CSO Insights https://www.csoinsights.com The Research Division of Miller Heiman Group Tue, 15 Oct 2019 15:16:51 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://www.csoinsights.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/5/2016/08/cropped-favicon-32x32.png CSO Insights https://www.csoinsights.com 32 32 Why Sales Data Strategy Matters https://www.csoinsights.com/blog/why-sales-data-strategy-matters/ https://www.csoinsights.com/blog/why-sales-data-strategy-matters/#respond Tue, 15 Oct 2019 15:16:51 +0000 https://www.csoinsights.com/?p=21839 Sales data is the source for insights that help sales organizations make better decisions to achieve better results. Yet less than one-third (30%) of participants in our 2019 World-Class Sales Practices Study agreed they have a clear strategy for leveraging data as an asset for...

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Sales data is the source for insights that help sales organizations make better decisions to achieve better results. Yet less than one-third (30%) of participants in our 2019 World-Class Sales Practices Study agreed they have a clear strategy for leveraging data as an asset for their organization. (Click to tweet) In a previous blog, we discussed what to keep in mind when defining a clear data strategy. Today we look at why having one matters.

The state of sales data

Considering the state of sales technology, where organizations have an average of 10 sales technologies in place – with four or more planned within the next 12 months (2018 Sales Operations Study) – it can be overwhelming for many sales organizations to get their arms around how to use the available data across their disparate systems. In addition, the majority (75.8%) of organizations that participated in our 2019 World-Class Sales Practices Study indicated they do not have a high level of confidence in their CRM data.

Disparate systems, each with its own set of data that sales organizations do not have confidence in… It’s no wonder why many sales organizations perceive sales data to be a challenge.

But the reasons why sales data is so challenging are the same reasons why executive sales leaders need to define a clear sales data strategy and take ownership end to end. (Click to tweet)

While we won’t go into detail on how to implement a sales data strategy in this blog (to read more on this topic, click here and here), let’s revisit what we mean by sales data strategy.

A sales data strategy is a documented plan that provides sales organizations with a structured framework to effectively manage and use data as an asset. It starts with executive sales leadership owning it end to end, partnering with sales operations and IT on its execution.

Data by itself is meaningless and useless. Without the context for what you want to use it for, you won’t be clear on what analysis to compile with the available data. Your sales data strategy can provide that context. (Click to tweet)

Sales data strategy matters 

If you’re wondering whether sales data strategy matters, the answer is yes, it does. In our 2019 World-Class Sales Practices Studywe found that organizations that said they had a clear data strategy reported higher quota attainment and win rates than those that did not. (Click to tweet)

Let’s review why sales data strategy matters by taking a look at some common challenges organizations face without one.

1.Too many reports, not enough insights. (Click to tweet) It’s common to see many reports in your CRM or other sales technologies. In fact, today’s sales technologies make it easy for anyone to create reports. This, in turn, creates a situation with many reports but not enough insights. Reports are a way to pull together available data in a more structured and organized manner; however, they’re useless without context around what insights need to be produced and when those insights will be reviewed.

Sales data strategy starts with the executive sales leader clearly defining how to use the available data. It can provide sales operations, who owns the analysis of the data, with the context needed around what to compile analysis on and when to review the insights so that sales leaders can make business decisions. With this clarity, sales operations can more effectively manage the state of available reports and create more meaningful ones with a clear outcome in mind: to compile analysis for specific insights.

2.You might unknowingly be compiling incomplete analyses. (Click to tweet) Data can reside in many systems, owned by different groups. Without clarity around where data resides and who owns it, compiling an analysis on something that sounds simple (like your “customer”) can be more challenging than you might think. You may end up compiling an incomplete analysis by unintentionally excluding the other types of “customer” data available outside of your CRM and sales technologies.

A sales data strategy can provide a structured approach to managing data. It starts by identifying who owns the available data and which system the data resides in. If you identify multiple groups owning a type of data – such as “customer” data that sales, marketing, customer success and finance each might own during different phases of customer engagement – it’s important to clarify who owns which aspect of that data. This will provide sales operations teams with clarity around which system(s) you may need to pull data from for your analysis.

3.Your sales operations team may not be equipped to manage data and compile insights. (Click to tweet) With data residing in multiple disparate systems and sales not having confidence in available data, there’s a lot of work to be done – from managing data quality to overseeing process and system integrations to compiling analysis and delivering insights. Without the right capabilities in place – both technology and skill-wise – your sales operations team will soon be overwhelmed with all that needs to be addressed.

A sales data strategy should include planning for the necessary investments across technology and skills to support ongoing data quality management, analytics-based insights, and process and technology integrations. Once a sales data strategy is defined, it’s important for sales operations leaders to assess the state of their sales operations capabilities. This is an important step to ensure they are equipped to support the defined sales data strategy on an ongoing basis.

With a clearly defined strategy for leveraging data as an asset, sales and sales operations leaders will be able to bring a state of order to what may appear to be a chaotic situation. (Click to tweet)

Sales leaders can ensure the sales data strategy they define can be executed against, by driving alignment on how to use available data, taking a more structured approach to managing data and ensuring the needed capabilities are in place. This, in turn, will allow sales operations leaders, in partnership with IT, to more effectively execute against the sales data strategy – from managing data quality, to compiling insights that help drive business decisions.

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Questions for you:

  • Do you have a sales data strategy in place? If not, what is preventing you from defining one?
  • How many reports do you have, and what are they used for? What insights can you get from the available reports?
  • What is the state of your sales operations capabilities? What capabilities do they need to support your sales data strategy?

 

Related blog posts:

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Why Consistency Matters: Connecting Content, Training and Coaching Services https://www.csoinsights.com/blog/why-consistency-matters-connecting-content-training-and-coaching-services/ https://www.csoinsights.com/blog/why-consistency-matters-connecting-content-training-and-coaching-services/#respond Thu, 10 Oct 2019 13:25:16 +0000 https://www.csoinsights.com/?p=21785 Last week, I discussed the role of tailored content in driving customer engagement. We covered all of the steps required to tailor your content along the customer’s path and different buyer roles to ensure it’s relevant, valuable and differentiating. Today let’s look at the two...

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Last week, I discussed the role of tailored content in driving customer engagement. We covered all of the steps required to tailor your content along the customer’s path and different buyer roles to ensure it’s relevant, valuable and differentiating. Today let’s look at the two missing pieces in driving reinforcement and adoption – proper training and coaching – and why consistency matters a lot when it comes to connecting the dots.

Even if you provide the best content ever, it doesn’t necessarily mean that your sales force knows how to effectively utilize and apply it. (Click to tweet)

Whatever you provide in terms of content requires training to ensure your salespeople understand the bigger picture, why it matters and, most important, how to effectively utilize your new assets. You may say, “We have it all: selling skills, sales methodology and process as well as product training. Why that?”

Look at it this way: Your sellers don’t care about your latest piece of content. It’s as simple as that. They don’t care unless they experience how it can make them more successful. That’s where you must focus. That’s the bit of seller engagement that’s required before your sales enablement services have a chance to be effective.

