Close dates. As a B2B solution seller, I, like many others in similar roles, have spent so much time over my career obsessing over this seemingly simple data point. I mean, it’s pretty normal right? The focus of our work is finding, developing, and closing sales opportunities, and the close date is a vital piece of information that is captured, updated, and reported on ad nauseam.
Ever worked in a startup? In particular an early stage one with around 6-12 people? My bet is that it was populated by highly motivated individuals with a strong desire to succeed, and was most likely immense fun to be a part of – and not to mention the hardest you ever worked! And by definition that team was cross-functional and self-organising – in other words it had all the requisite roles and skills to succeed, and was empowered to figure out how to achieve its goals. Continue reading “Cross Functional Teams: Why They’re Good for Your Sales Organisation”
This post was written (very rapidly) as a response to a question posted on LinkedIn by John Smibert:
What causes a sales pipeline to become clogged? What should we do to get it flowing again?
With those questions in mind, and my Lean Thinking hat firmly on my head, here are some areas for consideration:
Glenn Coe chose to sub-title his book: “Lessons from a life on the road. The essential guide for a sales career”. In that respect, the book delivers – lots of solid advice, based on real experience. It’s chapters are structured as a series of questions, starting from the very basics, for example: What is Sales?, What Does it Take to be Good at Sales?, How Do I know if I’m Cut Out for It?, and so on, including, later on, Should I Buy a Porsche?, and Why Do My Colleagues Hate Me?
B2B sales is a complex job – there are often many different moving parts associated with a sales opportunity, including the customer, and the various stakeholders involved; the opportunity itself, and the potential investments and rewards it represents to the customer and the supplier; the specific requirements which need to be satisfied; the solution that is offered; the contracting process – and so on.
Keeping track of all these different moving parts, in any coherent kind of fashion, is not easy, especially as they: a) can move independently of one another; b) do not always progress in a simple linear way; and c) are often outside of our direct control. Multiply that by everything that’s in your pipeline and you have a challenge on your hands. The greater the complexity of your opportunity (or set of opportunities in your pipeline) the greater the chances of missing some key aspect or piece of information, leading to increased risk (of losing deals), and therefore decreased reliability of your forecast.
In most businesses, risk is a well-understood factor and usually equally well mitigated. Many companies have a risk register and if you are an insurance company then your risk appetite defines how you conduct your business. Yet there is one form of risk that lurks unseen in many organisations because it is not identified as such. It manifests itself in other terminology or is obscured by the way that those who have created the risks describe it initially.
Over the last decade or so, lean and agile principles and practices have become increasingly popular and prevalent in many aspects of business. Whole communities of people have begun to embrace lean and agile, industries focusing on lean and agile have sprung up, and many organisations have bet their futures on “transforming” to lean and agile ways of working.
So what has this got to do with the business of sales and selling? I believe there are many good concepts in lean and agile, and that sales and salespeople can benefit from embracing at least some of them.
A recent article by McKinsey was quoted on LinkedIn as saying: “There is no doubt the role of sales in successful organisations is changing. The tools needed to be successful are changing. The structure of successful sales teams is changing. The role of the customer and the collaboration required between buyer and seller is changing”.
Undoubtedly, all of the above is true and is already happening to some degree in most forward-looking organisations. Partly this is being driven by the age-old pressure for increasing revenues coming from senior managers keen to grow rapidly (although not always for the best reasons) but it is also a reaction to the way the decision-making power is shifting heavily in favour of the buyer who is now better informed than ever before. It is also fair, and painful, to say that many sales organisations have brought this on themselves by exhibiting and rewarding behaviours that are very short-term in their effect and which are not focused on bringing value to the customer. A perfect storm you might say, with added currents of big data fuelling the winds of change.
You’re probably thinking this is going to be about some “Groundhog Day” type of scenario where your attempt to close a sale keeps going round and round like clothes in a washing machine on permanent spin cycle. Of course, we’ve all had this type of situation to deal with at some time but this is not what the article is about.
Instead we’ll talk about the change from a sales cycle with a defined start and end to one where we are continuously engaged with the client and where one success forms the basis for the next, such that it becomes more of a closed loop than a linear journey from A to B. Why is this important or relevant?
There is a widespread debate at present about what business to business (B2B) solution selling might look like in a few years’ time and what the ramifications are for sales professionals operating in this field. The major trend underpinning this thinking is the shift of power away from the product or vendor salesperson to the customer, enabled by the vast amount of high-quality information readily available online or through a range of relevant discussion groups and forums. If this trend continues, the protagonists argue, then the traditional B2B sales role will disappear and be replaced by a more transactional approach. Therefore, mature sales professionals will need to re-invent themselves in order to survive, and those entering the job market now will need to acquire a whole new skill set that is still evolving. It sounds scary and it is. So, what can you do about it if you are currently riding high as a commissioned, target driven sales jock?