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January 2012

Stop Blaming the Sales Team for Your Growth Gap

KurtAnderson2Today's guest post is by Kurt Andersen, Executive Vice President of Sales Enablement and Marketing at SAVO

 

 

 

While it's the CEO's responsibility to define the company's strategic goals and set growth aspirations, it's imperative that the rest of the organization be set up to execute and help the company achieve success.

Unfortunately, most companies are witnessing an ever-increasing gap between the CEO's strategies and the ability to see them through. Part of this gap is the responsibility of your sales team, because they stand directly between these strategic initiatives and your customers. Ask yourself: Are you effectively driving these initiatives through this gap? Too often, the answer is no; thus the need for sales enablement.

Consider the following statistics:

  •  according to Harvard Business Review, 70 percent of growth initiatives fail;
  •  only 1-in-5 CRM systems actually increase revenue (CSO Insights 2011); and
  •  the misalignment in sales and marketing is causing the typical company to underperform by 10 percent in annual revenue (IDC 2011).

These are disturbing statistics for any business. The knee-jerk reaction is to solely blame the sales team – but they're not the problem. The problem is that the majority of companies simply don't know how to effectively enable their sellers.

This is why sales enablement has emerged as a frequent topic of conversation in boardrooms and executive offices. Businesses need to close the growth gap to stay competitive and sales enablement is emerging as the pathway to make it happen.

Defining Sales Enablement
What is sales enablement? The category was previously defined as simple tools that were used by individual sales professionals to sell more proficiently. Sales enablement has evolved into a broader corporate strategy embedded in multiple departments with a singular driving force: achieve revenue initiatives by harnessing the resources and knowledge of the collective enterprise to support sellers.

From this viewpoint, you can understand why zero percent of executives interviewed by IDC rated their sales enablement capabilities as "highly effective." The reality is that most businesses have been committing what we like to call "random acts of sales enablement." This is marked by giving your sellers just enough information to be minimally effective, but without implementing a cohesive strategy designed to align different activities within the organization to optimize the chance of achieving corporate initiatives.

In today's business, simply providing your sellers with the latest marketing slick or whitepaper isn't enough. If this is the extent of your enablement practices, you're leaving revenue on the table.

Why Sales Enablement in 2012
A confluence of trends has resulted in sales enablement emerging as one of the most critical initiatives your business can undertake in 2012. Think about your growth strategy – what steps are you taking to maximize the following trends?

Increased Mobility/BYOD  

The media has become fascinated with the Bring-Your-Own-Device trend – enterprise use of personal devices (iPads, iPhones, tablets, etc…) has changed the way many of us work. A recent survey from Citrix found that 53 percent of businesses witnessed productivity improvements by more than 10 percent, thanks to the use of personal devices at work. And 16 percent reported increases of more than 30 percent.

How are you leveraging the mobility trend to better arm and enable your sellers? Sales enablement combined with mobility can significantly empower your sales team by providing them with dynamic, on-demand content that they can access in the middle of a sales situation. Think about that: you’re in a sales meeting, the prospect asks a question, you can immediately pull up situation specific content, demos, video, pose questions to colleagues and get immediate responses, and more. Using sales enablement to maximize sales mobility will increase execution and revenues.

Mergers & Acquisitions/Cross-Sell Opportunities

These two topics tend to fall into the same bucket. While M&A activity decreased in 2011, it's still one of the biggest growth strategies employed by businesses. Being able to sell more products and services tends to be at the heart of most M&A activity.

Simply acquiring a new line of products (or launching one for that matter) is just the start. How are you arming your sales team to sell the new products? The traditional approach consisted of a quick training program, a few brochures on the new product(s), a couple of presentation slides and a wish of good luck on the way out the door. This approach has proven unsuccessful and is a contributing reason why there’s a gap between strategic initiatives (product launch) and revenue (closing sales).

