This article summarizes the smart decisions sales leaders are making to target investment in their organizations that can help deliver the numbers in tough times. (*Source: 2011 Chief Sales Executive Summit Series)
There’s No Going Back…Value Is Here to Stay. The world of sales has changed. The recent recession introduced an element of sophistication and business savvy among buyers that is not likely to fade anytime soon. Buyers are demanding more value. Sellers can deliver this with either deep discounts or by more creatively applying the products and services they sell to solving customer business problems. If the only way to improve value is to cut price you don’t require an expensive sales force to do it. On the other hand, if the path to value is delivering improved outcomes, then sales expertise is absolutely essential.
This spells opportunity for savvy sales leaders to get busy transforming their sales organizations to deliver more complex value propositions to increasingly sophisticated buyers. Sales leaders declared that positioning their sales forces to add greater value was mission critical in 2011. To accomplish this, many referred to a need to transform the underlying culture of their sales organization. To fund this, sales leaders will need to make “smart moves,” looking for savings on one hand while making investments that can go a long way on the other.
Here are more insights shared by sales executives at the 2011 CSE Summit Series:
A. Stop Wasting Resources on Habitually Poor Investments
- Be aggressive with sub-par performers. Stop wasting time and resources on poor performers. Get a read on the kind of talent needed to add value. Act quickly on sellers who have neither the talent nor the results, who are simply not worth investing in. Such sellers damage your brand and may actually be losing you money every day.
- Stop throwing money at perennially under-performing territories. Some territories never produce. As one executive put it “these dog patch territories always churn when young reps realize they cannot make a living there.” Well, if you can’t make a living there, why keep reassigning it? Recruiting and onboarding cost money. So do under-utilized sellers. Find other means to cover dog-patch territories…use inside sales, flip them to indirect sales, partner inside and outside sales to allow one seller to cover more ground.
- Stop wasting valuable sales time. Sellers with “vision and skill” are expensive. Sales leaders need to get maximum leverage from their unique talent. Yet as sales processes become more complex even the best sellers can get bogged down in longer sales processes, contract complexity, post-sales service and more. What to do? Again – dare to innovate. Expedite business development by teaming expensive outside sales talent with inside business development specialists. Enable customers to serve themselves on routine orders. Improve service efficiency and effectiveness by deploying less costly service specialists. Give account managers access to contracting expertise. With such support many sales executives find they can “cover the market with fewer, better sellers.”
B. Invest In Low Cost Ways to Discover Value
- Mine the field for ideas to improve effectiveness. Leverage the thinking of your best sellers. Many companies use sales councils. Most encourage sellers to express themselves on internal blogs. A few make sure the C-Suite gets unfiltered access to “top gun” ideas. One company takes a small group of super star sellers and gives them unfettered access to engage top executives in “peer to peer” selling to close BIG deals. Such executives are expected to make calls, own issues, support sales efforts and bond with their peers in client accounts. This sales leader said “One of the best moves we ever made was putting our Procurement officer on the sales team and launching him at the customer’s procurement chief. We stopped banging heads, found common ground that only our procurement expert could find and closed good business.”
- Mine customers too. Sales organizations that want insight into value don’t wait for a report from marketing…they leverage their access and go direct to the customer. Customer focus groups allow sellers and marketers to observe and interact with thoughtful clients to gain deeper insight into what is really valued in the sales process beyond just product features.
C. Consider More Significant Investments to Support Value Delivery
The money saved by dealing with poor performers, poor territory designs and poor time management is reinvested in four high impact areas:
- Invest in sellers with “the vision and skills to use products and services to solve customer business problems.” Provocative sellers bring value through specialization in some combination of technology, industry or business function. They bring enough savvy to gain access to functional managers who own real business problems in client accounts. And they keep this access by conceptualizing bundles of products and services, based on deep understanding of business process, that improve throughput or outcomes for their customer.
- Consider investments in potentially game changing technology. The raw materials of value selling are insight and expertise. Executives at the Summits were eager to invest in new technologies that enable sellers to expand their insights and leverage the expertise of the whole company. There were many examples. Some companies use telepresence technology to virtually bring experts into important sales processes in a timely and efficient manner. Still others have implemented cloud-based knowledge sharing systems to give the entire sales force access to industry insights, cutting edge proposals, tips on competitor positioning and more. One leader has deployed iPads to the field so sellers can access sales tools, collateral and even expertise at the point of customer contact.
- Coaching is the fulcrum which successful sales organizations will use to generate transformation leverage. Summit executives highlighted the extreme importance of the first line manager in driving change through a sales organization. Their ability to deliver hands-on coaching and assessment was seen by all as critical. All recognized the need to first “engage them in the rationale for change” and then to “give them to tools to support change.” When launching change most hold special meetings where company leadership lends importance and urgency to the initiative and to the role of the first line manager. Some spoke of what they called a “coaching boot camp” for new and even more senior line managers to enhance their ability to build rep selling skills. All saw the need for large chunks of line manager time to be devoted to aligning and coaching sellers in their new roles.
- Invest in cases, tools and training for sellers to deliver high impact proposals to C-suite customers. Assumptions must be reasonable. Models need to be well thought out. Numbers must stand up to scrutiny. But if you have an articulate, defensible ROI message to support a proposal to change the way the customer looks at a process or an issue, you have a powerful tool to win the support of both general and financial managers for doing business based on value, not discounts. Said one exec, “You only get one chance to deliver a message to this level of executive. You have to get it right the first time. If your ROI message holds water, you have a huge advantage over the competition.”
Concluding Remarks: Our unofficial poll of Summit executives yielded little optimism for robust GDP growth in the remainder of this year or in 2012. Yet these executives are not waiting for the economy to turn around before they take action. They are taking steps right now to position their companies and their sales organizations to make an impact, to differentiate from the competition and to drive growth despite the sluggish economy.
For most that means stepping up to some form of transformation. Lacking significant transformation budget, these leaders are finding the means to change by implementing a three-part strategy;
- Cut wasteful spending
- Take advantage of easily accessed insights and experience
- Spend wisely on programs that help sellers add value to their customers.
But that’s not all. Overlaying this strategy we also noted the importance they attached to nurturing what one executive called “the foundation of a growth culture.” This foundation has two notable attributes: “Sales value vigilance” and “the courage to change.” Neither represents much out-of-pocket cost on the income statement yet each is central to finding and implementing ways to add value to customers. Squeeze the discount mentality out of your culture. Make value selling a central component of your sales strategy. You don’t have to spend a lot to make a big difference.
The Chief Sales Executive Summits are a spin-off of the annual “Chief Sales Executive Forum.” For more information on the Alexander Group’s community of unique events designed solely for sales and marketing leaders – visit our event pages.
Read about this year’s Chief Sales Executive Forum.
Originally published by Mary Catherine Plunkett.