2014Theme-Insight-Led-Selling-logoAccording to a Harvard Business Review article in the September 2014 issue, research shows that only 10 percent of business strategies are effectively implemented. A primary culprit for this…

“Management embarks on a strategy without considering the realities facing the people who must execute it with paying customers.”

To improve the odds of success with a new strategy, the sales force tasked with implementing it must be considered—perhaps even reinvented—to better deliver the right messages to the right buyers while balancing cost against effectiveness. What does it mean to be “reinvented”? That is the question we examined at the 2014 Chief Sales Executive Forum with seven keynote speakers, seven briefings, six breakout sessions and eight interactive roundtables. Six dimensions of reinvention were identified. What follows is a quick summary.

Multiple buyer segments must be served

Alexander Group’s 2014/15 Sales Pulse Survey told us that buyers are broken into three types, all of roughly equal size:

  1. Price seekers; largely procurement types
  2. Product seekers; looking for specific products with the best features
  3. Innovation seekers; looking for insight into how products/services can be used to help run their businesses better

These three segments are defined not by what or how much is bought. They are defined by how products are evaluated. The sales organization has to be capable enough to cover all three segments.

Multiple sales motions are needed to do this

Sales forces may need to be reinvented to serve all three buyer segments well. To accomplish this a sales force must execute three distinct sales motions:

  1. Fulfillment; getting price and availability information to buyers as efficiently as possible, using alternate channels and self-service on the web
  2. Product advocacy; offering expert opinions on how your products are different and why that is important
  3. Innovation; helping top level customer executives think through how combinations of your products and services can help them run important business processes better

Sellers need messages that matter

What the seller says to resonate with these multiple buyer types cannot be taken for granted. In fact, many companies are building new processes, some housed in Marketing, some in Sales, to harvest insights into what innovative customers value and how they are using products and services. These insights are then packaged into playbooks and collateral that sellers will actually use to engage the interest and attention of other customers. These new processes harvest important intellectual capital and help scale it across the sales organization.

Success means building bridges to other functions

To harvest IP, design new motions and craft messages that matter (let alone the tools to deliver these messages), sales organizations are building new and more productive relationships with their partners in Marketing, Product Innovation and Service. The expertise to do this is frequently too scattered. New processes bring the right expertise into play and provide critical mass.

Take a fresh look at how to enable sellers

Top organizations are taking steps to streamline how sales tools/training are developed and delivered. Two pieces of advice resonate:

  1. Make it useful.  Start by understanding the needs of the sellers and partners and deliver what they will use. Don’t overwhelm with quantity, pushing to all sellers like a buffet meal. That wastes budget, and sellers on the whole ignore tools they do not find useful. Find out what is needed. Create tools and test them. Create positive buzz. Less can be more.
  2. Make it available. Invest in your distribution mechanism. Create a web portal that is “user friendly” and ensure that it is constantly updated with insights and information that they can use. Better yet, when the seller logs in, push insights to them based on their role and its typical needs. If Amazon can do it for customers, why can’t the sales enablement team do it for sellers?

De-isolate the sales function—build a relationship with senior management

Don’t create so much distance between line sellers and top management that they are virtually disconnected from the company, the strategy, the mission. Top sales executives should have a meaningful relationship and regular dialog with the CEO and COO. Insights, advice and requests should move up and down the chain. Top executives should feel a connection with the sales organization and through them, the customer. And sellers should feel a connection with their company and their leadership.

Does reinvention work?

The numbers tell a story:

  1. A medical device firm swung from a $100 million dollar loss to a $172 million profit over three years
  2. An office products firm got focused on key markets and pushed EBITDA up 25 percent
  3. An industrial firm pushed sales productivity up 22 percent while increasing key account revenue 21 percent
  4. A tech firm streamlined sales enablement and cut the cost of sales by 2 percent while increasing sales productivity 8 percent

The numbers are strong, but 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. The best sales leadership is looking for ways to reinvent the sales function to take advantage of this change and better serve the customer every day.

Learn more about the findings from the 2014 CSE Reinvention Forum – sign up for your complimentary briefing today!