Sales Performance

Who’s Your True Buyer?

by Karen Jackson | No Comments

There’s a big push on sales teams to sell to the “C-suite.” But, for purchases that aren’t strategic to the very mission of the company, the C-suite is rarely the buyer. The seller wants to sell “top down” but the C-suite can’t be bothered considering the seller’s solutions. The result is wasted months on sales campaigns that fall on deaf ears.

In B2B sales, the buyer is typically at least one level below the C-suite, a lieutenant charged with executing on C-suite directives. In larger companies, the true buyer may be several layers below. Perhaps more importantly, the buyer is actually multiple people. They express a common need but that need is filtered through differing, often personal, agendas.

Without identifying, and then satisfying, those agendas it’s common for sellers to make it through to the proposal stage of their sales cycle and then find it tough to close. A telling symptom of this problem is a prospect that goes silent after receiving a proposal. Or, a deal is lost for reasons never stated as key to the decision process. Everything seems to be going well; the buyer appears enthusiastic. Lots of energy and hours are invested by the seller, and then, nothing.

Frustrated CEO’s will tell me that their sales people lack closing skills and ask for sales training recommendations. In my experience, poor closing technique is least often the problem. Rather it’s the failure to identify and satisfy these multiple buyers and their respective agendas. Equally often, the sales person identifies as their buyer someone who is functionally a project manager. That person appears as a buyer since they behave like one; they write the RFP, meet with vendors and actively evaluate solutions. But the functional project manager typically lacks buying authority or political clout. It’s certainly necessary to work closely with these individuals throughout the sales cycle, but treating them as the sole buyer puts a seller at peril.

The solution is to build into the sales process steps for identifying, connecting with, and meeting the agendas of the true buyers. Among the questions to answer:

  • Who are the collective buyers, both decision makers and influencers?
  • What are the differing agendas that will need to be satisfied?
  • Who needs the solution and who will campaign for the status quo?
  • What are their relationships to one another, both in terms of hierarchy and function?
  • How do their needs change based on their roles?
  • What risks will they face in championing a change?

Because that information is rarely available until the seller has earned the customer’s trust, creating buyer personas based on one’s target markets allows the seller to identify all the buyers and their likely agendas, and then craft a value proposition to satisfy those agendas. Fanning out to all these potential buyers with compelling messaging is now possible.

It’s important not to end run or treat the “project manager” as insignificant. They may not be the true buyer but they can keep you in the dark. Instead, work with that individual to build a business case that meets the needs of all the influencers and decision makers. If the project manager is enthusiastic about a vendor’s solution, it’s in their best interests to help them understand the landscape and gain access.  If they are gate-keeping, that’s a signal that the value proposition isn’t compelling enough for them to satisfy their own agenda. The agenda for a person at this level often includes avoiding any recommendation that would put her job at risk.

A final tip: Calling into the C-suite seeking direction can yield terrific results. Instead of asking for a meeting, the seller asks, “Who in the company should I call to discuss this offering?” While not the buyer, the C-suite has every interest that quality vendors are engaging with their organization. The seller will often get one or more names, and then be able to call with permission and authority, saying, “The CXO asked that I call you to discuss……”

 

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The Simplest Way to a Forecast You Can Trust

by Karen Jackson | 8 Comments

When I work with B2B sales teams struggling with profitable revenue growth, there’s always one person seemingly outside the biz dev process who wants in on the conversation: the CFO. Inevitably I get asked for a few minutes in private, and when the door is closed, s/he’ll plead, “what can you do to get me a forecast I can trust?”

Great question, particularly for companies with complex products / services and long sales cycles. In small to mid-size B2B companies, so much gets done on an ad hoc basis within the sales organization that forecasting deal closure is way less about reality and way more about emotion, ego, politics and culture. For example, in some companies it’s better for a sales rep to project they’ll close a deal than to admit its improbability; in others, it’s better to sandbag and then have pleasant surprises.  Under either scenario, missed forecasts wreak havoc on a company’s health and future.

There is a simple way to creating a forecast you can trust. Follow these four key steps:

1)      Identify each stage of your sales process and the milestones completing each stage that tell you when you’ve moved to the next

2)      Estimate the average length (in days) of each stage of the process

3)      Approximate the average percent of deals that close at each stage of your process (i.e, deals that make it to Stage 3 have a 60% likelihood of closure)

4)      Hang every deal in your pipeline on a weighted forecast spreadsheet that maps the dollar value of the opportunity to its stage, and therefore to its probability of, and date until, close.