Still not convinced? Put yourself in their shoes: Your sellers are very busy, very pressured and are presented with new things to use every single day. If they don’t see immediate value and are not sure how to use them effectively, guess what? Exactly… they continue doing what they’ve always done. For you leading sales enablement, it means “implementation done, adoption failed.” This typical scenario puts your enablement investments at risk because you won’t be able to achieve your desired outcomes in terms of sales productivity and performance.

Consistency matters: Only consistent and connected content and training services drive seller engagement and, therefore, customer engagement. (Click to tweet)

This is especially true in the example we used in last week’s blog: integrating new value messages in your content services – whether it’s for a new market, new buyer roles or whatever the case may be. It’s about changing sales conversations, which means your sellers will feel uncomfortable at the beginning. Totally normal. The usual consequence, then, is to avoid these new conversations altogether because they don’t feel confident applying the messages.

What are you doing with upcoming conversations that are uncomfortable for you? Exactly… you’re probably avoiding them. It’s no different in sales. Understanding this is crucial because it ensures you will always make sure that whatever you implement in the wide content arena, you will provide related training and coaching services to drive reinforcement and adoption.

Practice alone doesn’t make perfect. Only perfect practice does. And consistent sales coaching. (Click to tweet)

Make it simple by working with pilot sales teams and their managers first. Involve these sales managers from the very beginning so they know what’s coming next and understand their role in ensuring a successful implementation and improved results. And don’t forget to learn from these sales teams and their managers’ street wisdom.

  • First, create a video that walks people through the new content, explaining the whys and hows and wheres to find what. Explain the implementation steps, and outline everyone’s role in making it a success for all involved. Depending on your culture, it might be smart to let the sales managers make that call.
  • Second, practice new value messages in conversations through role play to simulate buyer interactions. To make it less painful, ask your sellers to role play with each other in groups of two. Then discuss what they learned. Then practice across sales teams. These events don’t need to be onsite. If you have remote sales teams, video training functions in enablement learning systems help a lot.
  • Third, learn from these first pilot experiences. If you need to adjust your approach or how you present it, do it now.
  • Fourth, if you don’t already have one, create a coaching service for your sales managers that helps them with specific questions to coach their sellers along those lines, given this specific initiative. Let’s assume for now that your sales managers are already developed when it comes to sales coaching skills and that you have a formal coaching process in place. If not, check out the blogs here and here. Stay with your pilot teams until you all feel comfortable rolling things out. Make sure you document the improved sales results. If you don’t get to better results, something is wrong and must be redesigned based on your learnings.
  • Fifth, keep your stakeholders up to date, share the results in the next advisory board meeting, and focus on a decision for the rollout.
  • Sixth, for the rollout, work with your pilot teams to find one or two sellers who are comfortable to create a short video that explains how they used the new assets, messaging and how it helped them improve their conversion rates, win rates, deal sizes, etc. Such videos are most engaging for other sellers and are a lot more credible than you creating them. And they’re easy to produce, as they only need their smartphones. Ideally, sales managers also should create videos for their peers regarding the coaching aspect and results.

 
Effective sales enablement leaders know that consistency matters – that it’s always about consistency, connectedness and coaching to engage sellers so that they can effectively engage buyers to achieve the desired sales results.

 

If you haven’t already, take a look at our book Sales Enablement – A Master Framework to Engage, Equip and Empower a World-Class Sales Force. It contains lots of valuable information, frameworks and approaches to make you a better sales enablement leader.

 
Questions for you:

  • Do you ensure that your content, training and coaching services are connected, consistent and effective?
  • If the responsibility is spread across departments, how do you set up a productive collaboration model?
  • How do you ensure proper adoption of new content services?

 

Related blog posts:

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Is Sales Tech an Afterthought in Your Planning Process? https://www.csoinsights.com/blog/is-sales-tech-an-afterthought-in-your-planning-process/ https://www.csoinsights.com/blog/is-sales-tech-an-afterthought-in-your-planning-process/#comments Tue, 08 Oct 2019 13:07:45 +0000 https://www.csoinsights.com/?p=21733 When you think about your annual sales planning process, where does sales tech come into play? It’s most likely toward the tail end of the process, when you have your CRM admin update CRM with the new fiscal year territory and account assignments. Or it...

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When you think about your annual sales planning process, where does sales tech come into play? It’s most likely toward the tail end of the process, when you have your CRM admin update CRM with the new fiscal year territory and account assignments. Or it might be part of your budgeting exercise with finance and IT. In most cases, when it comes to planning for sales tech, it tends to be in a reactive manner.

Sales organizations continue to experience sales tech adoption challenges, including CRM adoption, yet we continue to manage sales tech as an afterthought.

It’s no wonder that 78% of respondents in our 2019 World-Class Sales Practices Study indicated their sales tech stack does not address their selling challenges! (Click to tweet)

Proactive Planning Is Key

Let’s take a look at why you want to be more proactive when planning for sales tech… and what you can do to get there.

First, let me clarify the reference to sales tech being an “afterthought.” There’s a difference between being an afterthought and planning after something else.

When sales tech is an afterthought, you are planning for it reactively – most commonly in response to someone’s need or a significant organizational challenge that requires you to do something that wasn’t planned for. If it’s not planned for, you are simply reacting after the fact.

In contrast, when you plan for sales tech after your go-to-market strategies are defined or after your sales process is in place, you are able to better align your sales tech decisions to your sales strategy and processes.

Rather than being a parallel (yet often separate) annual budgeting exercise with finance and IT, sales tech planning needs to be a component of your overall sales planning process. (Click to tweet) It should be one of the key outputs during the latter half of your process, after your go-to-market strategies are defined.

Here are three things sales operations can do now to be more proactive and prepared to include sales tech planning as part of your annual planning discussions:

#1. Become familiar with your current state. (Click to tweet) The first step is to be aware of what you know and what you don’t know. While it’s important to know where you are headed, it’s just as important to know where you are today (i.e., your current state). Start with an inventory of your sales tech. You also should inventory the business processes your sales tech supports.

Take CRM, for example. If you have one in place, what business processes does it support? Asked another way, in what business processes do you reference CRM or data extracted from CRM? Account and contact engagement, marketing campaigns, opportunity planning, forecast reviews and contract reviews are a few examples. Knowing when and how you are using your current sales tech will help you identify the business processes it touches. Knowing where you are now is critical to determining what it will take to get to the future state.

#2. Gather feedback from your sales team. (Click to tweet) Yes, you read that right: Gather feedback from your sales team. The intent is not to end up creating a wish list of all the “cool” sales tech they want; rather, the intent is to find out what your sales team’s experience is – inclusive of sales tech or not. Find out what’s working as well as areas that could be improved – with a focus on productivity. Their productivity challenges will differ depending on their sales role. So first make sure you are clear on what their expected role scope is. Then, within that context, find out how productive they are (or aren’t). There may be some “pearls of wisdom” in their feedback.

