We received this e-mail from Michael Hebda, Director of Marketing North America at MEGA International. Perpetos trained Mega’s Sales teams globally. We implemented a Buyer-Aligned sales process that enables Sales reps to align their approach with the customer’s buying cycle. We like to thank Mike greatly for his willingness to have us share an example of the impact of this change.

Pascal,

I wanted to share a quick story with you. David was on the phone with a prospect the other day and the gentleman was pressuring David for a demo.

The prospect pushed further by telling David that he already had demos scheduled with two of our competitors, and wanted to see MEGA’s as well. David engaged the gentleman in a conversation about expectations, executive support, etc., and determined the prospect was between 6 and 8 o’clock on the buying clock.

When David summarized the scenario for the prospect by saying that we first wanted to get an understanding of the CIO’s goals, discuss specific pains, short- and long-term goals, etc., the gentleman had an epiphany …
He told David “You’re right. Moving forward at this stage, with none of the necessary information in place, would be a waste of time. I’m going to cancel the other two demos and re-approach this initiative correctly.”

I thought it was worth sharing that David used Buyer-Aligned Selling methods to establish himself as a trusted advisor, and did it so well that the prospect canceled competitor demos.

Talk soon,  
Mike

 

Are you looking for a new Sales Processes?
Are you looking for a new Sales process to find a (new) way to reduce your cost of sales, stop margin erosion or better align your approach with the customer’s buying cycle? Or maybe you’re simply no longer happy with your process in place?

Choosing the wrong Sales process can have some unwanted consequences and a high impact on team performance.

  • So which selection criteria are important?
  • And how can you be sure that the selected process will be just right for your business?

At Perpetos, we have been implementing sales processes for many years. This first-hand experience has helped us establish a hands-on checklist of seven characteristics of a sales process guaranteed to work. We typically see the success rate of Sales people increase by at least 22% at our customers. Download your Ebook to learn more


Every day we’re being confronted with increasing sales costs and margins under greater and greater pressure. In this blog, we explain why this is happening and look at the solution in detail.

Increasing sales costs and greater pressure on margins are usually the result of inadequate or non-existent internal sales training and supervision. There are also a few die-hard habits that many companies and sales reps cling on to which can cause even bigger problems for sales performance.

Directors will already be familiar with the changed buying behaviour and understand the impact it has on their sales and marketing organisation. The fact that up to 75% of decision-making criteria are influenced online means it’s important for us to allow sales to start a dialogue with customers at different times and with different messages.

If sales is forced to wait until customers are ‘ready-to-buy’ or in the quotation stage before they spring into action, it’s impossible to sell customer value, so:

  • Margins continue to fall
  • Products and services are experienced as commodities

This habit comes from:

  • Managers being mainly interested in the time frame that deals are agreed in
  • Sales who think it’s a waste of time to enter into a buying process early, and prefer to wait for ready-to-buy leads from marketing
  • Sales who are willing to start the buying process early and influence the customer, but don’t have the necessary skills and messages to appeal to customers in this early stage

The solution: do the right thing at the right time with the right person
Management behaviour and how to direct sales teams is crucial here, although that’s a separate topic just in itself. But how can we arm sales to face these new challenges?

  • Train sales to detect and facilitate the entire buying process
  • Implement a sales process that allows your team to document opportunities based on the customer’s willingness to buy (buying process) – and embed this in the CRM
  • Document messages for each product-market combination, and teach sales to use these messages at the right time in their comfort zone using ‘how to sell’ training with role plays

The buying process in figure 1 shows the complete customer journey. Whether it’s for existing or new customers determines how sales deals with it.

For existing customers, sales mainly need to convey ‘why customers need to stay’ – combined with behaviour that we label as ‘account development’ rather than ‘account management’. With existing relationships, detailed knowledge of the customer and their environment provides a great opportunity for increasing the value perception, and so embedding the relationship more deeply.

For non-customers, the first question is: ‘Has the customer already decided to change?’ Has the customer not decided to change yet? Then it’s best to base your messages and interactions on breaking the status quo, and so increasing the willingness to change. Customers aren’t usually aware of what improvements are possible. Or the customer thinks the risks that come with the change look too big. Or they’re not familiar enough with exactly what’s required.