Sales enablement helps maximize every opportunity for cross-sell and upsell by delivering timely and relevant information, when it's appropriate during the sales opportunity. This means brand-compliant materials with the latest information on new products, on-demand, based on the unique selling situation. It also reinforces the broader strategic picture – how do these products fit into the broader portfolio, and why should your customer care?

Social Collaboration

We've seen a lot of companies deploy simple social tools across their enterprise in attempt to foster greater collaboration. However, critics argue that these technologies have little impact on overall productivity. Some of the complaints are that people don't know who to present their questions to, answers provided are out of date or just inaccurate, and too much non-relevant information is shared with the general audience.

Social tools need to be aligned with a specific business purpose and objectives to result in increased sales. Sales enablement will play a greater role in 2012 to mobilize the right subject matter experts, resources and information for each unique situation. Sales enablement will also guide the communication that occurs internally with colleagues and the collaboration that occurs between the sales person and the prospect. Therefore, it will help provide each seller (and ultimately the buyer) with the accumulated knowledge inherent in every organization.

There are a lot of reasons why sales enablement will continue to grow in importance in 2012, but the driver behind them is the same: to close the gap between your businesses strategic initiatives and your sellers.

For more information, check out SAVO's latest e-zine on the topic of sales enablement. There are several case studies from leading selling organizations such as Compuware and Philips, highlighting how they've transformed their selling processes and increased revenues through sales enablement.

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What's your V.I.T.A.L Vision for Success?

DonalDalyThis guest blog post is by Donal Daly, CEO of the TAS Group. He shares sales insights, hindsight, and a little foresight on his sales and technology blog, Dealmaker365. Daly will speak on the second day of the upcoming Sales 2.0 Conference: The Art & Science of Accelerating Revenues, on April 3, during his session: Six Factors That Are Transforming B2B Sales in 2012. 

 

Vision

I recall when, back in 1989, I was a few years into the growth of my first software company. Having bootstrapped the business and eked out survival through the first year or two, things were beginning to take shape. Each year I grew revenue levels over the previous year – but not by a lot. I used to approach planning from a position of "Where am I now, and how can I improve on this?" The result was steady-but-not-spectacular growth.

As I was entering my fifth year, I was struck by the realization that with this growth curve, it was going to take me a long time to create a company of any real mass or substance. I was in my twenties and obviously still had a lot of time, but I was impatient. I didn't know a lot about much of anything – though I didn't appreciate that at the time; however, this blissful ignorance enabled me to think about things in perhaps nonconventional ways. I read Drucker, Townsend, Peters, McCormack, Kotler, Sun Tzu, Machiavelli, Porter, De Bono, Iacocca, and other topical and nontopical tomes of business development, strategy, corporate lore, thinking, leadership, etc. I was struck sometimes by how insightful some of these authors were, and in the haze of boundless self-belief found only in youth, I favored those whose views echoed mine. I must have learned something along the way, however, as I still remember the day my growth-challenge epiphany occurred.

When I changed the question from "Where am I now, and how can I improve on this?" – which invariably translated into 20 percent increase in revenue – to "How can I achieve 200 percent growth this year?" a fundamental change happened. In hindsight, with the benefit of many years' experience, I now know, as you do, that this goal-oriented or vision-oriented method is well understood. As a paradigm for growth strategies, it is a method by which you can stimulate creativity, momentarily suspend reality, and remove constraints or guardrails to release your unfettered potential, untrammeled by the stifling boundaries of "What's reasonable?" or "What do other companies do?" or "What's acceptable?"

I was reminded of this recently when I was speaking to Tom, a successful salesperson, who, when planning for 2010, asked my opinion on his sales plan. He had closed about $2,000,000 in 2009 and was among the top performers in his company. His plan was well structured, clear, and very focused – and his personal target for 2010 was $2.2 million. When I inquired as to the basis for that number, Tom cited 10 percent growth on his previous year's achievement. We got to talking about potentially taking a different approach. We discussed what he would do differently if he had to achieve $4 million.

