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High performance selling strategy shift: Managing opportunities & customer engagement

Written By: langdon on September 27, 2013 No Comment

High Performance Sales: Shift in strategy about managing opportunities & customer engagement.

1. Customers increasingly don’t need Sales’ help or expertise. The majority of time a purchase decision is complete before a customer contacts a supplier. At this point in the purchase, needs are scoped, the purchase is funded, and price is often being benchmarked. Customers aren’t new to this “solutions purchase” game any longer. They’ve put in place strong buying systems, processes, infrastructure, consultants, and professionalized their purchasing approach. We’ve hit a point where customer capability to buys things has outpaced our capability to sell things. And this is why customers are increasingly able to de-bundle our solutions and drive the purchase into the realm of price-based order fulfillment. The customer now has the upper hand and is forcing us to reconsider the nature of entire commercial relationship. Leading sales organizations will find ways to shape customer demand. Sales channels will take on responsibilities that have traditionally belonged to Marketing, including upstream demand generation, awareness, and early consideration. Such approaches will help mitigate the “no man’s land” phenomena that exists between sales and marketing, where customers typically make the bulk of their purchase decision.

2. Finding “ready-made” customers will lose out to making customers.  Most sales organizations are unwittingly encouraging their salespeople to pursue opportunities falling where the customer is abundantly clear on their needs (and what they want to pay). For many salespeople, they’d much rather pursue an opportunity where clear needs, funding, and senior support all exist. This is the strategy of finding good business. High performers look at those opportunities skeptically, at best. They see the impending RFP, concessions, the price pinch, and/or strong likelihood of being the dreaded comparison set. Increasingly, the best salespeople will not find “ready-made” customers, but rather, make customers. They will seek out change-receptive customers who are not fully settled in their needs. The immediate goal will be to educate that customer on potential ways to change. Through the course of those efforts, these sellers will earn the vaunted “frontrunner” status. High-performers make customers, and rationalizing these insights for scalable adoption across the entire sales force.

3. De-prioritization of traditional discovery skills. Traditional discovery skills have largely served the purpose of determining how well a customer’s needs align to a given solution. The critical flaw in this rationale is that pursuing business that is well-aligned and ready to move forward is pursuing a customer who is well-informed, likely pursuing other suppliers, and best positioned to have price leverage. Leading organizations will shift mind-share away from traditional discovery and questioning around alignment to an offering, and move towards discovery of receptivity to change. Qualification of leads that are in the very initial stages of reconsidering the status quo will provide the best opportunity to shape the needs of that customer.

4. The lines of distinction between Sales and Marketing will erode. The “no man’s land” that exists between sales and marketing is permitting customers the opportunity to make their purchase decision without supplier involvement. Given this, the most progressive suppliers are driving customer engagement from the most formative stages through recognition of value. This new model focuses on extremely early customer engagement, teaching the customer about new opportunities or threats before the customer senses these issues. There is no “handoff” from marketing to sales in this model – in fact, the lines of distinction between sales and marketing are increasingly obscured this in model. Winning commercial organizations will build a capability spanning sales and marketing that is centered on engaging customers with such insight. This capability includes insight generation, insight messaging, lead generation and opportunity selection based on receptiveness to insight, and insight-focused sales interactions. Keep in mind, these insights are most certainly not generic insights on the market, but unique insights meant to drive commercial success for the supplier. Accordingly, these insights must teach customers about unique supplier capabilities.

5. Longer sales cycles will not only become the norm, they will be encouraged The highest performers have longer sales cycles. For high performers, it’s not the latter stages of the sales process that take more time, but rather the opportunity selection – or more precisely – the opportunity formation. High performers are much more selective about opportunities they actively pursue. Most sales organizations encourage sales efficiency over sales effectiveness, and accordingly have a set of metrics and managerial tendencies that frown upon lengthy qualification. Instead, sellers are encouraged to call on many customers, move opportunities into their funnel quickly and continue advancing them. Allowing sellers to slow down will require significant organizational tolerance. For this reason, leading companies will add increased demand-sensing and planning stages to their current sales processes, helping provide confidence that the right qualification activity is indeed happening in a measurable fashion.

6. Storytelling becomes an increasingly lost art. Sales have often held storytelling as a vital skill. While a purchase decision is often governed by rational criteria, buyers are human after all, and subject to emotion when making a purchase decision. The shift is that suppliers increasingly have data supporting how their products provide value, but customers expect to factor these data points into purchase decision. Therein lies the hidden issue… Both suppliers and customers have come to overly rely upon data in the purchase, losing sight of the broader strategic intentions of both parties and nature of the commercial relationship. When the vision is lost, the purchase inherently becomes transactional, which has serious downside implications for both parties. Winning organizations will focus on arming sellers with messages and insights to support the data. Data must support a compelling vision.

7. Investments in team-based selling will result in diminishing returns. There is a time and a place for team selling models. However, many sales organizations are falling back on team-based selling in a stop-gap attempt to close the widening disparity between buyer and seller sophistication. Solutions that were recently sold by an individual (perhaps with some support) are now being sold by a full-on team. Human capital costs relative to sales complexity are spiraling out of control. In the short-term, team selling provides a buffer. However the longer term implications include margin-diluting cost of sales, customer channel conflict, inherently more complex/bureaucratized selling steps, etc. Winning organizations will focus on building an increasingly professionalized sales force, more capable of coping with a more informed and sophisticated buyer. These organizations will properly scale sales support and resist temptation to built full-on sales teams. The smarter economics lie in developing talent, not in introducing unnecessary labor costs.

8. Skill training will lose out to skill development within technology workflow The promise of SAAS-based CRM, such as Salesforce.com, is making way for significant advances in CRM-integrated selling tools that actually work. The promise of CRM has traditionally been compromised by poor data and poor adoption. These new integrated selling tools provide something that traditional CRM has lacked: visibility of deal progress and a new level of interactivity for reps. In short periods of time, these selling tools are able to “learn” the ideal sales process for a sales group, ideal customer verifiers of that process, and the likelihood and timing of a given deal closing. Predictive models within these sales tools can highlight gaps in the account plan and are able to provide prescriptive coaching to sellers. Imagine getting pretty good sales advice from your CRM platform… Those days aren’t far off. Winning organizations will start to shift budget for traditional classroom training towards integrated CRM sales tools and coaching. These technologies most certainly will not displace traditional coaching, but certainly will provide a more transparent and productive platform for that coaching to occur.

9. Refinement in how sellers identify and use the “customer coach” The fundamental issue is that advocate/coach, as conventionally understood, does not truly exist in nature. Of the stakeholders who exist, most salespeople pursue those who are accessible and willing to talk. We call these individuals “talkers” as they are poor at driving organizational commitment for a purchase, but readily provide information. The best sellers pursue “mobilizers.” Mobilizers are stakeholders who excel at driving organizational commitment for a purchase, but rarely want to interact with vendors. While this difference may appear trivial, the reality is that who your salespeople tend to engage within an account was one of the most critical distinctions between core and high performers. Winning organizations will refine their account planning and deal guidance to pursue stakeholders who are best able to drive consensus for today’s complex sales engagement.

10. The Challenger Sale will establish itself as a paradigm shift in B2B sales effectiveness. Leading organizations are recognizing that the days of relationship-based selling have past and customers must be challenged to think differently. The nature of trust in the commercial relationship will be built on insight moving forward.

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