These ‘why change’ messages assume the customer’s point of view and are the best way of developing prospects. And this is where the biggest challenge is identified in terms of sales performance. Various studies and analyses of our customers show that up to 60% of opportunities simply disappear from the forecast without any decision being made by the customer. The biggest competitor isn’t another supplier, but the customers themselves simply not deciding to buy anything. So messages about how good your company and its solutions are, or the extra benefits that you can offer, won’t help stimulate the buying process.

Has the customer already decided to buy? Then the next question is of course: who should I buy what from, and how much for? Sales responds to this with messages that underline why the customer should choose them. These ‘why us’ messages are most effective at this point in time. Most companies and a large proportion of sales reps score quite to very highly in this area.

Figure 2 shows when these three types of messages are most effective from a sales perspective

In summary, we therefore need to enable sales to convey three different types of messages convincingly according to the situation and depending on the product-market combination:

  • Why change
  • Why choose us
  • Why stay with us

How much do your sales convey these three sets of messages? And to what extent can they discuss them with the customer at the right time? You can compare your sales performance and customer orientation with best in class companies in the Sales Performance Benchmark


The Empowered Buyer has unleashed a range of new productivity challenges. Sales cycles have become longer and more complex than ever before. This becomes painfully clear in the declining number of sales reps still making quota: only an alarming 57,1% according to CSO Insights. One of the major productivity challenges we see, is complexity in the sales conversation.

Now let’s have a closer look at conversation complexity. Imagine you are a multi-product B2B company and John, one of your sales guys:

  • is selling into FMCG and pharmaceuticals
  • needs insights into each vertical; think of typical challenges, objections and competitive arena’s
  • in each of the verticals, he will be talking to 3 or more profiles, all having different reasons to buy
  • John has to guide each profile through different buying phases, each phase requiring typical answers and types of information
  • and last but not least: he needs to fit all the above with the right products from his portfolio

_________________________

Bottom line: John has a couple of thousands of conversations to manage!

Many companies really do expect their sales teams to familiarise with such inhuman amounts of information. And besides knowledge, don’t forget that reps need the capability to inject just the right content into the conversation at the right time, to the right person.

Now raise digital hands: can we agree that this is a mission impossible? Nobody can learn to handle this type of complexity. Sales reps are no robots switching seamlessly from one situation to the next every hour of the day. It is time we look for alternatives to support sales.

Overcoming the sales learning curve

So what can we do to get John and his colleagues back on track, and stop the year over year quota erosion? Here are 5 problem area’s:

1. 70 % of marketing content remains unused by sales
At the same time, sales reps spend 30 hours per month looking for or creating relevant content, while spending only 22% of their time actively selling. This demands first of all for a system to measure which materials are (not) being used by sales, and when. From there, marketing collateral needs to be aligned with sales conversations

2. Even Messi never stops training. So why would sales?
Traditional training is typically done in bursts of a couple of days a year. Whereas research by the Institute of America shows that 58% of training contents are forgotten within 30 minutes. Another 33% is lost after 48 hours. And by the time that theory has been put into practice, typically 3 weeks later, learning retention has been reduced to 15%. So why not shift to continuous learning by adding content training to their mobile in small nuggets, focused on individual needs? We call this ‘snackable’ learning

3. Over 80% of buyers say vendors don’t understand their issues
Closely related to the previous point, sales training and support collateral are mostly still focused on company solutions and product benefits. Buyers today are hyper connected and empowered via online and social collaboration. They don’t need your sales to explain products and services. But what they do want, is a trusted partner and advisor to help solve critical business issues

4. Most management practices have their own set of ground rules
Most management practices – like engineering or accounting – have their own set of ground rules. Imagine the drama if we took balance sheets away from financial reporting! Yet, sales management doesn’t have any ground rules or common management practice to fall back on. Instead, we are reinventing the wheel. And in many cases, we don’t even have a sales management practice behind

5. The competitive, individual (non collaborative) culture we see in most sales teams
Sales meeting agendas are still driven by business updates and reviews. Let sales become a team sport and turn sales meetings into experience sharing events. Ask marketing to join in and keep sales support materials aligned and up-to-date. You will cultivate an experience sharing culture