I had little value to add to the conversation, as I did not know Tom's business, but he took a "I think that's crazy, but let's brainstorm it a while," approach. The following hour was peppered with such phrases as, "But I'd need help from...," "There's no reason why that shouldn't happen," and "I wonder if...," "No, I knew you were crazy," and finished with, "Now that I've thought about it that way, I think maybe $2.8 million is achievable."

As I said, I didn't add any value to the planning, but Tom, who, to his credit, was open enough to indulge my questioning, stretched his own thinking and created more of a vision for success than a plan for incremental growth.

I've tried to put some structure around this approach for myself and others with whom I work. To make it easy to remember, I use an acronym: V.I.T.A.L., which goes something like this.

  • VVision – This needs to be very ambitious but not ludicrous and is a quantifiable statement of the ultimate goal for the time frame in question.
  • IImplications – These are the things that would need to fall into place, the activities required, and the resources needed to support the vision.
  • T - Test Reality – While still keeping the bar quite high, exclude elements that are entirely impossible, but keep those that are merely a real stretch.
  • AAggregate – As if the goals remaining from the reality check are the baseline objective, figure out how to achieve each of those, aggregate the identified initiatives and associated resources required, and create a two-dimensional, high-low map of reward versus effort so that you can prioritize your efforts.
  • L - Laser Focus – Now put your new ideas into action. Stop things you were planning to do –because that’s what you always did – but that don't bring high return. Keep on doing the things that you know work very well, and start doing those new things you've identified that can add significant incremental value.

None of this is easy, and while it's important to plan and question and question your plan once you've done it, you need to commit to it and follow through. As Jack Nicklaus said when asked about his incredible shot-making ability:

Golf

"I start by assessing where I am, looking at the lie of the ball, figuring out the terrain, gauging how far I am from the hole, and thinking about the wind and other elements of the weather. Then I decide where I want the ball to land so that it ends up near the hole or at the right place on the fairway. Next, I visualize the flight path of the ball and see in my mind the kind of swing I’m going to have to make to get the ball to travel on that flight path. Then I commit to that swing."

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Pricing Optimization in a B2B World: Value-Based Pricing Comes of Age for Sales

StevenForthPhoto

Today's blog post is by Steven Forth, CEO of LeveragePoint, the leading SaaS platform for value-based pricing and sales.

 

 

The economic climate is tough: financial uncertainty, wild fluctuations in commodity prices, global competition, and rapid commoditization of products that we all thought were safe. Business buyers are paying a lot more attention to the economic variables in a purchase decision, and this is putting new pressure on sales to execute with an emphasis on value-based selling. This is something with which most of us have little experience. We know how to build relationships, uncover customers' needs and pain points, and translate features and benefits into solutions. But most of us are not very familiar with translating those solutions into economic impacts. And yet, that is precisely what we need to do today to capture an unfair advantage in the market.

One approach is to estimate the return on investment (ROI) for the customer. Many buyers, especially financial buyers, insist that the sales team provides ROI calculations as part of their proposal. In fact, though, ROI is not a very useful tool for sales. It is an important approach for the chief financial officer (CFO), who often needs to make decisions between very different options – apples-to-oranges kinds of decisions.

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But in sales, we are more often comparing apples to apples – the buyer is trying to decide between two similar solutions from competing vendors. Or, in some cases, it is apples versus going without ("I haven't been eating apples, so why should I start now?"). How does one make the economic sale in this case? 

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Over the past two decades, pricing experts have been developing an approach called value-based pricing, which depends on the creation and subsequent use of value models to set price ranges for different segments and hone value message. (There are many articles on this available on the Resources section of the LeveragePoint Website.) Value-based pricing is based on a few key principles:

  1. The customer always has an alternative (known as the Next Best Competitive Alternative), and the price of this alternative sets the market price.
  2. Your solution will have some positive economic impact for the customer that your competitor’s does not. By working with the customer, the scope of these can be estimated.
  3. Your solution will have some unique costs or shortcomings compared to the competitive alternative, and it is important to acknowledge these.

