In the end, or is it at the beginning, it is all about Revenue Generation. Strategy Execution will not materialize unless strategies are anchored all the way down to the revenue generation processes. Of course, there is more to generating revenue than having a good strategic plan, a good annual plan, having hired the best people, and having discipline. You have to answer the question “Why aren’t the dogs eating [more of] the dog food?” The answer to that question is never simple; there is rarely a silver bullet.
Extensive win-loss analysis concluded that eight out of ten times business is lost, the real reasons are often one or many of the following(14):
- The real decision-makers have been identified and contacted too late in the sale
- All energy has been focused on people we get on well with, but lack authority
- Precious resources have been wasted due to inadequate project qualification
- The account team has operated in an uncoordinated manner
- The proposal lacks cost justification and customer-oriented value propositions
- Excuses are used instead of learning from mistakes
However, beyond an effective sales process, Selling Strategically requires a complete linkage between, vision, mission, strategies, a sales governance model, sales-process management, opportunity management, and sales execution techniques.
Sales leadership starts in the office of the CEO. CEOs need to realize that it is the organization’s responsibility to see that sales people are successful, and not the other way around. The office of the CEO must induce a culture of strategic selling to the whole organization. Selling strategically means implementing a Sales Governance Model and developing competencies at 3 levels: Sales Governance, Sales-Cycle Management and Sales Execution.
Also, the CEO has to realize that there are many people that are, and need to be involved in the actual selling process; all of whom must be equipped and appropriately briefed in order to not destroying accidentally sales opportunities. These include, amongst others, the CEO him/herself, sales executives, sales representatives, sales engineers, services executives, the marketing staff, the telesales staff, the customer service staff and administrative staffs, inside sales support personnel, legal executives and staffs, marketing executive, administration staffs, partners and even other customers.
Selling is part art, part science. The good news is, the art part can be acquired, and the science part can be implemented. The bad news is, you have to continue to work at improving those skills. One of the so-called habits of highly effective people is "sharpening the saw"... in other words, cultivating your powers with periods of rest and study.
The Art of Selling
In a traditional direct selling model, the art of selling is embedded in the sales representatives. It is they who sit across the table, or at the other end of a telephone exchange, and must embodied the secrets necessary to get the prospective buyer to the next stage, only to the next stage.
In today’s competitive economy and ultra-low unemployment levels, recruiting (not to mention retaining) great salespeople is a difficult challenge. Nonetheless, CEOs have to ensure their organizations rise to that challenge and hire smart, and hire right, the first time.
Caliper, a human resources consulting organization in Princeton, New Jersey, conducted a study in 1999 on the personality traits and attributes common to great salespeople. Their intent was to provide managers with a foundation for making hiring decisions; to uncover the inner workings of truly great salespeople and distill those qualities into a list of traits to look for in new sales reps; and to help organizations find successful salespeople. By determining which potential hires or current employees possess these traits, you can pinpoint and nurture those likely to be future stars.
In the end, you need to have the right sales people that have the right basic selling skills. Interviewing to hire the right sales person is very difficult; it goes well beyond the person’s record of accomplishment. A sales person must have a successful track-record, but more importantly, he/she must now why they have been successful. They must understand what it is that they do that makes them win, and what it is they did not do, when they lost. As you probe on their stories, look for these traits:
- Ego Strength
- A Sense Of Urgency
- Ego Drive
- A Willingness To Take Risks
- Abstract Reasoning
- A Healthy Sense Of Skepticism
Not every salesperson is going to possess every one of these traits, nor will every potential new hire. However, these traits should help you assess top-notch new talent. While about two thirds of Caliper’s survey top performers did come from other organizations (meaning you might have to poach from your competitors), a more telling statistic is that one third of those sales stars did not have prior sales experience. If employees in other departments of your organization possess these traits, by all means, recruit them.
These 10 traits are only a starting point. You need to see if there are others traits that are necessary for success in your industry, and then prioritize those traits during the interview process. Pick the five most important for a first interview; if a candidate possesses those, pick another five, and continue until you find someone with 75 percent of the desired traits.
The 10 traits offer an important framework for hiring, because they must be inherent. One of the fallacies of the sales training arena is that training can correct traits, but the reality is that these traits cannot be trained, in any short periods. When you hire a sale rep, you get what you get and you are stuck. So you better know what you want and hire that.
The Science of Selling
The first step is to better understand why you have been successful, or failed in the past. This requires that you take a long and hard look at your best customers, and ask them, or at least yourself, why did they buy from you back then, and what will it take for them to buy from you again? And also, you should take a long, hard and brutally honest look at the deals you have lost and really understand the reasons for the prospects decision. If you are being told you win business because of great salesmanship, or that you lose business because of price, you are being snowed! It is actually the other way around. You always lose business because of poor salesmanship – i.e. you have been outsold by the alternative solution; and you never win business because of price – but rather because the customer perceived value.
