Many senior sales managers find themselves in a similar state of confident expectation at the moment. Their company’s senior corporate team has approved the long sweated-over proposal to “transform” the sales force, and eagerly agreed that it was important for their sellers to stay ahead of a changing and increasingly complex sales environment.
But, before sales leaders spend too long daydreaming about the rises in revenue, employee morale, productivity, and even customer loyalty that will make 2015 a success, they should realize that there’s even more to lose if things go wrong.
CEB’s work with hundreds of sales leaders (and observation of many we haven’t worked with directly) shows that there are three consistently important elements of a sales transformation that teams must get right.
The List of Three
Use insight to capture customers’ attention and encourage action: Research shows that today’s customers value insight. In fact, 53% of customer loyalty results from the value and insight the customer receives as part of the sales experience, which is more than all other factors combined, including brand, product and service, and price-to-value ratio.
World-class sales and marketing organizations have discovered that it takes more than just thought leadership to be heard and encourage action. These leaders realize that they first have to get customers to think differently about themselves, before they can get customers to think differently about their suppliers.
And “commercial insight” is the magic ingredient to change the way customers view themselves. This goes well beyond thought leadership: it’s not just information that customers will find interesting or thought provoking but information that compels them to change some (or even all) of their working practices.
Align internal enablement to how customers buy your products: Surprisingly, many organizations don’t consider the effect internal sales enablement has on commercial transformation. This critical step is needed to not only make the transformation part of your sellers’ day-to-day processes, but also to get your customers to align with one another in the purchasing process.
The software and enablement tools that commercial teams use daily must align to the desired change in behavior. This helps sellers use their skills on the right opportunities and the right customer stakeholders at the right time. This is especially important given the fact that the average number of customer stakeholders involved in a purchasing process today is 5.4 people.
Growing numbers means growing opinions, priorities, and opportunities to disagree. Therefore, finding the right customer stakeholder (what CEB research defines as the mobilizer) and ensuring your mobilizer is able to encourage action rather than wasting time struggling to find consensus among a disparate buying group is now part of the sales team’s responsibility.
Tuning your demand generation, content strategy, and enablement to this new reality ensures your commercial team is supported – not thwarted –by its enablement resources.
Develop managers to lead and sellers to excel: The final critical element needed for a successful transformation is talent. Just training your front-line sellers isn’t enough. Developing your sellers and managers through a comprehensive program provides the lasting change you need.
Research shows that high performers in complex sales environments succeed because they know how to “teach” their customers something new or unnoticed about their business, effectively “tailor” to the right customer stakeholder, and “take control” of the sales process, all while using constructive tension to drive action.
Not only that, but having managers properly coach and reinforce these new-found skills increases knowledge retention. For example, research shows that without this kind of on-the-job reinforcement via manager coaching, sellers lose 87% of training improvements one month later.
Beyond these three elements, the marketing function now plays a crucial role. Without the right content ecosystem, commercial messaging strategy, and demand generation strategy, sellers go into battle without the right air cover. This is a topic that will be covered in future posts.
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