These three principles are combined to create a value model. A value model is a collection of value drivers for a specific customer or segment relative to a competitor. A value driver is a mathematical equation that shows how a customer derives value from your solution.

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One common objection to value models is, "We can't get data for the value driver functions." Our experience is that, as long as the value driver makes sense and the initial numbers are reasonable, customers are willing to discuss them and share information in the sales conversation, especially if the salesperson understands value and acknowledges the competitor and the positive and negative value of his or her company's own solution.

Like sales, pricing is a conversation, and it needs to be collaborative. In the current economic environment, we need to be able to sell the economic value of our solutions as part of an honest conversation with our customers.

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Setting Sales Goals and Targets: Step 1 to Creating a Winning Sales Plan

Dan-240x300Today's blog post is by Dan Hudson, President and Co-Founder of 3FORWARD. He has a B2B sales and sales leadership background of more than 30 years.

  

 

Sales planning for 2012 is well under way, and most sales teams are facing quota increases for the coming year. The fact is, every sales leader will have to do more in 2012, often with limited additional resources. Even best-of-class sales programs (with average win rates of greater than 30 percent) need to continue improving their year-over-year performance. It's one of those indisputable laws, like paying taxes and getting older.

This reality is what makes formal sales planning so important. It's main the difference between making it happen and hoping it happens. The fundamental goal of the sales plan is to put on paper specifically how the sales team will make next year's revenue target. We recommend your sales plan cover (at least) the following areas to make sure the fundamentals are addressed:

  1. setting goals and targets,
  2. building the revenue model,
  3. filling the sales funnel,
  4. building a dynamic sales process,
  5. executing and measuring.

By focusing on these five core areas, you can build a sales plan that is reasonable, measurable and, most important, achievable. Each section is vital, but let's take a closer look at section one, since it sets the strategic direction for the tactical elements that come later in the plan.

Setting Sales Goals and Targets: Section 1 of the Sales Plan

Whereas the B2B sales plan establishes the playbook for a successful sales year, the initial section of the sales plan, "Goals and Targets," is the foundation of the written plan itself. Following are the three main topics for this section, with examples of where to focus.

1.  Making Goals and Targets Specific and Measurable

Too often, sales goals and targets have a case of the "warm and fuzzies" – a feel-good tone that is vague and undefined. To be clear and actionable, goals and targets must be specific (numbers and dates are best) so that you can measure your progress throughout the year. 

Example of "fuzzy and feel good" targets:
"Establish new relationships for our outsourcing practice."

Example of specific and measurable targets:
"Establish two new relationships per quarter in the US Financial and Accounting Outsourcing practice. The targeted annual contract value of each new relationship is $2 million."

When setting your goals and targets, try to strike the sweet spot between "go big or go home" and the reality of your market situation. Every company faces its unique challenges, but if you are prepared, then it's easier to overcome them.

2. Prioritizing Challenges and Creating Defensive Strategies

Consider your last couple of sales years, and list those challenges that kept you from achieving your sales targets. Think in terms of the key areas of the selling process:

  • lead management
  • account management
  • opportunity management
  • territory/area management
  • pipeline process
  • metrics and reporting
  • team skills development
  • rep and manager recruiting
  • compensation

Prioritize your list of challenges and identify your strategy to minimizing these sales barriers. Use a template, such as the following, to identify, rank, and address your challenges.

Preparing for Sales Plan Risks and Challenges

Challenge 

Not enough qualified leads from marketing's lead generation program.

Impact 

The sales pipeline and ability to make the annual revenue target.

Severity 

High

Recommendation

Meet with marketing to jointly define what constitutes a qualified lead. Increase quantity of target accounts by X and identify Y key contacts in each target.

Assigned to

Joe King, Director, Marketing Lead Management

Complete by

March 1, 2012

3.  Define Investments Needed to Achieve Success

You are likely in the same boat as most sales leaders heading into a new year: you're getting a quota increase! In the old days, we might have grumbled a little, played around with territories and headcount, and then told the CEO we needed another seven sales reps to meet the new number.  

