modern sales

Building And Leading The Modern Sales Force

Transform into a tech-savvy sales organization.

10 min reading


Why Sales Organizations Fail

The main reason why so many of today's sales organizations underperform is simple: sales leaders are applying traditional thinking to modern buying behaviours. Your leads and customers expect to receive significantly more added value in return for their attention, consideration and money. Your sales team also has to sell better, faster and smarter than your competitors. All of that is 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 organizations fail due to insufficient sales pipelines. In other words, the low quantity and/or quality of good leads results in too few real sales opportunities, subsequently resulting in too little revenue.

  2. Sales organizations 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 modernized, customer-centric, measurable and more productive way of selling.

We'll address the following key topics to help you drive sales success:

  • Digital go-to-market strategy
  • Marketing and sales alignment
  • Sales process and data
  • Productivity and sales enablement 

Digital Go To Market Strategy

Marketing and Sales Alignment

Sales Process

Productivity and Sales Enablement

Digital Go-To-Market Strategy

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 plan 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. The proof is in the pudding when your strategy does not result in the desired revenue growth. 

The difference between traditional go-to-market strategy and digital go-to-market strategy, is that the latter is more focused on leveraging digital capabilities. Typically, a DGTM is more customer-centric, more focused on providing an excellent customer experience, more in line with digital marketing best practices, more measurable, and therefore more actionable. In other words, digital go-to-market strategies eat their old school predecessors for breakfast.

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 commercial leader who feels they may be able to do a better job, should strongly consider developing an effective digital go-to-market strategy plan.

An effective digital go-to-market strategy alleviates both key sales challenges mentioned at the beginning of this article: insufficient sales pipeline and lacking modern sales skills. That is why the following elements must always be considered, discussed, and documented:

  • Validated product-market fit and sufficient Total Addressable Market.
  • Detailed competitive analysis and competitive intelligence.
  • Agreed upon ideal customer profiles (companies), buying centers (decision-making units) and buyer personas (humans).
  • Recognizable, relevant and compelling differentiation.
  • Problem-based value matrices and relevant buyer’s journeys.
  • A sales model that matches the level of your product's complexity.
  • A measurable and scalable buyer-centric sales process.
  • A sales enablement strategy to drive sales productivity.
  • Actionable KPIs to help improve on key sales metrics.
Marketing & Sales Alignment

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 teams feel like the marketing team doesn't deliver the amount and/or quality of leads they need to be successful. Marketing teams 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 of any company is largely determined by the amount of sales they generate. That's precisely why marketing and sales alignment is key. Better collaboration results in more good leads, more deals, and more revenue.

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 proper 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 marketing and sales leader's performance on one KPI. Marketing and sales should be a tight-knit team. There's nothing like shared accountability to drive effective collaboration and great results.

  2. Organize shared buyer persona workshops. 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 out of the same CRM system. You can't improve what you can't measure. We've seen this initiative lead to much more accurate marketing and sales analytics, resulting in more data-driven insights, more informed decision making, and better business outcomes. 

  4. Organize regular content creation brainstorm sessions. As the sales team is talking to customers on a daily basis, they have access to a vast amount of knowledge about what buyers really want. Marketing teams should leverage sales' knowledge to produce more helpful content that answers buying questions. Well-aligned marketing and sales teams build on each others strengths!

  5. Invite marketing to listen in to sales calls. Real-time feedback about your product or company from an actual buyer is invaluable. That kind of information helps marketing leaders drive better competitive positioning, create better content, and run more effective marketing campaigns.
Sales process

Sales Process

One of the biggest mistakes many companies make, is not implementing a simple and repeatable sales process. 

There are five distinct reasons as to why sales leaders should take the time to design, implement, and stick to a measurable sales process:

  1. Sales hires need the structure to ramp up and start selling faster.
  2. Sales reps need a repeatable process to filter out bad-fit prospects sooner. It certainly helps to alleviate the "we're very busy, but not nearly as productive" conundrum.
  3. Sales managers need data (e.g. conversion ratios by stage, win rates, etc.) to better train, coach and develop their sales reps.
  4. Sales leaders need data (e.g. weighted pipeline value, marketing-sourced meetings, etc.) to better assign additional resources.
  5. Buyers want a pleasant buying experience. A simple and repeatable process helps the sales team ask better questions and add more value.
Productivity & Sales Enablement

Productivity and Sales Enablement

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

Sales productivity = sales effectiveness x sales efficiency.

Effectiveness means "doing the right things". In sales, that relates to the sales team's ability to open new opportunities and close good deals. Good metrics to keep track of sales 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 higher deal size means the sales team is good at finding the right opportunities, adding value and negotiation.
  • Average sales cycle length: A shorter sales cycle means the sales team is good at meeting with the right people, driving urgency, and managing opportunities.
  • Sales pipeline coverage: A balanced pipeline coverage means that the sales team is good at prospecting, rejecting bad-fits leads, and accurate forecasting.
  • Customer lifetime value: A higher customer lifetime value means that the sales team is good at existing account growth and relationship-building.
  • Conversion rate by sales process stage: A balanced conversion rate means that the sales team is good at qualifying out bad-fits, and progressing deals.

Efficiency means getting more work done in less time. It is important to note however, that driving sales efficiency is only sensible when the sales team understands how to do their job right, i.e. sales effectiveness, first.

Sales reps typically only spend about a third of their time doing what they were hired to do: meeting with customers and selling. They spend too much time on non-revenue generating activities. A few things you can do to help your sales team:

  1. Waste less time on low value, time-consuming, repetitive tasks. 
    A lot of time is wasted on low value administrative tasks. Think about logging emails and calls, retyping the same emails, answering the same questions, and updating 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 on making money!
  2. Waste less time on gathering and sharing relevant information.
    If you've been in sales, you know that finding information is a tedious part of the job. Whereas doing research and sharing knowledge is crucial, it can take up far too much time. Time that could've been spent on actually selling.

Sales enablement

Modern sales leaders understand that just giving sales reps a laptop, a phone, and a friendly handshake isn't setting anyone up for success. Instead, more and more companies are investing in sales enablement. 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: Trainers tell trainees what to do, whereas coaches 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. Modern sales organizations use smart 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. Modern technologies can 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 under-appreciated 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:

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

Sales onboarding: Many sales leaders invest not nearly enough 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 profilesbuying 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. team activity to make the new hire feel welcome and start building relationships.

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