A new mission for sales: “mission improvable”

By: Gary Tubridy Chief Sales Executive Events, Sales Growth

Many sales functions need to re-orient their basic mission, their marching orders. While making the number is still critical, the path to achieving the numbers is also crucial. Customers who make decisions based on “value delivered” will be most inclined to buy from sellers who are positioned as more than a “vendor.” Such customers want to believe they have a “partner” who cares about their success. When selling to such customers the sales mission must be enriched to something more like “growth through customer success.” Or as one executive declared, “We get our growth by making customer growth ‘mission improvable.’” Process matters.

How do you foster an innovative sales culture that constantly looks for ways to help customers improve? We dug into that question at the 2013 Chief Sales Executive Forum. Speakers noted five characteristics of sales organizations that are consistently customer-centric:

See it from the customer’s point of view. Kelly Londy, EVP & Chief Commercial Officer at Accuray described a predicament. Accuray had a great product, the only one of its kind. But it was not selling. To find out why, she took a closer look at the buying process and reached a stark conclusion. An important decision-maker had been overlooked in the sales process: the insurance company. While physicians loved the new product, they rarely used it because patients would not be reimbursed by their insurers. By looking at it from the customer point of view (the patient and the insurer), Londy knew what to do: cover a new decision-maker (insurers) and craft a more complex sales message that stressed treatment savings (attractive to the insurer) AND treatment efficacy (attractive to the physician). Once accomplished, sales soared. Said Londy, “We were looking at the problem from our own product-oriented point of view. When we saw it from the buyer’s point of view, it was clear what we had to do to fix the problem.” Build sales processes around what customers need, not what products do.

At SAP they call this “design thinking”…looking at the application you can deliver from the customer’s point of view at the outset. The fact that SAP software can help a customer manage “big data” is interesting. That this capability can help the customer run their business is better. Marketers and sellers need to think, “What can this product mean to the customer?”

Invest in resources that deliver improvement. At SAP their “value engineering” concept has resulted in a “verticalized” approach to the market made up of customer-facing resources acquired from both leading companies in the vertical and consultancies. They are hired not for their software expertise; they have none. They are hired to team with software specialists to design recommendations based on “what the customer in a particular vertical values.”

At Accuray, they decreased the ratio of sellers per specialist from 9:1 to 4:1. Rationale: enriched expertise in the field that brings value to the physician leads to better outcomes for patients, doctors and hospitals. Both SAP and Accuray invested to help their customers improve outcomes.

Expect glitches. Arthur Rassias of Thomson Reuters knows that when you dive into complex business processes and recommend change, you will run into the occasional wall. When sorting through complexity, mistakes will happen. To this Rassias says, “Get over it.” Glitches happen. More important is how the company and its sellers react to the glitch. That means get on it fast. Let the customer know you are on it. Fix it. Learn from it. Use such glitches as a means to build loyalty.

Be generous with credit. When you know teams of experts are needed to win, be generous with sales credit. Let sellers know that they will be rewarded, not penalized, by bringing the right resources into a sales pursuit. Let the experts know that they too will get their share of the credit. Said Greg McStravick, President,  SAP U.S., “I will credit as many people as it takes to get the job done. Don’t ever let the crediting system get in the way of delivering value.”

Be generous with praise. Find sellers who do it right. Who work to discover the real need. Who bring in the right experts. Who craft articulate and innovative proposals. Who win the repeated praise of their accounts. When you find this, single it out and recognize it publicly. Let people know when they are getting it right. Serve up role models for others to emulate.

What is the mission of your sales organization? Are you really committed to bringing value to customers? Test your operating norms against these five “value markers.” If value is important to your success and if you are missing on one or more of these markers, it may be time to inject more value into your sales mission.

Learn more about Value Selling and Sales Growth at the Alexander Group website.

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Gary Tubridy

Gary Tubridy is a senior vice president of the Alexander Group and the general manager in charge of the firm’s management consulting business. Gary’s consulting work is focused on increasing marketing and sales effectiveness with particular emphasis in technology and medical products industries. Gary has deep expertise in diagnosing sales management issues and helping clients execute action plans to improve results. His research is focused on best practices of leading sales organizations in North America with particular emphasis on sales force transformation and the role of sales leadership. He leads the Alexander Group executive events series and hosts the Operations and Executive Forums. He is one of three founding stockholders of the Alexander Group.


Gary has been with the Alexander Group for over 35 years. Prior to that, Gary was in sales with the IBM Corporation. Gary holds a B.A. from Brown University and an MBA from the Graduate School of Business at Columbia University.


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