More Effective Approaches to Investing in Sales Success

Yes, headcount is still a critical success factor for a sales team; however, benchmarking of best-in-class sales teams demonstrates several process-level improvements that consistently improve win rates and increase a team's ability to hit its numbers. These enhancements allow both the current team to perform better and the improvement of new-hire success rates. Here are some areas to consider:  

  1. Establishing a formalized sales process, including targeted account planning
  2. Sales manager effectiveness training and industry-specific rep training
  3. Lead management process and marketing automation
  4. Sales leaders dashboard and sales knowledge management
  5. Sales intelligence, prospect profiling, and industry monitoring

Additional Resources for Setting Sales Goals and Targets

There you have the outline of "Setting Sales Goals and Targets," the first section in creating your new sales plan. You can clearly see why getting this on paper creates the foundation for everything else in your plan. If you'd like some help getting started, 3FORWARD provides several complimentary templates to help sales leaders develop their 2012 sales plans. 

Give them a try and let us know if you have any questions. Remember, the most important takeaway is to realize that your team WILL have to sell more in 2012 than in 2011. Hope isn't a strategy! Having a plan is the only way it will happen.   

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Seven Steps to Sales Transformation

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There is a parallel between biology and business. Our biology is largely influenced by our DNA, our genetic makeup, which contains a set of instructions vital to our ability to function, adapt, and transform over time. Our business is influenced by two DNA-like sets; one is the DNA of the economy, and the other is the DNA that's expressed by our decisions. The quality of our decisions impacts our customers and ultimately shapes sales success.

Below is a brief overview of the steps that can lead to ongoing sales transformation. No matter what chaos or challenges we are facing today, we can at any time choose to transform and move ahead of our competition. Here are seven steps to consider:

  1. Diagnose. Define the current level of sales effectiveness. Assess all internal resources (people, process, and technology) and measure how effectively they align with external opportunities. Determine the external and internal disconnects. Drill down into each area: Do we have the right people who can win in new and existing markets and create more customers? What changes are needed to optimize our sales process? What would the ideal technology road map look like that would continually increase operational efficiencies?
  2. Get executive sponsorship. Get agreement that the sales organization is a key competitive differentiator. Articulate the new vision, create a realistic sales-transformation road map, and define what success looks like. Get the financial support needed to continue the journey as described in the road map. Collaborate with senior managers and develop a set of key performance indicators that will allow them to track progress.
  3. Create a culture of measurement. Sales force transformation requires a culture change from making decisions based on hunches to making decisions based on science. While, in the past, selling depended on the skills of individual players, sales organizations today are synching resources and developing a collaborative approach to create customer value. A clear set of performance-measurement tools will not only help the synchronization process, but also contribute to a predictive organization in which pipeline potential and velocity are clearly visible, forecast accuracy will exceed 90 percent, and salespeople are routinely coached on bridging the gap between actual and required performance.
  4. Eliminate departmental silos. To win in today's environment, sales must be aligned with marketing, service, finance, HR, and legal. Sales organizations need to seek alignment between sales ops, sales channels, and internal and external teams, but must also closely collaborate with all departments. When it comes to negotiations with clients, salespeople have greater chances of winning deals when all departments have a clear understanding of what represents customer value and what value a new customer means to the company. Once all departments are aligned and in synch, there will be little internal friction on how an order is handled, how discounts are approved, or how cross-cultural roadblocks are removed. As a result of this alignment, crisis management will be reduced, customer information will be easily accessible, and all stakeholders will clearly see how they can contribute to the creation of a new customer and the retention of existing customers.
  5. Shift to strategic and operational competencies. While many companies believe that operational efficiencies come from supporting legacy systems, smart companies are redesigning their entire sales operation and creating a customer-focused enterprise, where all stakeholders listen, understand, and respond to the forever-shifting demands of the customer base. This transformation cannot succeed without embracing one version of the truth, which will help create a standardized process for producing and serving customers across the enterprise. This shift cannot be achieved without bringing more art and science into the sales operation.
  6. Harness the collective intelligence of the sales organization. Sales transformation is not only the result of good leadership, but also a reflection of good stewardship of the information streams that all stakeholders create in the quest to win new business. As we move from a sales-pitch-based economy to a conversation economy in which the brands are a reflection of rich social-media information streams, salespeople need to become better storytellers and learn how to initiate and lead customer conversations that are focused on value. This also requires the mastery of social-media tools that are fully integrated with the sales process.
  7. Select and deploy the best technology. Sales technology is critical to both growth and profitability. Sales organizations have stripped hundreds of millions of dollars of waste out of inefficient sales operations. Lead-management apps have improved demand generation, proposal-management tools have improved win rates, and compensation-management apps allow companies to incentivize the right sales behaviors that improve a company's bottom line. As a result of the transformation, salespeople should spend less time tickling keyboards and more time co-creating sales with customers. Savvy sales leaders achieve successful sales transformation by aligning the best people with the best processes and technologies. 

