Is the digital world “clouding” the way?
Put down your digital device, I dare you. Your devices may be “clouding” your view of the world. So much happens during the average work day without us ever “talking” to a single person. Is it any wonder that as phones grow smarter, with more and more social capabilities, they are becoming obsolete as actual talking devices? I admit that I am the first person to gush with pride over negotiating down the price of a car over text, counseling clients via text, and even being the first to extend a friendly text just to say “hi”. The problem with this pattern is, I really love people!
I love connecting face to face and helping my clients out with my own two hands when possible. In fact, the importance of face-to-face communication to Business relationships is positively axiomatic. The Business world’s collective mentor, Peter F. Drucker stated as much in Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices: “Person-to-person and face-to-face meetings with colleagues, associates, subordinates, customers and superiors are absolutely essential…there is no substitute.” Many of us have conveniently forgotten these words in the face of…well…convenience.
Personal electronic devices have usurped this basic function of business communication for many consumers, with studies showing 53% of consumers aged 18-34 preferring online communication with businesses to personal conversations.[i]A Pew Research Study revealed of the 73% of Americans who text regularly, a slim majority at 53% still prefer voice calls, but the 31% that prefer to communicate via text is expected to increase steadily.[ii] There is hope for face to face relationships, however, 83% of Professionals still believe that face to face meetings are crucial to business relationships. 53% believe that virtual meetings are not an adequate replacement.[iii] Despite this belief, face to face is being supplanted by a near fanatical focus on online alternatives. Part the digital fog; work face-to-face into your plan or your sales team’s plan. Kick off a new Business relationship in person. Enjoy a connection with someone based on common interest, shared values and a warm smile. It will be one of the most radical and innovative changes you can make in 2015. This is just one of the six strategies noted below to consider.
Below are 6 strategies for improving revenue results and standing out among the crowd in 2015:
The first strategy is a win for all parties involved (customer, company and individual contributors all feel included in the process): Put Sales in the Center of Strategy. In the HBR article by Frank Cespedes, Putting Sales at the Center of Strategy,
Frank notes: “The sales organization should be part of every conversation about strategy. U.S. companies cumulatively spend about $900 billion annually on sales efforts—three times their spending on consumer advertising, more than 20 times their spending on online media, and more than 100 times their spending on social media. Predictions that the internet would disintermediate sales have not panned out: Although sales forces in some industries have shrunk, the overall number of salespeople in the economy is unchanged.”
Strategic efforts have, as their end goal, the creation of value. A strong value proposition creates revenue growth. By the transitive property strategic efforts are direct pipelines to revenue growth. It stands to reason that sales should be involved in strategic planning sessions from the outset to gain organizational buy in from the soldiers in the trenches. When I counsel my clients on strategic maneuvers I am always emphatically supportive of involving sales as early as possible. When identifying where the company will play, identifying buyers, and hot best to influence the buy cycles for a new offering – sales has a wealth of experience to bring to the war room. Frank’s break down on the money spent on sales efforts is emblematic of the current chaos in sales and marketing. Increasing marketing automation has influenced a greater amount of leads, sometimes these leads may or may not be thoroughly qualified and sales automation and CRM has completely changed the landscape, making strategic efforts absolutely critical. A more nimble sales executive with a strategic mindset will differentiate your company and allow you to tackle these challenges head on, from within – not as the odd man out.
The Second Strategy is have the face-to-face connections earlier in the sales cycle!
Key point: Face to face meetings are earned! With sales as the center of your strategy you can no longer afford to stick with email, text and automated marketing tools for your source of customer communication. There is no room for the “shotgun effect.” Ask yourself, how many times a week do you get a call from a telesales or marketing person right after you click on a trial link or download a white paper? Today alone I fielded three very persistent calls and two ineloquent, and subsequently unreplied to, emails from one of these “ghost reps.” Too often this type of sales call lacks any clarity or value leaving the receiver of the call with no memorable connection (at best), or very angry (at worst). Sales efforts must provide value from the initial contact and continue to provide value throughout the entire sales journey. These prospecting calls may work well enough in the short term for transactional, low cost services, but for larger enterprise sales that require longer lasting B2B relationships they fail to pass the test. Face to face meetings and personal touch points are an essential part of the communications food chain and the evolution of the customer growth cycle. Returning to face to face allows for a return to a nuanced form of communication that is not abrasive and anticipates and meets needs rather than misinterpreting conversions and making demands of the customer.
