Sales Trend 8 – Ordinary sales organisations do more but extraordinary sales organisations achieve more

The eighth trend from our 12 Sales Trends for 2017 explores how extraordinary sales organisations can work with marketing to achieve more. It has been developed by guest author David Hubbard.

With the help of technological disruption, buyers in the past 10 years have dramatically changed how they identify opportunities, evaluate alternatives and purchase solutions.

Buyers are no longer calling the vendor to learn what’s new or to request information like they did before. They have become self-educating, consuming online information whenever they wish:

• Buyers rely less on initial telephone/in-person meetings with vendors and more on consuming information online;
• Buyers rely less on tradeshows/networking events and more on webinars/social circles;
• Buyers rely less on vendor-supplied references and more on reviews from socially-connected peers;
• Buyers rely less on learning about the latest product features from vendor sales teams and more on learning about industry opportunities and company solutions; and
• Buyers rely less on a sole decision maker to make the purchase decision and more on a 5-15 member buying team to reach consensus.

In response, sales organisations have reacted by simply doing more:

• Generating more outbound leads via telephone and email;
• Chasing and qualifying more marketing automated leads;
• Qualifying inbound leads more quickly by instituting a sales development team;
• Conducting more product demonstrations;
• Conducting more prospect meetings and delivering more product presentations; and
• Implementing sales acceleration/CRM “solutions” to measure and reward individual sales activity.

Unfortunately, simply doing more has not been sufficient to dramatically increase sales outcomes. Although chasing a higher volume of poor-quality marketing qualified leads has marginally increased sales, it has significantly reduced sales productivity.  

Sales pipelines may have increased in quantity, but an increasing proportion of forecasted sales opportunities are 1) lost to competition because the sales team was unable to engage the buyer early enough in their purchasing process to influence the outcome; and 2) lost to “no decision” because the buyer team members were unable to reach consensus on a decision to move forward.

Ordinary sales organisations are coming to the realisation that they need to do something different than simply doing more of the same:

1. The buyer journey typically begins on the internet, not with a call to a vendor sales organisation. Sales must insert themselves into the buyer journey early enough to influence the outcome, but increased cold call prospecting and increased marketing leads have not proven to be sufficient;
The buyer is consuming competitive product information online throughout their entire purchasing journey. Sales must insert themselves into the buyer journey with valuable industry insight and guidance; pitching product solutions has not proven to be sufficient; and
The buyer has been replaced by an empowered buyer team which must reach a consensus decision. Primarily selling to the decision maker and occasionally to their key recommenders and influencers is no longer enough.

Ordinary sales organisations are starting to explore solutions to these challenges, but the initial results have been mixed:

1. Social selling: Since the account is engaged in social media throughout their purchasing journey, it makes sense that salespeople need to start selling on social media. Industry stats abound indicating that sales representatives who consistently achieve quota also practice social selling. Unfortunately, the reverse is not automatically true. While some sales organisations have experienced marginal sales success by integrating social selling throughout their existing sales process, others have experienced a marked decrease in sales quota attainment by implementing a standalone social selling initiative;
Sales enablement: We need to enable sales teams with the right training, content and tools to engage buyers more effectively. Sales requires training to understand the prevailing industry opportunities and threats facing the buyer team, information to understand the buyer team’s benefits and risks of various alternative approaches, and content to effectively communicate superior value to the buyer team throughout their buying journey. Sales enablement is an initiative to pull the right content out of marketing, product management, and other others to fulfil this need. Progress has been slow to date; and
Account-based marketing: Sales has historically been focused on penetrating targeted accounts while marketing has been historically focused on attracting individual prospects. Today, when 10 employees of a named account visit your website, instead of being treated as 10 independent leads by marketing automation, they can be treated as 10 potential buyer team members by account-based marketing. Marketers claim to be experiencing great return on investment from marketing automation and from account-based marketing, but that has not yet translated into increased sales.

Extraordinary sales

In contrast, extraordinary sales organisations understand that buyers have dramatically changed their purchasing process; therefore, sales organisations must dramatically change their outdated sales process.

Sales must change their internally-focused sales process to better align with the external buyer team, their new purchasing process, and their entry/exit criteria between decision stages. By better aligning sales prospecting, qualifying, selling, and closing techniques to the complete buyer journey, sales will become more effective and more productive. However, achieving ever-increasing sales quotas must become a company-wide team effort.

Extraordinary sales organisations also need marketing to align with the same buyers throughout the purchasing process. Marketing has been reluctant to do more than lead generation and passing, which has contributed to the perception that they are simply a discretionary cost centre. By aligning branding, social media marketing, demand generation and retention marketing to the new buyer team and their complete buyer journey, marketing can begin to be perceived as a revenue centre that helps increase sales, not simply increase leads.

When marketing and sales share a common, detailed view of the buyer team and their complete purchasing process, it becomes much easier to collaborate effectively, and align their marketing strategies and sales strategies into a cohesive revenue strategy. The discussion becomes less about MQLs/SQLs (Marketing Qualified Leads/Sales Qualified Leads) and more about how to convert prospects into opportunities into paying customers.

• How can we leverage our combined marketing and sales skills to move the potential buyer from this purchasing stage to that purchasing stage to becoming a satisfied customer?
• How can we leverage our combined content marketing and sales enablement efforts to communicate the right content, to the right individuals and right accounts, at the right purchasing decision stage?
• How can we integrate our social media marketing and social selling efforts to engage the buyer consistently throughout their entire purchasing journey?
• How can we align our account-based marketing and target account selling efforts to penetrate, cross-sell and up-sell targeted accounts?

Companies that are better aligned dramatically increase revenues and profits compared with less aligned companies. Without a common detailed understanding of the buyer and their purchasing process, it is impossible for the company to be aligned externally to the customer, impossible for client-facing functions to be aligned within the company, and impossible to achieve consistently extraordinary sales results.

Extraordinary sales organisations are taking steps to update their own sales processes and to partner with marketing in aligning their collective efforts across the buyer’s complete purchasing process.

Remember everybody lives by selling something.

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