The challenge isn’t necessarily to recognize this change in the buying and selling environment, but to know what to do about it.
Sales organizations or individual reps mired in the old ways of selling are destined to fall short of their target and find themselves in trouble or replaced by those that “get it.” Are your sales reps poised to sell to today’s buyers? Are they confident doing so, is it a stretch, or is it far beyond their comfort zone?
A recent Bain Brief underscored what’s at stake: “As customers seize the balance of power and more aspects of the sales process migrate online, leading B2B sales organizations find they must radically restructure their approach.” According to the article, those companies that succeed in making those radical changes “are realizing EBITDA growth of 20% to 25%” by following what they refer to as six imperatives, which are listed below.
Six Imperatives for the New Reality of Sales
1) Stay on target. Develop a sales system that matches the right offer at the right time to the target segment and delights customers based on a deep understanding of their priorities.
You must be keenly aware of your targets’ (both prospects and current customers) wants and desires as well as challenges and opportunities. This must be done in real time – not monthly or quarterly – to be of service before a competitor beats you to it.
2) Know customer value and values. Enable your front line to understand a customer’s value to the firm’s growth and profitability, as well as the customer’s decision dynamics.
This is more than knowing an industry or individual, but rather each target’s specific corporate culture, operating environment, and preferences. Each selling opportunity must be treated as unique and specific, not generalized or based on assumptions.
3) Re-imagine the channel mix. Invest in low- and high-touch channels to match sales capacity with opportunity and customer preference, then double down on self-service digital channels to help customers help themselves, earning loyalty and a high ROI.
Don’t put all of your marketing and sales eggs in one basket – either traditional channels or purely social media. Balance the old and new and (re)deploy your resources accordingly where they can be of best use and value to your buyers.
4) Align resources across marketing and sales. Seamlessly integrate marketing priorities with sales channel mix and capacity. Rethink where marketing ends and sales begins, as buying processes begin earlier than ever.
Force your team to think from the outside-in to see what your buyers are exposed to from both push and pull perspectives. Does it jibe, or is it disjointed and confusing? Get your act together to tell a consistent story and present a cohesive story to your buyers.
Also consider how much information you’re sharing with targets and at what stage of the sales process. You have to be willing to give buyers something to keep them interested. If it’s not enough, they’ll likely keep searching until they find what they’re looking for (from your competitors).
5) Raise the bar on talent. To build the next generation of sellers, elevate expectations and strengthen capabilities. Recruit people with relevant expertise, and train sellers to make the most of their time with customers.
What competencies are required of your sales roles for success? How can you help them master those competencies and skills? Adjust your training programs accordingly and be prepared to make tough decisions about those who can’t make the transition to support your new approach to selling.
6) Get the wiring right to unlock sales capacity. To reinforce new behaviors and track effectiveness, invest in data and analytics, system linkages, compensation and tools.
Once you’ve mastered the first five items, the last thing you want to do is torpedo your efforts by maintaining old habits, tools, or administrative tasks that are out of sync with your new approach. Take a step back to ensure that all touchpoints from marketing to IT, HR, and Accounting and beyond are supporting your new reality and not dragging your sales team back to the past.
This research by Bain and the findings they put forth in their paper are enlightening. The world of buying and selling is moving into new territory, to which sales organizations need to adapt in order to remain relevant and competitive.
Such strategic changes need to be implemented through your people, which is easier said than done. How will you move your organization from where you are to where you need to be? Few companies or leaders can get there on their own. Helping to set the right course to train your people and change their behaviors to align with your new selling strategy and priorities is our specialty.