Why Sales Just Can’t “Show Me The Money”

The engine of every company is customer acquisition. Customers translate into revenue which fuels job creation, investment and shareholder value. Without customers there is no business. They are the fly wheel of economies and societies. While everyone in an organization has a role in customer relationships, finding and winning customers largely falls on the shoulders of Sales. Even in today’s era of self-service, Sales plays an important role. Somebody needs to follow up on inquiries, build a relationship with the buyer, provide pricing, and close the deal. To that end, Sales’ is always in the CEO’s crosshairs. For the simple reason that despite billions being spent annually on technology, training and recruiting – the percentage of sales reps that meet quota has stubbornly remained at 50 percent for years, if not decades. The culprit lies in Sales hanging on to old habits and inadequate enablement. The combination foretells of a looming crisis that will leave no company untouched. The primary reasons for Sales’ ongoing struggle, according to Qvidian’s Sales Execution Trends 2015 Report, are:

  • Inability to effectively communicate value
  • Slow sales rep ramp up time
  • Inaccurate pipeline forecasts
  • Disconnected systems
The pressure is on. Companies want increased win rates (94 percent of respondents) and improved quota attainment (87 percent). Yet, the study found that over 40 percent of opportunities end in ‘no decision’. That translates into even more pressure on Sales to win new accounts (59%), up-/cross-sell into existing accounts (43%), and improve the win rate of forecasted deals (35%). The root cause of the looming crisis is the growing gap between sales’ behaviors and customer expectations. According to the study, over 55 percent of companies do not clearly understand the customer’s buying process. “The disconnect between what the buyer wants and what the sales rep provides is at the crux of a persistent problem: The strategy and sales execution gap,” shares Christopher Faust, Qvidian’s Chief Marketing Officer. “Increasing lack of sales alignment with buyers and failures to provide real added value to the customer contribute to the cycle of inefficiency.” That forces sales manager to routinely perform unnatural acts in order to generate the expected revenue the organization needs. Leaving little time for real-time coaching and reinforcement (24% of respondents), sales reps are left to figure it out for themselves. That translates into an average ramp up time of 7 to 9 months until they are fully productive. Reducing ramp time is a top objective of sales organizations but that requires more than just better training on customer buying behaviors and expectations. Sales reps face a work environment in which over 70 percent of them are expected to work with multiple systems that are not streamlined or connected. The inability to find the right content or tools and collaborate with successful reps to learn best practices directly impacts Sales’ ability to effectively communicate value (41 percent) which impacts quota attainment. All of these factors contribute to the persistent problem of inaccurate pipeline forecasting. Businesses make key decisions based on pipeline forecasts and when those forecasts are routinely incorrect the dampening effect on the business is real in terms of slower than possible growth. 22 percent of the study’s respondents reported inaccurate pipeline forecast as a top challenge despite having deployed a CRM system to streamline sales complexity and lead tracking. The recent rise of sales analytics hasn’t helped solve the problem either. On average, 42 percent of organizations reported their analytics solutions do not meet their needs, if they even have one. With manual reports and high level dashboards, the level of insight management and the rest of the company needs in order to help Sales just isn’t available. And that leaves the sales rep flying blind. Not knowing what the buyer’s process is, the sales rep isn’t clear on what the most effective next action is, what content the buyer really wants, when the buyer takes an action that requires an immediate response, and how to build a trusted, valued relationship, on the buyer’s terms. There is no silver bullet to fix this situation. Companies first need to face the facts and get real about becoming customer aligned. It’s not a marketing campaign or a HR slogan, it’s a transformation. From there, the steps to improve Sales’ ability to perform include:
  • Integrate, streamline and mobile-enable systems so Sales can work smarter.
  • Spoon feed Sales reps the data they need, dynamically, and in context of the deal at hand.
  • Train Sales on customer journeys and equip them with tools, coaching, and guides.
  • Customize content and deploy sales playbook technology.
  • Implement neuro-linguistic programming-based coaching.
The time is now for Sales leaders to demand their organizations step into the Customer Economy and, as part of that, reinvent their sales strategy and execution to deliver “the money” predictably. First published on Forbes

Tearing Down The Silos That Cloud Apps Create

The Cloud is a wonderful thing.  For companies, departments, teams and employees it means freedom and, to a degree, self-determination. They can quickly find and start using applications that empower them to be more creative, efficient, collaborative, and competitive. Free to tap into virtually any SaaS application without IT involvement, the era of the Cloud has unleashed waves of productivity and innovation.   Read the rest of the Forbes post here.

