In my travels around New Zealand and overseas since starting Sales Systems in early 2011, I have been asking a simple question of business owners and corporate executives charged with achieving revenue objectives:
"Are you satisfied that your sales force is delivering the growth to your business?"
The answer has been a resounding "No."
So why is that?
When I have spoken to people, some common themes have appeared, among them:
- "The sales force is always 12 to 24 months behind our strategy. They just don’t keep up."
- "Calling too low. My sales people aren’t getting to the decision makers. When I look through our key contact lists I never see senior people."
- "The sales force can’t tell the story. The focus is on price and not on the full value and quality of our products and services."
- "We have the wrong people. They are not smart enough, not tuned in to the market and they don’t understand technology. Most are stuck in the past with the old sales-ways”
If you are experiencing some of these same frustrations, then get ready to take action. Here are a few ways you can overcome these problems.
The trick here is to ensure your sales operations plan is aligned with your company strategy. There are several ways to address this:
To stay ‘on message’ and up to speed with overall company strategy, successful companies growing in these times intentionally establish a ‘repeatable rhythm’ to guide their sales planning and execution processes. This structured rhythm will keep focus consistently on critical few high-value sales activities.
Putting structured sales planning, sales execution and sound marketing processes in place will give you an unrestricted line of sight into your sales teams. Without this line of sight, you risk missing your business targets completely.
Instead of trying to constantly ‘play catch up’, make it a point to let your established rhythms govern the weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual sales and marketing operations. You’ll then have procedures that fill your pipeline with sales opportunities sufficiently to generate expected sales results.
Aligning with your company’s objectives will allow you to put a laser focus on the customer.
Calling Too Low
Limited access within the target account is a constant challenge for most sales teams. If your contact doesn’t have decision-making power, you are wasting your time, and theirs.
Ensure you are speaking the right language. Rather than speaking the language of features and functions, speak the language of business. If you focus on products, not the business outcomes your customers are trying to achieve, you may get delegated to exactly who you sound like: the technical buyers, influencers, administrators and gatekeepers.
Once you speak in terms of business outcomes, you’ll be granted access to those who make business decisions. In many cases, you’ll earn trusted advisor status because you will be able to attach your offerings to the largest business problems that your customers are trying to solve. You’ll be viewed as a consultant who solves problems, rather than as a vendor who hawks products. Because you’ll be able to articulate the value of your offerings in a way that resonates with real business outcomes, it is likely you’ll also find yourself discounting less.
The sales force can’t tell ‘The Story’
If you can’t clearly articulate the value of your products and services, your prospect can’t differentiate between competitive offerings. When the buyer can’t differentiate your solution from that of your competitors, they may assume all solutions are similar in value.
This perception eventually reduces the buyer’s decision to the lowest common denominator: price. And when the buyer perceives your solution as expensive, it can lead to negotiations being reduced to demands for price discounts.
Anyone can talk about the features, benefits and costs of a product or service, but the real key to sales success is being able to express the value of your offering to a prospect.
Value can be a vague concept – what is important to one person may not be vital to another. Your sales teams should be able to describe the value of your product or service in a way that resonates with the buyer. To do this, they need to:
- have the sales tools to understand and describe the value of your offering, and
- have your company's sales team aligned around a common approach that clearly articulates and delivers the company's value proposition.
By having the language and skills to describe your value proposition embedded in your language, you are completely prepared to tie the value of your product to the customer's most pressing business needs.
We have the wrong people
Most companies have some key talent components in place, but a consistent talent management framework is the best way to create a clear line of sight into the people side of your business.
If your sales and marketing team hasn’t defined the DNA of your top performers, then your hiring profiles are probably off target.
A clear set of standards and procedures gives leaders the ability to retain and grow their most successful sales people. Start by defining what sales success looks like in your company and incorporate that definition into a success profile.
Think of the success profile as the gift that keeps on giving.
When you start by clearly defining the knowledge, skills and behaviours people need to succeed in your sales and marketing teams, you’ve painted a picture of what success looks like. The success profile will then further provide an integrated set of tools for:
- Selecting and acquiring talent
- Orientation and assimilating
- Managing and rewarding performance
- Developing and retaining talent
- Workforce planning and talent review
- Leading and promoting
With the right processes and tools in place you can overcome many if not all of your sales and marketing challenges. All you need is a fresh perspective and a desire to change.