Learning From B2C Sales

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We’re in the midst of dramatic changes in the B2B sales world. The rapidly-expanding automation tools are changing the role of the salesperson’s role from prospecting to qualifying. These changes have already been absorbed, at some level, in the B2C world…and one major change is driving the shift in B2B sales.

The main driver of change is the expectation for a customer-centric approach to all sales. This principle has always been a marketing motto, but today it must be part of the fabric of your sales culture. The B2C companies have already embraced this approach.

A quick-read article from Sales & Marketing Management expands on this topic also. The author’s assertion is that B2B sales incorporate a model that relies on market data/feedback to flow through the salespeople. B2C sales rely on direct data compiled by the marketing department to guide development. This distinction is precisely what we are seeing. B2B sales are starting to migrate much of the early qualifying into the marketing department.

A summary of the adaptations needed in B2B selling to succeed in the new economy:

Sales invites marketing to participate in buyer interactions — Marketing is able to gain and maintain a pulse on the market through firsthand interactions, and sales provides marketing the opportunity to do so on a regular basis when it will be most valuable to winning the sales cycle. Net, marketing adds value to sales and is invited to help more — gaining invaluable buyers insights along the way.

Marketing directly engages the buyer – Marketing can invite clients and prospects alike to join working sessions on go-to-market strategy and messaging, bringing the voice of the buyer directly to the frontline. Mereo maintains the Decision Maker Network™ for this reason, with 300-plus business buyers for buying journey insights.

Applying market insights effectively – Directly hearing what matters to the buyer and why it matters will influence the messaging framework marketing applies to its content engine, but it also provides opportunities for marketing to transform information into insights, such as buyer personas.

Exactly right - marketing has to be brought into the prospect/market area to understand what is happening in the sales world. There is a fusion occurring between marketing and sales in the early sales funnel. Marketing is identifying target niches while staying involved through the initial contact/qualify. This light qualifying activity is the key component of the B2C model. It has now been brought into the B2B world by buyers.

This newly acquired data provides background for strengthening your Differentiating Value (DV). The foundation of your sales and marketing activities is your Differentiating Value. Your marketing message has to be confirmed by employing market feedback directly from your customers. This confirmation reinforces your DV message. If it is misaligned, your salespeople will be pushing Jell-O up a hill in their prospecting efforts.

We provide a DV Survey that will capture what your customers perceive as your DV. This information is beneficial to both marketing and sales departments as you craft your message to attract the right prospects for your solution. If you are unsure of your DV’s effectiveness, contact us today to learn more about our DV Survey process.

Leader vs. Cheerleader

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Both contain the word “leader” but they are not equal.  Working with organizations all over the world opens the door to leadership models that run the gauntlet from good to bad to ugly.

Cultures can be toxic when products never work, core values are flawed, employees are abused, etc., but the one component you typically spot first is where cheerleaders are masquerading as leaders.

Most execs today have had enough managers in their careers to know there is a significant difference in leadership effectiveness and those differences can have massive impacts on the overall performance of the organization.  Those managers we worked for - and would gladly do that again - typically had the best organizational traction with delivering success as well as motivating exceptional employee performance.   The other group of bosses – the ones we would never work with again – always seemed to survive but could never cast a leadership shadow even on insignificant issues. 

Leaders
The best street level definition for leader we use in our RoundTable programs is simple: someone people will follow.  Any manager or executive candidate has a track record.  Find out if the people who reported to the candidate would ever volunteer to do that again.  The tools to locate those individuals are available today (clearly start with LinkedIn).  Strong leader profiles are always supported by their previous direct reports along with descriptions like honest, fair, responsive, challenging, demanding, direct, clear, etc.  Any absence of feedback about the individual or a “no” to question about another tour as a direct report are major flags that you are looking at a cheerleader.

Cheerleaders
This profile is a chameleon in that they find ways to take credit for everything positive and avoid anything going the wrong way.  They are the perpetual “success survivors” even when the organization is circling the drain.  The employees view them as empty suits meaning they only have their personal agenda about “how do I win” on their mind.  No career is burdened with only success outcomes – real leaders have all taken hits and had to navigate recoveries.  That is what establishes their leadership profile.  This is the first topic to explore and listen to how they address their role.  If your BS meter locks on tilt with their answer, you have the wrong leader candidate.

Sales as a Guide, Not an Educator

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The sales world has changed dramatically over the past decade as salespeople are no longer educators.