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6 Ways to Get Executive Buy-In on Sales Performance Tools

Cabrera_newToday's blog post is by Christopher Cabrera, CEO of Xactly Corporation, the industry leader in sales compensation automation.

 

Trying to convince management to invest in new sales performance tools to make salespeople's lives easier is no walk in the park. While you understand how much certain sales applications would improve sales productivity, management expects you to demonstrate the value of any new solution.

Sales-150x150The big idea is—in order to make sales easier on you and your team, you need to do what you are supposed to do as a sales professional: align the value of the solution with what your customers want to achieve.

Here are six guidelines to follow when you're pitching new solutions to management:

1. Get agreement on what management wants to accomplish

If your CEO wants to increase sales by 20% without a significant increase in cost, do the math for a few what-if scenarios, such as:

  • What if we had technology that could improve the number of qualified leads by 100%?
  • What if our demand generation team had technology that made them 200% more effective?
  • What if we could deploy technology that shortened our sales cycle by 50%?
  • What if we cut the time it takes our sales team to write proposals from hours to minutes?

Sales2-150x150The technology to achieve any of the above already exists. The challenge is finding a solution for your unique situation.

Technology is our means to accomplish our aims. Always begin with the aim, before pitching the means.

2. Be clear about the risk

Not every technology delivers ROI. Technology is only one part of a three-legged stool. People and Process are the other two. Ask yourself:

  • How will the new technology change our processes?
  • How will our salespeople react to a change in process AND technology?
  • What will be the user adoption process?

Do a "Pre-Mortem Analysis" where you assume that your project has failed. Work backwards and define how to avoid unexpected failures.

3. Understand and define the pain

Selling can become painful when salespeople don't have the right sales tools.

  • Study the workflow of your salespeople.
  • Ask them to prioritize their 3 biggest time wasters.
  • Invite your sales team to a 1-hr "gripe" session to voice what they dislike most about their jobs.

There are over 1,600 sales applications designed to improve sales productivity. Chances are, applications exist for the majority of their problems.

4. Demonstrate the ROI of a new solution

One simple ROI formula is:

(cost to acquire + cost to maintain during expected life)

/

(money saved per month + increased abilities per month)

=

(number of months to cover costs)

Other tips:

  • Allow for hidden costs, such as customization, the cost of consultants and the cost involved in training and coaching.
  • Know when to say no—if the solution doesn't pay for itself in under a year, you're better off working on another pain point.
  • Talk to at least 3 references—if they haven't been able to measure ROI, you probably won't either. Time to walk

5. Align the new technology with your overall business strategy

The success of a business depends on the continuous alignment of internal resources with external opportunities. Ten years ago there was only one sales technology: CRM. Today, companies rely on a suite of sales and marketing applications.

