Sales Enablement Perspectives
Experienced chefs don’t need a separate recipe for each menu variation they create. For example, once they have learned to cook a risotto, they can create lots of different variations with ingredients such as mushrooms, pumpkins, zucchini or spinach. They simply adapt the basic principles. Sales enablement leaders must define the principles of how to create value messages. Then, salespeople can adapt specific value messages (recipes) to suit the individual buyers’ contexts and concepts.
The inability to communicate value messages is a key inhibitor to sales success.
Three years of surveys have shown that this is the top inhibitor to sales success. Improving the ability to show strategic value is now an urgent sales management effectiveness priority, according to our CSO Insights 2015 Sales Management Optimization Study.
Organizations still struggle with value messaging. Value messaging training is not ranked very effective, according to our CSO Insights 2015 Sales Enablement Optimization Study: 53.4% reported that value messaging training needs improvement or major redesign. Also, messaging guidelines seem to have similar challenges regarding effectiveness: 52.6% reported that messaging guidelines need improvement and major redesign. It’s interesting that the training services and content types we’ve all known for decades, such as product training, process and methodology training, product sheets and brochures are ranked as much more effective. While the results might reflect respondents’ “comfort zones,” there is no doubt that organizations have challenges providing and executing effective value messages.
Value messages are only effective if they are designed from the customer’s perspective and tailored to different buyer roles and customer’s journey phases.
Buyers are not interested in getting information on something they already know, such as features and functions. Instead, they want value messages that focus on their issues and business goals, messages that create value by highlighting how they can achieve their business objectives better and faster. But it is precisely this “customer-core” approach to value messaging that remains a challenge for many organizations.
Many organizations are still designing around products. This leads not only to product-focused content (and training), but also to a situation in which product management and marketing teams compete against each other to get the sales force’s attention, not to mention the customers’ attention. In these inside-out, product-oriented environments, it’s difficult to drive change towards a customer-core approach, and to create value messages based on the customer’s journey, the related buyer roles and customer business challenges.
There is no “one size fits all” value proposition – value messaging goes dynamic
Customers decide how they want to connect and collaborate with salespeople, and they also decide how to calculate value, their value. In a nutshell: every customer makes every decision differently, every time. Consequently, we cannot expect to be successful with “one size fits all” value propositions. Instead, in our customer-centric world, organizations need dynamic value messaging frameworks that consider the relevant messaging criteria and different focal points and goals in different buying situations throughout the entire customer’s journey. Examples of messaging criteria include the relevant buyer roles, the different phases of the customer’s journey, the customer’s context, the buyers’ different approaches to how to tackle the issue and the desired business results and wins.
Furthermore, value messaging also depends on the specific buying situation. If a customer is in a renewal situation, they know exactly what they want and don’t want. But if they have to tackle a challenge they haven’t dealt with before (such as buying their first virtualization software, or their first business process outsourcing), they will need different value messages, and they’ll need them earlier along their customer journey.
The value messaging types along the customer’s journey are value hypothesis and value propositions in the awareness phase, specific value propositions in the buying phase and value confirmations in the implementation and adoption phase.
Building a dynamic value messaging framework
The enablement effort to design, create and deliver dynamic value messages must not be underestimated. The complexity of various elements that impact the different value messaging types (as defined above) can be overwhelming. The core idea to drive efficiency is to create messaging modules that can easily be tailored by salespeople. A few criteria help enablement leaders to build their messaging framework initially:
- Enablement production process as a foundation:
Such a process defines how and from whom value messaging content is designed, created, localized, provided and tracked.
- Defining messaging modules:
The most important buying situations and buying roles should be identified to increase the value of modules and limit the number that need to be created.
- Consider the organization’s business and sales model:
The more vertical the business, the more likely messaging modules by vertical will be needed even if the organization’s products and services are horizontal in nature. Campaign, territory or account-based sales models have to be considered as well.
- Establish a process of trigger events and feedback loops:
Establish a messaging lifecycle process to keep the value messages up-to-date. Such a process should include trigger events such as new products, changed buyer behaviors, feedback from salespeople and their managers, and regular check points.
The “right” design for the value messaging framework and for the value messaging modules depend not only on the various value messages that are required along the customer’s journey, but also on the specific selling and buying context and on the design of the sales organization.
Related blog posts:
This article was first published over @ Top Sales Magazine: Dec 1, 2015
Do you remember the last time you made a significant buying decision as a consumer, such as a decision to buy furniture or a car? How structured and organized was this decision-making process? Or was it perhaps a more iterative process or cycle, because you heard something here and learned something there, and all of sudden, a different, but amazing, offer came your way. If you have professional B2B buying experience, reflect on some of those decision processes. How many were linear, without iterations? Probably not a single one.
Buying happens in iterations, and the buying dynamics have to be navigated
I remember one of my biggest buying decisions in a large corporation, which was about an account management system that should support a newly implemented customer-core account planning and management cycle. The whole buying process took two years, from scoping to developing the solution, to the pilot, up to buying (not including implementation). From start to finish there were phases that were straightforward… until something happened. It might have been a budget freeze, the appointment of a new sales leader, or the IT department changed its strategy. Some stakeholders left the project; others joined, and both the exits and the entries impacted the specific context of the project, based on their different viewpoints and even different goals.
