In Part 1, Alexander Group identified eight principles that top companies and their sales leaders used to reinvent their approach to customer coverage.

PRINCIPLE 1: You serve diverse buyer segments … act like it
PRINCIPLE 2: Serve different segments with different sales motions
PRINCIPLE 3: Deliver sales messages that matter
PRINCIPLE 4: Focus scarce investment dollars for maximum return
PRINCIPLE 5: Position your sellers to deliver impact
PRINCIPLE 6: Ask sellers what they need
PRINCIPLE 7: De-isolate the sales function
PRINCIPLE 8: Always be learning

In this article, Alexander Group will discuss details on the last two principles of reinvention.

Principle 7 – De-isolate the Sales Function

With the sales function gaining recognition as a strategic asset, sales leaders should be engaging with top company leaders on a more regular and interactive basis. Specifically, sales leadership should contribute to both strategic decisions and to discussions on how best to implement them. The leadership teams at top companies (including Sales leaders) know that effective strategy implementation requires that management does consider the “realities” of the sellers on the ground with customers. Consider the following examples:

  • At American Express Global Corporate Payments, Lisa Marks, Vice President and General Manager, took out several layers of sales management, placing sellers closer to her and to senior management of the company. And as a prerequisite for accepting the job, Lisa meets with her CEO on a regular basis to deliver insight, hear feedback and participate in an ongoing strategic discussion.
  • Pitney Bowes sought improved transparency in forecasting. Accomplishing this required a new communication cadence that would promise to be an operational challenge. Sales Ops took the lead in building a new pipeline review cadence with the CEO, Business Unit leaders and Country Leaders every other week. In this regimen, geography management and product management are brought together by the Sales function to discuss strategy and tactics to make the numbers.

In many organizations the sales function is in a unique position to play this integrative role. It is the one function that understands both the product line and the customer, and its voice is becoming a necessary part of designing and executing successful growth strategy.

Principle 8 – Always Be Learning

Customers are the core source of insight regarding value for companies that are willing to listen. At the 2015 Forum we learned how some companies maximize their learning by introducing tools and processes that compel marketing and sales to partner with each other and with customers. Noted below are some of the ways in which this is done:

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The tools at the heart of the intersection between customers, marketing and sales bring all three parties together. The corporate Center of Excellence provides customers, sales, marketing and top executives with a venue to learn about current strengths and capabilities. Facilitated brainstorming sessions enable Customers, Marketing, Sales and Innovation executives to speak openly of future strategies, challenges and ways they could work together.

Other tools (such as Customer Panels and marketer/seller “ride withs”) foster connections between Marketing and the customer or between Marketing and Sales. Consider some examples:

  • eBay deploys an entire department of researchers (that report into top sales management) who uncover how their customers derive value from services they buy … then package up this wisdom for Sales and Marketing to use
  • LinkedIn helps sellers determine how well they are using social media to stay connected with customers
  • At American Express, Marketing has deployed a discovery template so sellers can learn more about customer needs at the outset of a relationship
  • At GE BioProcess, Marketing helps sellers place their customers in a business context by uncovering industry-wide pressure points and training them on relevant GE solutions
  • Oracle makes sure that Marketing supports a “dynamic learning culture” by providing sellers fresh material every day on the company intranet while sellers are coached to invest one hour per day learning and consuming this new material

Customer insights are there for companies and for sellers that choose to pursue them. This requires a thirst for learning and a willingness to collaborate. The common denominator among the examples noted here is that each of these companies has carefully created and nurtured a learning culture.

Does sales force reinvention work?

The numbers tell a story:

  1. A medical device company swung from a $100 million dollar loss to a $172 million profit over three years by focusing on customers instead of products
  2. An office products firm pushed EBITDA up 25 percent by emphasizing efficiency in flat markets and bolstering investment in growth markets
  3. An industrial company pushed sales productivity up 22 percent and increased key account revenue 21 percent by shifting valuable sales resources to the best opportunities
  4. A tech firm cut the cost of sales by 2 percent and increased sales productivity 8 percent by streamlining sales enablement

The numbers are compelling, but they are only a start. Each of the above companies would say the same thing: Reinvention is not an event; it is a process. Change is a constant among customers, products and competition. Sales leadership is at its best when it finds ways to take advantage of these changes and to better serve its customers. Sales force reinvention is not about revolution. Rather, it is a constant series of small changes, inspired by the customer, that enable the sales force to deliver more value and greater differentiation.

Read Part 1, Part 2 or Part 3 of this series.

Categories:

Insight type: Article

Industry: Cross-Industry

Role: C-Suite, Sales and Marketing Leadership

Topic: Events, Sales Growth