To do that, there is conceptual homework to be done; ideally by enablement and training teams to define a coaching framework and coaching guidelines. And the homework has to be implemented successfully.
And then, it’s about enablement technology that can advance coaching capabilities to the next level. Technology can provide leading indicators for FSMs, to help them to understand what activities work or don’t work. Furthermore – and this is state-of-the-art technology – FSMs can see what interactions salespeople have with clients and prospects and how these prospects and clients interact with their salespeople. It’s another very valuable way to adjust activities immediately and focus coaching on the behaviors that have to be improved to ensure sustainable and scalable sales results.
Enabling frontline sales managers is one of the four pillars that lead to the next level of sales enablement, sales force enablement.
Join us in London for our MHI Global Sales Leadership Forum, June 18; in association with Top Sales World, sponsored by White Springs and Showpad. I will deliver a keynote on the frontline sales managers’ dilemma and how to solve it, and Pieterjan Bouten, Showpad’s CEO, will show how enablement technology can drive the FSM’s coaching capability to the next level of FSM effectiveness.
Have a look at our Agenda, and check out the additional key notes by Top Sales World’s CEO Dr. Jonathan Farrington and White Springs’ CEO Gary White as well as highly relevant “how to” workshops on funnel management and coaching.
See you in London, June 18th!
PS: Jonathan Farrington and I discussed the frontline sales manager issues, prior to our event. Click here to listen!
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.
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This article was initially written for the Top Sales Magazine May 26th, 2015
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.
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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
Frontline sales managers have a greater impact on sales execution, sales productivity, and sales transformation than any other role. What makes their role so demanding and complex is the continuous challenge to balance between three often competing areas; customer, business, and people. Having been the best salesperson does not qualify an individual to be a stand-up top frontline sales manager. Poorly developed frontline sales managers drive top performers out of the organisation and promote mediocre performance from those who remain. This is an untenable situation for any sales leader with ambitious performance goals.
World-class sales organisations understand that frontline sales managers are not born. They develop their frontline sales managers with an integrated programme that allows them to grow in the role of a leader, a coach, and a business manager. They know it`s not about adding costs to the bottom line, but adding growth and effectiveness to the top line. They understand that the cost of doing nothing is much greater.
In my keynote seminar “Frontline Sales Manager’s Dilemma – Coach, Leader and Business Manager” on May 13th, I will share our latest research on frontline sales management and what to do with it. I will discuss what triangles have to do with frontline sales managers and their individual effectiveness. And we will discuss why frontline sales managers should benefit from applying a specific mantra that helps them to focus on what really matters in their role.
In addition, I will lead a workshop session called “Mastering the Frontline Sales Managers dilemma: with a triangle, a sharpened focus, and a capability framework”; two times on May 13th and two times on May 14th as part of our MHI Global Sales Performance Masterclass. During this session, I will discuss the latest research on frontline sales managers from the MHI Research Institute. Building on these data points, we will discuss the frontline sales manager triangle and how to use it to balance better various priorities with simple principles. The triangle is about shifting complexity from the unconscious mind to the conscious mind to driving the frontline sales managers’ decision-making quality and their individual effectiveness. Sharpening the FSMs` focus on those activities and behaviours that really matter is the second concept that we will share and discuss how to apply it. Last but not least, we will discuss how a capability framework can enable you to reviewing, adjusting, and designing your own frontline sales manager development programmes.
I’m looking forward to seeing you next week at the Sales Innovation Expo in London!
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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.
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“The more we share, the more we have.”
̶ Leonard Nimoy
This is not only true for our personal lives, but for professional selling as well. But changing to a sharing and learning organization is more challenging in sales than in other functions, because for decades salespeople have the habit of hoarding their knowledge. Sharing is a cultural shift that’s triggered by information symmetry on the Internet, by people’s increasing sense of limited resources on Earth, by information technology that empowers people to connect together on various platforms and by a broader economic concept, the sharing economy.
Driving a car or playing cello is no longer connected to owning the asset. The sharing economy allows people to have access to tangible and intangible assets without the need to own them. A common premise is that when information about goods and services is shared, the value of those assets may increase, for the business, for individuals, and for the community. Various sharing economy models exist, but all of them leverage technology to empower individuals and organizations with information that enables distribution, sharing and reuse of goods and services.
