I've worked with thousands of sales people in many different industries. Professional selling is changing rapidly with technology-driven automation and commoditization resulting in more than one-third of sellers losing their jobs in the coming years.
Sales people need to fund themselves from the value they create rather than from the margins that the product or service delivers.
For any sales person to prosper in their career they need to move beyond being good at building relationships to also embrace the holy trinity of sales mastery:
- Lead with insight as a domain expert
- Create tangible business value for clients
- Leverage technology to be effective and efficient
Make no mistake, relationships alone are not enough. Buyers today are busy and stressed. They are not looking for new friends. They instead want greater value from fewer relationships. They care about how you can help them achieve their goals and manage their risks.
Lead with insight: Don't wait for your employer to hand you mythical silver bullets... you instead need to self-educate by researching and writing about the disruptive and transformative trends in your customer's world.
There are four reasons to create and publish content:
- Educate yourself and develop domain knowledge and expertise
- Connect with industry leaders to build your sphere of influence
- Attract clients and an audience to support your business goals
- Build your personal brand evidencing credibility, value and insight
In an online world we are known by who we associate with (connections) and what we publish (insights). According to IDC research, 75% of buyers research the seller before engaging. What do they see when they view your profile? Do they see a credible domain expert worthy of trust and an investment of their time or do they see a mere salesperson? We must create own own narrative that sets us apart and earns engagement at the most senior levels. It is vitally important to publish thoughtful posts in your LinkedIn profile.
Creating business value: Move away from talking about who you are, what you do and how you do it to instead lead with why a conversation matters. What business outcomes can you deliver for them and what risks can you manage?
The language of business is numbers not words
Lead with why it is important and what it can do for them at a business level. Have evidence to support your claims. Know your best customers and why they decided to implement change within their organization. Understand their business case and the challenges they faced in change management. Bring this wisdom to new prospective clients and set an agenda that sets you apart from the competition.
Leverage technology: The best sales people combine proven old world practices with modern ways of executing. Building relationships and evidencing credentials and value can be done online. Buyers expect the sellers to arrive having done their research. Don't waste the customer's time asking them to educate you about publicly available information. Embrace a social selling framework to modernize the way you sell.
Social Selling Definition: The strategy and process of building quality networks online that attract clients and accelerates the speed of business and efficiency of selling, as achieved with a strong personal brand and human engagement through social listening, social publishing, social research, social engagement, and social collaboration.
Also use your company's CRM system better than anyone else. Work with marketing for lead nurturing with automation tools that keep prospects in your orbit without you annoying them or them wasting your time.
While sales individuals need to focus on 'sales mastery', the sales organization needs to focus on 'sales enablement'.
Most businesses do a good job in segmenting their markets, customers and products but what is often missed is the insidious impact of commoditization. Every product or service becomes a commodity over time as features that once differentiated drift back to parity as competitors catch up. According to Corporate Executive Board research, 86% of the time that sellers pitch their ‘compelling value,’ buyers perceive it as neither unique or compelling but merely features also offered by other suppliers. Every business needs to look at itself from the outside – how do customers really view us comparatively? If you sell a commodity, then face the awful truth rather than cling to expensive sales models where customers are unwilling to pay for the low value and high costs associated with a field sales force.
There is no such thing as a high margin commodity and the value they offer must stem from insight and wisdom rather than mere information and service. The first law of selling is that people buy from those they like and trust. They then seek best value and lowest risk. The key for every seller is to understand that ‘value’ and ‘risk’ are all defined by the customer. In selling, we are delegated down to people we sound like and this means that salespeople need to learn the language of leadership if they want to engage at senior levels. They need to be equipped to discuss the business case, delivering outcomes and managing risk.
If a product or service is a commodity then the sales model should be engineered accordingly; make it easy for the customer to obtain information, become convinced and then transact in a way that’s easiest for them including web, phone or channels. For products and services that actually are high value solutions then force the field sales team toward value through insight. Support them in developing domain expertise, genuine insights and business acumen to enable them to operate at a higher level. Product marketing needs to focus on differentiating what is being sold; and sales people need to differentiate by how they sell.
What are the critical elements of sales enablement and how do you create a framework for effective sales execution? There are three essential ingredients plus the catalyst of sales management leadership. The three ingredients are sales methodology, sales process and technology platform.
Few people can articulate the difference between methodologies and process yet these elements are distinctly different in complex B2B selling.
