Growth Driver #3 – Sell the Way Customers Buy

Failure to sell consistently the way customers buy risks losing the sale after substantial investment at worst, and at best, significantly lengthens the sales cycle.

Consistent utilization of sales processes has long been a problem for sales forces, and it still is. According to CSO Insights 2012 research 25% of CSOs surveyed indicate that their sellers consistently use their company’s sales process less than 50% of the time, while just 40% of CSOs indicate that their sellers consistently use their sales process 76% or more of the time.

A number of factors contribute to to inconsistent use. However, our experience suggests that the two biggest impediments to consistent use are:

  1. Whether the Sales Process Mirrors the Customer Buying Process
  2. How Adequately the Sales Process Addresses the Needs of Stakeholders in the Buying Process

While mirroring the customer’s buying process may seem basic, CSO Insights data show it’s not, in fact 46% of CSOs surveyed in 2012 suggest that a key area for improvement of their sales processes is “clearly understanding customer’s buying processes”.

What should we do if our sales process is out of sync with buyer’s processes?

If you find yourself in this situation, it’s time to pull in your best sales people, who think and work in a disciplined way, and ask a number of questions:

  • What are the preferred steps in our customers’ buying process?
  • Which steps are of greatest importance to each stakeholder in the customer buying center?
  • Where does the customer want us to simplify the sales process?

But, what about our ability to address customer needs?

Once you have answered the above questions for different segments of customers, you are ready to beef up your sales processes, increasing your ability to meet the needs of all stakeholders in the buying process. Doing this, requires answering a second set of questions:

  • What must you know about each stakeholder before beginning the sales process?
  • What does each stakeholder want to learn at each step?
  • Which stakeholders are most important at each step in the buying process?
  • What value propositions and messages must you convey to each stakeholder within each step in the buying processes?
  • From whom, in our organization, and how, does each stakeholder want to learn at each step?
  • What are the indicators of successful completion of each step with each stakeholder?

Now, it’s time to take your show on the rode and test your perspective with samples of your customers. Then, integrate the insights you gather and finalize your process and support systems.

If you are able to create the following kind of examples for each step in the buying process, you are on the right track and ready to start educating the sales force on your revised process.

You’ll know you’ve got it right when sales cycle times (with similar types of customers) start to decrease, close rates and retention increase, and stakeholders in the customer organization actively do things to help you sharpen your process and move the sales process forward. Over the long-term, you will recognize the value of your efforts in increased quota attainment.

If you have recently created a buying process, please comment below or on Twitter @Evergreengrowth.


What Do Sustained Growth Companies Know that Others Don’t?

What’s required to grow on a sustained basis?

We hear this question a lot, so we decided to share a few qualitative and quantitative insights on growth. Before we jump to insights, some context setting is useful.

Sustained Growth is Hard, but Not Impossible

Our research of S&P 500 company performance from 1996 to 2006 shows that just 6% were able to sustain growth for 10 years running, where as 31% sustained it for five years straight during the 10 year period. A closer look at sustained growers vs. non-growers reveals some interesting differences:

  • Companies that sustain growth for 5 and 10 years achieve compound annual growth rates of 12.7 and 13.3%, respectively vs. 4% for companies that don’t grow consecutively.
  • Sustained growers across 5 and 10 years also grow their sales forces as higher rates, with compound annual growth rates of their sales forces of 1.91 and 3.1%, respectively, compared to a -2.2% compound annual growth in sales by companies that could not grow consecutively.
  • As sustained growers across 5 and 10 years grow they decrease the proportion of sellers as a percentage of the overall workforce by- 2 and -3% per year, respectively, where as companies that do not grow consecutively see an average increase of 3% in the proportion of people in sales.

In summary, serial growth companies: realize a flywheel effect where consecutive years of growth begets higher growth overall growth, they grow their sales forces faster than companies that do not grow consecutively and they grow their sales forces at a slower rate than their overall work force.

So What Drives Sustained Growth Companies’ Ability to Achieve High Sales [Capital] Efficiency?

Our experience suggests that sustained growth companies draw on six levers to drive growth:

  1. Focus narrowly on growing sub-segments within markets. Sustained growers are exceptional at reviewing their growth history and analyzing segments to identify pockets of growth that they can serve efficiently. Become a master at thin slicing your markets to identify pockets of growth, the benefits are significant; 2-4x growth over average is possible in many sub-segments.
  2. Segment the sales force into specialized groups targeting segments with similar needs and buying processes. Specialization creates efficiency across the sales process and heightens focus on customer experience. Organizations that fail to specialize do so at their own peril. Too often, Sales leaders develop sales investment cases at the margin which contain flawed assumptions driven by historical experience in different markets under different sales processes. For more, visit my previous post on marginal cost justifications for sales force expansion.
  3. Regularly assess sales force coverage. Having the right number and types of resources covering your target segments is essential to maximizing revenue capture and sales efficiency. Yes, adjusting coverage is unpopular with the field, however, it’s essential to managing productivity and cost of sales, particularly as markets mature. If you are facing maturity or are already there, bite the bullet and create a coverage realignment process.
  4. Invest in defining, updating, and consistently following a sales process. Surprisingly few sales forces consistently follow a defined sales process, and fewer still regularly revise the process with customer input. This lack of discipline breeds waste, inefficiency, and customer discontent.
  5. Tightly align sales and marketing. Creating tighter alignment between sales and marketing, particularly in targeting, awareness building, and lead creation reduces inefficiency by preventing the expenditure of sales resources on unqualified opportunities or early, less valuable steps in the sales process. Serial growers know that maximizing quality lead volume is critical to sales efficiency and impossible, with the prominence of the web, for sales to do one its own.
  6. Invest in a sales management system. Serial growers consistently have strong sales management systems that clearly focus on managing activities to achieve interim goals which lead to business outcomes. Creating this linkage enables managers to utilize predictive metrics and have coaching conversations with reps that lead to skill development and behavioral change. See my previous post for more on this topic.

Now get out there and start working on these levers, you need not approach them in order. There is incremental value in each one, and perfect alignment across all six requires constant tuning.

If you are pursuing serial growth or have achieved it, we’d love to hear from you. Please comment here or @Evergreengrowth on Twitter.