By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling® – The Sales Training Company
Most founders without sales experience don’t think about selling in the early stages of launching startups. Their focus is on developing offerings. Later they may view Sales as a necessary evil. While not feasible, those with complex B2B offerings may wish they could sell via the Internet and eliminate the need to hire sales executives to build sales forces.
Two major challenges for entrepreneurs:
1. Understanding target markets to develop
2. Providing offerings that meet the needs of potential buyers.
Some take Field of Dreams, “If I build it they will buy” approaches. Rude awakenings may arise when trying to raise money from investors or secure their initial customers. During meetings with potential investors some founders appear to be insulted when asked who would buy their offering and why.
Even Steve Jobs’ detractors recognized his genius in creating offerings people wanted to buy. He focused on delivering buyer experiences. Apple ads spend more time on usage rather than features and product details. I’m unaware of a comparable visionary in a large B2B company that drives product development in making product people want to buy.
Once a start-up begins workflows, roles and interfaces between core functions are defined. Order entry must interface with billing and fulfillment. When inventory is depleted, Procurement must re-order goods and communicate with Accounts Payable. Shipping must provide input to billing. On and on it goes. Chaos would reign if touch points and relationships between departments were left undefined.
Sales organizations are created last and seem to be on remote islands while all other departments are on the mainland. Chartered with driving top line revenue, salespeople are given wide latitude in how they go about doing it. Industry statistics for decades have been consistent: About 50% of salespeople achieve quota. A few questions:
- What other departments have half of their staff under-performing?
- How useful/functional is the job description for salespeople in your company?
- How are sales managers expected to assess and develop sellers when each has their own approach to selling and positioning offerings?
If successful, most companies develop four (4) silos:
- Product Development
- Product Marketing
Ironically, executives responsible for each silo have varying tasks and responsibilities that directly contribute to the ultimate objective: Achieving top line revenue.
Product Development creates offerings they believe buyers want, a daunting challenge if they are far removed from customers. This results in taking “inside out” approaches when creating new offerings. One of the biggest barriers to being customer-centric is having offerings buyers want to buy.
The Holy Grail
Shifting to “outside-in” approaches requires an understanding of industry trends, desired buyer outcomes and reasons those outcomes can’t be achieved. Being able to get to this level could provide the Holy Grail for vendors: A sustainable competitive advantage.
The silos of Product Development, Product Marketing, Marketing and Sales often generate internal friction. These organizations speak different languages and there is a palpable lack of an overarching structure that functionally defines interactions between silos. This lack of structure causes random acts of sales enablement to be performed. It’s debatable whether such changes make things better or worse because they’re done from each silo’s perspective. It’s analogous to a crew team without a coxswain: Eight rowers randomly putting their oars in the water with no cadence and nobody steering the boat toward its destination.
Most companies have paid lip service to sales enablement rather than making meaningful changes. Customer-centricity isn’t a “bolt on” module. John Chambers, Cisco’s CEO has gone on record as saying that 2 of the top 5 technology companies could become irrelevant within the next 5 years. Old approaches to markets aren’t working. The larger the company the more difficult it is to have silos collaborate productively.
In order to remain relevant, companies will need to develop frameworks and context to define roles. All four silos could taking the following steps to rally around customers:
- Have all silos agree on the titles that sellers must call on to sell, fund and implement each offering.
- For each of these titles the silos should agree on a menu of business outcomes these buyers are responsible for that can be achieved through the use of the offering. These outcomes should have monetary value to clients to allow benefits to exceed costs.
- Have a common vocabulary so that reasons business outcomes can’t be achieved become part of Product Development’s “to do” list.
- Define a “lead” as a Key Player title interested in one or more business outcomes on their menu.
Taking an “outside-in” approach creates the potential for Marketing to stop “push” campaigns. If offerings address buyer/market vendors can experience market “pull.” The biggest contributor to being customer-centric is providing offerings buyers want to buy.
Taking these steps enhances a vendor’s chances of remaining relevant to their customers and markets. It’s significantly easier to sell offerings prospects and customers want to buy. All silos have some role in achieving top line revenue. Aligning Product Development, Product Marketing and Marketing with Sales would make everyone’s job easier.
Top line revenue is the single most significant factor in a company’s success or failure. Revenue generation should be a collaborative organizational effort rather than expecting Sales to deliver quota.