Methodology is the framework for formulating strategy and tactics to win; it’s also how you create your competitive deal strategy, identify risks, cover the political power base within the relationship map, and identify the best way to create compelling value for the buyer. But which methodology should you use? There are a number of well-proven methodologies including TAS, Miller Heiman, RSVPselling, and others. Success with methodology does not depend on which one you select but simply on how well you use it for opportunity coaching with the team.
Process is how you build a sales funnel and execute the sale; it’s how you qualify opportunities and progress through the deal stages with discovery, proposal, demonstration, closing, contracting, on-boarding and then doing win/loss reviews and case studies. Process steps need to be supported by the right tools such as a call planner, qualification tool, discovery questionnaire, proposal templates, win/loss review forms, and territory and account plan templates.
Platform is the technology you use to enable and automate your sales methodology and sales process. It is where you have a single source of truth about customers and opportunities. It must also be your coaching platform where there is transparency concerning pipeline depth and opportunity quality. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software is the ideal platform but CRM needs to be a strategy, not just a technology and reporting tool. To be implemented successfully, it must go beyond the mere functions of accounts, opportunities, pipeline and forecasting; it must instead enable the mapping of relationships and force discipline in deal stage progression with qualification scoring and action tracking. It must also include close plans with customer validation of critical dates. Finally, CRM needs to incorporate tight integration with both marketing, social (such as LinkedIn) and after sales support to provide a single view of the entire customer lifecycle from targeting, marketing, lead nurturing and selling through to account management, support, service, satisfaction and upselling.
This approach uses CRM to place customers at the heart of everything you do and provides the platform for being truly customer-centric. It also delivers transparency with deal quality and revenue predictability. It’s where sales people manage their opportunities and the tool that sales managers use to coach their people. This approach is designed to serve the sales people in improving their efficiency and effectiveness. Because it provides them with value and enables their manager to coach for improved win rates, they actually populate the systems with accurate and useful information.
When CRM is implemented with customers and sales people as the priority, and when it’s the platform for deal coaching and the enabler for sales process; then system success is assured. The synergistic outcome for management is accurate reporting and revenue predictability. The corollary of this is that CRM failure comes from implementing it as a reporting tool with poor alignment to sales methodology and sales processes. Many CRM implementation fail and it has nothing to do with the technology provider; here are the critical success factors for successful CRM:
- Obsessively focus on the system serving sales and customer support staff
- Integrate with social platforms such as LinkedIn and InsideView (for easy sales research and insight into Trigger Events)
- Integrate with marketing for lead nurturing (to build sales pipeline)
- Create a single view of customers and prospects (to be informed)
- Embed methodology and process coaching (qualify, call plan, close plan, etc.)
- Simplify reports and KPIs which can actually be managed (activities)
- Support customer lifecycle post sale (cases, complaints, renewals, etc.)
With accurate data in a CRM the next issue to decide is what metrics provide meaningful reporting. A common mistake made by management at all levels is to seek to manage by results. Jason Jordan writes insightfully on this topic in his book, Cracking The Sales Management Code, highlighting that only 17% of the 300+ possible sales metrics measured are actually manageable. As an example, you cannot manage revenue, but you can manage the activities that create it. Rather than command sales people to bring in more revenue, they need to be guided in which activities are most likely to create the type of revenue you are seeking. Managing activities is the key to delivering the right results and this leads us to the catalyst that brings methodology, process and platform technology together for successful sales enablement – the sales manager.
Sales management is without doubt the most important link in the revenue chain for any organization. The right sales manager creates emotional commitment and belief within their team, they coach and mentor for sales success, they develop the right strategies to focus effort where the team can competitively win and they drive the right conversations with the right roles within the right targeted prospects. They also create organizational alignment with upstream marketing and downstream delivery, support and service to build a business with quality customers.
Sales management leadership is the catalyst that brings it all together: people, process and technology within the right strategy and a culture of excellence in execution. The type of person capable of delivering all this is an engineer rather than a warrior, they have empathy yet hold people to account. But the best sales manager in the world cannot be successful if their boss has them endlessly in internal meetings and reporting up. The sales manager needs to be a coach rather than an administrator. She needs to spend more time in the field than in the office, and more time strategizing and reviewing opportunities with sales people than managing reports. A great coach does not jump in and take over, nor do they do the sales person’s job for them. They don’t feel the need to rescue people and instead understand that people are best motivated by reasons they themselves discover. They focus on planning and debriefing to create constant improvement.
The Holy Grail of sales enablement is the seamless integration of the right methodology, efficient sales process, all enabled by Social Selling and CRM technology used to coach sales people by an effective sales leader focused on strategy, execution and building a positive team culture.
The very best sales operations bring people, process and technology together to be obsessively customer-centric.