#3. Don’t forget the others – such as marketing, service and customer success. (Click to tweet) As we’ve previously discussed, sales tech should not be looked at in a siloed manner. What sales does, including our processes and technologies, impacts other functions, especially marketing and customer success. We most commonly look at marketing as “upstream” or an “input” into sales’ realm, with customer success as “downstream” or an “output” from sales.

But these days, it’s more common for customers (prospects and clients) to engage in a more nonlinear and nonsequential manner. They may engage any of the three functions at any time. Therefore, ensuring alignment across people, process and technology as well as messaging is crucial.

Reach out to marketing and customer success proactively. Share your sales tech plan with them, and ask them to share their plans with you. You might find that their plans are connected to yours. And if you collaborate with IT to manage your sales tech planning, make sure your IT business partners are part of those discussions as well.

 

If you’re thinking this sounds like a lot of work, you’re right. Being proactive requires time, effort and planning. It may feel like it’s easier to manage on an ad-hoc basis, but when was the last time being ad hoc was easy? When you are reactive, you end up spending more time and effort on things that were not planned.

Make it a point to re-prioritize what you are doing, and make time to take the steps to being more proactive about your sales tech planning. (Click to tweet) Doing so ensures you are including sales tech as part of your annual planning because you are ready to discuss what needs to be discussed – proactively, not reactively.

 

Questions for you:

  • Is sales tech planning part of your annual sales planning discussions, or is it just part of the finance budgeting exercise?
  • Do you know what sales tech you currently have? Are there any sales tech that is being used that you might not be aware of?
  • When was the last time you gathered sales tech experience feedback – from your sales organization, marketing, or customer success teams?

 

Related blog posts:

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Customer Engagement: Only Relevant Content Can Move the Needle https://www.csoinsights.com/blog/customer-engagement-only-relevant-content-can-move-the-needle/ https://www.csoinsights.com/blog/customer-engagement-only-relevant-content-can-move-the-needle/#respond Thu, 03 Oct 2019 13:09:37 +0000 https://www.csoinsights.com/?p=21745 Looking at sales enablement through the lens of the customer to drive customer engagement is crucial to success. I discussed in recent blogs why it’s important to align your enablement services to the customer’s path and why the foundational process alignment is a prerequisite to...

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Looking at sales enablement through the lens of the customer to drive customer engagement is crucial to success. I discussed in recent blogs why it’s important to align your enablement services to the customer’s path and why the foundational process alignment is a prerequisite to setting yourself up for success. If you missed those blogs, the reasons why, the related data points and simple steps for getting started, click here and here.

Today let’s see why this foundation is so important when it comes to driving customer engagement with tailored content services. (Click to tweet)

As a quick reminder, customer engagement covers the way organizations and their customer-facing professionals get in touch with customers along the entire customer’s path. Customer engagement can only be effective if all efforts are tackled from the customers’ perspective, from their customer’s path. That’s why I mapped out the essentials for you over the past two weeks. Additionally, we have to understand and consider buyer preferences.

To drive customer engagement in a holistic way, you should always have several areas in mind that are all connected to each other: content, training, coaching and – as a mirror to customer engagement – seller engagement. Let’s focus on content today.

The most effective practice is to effectively align content to the different phases of the customer’s path. The 31.5% of organizations that do that improved their win rates by 16.6%. (Click to tweet)

These numbers from our 5th Annual Sales Enablement Study (coming soon!) are encouraging compared to 2018, where only one-quarter of organizations leveraged the performance potential of this practice. In addition, the performance impact is 5.0 points higher this year – an interesting trend we will continue to observe.

Having your customer’s path mapped out and having your selling processes aligned to the customer’s path allows you to precisely tailor your content services to these different phases. In the early awareness phase, for instance, when buyers are analyzing the problem, its business impact and how to potentially tackle it, your content should help build a shared vision of success, how to get there and results that could be achieved.

As soon as you need content for the actual buying phase, the appropriate content is more specific, tailored to the problem you are trying to solve and focused on the customer’s desired outcome. In this phase, your solution plays a huge role, but always in the context of the problem to be solved and connected to the desired outcomes to be achieved. Additionally, content in this phase might be more competitively differentiating, depending on the market you are operating in.

The next practice – aligning content to the relevant buyer roles – is closely connected; 35.3% apply this practice and improve their win rates by 15.3%. (Click to tweet)

On one hand, the data is encouraging compared to last year’s study, as the percentage of organizations increased from one-quarter to one-third and was accompanied by increased performance.

On the other hand, in the age of the customer, tailoring content to the relevant buyer roles should be a no-brainer. Looking at the data from this perspective, it’s surprising that only one-third of organizations reported consistently and effectively applying this practice. That means in practical terms that two-thirds of organizations either don’t apply the practice or struggle with its proper implementation.

Most organizations completely agree with the importance of aligning content to the relevant buyer roles, but they struggle when it comes to designing, creating and providing tailored content this way. (Click to tweet)

Here are six steps to creating tailored content that drives customer engagement and sales results: (Click to tweet)

#1: Implement a proper foundation, and align your selling processes to the customer’s path. Check out my blogs from the past two weeks here and here, and apply the recommended steps to get there.

#2: Assess your content landscape, and create content clarity. Define content types and formats, and assess your content landscape. Then map your content services to the relevant phases of the customer’s path. If that’s not doable, you know that your content services are not tailored right now.

#3: Define your most relevant buyer roles. This requires collaboration with marketing and your sales force. Understand the roles that are approached by marketing and how, and understand what your sales force can share about its most important buyer roles. Focus only on the main roles for now.

#4: Develop buyer role profiles and related typical problems and relevant metrics. This step is about clearly understanding what the buyer roles are up to, their typical challenges that your organization can solve, key metrics that you can help them improve and how they tend to approach challenges.

#5: Design the specific value messages from a sales perspective. This is an essential step. It’s not enough to copy and paste marketing messages. A marketing message is a macro-message intended to reach many people in this role, whereas a sales situation is always a micro situation. Work with value messaging specialists, if needed, and include your sellers to get the messages right for the main phases of the customer’s path and your main buyer roles.

#6: Design content modules and leverage technology. Now it’s about bringing things to life, which requires a lot of architecture and planning, a solid value messaging framework and a content strategy. Theoretically, you can prepare your content for the customer’s path phases and then duplicate those content services for the relevant buyer roles. This approach requires a lot of maintenance. Another idea is to work with content or messaging modules and to leverage modern sales enablement content technology that can be of great assistance in providing modules sellers can easily put together with the exact content they need.

Effective sales enablement leaders know that creating and providing tailored and targeted content is one of the most challenging yet impactful enablement services. (Click to tweet)

Next week, we’ll discuss the need to develop connected training and coaching services to achieve the highest possible performance impact.

If you haven’t already, take a look at our book Sales Enablement – A Master Framework to Engage, Equip and Empower a World-Class Sales Force. It contains lots of valuable information, frameworks and approaches to make you a better sales enablement leader.