In the world or professional selling, knowledge is the gold standard of the knowledge shareconomy.
Capability knowledge and situational knowledge are the key dimensions of the shareconomy’s gold standard. Capability knowledge covers a provider’s products, services and solutions. But it is the situational knowledge, the deep understanding of a customer’s specific situation and challenges, their stakeholders’ specific concepts and their specific decision dynamics, that allows a sales professional to apply the provider’s capabilities into a valuable and compelling perspective for customers.
Shareconomy models are collaborative consumption models based on three core elements:
- Sharing instead of hoarding:
Content and learning assets, such as internal enablement content, best practices, win/loss analyses and client-facing content, are shared on a collaborative, social, and well-integrated platform. This is the opposite of hoarding content on a personal laptop, accessible for the individual only. To become a sharing and collaborative organization, many sales professionals need to change their deeply ingrained attitudes toward sharing knowledge. Changing attitudes toward sharing requires sales leadership to create a compelling transformation story that shows the sales force how they can achieve more when they share knowledge and best practices instead of hoarding them. Getting salespeople to share content developed or contributed by others is a first step.
- Authorship instead of ownership:
Especially for younger generations, having a car available when needed is more important than owning a car. A car is a tangible example, but the same principle is true for intangible knowledge assets. Honoring content creators and their expertise ensures that the shared value is credited to the authors. In turn, giving credit where credit is due encourages others to share. The principle of authorship and the related personal recognition is an important enabler for the knowledge shareconomy. Reflecting the principle of authorship over ownership in performance management systems and commission plans can be of tremendous value as an organization transforms to the knowledge shareconomy.
- Knowledge flow instead of knowledge stocks:
A car-sharing business only works if you can get a car when you need it. Likewise, knowledge is only valuable if it can flow to where it is needed. If knowledge is kept locked away, its value is wasted. Think about all the various dead content directories in your organization, where only a few have access and even fewer know about it. Social and collaborative technologies empower knowledge to flow and people to share, re-use, exchange, and evolve knowledge in various forms and shapes. Therefore, flowing knowledge has to be an intrinsic part of the sales professional’s working environment. That is why enablement solutions that are embedded in CRM systems are highly effective in helping salespeople to share knowledge and improve outcomes for everyone.
Sharing, participating, and contributing – three levels of knowledge shareconomy engagement.
Stay tuned! Next time, we will discuss how to embrace the knowledge shareconomy.
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What is an expert in sales? Often experts in sales are considered as people with in–depth knowledge about a provider’s products and capabilities. Experts in sales often have specific titles, such as solution sales, presales or sales engineers. What about the customer knowledge? How relevant are competencies to being an expert in sales?
In today’s complex and continuously changing world, defining what an expert in sales really means becomes a competitive necessity to make a difference. Defining experts in sales leads directly to a blueprint for required sales enablement services.
“An expert is a person who has made all the mistakes
that can be made in a narrow field.”
— Niels Bohr
Experts know a lot of details in a specific knowledge area. To become an expert in a specific knowledge area, lots of mistakes have to be made. That’s the prerequisite for learning what works and what doesn’t. Mistakes and continuous learning allow people to develop their knowledge and understanding to the next level. In sales, we shouldn’t work on the false assumption that an expert is only knowledgeable about a provider’s capabilities. This capability knowledge area is an entry ticket to open a door. But capability knowledge alone won’t be enough to have relevant and valuable conversations with prospects and customers. Additional areas of knowledge are equally important, such as knowledge about the market and its trends, the customer’s industry, as well as the internal landscape of methods, processes and tools.
Being an expert in products and solutions is important, but not enough. To create real value for customers, sales professionals have to be an expert in the customers’ specific business challenges
Based on the above-mentioned knowledge areas, sales professionals have to become experts in their customers’ environmental and specific context. The way to make a difference in conversations with potential buyers is knowing and understanding their specific context of business challenges, problems and opportunities and being able to connect the dots to the own capabilities. Knowing their context includes understanding their current and their desired financial performance as well as the performance indicators that are relevant and critical for them. It’s no longer enough to be knowledgeable about the ROI or TCO of a provider’s product or solution. The financial impact of the customer’s desired solution (your products and services often are only a part of their solution!) mapped to their relevant financial metrics; that’s what matters to them. Being able to provide perspectives on different approaches to creating an even higher financial impact; that makes a huge difference. Sometimes, this ability enables new providers to win deals over those who are established since years but who didn’t care enough about the specific customer’s business context.
