For the past couple of months, we’ve been informally surveying senior execs, sales managers, and seasoned sales reps. Seeking to better understand what they see as the greatest barriers to higher productivity in Business Development.
From what we’re seeing, a firm’s Bus Dev productivity is a function of its practices, its outcomes, and its success in bettering both. At any one time, there are nine factors at play. Which are having the biggest impacts, today? The response of one mid-market CEO sums up what we’ve been hearing: “no one really knows.” Consider the potential impact of each:
Lots of sales teams are being inundated with inbound leads. The problem? Many of these leads are a poor match to firms’ profiles of their ideal customers. Thought leaders, such as Frank Cespedes, argue that it’s in targeting that most firms are now suffering their biggest productivity setbacks. They’ve got their Bus Dev efforts pointed in the wrong direction.
There’s a pivot occurring in the market place. Buyers aren’t buying ‘stuff’ anymore; they’re buying outcomes. Yet most firms have a hard time quantifying the business outcomes they’re consistently delivering for their customers. Which makes it hard for Reps to earn 1st conversations with buyers. The proof of business impacts isn’t as strong as it could be. Often it’s because no one’s taken the time to ask customers to quantify the business impacts they’ve seen. When the business value to buyers isn’t well articulated, it’s harder than it need be to earn 1st conversations.
Bus Dev is hard work. Those who’ve done it know it. Imagine doing hard work with the expectation of little, if any, reward for having done that hard work. Odds are you’ll struggle to find the time. As a result, work that needs to get done isn’t nearly as disciplined, persistent, nor timely as it [ideally] ought to be.
Some of the consistent execution that’s needed is now being assured via structural specialization. Like inside sales teams. There’s a risk, however, in structural fixes: an excessive focus on efficiencies. Getting more done, more quickly, sounds a like a great idea. It’s only helpful, though, when what’s being done actually works. Fast execution’s getting easier. Productive execution? It’s harder to gauge and therefore harder to ensure.
4/ FIRST CONVERSATION YIELDS
Most buyers, today, when invited to engage with a seller in a 1st conversation will instinctively say ‘thanks, but not thanks’. When a team’s practices are sufficiently honed, the strangest thing happens. Suddenly buyers who’ve been incredibly elusive are quite happy to engage in conversations. But it takes testing and practice for teams to develop better practices that it takes to get better 1st conversation yields.
5/ BUYER VALUE IN CONVERSATIONS
Do you know what your team’s discussing and discovering in conversations with buyers? Would it help if you knew. Would it help if every Rep could see for themselves how well they’re discussing and discovering issues that matter most to your target buyers? This is really the Zero Moment of Truth in Bus Dev. And it’s typically an invisible part of how well things are actually working.
6/ NEXT CONVERSATION YIELDS
Few buyers, today, having had a 1st conversation will ever have another conversation. There’s so little value to them in 1st conversations that they’ll avoid another one like the plague. We’re seeing enormous performance lifts from making it clear, for everyone to see, how successfully 1st conversations yield next conversations. And with what issues uncovered issues *in* conversations. On this, survey respondents of all stripes have been in rare agreement in their ratings and feedback.
7/ BETTERING INDUSTRY NORMS
When teams can see how their practices are affecting their results, they discover that ‘better results’ are possible from better practices. They gain a renewed sense of owning their own outcomes. They become more thoughtful, and less robotic, in how they go about doing the tasks they know they need to be doing. They can easily beat the poor conversation yields that others have grown so accustomed to.
8/ FAST CLIMB RATES
When the keys to performance are clear, it’s possible to get better, quickly. Steve Spear describes this as a ‘high velocity edge’. Rooted in the principles of learning.
Discover what the keys to performance are. Get better on those things, quickly. Reap the rewards of getting better results from better practices at a clip that others will look at in stunned amazement. Think Moneyball. Enabled by seeing and understanding ‘the game’ in a fresh light.
9/ LESS VARIANCE
When the conversation-inviting, and conversation-conducting, practices of top reps are hidden from view, it’s really hard for peers to learn from each other. The black art of effective execution remains hidden from view. Imagine making the cause-effect connections between conversation practices and conversation yields visible for everyone to see. Imagine new conversations, internally, that make the path to better practices clearer. Variances in results and practices start to narrow. Productivity becomes less variable from one Rep to another. From one week to another.
The resulting challenge from all of the above? Avoid the temptation to place ‘big bets’ on any one of the above factors. We’ve seen teams spend over $1m in the past year on just one of the above factors. They’ve then gone on to lose some of their top sales people because they ran out of money and had to change their compensation plans. Argh. Far better to get a read on your team’s present state of affairs. Help everyone involved see for themselves where the performance bottlenecks are. Then equip them to better their results, by bettering their practices. One small, smart, move at a time.
In our view, 2016 will be the year in which better sales productivity has the potential to have more impact on profitable growth than any other move you might make.
Any obvious factors, in your view, missing from the above? If so, chime in. This is a narrative that’s continuing to reveal itself thru the experiences of Bus Dev teams.
In the meantime, sincere thanks to the many execs and reps who’ve taken the time to score themselves on the above factors. If you’d like to take our survey, or have your team do so, contact me via LinkedIn or twitter. Happy to add your feedback to the mix. And share with you how your responses compare with others’.