It would take us too far in this blog post to draw out answers for all the above. But we have done so in a webinar together with Vlerick Business School. It will take you through the 5 components to support an effective team – in less than an hour! Boost the conversation, and the sales results:

 

 


Suppose your company is ready to make its next investment. You might be planning to change your ERP system, start e-commerce, re-do the website or even buy new office premises. There are various milestones to take into account when considering where you are in your buying process:

  • Are you 100% sure you want to change the existing situation?
  • What will your new purchase enable you to do?
  • Have you already calculated the costs and ROI?
  • What criteria will you use to compare suppliers?
  • Have you compared the differences and benefits of the various options?
  • How can you guarantee that your future supplier will not disappoint you in the long run?
  • Have you checked if the new solution will cause any new problems?

You’re probably not the only person involved in this buying process: do you think your CFO and other colleagues will give the same answers to the questions above?

Everyone goes through the same mental stages in the buying process

Keep the future investment in mind for a moment. Do you realise that all your colleagues, like any individual, go through the same mental stages before making a decision to buy? Scientific research shows that every buying process follows the same sequence of mental stages. This ‘buying clock’ is a good tool for working out the readiness to buy of everyone involved in the decision-making process.

This doesn’t mean that everyone’s buying clocks are synchronised, however; the speed at which people go through the various stages depends on various factors:

  1. Experience of buying a similar solution
  2. The extent to which we can differentiate the impact of the various options
  3. The importance and impact of the decision on ourselves and/or the organisation

The mental journey through the whole buying cycle can take seconds, months or even years before all relevant decision-makers have completed it at their own pace and a contract can be signed.

Increase your company profits with these insights

The next stage: apply the ‘buying clock’ to the sales process in your company. Are your sales and marketing personnel aware of clients’ mental buying clocks? Wouldn’t it be great if your team could detect your clients’ readiness to buy correctly, and then act accordingly? For example: no sales person with good knowledge of the buying cycle will talk about a product’s specific features until the client is convinced they need something even similar to your solution. The client will feel better understood if you address them in a language that matches where they are in the buying process.

More sales with higher margins at a lower cost

At an organisational level, your company will develop a common language that helps to align sales activities and vastly increase efficiency and effectiveness. If you want to be able to achieve the following, consider making the readiness to buy the reference point for every action you undertake for individual clients. You will gain various benefits from applying these insights:

  • A common language to improve the sharing of experiences and improving team performance
  • Accurate timing of actions, resulting in a lower cost of sales and higher ROI on marketing
  • Higher conversion rates
  • Less margin erosion
  • Predictable, objective forecasts

Solution Selling is very common jargon used in sales organisations. Companies that have introduced this method have gained a competitive advantage as a result of the way in which sales people help customers with their purchases.

This is how you sell solutions:
– Discuss client needs using open questions, creating a vision and a solution together with the client. This gives the seller the greatest possible impact on what the client will ultimately buy.
– The packaging of products and services in such a way that a total solution is created to satisfy client needs. The classic example is Apple with iPod and iTunes in contrast to a normal MP3 player.

Trend reversal: more power for the client

The internet and social media have brought about an important shift in the way people are informed and how they make their purchase decisions. But in the last couple of years we have seen a trend reversal which has undermined the impact of Solution Selling. Now the client has the power. It’s no longer the sales process that counts; the purchasing process (buyer journey) now has the upper hand. Welcome to the Age of the Customer. Client interaction and sales discussions have to be different now to achieve good results.

Not just information, but conversation

You can still achieve a sustainable and competitive advantage in this new era – the Age of the Customer. But now your client knowledge forms the basis for the development of new products and services to satisfy the increased needs of better informed clients. Your marketing and sales don’t provide information so much anymore; instead they provide conversation to improve your client relationships with more engagement. A better experience and the proven impact of your solution will result in a higher margin and lower sales cost.

