As long as too many salespeople continue to make the following three mistakes, your sales costs will be too high. A higher conversion rate and a higher margin on your deals can be achieved by avoiding the following errors:

1. Incomplete needs analysis

Unfortunately, this is a classic mistake: questions are limited to what is required for drawing up an offer. This results in conversations that do not offer any added value, neither for the customer nor for the potential supplier. The customer gets an offer based on a rather superficial diagnosis, but not necessarily a good solution to his/her problem.

A number of additional questions help to better map the context:

  • Who else is involved?
  • By when should you be able to use the solution? (this is a customer-oriented version of the question “when will you decide?”)
  • What do you wish to achieve?
  • What is the ideal solution for you?
  • To what extent do your colleagues share this view?
  • How will you make sure that the best decision is made?

2. Making too many price offers too soon

The seller continues to push the customer. The seller had not made sufficient inquiries into the context and then explained what the ideal solution would be from his/her own perspective; now the time has come to try to prove these claims through an offer. Whether or not the customer has already made up his/her mind does not seem to matter.

When the offer has been sent, there are three possibilities. Everything turns out all right and the deal is settled shortly afterwards. A less positive outcome is also possible: you lose control of the customer because he/she no longer has any reason to keep in touch once everything has been written down. Now your competitors can further influence your prospect.

Or you end up in a situation where you keep on making new versions of offers. This is not good for the sales costs and causes the customer to doubt. The seller thinks the customer has changed his/her mind once again. The customer, in turn, thinks the seller falls short because he/she always has to propose changes.

These deals are easily identifiable by the following two situations:

  • The decision date is delayed once or several times
  • Several offers are made for the same opportunity. This can also be measured quite easily

3. Not providing the customer with what he/she really needs

Imagine yourself going to the doctor, who immediately gives you a prescription because you’re the tenth patient that day who has come to see him with a runny nose. This makes a diagnosis superfluous, or does it? You wouldn’t accept this from a doctor, but many salespeople still behave like all-knowing oracles. They concentrate on what they want to sell to the customer and only hear what they want to hear.

This creates an area of tension between the seller and the customer which usually results in the seller continuing to talk, trying to convince the customer and discussing technical details. But does the customer feel understood? In this context, it is crucial to imagine yourself in the customer’s situation. In other words, are you prepared to put yourself in the customer’s place?

This can be avoided by really listening to the customer, interacting with them, trying to fully understand their context, taking the appropriate sales actions in the purchase phase, talking to the right people from the customer, giving advice and ensuring follow-up of customers who are not yet ready to buy by the marketing or inside sales department.


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

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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:

 

 


Surely it goes without saying that sales and marketing departments work to serve clients? But think about it: is this really the case, and do they work well together? The alignment of sales and marketing is now more urgent than ever. Globalisation and the internet have radically changed the way people buy. Sellers used to be the most important sources of information, but now potential customers look up all their various options for themselves online. They also value their contacts’ and peers’ opinions more, which they can find online too.

So sales and marketing can no longer be allowed to operate as two separate departments working alongside each other. Even though lots of companies have tried to bring them in line over the last fifteen years, there has been little improvement:
“Marketing doesn’t result in any leads that are ready to buy,” says sales.
“Sales isn’t following leads up,” claims marketing.
“Marketing spends a lot of money but can’t measure ROI.”
“Sales has no impact on marketing expenses, and vice versa.”
“Sales always gets the spoils.”

Lower sales cost

Things can be improved by harmonising all marketing and sales activities with the market and potential customers’ readiness to buy. We call this Buyer-Aligned Collaboration, and it ensures the highest possible impact at the lowest possible sales cost.

The client controls your sales process

So promote your client to the centre of your business universe. Then synchronise sales and marketing so they quickly start to work in harmony. In summary:

  • The client’s buying cycle and the buyer readiness is the benchmark for all sales processes
  • Use software to register every decision-maker’s readiness to buy
  • Use CRM as a pragmatic tool for all departments; correct information is more important than the quantity of prospect data
  • Marketing produces sales material to match the various buyer readiness phases
  • Product information targets your client’s challenges and the impact of your solution, not the product features
  • Involve sales when verifying the buyer readiness and pick up leads at the right moment
  • Measure and benchmark all activities throughout the buying cycle and work continuously on improvement

Today’s buyer, Buyer 2.0, wants services from suppliers that are as low risk as possible with proven profitability. In most cases they’ve already worked out and documented in detail what they think they need beforehand. This doesn’t just mean that selling has become more expensive; it also means you have less influence over your client.

