Since Bob Miller and Stephen Heiman in 1978 co-founded the company that has stood as the touchstone for sales methodology, Miller Heiman has seen several new models come into the market. So how is the pioneer coping with competition from the ‘young pretenders’ like SPIN and The Challenger?
SI went to find out with an exclusive one-to-one with Tony Gower, MD of Miller Heiman’s UK operation. Gower insisted the company’s history has to be seen as one of its key strengths and explains why so many top-flight organisations turn to Miller Heiman first.
He said: “We see ourselves as the founders of sales methodology and have been developing that capability for 30-plus years. We see some very good competition in our field so we have to stay ahead of them.” While other rival methodologies may concentrate on the front-line sales staff, Miller Heiman have been targeting the ‘decision-makers’.
Gower explained: “For this, our goal is to become the most respected resource for a sales leader because we see these as the key decision-maker when you’re engaging and it’s about tending to their needs.
“We see their needs changing quite significantly over the last 10 years in terms of cutting costs through the recession. They’ve managed efficiency, looked at their distribution prices, all of the five-out-of-seven McKinsey steps for growth alignment, they’ve managed those and now they are starting to focus on growing that top line.
“So the pressure, the onus, comes right onto the sales leader so that’s where we focus. This drives our development, which is the way we’ve kept in front of our competition – the development of our capabilities. So, we have a very robust portfolio of methodologies around creating opportunity, managing opportunity and managing relationships.” This has served the company well but it realises that nothing
in sales is at a standstill and there was a need to drill down deeper into what the sales leaders needed.
Gower explained: “Over the past five or so years, we’re very much looking at ‘how do we make those live-and- breathe inside and organisation?’ We don’t just drive higher performance from the individual, we drive more efficient performance from the organisation.
“We have looked at areas like integration with CRM, how do we support front-line sales managers who are critical to any engagement and any improvement programme? How do we really enable sales organisations or individuals to be more efficient and effective in how they operate? “So we are growing our capability outside methodology into organisational change.”
Gower insisted that Miller Heiman does not provide a one-size-fits-all solution but tailors its products for specific needs.
“Each organisation will digest what we give them in a different way,” Gower said. “They will apply the methodologies to their most effective outcome. Specifically we’re looking at how sales interacts with other disciplines with an organisation, namely, marketing. How do we get that sales and marketing relationship really working and co- ordinated very, very well? That was one of our unique selling points for the UK.”
When entering into a project with an organisation, the company seeks to take a broad over-look to make sure all the different stake-holders are working in harmony.
“One of the first things we do when going into an organisation is to do a diagnostic phase of the engagement to truly understand what is and what isn’t working. We have to find the gaps and then fill those gaps with some objective and a measurable, repeatable process.
“Then we look at instilling a common process in methodology and common language, more importantly, within both organisations,” explained Gower. “Classically, we start in sales and then the marketing organisation gets drawn to get that communication much clearer. It’s around defining what are our ideal customers, or ideal opportunities? What criteria we use to define that and then, once you have that, you can then communicate with marketing and anyone else, really, and say ‘here’s where we want you to focus’. So you end up with better alignment and efficient between the two organisations, less calories burned by finger pointing and less acrimonious debate because we pull the organisations together.
“We are seeing more and more that sales leaders are becoming the point where they’ve got to drive growth and the onus if falling on them to perform and there’s no point blaming marketing or anybody else, they’ve got to make it happen.”
Miller Heiman spend a lot of time on researching sales relevant data and, here, the UK has been consistently ‘in front of the curve’ when it comes to adopting best practice in surveys of the industry over the past decade.
Gower said: “If you look at the research data, we could split that by UK versus the total response base and what comes out very loud and clear is that UK sales organisation are quite a long way ahead of the game in terms of aligning sales and marketing activities.
“This is about communication. If you are looking at lead-generation, the classic is marketing generates leads we can’t close and sales can’t close leads we generate. If we can better communications from the sales organisations and say, here is the type of company, the market sector, the business challenge that we best address and to describe that in an objective way to the marketing organisation then they can start refining and focusing their marketing dollars on generating those leads that are most likely to be closed by the sales organisation.”
Why does he feel the UK score so well in the adoption of best sales practice?
Gower said: “The UK is above, some cases quite significantly, in a number of the six areas and I feel that we have a tighter discipline in sales.
“We are quite a well organised nation, we queue and you look at us say against Spain and there’s generally a better regimented better organised approach to things.
“That comes out in the data in terms of the collaboration between disciplines and people. Certainly, when you’re pursuing a large opportunity we are more likely to be there in a formalised fashion. The pipeline, or sales process, in the UK comes out in front of the total response base in terms of the definition of each stage of the sales process and a clear understanding of that definition.”
Top performers in the Miller Heiman research standings are listed as ‘world class’ organisations ticking all the essential boxes for maximising their sales processes.
Gower outlined the procedure saying: “We take the five parameters, qualified leads, account acquisition, account retention and sales person productivity and quota achievement and we ask people to rate themselves.
“We then take those that are claiming to be 20% better than average and then look at other answers and if they don’t have robust processes in place, that could just indicate the answers are just a matter or luck. If they have robust processes and that achievement through performance, then we define them as ‘world class’. Then we take their other answers and how they differ from the total response base to get the differences between what strategies are differentiating that performance level.
“We’ve been running these for the past 10 years and it’s the trend data that gives us this reassurance that we always find between 5%-7% of the response base will fall into that category of ‘world class’. Our goal is to see this class grow but it’s pretty tough criteria to get into that level.
“A lot of this data has to be looked in context. Just 6% of the organisations that responded are achieving ‘world class’ status with the five parameters and they are often twice as likely to answer ‘yes’ to ‘strongly agree’ in a number of these areas. So there are significant differences between those ‘world class’ organisations and the rest of the response base.” Gower said achieving a ‘world class’ status is more about cultural perceptions within the organisation than its size or presence in the global market.
“There is no silver bullet to achieve this status,” he said. “If an organisation does all the important things well, or better than other sales organisations, then they’ve recognised what’s important to them in their selling activities and they make sure they do those things right. Equally, they know why their top performers are good – they have better clarity and laser-in on opportunities and really understand why they win or why they don’t win. Then they can use that knowledge to continuously improve their activities and that’s what the ‘world class’ organisations are doing.
“So there’s no reason why a one-person sales organisation can’t be ‘world class’. It’s not an investment
or size or activity, it’s just getting to understand the science of selling and why you win or don’t win.
“When I talk about the milestones in the sale process, one of the things we ask is around qualification of opportunities and when we see ‘world class’, and here again the UK is ahead of the game, they know what the opportunities are that they should invest resources in and what are those we should cut-and-run and lose them early and not waste time.
“One of our parameters is quota achievement and sales person productivity, so we’re trying to detect there how many people inside the organisation are driving revenue and how many are running around chasing deals they can’t win?”
Of course, in these days of performance analytics, most customers what to know up front what they can expect to achieve from money spent on sales methodology.
“A lot of sales leaders ask ‘what do I get for my investment?’”, Gower said. “They need to know how much better the training will make them. The answer starts at how good or bad is the sales organisation right now? We look at driving improvements in revenues and productivity, forecasting accuracy, capability to sell new products and services and to open up new channels and customers. Because it’s those capabilities that really make the sales
leader have credibility at the board level. “We are now seeing a requirement for a sales leader who can put strategies in place to counteract recession, to counteract competitor activity and to counteract globalisation that drives down prices.”