Was that a linear, straight buying process that could be simply managed by following the process? No. Not at all. It was an iterative process with moving targets and various stakeholder changes, and on a global level. Lots of dynamics happened that could not be managed by applying learned mechanics. Those dynamics had to be navigated, situationally, based on a changing context, moving targets and a changing buying team with changing thoughts and expectations. Overall, it was an iterative, dynamic process that had to be navigated carefully, in a very focused way, and with lots of situational awareness, creativity, and adaptations.
More information does not necessarily lead to more understanding – context is often missing
Customer behaviors have fundamentally changed and are still changing, and their expectations are rising. There is no doubt that buyers are much more informed than ever before; exactly as salespeople should be much more informed about their customers and competitors, etc. But often more information does not necessarily lead to more knowledge on the buyer side – it leads to more confusion. Why? Because lots of information is without any context. And context matters. Context is queen, if not king. And that’s where the value of a sales professional comes into play.
Buyers decide how to connect, collaborate and calculate throughout their customer’s journey
Our 2015 MHI Sales Best Practices Study reports that today’s buyers decide how they want to connect, how they want to collaborate with salespeople and how they calculate value. Selling is no longer about products; it’s about the specific value customers can achieve through a provider’s products and services. Value is always specific to the customer, dependent upon their situational context and the buying teams’ approaches on how to tackle the challenge. Professional B2B selling must be dedicated to creating value at each stage of the customer’s journey for each impacted buyer role. Click here to take the survey for the 2016 CSO Insights Sales Best Practices Study.
Customer-core strategies for enablement leaders
Knowing and understanding how buyers want to buy is essential for every enablement leader. Understanding the customer’s journey and working with the customer’s journey and the impacted buyer roles has to be the foundation of any enablement strategy, mapped to the specific challenges of the sales force.
Reflecting these buying dynamics throughout an often formalized, but iterative customer’s journey, three key strategies should be applied by sales enablement leaders:
- Implement a dynamic customer-core engagement principle: Such an engagement principle – we call ours “Providing Perspective” – defines how to connect and engage with different buyer roles throughout their customer’s journey related to the buyers different focal points in each phase. Furthermore, such an engagement principle sets the stage for a dynamic value messaging approach that also has to be tailored to the customer’s journey phases and the different buyers’ needs in each phase.
- Align and integrate content and training services: It’s not enough to provide content such as playbooks, messaging guidelines, new case studies, brochures, etc. Salespeople need to know how to use which asset most effectively in which customer interaction. Short videos, featuring salespeople explaining to their peers how to take advantage of a certain asset, are one of the most credible ways to drive adoption. Connecting content and training with small, but impactful steps is always a winning strategy.
- Build salespeople’s adaptive competencies: One of the biggest competitive advantages a salesforce can have is the ability to shift strategies, activities and behaviors to changed, complex and new situations, fast and effectively. Developing salespeople’s adaptive competencies becomes more and more a strategic necessity to develop a salesforce that can create additional and differentiating value to their prospects and customers – in their context, addressing their desired business value.
Last but not least, the internal process landscape must allow iterations exactly the same way as customers process their iterations. To adapt internal processes this way, collaborating with sales operations is essential, to better integrate principles and to remove one-way rules.
How do you deal with buying iterations, from a sales and a sales force enablement perspective?
Did you already adjust your internal processes; and if so, how?
This article was initially written for Top Sales Magazine, October 27, 2015.
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:
- Manage Mechanics, Navigate Dynamics
- The Customer’s Journey Matters, Or How To Avoid Seller and Buyer Misalignment
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
Imagine a group of people in a business meeting who are discussing a certain topic that seems to be familiar to everybody. But somehow, the meeting goes on and on. Then it ends with – no decision. We all know those unproductive scenarios. People assume that all others have the same (their own) understanding of a certain term. But this is often not the case. Then meetings end nowhere, the time has been wasted, and no decisions have been made.
This is why definitions are so important. Definitions are a productivity booster rather than a waste of time. Most important in our ever-changing and complex world of selling and buying is that definitions have to be adjusted, changed, and evolved to remain valuable.
And that’s exactly the case with sales enablement. How enablement began its journey several years ago may no longer be appropriate to create sustainable and scalable business value in today’s ever-changing environments.
Let’s analyze how a world of rising buyer expectations requires that enablement evolve to a more dynamic, strategic and holistic discipline.
Our 2015 MHI Sales Best Practices Study shows that world-class sales performers involve an average of 5.8 stakeholders at the customer, and 4.6 within their own organization. That’s significantly more than average performers, who only involve 4.4 stakeholders at the customer and 3.8 people internally. More people involved leads to more complexity to be mastered. But more people involved also leads to better sales performance. That’s counterintuitive, but this world-class segment outperforms all others in terms of increasing customer retention rates (+5.8%) and sales performance (+23%), measured by various sales metrics. What are they doing differently?