Salesforce Opens The Door To Competitors

When <a href="http://www.salesforce.com/">Salesforce.com</a> was launch in 2000, it revolutionized the software industry and the cloud movement was born.  While the motto was ‘the end of software’, back in those days the company was also all redefining CRM /SFA (sales force automation).  The Salesforce promise was its application was designed for and to help sales people be more effective.  A message that resonated with sales leaders since Clarify and Siebel were basically sales management reporting applications masquerading as CRM platforms. As this $5 Billion company grew, it changed from a SaaS application provider to a platform provider.  For good reason, platforms have stronger staying power in a rapidly evolving market.  As more application vendors build on Force.com, the platform becomes sticker and revenue more predictable.  It’s a nice business to be in. In that transformation to a platform provider, Salesforce opened the door to upstart competitors that could seed its demise.  That door is their SFA/CRM application. The very application that was built for sales people has not kept up with the needs of sales.  Today’s complaints about the application sound haunting familiar to those made about Clarify and Siebel over a decade ago: Cumbersome, not intuitive, problematic reliability, and difficult to customize. Not good considering the state of sales performance. Accenture’s latest report – <a href="http://www.accenture.com/salesspeed">Powering Profitable Sales Growth</a> – points out that in 2014, "just six in 10 (59%) sales representatives are expected to achieve his/her quota, down from 67% in 2013.”  That costs companies, according to Accenture and CSO Insights, 3.2 percent in potential revenue. Contributing to the decline is sales performance is that "only 51 percent of sales organizations use a formal step-by-step selling process, only eight percent have a formal sales methodology implemented, sales teams spend less than 40 percent of their time selling, and less than 20 percent use analytics to spot cross-sell opportunities or at-risk customers. Recapturing this potential revenue requires a combination of training, technology-enabled sales tools and better use of data and analytics.  “The combination of mobility, the cloud, sales analytics and cutting-edge content management has created a new opportunity to enhance the performance of the average sales performer,” said <a href="http://www.accenture.com/us-en/company/people/Pages/robert-wollan.aspx">Robert Wollan</a>, global managing director, <a href="http://www.accenture.com/us-en/strategy/Pages/index.aspx">Accenture Strategy</a>, <a href="http://www.accenture.com/us-en/strategy/sales-customer-services-crm/Pages/sales-customer-services-crm-index.aspx">Sales &amp; Customer Service</a>.  “This opportunity is being missed, and companies need to improve their focus on the right combination of these resources to help improve competitiveness and deliver higher sales and margins.” An opportunity that Salesforce, SAP, Oracle and Microsoft have missed as each diversified, broadly, its focus and mission. Walking through that open door is a handful of upstart competitors like <a href="http://www.pipelinersales.com/">Pipeliner CRM</a> and <a href="https://getbase.com/">Base</a>. Pipeliner CRM has three guiding principles: Flexibility, simplicity, and visualization.  According to <a href="http://www.pipelinersales.com/company/team/eric-quanstrom/">Eric Quanstrom</a>, CMO, “[tweet_quote display="People absorb visual information 60,000 times faster than tired, tabular data"]People absorb visual information 60,000 times faster than tired, tabular data[/tweet_quote] . It is through our highly graphical interface that much of the complexity in sales data is eliminated.”  Unlike the majority of SaaS applications vendors, this new breed of CRM vendors use growth-hacking techniques to rapidly evolve their products to meet their users changing needs and usage behaviors. That doesn’t mean the Cloud application is functionally lightweight. It supports multiple configurable pipelines where users can do things like: set up a sales pipeline for better lead management and nurturing, a business development pipeline for managing partner or channel recruitment, and a “market influencer” pipeline for tracking and managing customer evangelists and advocates.  Managing multiple pipelines more accurately reflects how organization’s value chains work and their linkages to revenue generation. Sales performance is enabled by providing visual analytics and eliminating as much data entry as possible, as Pipeliner CRM does with their Buying Center. New to CRM, this feature pops a visual face onto the organization salespeople sell into. “No salesperson works as an island. Our app has built-in ways for every member of the sales team to be on the same page, which includes being able to quickly spot the budget holders, gatekeepers, influencers, and other roles are in every deal,” said Quanstrom. Baked into the application are robust predictive analytics that provide out-of-the-box intelligence on deals, sales opportunities, lead management, sales time utilization, and automated alerts to help employees, in any department, focus on the right things. Quanstrom calls it the “See it. Zero in. Do it.” model . No full-time administrator is needed since the application is maintained through internal crowd-sourced administration features. By eliminating time-consuming complexity with drag-and-drop ease as well as lots of customer data entry through APIs with over 40 applications like accounting and marketing automation applications, Pipeliner CRM enables companies to set up their system to mirror their actual sales methodology and evolve it to stay in lock step with company change. Another competitor is <a href="https://getbase.com/tour/">Base</a> which positions itself as an intelligent sales productivity platform.  A web and mobile application focused on functionality that understands the context of what a sales person is doing.   The application’s goal is to be ‘one-stop’ and offers functionality Sales need to manage the lifecycle of a lead and do their jobs, from email through analytics and performance coaching. What’s striking about Base is the user-interface; think consumer–grade user experience meets enterprise application.  All functionality is mobile native, from lead scoring, analytics to sales opportunity bottleneck and sales call / territory visit mapping.  <a href="http://www.linkedin.com/in/uzish">Uzi Shmilovici</a>, Base’s CEO and founder, started the company to raise the bar in how sales teams are enabled and managed.   The problem he wants to eliminate is that Sales typically logs into seven systems to get the information they need to do their jobs well. His first rule was that everything must be visual, fast, intuitive and easy to use.  The second rule was it must support a company’s workflow processes while also enabling real-time, in-the-deal coaching to improve each sales person’s productivity based on their unique strengths and weakness. Both companies are young and have raised enough money and paying customers to prove there is a huge unmet need in the marketplace.  With their eyes set on market share and the growing dissatisfaction with Sales Cloud, these and other upstarts could turn Salesforce’s strength in their Achilles heel. That is the price for leaving the door open, Salesforce.   First posted in my Forbes Blog.

