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Sales 2.0: Does It Enable Effective Selling Or Is It Yet Another Decoy?

As ESR continues to work with our clients, observe salespeople and research sales effectiveness, we’re frustrated and concerned with the increasing hype around Sales 2.0.

Is Sales 2.0 real?  Yes.  Are Sales 2.0 applications actually helping salespeople to win business? Yes.  There is no question about that.  But we believe in numbers significantly less than some would have you believe.  I expect the Sales 2.0 vendors will be all over me about this.  Yes, I know they can provide compelling case studies, references and testimonials.  The issue is much broader and quite serious.

Before I go any further, I want to acknowledge that there are highly effective sales enablement (Sales 2.0) apps on the market.  What immediately comes to mind are those of some of the leading sales training companies: The TAS Group with their Dealmaker and TAS:Pedia (we saw an exciting demo of new releases last week) and the effective technology implementations of a number of other sales methodologies by White Springs.

ESR knows that the sales methodology and the processes upon which it is built should be the backbone of a company’s sales approach.  Significant research bears this out.  Get that methodology thing right, provide all the support, training and coaching and get all your salespeople following it (with the requisite flexibility for differing situations, of course), and you are taking one of the most important strategic actions that determines sales success.  Automate it and you’re doing even better.  That’s what some of the leading training companies are accomplishing.  They’re helping companies improve sales performance by getting them to employ a process.  Then they’re automating the process to make salespeople more effective and efficient.  It works considerably more often than not, and in the world of B2B selling, that’s an accomplishment.

Here’s my concern: Sales 2.0 vendors are pushing hard, claiming that their software applications will solve specific selling problems.  Many of the vendors are right, but—here’s the thing—if the sales leaders who are considering investing in those apps don’t have their team lined up and fully compliant with the consistent execution of a sales process, with training, coaching and metrics in place, they will more likely compound the problem than fix it.  That’s what happened with CRM years ago.  Many of us saw it promoted as a paradigm-changing fix for most sales ills.  CRM’s big problem, was (is?) that there was nothing in it for the salesperson, and that’s why compliance was (and still is, in many cases) so low.  For many companies, CRM served to make the situation worse, not better.  It kept sales management from focusing on the real issues.  It was a decoy!

Will sales problems get compounded with the purchase of a few cool Sales 2.0 tools?  It’s like my problem with sales tips.  Allowing sales people to spend time seeking out and using random tips from unapproved (and sometimes incompetent) sources takes everyone’s attention off the real issue—no process!—and the lack of discipline to build one and follow one.  Sales 2.0 has become the new silver bullet—this year’s universal elixir to solve a company’s selling problems.  In those cases, Sales 2.0 may provide some value, granted, but with a steep price: it becomes a distraction from what really has to be done.  By the way, I spent better part of a week struggling to make the same decoy argument about the current state of social media with respect to B2B sales

Here’s an example of how a solid Sales 2.0 application can turn out to be a broken promise: There are some terrific sales analytics packages out there.  But what good are analytics if a company doesn’t have a documented and fully-complied with sales process?  What will happen when leading indicators show a bunch of deals are slowing down?  What will managers coach reps on?  How they themselves won business years ago?  Those managers should be coaching the rep on how the rep can better comply with the pre-established sales process—on what specific behaviors the rep must improve so they can effectively execute the process and move the deal along.  We have worked with companies that have installed analytics tools and the results were precisely as I described.  Lots of data, but no standard operating procedure for fixing the situation.

Another example would be Sales 2.0 lead generation tools.  There are some really good, innovative ones out there.  Sexy as hell.  So what happens when a sales rep uses one of these and winds up with some really good prospects and the rep can’t advance the sale from that point to closure because they don’t have the skills, proven path, tools and support to get that done?  I hope you get my point.

So here is my recommendation.  If you get all charged up about a Sales 2.0 tool that you think will help your sales team sell more stuff, faster and for bigger dollars, map the application onto the backbone of your overall sales process.  If you don’t have a sales process, stop right there.  That’s what you need to do first.  It’s not sexy, it’s not fun, it takes time, thought, focus and you’ll find every excuse not to do it.  But the research says it’s what you have to do.