The results will be eye-popping. And that’s a good thing, even if what you learn about your pipeline isn’t. Because that’s when the fixing can begin.

Many resist the exercise because they lack data to tackle these steps with precision. Many resist for fear of what they’ll learn. Don’t let either stop you. Yes, I’d prefer you have a CRM. Yes, I’d prefer you have hard, accurate data. Yes, I understand you haven’t yet created a culture of accountability around these metrics. Like many things in life, it can be hard to pick a place to start. But, the truth is, there is plenty of anecdotal, historical information in the organization that will get you close enough to create your first forecast based on reality vs. a crystal ball. I’m not suggesting there isn’t both art and science to sales, but the more we avoid the science, the harder it is to do good art.

Ultimately, the true value is in identifying the underlying problems in your revenue engine. You’ll begin figuring out answers to the thorny problems like:

  • Where in the process do we fail most often? (Failing early vs. failing late helps diagnose what we need to repair.)
  • Where are the opportunities to increase our sales velocity?
  • What accountability metrics directly impact accomplishing our goals?
  • How might we better qualify opportunities throughout the sales cycle to increase close ratios?

Tackling those questions leads to refining your process which leads to a tightened forecast. Your best sales reps will be elated; they’ll see clearly where / how they should spend their time, and they’ll get straight to the fix. Your mediocre reps will squirm, a solid indicator that it’s time for them to seek other employment. Your head of sales can shift from task management to coaching. And, your CFO will actually crack a smile.

If you need some help thinking about how to apply this to your business, please ping me at karen@jacksonsolutions.com.  As always, I appreciate any additions to this conversation with your comments, insights, suggestions.

Here’s to a forecast you can trust.

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Scoring From The Red Zone (Or, Why Can’t We Close?)

by Karen Jackson | 6 Comments

I’m hearing a persistent lament from B2B CEO’s. Their sales reps aren’t closing deals. They’re not talking about a lack of deals in the pipeline; they’re talking about the deals they’d forecast to close, but then died. Often they lost to the competition; just as often they lost to the status quo, that all-too-common state where the prospect decides to stick with their current situation and not purchase at all. Like an NFL football team that can’t score from the red zone, the rep couldn’t close the deal.

The CEO’s frustration is palpable and rightly so. Naturally the finger-pointing is squarely aimed at the reps. “Do they have the skills to close? Are they working hard enough? Do we have the right people on this team?” The answers are unknowable – equally important, unsolvable –because the root causes of the problem are hidden from view.

Thanks to years of conducting deal post-mortems, I’ve discovered common mistakes that impact a rep’s ability to close deals from the red zone. Yes, sometimes it is lack of effort, skill, or the inability to “wear well” with their prospects. (The latter point is not to be underestimated; many customers say their experience with the sales person was as important to their decision as the product or service.) More often, the deal didn’t close because it was never going to close. Its forecast was wishful thinking; the deal was lost long before the actual purchase decision. Here are the most common reasons why I see get reps blindsided:

  • It was never an opportunity in the first place – it was merely a lead
  • The rep failed to continuously qualify & gain commitment at each step of the sales cycle
  • The prospect didn’t trust the rep’s ability to deliver on the promised outcome
  • Engagement and commitment from the true buyer(s) was never gained
  • The rep didn’t understand the buyer’s perception of risk
  • The prospect’s real needs were never uncovered or resolved

The common denominator for companies that experience these problems regularly?  Lack of sales process. CEO’s would never consider running their operations and financials without process, but astonishingly few establish process for their sales reps. Sales process makes it possible to identify a check list of strategies, tasks and milestones that, when accomplished, significantly reduce these common mistakes. Process creates a series of interim “closes” such that when the client is actually at the final decision point it’s a natural conclusion to say “yes.”

With process in place, there are far fewer:

  • poor leads chased & wrongly forecast to close
  • assumptions left un- validated
  • risks misunderstood and unmitigated
  • ghost stakeholders with unmet needs
  • last minute selection criteria to sabotage the deal

Do a post-mortem on your deals that died in the red zone. Did your team make any of these common mistakes? If so, get serious about implementing sales process. It will allow you to diagnose your deals throughout the cycle, make the necessary adjustments and increase your close ratio. You won’t win them all, but you’ll win a lot more. And with solid data in hand, you can now answer the original questions about the skills and commitment of your reps.

What other mistakes do you see that sabotage the close? Have you implemented sales process? Did your close ratio go up? Please share your experiences for others to learn from.

If you found this post helpful, read my previous blog post “Surprising Reasons Why Sales Process Matters” for other ways that sales process can positively impact your sales results.

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