The Selling Conundrum

The Selling Conundrum

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There is an interesting infographic making its rounds on the internet describing how the typical rep follow up and the time it takes a buyer to make a decision don’t align.

Unless you refuse to surf the web, you’ve probably seen it and, like me, you probably agree with the information, especially if you work in sales. I’ve never been able to trace back the source of this infographic until recently when I read a very interesting article entitled, “Why it Takes 7 to 13+ Touches to Deliver a Qualified Sales Lead (Part 1)”. This article cites a study done by Microsoft that offers identical statistics to the one contained in the infographic, so I may have found the elusive source. As a bonus, the article is a pretty worthwhile read as well.


To me, the main premise of the infographic, and the referenced article, is that most sales reps give up trying to engage with prospects before they even generate interest. This makes perfect sense when you consider how technology has increased the ability to mass communicate, creating a noise barrier with potential customers. It becomes very difficult to break through the noise and capture the attention of the prospect regardless of how good the offering may be, so skillful messaging and repetition are critical to successful engagement.


In addition to the current state of prospect information overload,
there are many sales experts that state that the majority of leads are not effectively pursued. For example, in his book “The Truth about Leads”, Dan McDade makes the statement that 95% of leads are not effectively pursued by sales people. From personal experience, selling a solution centered around lead generation, one of the most common objections my sales team experiences is that the prospect’s sales team is either not following up on leads or not receiving a quick response and giving up, in other words, bad leads.


If information overload and reluctant sales teams aren’t bad enough, let’s add to that the well- established trend that prospective buyers are increasingly not engaging with sellers until they are looking for a price. That’s exactly NOT when the sales professional wants to engage. Good sales people want to be involved with the problem definition and provide insight and guidance to the prospect. They want to provide the best solution to the customer because they want a long term partnership where they are viewed as a valuable resource and in turn sell more over time. Good luck with that if all you are doing is providing a requested price quote. By the way, if you’re a prospective buyer and someone is willing to undercut the competition without even asking what you are trying to accomplish, caveat emptor.


So, to summarize the selling conundrum, information overloaded buyers are delaying engagement with frustrated sellers until they are looking for a price quote, while the frustrated sellers are giving up trying to engage early, in large part due their perception of leads supplied by marketing. Anybody that has been in sales for more than 5 years will likely agree that the struggle to acquire new, really new, customers continues to become more challenging.

Here are some thoughts:

Sales and Marketing MUST work together. The article I referenced at the beginning of the blog talks about the pre-qualification process for a lead. For many organizations this level of qualification will require the help of sales. Books could be written on the subject, but simply put, Marketing should abandon the play on volume of leads and focus on quality, while Sales needs to do their part by treating higher quality leads with the attention they deserve, insuring that a solid follow up process is in place.

 

Marketing needs to provide transparency to the lead gen process. I suggest a tier structure on the quality of a lead and then inform sales on how the lead was generated. Pass along ALL relevant information from the lead. Utilize all available resources to try and garner the highest quality leads to be moved forward to sales for further qualification. Quality over quantity.

 

Sales needs to develop a replicable, accountable and consistent sales process that can provide feedback to marketing. The team needs to know how the lead was generated, and when possible, where the prospect has shown interest. Once a lead tier structure is established and the information is flowing, they should then be held accountable to continuing the qualification process for engagement. By now, most serious sales professionals understand the infographic contained in the article, however, maintaining a disciplined approach to follow up is challenging. That challenge is made easier as the reps understand the quality of the leads supplied.

 

Marketing needs to supply the best possible leads to sales. Web registrations are great if you’re the low cost provider. Click through on marketing campaigns is great if the people doing the clicking are also the economic decision makers. Opens on email campaigns become a little sketchy based on the possibility of false positives. Purchased lists provide data but no sense of interest. Anonymous website visitor tracking provides early insight to interest at a company level, but not the person. Of course if you’re focusing on decision makers, you can get that information from other sources. In the end, the marketer needs to feed the sales machine with the highest quality leads they can find.

 

Sales needs to consistently follow up on the leads provided in a personalized manner. When Sales and Marketing can agree that leads provided are the best available, sales needs to make sure that there is consistent follow up. As the infographic in the article shows, engagement success increases dramatically as the amount of touches increase. Just because the prospect doesn’t knock down your door after one quick email does not mean the lead is bad. Sales needs to develop personalized messaging that provides insights and ideas specific to the prospect’s business, we all know prospects don’t want to be sold too. Provide continual feedback to marketing on progress. Qualify early and often. A personalized consistent approach requires more time and effort, so make sure that time is spent on the highest value prospects. When supplied specific information on prospect interest utilize that information within your personalized messaging.