Bottom line: If you want a real boost in sales effectiveness, get your selling methodology and process built, train your people on its use and support them in their effort.  Automate it all, if you like.

Then, and only then, when that’s ticking nicely along, and you can measure progress, start layering in the Sales 2.0 applications that will have the biggest bang for the buck.  Then you’ll really get some value out of Sales 2.0.

Let me hear from you.  Do you think a solid, complied-with sales process is the backbone upon which Sales 2.0 applications must be layered?  Or not?

Photo credit: © Valeriy Aksak – Fotolia.com

The Bridge Group: Some Insight Into Lead Generation

Lead Gen is a big, big issue these days for many companies.  Those companies that didn’t have an effective Lead Gen function coming into this economic crisis have a big challenge: investing the time and money now to get this done the right way.  It’s like trying to change a tire on a racing car as it’s going around the track.  If you’re in that situation, you’re not alone.

There is some good news.  It comes in the form of research and advice.

In Q4 of 2008 The Bridge Group, Inc. surveyed over 125 North American technology companies on inside sales implementations.  The focus areas were metrics and compensation.

There are some points from the survey worth considering:

  1. Where Lead Gen Reports. In 74% of the companies, Lead Generation reports to Sales, up from 68% in 2007.  This aligns with other recent research.  The reason for this is that Sales believes Marketing isn’t getting the job done for them and they need to take control of their own destiny, or at least a component of it.

  2. Mistakes. The Bridge Group points at three mistakes sales managers make that limit productivity for the Lead Generation group: a) providing product training and not sales training,  b) not providing a documented process supported by compelling sales tools, and 3) not providing coaching.  ESR’s research bears this out as well.

  3. Touches.  To the question, “On average, how many touches (from both sales & marketing) does it take to convert a ‘suspect’ to a ‘prospect’?” the response was an average of seven!  For companies focused on SMBs the average number of touches was five.  For enterprises, it was eight.  Clearly an effective lead nurturing approach can make a significant impact.

There is a reason that President Trish Bertuzzi and The Bridge Group possess an unusually high level of experience and depth of practical knowledge in the area of lead generation. They completely understand their customers and their market. This report must be required reading for every sales and marketing leader in small to mid-size technology companies.

Photo credit: © James Steidl – Fotolia.com

Another Opinion About Selling In This Economy

Read McKinsey’s recent article, The downturn’s new rules for marketers (registration required).

I was pleasantly surprised to see some sound advice about sales organization function and structure in the article.   The real meat for those of us on the sales side is near the end of the piece, beginning with, “Reprioritizing sales function.”

There is no shortage of advice about selling during this recession floating around the Internet these days.  What ESR’s clients are more interested in is not quick sales tips, but alternatives for territory coverage, resourcing, sales organization structure, and value proposition relevancy.

What concerns me is that many sales leaders in trouble will jump at any idea.  Some of those I speak with are doing exactly that.  The McKinsey article will hopefully convince you to assess your situation carefully first.  A strategy that can help one company reduce a projected revenue shortfall by 10 or 15% may make things considerably worse for another.

Your sales people need direction, motivation and firm leadership (among other things).  There couldn’t be a worse time than now for the ready, fire, aim approach.

Graphic credit: © Adrian Hillman – Fotolia.com

InTouch With Brian Carroll On Lead Generation

One of ESR’s clients has been engaged with Brian Carroll’s InTouch, Inc. team for lead generation and nurturing.  We sat in on a meeting with Brian’s team and the client the other day.

I asked Brian for permission to share with you the Lead Gen Portfolio graphic he uses with his clients.  Take a good look (click on the image for full size) and you can see which components of a total approach to lead gen you are employing and which ones you aren’t.

It’s no wonder Brian’s company is doing as well as it is and he is seen as a  thought-leader in the area of lead gen.  Brian understands selling as much as any marketing expert I’ve run into.  That came through loud and clear during the client meeting, on the podcast, and in a few articles Brian suggested I share with you about lead nurturing. (How Lead Nurturing Drives Better ROI and Lead Nurturing – Ripening the Right Bananas.)

