By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®
Consistent Positioning of Offerings
Even with standard milestones and a common skill set, process will not be possible unless your sales staff is supported with consistent messaging to position their offerings when calling at executive levels. Traditional salespeople tend to make product-centric calls—deadly when calling at executive levels. Getting access to this level will not have the desired effect if the seller can’t relate their offerings to an executive buyer’s business issues. Failure to do so leads to being delegated downward or worse, to dismissal because the executive doesn’t understand the potential value of using your products or services.
Superior salespeople make different calls based upon the title of the person they are contacting. They intuitively understand the higher the call is within an enterprise, the less product-centric the call should be. Executives and decision-makers give sellers 30 minutes or less to generate interest in their offerings. Executives also prefer to start with a discussion of their business needs and then understand how the offering could be used to improve results.
Knowing what to say is critical if a potential sale is to advance through the defined milestones. In too many companies, sellers are required to develop their own messaging—ultimately shaping the buyer’s perception and expectations. In other words, even though it doesn’t appear in his or her job description (nor should it!), positioning offerings falls on the shoulders of the salesperson by default.
How can managers effectively evaluate opportunities when salespeople independently decide what to say about their offerings?
Sales Ready Messaging®
An alternative is to create sales ready messaging®, with the objective of helping sellers have directed conversations with each targeted business level buyer. If conversations are more structured, the outcome of calls becomes more predictable, empowering sales managers to take a more active role in making qualify/disqualify decisions. The first step in creating Sales Ready Messaging® is to create a list of Key Players.
Key Players are those titles within organizations that your salespeople must call on in order to sell, fund and implement an offering. Most sales organizations discover this is a predictable list. For a company selling CRM, a potential Key Player list would be:
VP of Sales
VP of IT
Call Center Manager
The CXO titles are listed together because these conversations would be similar, all relating to improving bottom line results. Also note we did not list titles below middle management. The higher the title within an organization, the more predictable the conversations and creating a Key Player list directs sellers to execute a top down (vs. bottom up) approach. The next step is to create a menu of high probability goals for each Key Player.
For example, supporting standard milestones is an SFA feature that can be used to improve forecasting accuracy. A seller mentioning the feature runs the risk of the buyer not fully understanding how it would be used. To avoid confusion the feature is converted to a usage scenario:
Event: After making calls
Question: would you want
Player: your salespeople
Action: to be prompted via their laptop to update progress on each opportunity against pre-defined milestones in a centralized database?
By executing the questioning template at the right time to the right Key Player, the outcomes of sales calls become more predictable. Your sales managers don’t have to be on the call to get a sense of how the conversation went. Every sales manager within the company can now use standard debriefing questions. This is possible because the buyer’s solution has already been “framed.” Even better, your managers now have the ability to access each salesperson’s funnel and electronically coach them through buying cycles, effectively leveraging their experience to help increase win rates, quota performance and earnings.
A good SFA solution supports usage scenarios and scripts by identifying at what stage in the cycle certain usage scenarios are used, and then consistently enforcing them across the organization with corresponding sales tasks. This capability supports the concept of cloning the best salespeople—great salespeople already use scenarios and understand their prospect’s business needs before presenting features and benefits. This ensures that average salespeople will use the most effective business-focused pitch to the right title and at the right stage in the sales process. Without a good SFA tool, this may occur randomly, will be difficult to enforce and monitor, and won’t ensure consistency.
After implementing Sales Ready Messaging®, your sales managers can gain an understanding of the outcome of all Key Player calls. Sellers can negotiate a written sequence of events with buyers mutually agreeing to a schedule of steps leading to a buying decision including an estimated close date.
When agreed upon, this sequence of events allows sales managers to select opportunities to forecast while knowing approximately when the buyer plans to make a decision. By having Key Player Letters and a sequence of events readily enforced with a good SFA system, the role of sellers becomes one of building and documenting potential opportunities in their funnels rather than of guesswork and subjectivity. Your sales managers are responsible for auditing deliverables, grading pipelines and forecasting—not hunting down salespeople to follow the process.
User Acceptance and Adoption
In your experience, can you remember any software vendor failing to claim ease-of-use as one of their competitive advantages? It is customary for SFA vendors to claim ease-of-use as one of their offering’s attributes on executive calls. Making the same claim to salespeople who will be expected to use the software on a daily basis is a greater challenge—they are all from Missouri, the “Show Me” state.
A major component of ease-of-use is relevance to the tasks at hand. Companies that perform sanity checks to verify what they require salespeople to enter is relevant and necessary enjoy a huge advantage over those who don’t. Ease-of-use is not only an attribute of the SFA software. Another critical factor is how well the application has been customized to fit your selling environment. A good SFA solution should be customizable to fit your sales strategy, so you can implement the right process, milestones and tasks that fit your business.
Two observations about an SFA system:
If it isn’t easy to use, salespeople won’t use it.
If it’s easy to use, but salespeople aren’t getting value, they won’t use it.
Based upon past experience with SFA, or having heard war stories from their peers, salespeople may view SFA as something to be” dealt with.” The required input can be perceived as a burden that mostly benefits others within the organization. In extreme cases, an SFA system can be viewed as “big brother” enabling management to selectively put sellers under a microscope. Salespeople may feign acceptance but work around the system, choosing to enter only those opportunities that appear winnable (or that have already been closed).
By better articulating potential benefits to salespeople—specific metrics for improvement with customers in win rate, reduction in sales cycles, improved cross-selling, quicker startup times, and the like—you can reduce pushback and increase acceptance.
Having milestones, a common skill set for salespeople, consistent product positioning and a way to audit opportunities in place will not ensure success unless your sales force uses the technology. In implementing change, human nature is such that the initial reaction tends to be one of resistance. Many salespeople feel sales is far more art than science and may well be skeptical about relying upon the new system as they attempt to achieve their numbers and desired earnings. One idea some companies have adopted that works well is to form an advisory board with representation from the sales organization to ensure input is solicited for changes and enhancements going forward.
Once past the initial learning curve, salespeople discover that administrative tasks take less time. Complete contact information reduces time spent to oversee activities of other staff within their accounts. Lead tracking minimizes the chance of inadequate or no follow-up. Sales managers can share best practices and begin to manage on an exception basis (those that vary from best practices).
Acceptance by the entire sales organization should contribute to a higher quality pipeline, shorter sales cycles and a “single version of the truth” for all people to access. Senior management can realize increased revenue because salespeople are making better calls, and the CFO can be confident that the forecast resembles reality.
Managers’ support is critical in driving usage of the SFA system. If salespeople sense a lack of commitment by their manager they likely will do whatever minimum gets them through. In the same way salespeople should be “sold” on the personal benefits of SFA, so it should be for first-line managers. If managers had to inspect deliverables input by salespeople before they could grade an opportunity, the adoption would be mandated. Senior sales executives should also imbed the SFA system as one of the fundamental tools sales managers use to assess, support and develop their staff, as well as using the system from their desktops to review the revenue pipeline.