Granted, education is still a component of the qualifying system. However, salespeople are now a guide in the process. Clearly, the availability of information on the web has created a highly-educated prospect.

The clearest key is this transformation shows up at the beginning of the selling process. Prospects now approach companies with a certain level of understanding regarding your solutions. They have probably researched your company through other sites, scoured your website, and even talked to some of your customers…all before they make first contact with your sales team.

This transformation fundamentally changes the relationship between the salesperson and the prospect. Adjustments must be made. Perhaps your sales team needs to take an evangelical approach by spreading the good news of your solution in the market. Or maybe you have to switch to a relationship-based sale with a sales team focused on interpersonal skills. Qualifying will always be the backbone of successful selling, but the methodology will change.

The success of your team will rely upon their ability to adjust, if they haven’t already. Some categorical shifts to consider:

Old - Sales is an educator
New - Sales is a guide

Old - Prospect profile is information-gathering
New - Prospect profile is solution-savvy (from your competitors too)

Old - Prospecting is general introduction
New - Prospecting is specifically focused

Old - Qualifying focus is Pain and Money
New - Qualifying focus is Want and Need

To be clear, any successful qualifying system will require uncovering the prospect’s perceived pain and their budget to remove that pain. However, the initial qualifying pass will need to start by sorting out the nice-to-have vs. need-to-have solution for a partially-educated prospect who approaches with the beginnings of a self-determined solution.

Peer Groups Provide the Power of the Pack

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Maybe the most important aspect of being a member of a peer group is the opportunity to share challenges.

When you are a CRO, you are expected to have the answers…to almost all difficult questions. The most important topic is revenue. CRO’s are measured by their ability to grow profitable revenue in the shortest amount of time.

We start each RoundTable with a discussion of the number 1 challenge for each CRO. The process here is bolstered by the power of the pack. Think of a wolf pack and how they work cooperatively to achieve their goals (hunting, of course, being the prime example). The same principle is in effect in the RoundTable. CRO’s, from different companies, markets, industries, etc., bring the power of their knowledge to help a member achieve a specific goal.

There is power in peer-level wisdom. Imagine having a team of the revenue experts that you can use as your own advisory group. The group usually has someone with experience in the challenges faced by the different members. Experience and expertise are key to any RoundTable meeting. What effect would your very own revenue advisory group have on your company’s performance?

Coaching for Qualifying

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As a CRO, you have many responsibilities, but one not to overlook is a concerted effort to coach your team. CRO’s are force multipliers - your ability to impart wisdom to your team will make your team more successful. The best ROI for your coaching time with your salespeople is qualifying.

Qualifying is the backbone of all successful selling. There are 5 stages of our Critical Qualifying Questions (CQQ’s) that we espouse in our selling system. However, no matter what selling system you use, your team must be strong qualifiers to succeed. The responsibility for growing that qualifying ability falls on you.

Selling Power has a quick-read, archived article that describes some fundamental questions your team should be asking of any prospect. The author compares qualifying prospects to investigative journalism. From the article (emphasis mine):

In many respects, qualifying prospects is like investigative journalism. The reporter (or, in this case, the salesperson) has to find out the facts of the story, based on who, what, when, where, why, and how. That means coming up with answers to the following questions:

  • Does the customer actually have a need for our products or services?

  • Can the customer afford to buy what we’re selling?

  • Is my primary contact the person who has the ability to make a buying decision, or is this person just gathering information? If not, who does have the authority to purchase?

All qualifying starts with a need so the author is on target. The CQQ’s from our Revenue as a System include Message, Motivation, Money, Methodology, and Market. When you are coaching your team, always keep the qualifying topic at the forefront.

6 Sales Predictions for 2019

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Every January brings articles of predictions for the upcoming year. Here is a Sales and Marketing Management article that lays out 6 predictions for 2019.

Here is the cliffs notes version of the 6 from the article:

1. Data matters more than ever

Today, the comprehensiveness of customer data separates winners from losers. The front-runners focus on data hygiene and ensuring they have accurate and holistic customer information across sales, marketing and service departments.

2. Automated sales prospecting

Sales prospecting tools, such as Pipedrive, Vainu.io and Intelisale, enable businesses to use filters and predictive insights to choose prospects wisely and focus on those most likely to convert. In addition to finding the right people to contact at the right time, reps have up-to-date information at their fingertips on the latest news and other information about their prospects and their businesses.