 

Questions for you:

  • What does your content landscape look like? What are the current design criteria?
  • Do you already have buyer role-specific content? If yes, is it tailored to customer’s path phases?
  • How would you consider investing in getting the content challenge sorted?

 
Related blog posts:

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Sales Coverage Model: Why You Should Take the State of Your Sales Talent into Account https://www.csoinsights.com/blog/sales-coverage-model-why-you-should-take-the-state-of-your-sales-talent-into-account/ https://www.csoinsights.com/blog/sales-coverage-model-why-you-should-take-the-state-of-your-sales-talent-into-account/#respond Tue, 01 Oct 2019 13:21:04 +0000 https://www.csoinsights.com/?p=21729 Your sales coverage model is a key component of your sales organization’s annual planning process, as discussed in last week’s blog. Today we continue the focus on sales coverage models and discuss why yours should take the state of your organization’s sales talent into account....

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Your sales coverage model is a key component of your sales organization’s annual planning process, as discussed in last week’s blog. Today we continue the focus on sales coverage models and discuss why yours should take the state of your organization’s sales talent into account.

Annual Sales Planning Process

First, let’s briefly review the main steps in an annual sales planning process so we can align on where the sales coverage model fits in the overall picture. (Note: This is not a comprehensive list of the annual planning steps; rather, the major steps leading up to the sales role are noted at a high level in the context of this blog.)

  1. Identify available market opportunity. Your annual planning process usually starts by identifying your realistic available market opportunity. First, review your total addressable market (TAM), usually available through external data sources. Next, determine what is realistic for your organization to go after, cross-referencing internal data such as product roadmap, historical bookings and forecasted revenue, for example.
  2. Define your go-to-market strategy. Next, define your go-to-market strategy – determine which new markets to go after, how you will maintain market leadership in another area and so on, in order to meet your revenue goals.
  3. Design your sales coverage model. Your sales coverage model should align the right resources with the right customers, aligned to your go-to-market strategy. For example, if one of your go-to-market strategies is to shift mid-market segment from direct to channel, you will need to look at channel partners as part of your coverage model.
  4. Define your sales roles. Now you are ready to define the sales roles. Sales roles determine how you will execute your sales coverage model (i.e., how your sales organization will engage with customers). It should clearly define the role’s scope of responsibility. For example, if your coverage model includes channel partners, you will need to define channel sales roles.

 
Why the State of Your Sales Talent Matters

Now that we are aligned on the steps that lead to defining your sales roles, let’s take a look at why sales talent matters.

As previously noted, what we do in sales operations is like designing, building and maintaining a sales highway. In this context, the sales coverage model is part of what makes up the sales highway. And salespeople are the drivers of the vehicles on the sales highway. The drivers and their capabilities are ultimately what determine whether they arrive at the destination.

If the drivers are equivalent to your sales talent, being more aware of the state of your sales talent and their capabilities is important. This is what will determine how successful your sales organization is in achieving its revenue goals.

And considering the majority (84%) of sales leaders who participated in our 2018 Sales Talent Study indicated they lack the talent needed to succeed in the future, it is critical for sales operations to be more informed and involved with activities impacting sales talent. (Click to tweet)

And it is worth the effort. We found in our study that sales organizations confident in their talent had higher percentages of salespeople making or exceeding goal (+12.3 percentage points) and higher win rates of forecasted deals (+11.9 percentage points).

Here are three ways sales operations can stay more informed and involved with the state of sales talent in order to be proactive in ensuring your sales organization has the talent it needs to succeed:

#1. Stay informed on sales talent market competitiveness. (Click to tweet) Engage with your partners in HR to get better insights into your market competitiveness – including sales compensation, benefits and other important considerations for recruiting and retaining sales talent. While sales operations is usually most involved with designing and managing sales compensation, it is only one element of an overall compensation package. Understanding how competitive the overall compensation package is will help you assess your sales compensation plan in a more realistic context – vs. just stand alone. It can help uncover other influencing factors in a candidate’s decision to join, as well as your current salespeople’s decision to stay, that may be outside of your sales compensation plan.

#2. Think upskilling/reskilling existing salespeople, not just new-hire onboarding. (Click to tweet) If your sales coverage model takes into account reallocating existing salespeople into new sales roles, upskilling or reskilling existing salespeople becomes a critical change management consideration. While they may already be familiar with the company and general positioning and messaging, they may be required to have new skills and knowledge – especially if it is an entirely new sales role they do not have prior experience with.

For example, let’s say your organization adjusts its existing mid-market segment coverage from direct to channel sales – aligned to the updated strategy of managing 100% of mid-market business through channel partners. You might consider shifting the current mid-market direct sales teams to become partner account managers managing channel partner relationships. In such a scenario, shifting from a direct sales role to a partner account manager role requires different skills and knowledge. So make sure to proactively partner with sales enablement, and review the new sales role’s scope of responsibility and required skills so they can help pull together a comprehensive upskill/reskill enablement plan.

#3. Include sales talent metrics in sales performance discussions, and add a new dimension. (Click to tweet) When reviewing sales performance, most organizations include metrics such as quota attainment, revenue booked, forecasted opportunities and sales activity. Sales commission forecasts also are commonly included when reviewing sales performance with finance. By adding sales talent metrics to these reviews, sales operations can add a new dimension to the discussions – one that highlights the people aspect within the numbers.

 

Sales operations leaders and their teams can shift their dialogue around the sales coverage model and sales role effectiveness by becoming more informed and involved in sales talent discussions and activities. (Click to tweet) By partnering with HR, sales enablement and sales managers, each of whom has a role in sales talent-related activities, sales operations can upskill themselves in their area of responsibility around the sales coverage model and sales roles.

 

Questions for you:

  • When was the last time you looked at the state of your organization’s sales talent?
  • Do you know how market competitive your sales organization is?
  • Are you involved in helping identify upskill/reskill considerations as part of the annual rollout of your sales coverage model and sales roles? If not, why not?
  • Do you include sales talent metrics in your sales performance discussions? If not, what could you consider including in your next discussion?

 

Related blog posts:

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Process Alignment: Why Aligning Your Selling Processes to The Customer’s Path Is Key https://www.csoinsights.com/blog/process-alignment-why-aligning-your-selling-processes-to-the-customers-path-is-key/ https://www.csoinsights.com/blog/process-alignment-why-aligning-your-selling-processes-to-the-customers-path-is-key/#respond Thu, 26 Sep 2019 14:49:13 +0000 https://www.csoinsights.com/?p=21711 Last week, I discussed why it’s mission critical to align your sales enablement services to the customer’s path. Based on your feedback and questions, today’s focus is on the foundational part – process alignment – which is about aligning your selling processes to the customer’s...

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Last week, I discussed why it’s mission critical to align your sales enablement services to the customer’s path. Based on your feedback and questions, today’s focus is on the foundational part – process alignment – which is about aligning your selling processes to the customer’s path.

