TeQflo Master Surfer 2

Building and leading the modern sales force

Over the last decade, sales has changed rapidly. It has, for many sales leaders and their teams, become significantly harder to become and remain successful. A plethora of research has shown that less than 50% of the global sales community consistently achieve their revenue targets. That is worrying.

Along with the Digital Era we entered a new, buyer-centric world in which our leads, prospects and customers hold much more power and control than they used to. The sheer amount and quality of information anyone can find out about potential vendors and their products is staggering. Today's buyers also expect more personalised, insightful and helpful sales interactions. We now know that how you sell, may be just as important as what you sell.

Although the basic premises of sales will always be true, modern customers do require modern sales organizations. Truly, in sales, old keys won't unlock new doors. It is therefore up to you, the modern sales leaders, to drive digital mastery and lead your organizations to continued growth and prosperity.

Why sales organisations fail

The main reason why so many of today's sales organisations underperform is simple: sales leaders are applying traditional thinking to modern buying behaviours. Our leads and customers expect to receive significantly more added value in return for their attention, consideration and money. Our sales forces also have to sell better, faster and smarter than their increasingly international competitors, all adding to the complexity of the modern sales leaders' job.

Having worked with many sales leaders, both traditional and modern, we've been able to distill the two key themes to explain and address sales underperformance:

  1. Sales organisations fail due to an insufficient sales pipeline. In other words, the low quantity and/or quality of leads results in too few real sales opportunities, subsequently resulting in too little revenue.
  2. Sales organisations fail because their modern sales skills are lacking. In such cases lead generation isn't so much the issue; the real problem is converting demand into revenue.  

The remainder of this page serves to challenge the sales leader's conventional thought patterns, and to inspire a modernised, customer-centric, measurable and more productive way of selling. We'll address the following key topics to help drive sales success:

  • Digital Go-To-Market Strategy
  • Marketing and sales alignment
  • Measurable sales process
  • Sales productivity and enablement 

Digital Go-To-Market Strategy

Are you in a sales leadership position, and are you getting pressure from your executive team or investors because they don’t see the expected revenue growth trajectory? Were you under the impression that your traditional go-to-market strategy would deliver better sales results than it ultimately did?

If you’re thinking “yes” to either of those questions, then investing in a digital go-to-market strategy (DGTM) is probably well worth exploring. Designing a revenue-generating strategy that is actually in line with today’s market expectations and requirements, is absolutely crucial for continued commercial success.

A traditional go-to-market strategy describes, mostly in generic terms, where and how a product or service is taken to the market. It typically includes target markets, target audiences, a pricing strategy, value propositions and perhaps a few sales trainings. Yet in many cases, generic doesn’t cut it any longer, and the strategy does not result in the desired revenue growth. 

The difference between a traditional go-to-market strategy versus a digital go-to-market strategy, is that the latter is more focused on digital competences, it’s more human-centric, more specific about relevant added values, more measurable and therefore more actionable.

Ultimately, any business outcome is merely the result of the actions (or lack thereof) that preceded it. If your marketing and sales results are sub-par, it’s because the execution was sub-par, which is most likely because the go-to-market strategy was non-customer centric, hard to measure and improve on, and in the broader sense, you guessed it, sub-par. Any sales leader who feels they may be able to do a better job, should consider investing in developing an effective DGTM.

Crucially, a DGTM helps and serves to alleviate both key sales challenges mentioned earlier: insufficient sales pipeline and lacking modern sales skills. That is why the following elements must always be considered, discussed, and documented:

  • Measurable product-market fit and sufficient Total Addressable Market (TAM)
  • Detailed competitive analysis and documented competitive intelligence
  • Agreed upon ideal buyer profiles (companies), buying centers (decision-making units) and buyer personas (humans)
  • Recognisable, relevant and compelling differentiation
  • Problem-based value matrices, and relevant and helpful buyer’s journeys
  • A sales strategy that matches the level of the offering’s complexity
  • A measurable, scalable, actionable and buyer-centric sales process
  • A sales enablement strategy that helps increase sales productivity
  • Actionable KPIs that help monitor and improve on key sales metrics

Marketing and sales alignment

An effective and truly fruitful partnership between marketing and sales has, for the overwhelming majority of companies, always been an unattainable utopia. Sales leaders feel like the marketing team doesn't deliver the amount and/or quality of leads the sales team needs to be successful. Marketing leaders are wondering what sales reps are doing with the leads they so carefully generated and nurtured. Result: misalignment, mistrust and missed revenue targets.

Ultimately, the growth and prosperity of any company is largely determined by the amount of sales they generate. The very first order of business therefore, is making sure the marketing and sales leaders operate, and are viewed and measured as one entity, a dedicated growth engine if you will, rather than as separate silos.