In addition, being an expert means to understand the stakeholders’ different concepts o how to approach a challenge, how to fix a problem or how to avoid a risk. Based on the stakeholders’ functions and roles, identifying their preference to process information and their individual decision-making style makes a sales professional a true expert. Knowing and understanding the decision dynamics of a certain customer stakeholder group and being able to orchestrate these decision dynamics is often what makes the difference in complex deals. These are all requirements a sales professional, an expert in sales needs to provide perspectives for customers; relevant, valuable, creative perspectives that enable customers to achieve or overachieve their desired results and wins.
Knowing is not enough; we must apply.
Willing is not enough; we must do.
— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Being an expert requires applying the various knowledge areas, skills and strategies in specific customer situations. Expertise means to connect the dots between capabilities and customer knowledge, between skills, competencies and strategies.
Being an expert is the prerequisite for expertise.
Expertise means also to recognize when the own level of expertise won’t be enough to make a difference for the customer. Including another expert is not a weakness, it is a strength in a customer-core approach and a true sign of conscious collaboration in sales.
Last but not least – what about the “generalists”? Are they no longer required or are they experts in another area? Think about an executive account manager in a large strategic account, and think about a deal executive in a three digit outsourcing deal. These sales professionals are not necessarily experts in all the knowledge areas as described above, but they are also not generalists. They have to be experts in orchestrating large customer stakeholder communities, and they have to be experts in selling big deals in their own organizations. Additionally they have to be experts in allocating the right domain experts on their deals. Their expertise is understanding decision dynamics; their expertise is leadership and collaboration.
Do you have all the experts on board to make a difference for your customers?
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In complex B2B sales, we have to deal with various customer stakeholders who come from different functions, roles, and backgrounds. Their degree of involvement regarding a specific situation is different, and their ideas about how to master the challenge are different across the customer stakeholder community. Now, let’s see what perspective means from a sales professional’s point of view.
Providing perspectives is an engagement and messaging principle that enables the sales professional to create specific customer value at each phase of the customer’s journey and for each buyer role. This principle allows sales professionals to successfully navigate complex customer stakeholder networks.
Providing perspectives works the entire customer’s journey as a main design point. While the core principle of providing perspectives remains the same, the focal points in each phase are different, which evolves the principle to a dynamic level.
Navigating change dynamics to get to a shared vision of future success is the focal point in the customer’s awareness phase
In the customer’s awareness phase, the buyer analyzes a specific situation to understand root causes, impact, and ways to proceed. From doing nothing to buying a product, from service or solution up to postponing the issue to the next fiscal year – everything is possible.
Sales professionals have to be involved early on by providing perspectives with content and value messaging that’s focused on the customer’s specific context (their situation and their desired results and wins; and the impact of doing nothing!), tailored to different buyer roles and their different concepts of how to address the situation. Case studies and success stories that show possible approaches to addressing the situation and achieving their desired results and wins are perfect at this point. The sales professional’s focus is to drive a decision across the customer stakeholder network to change the current state for a better future state – that’s navigating change dynamics! That’s “providing perspective.” Perspectives that are creative, innovative, relevant, and prove how they can achieve the desired goals are valuable and will win buyer mindshare. The client-facing content and the value messages in this phase have to connect the dots between the customer’s context and the stakeholders’ different concepts. This is not the phase for product pitches.
Navigating decision dynamics to provide the customer’s best buying vision is the focal point in the buying phase
The customer’s decision to change the current state is the prerequisite to enter the actual buying phase. New customer stakeholders get involved; others may step back. Large projects are now often delegated to a project leader. This phase is much more competitive than the previous one. Buyers want to make their best decision to achieve both, their desired organizational results and their desired individual wins. Those sales professionals who were successfully involved in the awareness phase (which means they have won the customer’s mindshare) are in a much better position to win the buying phase. Value messaging is now more product- and solution-specific and contains competitive elements, but is always connected to the customer’s desired results and wins, based on the foundation that has been built in the awareness phase. A phased approach for getting from the current state to the desired future state by leveraging products and services has to be outlined. Every business case or other financial projection has to be treated with great care and connected to the specific messaging for specific buyer roles. Providing perspectives here means to provide the best possible buying vision from the customer’s point of view, valuable, creative, innovative, profitable; always connected to their future vision of success and the related results and wins.
