Most organizations understand the importance of their sales teams to drive revenue, but most undervalue how their sales processes can be a competitive advantage.
With due deference to product development, there's no escaping that most leading products have more things in common than not.
From a user perspective, line up the three leaders in any category and it's likely you'll find 80 per cent overlap in features and capabilities. So for all the talk of benefits, sizzle and zap, there's little to differentiate your product from others.
Because of this, why don't companies emphasize their sales process much more than they do? Many are happy to display their International Organization for Standardization (ISO) certifications. These are viewed as a useful means of adding credibility and "proof" that their products meet customer expectations.
Professionals within those same companies proudly display strings of the alphabet confirming their capabilities. In sales, the biggest accomplishment highlighted on a business card is President's Club. Along with your certifications, why not show off your company's training around sales process and ability to drive value for their clients?
The way your salespeople engage potential buyers and then take them though the buy/sell journey is often the only critical difference between winning and losing.
Yet most of the collateral is focused on product.
Some have always understood this and some may be old enough to remember the expression made famous in the 1980s "no one ever got fired for buying IBM." While many in the know tell me Digital Equipment Corp. (DEC) had an equal if not superior product, IBM outsold them, winning by focusing on the short game – where it really counts.
To make this work, you first need to map out the buy/sell journey. Many teams do have a sales process, but it isn't always adhered to, making it difficult to leverage as a differentiator. A sales-flow or processaligns the seller with the buyer, and recognizes the clients' role beyond writing a check.
A sales process where the central feature is the buyer's objectives and the seller's subject matter expertise can lead to a much more productive discussion, leading to shorter cycles, more wins, and greater client loyalty, because their objectives would be the continuing focus.
This process, tied to standards around execution can give a seller the similar advantages to ISO. Imagine putting that on your brochures and having sales people leverage it during calls.
Another factor that will help you make this work is an ongoing investment in your front-line managers. While many organizations talk about being committed to coaching, few do an adequate job of helping their sales managers become better coaches. This is even more pronounced when managers are former sales stars promoted into the role without much help in transitioning. Left to their own devices, they will attempt to clone themselves. If they were developed as coaches, they wouldn't only enhance the client experience, but drive more sales. Studies have shown that regular and consistent coaching, some would suggest daily, leads to a 17 per cent increase in revenue by reps coached.
Although the step listed above are not easy to take, they're nowhere near as difficult as getting buy-in from senior corporate and sales leaders. And while I appreciate the pressures to hit monthly and quarterly sales, it should not be at the expense of long term success.
It's really a question of continuing down the path you are on, hoping buyers see some merit in your product or marketing's messaging; or leveraging the only real differentiator and advantage, your sales team and its process.
Tibor Shanto is a principal at Renbor Sales Solutions Inc., and he will be a presenter at the Toronto Sales Performance Summit. His column appears once a month on the Report on Small Business website.