An Insider’s View of World-Class Sales Organizations
The Dow hit an all-time high three days in a row this week, and now stands at 14,329.49 on Thursday, March 7. With this, and upbeat hiring reports, record car sales, promising housing starts, things look far sunnier than the cloudy uncertainties of the past five years.
During the recession, many organizations froze up, hid out, and sales flattened. Even so, a stellar few kept growing. World-class sales organizations know how to withstand the ups and downs of fickle economic cycles, and thrive while doing it. What do they know that we don’t?
For one, these organizations follow best practices that include a well-defined sales process. CSO Insight researched such firms, and found they doubled growth from 2008 to 2010, two of the toughest years in our economic history.
World-class sales organizations don’t lead with products, services or solutions because they know that to B2B buyers these offerings all sound the same.
Instead, these top teams share a compelling business story with the prospect, and then lead him into a tangible discussion of their points of differentiation. As part of their sales DNA, they understand that this approach allows prospects to self-discover, self-identify and self-select their solution. You can, too.
According to Miller Heiman’s Twelve Initiatives of World-Class Sales Organizations, top-performing firms posted nearly 20 percent better year-over-year growth in the following metrics, when compared to other respondents in their study:
- Qualified opportunities
- Account acquisition
- Account retention
- Productivity per salesperson
- Quota achievement
The research focused on strategic issues facing companies, and sought to answer the question:
What were the activities that world-class sales organizations applied more frequently to differentiate themselves and produce superior results?
Obvious, but worth repeating, a strategic issue poses a question that requires critical thought, data, perspective, knowledge and context in order for organizations to arrive at comprehensive answers.
One of the participants in the Miller Heiman study summed up this situation this way, “People blame the economy when, in fact, there is still plenty of business in the market.”
Along with confirming the importance of a sales process, the study outlined the three major preoccupations of top- performing sales organizations:
- Fully understand your customer/client needs
- Set clear priorities for frontline sales management
- Improve business results by using technology effectively
Understand Your Customers and Clients
By carefully targeting the ideal customer, and thoroughly researching his behaviors and issues, top sales teams increase their closing ratio even while reducing the number of opportunities in the pipeline. Less administrative headaches. Less paperwork. More customer face time.
Too many salespeople, financial advisors and professional consultants get caught up with the wrong prospect because they don’t do enough homework before the initial call. Sales cycles drag on, competitors snag opportunities, or the prospect simply sticks to status quo. Nothing happens.
One recent client reduced lead flow through the sales funnel by 36 percent, while boosting closed deals by an enviable 89 percent. When you follow a process so does your pipeline. You can predict outcomes. You can manage opportunities. You save time and money for the organization.
Simplistic, you say? Maybe. But it works. And few people do it.
Another Miller Heiman best practice: Never move on to the next step in the process without first getting your prospect to commit to some type of action.
If the prospect says, as he leaves your meeting, “I’ll think it over,” that’s not a commitment.
You must involve the prospect in a collaborative process, so she must exert effort, too. Consider this situation. In a recent new client opportunity, I met with the firm’s CEO, and sensed he was warming up to the ideas I shared from my research.
To get him to commit, I asked, “don’t you think a good next step is to schedule a meeting with your CFO and HR director to discuss these possible solutions?” If he said no, he wasn’t committed. I had more work to do. Fortunately, he agreed, and took a small step forward in the funnel.
Set Clear Priorities for Frontline Sales Management
World-class sales organizations follow priorities, set clear goals, and re-evaluate as conditions change so that organizational priorities are always brought back into balance.
Another revelation in the Miller Heiman study on world-class sales organizations was the critical role of coaching. Sales managers who can coach teams effectively consistently deliver more value to their organizations. Coach-oriented sales managers understand the timing differences between sales call feedback and real sales coaching.
Sales coaching takes a certain type of personality and companies are well-advised to screen for best behaviors. The best sales coaches bring clarity to the team, build confidence in the effort, and guide members through sticky situations that could otherwise cost sales.
Coaching is a smart investment to raise productivity and performance. You can bring coach types in to the line functions or hire outside coaching consultants to work with your team, assuming the consultant has been well-vetted.
Even smaller organizations without sales management must, at a minimum, debrief sales calls. Do a post-meeting evaluation to ensure personalities align, glitches are smoothed out, and missed opportunities are discovered and flagged for follow up.
What you learn forms the basis for prospect strategy going forward. If your reps or advisors speak the same language, understand the process, and the buyer persona, they can help each other maneuver swiftly through the selling process.
In the Miller Heiman study, nearly all world-class sales organizations set clearly defined activities for each stage in their sales funnels. Only 30 percent of non-world-class companies report doing so.
During my executive benefit consulting days, I had a key prospect who met my ideal client profile, let’s call it Acme Manufacturing. I immediately entered all of e-data into my systems, taking extra time to identify and input all of the buying influences.
Next, I cross-referenced my contacts with Linked In, and other sources, to see where I could make connections and build credibility, based on common relationships. I then added key Acme contacts to our newsletter, white paper and contact lists, and watched open rates and click-throughs.
Soon, I invited select staffers to our monthly webinars, and tracked which topics held appeal for them.
Six months into this process, the CFO called me and asked if I could attend an executive compensation committee meeting. Taken aback, this is an unusual request for a new buyer, I immediately accepted.
I dug in and asked to schedule a pre-meeting to better understand issues on Acme’s plate. That way I could offer more direct insight. But he said no need, and thought we were well qualified. He had downloaded several white papers and attended several webinars (which we knew). Of course, by this time, my arms were outstretched.
He went on to say that from watching our website videos, “ I think you are someone who can work well with our board.” Because I had data on his interest, it was easy for me to direct the conversation to certain topics, and to identify the key business issues facing him.
Everything tied together so beautifully—CRM, marketing tactics—even I was pleased by how effectively the process worked. Trust me, my team was conditioned, warmed up and ready for the initial meeting.
Just as the lay-up is the most important shot in golf, your sales process is the most important contributor to closing the deal.
Work hard to know what’s going on in the world of your prospect, customer or client.
Understand how to adapt your strategy to meet his or her need.
Saturate your organization in that thinking so everyone can rally around the prospect’s cause, like the gallery at the 18th hole of a Woods/Mickelson playoff. Sweet, sweet success.
See you on the upside,