For many, the New Year brings an "out with the old, in with the new" mentality that drives most resolutions. But, while diets often fail and gym memberships go unused, companies can use this fresh start as an opportunity to scrap unwanted sales strategies and usher in new techniques for the potentially successful year ahead.
Though companies should constantly look to assess and reassess their sales strategies all throughout the year, there's no better time to start than right now. Organizations must truly audit their current processes to understand precisely what they do to procure potential clients and how these actions may be helping or harming their efforts. They must gain awareness of the state of their particular market and look to see what clients need right now and which strategies will likely garner business and solidify customer retention.
"As much as executives want to make a bold move to strip out the old and move on to the new, it will not be effective without a clear communication plan," says Laura Roach, CMO at OpenSymmetry. "Identify the reason for change. Once the reason for change is established, clarify who it impacts and communicate to the target audience why and how it impacts them directly, what the benefits are, and how to realize them in the new solution."
Communication across departments has become an essential factor for success no matter what improvements an organization may be looking to make. Specifically, companies must identify siloed technology solutions or processes, overlapping or duplicate data repositories, and gaps in program execution in order to establish a holistic view of the customer and the market overall. From manual spreadsheets, to siloed data, companies will need to organize and understand the information already in hand before they can determine next steps. They must then look at what worked, what didn't work, what to continue, what to change, and what to aspire to moving forward.
Steve Diorio, founder of Profitable Channels, notes that there are three questions every company should ask itself when auditing current sales strategies:
- How is this directly supporting a step of my selling process-creating an advance, improving conversion, adding value, or meeting a client need?
- Can I measure the impact of this on actual sales in terms of conversion rate, cross-sell, new opportunities, or closed business?
- Do my salespeople and channel partners find this resource or program valuable and useful?
Yet, as today's market becomes increasingly competitive, companies must also look externally in order to determine which strategies are paramount to attracting the desired prospects. "Too often salespeople will think they have done their homework by simply studying the company they are calling on," says Frank Defino, Jr., vice president and managing director of Tukaiz LLC. "However, what they really need to do is look beyond the company itself to the company's customers and what their needs might be. By doing that, they can have a better view of how what they have to offer will help their prospect connect more effectively with their client base, making the call more relevant to a company's needs."
An analytical assessment allows the company to take the effectiveness of existing strategies into account as they work to evaluate the success of those strategies on a regular basis. Often times, sales professionals aren't sure what to look for, the right questions to ask, or even how to answer those questions. Companies must first set themselves up for success by knowing what success looks like so they can then measure and predict performance to determine if course corrections are needed in a timely manner to be effective and actionable.
"Without taking a moment to assess the performance of current results against set goals, organizations simply can't effectively outline and set future goals and results," Roach says. "Doing so creates the perfect opportunity to identify and immediately address negative gaps that will allow an organization to rapidly move through a state of maturity and get to the next level."
But, while companies must work to assess current strategies and remove those that no longer carry their weight, sales professionals also need to establish methods for growth and continued success. As Roach highlights, there are three particular trends that are beginning to gain traction in the sales sphere:
- Mobile - From smartphones to tablets, mobile devices ease the sales process for executives while allowing all those involved to remain connected and conduct business on the road. Such gadgets also provide sales representatives with the tools necessary to streamline the sales cycle for clients and prospects, and deliver easy access to data in real time.
- Social - By embracing social media, companies are likely to improve sales reach from a marketing perspective, while also allowing sales and service reps access to customer intelligence that may influence the overall sales strategy. Companies will also be exposed to valuable analytical insight as they work to better gauge customer sentiment and respond in a timely manner. However, all must focus on defining their message, choosing their preferred platforms carefully, getting to know their audiences, and establishing a distinct online presence.
- Predictive Analytics - Companies must move beyond analyzing the past and start evaluating 'what if' scenarios that promote exploration into future endeavors. Sales professionals will want to work on predicting where the best campaigns or best efforts will return higher results by analyzing past and present processes to forecast future results.
Conversations Are Key
According to Lisa Cummings, vice president of products at Corporate Visions, Inc., "death by PowerPoint" has become the most common way for sales reps to hammer down the final nail in their coffin, for such presentations fail to achieve the impact needed to advance deals. Ultimately, salespeople must generate conversations that focus on how the potential partnership between the company and the client can solve problems and create opportunities for growth.
"To win with today's more informed business buyer, your sales team needs to have conversations that tell your customers something they didn't know about a problem they didn't know they had," Cummings notes. "This takes a higher level of skill to create, elevate, and capture value in key conversations across the buying process. It's the fastest, surest way to 'change the game' in a competitive marketplace."
Cummings understands that, in most cases, prospects barely even remember most of what they've seen during a PowerPoint slideshow, and they certainly can't differentiate suppliers. Instead, Cummings suggests that sales professionals turn on the lights and replace their clickers with a marker. Drawings on whiteboards are typically more trusted and consultative than fancy, pre-packaged presentation with bullet points and stock photography. Such an approach also allows prospects the chance to interject and ask questions, establishing the sort of dialogue that creates ideas and builds rapport.
"Customers don't care about your products," says Wendy Goeckel, director of sales communications programs at Brainshark, Inc. "They care about their problems. Make sure your strategies are focused on the customer, not on how great your products are." Companies must be sure the customer remains their primary focus no matter which sales strategies come and go, and that all results are measurable so, if something doesn't work, they can do their best to remedy the issue right away.