Because bad sales leadership is just as lethal as poor closing skills, because going after the wrong market is just as ineffective as delivering sluggish customer presentations, because keeping underperforming sales people is just as expensive as working on unqualified prospects, the Executive4sights’ Sales Governance Model encompasses all the aspects of generating revenue.
A great sales person will manage his/her sales cycles to mitigate other weaknesses in the organization’s selling paradigm, but it would be a mistake to believe all your sales people are at that level of efficiency and effectiveness. Less than 10% are.
To make the other 90% of their sales people more successful, organizations should look at their sales model in a holistic manner. It is our belief that organizations are responsible for the success of their sales people, and not the other way around.
The Executive4sights Sales Governance Model creates a sales culture which looks at the selling paradigm in its entirety, and is broken into three levels: Sales Governance, Sales-Cycle Management and Sales Execution.
Sales governance encompasses all the aspects of generating revenue, creating a sales culture at the leadership level, the sales management level, at the sales-cycle level and sales skills level.
If the organization fails at one of these skills, the anticipated revenue will not materialize and the organization will not meet its goals.
When in doubt – do not hire.
Hiring sales leaders is one of the most critical success factors of any organization and one of the most difficult hire to make. The failure to hire the proper sales executive will have tremendous negative impact in time, money, opportunity and morale. Just consider the time aspect. One has to recruit (3-4 months), hire (1 month), ramp-up (4-6 months), realize the sales leader is not delivering (6-9 months), de-hire (1 month), recruit the replacement (3-4 months), ramp-up (4 months). In all, a hiring mistake, at the sales leadership level, will cost an organization from 18 months to 30 months. No one can afford this waste of time, not counting the direct financial cost in hiring and de-hiring fees and the even greater opportunity cost in list potential transactions and market position.
Hiring a great Sales Leader is difficult because, to be a good sales leader, a person has to have been a great sales person, and therefore they can sell themselves. Unfortunately, very few great sales people can turn into great Sales Leaders. Great sales leaders encompass the following traits:
- Been a star sales rep
- An eye for good talent
- A sense of urgency
- A knack for numbers
- Active listening
- Strategic thinker
- Leadership and mentoring skills
- Enormous egos need not apply
- Experience counts
- Organization fit
- Ability to delay gratification
What is it that you said or did, or say and do, that compels people into the motion of buying? Are you competing with “do nothing”? How effective are your sales representatives at understanding customer requirements, discovering pains, creating solutions, making the solution stand alone and triggering the purchase moment?
Corporate and sales messaging
Corporate and sales messaging is the first component of a scientific selling model. It is about creating a compelling and unique value proposition.
It is about clearly understanding and articulating your Power Positions.
Creating good messaging is hard, very hard. You need to understand your target customer very well, you need to understand your competition very well, and you need to identify those elements that are important to your customers and unique to you. Each of these three steps needs to be executed with disciple and methods that ensure you’re dealing with reality and not internal perceptions of the customer needs and competitive position.
Messaging needs to align in all aspects of your business. You cannot afford to have contradictory or misaligned components. For example, if you are claiming to be a world’s leader in you field and your sales reps dress like hobos, then your messaging is misaligned. Clearly, messaging is not only about the words you use, but also about the image you portray in your brochures, on you website, in the kind of people that work for you. It is about your corporate culture as well.
In Jim Clemmer’s book “Growing the Distance”, a poem by James Allen offers a powerful vision of how our conduct reveals our core values and shapes your messages:
You Tell On Yourself
You tell on yourself by the friends you seek
By the manner in which you speak
By the way you employ your leisure time
By the use you make of dollar and dime
You tell what you are by the things you wear
By the spirit in which your burdens bear
By the kind of things at which you laugh
By the records you play on the phonograph
You tell what you are by the way you walk
By the things of which you delight to talk
By the manner in which you bear defeat
By so simple a thing as how you eat
By the books you choose from the well-filled shelf
In these ways and more, you tell on yourself.
In these ways and so many more you tell about your organization, your solutions, your motives and many more.
