How do you see the role of sales changing within businesses? Are sales managers’ roles changing in particular, or are the alterations taking place within the front-line of sales professionals?
Karen Meyer, Qvidian: There is an undeniably massive shift taking place in sales – and it’s the buyer. Buyers have evolved at an exponential pace, in part with how the internet has evolved dramatically. Buyers today are more educated than ever - even before approaching a sales person, they have typically spent hours researching and have a general idea of the solutions that are available to solve their problems. While the buyer’s role has changed over the years to be more informed, companies have not altered their selling approach and in order to be successful, this must change.
Richard Neale, Birst: Sales is definitely becoming more data-driven. Sales teams have always lived and died based on their ability to meet targets and make their numbers, but how these results are measured over time has changed. The role of CRM has evolved, while marketing teams should be able to provide more insight into what drove that initial interest in terms of content. Sales professionals have had to keep up with these changes, becoming more consultative in their approach while also using analytics to concentrate on those opportunities that are the most likely to convert.
Karen Meyer: I’d say the focus has also shifted away from selling a product and moving toward providing the buyer with unmatched value. Salespeople now have to align themselves better with those buyers and effectively communicate that value. This involves improving their level of personalisation and delivering a high-touch buying experience.
In addition to streamlining systems to improve efficiency, sales teams should also consider implementing sales analytics. Real sales analytics can go far deeper than a simple CRM dashboard, and offer actionable insights to drive better results. Currently, many organisations struggle with gaining visibility into their sales cycles, which leads to ad hoc decisions and bottlenecks. Sales analytics allows sales leaders to identify patterns and indicators of both successes and failures.
Richard Neale: That’s true. However, analytics has to cover the whole sales team, not just the leaders. While sales management can definitely find value in seeing pipeline and team performance, the individual members of the team should also be catered for. If this isn’t in place, you risk this being used solely for management purposes rather than to improve performance “at the sharp end.” Bearing this in mind, any analytics implementation has to be user-friendly and prove value incredibly quickly in order to get adopted and used on a daily basis. This is what held CRM implementations back, so you can learn some lessons here.
Are companies making use of analytics within sales? What misconceptions are holding sales teams back?
Karen Meyer: In sales, there are a myriad of supporting materials, collateral, and mountains of data. There is so much information available that sales leaders and selling teams can often find it challenging and overwhelming to locate and identify the insights they need to provide value to buyers throughout their path to purchase.
One of the best ways for sales leaders to leverage data is through guided selling, which can drive desired behaviors while still personalising the buyer experience. Guided selling technologies can help in a number of ways. For example, they enable sale leaders to transform static point-in-time CRM data to be more actionable and aligned to buyers’ specific situations.
Analytics can then be used throughout the sales process, and no longer solely with regard to determining win-loss ratios. Teams can use analytics to eliminate wasted effort and prioritise the content that is helping them drive deals forward.
Giving sales teams access to real-time guidance on a deal-by-deal basis provides them with actionable insight while better preparing them for a win. The key is to not overwhelm them with all the information available. Instead, focus on reinforcing best practices and supplying them with only the analytic insights they need in the context of the deal at hand.
Richard Neale: I’d agree with this – you can have huge amounts of analytics prepared, but what you don’t show can be as important as what you do. Different members of the sales team will require different analytic views or visualisations to help them at different points of the sales cycle, from initial prospecting through to closing stages. It’s important to bear in mind that using analytics is not a 'one size fits all' approach, even though all the data that you crunch is the same for everybody.
For example, sales people may benefit from seeing which contacts on their prospect list are the most likely to close, based on comparison with other existing customers and their status at the same point in the sales cycle. This can help them concentrate on opportunities where the return is going to be higher, compared to others where there is either more nurture work required by marketing or there is more competition. The results here should be used to excuse poor performance or stop stretch goals from being achieved, but instead should provide that degree of insight and justification for where time is spent to get the best results.
Sales leaders, on the other hand, can benefit from seeing their team’s performance in context. This means bringing in outside data from other teams like marketing and operations. By integrating sales data and analytics with other parts of business, you can create new metrics that can demonstrate how sales is contributing as part of the overall customer acquisition process. This can help tactically – for example, if marketing is creating opportunities that are not getting through the sales pipeline, then you can have a grown-up conversation and look to improve results for both teams based on the data.
However, there’s also a strategic element here too – if you can see and justify where sales activities are generating better results, you can think through the whole process from initial lead to close, or from lead to cash generated. This provides immense value not just for sales, but to the whole business management team.
Getting this in place can require a culture change – particularly if individuals within the sales team are experienced with ways of working that produce good results for them. The key to acceptance – like any change management programme – is that analytics has to be taken on and 'owned' by those using it on day-to-day basis, rather than being solely for sales leadership. It does need an exec sponsor, but it has to provide value straightaway for those that will be using it every day.
How can sales leaders better drive process improvements within complex sales cycles?
Richard Neale: From an analytics perspective, anything that can help to reduce the length of sales cycle from initial interest to close is going to have a big impact. The challenge here is that it’s previously been very difficult to get agreement between the different teams involved. Each team or department would have their own goals and objectives, and while they could hit their targets individually, the result would be additional effort for lower overall business benefit.
Linking up or networking data sources together can help here. Rather than each team working on their own sets of numbers, all those involved can make use of the same set of data. This immediately cuts out those arguments. It also makes it easier to come up with a metric that all departments will be measured by.
Let’s take Lead to Cash – if marketing can produce more leads, and sales can convert them quicker, then both sides benefit. However, if certain sizes of companies or organisations in specific verticals take much longer to close – or don’t close at all - then the impact can be seen by all the departments. This makes it easier to get a conversation about what the right leads look like, and how they can be generated then closed. This can drive greater aligment across the business, as everyone is working towards the same goal, even across very complex sales.
Karen Meyer: I’d follow this with looking at how sales professionals are supported in managing their interactions. While many organisations are working to meet increased prospect customer expectations and create value, obstacles such as long ramp up times for sales reps and poor time-to-revenue are making it impossible for these businesses to achieve sustainable growth. At the core of this is sheer lack of accurate visibility into exactly what is working - and what is not working - throughout the selling process.
In order to tackle these challenges, organisations must improve key areas of their sales teams to successfully build, execute and optimise on all sales execution initiatives. Process-oriented sales technology coupled with CRM data to actually guide successful sales behavior sets the stage for this.
Following this, analytics can be used to provide actionable and real-time insight, rather than a recap of activity-to-date. Analytics and insights must paint the picture of where the business needs to go next and outline the means by which it can get there. By better understanding everything from pipeline accuracy, which reps are overstating (or understating) forecasts, bottlenecks in the sales process, to which sales assets are used most often and successfully, sales leaders can better optimise the overall sales process and guide their teams to success.