ComEx and the importance of winning strategies, methodologies and systems
There are many salespersons active in the field of complex sales. Although a number of them are highly successful, many fail to deliver the results desired by their employers. Based on research, sales professionals only spend 1/3 of their time selling. By phone about 90% (of the 1/3) and face to face with customers 10%. Less than 15% of them possess the ability to effectively engage new business. In my last 10 ComEx projects with international companies, researched showed the customer-facetime was actually between 3 and 6 hours a week. The common denominator was that sales professionals complained about an increase of internal meetings or the fact that they are heavily involved in operational issues, not sales. In reality 60% is struggling with the internal organization.
From a customer perspective, 80% of the professional buyers want to interact with sales professionals who behave as trusted advisors and not typical sales reps. In the healthcare industry for instance the consequences are severe. Especially medical decision makers are treating sales reps more and more as persona non grata, other industries are gentler in their opinion. As trusted advisor sales professionals are appreciated because they understand the industry, the customer market and are able to show real contribution to the customer strategy. Only 20% of the best performing salespersons are in their approach more focused on customer interaction. Interestingly, most sales professionals (>80%) believe that teamwork with other departments is imperative for success.
The remedy looks easy, just increase customer-facetime. Intensify the sales effort and your business will grow. That’s partly true, sales force effectiveness is crucial in any sales organization however there is more to add to the magic formula.
Focus on winning strategies
Since most companies operate in a turbulent and challenging environment, it is somewhat puzzling that many companies do not have a well-defined and implemented sales approach. We believe there are three good reasons to define a strategy to win opportunities in an evolving marketplace:
- Having a Winning Strategy is the foundation of all sales activities. A well-validated strategy means the sales force makes action plans in line with the business situation. It also drives the majority of day-to-day activities in the direction of winning large, complex sales opportunities. Importantly, a winning strategy prescribes plotting and anticipating multiple scenarios for an opportunity. While this may take some extra time initially, down the line it saves considerable amounts of time and increases your chances to win. ‘The biggest waste of a salesman’s time is the sale that falls through’
- Managing complex opportunities becomes easier with a winning strategy. In a constantly changing environment, creating a winning strategy renders the demands of dealing with multi-level decision making units and associated organizational politics. Building a winning Strategy needs to be much more than a reference used to validate tactical decisions; it should be in the hearts and minds of everyone in the Sales team. If this is truly the case, activity can be quickly adjusted to meet changing circumstances in the customer’s environment.
- Having a Winning Strategy enables you to go through a ‘Discovery – Make Choice – Action’ loop. In order to discover, we need to open our minds to all possibilities and eventualities while not being constrained by conventional wisdom, the status quo or the past. Many sales are lost due to the tendency to make assumptions. This is why it is important to recognize assumptions and challenge them. We can only choose from what we discover. A winning strategy helps you to open your mind to multiple possibilities and outcomes.
The end result should be an action plan, focused on and leading to better customer interaction. A strategy without actions doesn’t make sense. Many sales professionals find translating strategy into appropriate actions difficult, especially these actions are partly executed by people in supporting departments. This is where methodologies and tools come in.
Methodologies and tools?
Customer focused strategies are about effort, intelligence, ability to define winning strategies supported by the right methodologies and tools. This significantly improves and standardizes sales capabilities while advancing time-management and motion more generally within the sales organization. It also introduces a degree of accountability and review in the execution of the sales process. Remember, though, no system can replace the strategic thinking, experience-based insight and intuition of top sales professionals; they are always vital for success.
A fool with a tool is still a fool
The earlier mentioned 20% best performers tend to adopt the right tactical approach to get a grip on political and cultural movements within customer organization. They instinctively know how to deal with complex situations and do not need a system for that; although it’s not on the top of their list. Nonetheless, common processes and systems are essential in developing a highly professional sales organization necessary to attract and retain these top performers. And do not forget 80% of the sales population needs support and coaching to increase performance. On the other hand, my experience is even for the best performers, it’s a challenge to discover and approach stakeholders outside the salesperson’s usual network. This step outside of their comfort zone can prove to be a real contest. The framework provided by a solid sales strategy supports the execution of this vital task. Another part of the formula.
Handling the ‘Decision Making Units’ (DMUs’)
Many large organizations delegate authority to a group of people (decision making units: DMU’s) to make decisions, often proportional to the size of the proposed investment. When managing a multi-level sales opportunity, the likelihood of success is improved by developing a relationship with the highest authority level (Power Sponsor) for that specific sale. Sometimes a buyer has veto power, but still has to walk a formal path towards granting final approval. In some cases, the DMU consists of a committee of decision makers that act as a single entity. Our experience with a global medical device supplier illustrates a trend of the growing size of DMU’s, made up of stakeholders from multiple hospitals, acting as a single entity. This increases the negotiating power of the customer as they can drive down prices in return for larger deals.
If you are unable to proactively influence all the key stakeholders before a formal Request for Proposal (RFP), your chances of success will be limited. You will be forced to be reactive, while being unable to influence the customer’s perception of his needs. Indeed, in this type of situation, you are likely playing an “away game”. Basically, you are too late. An early involvement in a buying decision process is imperative.
In complex sales, luck needs to be taken out of the equation by enacting a well-validated winning strategy as mentioned before.
What is ultimately needed to build a strong winning strategy?
Is the formula complete and all-encompassing? No, ComEx is a holistic challenge. I did not mention the importance of building the right customer value propositions, skillsets, incentive programs, leadership, etcetera. They are of equal importance but not part of this blog. Every company has a certain maturity level in sales, so you have to develop a company tailored solution. In most companies there are already a lot of best practices available, but they are not always implemented in the right way. Improvement programs for complex sales will only be effective if the top management of an organization takes the lead and accepts accountability for the implementation.
The million-dollar question is: “Is it enough to have the skills to execute a winning strategy supported by internal common processes and tools, mature management using best practice sales funnel techniques and a framework for value proposition generation?”
The missing factor with hard consequences is Mindset (have a look at my earlier post Economy of Beliefs). We think you need a strong faith in the capability of both your products and organization. “If you can dream it, you can believe it. If you can believe it, you can achieve it”. In other words, it means that your team believes in the company’s strategy and the unique value of your product portfolio. Without this self-confidence every sales or skill program will fail. Work with the organization, involve the right people and make sure their faith in their destiny gradually emerges; the drive and motivation of your team members can and will make a difference. Sales structures, methodologies to win deals are much more valuable as a whole than in isolation. Done well, symbiosis will be the result while sales revenue rises; at least 20% more compared to your peers.
Want to discuss how we can help you achieve ComEx? We’re here to help!