World-class sales performers adapt better and faster to rising and changing buyer expectations in a customer-centric world.
World-class sales performers know that understanding the specific customer’s journey, and all involved stakeholders, is the foundation for providing valuable perspectives. World-class sales performers create value at each stage of the customer’s journey for all stakeholders, each of whose involvement may be different. They provide valuable perspectives on how to achieve even better results and wins, and collaborate with customers to calculate their specific business value. World-class sales performers know exactly how to navigate the different dynamics along the entire customer’s journey, and they don’t walk away after a deal has been closed.
That’s why enablement needs to be refreshed and redefined in a strategic and holistic way – Sales Force Enablement
All these findings on world-class sales performance require a dynamic, strategic and holistic enablement approach based on the customer’s journey as the main design point. That’s why I came up with a new and comprehensive definition. Many years in different sales roles, as an executive in the enablement space evolving the topic from a program to a strategic function in a large corporation; and working for many years with peers in the same space plus working with our clients, have led to this sharpened approach. Here we go:
A few soundbites for you on the definition:
- Strategic means that the business strategy is mapped to sales execution to derive a specific enablement scope that’s tailored to addresses an organization’s weaknesses, gaps and strengths to execute the business strategy successfully.
- We call it a discipline, as enablement can be organized in many different ways depending on your context and maturity. Enablement, whether it is a program or a function, is always cross-functional. The orchestration of tasks and processes – such as content creation and distribution or training design and delivery – always involves several functions and often external providers.
- Sales results and productivity are the quantitative metrics by which an organization assesses the performance of their sales function. Specific goals always have to be defined based on your organizational context and your specific point of departure. Make sure to cover both, effectiveness (first) and efficiency metrics.
- Providing integrated content, training and coaching services helps to ensure consistent messages across the sales force. There is no training without content, and no enablement content should be provided to the sales force without at least a “how-to-use” video.
- As a consequence of providing coaching services, frontline sales managers are a key target group to ensure that coaching can reinforce the enablement efforts. No sales leader can afford to put enablement investments at risk by not aligning enablement and coaching.
- As discussed above, what separates world-class performers from all others is their ability to make the customer’s journey and all involved stakeholders their main design point.
- Last but not least, sales force enablement is powered by technology from the creation and production of enablement services (content, training, and coaching) up to their distribution and integration in CRM systems with mechanisms that provide relevant services at salespeople’s fingertips.
As an MHI research member, please check out the related Research Note that explains the definition in detail. You can also have a look at my keynote from the SAVO Sales Enablement Summit 2015 to learn more about the underlying maturity model that covers a required level (where we have all started to organized certain domains), the recommended level (that’s the sales force enablement definition) and the world-class level (our ambition), which we call customer-core enablement.
This article was first published in Top Sales Magazine, July 28th 2015
Related blog posts:
In our customer-centric era, selling means creating value at each stage of the customer’s journey. That requires sales professionals to know their prospect’s industry, their business, and their specific roles and challenges as well as their relevant metrics. Only with this customer knowledge can sales professionals create value for them at each stage of their customer’s journey; and not waste their time. World-class sales performers know how to adapt to these rising buyer expectations. They shift their knowledge and adapt their skills, strategies, and expertise fast and effectively, tailored to the specific situation.
This is where sales enablement comes into play. This kind of adaptive value creation for prospects and customers requires strategic, dynamic and scalable enablement strategies for organizational execution.
It’s time to evolve sales enablement from a tactical “fixing a quarter” approach to setting up a platform for productivity that ensures sustainable sales results.
Are you leading a sales enablement program, initiative or function?
Are you leading a sales training, sales readiness, field readiness, sales effectiveness, etc., program, initiative or function?
If so, please read on, because our CSO Insights Sales Enablement Study could provide you with valuable data and insights on a number of questions, such as:
- What are best-in-class organizations doing differently when it comes to sales enablement? What can we learn from their approach?
- What kind of enablement services really move the sales performance needle?
- What’s the role of enablement technology and what metrics can be improved by technology?
- What are the real investments in enablement, mapped to the sales results?
- How mature is enablement as a discipline, and what are enablement maturity levels?
- How is sales enablement organized in world-class organizations?
- How does sales enablement manage cross-functional collaboration effectively?
- To what extent are enablement approaches “customer-core”?
- Are frontline sales managers considered as a target group? If so, how does sales performance look different?
What is the overall business impact sales enablement can create? And what is the difference between world-class and others?
Please take 15 minutes to complete our sales enablement survey. It’s a “help us help you” approach. We will conduct a detailed analysis of your data, and we will share study results with our participants first. Those results are highly valuable assets for you on how to evolve your enablement practice. Also, these data points help you to sell your enablement strategy internally.
What’s in it for you?
- Immediate Thank You: Upon completing the survey you will be able to download the CSO Insights’ 2015 Sales Management Optimization Key Trends Analysis
- In October 2015, you will receive the 2015 Sales Enablement Study Key Trends Report that will provide you answers to the questions above and more
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:
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.
Related blog posts:
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.
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