 

Difference between Solution Selling and Buyer-Aligned Selling

 

SOLUTION SELLING BUYER-ALIGNED SELLING
What is the starting point?
As a consultant, make it possible to discuss requirements and guide the client in their thought process until the specific solution is bought. Ability to question client beliefs and provide support by completing the picture.
Which process is required?
Your entire sales organisation using a proven sales process. All your activities and measurement systems must chart and improve its effectiveness and application. A dynamic buying process based on customer experience. Enable employees to adapt to the buyer’s phase of purchasing at any moment. Internal processes and measurement systems are designed to match the buying phase.
What’s important?
Ask the right questions to discuss the challenges that can be resolved by the solution you are offering. The strengths must be explicit and demonstrable from the structure of the approach. Empathy with the client situation and use of language specific for the role and sector. This demonstrates an attitude which shows that helping the client is your highest priority.
What knowledge is crucial?
Knowing the relationship between the client’s challenge and the strengths of your products and services. Broad understanding of the client situation: environment, challenges and requirements.
What skills are crucial?
Prospecting, questioning techniques, listening skills, diagnosis and persuasiveness. Social selling, client focus, relationship-building, ability for concrete visualisation of your offer’s value and impact.
What is the relationship between sales and marketing?
Marketing supports sales, and the two are aligned. Marketing ensures that both the client and the seller are informed. Marketing generates leads for sales. Both are integrated and fully designed to match the client’s buying process. As well as generating leads for sales, marketing is also responsible for the conversation with the client and increasing engagement with the client target audience.

Scientific research has shown that every buying cycle is a sequence of the same mental processes; almost as certain as a law of nature. Our Buying Clock is an easy way to see the willingness to buy of everyone involved in a potential sale:

You can work out where the client is in Buying Clock by asking questions such as:

  • Are 100% sure that the current situation has to change?
  • What can you do with the new solution?
  • Have you calculated the cost and ROI?
  • What criteria will you use to compare suppliers?
  • Are you trying to understand the differences and benefits of the various options?
  • How do you guarantee your future supplier won’t eventually drop you?
  • Have you checked if the new solution brings new problems with it?

Buying-Clock-isolatedThe clocks are far from always synchronised

You know ‘what time it is’ in the buying cycle when you’ve got answers from everyone who has to decide on the purchase. Everyone goes through the same mental processes in a purchase, and it’s very possible that different people are in different stages.

The speed at which we go through the various stages of the buying cycle depends on various factors: experience of buying similar services, understanding the various options’ impacts, the decision’s importance and impact on us and our organization. A buying cycle can last from a few seconds to months or even years depending on these factors. The deal can be sealed when everyone involved has completed all stages.

Understanding this buying cycle leads to better results

Do your sales and marketing teams know what time it is on every client’s Buying Clock? Wouldn’t it be great for your team to discover how ready your client is to buy, so they could approach them in the right way? Then sales would never start talking about product features before the client is ready to even consider buying that type of product. And marketing wouldn’t overload anyone with too much information about all the benefits. Clients will feel better understood, and make a decision faster, when approached with messages that match their buyer readiness.

When everyone in your organization can see the client’s buying cycle, you can develop shared terminology to align your sales and marketing activities and increase your efficiency and effectiveness. To maximize your organization’s potential, make your client’s readiness to buy the reference point for every action. This can lead to the following benefits:

  • Shared terminology for sharing experiences better and improving the whole team’s performance
  • Precise timing of your actions, resulting in lower sales cost and higher ROI
  • Higher conversion
  • Less loss of margin
  • Objective, predictable forecasts
  • In summary: more sales with higher margins at a lower cost

Does this sound familiar?

  • The customer is interested but the criteria for making decisions keep changing.
  • You sound out prospective customers for information – such as their current way of working and associated challenges – so that you can design your sales pitches accordingly, but they don’t bite.
  • You work with the same contact person throughout the entire sales process, and they are really interested, but suddenly replaced by a reluctant colleague in the final stage.
  • You have to send several quotes for the same sales opportunity
  • A deal gets called off just before it’s concluded. Subsequent inquiries show that the customer never even made a purchase order request.

Perhaps in all the above cases you are the victim of your own sales processes, which don’t take the customers’ readiness to buy into account. Too many companies fall into this trap, often lured by companies selling marketing techniques, training courses, CRM and marketing automation, consultants and software suppliers. They did a one-off analysis of a buying cycle, which was then converted into a sales process and uniformly applied to all customers and sales opportunities.

