Sales Strategy: What’s holding your business back? Try this 12-point action framework
Sales Strategy: By Bob Apollo on Thu, May 17, 2012
What would happen if you were able to double your sales and marketing resources overnight? Assuming that you haven’t already saturated your target market, how confident are you that you could at least double your revenues – and how long would that take? What if you were able to quadruple your resources?
This question often poses a problem for B2B-focused organisations with long and complex sales cycles, or for sales teams that have a long history of relying on sales heroics. Without a well-defined, scalable sales and marketing process, no matter how much resource you can throw at the market, you’ll inevitably struggle to attract, engage, qualify and convert enough of the right sort of prospects.
The challenge is particularly acute for growth-phase organisations that are trying to “cross the chasm” from early adopters to mainstream markets, and for established organisations that are wrestling with increasingly competitive markets. It’s hard – some would say impossible, in today’s business climate – to break free of these constraints unless you have managed to establish a truly scalable, repeatable and reliable sales and marketing machine – a machine that is continually improving its return on the resources already being deployed.
No wonder Chief Executives are cautious about adding fresh headcount until they can be sure they will deliver the expected return on investment. No wonder marketing budgets are coming under increasing pressure to prove the value they are creating for the business. No wonder the gap between top sales performers and their average peers is widening dramatically. Relying on creativity, hard work and heroics isn’t enough.
We’ve been using a 12-point framework with some success with our clients. You can download the full executive briefing here. But in the meantime, here’s an abridged version – albeit still rather long for a blog article:
1: Clarify your market focus
It’s challenging to get the most out of your sales and marketing resources unless everyone across your organisation shares the same understanding of the market or markets you have chosen to address – yet it’s all too common to find sales and marketing resources being dissipated on audiences that are outside your sweet spot. Without absolute clarity in your market focus, it’s hard to construct a scalable sales and marketing machine.
2: Concentrate on your prospect’s most valuable issues
Your focus needs to go further: you need to particularly concentrate on those issues that:
- Are so vital to the prospect that they are bound to spend money on dealing with them, AND
- That your organisation can address better than any other option available to the prospect
If the issue is not seen to be vital (or if you cannot persuade your prospect that it is), your prospect might engage you in an extended sales conversation, but you run the real risk that they will never buy anything.
3: Play to your unique strengths and advantages
It’s important to educate your market, particularly in situations where your prospect may not initially recognise the issue that you have chosen to address, or may not yet realise the consequences of not dealing with it – and the importance of addressing it.
Thought leadership is important. It’s an essential element of market leadership. In fact, thought leadership often precedes market leadership, and for this reason, it’s not unusual to see B2B organisations invest significant money and resources in such programmes.
But, if your ultimate goal is to sell more of your products and services, this investment in education must have a purpose: it must play to your strengths. It must draw your prospect’s attention to issues and consequences you can solve better than any other option available to them.
4: Identify with your ideal prospects
Today’s top-performing organisations recognise that here’s no point in marketing – or selling – to companies or individuals that are never likely to buy, or that have no power to influence buying decisions. It simply diverts resources away from attracting, engaging, qualifying and converting more of the right sort of prospects.
Getting your marketing and sales teams to agree – and document – what an “ideal prospect” looks like will have a dramatic effect on the productivity of both organisations. Marketing will be far less likely to generate “leads” that the sales team doesn’t want to follow up. Sales people will be far more likely to convert well-qualified opportunities into customers (and to enjoy much shorter sales cycles).
5: Track and target key trends and trigger events
Few sales and marketing organisations have fully realised the potential of key trends and trigger events in predicting buying behaviour – or in helping to identify their most valuable potential prospects.
For as long as your prospect remains satisfied with the status quo, whilst they might continue to absorb your messages and materials, they are not yet ready to acknowledge the need for change. But sooner or later, something will happen. There will a change in circumstances at the individual, company or market level that causes them to recognise that whatever they are doing today isn’t going to be good enough for the future.
We call these changes “trigger events”, and identifying and understanding them will be of vital importance in constructing your scalable sales and marketing machine. If you are able to engage you prospect when they undergo a trigger event – even better if you can help them to recognise that one has happened – your chances of winning their business are at least 5 times higher than if you don’t get involved until later on in the process.
6: Understand your prospect’s buying decision process
According to the latest global study by CSO Insights, fewer than 20% of B2B sales organisations have the discipline to continually track specific buying behaviours in order to assess the true state of their pipelines. More than half of the companies surveyed rely on sales activity alone and fail to require any externally verifiable evidence of buying intent before allowing sales people to promote opportunities from one stage to the next.