The two keys to success are:

  1. Alignment
  2. Business strategy integration

For example, software company Brainshark integrated 20 carefully selected sales applications into their sales operation. They spent $4,000 per salesperson and achieved a 35% gain in sales year-over-year, for two years in a row. (Source: Brainshark sales executive)

Map2-150x1506. Create a roadmap for change management

If you want your company to achieve its revenue goals, you must find and deploy sales performance tools that work faster, better and cheaper. But selecting one sales tool a year won't get you very far in this tough economy. You’ll likely need a number of solutions that you deploy over time.

While external change accelerates automatically, it takes great internal effort to match the pace. Change is hard because:

  • People overestimate the value of what they have
  • They also underestimate the value of what they may gain by giving up what they know.

That's why successful business leaders continually challenge the status quo; they drive change to avoid being driven out of business.

They also know that the leaders of change are the leaders who will pocket the most change.

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Transformation of the Sales and Sales-Management Roles: Will You Make It?

NancyToday's blog post is by Nancy Martini, President and CEO of PI Worldwide, the global management consulting firm and publisher of the Predictive Index (PI) and Selling Skills Assessment Tool (SSAT). Nancy is the author of the soon-to-be-released Scientific Selling: Creating High Performance Sales Teams through Applied Psychology and Testing.


The role of sales is being transformed by a set of conditions we have never seen before. The good old days are not coming back. Sales managers and reps who adjust their methods of operating to succeed in today's environment will excel in 2012 and beyond. 

The transformation began in 2002, when the Internet became an integral part of selling. New technologies continue to affect every aspect of the modern corporation, and nowhere are they used more than in the sales area. From email to automated supply chain to cloud computing to smartphones to Web conferencing to search engines to social media, we are thrust into a world where the rules have changed for buyers and sellers.

Ten years later in 2012, we need to address the implications of this transformation on sales, sales management, and the future of selling. The following trends represent a highlight of this massive set of changes.

Trend #1: Buyers have more information. Today's buyers can access a wealth of information in a matter of seconds, which changes their needs and expectations of interacting with a sales rep. From Websites, they can gather hard data on products, companies, competition, and industries, and they can gather soft data from friends, colleagues, and strangers (anonymous reviews) on social-media sites. Bottom line: buyers are theoretically better educated before they talk to a rep or, more dangerously, they think they are.

Trend #2: Selling is more demanding. Today's buyer has less tolerance for old selling tactics, and today's reps need to possess all the core sales skills of a top consultant: intelligence to assimilate information rapidly, behavioral fit to excel under pressure, stamina to endure the sales cycle, and resilience to continue in the face of adversity. Most of all, today's sales reps require the wisdom to manage the sales process, rather than do something to the prospect.

Trend #3: Buyers are more risk averse. As the economy has become more unsettled, customer reactions have become more cautious, spending is more conservative, internal controls have increased, decision making has moved up, and reps have less access to those decision makers. Gatekeepers are more likely than ever before to create barriers to stakeholders.

Trend #4: Selling is becoming more professional. Much like the transformation of medicine in the early twentieth century, the specialization of selling has led to the creation of a professional class. The evidence is growing: more business schools are now offering sales courses, more sales reps are getting advanced degrees (MBAs), and there are now roughly 40 colleges and universities in the United States that offer a degree in sales. The overall specialization trend is toward education and professionalism – and that's good for both buyers and sellers.

Trend #5: Selling is becoming more global. Globalization has been forcing the transformation of the sales role, and today, "global intelligence" and the ability to compete in a global marketplace is not a nice-to-have, it's a must. Sales teams have to learn how to balance cultural and regional realities and social norms and language. The result is a sales environment that requires increased skills in team selling, "world selling" knowledge, higher reliance on sophisticated selling strategies, and an increased need for a true global business view.

Are you and your reps prepared to win amidst this sea of change? How many on your team possess the behaviors and skills needed to win? How do you know the difference between those who are barely hanging on and those who will flourish? These are questions that every sales team will face. 

Fortunately, all of these conditions can be answered with effective sales skills, increased professionalism of reps, accurate coaching by sales managers, and a solid set of data to eliminate errors and take solid steps forward. In 2012 and beyond, successful companies will be those that leverage scientific data for accuracy, enable reps to succeed with relevant training and coaching, and create smarter reps to win in this transformational, technology-driven global economy.