Navel-gazing leads you down a dead end

People who use sales processes as their guide instead of the customer’s buying cycle often find themselves down a dead end. This is just plain logic, because you are ignoring the customer’s reality in favour of your own reality. But it’s the customer who ultimately decides if and how much to buy.
You’re also asking your sales and marketing departments to convert all their external interactions into a linear and company-internal process. This never corresponds with the customer’s situation, by definition.

Briefly consider the following (and perhaps decide to get rid of the sales process):

  • There’s no such thing as one sales process for every sales opportunity. Each individual has their own dynamics and insights.
  • A sales process shifts the focus from the customer to the seller. A lack of focus on the customer leads to the right actions being taken, but at the wrong time.
  • Sales-oriented processes don’t offer any scope for sales to adapt their speed and communications to the customer, or to coach the customer according to their situation.
  • Someone who assumes their own processes can rarely make an accurate forecast: they only consider their own logic, and not the customer’s readiness to buy.

Copernican revolution

Another way is possible. There are models and tools that focus on the customer’s buying cycle rather than the sales cycle. Scientific research has shown that everyone goes through the same mental phases for every decision we make. It’s a mental phase that is not related to gender, age, job or nationality. Placing these mental phases in a model enables us to make this buying cycle predictable and so design a company’s actions to match it.

Sellers more important than ever

In this new model the role of the seller is more important than ever before. Every customer has their own way of indicating which phase they are currently in. The more important the purchase for the company, the longer the decision-making process can be expected to last. Only sellers who can correctly detect the buyer readiness of everyone in the buying cycle will conclude the majority of sales opportunities successfully. Because they are keeping their finger on the pulse, everything will run smoothly, as long as the customer allows. This doesn’t just improve your win ratio; it also keeps the buying cycle as short as possible.

Lower sales costs

So get rid of your sales process as quickly as possible and change your way of working, reporting and coaching to match the individual buyer readiness of all concerned. And sell more at a lower sales cost.


An average buyer has already completed 57% of their buying process when they first make personal contact with a salesperson. Buyers select potential suppliers partly based on information they find online (as Kris Verheye explained to Belgacom earlier in this blog). So you can count yourself lucky if you even make the Request for Proposal shortlist. And if the sales team is systematically discounting your handful of leads (86% of leads are not followed up by sales), you definitely have a problem.

So with buyers looking en masse for online information, it’s best to just keep pumping out online adverts, isn’t it? “But what was the click-through rate on your last banner campaign?” asked our client Tom De Baere from Newtec at this month’s Business Meets IT seminar on marketing automation. “If you’re very lucky you’ll hit 1%.”

So we need a more intelligent and focused approach in the battle for prospective clients. De Baere: “You start by giving them free content to make them aware how to tackle a certain problem. In a second phase you ask for contact details and content to explain how they can resolve this problem. Then you ask for specific information about the recipient and try to facilitate them throughout their buying cycle.”

But if you don’t listen to your buyers to get the information you’re looking for at the right time, your message will never get through, no matter how many times you try to explain it or how profitable it might be. De Baere: “How are your emails going to be opened? How are you going to reach potential clients who have so far remained inaccessible? Content marketing only makes sense if you link your content to the buyer’s position in the procurement process. Systems such as marketing automation software make this possible.”

The Return on Investment (ROI) follows on from the conversation about converting leads into sales and your average return per sale. This is how Newtec calculated that their marketing has to generate just 15 extra qualified leads for their investment on marketing automation to be earned back. “Change management, a clear vision and a good internal implementation process are at least as important here,” says Tom De Baere.

lead FU in perspective

Thanks to a more intelligent marketing process, monitored and measured by marketing automation, Tom De Baere can now present marketing qualified leads and prove how much he is contributing to the business. Good lead scoring ensures that the sales team almost only ever produce sale-ready leads.

Relevant content marketing led to an increase of over 16% in Newtec visitors in 2012, and there’s also an 11% increase this year (for comparison: in previous years the online number of visitors increased by 2%). A marketing process designed to meet the needs of a prospective client’s buying process and marketing automation management software resulted in 12% more contacts in 2013.

Marketing automation also needs relevant content to be able to function properly. Lots of companies get stuck here because they leave everything up to the marketing department. But it’s every employee’s responsibility to advise buyers. Everyone’s a salesperson, and everyone’s a marketer.