A Quest for Vision: Structure Ahead of the RFP?

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It used to be that sales people could hit their numbers by responding to inbound inquiries (leads, RFI’s, RFP, etc) from various companies within their territory. Now, however, these same reps are forced to develop opportunities from scratch as go-to-market models are increasingly more account–based than in the past. In addition, most firms are finding their win rates for unsolicited RFP’s drop below 20%, a fact that contributes to the growing cost of sales. These two realities are forcing sales organizations to improve their ability to manufacture new opportunities within targeted accounts, and do so in a more scaleable and repeatable way.

In most organizations, a small handful of the sales organization (about 20%) accounts for the lion’s share of their new revenues (about 80%). So, the question becomes “How do we get more of the 80% of our reps to perform like the top 20%?”

Over the course of my 15 years in sales and marketing, I’ve seen investments in tools, advertising, skill development, packaging, and process improvement all with an eye toward improving the productivity of the sales force. From my own experiences, I’ve seen some incremental improvements – but at the end of the day the top performers still produce the bulk of revenue. Perhaps with these efforts we are addressing symptoms, and not the root cause. Maybe we should try to understand what is common for top sales performers?

When I ask top performers the question “why are you so successful” all tell me more or less the same thing – they concentrate on selling a vision. Logically then if we could model the steps and techniques used by these stellar performers, then we could improve the success of the entire sales force. However, when pressed to define what a vision is, top performers really struggle to articulate it more concretely. The only lesson learned is that the vision they create is about how the customer can solve the business problems they’re facing.

There is a moment in a buyer’s mind when their thinking shifts from trying to understand their problems to thinking about the approach to solving it. It’s at that moment when an excutive develops clarity around a “solution vision” about what their world will look like when complete. This inflection point is the single most important mindshare to gain because vendors who are involved prior to this event have a significant competitive advantage over those who engage after.

So, how does one define a “solution vision?” It really is a guiding conceptual model for achieving a desired end state. It provides a shared understanding to the network of people (internal and external) who must perform related, but unique tasks for the organization to realize the anticipated benefits of the endeavor.

Solution visions that have successfully been implemented all have three common ingredients, which we call the three “A’s” of execution.

1) Authentic – it has to be real, well-researched, and obtainable.
2) Applicable – it has to be communicated in the context of the account and the stakeholder
3) Actionable – the path (and the required details) to realizing that vision are mapped out into an understandable approach, but also simplified so the program doesn’t collapse under its own complexity.

If you create a simple checklist of resource allocation based on this definition, you will find that the overwhelming majority of your business development resources (sales, marketing, and solutions) are focused after a customer has developed their solution vision rather than on helping to influence that vision. Instead of continually investing in programs to incrementally improve how your sales teams manage opportunities after the customer knows what they want, significantly better returns await those who invest in programs to help customers shape a solution vision. This is done by creating programmatic and repeatable programs to help sales people more easily collaborate with executives to develop a shared vision of success for that account.

Scott Santucci
As a principal analyst at Forrester Research, Scott Santucci has deep knowledge and hands-on experience working cross-functionally with product, marketing, and sales teams to develop innovative and effective integrated programs designed to improve the entire revenue cycle.

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