In the age of the customer, ALL enablement efforts must be designed through the lens of the customer to be effective. (Click to tweet)

“Wait a minute… isn’t it sales enablement? Why don’t we look after the selling challenges first?” I hear you. Designing your sales enablement strategy through the lens of the customer does not mean that you care less about your organization’s particular selling challenges. Not at all. The fact is this:

Selling challenges don’t exist in isolation; they are connected to (changing) buying behaviors and your organization’s context. (Click to tweet)

Whatever your organization’s specific situation might be, your sellers can only be successful with your buyers. That means sellers always have to be in sync with their buyers’ current steps and gates. And that’s why process alignment is a fundamental prerequisite. It ensures you built a sales enablement framework that makes it easy for sellers and their managers to determine whether they are currently in alignment with their buyers.

That’s why we strongly recommend always designing your sales enablement strategy through the lens of the buyer. Only then can enablement create the foundation the sales force needs to diagnose and solve buyer problems, achieve their desired results and create business at the same time. And that brings us to establishing the foundation of process alignment – aligning your selling processes from marketing to sales to service to the entire customer’s path.

The 19.0% of organizations that dynamically align their selling processes to the customer’s path increase their quota attainment rate by 11.8%. (Click to tweet)

Based on our 5th Annual Sales Enablement Study (coming soon!), only 19.0% of organizations master this practice and align their selling processes from marketing to sales to service dynamically to the customer’s path (or various customer paths for specific buying scenarios).

This group improves its quota attainment rate by 11.8%. The trend is similar to 2018, as we talk about only one-fifth that masters this practice. However, the impact is a bit higher this year; it was 8.9% last year. This kind of process alignment becomes more and more relevant: Win rates also increased in a two-digit manner this year.

One of sales enablement’s key foundations is process alignment: aligning your selling processes to the customer’s path. (Click to tweet)

To design an enablement discipline through the customer’s lens, you first need to align your selling processes to the customer’s path. This entails integrating the many steps and gates buyers move through along their path to a decision into your organization’s internal selling processes.

Let’s make an example: At each stage of the buying process, customers need to commit to moving to the next stage. No matter what your salespeople do, if buyers aren’t committed to taking the next step, the opportunity doesn’t move forward. Integrating this commitment into your selling processes helps salespeople avoid the kinds of misunderstandings (stalled deals and missed forecasts) that are a result of buyer/seller misalignment.

Process alignment ensures sellers and managers have absolute clarity on where buyers are on their path to avoid seller/buyer misalignment and forecast problems. (Click to tweet)

If buyers don’t commit to solving the problem the selling team diagnosed them with (and showed them how to solve to achieve better results), the lead doesn’t become an opportunity. If you lack this kind of buyer commitment (buyers commit to solve their problem with a vendor product, service or solution), you may not want to invest in a prototype or something like that. So it’s crucial to have absolute clarity on where buyers actually are on their path. Only then can sellers take the next required actions to address the particular situation. And only then can sales managers coach their sellers to do exactly that: focus on the next required actions rather than assuming or guessing the deal is already an opportunity.

Here are four steps for getting to such a dynamic process alignment – to aligning your selling processes to the customer’s path:

#1: Create awareness across functions regarding WHY the alignment is so important.
If this step is difficult in your organization or you don’t feel heard, discuss the situation with your senior executive sponsors first, and put it on the agenda of the next sales enablement advisory board meeting. It’s a cross-functional decision, which is one reason why you should always have an advisory board in place.

#2: Collaborate with CX, marketing and sales operations.
Process alignment is by no means a task you should (or could) accomplish by yourself. By definition, it’s always a cross-functional effort and a practical example of why a formalized collaboration model is an essential part of a proper sales enablement initiative or function.

#3: Make sure you focus on the essentials.
People often get confused with lots of details that overcomplicate things and don’t add value. It’s key to keep your vision – to avoid buyer/seller misalignment, with all of the commercial risks, from inaccurate forecast data to lower win rates – and capture the buyers’ main steps and decision gates that trigger an action or decision on your end.

#4: Leverage technology to make the alignment dynamic.
Doing this kind of process alignment once is only a starting point. As buyer behaviors continue to change, you should implement a mechanism that allows you to quickly and easily adjust the mapping on your end. Only this kind of dynamic alignment ensures the performance impact mentioned above.

Effective sales enablement leaders know how important a solid, robust foundation is to their success. They focus on the dynamic process alignment described here so that they are able to connect their enablement services to the customer’s path as well. They also focus on a strategic, formal charter-based approach to sales enablement.

If you haven’t already, take a look at our book Sales Enablement – A Master Framework to Engage, Equip and Empower a World-Class Sales Force. It contains lots of valuable information, frameworks and approaches to make you a better sales enablement leader.

 

Questions for you:

  • How is the state of your process alignment? How are your selling processes currently aligned to the customer’s path?
  • Did you ever consider this kind of alignment? If not, will you consider it now?
  • If you have already tried it, what were the main challenges you faced?

 

Related blog posts:

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How Effective Is Your Sales Coverage Model? https://www.csoinsights.com/blog/how-effective-is-your-sales-coverage-model/ https://www.csoinsights.com/blog/how-effective-is-your-sales-coverage-model/#respond Tue, 24 Sep 2019 13:40:30 +0000 https://www.csoinsights.com/?p=21694 Your sales coverage model is a key component of your sales organization’s annual planning process – a process you may just be starting, are already in the midst of or recently rolled out. In our 2019 World-Class Sales Practices Study, only 37% of survey participants...

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Your sales coverage model is a key component of your sales organization’s annual planning process – a process you may just be starting, are already in the midst of or recently rolled out. In our 2019 World-Class Sales Practices Study, only 37% of survey participants agreed that their sales coverage model effectively aligned resources to customers. (Click to tweet)

This means there’s plenty of room for improvement in the area of sales coverage model, but how often do you review the effectiveness of your sales coverage model? If you’re like many organizations, it likely happens only during the annual planning process, meaning once a year at most.

Before we continue, let’s take a closer look at what we mean by sales coverage model.

From an operational perspective, sales coverage model is about aligning the right resources with the right customers so that you can set achievable revenue goals and align your organization to reach those goals in the most effective manner.

From a customer engagement perspective, your sales coverage model defines how your sales organization (including channel partners) engages “on the ground” with your target customers. It’s where “the rubber meets the road.”

If your sales coverage model determines how your sales organization engages with customers, its effectiveness should be reviewed more than once a year. (Click to tweet)

As a sales operations leader, you can take the lead in helping to make that happen! A good start is to leverage the many analytics capabilities available in sales technologies today to compile insights on an ongoing basis and frequently review them with your sales leaders. Although implementing changes to your sales coverage model more than once a year is not realistic, periodically reviewing its effectiveness allows you to elevate sales coverage discussions during the annual planning process itself. (Click to tweet)

Let’s look at three things you can do to help you and your sales leaders elevate the sales coverage model discussion on an ongoing basis:

#1. Start with an open mind. (Click to tweet) When we think about designing a sales coverage model, both forward-looking and historical data are key inputs. If you want to start reviewing sales coverage model effectiveness more frequently than during your annual planning process, it’s important to keep an open mind. Be open to looking at data that may not be the “usual suspects” (e.g., total addressable market [TAM], forecasted and historical revenue, average deal size, deal velocity), and be open to reviewing available data with a new perspective.