Invitation: Join Nancy Martini on Wednesday, Jan 11th at 2:00 pm EST in a webinar entitled How science will drive sustainable sales results in 2012.

Disclosure: PI Worldwide is a Selling Power customer.

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Why Email Attachments Don't Work to Engage Customers

Bill Carney-VisibleGains-291x218Today's blog post is by tech marketing and sales veteran Bill Carney, VP of Marketing at VisibleGainsCheck out the VisibleGains blog at http://blog.visiblegains.com/.

 

Face it: we're always selling and using whatever materials we can get our hands on to get our message across, typically through email. I recently received an email with 18 links and 5 attachments! I was amazed it got past the spam filter; it scared the hell out of me! I know why it got through, though. The sender (who shall remain nameless) was on my approved list. He worked at a company where I'd previously purchased services. I assume my sales "friend" figured I'd educate myself on his new company and offerings by reviewing all the info he spat at me. Problem is, from where I sit, we're starting over. Sending attachments my way, never mind how many, was way too soon for our relationship. I hit delete.

Dating Hasn't Changed That Much

Have you ever seen that movie in which the gal – and often the guy – has some objective to meet someone and says, "Let's skip all the time-consuming 'getting to know yous' and become a couple now"? Zero to marriage in three minutes flat. I'm sure we can all agree that, while it may be entertaining in the movies, it's definitely out of whack in the real world. 

Sending email attachments, unless I specifically request them, is like getting married without dating. I'm not ready for that type of "relationship," and it's rather presumptuous of you to think I am. Have you had a conversation with me yet to determine why I'm special? Why would you think collateral created in a generic way is ideal for me when you don't know me or my primary concerns? Are you a spammer? Maybe not, but without any evidence that you know me and what's important to me, I'm going to classify you as "that guy (or girl)" and ignore all subsequent content you try to send me. I might even just block you. The point is, you haven’t earned the right.

Your Place or Mine?

Those who have earned the right still may have trouble sending me information. In today's world, getting an attachment through the various spam and security filters is difficult, especially when emails contain large-file attachments. It's interesting that such a simple concept as FTP with a nice UI has spawned several companies. These companies are growing by leaps and bounds and changing the culture (although not completely) into a "come to my place to get it if you want it" mentality.

If you've earned the right to have a conversation with me, don't blow it by NOT agreeing on how we're going to share information. We need a personal "one-to-one" place to work together – not a file cabinet or deal room (our relationship’s not there yet). People who have earned the right to have the conversation don't clutter my inbox; they collaborate, giving me options for easily accessing information they've selected just for me.

Sure, such online tools as Dropbox, Box, WeTransfer, and YouSendIt are helpful when we want to share files with established colleagues, partners, and customers, but they're prematurely inappropriate for delivering content to prospects. Simply put, it's too early in the relationship.

Treat Me Right

So what's a salesperson to do when looking to create that relationship? Send me off to their Website? Might not be a good strategy, as I could get lost pretty easily and feel overwhelmed. We have customers with more than 500 different product SKUs, and the complexity of their site just might cause overload. Usually, people are looking for specific information to help their process along. Why dump your prospect on a generic site and make him or her more confused?

It's really hard to fake authenticity and create a connection. Focus instead on getting to know me and my company over time through various channels. Then, once you've earned your way into a conversation with me, we can both agree on how we are going to transfer materials and information. Don't just send something over; I'm not gonna read it. I've already deleted your email.

"Engagements" and "attachments" are part of both romantic and seller-to-prospect relationships. The difference is their order. Engaging with clients respectfully, ensuring that you add value at the right times in the right ways, will help you earn prospects' trust and lead to mutually beneficial interactions. Done right, sales conversations built on trust lead ultimately to buying decisions and repeat orders.

In full disclosure, VisibleGains helps salespeople use their email to cultivate prospect engagement and understand which conversations will turn into sales.

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