I am a salesman. Although my LinkedIn profile says Manager of Customer Solutions, Account Manager, Director of Business Development, etc., I am a salesman. Regardless of title, my career has been to introduce the products and services of my company to those we feel would benefit from our expertise. Sales is a vital role in any organization and one that has become a revolving door. Why? Many companies have not modernized their sales strategy to create new opportunities. They continue to sell the same way as they have done in the past. It’s a numbers game, right? Make more calls!
For years, sales reps carried the water for the entire process. From prospecting potential customers to closing the deal, they are chief cook and bottle washer. Even now it is common to see a job description adding more responsibilities upon their shoulders. These range from managing accounts, lead generation, maintaining CRM, reporting, etc., many of which have nothing to do with actual selling.
What has driven companies to react this way? First, the pressure to sell and sell more is greater than ever. Innovations in every industry have flooded the market with choice and choice has increased competition making it harder to acquire customers. Second, most companies struggle with making the evolutionary changes required to stay competitive, especially when there is uncertainty a change will have the desired outcome. History is often the guide that companies use when trying to solve a problem. History has a record of successful solutions and previous pitfalls to avoid. This is why many companies avoid changing their sales approach and continue to spend large amounts of time and money on the revolving door of sales reps being hired and fired.
The problem with this thinking is that history is not the most successful guide in today’s new digitally connected world. While certain aspects of previous accomplishments can guide some areas of business, others have to be re-imagined and approached. Today’s customer, how they assess their needs, acquire insight and make choices has evolved faster than most companies’ approach to engage and acquire them as customers.
Today’s buyer has access to volumes of information that lead many to believe that 80% of the buying process is done before a sales rep is engaged. In Daniel Pink’s book To Sell is Human, Mr. Pink states the main difference – and it is a big one – between today’s sales environment and that of the past is information symmetry. Information symmetry is the condition in which all parties involved know all relevant information. Therefore, if the customer has nearly all of the information on the products and services of a company, there is no reason to engage a sales rep until much later in the buying process. Whether you know it or not, your company is being vetted and the customer’s decision to engage has been made long before your company is contacted.
Sales is no longer needed to open the door. Sales function is to focus their efforts on the final 20% where the client and rep are face-to-face and the rep is needed close the deal.
If you are spending time, effort and money on the revolving sales door by constantly rotating reps and expecting them to open doors, build relationships and nurture prospects, your approach is becoming extinct and eventually fruitless. Further, you are doing your company a disservice if you want to compete in today’s evolving world.
Where do you need to invest your sales dollars? In strategies that create the engagement before the rep is needed. It is more than just marketing. It is more than the buzzword “content” permeating from every digital provider trying to sell you the next advertising idea. It is about relevancy. Everything you do must be relevant to your customer, including making sure you are targeting the right customer. Marketing and social media are critical as this is today’s medium in place of television, radio, newspaper, etc. Content is the invitation to get to know your company, but more important than any tactic is to know your customer so well you can see their needs before they do. This is the evolution your company must make. For doing this and changing your infrastructure with right resources and expertise to fulfill this can shape that buying process in your favor. This is the 80% your prospect is experiencing before they speak to a sales rep. These efforts will make your marketing more effective, your social media will show an R.O.I and your content will have a true purpose.
Accepting this change in your sales process is necessary. If you do not your company will have to contend with another door, the one you are trying to open which will remain locked…and your reps won’t have a purpose because they won’t able to get inside to do what their is suppose to do…turn the prospect into your customer.
Disengaged (according to Dictionary.com): not involved or concerned; aloof
It was the mid-1990s; I was a young sales rep working for a now-defunct company that sold printed products and commodities to a cross-section of industries. At that time, the path to success was to grow your territory through a new business development, account penetration and, as time passed, assume accounts from departing representatives. As luck would have it, a senior representative from my company was retiring and his accounts were being reassigned to reps in the division and I was “lucky” enough to inherit the biggest and most profitable account. This account ordered like clockwork, had manageable receivables and was not very demanding of the company’s time or mine. It was a dream that quickly turned into a nightmare. The retiring representative graciously brought me to the client and introduced me in glowing terms saying they were in good hands and the company and I would continue to be responsive to their needs. Three weeks later their orders abruptly stopped and all daily communication from them ceased. The customer, I later learned, had been preparing for the previous representative to depart and had plans already in place to move their business to another supplier. I was devastated – this account was responsible for nearly 70% of my annual budget and it was only March. My year was over. To make matters worse, I found out by voice mail.
How could we not see this coming? The simple answer was the relationship between the previous rep and the company was the only reason the business existed. My company did all of the things to “satisfy” the customer. Orders were placed, shipped on time, billed correctly and routine problems were handled. Apparently, that was not enough. There was a detachment between the company and customer that is common in business then and now. They were indifferent to my company and we lost the business.
According to a recent Gallup poll, 71% of all B2B customers are either indifferent or actively disengaged. This is a staggering number considering the amount of time and effort it takes both the sales team and company to prospect, pitch and close a new customer. However, once the customer is on-board, is the company doing enough to manage and “exceed” the expectations of their customer to limit the chances of losing the customer to competition. Earning more business from existing customers, also known as organic growth, is the most cost-effective way to top-line growth. If only 29% of your customers are fully engaged, this is a tall order.
Organic growth can be achieved through different approaches:
Approach 1 - Accelerate Market Penetration (Sell More to the Same Market Segment): Researching and defining market segments helps guide your products, services and proposition so they better meet customer needs and result in accelerated market penetration thereby creating hockey stick growth.
Approach 2 - New Market Development (Sell What You Sell to a New Market): New markets, whether in or outside your core industry, may have different motivations, ways to communicate and overall goals that your products, proposition and approach will need to reflect in order to gain interest from these prospects.
Approach 3 - New Product Development (Sell Something New to Your Market Segment): Account reviews at a leadership level will create the insight to develop new product and service ideas expanding the relationship. This results in a ‘win win’ situation for both parties.
Approach 4 - Diversification (Selling Something New to a New Market Segment): Understanding the maturity of your products and markets is key. Moreover, it is important to have a pulse on where your customer is now and how their needs are evolving, so you and your products can keep pace before your competition leaves you behind.
It is critical that the sales representative and company work in tandem to exceed the expectations of the customer. As I wrote in previous articles, the sales representative cannot be the only face of the company especially if account penetration / organic growth are a part of the overall company growth strategy. Companies must be actively engaged with all customers and relationships must be forged from senior –level on down. If not, your sales rep may get a stinging voice mail message one of these days too.