Let’s look at an example where customer engagement concerns have increased as a result of multiple engagements with more than one salesperson. This could be due to rolling out a sales coverage model aligned with a new offering launch, merger and acquisition, or even divestitures (e.g., you shifted from a primary salesperson to multiple solution/offering-focused salespeople). For the customer, standard requests such as overall contract negotiations or customer references are now becoming unmanageable due to multiple, often misaligned sales engagements.

When looking at this scenario, keep an open mind as you investigate the root causes of the misaligned and unmanageable customer experience. It could be that rules of engagement within a shared account need to be revisited, or the sales compensation structure is driving a “focus on my own lane” behavior from your salespeople. It might be disparate internal processes for contract negotiations or customer reference requests… or maybe even salesperson capability. Don’t limit yourself to the first data point; rather, continue to ask “why” as you review multiple data points. You might eventually find there are many things contributing to the issue at hand, and resolution may be required in more than one area, coordinated with sales managers, sales enablement and even the legal team.

#2. Ask, listen, and ask them what they would do. (Click to tweet) To review sales coverage model effectiveness on an ongoing basis, compile insights from additional data that might be available outside of your usual go-to systems such as CRM. As noted earlier, your sales coverage model impacts customer engagement. Talk to your customers, your partners and your sales team. Expand the audience to include marketing, customer success and anyone who engages with the customer at one point in their purchase journey. Ask them what their engagement experience is like – what’s working and what could be improved. Then listen.

After you ask one question, listen and give them space to share their story. Resist the temptation to jump in and ask another question or add your own comments. It’s OK to ask clarifying or bridging questions such as, “What happened next?” as long as it helps the other person continue their story. Once they are finished sharing their story, ask them to share what they would do to improve the situation. Because they are the ones impacted by the engagement, which often is related to your sales coverage model in one way or another, they might suggest new ideas that you haven’t considered.

#3. Take advantage of your sales tech. (Click to tweet) As you gather new data points, don’t forget to take advantage of the various analytical and AI capabilities available in many of today’s sales technologies. For example, many call-recording technologies can proactively compile analysis around how many times a specific word is used and when.

Your call-recording technology might alert you that most of your salespeople are recommending a single solution instead of multiple solutions/services 75% of the time. This may be something you want to look into to determine whether a sales coverage model adjustment might address it, in addition to marketing campaigns and sales enablement programs. With such insights readily available, you can spend more time reviewing the insights rather than compiling them.

 

Once your data gathering is complete, there’s one more step: Prepare for the review meeting with your sales leader. Take time to review the data, pulling together key observations and points you want to discuss. And if there are recommendations worth discussing, include those as well.

And remember: When reviewing sales coverage model effectiveness more regularly, focus more on the findings and what they mean. It’s less about trying to adjust in real time (unless, of course, you are in a situation where this is required) and more about thinking through various sales coverage considerations in advance of the next annual planning process. That way, you can discuss what it should be instead of what it could be to make it more effective and improve customer engagement.

 

Questions for you:

  • Outside of your annual planning process, how often do you review the effectiveness of your sales coverage model?
  • What data do you usually use as inputs to your sales coverage model design? What other data could you be using?
  • How often do you engage with your customers, partners and sales teams to understand what their engagement experiences are like? What about marketing and customer success teams?

 

Related blog posts:

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Why Customer’s Path Alignment Is Essential to Sales Enablement Success https://www.csoinsights.com/blog/why-customers-path-alignment-is-essential-to-sales-enablement-success/ https://www.csoinsights.com/blog/why-customers-path-alignment-is-essential-to-sales-enablement-success/#respond Thu, 19 Sep 2019 13:41:57 +0000 https://www.csoinsights.com/?p=21684 I’m sure you’ve heard me say this many times: Customer’s path alignment matters a lot if you want to be successful with sales enablement. What does the term “customer’s path alignment” mean? There are two components to it. There are two aspects of customer’s path...

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I’m sure you’ve heard me say this many times: Customer’s path alignment matters a lot if you want to be successful with sales enablement. What does the term “customer’s path alignment” mean? There are two components to it.

There are two aspects of customer’s path alignment: process alignment and the alignment of enablement services. (Click to tweet)

Let me quickly explain the first one, as it’s a prerequisite for the second one. The first one is about process alignment, which means how well your internal selling process is aligned to the customer’s path or the variety of relevant customer’s paths. In detail, it indicates how well you have reflected the buyers’ steps and gates they have to go through to make a buying decision in your processes. Having these steps and gates reflected in your selling processes helps you avoid buyer/seller misalignment and ensures sales managers are always reminded to include specific questions in their coaching practice.

Based on our 4th Annual Sales Enablement Study, 20.7% of organizations did that really well and improved their quota attainment by 8.9%. And I can already tell you from the 5th Annual Sales Enablement Study (coming soon!) that the percentage of organizations is almost the same (19.0%), but the impact is even bigger: 11.8% increase in quota attainment. If you’re interested in more and how to get there, click here. This step requires a lot of collaboration with customers, CX, marketing and sales operations.

The second component, our main focus today, is about the purposeful alignment of your enablement services – especially your content services – to the customer’s path. To do that, you should have the first aspect in place, combined with a clear understanding of your relevant customer’s paths and their main phases.

Only World-Class organizations really focus on providing effective content aligned to the customer’s path to drive results. (Click to tweet)

In our 2019 World-Class Sales Practices Study, 88.0% of the World-Class segment reported that their sellers have access to effective content aligned to the customer’s path, compared to 35.0% of all respondents. As the World-Class segment covers only 9% of the overall population (those that apply all of the Top 12 World-Class practices consistently and collectively), the reality in the industry is that only about one-third of organizations apply this practice.

Overall, only one-third of organizations have their content services aligned to the customer’s path and improve win rates by 16.6%. (Click to tweet)

This data point reflects what we see in more detail in our annual sales enablement studies. This year, nearly one-third (31.5%) reported having their content services aligned to the customer’s path. And this practice matters, as this group achieved much better results. They could improve their average win rates for forecast deals by 16.6%. Such an improvement, similar to the 2018 data, proves that this practice should not be ignored.

Here are five steps to align content services to the customer’s path even if you have no idea how to get the content chaos sorted. (Click to tweet)

#1. Determine where your content comes from. (Click to tweet)

The first step is to determine who creates all of the content your sellers need. For best results, be thorough in your search. As we know from our studies, marketing doesn’t create even half of the content sellers needs to create business; also check with product management, sales operations, legal, sales managers, etc. Depending on your organization’s context, you may have additional sources such as product, solution and industry selling teams.

#2. Define “content,” and assess what you have in categories and types. (Click to tweet)

Content can be either customer facing (white papers, references, case studies, proposal templates, etc.) or internal enablement content (playbooks, battle cards, objection handling, etc.). Define those content types and relevant formats (pptx, pdf, mp4, mp3, etc.) to gain clarity.

