I’m often asked how a company that started more than 10 years ago focused on sales advisory, building sales processes and training and coaching salespeople became an inbound marketing and sales development company.
The answer is actually quite simple. The world changed dramatically from 2004 - 2010. As we were coaching sales teams, we increasingly saw two major barriers that prevented the consistent results we strived for:
- We saw that salespeople (for mid-market companies at least) were getting fewer and fewer opportunities. This not only made it more difficult to hit a number, it made it far more difficult to teach new skills. Changing while you’re scared that you don’t have enough opportunities is virtually impossible.
- Even more importantly, what we saw was that by the time an opportunity got to the salesperson, the sales rep was put in a position of weakness. What later got dubbed The Zero Moment of Truth explained why this was happening.
We realized that if we wanted to solve the problems at the bottom of the funnel, we first needed to help the companies we worked with solve the problems that were happening at the top and the middle of the funnel.
Yesterday I shared my experience on what organizations have to do to structurally ensure that their salespeople could consistently hit their number, before a lead became sales qualified. Today I’m going to share what has to happen afterwards.
Please don’t overlook yesterday’s post. The failure to create a strong foundation for success will drag down the impact of the investments you make in your sales efforts.
1. Make Selling A Team Sport
I’ve always been a baseball fan. I think one of the reasons I loved it so much is that while it was a team sport, there are also a lot of individual sport mindsets to it. You had the benefits of a team, but individual contribution was equally key.
It’s probably why I liked sales so much when I started. I loved the fact that I had a team I could collaborate with, but when I was in the field I could make the call and take advantage of my individual strengths.
While selling today still has some of that, it’s nowhere like it was. B2B selling is just too complex to rely on individuals. There are two components that today’s most successful selling organizations have in common:
- Specialization. Whether you talking about utilizing sales development for prospecting, sales engineers, account managers, product line specialists or more; fast growing organizations are focusing on specific skills sets and objectives to increase the capacity to sell, lower their sales costs and improve their velocity.
- Total sales and marketing alignment and integration. Marketing, and more specifically the content created by marketing and the data and intelligence gained from marketing, need to be integrated and used throughout the entire sales process - not just for lead generation.
Today successful selling is truly a team sport...embrace it.
2. Build Diagnostic Mastery
My friend John Barrows warns sales organizations that those that aren’t truly creating value should fear for their jobs (be sure to listen to our upcoming podcast where he shares his insights). He points out that marketing and sales automation combined with advances in artificial intelligence will displace many of the sales jobs that exist today. Some research indicates that as many as 1 million sales jobs will disappear by 2020.
I’ve lost count with the number of sales processes that I’ve gone through where I’ve wondered, “Why is this salesperson even here? It would be easier if I just did this myself.” And guess what?! Many companies are taking that exact approach (I’ll share in a future post why this is a BAD idea for most growth-focused companies).
Six years ago I wrote about “The Shift” in selling. Salespeople (still) need to move from “selling stuff” (and even “differentiated stuff”) to selling results. While much has been written about how “helping” is the “new selling,” helping isn’t enough (that’s getting automated too).
Instead salespeople must become teachers and they must be able to deliver a clear point-of-view. Salespeople must be able to take their prospects deeper than where they started to help them understand their problems, what’s preventing the results they desire and how to manage the process to get there.
Mastering this process requires far more than sales training, or reliance on salespeople alone. The company and sales managers have a crucial role in building the structure, systems, playbooks, content and processes to make this happen.
3. Arm Your Sales Team with Resonating Questions
Salespeople ask a lot of crappy questions. I’m blown away by how bad the questions that most salespeople ask are. It’s frightening, because while I think selling has improved overall in the last decade, the ability to ask questions seems to be regressing.
The scary thing is that asking really good to great questions is more important than ever. Buyers don’t need sellers to give them answers - Google, Siri and Alexa can do that. What they need are the people who can ask them the right questions; questions that change how they think about issues and move them to find better answers.
A powerful question resonates with a buyer. It causes them to think and to learn. And if you’re not doing that consistently, you’re not going to hit your number consistently; and frankly you’ll probably be one of the 1 million I referred to earlier.
If you’re looking to get started on asking better questions, you can read the 5 Rules for Asking Effective Questions, and 36 Questions Any B2B Salesperson Can Use to Shorten Their Sales Cycle.
4. Make Data-Back Sales Decisions (Stop Relying on Your Gut)
For years sales was driven by a focus on behavior and gut instinct. Unfortunately far too many companies are taking the same approach, and it’s killing their growth efforts.
Sales and sports are often linked together because of the similarities. Sports used to be driven by gut. Everything used to be about passing the “eye test,” did you look like a ballplayer. Today sports franchises are investing millions into advanced analytics capabilities and people.
Sports executives realize what all too few sales executives do - there’s no value in arguing about opinions and beliefs when you can use facts and data to figure it out. The key to sales success does not lay in focusing on the end result, but rather focusing on what causes it. Build the analytics and metrics so you can back data-backed decisions.
5. Learn How To Close Business In A Post ZMOT World
“So, if I can put you in a car that you like at a payment you’re comfortable with, is there any reason you wouldn’t drive it off the lot tonight?” Or whatever traditional closing approach you’ve used in your industry, just doesn’t cut it anymore. On the other hand, taking the exact opposite approach based on the belief that “if prospects want to buy, they’ll buy” is equally dangerous.
The ability to command a sales process and close business is still very important (maybe more important than ever). However, the approaches used to close business must change.
Salespeople must be able to highlight and communicate the cost of not take action, and the consequences of using or not using the proposed solution. Closing, requires effective actions taken before the time comes to close business. Salespeople must have the business acumen to lead their prospects through the journey towards a decision.
Additionally they must have the content and resources to support a more complex, consensus driven buying process. When salespeople develop and demonstrate the leadership that comes with mastering the strategies I share in this post they are no longer perceived as salespeople. Instead they’re viewed as advisors, who bring great value to the table and whose insights and advice are taken seriously.
When that happens, hitting your number becomes a byproduct and not the goal.