Technology has made selling both easier and more difficult.

There are many tools to automate processes, track progress and generate leads to help both sales and marketing. At the same time the ease of mass communication has made it much more difficult to engage with prospective clients. Working together, Sales and Marketing can leverage the available resources to create a strategy to address the selling conundrum.

Changing the Sales Landscape

Changing the Sales Landscape

How are you adapting to the changing sale landscape?

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It’s no secret, the evidence is everywhere.  Sales structure and process is continually changing to adapt to the evolution of the buyer decision making journey.  Do a quick internet search and you will be rewarded with a plethora of information from a myriad of sales experts on how things are changing and how companies are, or should be, adapting.  Based on my personal experience in both field and inside sales organizations, I find the continuing transition toward inside sales from field sales fascinating, and the reasons behind that transition even more so.

Recently, I came across an older article in the Harvard Business Journal, titled “The Trend That is Changing Sales”, which does a very nice job of explaining not only the trend but many of the reasons contributing to it.  Rather than rehashing what the article already does a great job explaining, I wanted to generate some food for thought for sales leaders and their current sales strategy. Hopefully you are already on the optimal path to maximizing sales revenue, but based on some of the comments associated with the mentioned article, and some of the struggles I personally face, maybe some objective soul searching will lead to instituting some strategy changes.

As part of the exercise, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I have the right sales structure? Based on many factors, including the complexity of your offering, your lifetime customer value, and your target market engagement preference, you may be in the perfect place or may consider a transition to an inside, outside, or hybrid model. Additionally, you may want to consider adding segmentation to your structure, which is also becoming a common structural change.
  • The concept of segmentation transitions nicely to the question around sales process. Ask yourself; considering my objectives, offering and market, am I employing the best sales process? It is obvious that prospects are changing the way they buy, and the sales process that has served you so well in the past may no longer yield the same results.
  • How am I adapting to the change in buyer decision making? Unless you are the thought/brand leader in your space, and your offering is currently generating huge interest with your target market, it is very likely that you are struggling with prospect engagement. In addition to the right structure and process, the change in buying behavior suggests that it is critical to have all possible mechanisms in place to engage with interested prospects as early as possible.

Hopefully, asking yourselves the above questions will help you in determining whether you are adapting to the changing sales landscape or if you need to adjust.  Since there are so many variables that need to be considered, the path you take will definitely vary based on your specific situation.

However, here are some general guidelines that I found helpful:

  • The complexity of your offering is a major consideration. If your sales cycle is measured by calendar year and requires many meetings across multiple client departments, a field presence may be warranted. However, if your sales cycle is measured in weeks and involves only a few meetings with one or two decision maker’s you might find yourself better served with an inside approach. Have both types of sales? Consider a hybrid.
  • Obviously the customer perception of your offering is as, if not more, important than yours. If your product or service has been commoditized by the market it becomes very difficult to escape the related pricing pressure and necessary volume increases. You may have to switch to a more transactional process which tends to favor an inside sales structure.
  • Revenue versus cost of sales is also an extremely important metric. In simplest terms, the price point you can establish on the value of your offering, combined with the number of units that can be reasonably sold, determines how much you can compensate your sales team. Even with a customer perceived high value, complex offering can end up presenting a challenge. Obviously cost of sales tends to be lower with an inside structure.

These are just three important factors in determining sales structure and process.  Sales talent, company stage, technology employed, and competitor actions should all be assessed as well.  Making a change to sales structure or process should never be taken lightly as the consequences of a mistake could be devastating.  Even making slight changes to an existing structure or process is often cumbersome and time consuming, and the disruption to the existing team can cause severe morale issues, so ensure you’ve carefully analyzed all the variables and have a workable strategy in place before moving forward.

On a personal note, having spent the majority of my career in a field sales environment, I hate to believe that the continuing transition of field to inside sales will be as drastic as many experts predict.  There is a great amount of value for both a prospect and a sales rep in conducting a face-to-face meeting that just can’t be achieved through technology.  In my opinion, the level of dialogue, credibility, trust, empathy and information that can be gained during a face-to-face interaction is far superior to what can take place over the phone or web.

At the same time, gaining that personal access to the economic decision maker continues to become more difficult.  While technology has opened the door to transitioning field to inside sales, it has also caused information overload on the part of the buyer, making it difficult to gain access, regardless of how beneficial the solution might be.  While having the correct sales structure and process in place may increase your likelihood of connecting with your market, there are many other areas within the changing sales landscape that need to be addressed as well.  However, that is a discussion for another time.