Changed buyer behaviors – that’s changing the whole game fundamentally. Considering latest research as for instance from The Sales Challenger “shows that customers aren’t even contacting suppliers until they are, on average, 57% of the way through their purchase process. This means customers have already determined their needs, completed due diligence, and have even begun to do some comparison shopping before contacting your reps.” Reasons are for instance the increasing access to information via internet and the economic pressure for buyers to become increasingly risk averse and focused on cost.
The bottom line of all these changes is, that we as vendors won’t be successful any longer if we are talking to our prospects about us, the vendors, about our products and services based on our internal design points. This kind of information is available for buyers online, almost everywhere.
So, what’s the purpose of your sales force?
It’s adding value to enable buyers to make the most valuable decision. Enabling a sales force to add significant value to buyers, that’s a strategic and holistic sales enablement responsibility.
Here is what I mean:
- Adding value means, that we need to get in touch with our prospects and customers much earlier, long before they design their RFP. We need to talk to them and to add value to their problem solving process with creative ideas, while they are in the beginning of their discovering phase.
- Adding value means to translate product and solution benefits into business value tailored to the customer’s specific challenges. The translating step is mission critical – and translation begins with understanding the person’s context, you are translating for, right? Because you are the messenger and there is the recipient – your customer, and you need a tailored message.
- Adding value is not about cost savings alone! Never ever. Cost savings alone are never ever a differentiator if you want to be perceived as a strategic partner or as a trusted adviser. You will need a whole compelling story not only covering cost savings, you will also need growth and innovation aspects.
- Adding value like this requires to think backwards from the customer, to model the customer first. It’s NOT finding a problem that matches to the own product and solution benefits.
- Adding value means to model the customer first. It means understanding the whole customer situation in terms of context, relevance and their stage along their problem solving process. Modeling the customer has to become key in ALL sales and sales support activities. Understanding the customer’s context means also to understand the whole network around the executive stakeholder, knowing all impacted roles that have to be considered and to be addressed the same way. A deep understanding of what a customer needs to get fixed, what a customer wants to achieve in terms of value and what a customer wants to achieve for himself/herself – that will become key to success – and a key differentiator. Performed the right way, the deal volume will often increase.
Easier said than done – how do we help sales people to add value like this?
There are a variety of issues we have to tackle along the whole sales support value chain.
- Modeling the customer starts with the strategic account planning procedure if you are running a named account strategy based on a wallet share approach. Focused on a market share approach which is more topic focused and less account focused, it’s also an important tool to prepare each call and each meeting.
Most important: The methodology of modeling the customer has to remain the same along the whole customer’s problem solving process. Be aware, customer’s stakeholder might change, also their needs – your methodology of modeling the customer remains the same.
- Adjust sales trainings and coachings that help sales people and their managers to change the game from push to pull:
Attending sales trainings, I have always the feeling that a certain push approach is somehow „implemented“ in people’s behaviors, well trained over decades. I think the training challenge has to be tackled on different layers: one is the conscious way in terms of explaining buyer’s changed behaviors, introducing methodologies etc. But more important from my point of view is the more unconscious way which helps people to recognize that they are pushing! Ask them – of course, nobody is pushing! Showing them a mirror in role plays, they will recognize how they are pushing. Whenever I have seen those approaches in trainings, they were really powerful and led to light-bulb moments for the sales reps! As the first step to change is always awareness, these light bulb moments are so important. Then, sales coaching has to support from awareness to change.
- Adjust your sales content accordingly. Check your sales content and analyze how much the content is focused on “what to sell” in terms of solution features and benefits and how less the content is addressing stories and approaches how to address business value. Check also how much of your sales content is focused on internal decision gates, which are not necessarily the customer’s decision gates.
- Knowledge management: How do you organize your content on your sales enablement platform or within your CRM? Is the content structured by internal design points or is the content structured by customer industries, reference roles or challenges? How are the entry points for sellers to discover content? Are they guided backwards from the customer, yes or no? How flexible is your system to change that?
I think, we will see many customer focused possibilities to structure and to present content, to tailor content easily with preconfigured and structured content modules. We will need more and more playbooks, dynamic playbooks to do more with less. These playbooks should guide sales people in two ways: in the phase of ideation, the very early phase of the customer’s problem solving process and also later, if a lead has become an opportunity and needs to be supported with the right content at the right time.
But be careful, don’t design playbooks on internal design points, map them to the customer’s problem solving process first.
Prerequisite here is of course a well structured and efficient content management approach. All your sales content needs to be defined precisely, tailored to a specific purpose, to customer oriented decision gates, to internal and external target groups. Content localization is another topic that needs to be fixed before designing dynamic playbooks in a global environment.
What are your thoughts? What trends do you see?
How do you enable your sales force to add value to customers?
I’m looking forward to learn more about your thoughts!