Third on the list of Strategies – a key 2015 trend- is to create an entrepreneurial environment for the sales team. Institutionalizing an entrepreneurial spirit is easier said than done for larger companies, but it is increasingly important for the cultivation of the next generation of sales and customer engagement. Much of my work with clients has been taking the lessons I have learned with very innovative, hungry start-ups and help translate them into transformational processes for larger companies. Often times the biggest challenge is teaching the C-Suite Executives that entrepreneurial is not a word that is synonymous with “small;” that is a myth that should be disposed of outright. There are many major companies that are making great strides in creating an entrepreneurial space to nourish their employees. The entrepreneurial environment is mutually beneficial for the employee and the company. This type of environment helps build synergy between the by rewarding ideas, initiative and a “lean in” attitude. For the employee, they gain a greater sense of job satisfaction, a deeper engagement with the company and brand, which directly correlates to improved performance. Sales benefits directly from this organization change because of the historically high stress environment, thus high turnover. Because of the lower turnover the company gains a greater return on their human capital investment, and retains experienced and strategically minded sales professionals.
Fourth move with speed and agility! At the blink of an eye the entire landscape can change. The longer a prospect lingers in the funnel, the more likely it is that the prospect is lost. Sales representatives must be quick and agile to avoid the pitfalls of an increasingly complex sales cycle. There is simply no time to allow moss to grow under your feet – response time to everything is critical. Sales executives will tell you that this is not a trend, responsiveness has always been a priority for the sales team, but did you know that more than 70% of sales reps in the US today never follow-up after the first call? The traditional rivalry between sales and marketing is ever increasing and sales reps often never follow-up on adequately qualified leads generated from automated marketing efforts. Alignment of these roles is in the necessary to gaining sustainable revenue growth in 2015, and even more critical as the hooks and links between technology systems create (almost) seamless workflows from marketing efforts straight into the CRM. A strategically focused sales teams must be quick enough to follow through on these leads on the back end and hand off to outside sales reps to follow-up in a targeted and personal way. Another area that is a gap where prospects are lost in in the proposal process. In the US the average time from request to the delivery of a proposal has grown from 3 to 5 days to 10 to 20 days. The win loss ratios show dramatically higher losses the longer the prospect goes on the delivery spectrum. Bottom line… respond sooner or set your expectations around the delivery of the proposals.
Fifth– move toward an “insights” selling organization– the quickest way to value creation! The existential strategy, it is all about strategy. As I mentioned before, sales people today must provide value at every touch point in the sales journey. This cannot be emphasized enough. The question becomes, what is value? If your answer to this question is the product or service that your company provides you have missed the point entirely. True insight is more nuanced than that, you must move beyond selling widgets to selling yourself. It is no longer adequate for your sales reps to merely have technical skills or product knowledge, the days of catalogue selling are long behind us. Reps must think beyond the “pain points,” and provide a synthesis of experience, marketing materials, playbooks, and other materials to obtain valuable insights that they can bring into reach for their prospects. Offering tangible and actionable insights will elevate your rep’s value to the prospect, lifting them out of the quagmire-like time-sink of “discovery” calls. The organization that surrounds the customer centric model and places sales at the center of strategy will obtain the greatest and sustainable gain from insight selling.
Sixth- Improve technology proficiencies among the marketing, business and sales teams! The technological ecosystem of sales and marketing automation is increasingly complex, a prospect can now be nurtured throughout the sales journey (nearly) seamlessly from the initial touch point to the close of the deal. Navigating this geography is difficult and many traditional sales and marketing reps do not have the appropriate skills to effectively utilize these technologies to their maximum strategic extent. The “genetic” traits of a traditional high performing sales reps are hard boiled lone-wolves who buck the system. This type of mentality does not fit in the modern sales and marketing ecosystem where the functions are so intertwined and network oriented that collaborative work and cooperative handoffs are so important. It becomes incumbent on the organization to invest in training their sales and marketing teams on the power of these systems, affecting a transformational process of both departments at the same time. Perhaps you have the data already and you are on your way to this transformation, but if you missed the statistics here is a quite from the PwC CEO Survey:
“A word of caution to marketers: only 36% of US CEOs believe that the marketing/brand management function is “well prepared” to make the changes necessary to capitalize on the transformative global trends. That puts marketing towards the bottom of the list in terms of sound preparedness, above sales (33%), IT (32%) and R&D (20%), but well below other functions such as executive (63%), finance (50%) and risk management (42%), among others.”
The numbers are troubling and require conscious strategic efforts to equal out the preparedness numbers. Change must be systemic and initiate from the C-Suite. Following the six strategies explored in this article will help your company realize real and sustainable revenue growth in 2015.
Follow Teresa Spangler @composerspang or Plazabridge Group @plazabridge. Teresa often speaks on trends, disruptive technologies, innovation and adoption, leadership and growth during rapid economic changes. She is the author of the Game of Life Book Series, a contributing author to OpenForum.