In the past, the division of labour may have been too simple: marketing generates leads, sales generates customers. Today, we recommend our customers to expand their traditional views and run their revenue-generating teams more holistically:

  • Marketing generates leads.... who actually make a purchase
  • Sales generates customers... who actually stay and expand
  • Service generates ambassadors... who actually refer new leads
What actions can modern sales leaders take to overcome misalignment?

Whereas there is no single correct answer, there are plenty of high-growth organizations who have already figured out the mechanisms behind successful marketing and sales alignment. We actually recommend many of the sales leaders we work with, to consider concrete initiatives such as these to achieve and surpass their sales goals:

  1. Measure the CMOs and CCOs performance on a shared revenue growth KPI. Marketing and sales should be a tight-knit team and there's nothing like shared accountability to drive effective collaboration and great results.
  2. Organise shared buyer persona workshops and agree on specific lead qualification criteria. This will help to ensure that marketing understands the type of leads that sales wants, whilst also avoiding complaints from sales about the leads marketing has generated. 
  3. Have marketing and sales work from within one marketing and sales platform. You can't improve what you can't measure, and we've seen this initiative lead to much more accurate marketing and sales analytics, resulting in more data-driven insights, better shared decision making, and subsequently better business outcomes. 
  4. Conduct regular shared content creation brainstorm sessions. As the sales team is listening to and conversing with prospects and customers on a daily basis, they have access to a vast amount of knowledge about what buyers want, need and ask themselves. Marketing should leverage this to produce more appealing and helpful content that answers buying questions. Well-aligned marketing and sales teams build on each others strengths, and the same principle applies to useful content creation.
  5. Sales teams may invite marketing leaders to listen in or review their sales calls. Real-time feedback and questions about your company from an actual prospect or customer can present marketing leaders with invaluable inspiration and information they need to drive better competitive positioning, helpful content, and more effective marketing campaigns.

Measurable sales process

One of the biggest mistakes many companies make, is failing to adopt a formal sales process. There are five distinct reasons why sales leaders should take the time to design, implement, and stick to a measurable sales process:

  1. Sales hires need the structure to onboard faster and become effective (i.e. revenue generating) sooner.
  2. Sales reps need a standardised process to filter out bad-fit prospects sooner, to spend more quality time with prospects who are willing and able to work with them. It certainly helps to alleviate the "we're very busy, but not nearly as productive" conundrum.
  3. Sales managers need the individual's data (e.g. conversion ratios by stage, win rates, etc.) to better train, coach and develop their sales reps.
  4. Sales leaders need the collective data (e.g. weighted pipeline value, marketing-sourced meetings, etc.) to better align and assign additional resources.
  5. Prospects and customers want a simple and structured buying experience that adds value to their specific stage in the decision making process, which is much easier to accomplish when the sales reps understand when to ask what, and what to offer at any given moment.

We can only improve what we see, and we can only see what we measure. Without a formal and measurable sales process, sales leaders will find themselves having a much harder time to assign and align the right resources to drive revenue growth. 

A measurable sales process helps us collect invaluable insights about key metrics such as conversion ratios by sales process stage, weighted pipeline value, pipeline coverage against target, and main reasons for losing deals. So, depending on what the data tells us, sales leaders may need to take certain specific and concrete actions to improve their numbers: 

  • Hire for other competences and skills, because we're switching to a more consultative selling model and that requires a certain type of sales rep.
  • Invest more in marketing to drive SQLs, because our win rate is great but we're just not getting in front of the right people.
  • Hire a team of Sales Development Reps, because we need to provide our closers with more pre-qualified opportunities.
  • Train the sales reps on stricter qualification, because we're wasting too much time on deals that are never going to close.
  • Build stronger relationships with more decision makers, because deals get stuck due to indecision at some point.
  • Review and re-align our buyer personas with marketing, because we're just not getting the lead quality we need.
  • Have the sales managers listen in on sales calls, because our conversion ratios seem too low and we need to understand how to train our sales reps. 
  • Improve our competitive positioning, because our closed lost reasons tell us we lose too many deals to competitors with a better product.
  • Adopt a more aggressive pricing strategy, because our closed lost reasons tell us we're simply far too expensive compared to the alternatives. 
  • Design a better sales follow-up process, because we lose more opportunities after the first conversation than we'd realistically expect. 

All of the above actions will be much more impactful when they're actually based on validated data points, rather than on gut feelings and guesses. And that is why every sales leader needs a formal and measurable sales process. 

