The Alexander Group (AGI) held its Sales Strategy Forum in New York City at the Princeton Club on May 3 – 4. We met to explore two important questions:
What do sophisticated customers expect from important vendor relationships?
What must sales leaders do to meet these expectations?
Here are four top-line insights we took away from that discussion.
Customers Expect Deep Business Insight
A keynote speaker captured it best with a single quote. He said that today’s most successful sales organizations “bring insights that help customers solve problems for their customers.” Sellers look beyond the transaction to the customer need that drives it. Examples include:
Ad sales specialists find ways to help clients reach their own customers through innovative use of print and digital media.
Sellers of cloud-based business applications help deliver technology to end-users in HR, finance and sales so they can, in turn, serve their customers or stake holders more effectively.
Medical device sellers find ways to help doctors and administrators deliver better health care and outcomes at a better price that will benefit both patients and insurers.
Great sales organizations find ways to help their customers run their businesses better. One of the best ways to deliver value is to help sales organizations serve their customers. AGI calls this emerging expectation the “new customer contract.”
A New Contract Requires a New Type of Seller
The Forum explored how this “new contract” is delivered. What manner of salesperson does it take to know a customer’s business so well that they can offer insight and advice on top of products and services? Several examples of what such sellers bring to the table emerged:
Deeper understanding of business: Sellers need to know the issues their customers grapple with. This means, at minimum, training and research must be available, much of it on demand. More often it implies relevant prior experience and vertically oriented deployment or access to subject matter experts with either vertical or functional capability.
Better grasp of the whole product line: Sellers must grasp how systems of products can be configured to support customer business processes. That includes new and old products as well as services. Sellers cannot succeed by focusing on stand-alone products any longer.
Ability to deliver ROI-based messages to high-level executives: Systems of products and services come with a steep price. Procurement and mid-level management are in no position to discuss this. But the C-suite is. Such executives don’t care about individual products or their functionality. They care about results. When the opportunity to engage the C-suite materializes, sellers must be comfortable speaking in terms that resonate with senior executives.
Willingness to lead team resources before, during and after the sale: Sellers do best when they can shape the basis of competition before the customer formulates an RFP. Such pre-sale outreach often means collaborating with field marketing. To ensure customers get the most from their investment after the sale, collaboration between sales and customer care (today often referred to as customer success) is a must.
Successful sellers leverage resources to impact customer thinking from early on when the customer begins “thinking about purchase” to when they are “leveraging their investment” after the sale. It is complex and requires skill; but for the value-centric customer, it is worth it.
Expensive Sales Resources Need Focus
All customers will not bear the cost of such expert coverage. In fact, according to AGI’s 2016 Sales Pulse Survey, about 68 percent of buyers value either solutions or highly differentiated products. The remainder, about 32 percent, are motivated primarily by price. The moral of the story is: a) deliver expertise only where it matters, and b) cover price-oriented customers with highly efficient resources. To do this, sales leaders need to develop or leverage expertise in:
Segmentation – to group customers according to what they value, enabling coverage with the right resources.
Inside Sales – to more efficiently cover price-oriented customers AND deliver value at a distance to solution-oriented buyers in the mid-market. By one account, over 70 percent of customer interaction in the SMB will occur via tele-web techniques in 2016.
A New Path for Sales Leaders
Today’s top sales executives combine expertise in multiple areas: company strategy, customer needs, product innovation, market segmentation and customer care on top of more traditional sales management responsibilities. As several executives at the Strategy Forum noted, such experience generally produces individuals who are well suited for general management duties up to and including the CEO. For companies that seek a “customer first culture” to power their growth, a general management team infused with sales leadership experience may be just what is needed.
Gary Tubridy is a principal 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.