As the economy picks up steam, organizations are seeing the next 12 to 24 months as a unique opportunity to capture increased market share and margin growth. This begs the question: Does your team have the confidence and skill to take advantage of these complex sales opportunities?
By Bruce Wedderburn
You don’t have to tell your salespeople that selling in the current business environment has become increasingly challenging. They see it every day:
- Greater price pressure
- New competitors disrupting old business models
- The rise of hybrid and remote sales
- Evolving technologies affecting their own organization as well as their clients’
- A broader collation of stakeholders they have to interact with, each with their own priorities, needs and expectations
Underscoring this complexity is the fact that clients and prospects are expecting more strategic value from the organizations they partner with. They’re sizing up your salespeople and wanting to know: Are they credible? Is talking with them going to be a good use of our time? Do they truly understand our business and the complexities we’re dealing with? Will they be able to work with and create value for a variety of stakeholders?
How would you answer those questions about your own salespeople?
Just like a football team must strengthen its performance to be competitive after moving up to a stronger division, sales teams need to sharpen their capabilities to compete and win in the coming economy.
3 Keys to Success in Complex Sales
Excellent selling skills and opportunity planning activities like researching the industry and current account situation are no longer differentiators; they’re the bare minimum.
What levers you can press to equip your team to compete and win in a business environment where there is pent-up demand for your products, budgets are being opened up and organizations are looking to invest rather than save money? Here are three critical areas to elevate performance:
Belief In Sales Skills and Abilities
People’s performance tends to be consistent with their inner beliefs.. A salesperson’s beliefs about selling to major accounts, navigating different stakeholders and their ability to sell value to each person in the account will all influence their performance and their success.
Consider the example of a salesperson who typically sells to frontline managers but is now working with an opportunity where the SVP of Manufacturing is a key stakeholder. Or maybe they typically close deals in the $100,000 range but now have a million-plus opportunity in front of them. There may be a lot of things going on inside their head that could get in their way, especially if they don’t see themselves as having the confidence or ability to sell at that level.
Often, the person will unconsciously find all sorts of activities to occupy themselves with so they “don’t have time” to call the SVP or pursue the deal. They may send one email and then give up. They may decide to talk to the assistant director of HR instead, since that’s where they’re most comfortable. Because the salesperson isn’t committed to the activities that will move the opportunity forward, the deal stalls out. That only reinforces their belief that this just isn’t possible for them.
These are just a couple of the myriad mental beliefs at the root of why people and deals get stuck; in most cases, neither the salesperson nor the manager is conscious of them. But until you address what’s going on in their heads, you can give this person all the tools and technology in the world, and the challenges will persist.
What are the conversations they’re having with themselves about themselves, the value of your solutions and their commitment to the activities it will take to be successful? These answers, more than any other factor, will determine how much they sell.
Complex Sales Planning Process
Success begins with preparation, and that’s especially true now that decision teams continue to increase in size. The buying team has turned into a buying army. Stakeholders, known and unknown, can range from the C-Suite to frontline management to individual functions like IT and procurement to external consultants. They’ll all have different roles, requirements and influence in the process.
Knowing the various stakeholders involved in an opportunity is just the first step. Knowing each person’s individual needs and helping them see how your solution addresses those needs is the next. But major B2B buying decisions are not made by individuals; they’re made by buying coalitions. The salesperson has to be able to bring those stakeholders together to form a consensus of understanding around a) what the problem or opportunity is, b) what the solution looks like and c) how they’ll decide between competing alternatives.
Each stakeholder is going to approach the conversation from the perspective of their unique needs and biases, so as part of the planning process, the salesperson should determine:
- How the various stakeholders will come together to make a collective decision
- Each stakeholder’s role in the process
- The kind of information each person needs
- Awareness of competitive activity
It’s also important to understand how each stakeholder sets goals and measures success and what their priorities or key initiatives are. This could encompass anything from improving profitability to increasing market share to attracting top talent. The more you know, the better business partner you’ll be and the more differentiated value you’ll bring to the conversation.
Executing Your Sales Plan
Execution is where beliefs and planning converge. It’s also where the best-laid strategic plans often fall apart. For example, it’s one thing for an account manager to know they need to connect with someone who has the potential to release the funds for an opportunity. But can they get a meeting and, once there, create value for that person? Can they execute their plan under pressure?
Let’s say you’re a salesperson who’s selling enterprise software solutions. You finally get that coveted meeting with the CIO at a Fortune 500 company. You’ve planned well, but as the discussion unfolds, you find that the CIO isn’t responding or giving you the visual cues you’re expecting. You begin to assume the CIO is bored with your questions, and, before you know it, the plan goes out the window. You start pitching product.
A great plan isn’t worth much if your salespeople can’t deliver on it. Here are some questions to consider as you evaluate your sales team’s ability to execute:
- Can they get key stakeholders to agree to a conversation?
- Do they have the skills, mindset and self-belief to be credible and persuasive at that level?
- Are they able to create value so that stakeholders see the need, have a sense of urgency and view your solution as valuable?
- Do they have the skills to bring disparate groups together and facilitate a uniting conversation that builds consensus around a decision?
Developing Your Sales Team’s Confidence to Boost Their Selling Game
As you look ahead to the next 24 months, take a moment to assess your sales team’s capabilities and readiness. As the sales environment grows more complex, one of the most important things sales leaders can do is coach their teams to adopt a new mindset about what’s possible and equip them to create more value as a true business partner to your clients.
Your salespeople need the tools needed to confidently and skillfully manage strategic accounts in which multiple and diverse personalities are involved in the decision making process. Better account mapping, understanding the decision making process and having a simple process to effectively strategize and prioritize accounts are just some of the ways we can help arm your sales team to succeed. If you’d like to discuss, please feel free to reach out.