3. Account-based selling becomes entrenched

This strategic sales approach enables companies to focus their resources on closing deals with accounts that will make a significant impact on their bottom lines rather than chasing down inbound leads that happen to come their way. As technology provides even better ways to target such accounts and personalize the sales and marketing approach, ABS is becoming increasingly influential.

4. Social selling

According to Forrester, “B2B companies that embrace social selling are 72% more likely to exceed quotas than their peers who don’t.” The catch is that it can be time-consuming. To cut down on the time it takes, many tools are emerging. You can use them to pull social media data into CRM systems, share the ideal content at the right moment with the right person, customize engagement with social drip campaigns and track all of your social activities.

5. Automated personal emails

While artificial intelligence (AI) will not replace a professional salesperson, it will enable them to be more efficient. For instance, AI now customizes emails to prospects and addresses their problems. It can also tailor email subject lines based on what will entice prospects to open them. If necessary, salespeople can edit the AI drafts. While the technology is in its early phase, it will inevitably become more sophisticated and effective.

6. The human touch remains critical

In a world of artificial intelligence (AI), automation and technological devices, the need for human connection does not go away. Perhaps it’s needed more than ever before.

So we cannot let machines do all the work. Salespeople should employ technology to increase their productivity and to personalize their outreach, then use the time that’s freed up for more human interaction. By making a human connection, they’ll separate themselves from the pack.

Hard to disagree with any of those predictions. I would add that the price point for AI packages will come down to a level that allows many mid-market companies to leverage that technology. Once that happens, selling will change in dramatic ways.

Leadership for Executives

Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán from Pexels

Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán from Pexels

Leadership obviously has multiple components, but our years of RoundTable experience suggests there is one cornerstone component that stands alone.

Yes, toxic leader profiles and/or ridiculous business plans can neutralize any business opportunity, but the one missing component we observe with increasing frequency today is the lack of clear accountability. At CRO Executive RoundTable, we define a leader as someone people will follow.  When we meet with member company employees to apply this definition, two discussion topics typically evolve:  accountability and the 3 T’s profile.  These two are directly connected to overall success.

Accountability

Many executives have been trained, coached etc. to believe consensus is leadership.  The goal is to get ‘buy in’ by all participants but the real world outcome is better described as management by lack of ownership.   Margaret Thatcher said it best:

“Consensus: “The process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values, and policies in search of something in which no one believes, but to which no one objects; the process of avoiding the very issues that have to be solved, merely because you cannot get agreement on the way ahead. What great cause would have been fought and won under the banner: ‘I stand for consensus?”

Accountability does put focus and varying levels of stress into the organization but success is not achieved by complacency or consensus.   If complacency is in control, the culture will deny, deflect and/or destroy all efforts for change.  Everyone is operating in their comfort zone while the business is consuming resources just circling the wagons…which may end up being the precursor to circling the drain.

3 T’s Profile

The profile that makes Accountability a leadership skill are combinations of Trust, Transparency and Timeliness.  These are almost boundless research topics but the employee engagement discussions are less complicated.

Trust - is earned; employees want to know senior leadership is more than committed than they are to delivering the results.  Execs wanting to be “consensus scorekeepers” are often viewed as just being along for the ride and producing zero contribution.

Transparency – employees know some topics are not fully disclosable but they want to know – or be able to ask – about all other matters that impact growth and success.  Executives that face questions and issues head on are aligned with where employees want to be.

Timeliness – we live in a 24/7 world today.  Employees don’t want to learn more about their company from the web than from leadership.  Employees are the top-tier stakeholders in any business so putting other individuals or groups first is a breach with direct performance engagement consequences.

Conclusion These are not hard tasks to understand or deliver except when effective leadership is not the top priority.  That may appear to be an oxymoron but it is clear to employees.

Business Is Just a Hockey Game

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Sales Perspective from the State of Hockey

Being headquartered in the State of Hockey (Thank You MN Wild) is either a plus or a minus depending on your interest in ice hockey.  Having invested decades of time watching youth association to professional level games, it is clear there are similarities that go beyond the scoring (above or below budget performance). 

Here are 3 items to consider getting ready for 2019:

  1. Talent – Teams with more talent win more games.  The talent part is a team issue – a composite of skating, stick handling, shooting and goaltending skills determine the outcomes.  What critical skills are needed/missing on your team to outperform the market?