Training is Sales and Marketing’s BlindSpot

Despite rapid advances in technology like Big Data, behavior based marketing automation, customer engagement platforms and intent data through content consumption marketing; the lament of CEOs and Boards of Directors on the ineffectiveness of marketing is growing.   Their beef with marketing is over a disconnect between budget, priorities, and revenue ROI.   For CEOs the only thing that matters is revenue – driving quality leads, getting sales in front of the prospect, and helping them to close the deal.  While every CEO likes to see his or herself on TV and mentioned in print, in the end their own jobs depend on meeting revenue numbers.  The vagaries of marketing’s metrics around visitors, conversions, likes, etc.  and the black art of attribution doesn’t create a sense of formulaic predictability CEOs are looking for. While much of the conversation is focused on marketing’s challenges, Sales is not immune from the same complaints.  In the era of the customer and social selling, CEOs are baffled by less sales productivity where more is expected.  The battle over lead follow up, forecast accuracy, opportunity aging and understanding the customer’s needs should be won already rather than becoming harder.  Sales methodologies have been changed, predictive technology that helps Sales to respond more effectively to customers based on behavior patterns has been implemented, and coaches employed to work mano-a-mano with sales teams. No one is claiming that the world of B2B marketing and sales has gotten easier and that technology makes these jobs a cake-walk.  Nor is the claim that CEOs and Boards are, more or less, unreasonable or forgiving than in years gone by.  But it does beg the question why Sales and Marketing keep struggling. One reason is training – or the lack thereof. According to ANA and McKinsey’s 2014 Marketing Disruption study, 77% of marketers recognize that they need to deeply understand customer journeys and how to align their programs to them. Yet only 13% “have reached a point where they’re taking action and achieving measurable impact.”   What’s holding marketers back from stepping up is a dogged addition for outdated best practices and marketing models but also an alarming reticence to invest in learning new skills and methods. According to ANA/McKinsey, 89% of marketers admit that training and skills development is critical to being successful in the future.  Yet training investment are anemic and often the first line item to be cut when funds get tight.  No wonder a third of marketers are unable to make data-driven decisions and don’t know what tools to use or how to use them. Sales believes in training but has not evolved their content to meet the needs of front-line sales staff.   Brainshark’s recent State of Sales Training study highlights a startling discrepancy between what needs to get done and what’s actually getting done. For example, 38% of sales training professionals say their organization’s training content needs quarterly updates. However, 42% say that, in reality, their organization’s training content gets updated once a year at best – leaving them open to inconsistent, incorrect and/or outdated messaging, and even potential compliance violations. “Engaging, timely content that is accessible when needed is vital to sales training and overall sales success,” said Brainshark Inc. CEO Joe Gustafson. “The survey results highlight a great opportunity for organizations to meet this need – with stimulating sales content that’s both easy to access and consume. For organizations, this often means taking advantage of rapid content authoring and updating capabilities and ensuring just-in-time training delivery – to make sure that training works and sticks, and help reps be better prepared to close more deals.” Part of the problem is that the most prevalent methods of sales training for organizations today include: Live classroom training (80%), live Web conferencing (65%), on-demand training (67%), video (49%) and social learning (28%).  Struggles related to live training include:

  • Difficulties aligning schedules (61%)
  • Reps easily distracted (45%)
  • Lack of coaching and reinforcement (35% and 36% respectively)
  • Lack of rep engagement (36%)
  The track record for on-demand training isn’t much better.  Organizations face challenges including deadlines not met (25%) and an inability to track completion/progress (23%). Both Marketing and Sales need to get with the times and deliver ongoing training, coaching and onboarding support in order to effectively understand and respond to customer lifecycle engagement expectations, increasing uncertainty and digital transformation.  While in-classroom training will never lose its effectiveness, it needs to be supported with just-in-time, bite sized consumable training units. According to the Brainshark study, the two areas where pace-setters are reversing the skill gap are with video and mobile-based learning.  “Consider providing just-in-time learning content within the context of workflow as a form of performance support,” shares Joan Babinski, VP of Corporate Marketing, Brainshark. “So when reps have to do somewhat tedious or confusing processes, give them content that can pop up on their screen right when they need it – rather than making them wade through materials or try to recall hours of previous training.” For training to be effective, it needs to be viewed as a strategic enabler. While who owns the training problem may vary within any organization, all parts of the organization have to align and work together to improve training content effectiveness.  As long as Sales and marketing don’t address the link between training, performance, and meeting customer engagement expectations, the greater this blindspot will result in a redefinition of their perceived value; one neither function will relish.   First published in my Forbes blog "Outside the Box"

Outside-In Customer Experience Is The Best Offensive Strategy

B2B companies are realizing that the real rockbed of building enduring customer relationships lies in the perception customers hold of value.  Value is increasingly not in the product but in the services – paid and free – that sellers provide.  While still a controversial concept, this realization is prompting many B2B companies to revisit their customer journey maps…   Read the full Forbes post here.

Integrating Fragmented Customer Conversations Into A Valued Experience Takes Moxie

Two discussions are occurring in the marketplace around customer experience, one is focused on how to interact, inspire and influence buyers to trust and prefer your brand. The other conversation is focused on what to do with customers post purchase.   Logically, these two are part of the same conversation; one a continuation of the other... To read the entire Forbes article, click here.

Going OmniChannel? You Have To Do These 7 Things Well

The term “omnichannel experience” burst on the scene last year as the next step in the evolution of customer engagement.  Borrowing a concept from advertising, it isn’t enough for sales and marketers to deliver the purchase experience customers will pay a premium for...   Read the entire article on Forbes, click here.

Want To Drive More Revenue? Stop Selling

Whether it’s an expensive piece of medical equipment, software or a consumer gadget, the job of selling has turned into a complicated game of hide and seek. Buyers hide from sales people with all sorts of creative forms of avoidance. Sales teams, in turn, are constantly inventing new ways of seeking out buyers. The problem is particularly vexing when sales teams try to engage the C-Suite…

To read the rest of the Forbes article, click here.

Why the CMO Seat is so Hot

Despite being one of the toughest and shortest tenured jobs in a company, the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) has become all powerful.  Everyone has an opinion and the heated debate continues over what it means to be a Chief Marketing Officer and how the role is measured. ... To read the full article on Forbes, click here.

Solving the Customer Experience Vs. Engagement Vs. Omnichannel Puzzle

Survey the vast array of vendors claiming to be leaders in customer experience and you might get the impression that vendors have decoded and aligned their operations to customer expectations.  Could all the hand wringing over customer acquisition, churn, and loyalty been blown out of proportion?... To read the rest of the Forbes post, click here.