Navigating value dynamics in the implementation and adoption phase is key to creating happy customers and building a foundation for future business
The customer’s journey doesn’t end when a deal is closed. For them, the project gets started after the buying decision has been made. The sales professional’s work is not done yet. Furthermore, sales professionals have to own the results they have sold. They have to make sure that the value gets delivered and implemented as promised. When they do, sales professionals create happy customers and potential referrals, and build a foundation for future business. Therefore, navigating the value dynamics is a discipline that has to be mastered. It’s essential, but often overlooked, that the value that has been delivered has to be communicated back to the initial executive sponsors of the project. Often, those executives are no longer actively involved, and communicating with them via steering committees and status reports will not make much of an impression. Having these conversations in person, demonstrating the delivered value, makes it personal, tangible and emotional. That’s how sales professional make sure the executives will remember them for next time.
How do you provide perspectives?
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Did you watch the ski world cup in Vail, Colorado a few weeks ago? Try to put yourself in a world-class skier’s shoes and imagine being on the racing track and performing the downhill race. Knowing the racing track is one thing. Knowing that the weather and snow conditions will change while you wait for your turn is another thing. But being able to quickly adjust your decisions, strategies, tactics, actions, and behaviors to the new and changed conditions, and all of that without losing speed – that makes the difference. This is an excellent example of adaptive competencies in action. Now, what has skiing to do with professional selling? A lot.
Every customer makes every decision differently. Every time.
Customer situations, like skiing conditions, are never the same. Customers may be confronted with the same environmental context, but what counts is what it means to them. And that’s always specific. Every customer stakeholder group is different, especially the stakeholders’ different viewpoints on how to approach the situation. The customer’s desired results and wins are also different, every time. That does not mean that there are no clusters and patterns to work with. Of course, there are efficiency and growth challenges, transformational and effectiveness challenges, and the list goes on and on. Additionally, there are different, but formalized, buying processes. But the characteristics of each specific challenge and the related buying culture are different in each customer situation. And this uniqueness requires adaptive competencies to win business in a scalable way.
Selling approaches have to be relevant, valuable and differentiating – and that requires adaptive competencies
Whatever the methodology is you trained your sales force on, the difference between average and world-class goes beyond execution – it’s about salespeople’s adaptive competencies based on a learning culture. Adaptive competencies encompass the sales professional’s ability to adjust skills, shift knowledge and align strategies and behaviors to new, changing and complex customer situations. For sales professionals, that means being fluent in all relevant selling skills and competencies, and being fluent in various knowledge areas (customer and capability knowledge) and their specific area of expertise. Only on such a solid foundation can adaptive competencies be developed and then applied effectively. Only world-class ski athletes can win completely different races such as the Beaver Creek race and then the Kandahar race the following week. And that’s the same in sales with your A-Players.
Building adaptive competencies happens in iterations of training, practice, learning and coaching
Every sales force has different and specific challenges, a unique enablement and training history and, therefore, a different point of departure. Whatever your specific situation might be, a solid foundation of selling competencies, various knowledge areas, and customer management strategies has to be in place before adaptive competencies can be developed. This foundation is mandatory. You don’t train a ski athlete on the Beaver Creek racing track before the athlete is a highly skilled and experienced skier.
Adaptive training sessions can consist of various highly interactive sessions, including real-world simulations. Those curriculums should consider cycles of training, practice, and learning, reinforced by coaching before the next cycle begins with training. Those cycles ensure that people can learn what works for them and adjust what didn’t work so far. This approach also requires that coaching is an integral part of reinforcing and building adaptive competencies. Integrating the frontline sales managers early builds the foundation for execution and reinforcement.
Key learning objectives should include situational awareness (the twin to adaptive competencies), applying principles instead of rules, and creativity as well as critical and strategic thinking.
Adaptive competencies, well applied on a solid foundation in a learning organization, reinforced by coaching, are a key differentiator in today’s complex, constantly changing B2B environment.