How does your company plan to optimize your sales force in 2010? This activity seems to be almost a yearly ritual for many companies. More than 1,800 CSO Insights' Survey respondents listed their "13 Top Initiatives to Improve Sales Performance in 2009," and these items were almost identical to the 2008 list.
How disruptive is it to your sales force to keep introducing this type of change year after year? And has your tactical implementation been successful in the past? I would argue it has not or you wouldn't need to keep redoing it. Instead, consider going in a new direction and implement a Sales Enablement initiative to lead the way. After all, Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again, yet expecting different results.
One Sales Enablement initiative would address half of your action items and bring them together in a more cohesive, seamless, and cost-effective way. It is important to note that increasing revenues is and always should be at the top of the list. But just making more sales calls or hiring more sellers (typical tactical response plans) won't necessarily lead to more revenues; better quality calls will. Sales Enablement is the catalyst that will connect the dots between sales and marketing, thus enabling your company to work smarter, reduce the risk of misinformation, and achieve a sales knowledge advantage.
Of the 13 initiatives listed in the CSO Insights' Survey, six fall under the realm of a good Sales Enablement strategy. These include: No. 2: Improving rep access to knowledge to sell effectively (31.8 percent); No. 3: More closely aligning sales and marketing (30.8 percent); and No. 5: Enhancing sales team communications (28.7 percent). Doing these activities successfully will add more value and quality to customer interactions though better communication, sales collaboration, and access to relevant messaging. IDC's Marketing Investment Planner 2009 states that with better teamwork and a cohesive focus by both sales and marketing on enablement, sales productivity will improve by $260,000 per rep per year. It's not a leap to agree that this, in turn, will result in higher close rates, reduced operational costs, and increased revenue.
Turning Company Spiel to Customer Value
In today's economy, customers are willing to sacrifice a "perfect fit" for something that is "good enough" to meet their needs, since in most instances there are multiple options available that will deliver their minimum requirements. Your corporate messages are what will differentiate you from your competitors and demonstrate why your product is the best fit for your customer. But too many times, your sellers only know how to talk about your product and company, and don't know how to converse about the business and customer needs; yet this type of conversation needs to happen with the first handshake or they may not get a second chance. Respondents to the CSO Insights' Survey validate this when they confirmed the reason they are winning deals is based on relationships (55 percent) as opposed to product superiority (41 percent). Unfortunately, only 7 percent felt the marketing messages contributed at all.
The top analyst firms confirm that access to knowledge is key to sales force success. But what type of knowledge should your salespeople have, and how do they get to it? Sellers need to prepare for their "pitch" to the customer, put together the proposal, close the deal, and follow the delivery of the contract. Ideally, you need to give them access to what they need quickly (company offerings, RFQ, supply chain, etc.) and match it to customer requirements (delivery expectations, interoperability, price, etc.).
The State of Knowing: Arm Your Sales Force with Access to Information
Typically, the 30,000-foot corporate messages (I refer to this as "corporate knowledge") mostly are preset and intended for mass distribution, delivering "one-voice" consistency for your audience. How your sales force takes these and converts them into customer value during the handshake (3-foot level) traditionally is left up to your sellers to figure out.
Joe Galvin, vice president and research director from SiriusDecisions, stated in his Sales Enablement workshop held in Chicago in November 2008 that the effectiveness of preset collateral (that is produced by marketing teams) diminishes in value after the first or second sales call. After that, it's the knowledge of the sales team that will be needed to close the deal. This means you must rely on your sellers to deliver those messages in a way that resonates with your customer. To enable the best conversations, give your sellers access to both corporate and personal knowledge in one setting.
•"Corporate knowledge" is preset in nature. In most medium to large organizations, each type of information is managed by different teams and mass distributed through online tools, in documents, on Websites, and other online portals to a large audience. Most of the preset collateral is impersonal and generic in nature, and few of the marketing teams that create it have ever supported a salesperson or been in the field and interacted with a customer.
•"Personal knowledge" lives inside the heads of your top sellers, top performers, sales engineers, and other sales support staff within your company. It consists of intimate details and customer insights that have been gained through years of personal experience and interaction. This insight usually is kept close to the chest within designated teams and distributed in e-mails and instant messages among and between small core groups or individuals. Some companies are starting to recognize the need to try and capture this knowledge as most of it walks out the door when an employee leaves.
For most B-to-B interactions, your sellers have to convert the company-centric messages into customer-centric value to prepare for the face-to-face conversation that hopefully will lead to the next conversation and eventually persuade the customer to take action. In most cases, this takes several hours of preparation and reformatting time for a single engagement. IDC's 2004 Providing the Value of Content Technologies Study estimated that companies waste almost $11,000 per seller per year with unproductive activities such as searching and reformatting. Multiply that by every seller and every engagement, and there is a lot of opportunity to improve your processes and bottom line.
A Case Study
A global telecom company decided to implement a Sales Enablement strategy mid-2006 as part of a larger business transformation initiative to reduce SG&A (selling, general, and administrative expenses of an operating budget) and to address long-standing complaints from the sales force. It was a heavily matrixed, global organization with approximately 450 products, 30 solutions, and more than 90 different professional services, and every seller was expected to sell "everything on the truck." Information was spread around 20-plus team sites and the corporate-sanctioned sales portal, which hosted more than 6,000 documents distributed among 185 different document types, not to mention the separate competitive and business intelligence sites; installed base sites; and the mix of ordering, pricing, proposal generation, customer relationship management (CRM), and tracking tools. In addition, there was no federated search (no common search platform).
As you can imagine, it took sellers hours to look for basic information (validating numerous studies from several industry analysts). Seller confidence in marketing was low and complaints were high, as was attested to by the yearly seller satisfaction surveys (or dissatisfaction surveys) that had been conducted.
Impact to the Bottom Line
All of the measurable ROI (return on investment) for the Sales Enablement efforts contributed to the reduction of the SG&A. Looking back to the 13 Top Initiatives from the CSO Insights' Survey, we decreased the SG&A by approximately $22 million dollars just by "improving rep access to knowledge to sell effectively" and "more closely aligning sales and marketing." These were measurable, impactful savings from improving the productivity of the selling resources and support staff and eliminating waste (unnecessary tasks and content duplication). (For a complete copy of the implementation Case Study, contact me through LinkedIn.)
It is ultimately up to your sales force to find relevant content, digest it, interpret it, fill in any missing gaps, and then adapt it to match their customer needs. While the topic of the actual content is a different discussion that needs to take place, Sales Enablement can successfully help your teams convert your messaging from company spiel to customer value and deliver it more intuitively and efficiently.
Jeanne Hellman is a published subject matter expert on Sales Enablement strategies. Click here to read her first article, "A Case for Sales Enablement," on www.salesandmarketingmanagement.com. A marketing communications professional with more than 20 years of experience, she has specialized in communication and collaboration technologies and techniques used to reach global audiences varying in age, culture, education, and skill level. She has worked in the public sector, broadcasting, and telecommunications industries. For the last three years, she has focused on the implementation and adoption of a Sales Enablement strategy in a global $11.2 billion telecom equipment and professional services company. You can contact her via LinkedIn.