A successful EVP of sales in a global organization had led three record-breaking years of growth since joining the firm. He was working harder than he had in his life. Yes, there was demand for his firm’s services, and he had hired some star salespeople.
Yet he knew this success was not sustainable. His team was pushing products, not solutions. They were discounting heavily. Infighting had erupted over clients and territory. The sales leader was working 5 AM to 9 PM trying to put out fires. He knew something had to change. It was time to create a sales culture that could take them into the future.
When is the Right Time?
There is never an easy time to pause and take stock of your sales strategy and culture. It may seem the only priority is to close more sales. There is never a slow quarter. Your team is flat out. Yet eventually you will run out of time, energy, and ideas. As your company grows, the problems will grow, too. Your sales strategy cannot be to work harder, without aligning what you do with the business strategy and preparing your team to execute.
Good Salespeople Fail Even When They Do the “Right Things”
It is often hard to understand why salespeople with great promise and a track record of success are not delivering what we expect. It is not because they lack the drive or motivation. They want success and they measure it in sales growth, commission, and bonus.
What many do not have is a personal sales strategy or current best practices that align with the company’s strategic go to market plan. Most companies know today that sales cannot be transactional. They need to reach strategic buyers, have deeper level conversations, tune in, solve problems, and make themselves trusted advisors. Salespeople who reach out to the wrong buyers and have the wrong meetings will not build strong partnerships and smart solutions for your clients.
The Business Case for Transforming your Sales Culture
As one study found, companies with a formal sales process have 18% higher revenue growth than companies that don’t. Ad hoc approaches don’t cut it, especially when it comes to solution selling. Solution selling requires your team to have a deep understanding of the sales process, and the tools to do it. They also must build confidence in talking with economic buyers.
When you provide solution selling best practices and tools, your team can apply them consistently to learn about client challenges and solve them. This takes the guess work out of selling and sets important guideposts for everyone to keep their leads flowing through the funnel.
Stop the Blame Game and Take Ownership
It is time to stop blaming the sales team and take ownership of your sales process and culture. This begins with capturing who you sell to, why they buy, what makes you different, how you solve problems, and create enduring, trusted relationships.
We find many sales leaders know all this, but it is locked inside their heads. They have been doing it for years. They simply have not been able to transfer the knowledge and teach others to do it consistently. The first step in transforming your sales culture to consistently follow the process is to document what that is.
Start with a Sales Playbook
The sales leader who decided to take this transformation to a solution selling culture had no formal sales playbook. He relied on his own knowledge, experience, and instincts. His regional leaders did not know or practice solution-based selling, and they could not explain what success looked like, nor could they teach it to others. We began by assessing, interviewing, and documenting what was working and not. We interviewed leaders on case studies where the firm had been successful landing strategic projects with high level buyers. We used this to build a playbook that included a powerful four-stage sales process.
Next it was time to bring the sales team on board to learn the playbook. The leaders participated fully by creating videos and joining the team for the training. This demonstrated how serious they were about using the tools. This prepared them to be better sales coaches. They had ownership and could share the “why behind the what” when asking their people to change their approaches.
Sales Transformation Needs Leadership
Change is hard, many people resist, and you cannot expect one training to transform your process or your culture. You must be directly involved. You need to track and measure leading indicators to know whether people are doing the right things. You need to schedule ongoing training and development to sustain change and help people develop mastery.
We worked with our client to set them up for success, with the right cadence of interaction with their teams. The mantra was to connect with strategic economic buyers and have smart conversations. This put them on the path to sustained commitment and seeing it through.
Taking the First Step
It takes time, practice, repetition, coaching, and encouragement to change hearts, minds, and habits. Sales transformation does not have to be a heavy lift. Sales executives should not underestimate, or overestimate what it will take. It is a process and it requires discipline, but the outcome is worth the time and effort.
To get started, consider these 5 diagnostic questions. If you can’t answer a resounding yes to all 5, now is a good time to pause and consider what you are going to do to shift the sales culture in your organization.
- Margins on products/services: Are they the same, if not better than they were 3 years ago? If they are going down, it’s a sign your offerings are becoming commoditized.
- Productivity of salespeople: Are they all consistently hitting or exceeding their sales targets? If only a few of your salespeople are carrying the load, it’s a sign they need more or different tools and support.
- Solution selling process: Do you have a documented, written process that you share with your team? If not, you are leaving revenue on the table.
- Leading indicators for solution selling: Do you track and measure leading indicators like discovery calls, buyer profiling, sales plan creation and review? If not, you are leaving strategic conversations with the right buyers to chance.
- Sales training and coaching: Do you have a regular, formal schedule of training and seller support in place? If not, you are shortchanging your sales team, and your revenue targets.
If you would like to learn more about how you can get started, get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org and visit our sales resources page for ideas. Set up your team for success as a solution-selling powerhouse, and you will eliminate the drag and build momentum to grow sales over the long term.