Sales productivity and enablement

Sales productivity is probably one of the main drivers behind overall company success. The more productive the sales team is, the more revenue they bring in, the more growth and prosperity for the company. The formula for sales productivity is simple:

Sales productivity = sales efficiency x sales effectiveness

Sales effectiveness relates to the sales rep's ability to advance the right buyers through the buying process, to actually win deals, and bring on board good-fit customers who have the potential to stay on board and increase their spending. Effectiveness also marks the difference between just being very busy, versus being productive. Good metrics for sales leaders to keep track of their sales teams' effectiveness are:

  • Average win rate: A higher win rate means the sales team is good at converting opportunities into actual sales. 
  • Average deal size: A bigger deal size means the sales team is good at finding great opportunities, adding a lot of value, and negotiation.
  • Average sales cycle length: A shorter sales cycle means the sales team is good at meeting with the right people, keeping the buyer's attention, driving urgency, and sticking to timelines.
  • Sales pipeline coverage: A balanced pipeline coverage means that the sales team is good at prospecting for new deals, rejecting unqualified opportunities, and accurate forecasting.
  • Customer lifetime value: A higher customer lifetime value means that the sales team is good at bringing on board good-fit customers
  • Conversion rate by sales process stage: A balanced conversion rate means that the sales team is good at qualifying out bad-fit prospects, whilst educating and progressing the good-fit prospects.

Sales efficiency simply allows the sales team do more work in less time. It is important to note however, that driving sales efficiencies is only sensible if and when the sales team understands how to do their job right, i.e. sales effectiveness, first. To illustrate, a sales rep who is highly efficient probably manages to meet with a relatively high number of prospects. That doesn't necessarily mean the prospects are qualified and ready to buy though. Doing more of the wrong things, only amplifies the sales rep's biggest challenges.

Sales reps typically only spend 25% to 35% of their time doing what they were hired to do: meeting with customers and selling. In order to increase the sales team's efficiency, a sales leader should consider smart ways to:

  1. Waste less time on low value, time-consuming, repetitive tasks. 
    The majority of the typical sales reps' time is spent on low value administrative tasks such as logging emails and calls, retyping the same old emails, answering the same old questions, and updating deal fields in the CRM. The majority of these tasks can actually be done much faster by implementing a sales automation system. Every hour wasted on repetitive manual tasks could also have been spent high value activities such as prospecting new good-fit opportunities or talking to decision makers.
  2. Waste less time on gathering and sharing relevant information.
    Those of us who have been in sales, know that finding information can be a tedious and extremely time-consuming part of the job. Scouring the internet, finding leads and their contact details, finding hooks and insights about them, finding internal product info to share in follow-up emails, finding and sharing the right marketing one-pagers, finding info on competitors, and so forth. Whereas doing research and sharing knowledge is crucial, it can take up far too much time from actually selling. The answer to this challenge is twofold: 

    1. We need a sales content strategy to help the sales team educate and inspire their buyers without having to spend too much time on gathering the information. Sales content can be brainstormed about and co-written together with marketing. Think about content such as presentation decks, templated sales emails and sequences, proposal documents, pre-written articles and social media posts, helpful product one-pagers, pre-recorded demo videos, and competitive intelligence decks.
    2. We want to make sure we have a central source of rich, complete and easy-to-find lead data to provide the sales team with better sales insights in less time. Whereas most CRMs contain static data like names and contact details, sales reps get the most value out of demographics, past activities, relevant interactions, and company information. However, most valuable of all is behavioural data. Based on their actions, what products are our leads probably most interested in? How far along is someone in the buying process? How educated is our lead and how ready to buy are they? Is it the premium or the budget version of our offering that seems most relevant? Is someone merely interested, or do they have an actual intention to make a purchase in the near future? In other words; how can we leverage valuable insights to improve our sales meetings, add more value to this specific person's buying process, and win more sales?
Sales enablement

Effective and modern sales leaders understand that just giving sales reps a laptop, a phone, and a friendly handshake isn't really setting anyone up for success. Instead, with the aim of increasing sales productivity and therefore revenue, more and more companies are now investing in sales enablement initiatives. So how does that work, exactly?

Sales enablement is typically said to consist of five different categories:

  1. Sales training: Probably the most common type of traditional sales enablement initiatives. There are thousands and thousands of sales trainers, sales training programs and sales training institutes. Some are great, some aren't. The problem with most types of sales training, is that they are seen as an event rather than a process. Sales trainer comes in, spends a day with the sales team, sales team is hyped up for another day, and then it's back to business as usual and making the same mistakes they did before. That obviously doesn't work and is largely a waste of money for the company. Instead, sales trainings should be part of a bigger picture and implemented like a process:

    1. Review the data and pick one key sales skill to be improved upon
    2. Get buy-in from sales as to why and how this skill is going to help them
    3. Set expectations about (un)desired behaviours and how this "new world" will be measured and put into practice
    4. Host an interactive, engaging and valuable training session
    5. Make a concrete plan to incorporate key learnings into daily work
    6. Review key learnings and any (un)changed behaviours with the team
    7. Reward or punish (un)desired behaviours in a consistent and fair manner
    8. Measure and review progress, identify remaining skill gaps with team
  2. Sales coaching: The difference between training and coaching, is that trainers tell trainees what to do, whereas coaches on the other hand, only ask questions to help coachees figure out what to do for themselves. Big difference. Coaches don't give advice, they don't steer the conversation in a certain direction, and they don't give opinions. Sales coaching is playing the long game. Sales coaching can be about mapping out career paths, improving certain sales skills, or helping to advance specific deals. A good framework for sales managers to use, is the TGROW coaching model:
    Topic: What is the challenge you want to discuss with me today?
    Goals: What do you want to achieve today, and in relation to your problem?
    Reality: What does the current situation look like? What else have you tried?
    Options: What impactful actions could you take, and which option is best?
    Way forward: What and when is your next step, and who could help you?

  3. Sales automation: Unnecessary manual labour is the enemy of progress. In sales, too much time is spent on administrative tasks, too many deals are lost due to bad or forgotten follow-up, too many customers get a bad experience due to bad hand overs, and too much data is inconsistent or left out the CRM. In other words, manual labour results in many different types of diminished sales efficiency. Sales automation serves to alleviate or even remove these pains all together. Modern sales organizations may leverage clever technologies to:

    1. Simplify prospecting and reach out to more leads in less time
    2. Enrich lead data automatically to give sales more and better insights
    3. Create or update contacts and deals automatically to save a lot of time
    4. Pre-populate personalized sales emails to reduce repetitive tasks
    5. Schedule sales meetings automatically without losing the human touch
    6. Record, transcribe and analyze sales calls to identify where to improve
    7. Rotate leads between reps automatically, at random or based on rules
    8. Score leads based on certain attributes, to help prioritise the best ones
  4. Sales reporting and analytics: Sales managers and leaders spend a lot of their time updating, reviewing and discussing numbers. A lot of data entry and report sharing can actually be automated, giving the sales managers back several hours per week back to spend instead on hiring, coaching and developing their teams. Modern day technologies can also help managers get access to better analytics about their individual sales reps' performance, specific skill gaps and overall progress. 

  5. Sales content: Buyers want to be educated. On the one hand, there's the spoken word and story telling by the sales team. Sales content on the other hand, is an often overlooked and underappreciated resource. Typically, a good sales content strategy is the result of a well-aligned marketing and sales team. The benefits are ample:

    1. Making it easier to convince customers of the solution's value
    2. Making it easier to differentiate the proposition from competitors
    3. Making it easier to position the sales team as thought leaders
    4. Making it easier to support and validate the sales reps' points
    5. Making it easier for sales reps to learn and develop 
    6. Making it easier for customers to prepare and self-educate, which typically results in better sales meetings

As sales content is usually produced in tandem with marketing, it's actually not that hard to get started. The marketing team, in many cases, will already have the skills required and systems in place to create helpful content that the sales team will actually use, such as:

  1. Case studies to show how others customers have become successful
  2. Sales scripts and playbooks to help sales teams run structured meetings
  3. Email templates to ensure the right information is shared at the right time
  4. Competitive intelligence to help understand any strengths and weaknesses
  5. Presentation decks to have one unified and approved message for all
  6. Buyer persona battle cards including common pain points and objections
  7. Product one-pagers to satisfy the buyer's need for shareable information
  8. Relevant and helpful blog posts for the sales reps to share in their networks
  9. Recorded demo videos for customers to self-assess and self-educate
  10. Sales onboarding content to help understand the role and ramp up quickly

Sales onboarding: Many sales leaders invest close to nothing in new hire onboarding. Yet failing sales reps are expensive: there's hiring costs + compensation paid to failed hire + benefits awarded to failed hire + equipment purchased for failed hire + training costs + burned leads + sales not generated + opportunity costs for a successful hire. Multiply that amount by several failed hires per year, and the business case for better sales onboarding practically writes itself. So what should sales leaders include to design an effective sales onboarding program?

  1. Well-documented and detailed ideal customer profiles, buying centres, and buyer personas with typical goals, challenges, objections and questions.
  2. A standardised and simple sales process to help the new hires understand what to do, what to ask when, and how to progress prospects to next stage.
  3. Call scripts and playbooks to help understand how a typical sales meeting should be run, what topics to address, and what the typical objections are. 
  4. Recommended sales meeting structures and standardised presentation decks to copy and master the basics of sales in your company quickly.
  5. Concrete tips and tricks to understand and copy what the most successful sales reps do to be successful.
  6. Weekly 1:1 meetings with the sales manager to discuss the new hire's progress, agree key competences to improve on, and put a concrete plan in place to develop the necessary skills rapidly. 
  7. A team activity to make the new hire feel welcome and start building relationships

Did you enjoy the content? Feel free to share!