#3. Map content types to the different phases of the customer’s path. (Click to tweet)

This is usually an eye-opening exercise because too many content types are not yet tailored to different stages of the customer’s path. A good example is all of the various client presentations that are out there in every organization. Is this a business-focused high-level asset, written in the language of a CFO in the finance industry? Sounds good, but is it also designed to help with a specific customer’s path phase? Is it created to develop a future vision of success with a certain buyer role based on laying out the business problem, its potential impact and how to fix it? Or is it written to provide all of the solution- and implementation-related details for a conversation with the future project manager just before closing the deal? If the former is the case, map it to the awareness phase; if it’s the latter, map it to the buying phase.

More often than not, you won’t be able to map content assets to any customer’s path phase, simply because they have not been designed that way. Build buckets such as “mapped and good to go,” “mapped but needs adjustment” and “not mapped, to be redone,” etc. Content gaps (yes, this exercise helps you identify those gaps) can go into a “to be created” bucket, and redundancies can go into a “to be deleted” bucket.

#4. Develop your content strategy, and implement it. (Click to tweet)

Following the definitions you set in Step #2 and the mapping results, you can define your content strategy, stating where you are, where you want to be and what goals you want to achieve with it. Think about things such as average deal size, win rates, sales cycle length, conversion rates, etc. Then connect your content to the role of content you laid out in your charter (purpose and goals), and define how each content type in various formats will help you achieve those goals.

To effectively implement a content strategy, two other components should be considered as well: a formalized collaboration model and a production process. Both are topics for future blog posts. For now, let’s assume that you know how to collaborate with the involved teams and also have a high-level process for how to design, create, localize and track content services.

#5. Orchestrate the content improvements. (Click to tweet)

Create a detailed plan for all of the content assets that are in your “mapped but needs adjustment” and “not mapped, to be redone” buckets. Define what roles have to be involved to get the work done. And if you need third-party help, don’t hesitate to get the required expertise – the earlier, the better. Especially if you have to deal with too many product-focused content services, you may have a hard time being heard regarding how to make changes so that the content attracts buyers at different stages of the customer’s path. Whatever way you choose, put your framework, your mapping of the current state and your desired future state front and center to stay focused.

Purposefully aligning content services to the different phases of the customer’s path is no easy task. It requires detailed analysis, a bold vision and lots of staying power, orchestration and networking skills to ensure proper implementation. It’s absolutely worth the effort, though, as you probably want to belong to the group that improved its win rates, on average, in a two-digit manner.

 

If you haven’t already, take a look at our book Sales Enablement – A Master Framework to Engage, Equip and Empower a World-Class Sales Force. It contains lots of valuable information, frameworks and approaches to make you a better sales enablement leader. Regarding the topics discussed here, check out Chapters 5, 8, 9 and 11.

 

Questions for you:

  • How is the content your sellers use designed? Customer focused, product focused or tailored to the different phases of the customer’s path?
  • Have you ever assessed your content and mapped it to the customer’s path?
  • If you’ve never assessed your content and mapped it to the customer’s path, will you do it now?

 
Related blog posts:

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Are You Ready to Introduce Channel Sales Technology to Your Partners? https://www.csoinsights.com/blog/are-you-ready-to-introduce-channel-sales-technology-to-your-partners/ https://www.csoinsights.com/blog/are-you-ready-to-introduce-channel-sales-technology-to-your-partners/#respond Tue, 17 Sep 2019 14:19:16 +0000 https://www.csoinsights.com/?p=21669 In our 2019 World-Class Sales Practices Study, almost 70% of participants said they leverage a third-party channel to drive revenue. This level of reliance on channel partners has remained relatively consistent over the past two years. Yet when we looked at organizations’ use of sales...

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In our 2019 World-Class Sales Practices Study, almost 70% of participants said they leverage a third-party channel to drive revenue. This level of reliance on channel partners has remained relatively consistent over the past two years. Yet when we looked at organizations’ use of sales technology with their channel partners, it was limited to less than one-quarter of respondents.

In B2B selling environments, many sales leaders see adding a third-party channel as a way to grow their business or enter new markets without the overhead of hiring, onboarding and developing additional in-house sales staff. In many cases, channel partners are often considered an extension of their sales force.

As such, one might expect them to provide their channel partners with sales technology as well. When channel is added as a go-to-market approach to grow business, for example, a common channel sales technology use might be to share information on customers and prospects. In our study, however, we found that this practice was not so common at all: Less than one-quarter (22.6%) of organizations that leverage channel indicated that they effectively use technology to share information on customers and prospects with their partners. (Click to tweet

This does not come as a surprise, however, especially considering most organizations are challenged with their own sales teams getting the most out of the sales technologies they already have. (To read more on sales tech challenges, click here and here.)

Sales organizations that continue to be challenged with using available technology effectively should pause and take a closer look at whether they need (and are ready ) to introduce a new technology to their channel partners in the first place.

Thinking through why you need a technology before investing in one will help ensure you are implementing it at the right time, for the right reasons. This, in turn, will help ensure you use the technology more effectively when you do roll it out. It also will help drive better sales results. We found in our study that organizations that successfully used technology with partners scored 24 percentage points higher in “partners making goal” than those that did not. (Click to tweet)

Let’s take a look at four questions for sales organizations to answer when considering whether they should invest in new channel sales technology for their partners, and if they are ready for it. Whether you are in sales operations or channel operations, partner with each other and with your sales leadership to review these assessment points.

#1. What business problem or channel objective are you trying to address? (Click to tweet) First, be clear on the business objective or problem you are trying to address. Doing so will help you build a solid, strategic business case that includes a clear ROI linked to key business metrics. It also will help you develop clearer what’s in it for me (WIIFM) messaging aligned to your objectives or business problems for your channel partners and channel sales teams.

#2. What is the state of your channel processes? (Click to tweet) Do you know the state of your channel processes? Are they clearly defined, documented and enforced, or are they managed in a more ad-hoc manner? If your current channel processes need improvement, make those improvements before introducing a new technology. Also make sure your channel processes are actually used by your channel sales teams and channel partners. Partner with sales enablement to help drive channel process adoption. Technology adoption should be partnered with a high degree of process formality if organizations want to achieve more predictable sales results (2018 Sales Operations Optimization Study).

#3. How ready is your own sales organization? (Click to tweet) As mentioned above, sales organizations continue to struggle with sales tech adoption. If your own sales organization’s experience with sales technology is suboptimal, find out why. Gather feedback from sellers and sales managers as well as sales operations, IT and sales enablement – on what works as well as what could be improved. Understanding why your sales organization’s sales tech experience is suboptimal can help determine your own organizational readiness – across people, process and technology – to introduce new technology to your channel partners.

#4. How ready are your channel partners? (Click to tweet) Assessing your partners’ level of readiness is a critical step that is often overlooked. Readiness can be assessed in several ways. First, understand the current state of your partners’ process and technology. This could be assessed as part of Step #2 above – understanding the current state of your channel processes – from a partner perspective. Second, understand what their current experience is like, both with you as an organization as well as with prospects and customers. This will help you understand how their experiences might change and consider whether a new technology is worth it.

