The engine of every company is customer acquisition. Customers translate into revenue which fuels job creation, investment and shareholder value. Without customers there is no business. They are the fly wheel of economies and societies.
While everyone in an organization has a role in customer relationships, finding and winning customers largely falls on the shoulders of Sales. Even in today’s era of self-service, Sales plays an important role. Somebody needs to follow up on inquiries, build a relationship with the buyer, provide pricing, and close the deal.
To that end, Sales’ is always in the CEO’s crosshairs. For the simple reason that despite billions being spent annually on technology, training and recruiting – the percentage of sales reps that meet quota has stubbornly remained at 50 percent for years, if not decades.
The culprit lies in Sales hanging on to old habits and inadequate enablement. The combination foretells of a looming crisis that will leave no company untouched.
The primary reasons for Sales’ ongoing struggle, according to Qvidian’s Sales Execution Trends 2015 Report, are:
- Inability to effectively communicate value
- Slow sales rep ramp up time
- Inaccurate pipeline forecasts
- Disconnected systems
The pressure is on. Companies want increased win rates (94 percent of respondents) and improved quota attainment (87 percent). Yet, the study found that over 40 percent of opportunities end in ‘no decision’. That translates into even more pressure on Sales to win new accounts (59%), up-/cross-sell into existing accounts (43%), and improve the win rate of forecasted deals (35%).
The root cause of the looming crisis is the growing gap between sales’ behaviors and customer expectations. According to the study, over 55 percent of companies do not clearly understand the customer’s buying process. “The disconnect between what the buyer wants and what the sales rep provides is at the crux of a persistent problem: The strategy and sales execution gap,” shares Christopher Faust, Qvidian’s Chief Marketing Officer. “Increasing lack of sales alignment with buyers and failures to provide real added value to the customer contribute to the cycle of inefficiency.”
That forces sales manager to routinely perform unnatural acts in order to generate the expected revenue the organization needs. Leaving little time for real-time coaching and reinforcement (24% of respondents), sales reps are left to figure it out for themselves. That translates into an average ramp up time of 7 to 9 months until they are fully productive.
Reducing ramp time is a top objective of sales organizations but that requires more than just better training on customer buying behaviors and expectations. Sales reps face a work environment in which over 70 percent of them are expected to work with multiple systems that are not streamlined or connected. The inability to find the right content or tools and collaborate with successful reps to learn best practices directly impacts Sales’ ability to effectively communicate value (41 percent) which impacts quota attainment.
All of these factors contribute to the persistent problem of inaccurate pipeline forecasting. Businesses make key decisions based on pipeline forecasts and when those forecasts are routinely incorrect the dampening effect on the business is real in terms of slower than possible growth. 22 percent of the study’s respondents reported inaccurate pipeline forecast as a top challenge despite having deployed a CRM system to streamline sales complexity and lead tracking.
The recent rise of sales analytics hasn’t helped solve the problem either. On average, 42 percent of organizations reported their analytics solutions do not meet their needs, if they even have one. With manual reports and high level dashboards, the level of insight management and the rest of the company needs in order to help Sales just isn’t available. And that leaves the sales rep flying blind.
Not knowing what the buyer’s process is, the sales rep isn’t clear on what the most effective next action is, what content the buyer really wants, when the buyer takes an action that requires an immediate response, and how to build a trusted, valued relationship, on the buyer’s terms.
There is no silver bullet to fix this situation. Companies first need to face the facts and get real about becoming customer aligned. It’s not a marketing campaign or a HR slogan, it’s a transformation.
From there, the steps to improve Sales’ ability to perform include:
- Integrate, streamline and mobile-enable systems so Sales can work smarter.
- Spoon feed Sales reps the data they need, dynamically, and in context of the deal at hand.
- Train Sales on customer journeys and equip them with tools, coaching, and guides.
- Customize content and deploy sales playbook technology.
- Implement neuro-linguistic programming-based coaching.
The time is now for Sales leaders to demand their organizations step into the Customer Economy and, as part of that, reinvent their sales strategy and execution to deliver “the money” predictably.
First published on Forbes