  2. Speed vs. skill - Teams need both.  Speed players can move the puck fast but stick handlers can be just as productive.  Companies are always attracted to the big bio candidates but good stick handlers get things done too.  Stick handlers may have less speed but they have the peripheral vision (anticipate disruption) needed to keep moving forward.  Sometimes it is easier to find good stick handlers with strong team profiles.

  3. Adversity - What happens if you fall behind?  Normally that means you were not prepared (skill or disruption issues) or you underestimated the competition…or both.  Not a lot of options once the game (year) starts.  Typically, your top scoring lines get more shifts.  Bottom line – you leverage your talent and work your way out of the hole.  And yes, some coaches (CRO’s) get fired if the recovery effort doesn’t deliver in time.

Best of (Revenue) Luck to all CRO’s in 2019…and keep your stick on the ice!

Retro Selling on the Horizon?

Could there be a retrograde coming to sales?

One of the topics we took up this year at the RoundTables was the role of the salesperson in the modern sales world. Social media, artificial intelligence, chat bots, etc., are all having an impact on the traditional sales process. Automation is changing the entire process by limiting (removing?) the salesperson from the prospecting activities. The change in the sales process appears to be moving the requirements for successful selling in the very near future.

Prospecting
No bigger change has occurred anywhere else in the selling process than prospecting. The RoundTable members are experiencing the migration of these activities from sales to marketing. The ability to track marketing initiatives, adjust DV messaging and do a first-pass qualify electronically has changed the process. The addition of bots to the marketing initiatives creates an interaction, albeit somewhat wooden, to mildly qualify the prospect.

However, the ability to prospect using traditional methods may come back into focus. The consensus was that salespeople with a strong network will become even more valuable to prospecting in the near future. As prospects become inundated with the new prospecting automation tools, salespeople with strong networks will be able to reach out on a personal level to cut through the noise. That ability may lead us back to in-person prospecting via meetings, lunch and learns, sporting events, etc.

Qualifying
There is no greater skill involved in sales success than qualifying. The strongest salespeople know when to ask, what to ask, how to ask the right questions to bring clarity to a potential deal. There are many artificial intelligence (AI) tools entering the marketplace with the goal of augmenting (or replacing?) salespeople. How smart can these tools become in regards to reading people? Will they be able to pick up nonverbal cues? Sarcasm? Stalls?

You see the issue here - sales is a people-oriented function. Humans communication is only 7% verbal, the other 93% is nonverbal including body language, tone, breathing, eye movement, pacing, etc. The rush towards AI qualifying seems inevitable, but a need for salespeople to talk to prospects will persist.

Closing
Qualified deals close themselves…an axiom we subscribe to in strong selling. However, it still requires a closing event to occur. The actual acceptance of the solution at the agreed upon investment. There is a subtlety to closing that seems difficult to imagine in a machine. The minor agreements, the positive signs, the professional approach to asking for the business, all seem deeply seated in the human approach.

Certainly AI will be able to take orders, but closing a deal will require a far more nuanced approach. The empathetic ability of an AI machine, if it possesses any, will be stretched at this phase of a selling process. This step still seems like a retro approach, if we can call it that, will work best. A meeting over a meal, a stall-clearing phone discussion, a face-to-face closing meeting all seem like a standard that will prevent this stage from ever moving away from a salesperson’s involvement.

Where does it end?
AI is surrounded by ambiguity at this point as it continues to develop to new levels. However, no matter how advanced AI becomes, the basis of selling will remain an interaction between two people making a financial decision. The feeling of our RoundTable groups was that the upcoming year will prove to be revealing of the future of AI in the sales world.

Hiring Horror Stories for Halloween

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Everyone, and I mean everyone, has a hiring horror story.

TheLadders.com took the time to assemble 13 hiring horror stories on this All Hallow’s Eve. The article is most entertaining, especially since none of these events happened to you!

This particular story from the article is unreal:

10. Mid-interview I thought I had the perfect candidate for the position. As I was about to extend the job offer, he began to sweat profusely. I offered water, turned the air conditioner to a lower temperature as he began to mumble. I thought “Oh No, I’ve got a medical emergency on my hands.” He excused himself to go to the restroom but didn’t return after 15 minutes. I asked a male staff member to enter the men’s restroom to check on him. The door was somehow locked and barricaded. The applicant wouldn’t answer our calls to open the door but began rambling aloud. I called the fire department and after another 20 minutes the applicant emerged totally intoxicated (empty bottle in hand) and possibly under the influence of “something” else. The next day his wife called me requesting to know when his start date would be… no job offer was extended to this candidate!

Things could always be worse.