Third, assess your partners’ mindset readiness – how ready they are personally to accept and use the new technology. If they are tech savvy and have a growth mindset, they are more likely to embrace the change than those who are more “old school” and prefer their own way of doing things. Understanding your partners’ readiness across these three dimensions will help you determine what other considerations need to be accounted for or addressed in advance of introducing new channel sales technology.

 

With so many technology options available today, it can be tempting to consider investing in one. But taking the time to first consider whether you need one – and if you and your partners are ready for one – is well worth the effort. So the next time you come across a “shiny, new” channel sales technology, stop and ask yourself, “Do we need one?” and “Are we ready?”

______

We still have a few more weeks left for our Annual Sales Operations & Technology Study! If you haven’t already participated, click here to get started.

Your participation will directly contribute to our research on sales operations and sales technology so that we can continue to share our findings and best practices through our studies and blogs. Thank you.

 

Questions for you:

  • Are you clear on why you need a channel sales technology? If so, are you ready for it now?
  • Have you assessed how ready your own sales organization is – across process and technology?
  • Are your channel partners ready for you to introduce a new technology?
  • Are the channel processes that your technology will support clearly defined, documented and available?
  • What other internal and external (partner) process and system considerations should you take into account?

                                                                                                                                                    

Related blog posts:

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3 Ways to Help Salespeople Avoid Wasting Time on Unwinnable Deals https://www.csoinsights.com/blog/3-ways-to-help-salespeople-avoid-wasting-time-on-unwinnable-deals/ https://www.csoinsights.com/blog/3-ways-to-help-salespeople-avoid-wasting-time-on-unwinnable-deals/#respond Thu, 12 Sep 2019 16:15:45 +0000 https://www.csoinsights.com/?p=21636 If you’re selling in a complex, B2B sales environment, chances are you’re painfully familiar with the term column fodder. This is where salespeople waste valuable time, selling to buyers that have already made up their mind yet feel the need to get additional proposals to...

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If you’re selling in a complex, B2B sales environment, chances are you’re painfully familiar with the term column fodder. This is where salespeople waste valuable time, selling to buyers that have already made up their mind yet feel the need to get additional proposals to validate their choice.

To add insult to injury, when your solution is nothing more than column fodder, your salespeople may not even get a chance to present their proposal in a face-to-face meeting or on the phone with the client. Column fodder proposals are often requested over email or with the dreaded RFI/RFP.   In some industries, especially those like government agencies that require multiple (and lengthy) proposals, this problem can tank your sales productivity.

Are Your Salespeople Viewed as Problem Solvers or Product Experts?

In our 2018 Buyer Preferences Study, less than one-quarter (23%) of the B2B buyers we talked to said that they turn to salespeople to help them solve business problems.  So, it’s no wonder that 70% said that they prefer to engage a salesperson after they have already clarified and prioritized their needs.  In these buyers’ minds, sellers are product experts. Since most buyers do the majority of their research online, there is no need to involve a seller until they are well down the path of purchase.

The good news is that those same buyers told us that they would engage sellers earlier if they were the kind of seller who exceeded expectations, specifically: had top notch communication skills, demonstrated familiarity with the buyer’s business, focused conversations on implementation not buying and that they providing perspectives which helped drive the buying process forward.

So to prevent wasting time by being brought in at the end of a buying cycle just to add an extra quote to the pile, sellers need to change the way that they are perceived by customers.  The biggest opportunity for differentiation, among the list of expectations is to provide thought leadership and perspective

3 Ways to Help Salespeople Provide Perspective

Improving a salesperson’s ability to provide perspectives is an ongoing effort, but it is not a journey your salespeople make alone. Here are three immediate actions you can take to help your salespeople get better at this sought-after skill.

1/ Create a content engine.  The right piece of content at the right time can help your salespeople provide perspectives that are both timely and relevant. But, you don’t want your salespeople to have to create all of this content.  Develop a content strategy that clarifies the who, what and why of content creation.  This will help ensure that you have an appropriate inventory of content assets relevant to different personas, phases of the sales process and business issues.

Even if you have the right sales content, chances are your sellers are spending too much time looking for it (click to tweet)

Providing perspective calls for a content management system with content tagged to the industry, buyer, buying phase, etc. Such platforms integrate to the CRM allowing content push based on opportunity and account fields.  In addition, artificial intelligence (AI) within such platforms can provide guidance on the content, insights, and perspective to use with each stakeholder at each phase of the sales cycle. As salespeople provide the system with feedback on how effective the content was at moving the sales process forward, the system refines its algorithms to make more precise future recommendations.

2/ Use social to get out in front of buying decisions.

Even with the best content in the world, you won’t increase win rates if you are waiting for “hand-raisers” to ask you to be part of their buying process.  By then, your role is limited.  Use social selling techniques to get in front of your target customers early.  Help your sellers with personal branding that demonstrate their credibility.   Help them use social selling tools to build digital networks where they can be seen as business problem solvers, not product experts.  This can help you engage with buyers earlier in the buying process.

Not only does this social effort help with sellers’ exposure to a target market, it is also a vital part of an outbound prospecting strategy.  Sellers need to become fluent in providing perspective before an opportunity hits the funnel and using a variety of modalities.

3/ Change the focal point by changing your methodology.

Our 2018-2019 Sales Performance Study confirmed that deeper customer relationships continue to lead to better sales performance.

Win rates in sales organizations seen as Trusted Partners are 20% points higher than those seen only as Approved Vendors (click to tweet)

Relationships are a collection of interactions over time.  You can have the best content and the most compelling social posts, but the pay-off is when they are part of an overarching approaching to acquiring, growing and retaining your customers.

And for this you need a methodology.  The methodology is how you execute your sales process with your customers.  And perspective has to be embedded within it.  It is not an afterthought or a white paper or a particularly good question.  Rather it is threaded throughout.

The focal point of this kind of methodology is the customer.  But not in a general ‘we are customer-centric” way.   Rather the entire approach is wound around what the customer is trying to achieve and where you can help them …likely well above and beyond what one of your products does.  To gut check your approach, look for ways to get feedback directly from customers.  This may include formally collecting win-loss feedback or expanding the charter of a customer advisory board set up by your products team.

 

If your salespeople are spending too much time as column fodder, here are some questions to consider:

  • How well do our salespeople understand the concept of providing perspective? What additional tools, training or coaching could help change their approach?
  • How well does our content match the sales need? And how can we make it easier for our salespeople to find content that fits the customer scenario and buying phase?
  • How can we create deeper relationships with customers and help our salespeople leverage insights gained to provide perspectives?

 
Related blogs

Highlights from the 2018-2019 Sales Performance Study
What Buyers Want Isn’t That Complicated… but that Doesn’t Mean it’s Easy
How Content Impacts Relationship Levels   
Top 12 World-Class Sales Practices| Mutually-Valuable Sales Calls

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