Another critical factor in Brian’s clients’—and therefore his—success is his practical employment of process as the means for delivering qualified and nurtured leads to his clients.

By the way, I interviewed Brian for one of my podcasts a while back.  It’s worth listening to again if you’ve already heard it.

Down Economy. Fewer Deals. Respond To An RFP!

When I worked coaching sales teams I generally took a tough, if not black and white, position on responding to blind RFPs.  My clients heard me say again and again, “Follow conventional wisdom:  If you didn’t write it, your competitor probably did.  Let’s come up with more productive ways to spend your time.”

(Now I’m on the other side of the equation.  ESR helps companies write RFPs as part of their evaluation process for selecting a sales training provider. Since no vendors influence our RFPs, there is always a budget and executive sponsorship and every vendor receiving the RFP has, at least at the outset, an equal opportunity to win, we expect every vendor to respond.  Most do.  Search this blog for “RFP” and you can read more about both perspectives.)

Through an email, the author’s marketing firm (good work Gretel!) pointed me toward Tom Searcy’s terrific ebook Landing Big Sales With An RFP (registration required).  Tom provides as complete a process as I have ever seen for evaluating each RFP on its own merit.  What a perfect time to release this book.  Just when we are looking for new approaches and strategies for finding and winning business.

(I’ve written more than once about the extremely fragmented sales training industry.  I had never heard of Tom’s company Hunt Big Sales, did you?  Let me know if you have.)

In any case, the book is a serious keeper.  No fluff.  No B.S.  It’s stuffed (as in every pixel on every page) with pointers, recommendations, checklists and whatever else you may need to logically and objectively decide whether to respond to an RFP and, more importantly, how to respond to it.

Here are a few of the many lists:

  • The ‘6 Ps’ to Replacing a Provider
  • The Dirty Dozen of RFPs
  • Top 10 Dumbest RFP Questions We’ve Seen (Searcy couldn’t have made this list up.)
  • Words to avoid in an RFP response
  • Checklist of Final Proposal

Bottom line.  This is the kind of value-forward approach companies need to do more of.  This is a free e-book.  Not only that, Hunt Big Sales says, “Please feel free to post this ebook on your blog or email it to whomever you believe would benefit from reading it.”  (I chose to have you go download it from the website so the author can capture your name, company and email address.  No yahoo, hotmail or gmail addresses, please.  Let Tom know who you really are.  That’s the least you can do for such a high-value gift, isn’t it?)

If you’ll receive only a single, unsolicited RFP in 2009 you need this book to guide you in deciding how to respond to it.

Photo credit: © shooty – Fotolia.com

Why Industry Analysts are Sales Tools

I received my regular opt-in email from BNET this afternoon.  The subject was, “Discussion: Why Industry Analysts are Sales Tools.”

Hey, I thought, that looks like it would be interesting!  So I open the message and I see this link: Industry Analysts… from an Analyst.

Now this really looks interesting.  So I click.  Turns out it’s a comment I wrote on Geoffrey James’s blog 18 months ago.

I’ve written about Geoffrey before.  He’s a great writer, has plenty of guts and he’s salesguy through and through.  And, he understands the analyst business.  Big plus.

(At the moment Geoffrey’s having quite a back-and-forth with another BNET blogger.  Check it out and pile on as you see fit. )

Whether you’re a sales executive or in sales training, you do need to consider industry analysts as sales tools.   In the past I helped a number of companies figure this out and then watch them excel at leveraging the analysts that covered their markets.  By the way, analyst relations falls under marketing.  If it’s not getting done, or getting done right, just walk down the hall and start asking why.

From my position as an sales training industry analyst, few sales training company executives really understand how to leverage us.  ESR’s principal analyst, Al Case, wrote a terrific report a while back, but only a handful executives of companies we’ve spoken with have actually read the thing.  Many get on the phone with us for briefings and wind up squandering what should have been a great opportunity.

If you’re a sales trainer and want to bring ESR up to speed on what you do, please learn a bit about analysts first and how we work.