To start with, your marketing communication has to be appealing and flawless. Buyers want to inform themselves, so they need to be able to find background information about you quickly via all possible channels. They’ll probably look for your reference clients, comparative product information, confirmation of their decision-making criteria, or a better understanding of the impact your solution will have.

B2B companies are meeting this demand with content marketing and producing more and more resources to help them answer each of these specific questions. These answers are then distributed through traditional channels as well as online, e.g. videos, webinars, blogs and social media.

You also need a well-trained sales team. Kris Verheye from Belgacom, one of the speakers at our Corporate Performance event and boss to 200 account managers, said about these tasks: “A salesperson is a guide who together with the customer seeks to provide maximum value from the purchase, justification of the budget, and the most suitable project supervision. He also leads a virtual team that has to ensure the right resources are used at the right times internally.”

This salesperson profile is miles away from the archetypal salesperson and the people who make promises (“you’ll see, that’ll be fine, you don’t need to worry, because we are the biggest, we have the most experience”) still employed by many companies. The new salesperson profile also costs more. That’s fine, modern B2B salespeople know they have to be versatile and that comes at a price.

You can recuperate this greater marketing and sales cost by and increasing your price and your chances of success. Kris Verheye adds: “We win more tenders than before by being more selective and by increasing the entire organization’s view of existing deals. We document potential deals better and share this information with more people so that we have more ideas for adding value and differentiation to our approach.”

Another important aspect, finally, is that everyone who collaborates on preparing the deals also speaks the same language. This is only possible if all departments use a shared method which is also supported in the reporting. “It allows us to harmonize each individual’s internal activities with the customer’s willingness to buy. This has an important effect on our internal operation so we work much more efficiently on the right things,” add Kris Verheye.

This article is part of a series of articles created following our Corporate Performance event on sales effectiveness. You can more articles and videos here.

 


It used to be the case that your quote was too expensive, and prospective buyers would almost always question it. If you asked why they thought it was too expensive, they would tell you it cost much more than your competition. This meant that good negotiators who could resolve issues automatically became the best sellers. Our client, Kris Verheye from Belgacom, says those times are now a thing of the past. Buyers aren’t price-buyers anymore, so you won’t get very far with sellers whose only skill is negotiating.

This new buyer, Buyer 2.0, is a very well-informed buyer. Our own experience and figures confirmed in Harvard Business Review tell us that B2B decision-makers have already made 60% of their purchasing decisions before they even meet potential suppliers. This means that the sales conversation is no longer about price, but rather about value and risk management.

At our latest Corporate Performance event, Kris Verheye said: “Buyers don’t always know how to get good value out of the things they have informed themselves about. That’s why the new buyer has to help, and make the difference as a good guide.”

So the conversation cannot be about the cloud to begin with, for example, but about the client’s challenge. What do they want to solve? What do they want to improve? Where do they want to be more competitive? The new seller doesn’t have to find an answer for the whole business strategy straight away, but they do have to understand the client’s market conditions well enough to be able to take advantage.

Once the intended aim of the purchase is clear, we shift to the financial aspects. What is the available budget? What is the expected TCO? How will we calculate the return? The new seller starts acting as CFO and, in this role, concludes the second phase of the purchasing process.

Only then is it time to discuss the solution and, for example, look at that cloud. The average buyer won’t necessarily want to know what it is exactly; they might know about that already. But they will want to know how their supplier can ensure the implementation will be as invisible as possible, and how they can minimise any risk resulting from the change. So the new seller becomes the risk manager.

Perhaps there’s no need to discuss a solution at all, because the seller also has to be able to decide if it’s best to pull out of being the potential supplier, for example if the business case isn’t clear enough, or the budget won’t satisfy the ambitions, or the client is underestimating the project management. If this is the case, the seller also needs to be a risk manager with an eye for a maximum success rate for quotes, and a high return from pre-sales costs.

Together with the price-buyer, the price-seller is also disappearing. Ironically enough, this increases the sales costs, which you can read more about in this article.