Your science of selling needs to be documented into your Sales Playbook. This is a living document, updated regularly that will include the following:
- The Meta Message (including THE BIG picture)
- 5+ Power Positions, including for each Sound Bytes, a Big Picture, a detailed explanation, competitive positioning, contrasting stories (current pains and future gains), grabbers (What ifs, Word/Number plays, 3D props, mini drama, cooking demo)
- Customer Benefits, including market trends, ROI, case studies
- Competitive analysis of each major competitor (including status-quo) including positioning, positioning evolution, competitive SWOT, and Win/Loss analysis
- Staking your Claims (at what are you the Only, First, Biggest, …)
- Profile of the Zebra (the perfect prospect) describing the path of least resistance to a sale
- Organization credentials
- Probing / disqualifying questions
- Criterion to assess your current position in a sales situation
- Objection reframes
- Presentation story board
- Modules and pricing
- Alliances & partnerships
- Professional or delivery services
- Contract, legal and administration
Marketing & Demand Management
Once you have your messaging well articulated, you need to let the world know. This is generally a function of marketing. Marketing is there to support research, branding, sales, community and marketplace building, M&As, IPO, thought leadership, and even internal communications, locally and abroad. Marketing should be able to deliver, internally or via outsourced services functions such as:
- Branding (organization Name, Product Names, Tag Lines, Colors, Key Messages, …)
- Creative services (Ads, Images, Metaphors, PowerPoints, …)
- Collateral Material creation
- Web-site design and other related services
- Seminars, conferences and Trade shows (Themes, Organization, Execution, Speaking opportunities, Analyst coverage, …)
- Advertising placement
- Public Relation
- Technical writing (White papers, bi-line, speeches, …)
In the end, all of these activities are only there for on reason: to generate more sales.
Like other business processes in the organization, sales management is governed by processes. Sales management is one of the most important business processes as it provides an early indicator of future business health. One of the most challenging sales management activities is sales forecasting. It is our philosophy that all sales forecast should bare the mention “Objects on this page are smaller and further away than they appear” because sales forecast are produced by optimistic sales people, tempered down by optimistic sales managers, and further watered down by hopeful sales executives. We do not adhering to Management-by-Hope principles, we want to see plans.
Sales-Cycle Management covers aspects of effectiveness and efficiency of the sales process. Best in class organizations have a documented five to seven step selling process. At the minimum it should include phases such as Identifying or Qualifying, Getting In or Solution building, Getting Considered or Shaping the deal, Getting Evaluated or Building Momentum, Getting Selected or Staging the close and Getting Bought or Closing. The sales execution process assists the sales team to understand how advanced a sales situation is, the outcome of previous activities and the forthcoming activities. It will identify resources required from both the prospects and your own side. It will assist in defining the time horizon in which a particular transaction may materialize. It will require, and even force the implementation of a structured account planning process, it will require involvement of the whole organization in relationship building, it will maximize the likelihood of success.
Account and Opportunity Management
Opportunity Management implements a structured approach to selling in today’s complex and highly competitive selling environment. We subscribe to the Power-Base selling methodology introduced by the Holden Corporation in 1990. We have expanded the Power-Base selling model and use this approach to move sales personnel to a Stage-IV selling paradigm. Stage-IV selling is about owning 100% of a customer’s business by leveraging an entire ecosystem to create a high degree of dependency, and therefore stickiness, all the while developing a strong vendor/customer partnership. It is highly beneficial to both the vendor and the customer and particularly effective with larger organizations.
Our approach to selling follows many military strategist and consists on winning on paper first. As such, account and opportunity management should include such activities as:
- Account Strategy Definition using RGB’s Opportunity Vulnerability IndexTM
- Account SWAT Team Building
- Doing and maintaining a SWOT Analysis
- Setting sales goals for the campaign (even before you speak with the customer/prospective customer)
- Assembling Competitive Intelligence (Identify and learn about the allies and the enemies)
- Shaping the Deals (reshape customer requirements to meet your criteria)
- SWAT Communications (Inform and instruct the armies)
- Sales Messaging
- Engaging Alliances and Partners
- Account Management
- Sales Coaching
- Ensuring execution is flawless
- Re- strategizing regularly
Great strategic sales people use these practices. They recognize that the battlefield is the target customer org. chart. They start with a comprehensive account profiling process to clearly understand the battlefield. Then, decisions need to be made (and adjusted through the sales process) to balance Speed, Depth and Breadth of the opportunity. Then an account strategy is developed to create the demand (usually by emphasizing the pains) in the Must-Win accounts. Then the sales process engages by meeting people. It is always easier to get in when you have a warm introduction and then navigate from one warm intro to the next (upstream, as the case may be). The major components of an effective sales campaign include:
- Cold Calling
- Navigating Organizations
- Presentation Skills
- Objection handling skills
- Getting to YES
Effective sales execution is not easy. Remember that you start selling when the prospects says NO! Until then you’ve been taking orders… Finally, you want to use Getting to YES, even if it means using psychology tactics such as Reciprocation, Consistency, Social Validation, Liking, Authority and Scarcity.