Given this background, it should hardly come as a surprise that sales forecast accuracy remains such a challenge, with on average less than half of forecasted opportunities closing at the time or value originally projected – with many never closing at all, or ending instead in the prospect deciding to “do nothing”.
No other business function would tolerate such inaccuracy. And there’s absolutely no excuse for the sales department to do so. Because the CSO Insights study also found that sales organisations that had the discipline to insist on sales people providing tangible evidence of their prospect’s buying behaviour won 40% more of their forecasted opportunities than the average sales organisation.
7: Align your marketing and sales process with your prospect’s buying process
You now need to define an integrated marketing and sales process that is fully aligned with each key stage in the evolution of your prospect’s buying journey.
Note that I deliberately refer to implementing a single integrated marketing and sales process. Scalable sales and marketing machines necessarily have to be built around a unified lead-to-revenue cycle that eliminates any disconnects or discontinuities between your marketing and sales operations.
8: Implement progressive opportunity qualification
Inadequate sales qualification causes a spectacular amount of wasted effort. Sales people frequently (and sometimes habitually) expend a great deal of personal effort and company resources on opportunities that are unlikely ever to buy anything, unlikely to choose their company as a supplier, or unlikely to ever be profitable even if they do buy.
In complex, high-value B2B sales environments, qualification cannot be a one time event – it must be managed as a continuous process that recognises that the prospect’s situation, needs and priorities can change over time, and that our view of how attractive the opportunity is to us can be significantly affected by things we learn about the prospect.
9: Insist on every sales and marketing activity having an intended outcome
According to research published by a variety of analysts, the vast majority of marketing materials and sales tools created by the average marketing department have no appreciable impact on the prospect’s buying decision – whether directly, or in terms of making the sales person more effective.
Your prospects don’t care what you do – they care about how you can make them more successful. Yet many marketing messages and sales conversations achieve the opposite – they serve to promote the vendor’s company or their offerings. And they do nothing to advance the prospect’s buying decision process.
10: Measure the metrics that matter – and act upon them
Just as you would not dream of driving a modern car without the benefit of a clear and accurate dashboard, your sales and marketing process requires accurate, effective instrumentation if you are to achieve your goals and systematically drive your company-wide performance to the next level.
Without accurate, timely measurement, there can be no improvement. Your goal in defining and measuring the metrics that matter must be to show you where you are on track, and where you are falling behind, so that you can make adjustments while you still have the opportunity to affect the outcome.
11: Systematically identify and eliminate bottlenecks and roadblocks
Like any factory, every sales and marketing machine suffers from potential bottlenecks and roadblocks that, if they can be addressed, offer the potential to directly improve revenue performance. These bottlenecks may relate to resource shortages – or they may just as likely indicate inefficient processes.
Experienced sales and marketing managers probably have an instinctive view of where things tend to slow down or get stuck – but having access to the right sort of metrics (see the previous principle) can help to home in on the real issues – and the true root cause of the problems.
12: Proactively manage sales pipelines and forecasts
Last, but by no means least, how can you apply the lessons learned to systematically improve your management of your sales pipeline and your forecasting processes? It should come as no surprise that I recommend that you manage your pipeline with reference to the key phases in your prospect’s buying decision process, or that you carefully monitor stage-to-stage conversions and deal velocity.
But proactive pipeline management isn’t just about monitoring your progress (or lack of it) against defined metrics. It’s also about data quality – ensuring that you are achieving high (and growing) levels of information completeness, accuracy and relevance.
I hope that you’ve been sufficiently inspired by at least some of these 12 initiatives to imagine what you might achieve if you were to apply them to your own organisation, and that you’re more motivated than ever to implement a truly scalable sales and marketing process.
But I want to share a few words of caution. None of these initiatives are miracle cures. They require discipline and focus – and you’ll need to evangelise them to your staff, and to help them recognise that this is not just another fad, but an approach from which everyone can benefit.
Scalability can’t be achieved without process
They also require a respect for process that some organisations that have been brought up on a diet of heroic selling find difficult to adapt to until and unless they come to realise that their current approach has – or is about to – run out of runway. But scalability can’t be achieved without process.
If you’re interested in the full story, you can download the complete executive briefing here. You might also like to try our 10-minute on-line self-assessment of the above 12 initiatives here.
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