July 19, 2009

Managing Sales Cycles: The New Agenda

What are the top priorities with respect to key account selling? In the context of the market slowdown where are salespeople focusing in order to nudge their key prospects across the line? Well, we did some looking around to find out and pulled this short list together as a guide:

1. Sell higher - selling to higher level management in target accounts, particularly at C level (i.e. CTO, COO, etc.). Unless they are actively involved in the buying decision it won’t happen. That requires a new attitude, approach and confidence on the part of the salesperson. He, or she has to become somebody that the C level executive values enough to want to spend some of his / precious time talking with.

2. Sell to satisfied – it is not enough to limit your sales activity to those companies that have an express need and an allocated budget for your solution. You have to work on selling to those accounts who need your solution, but don’t realize it yet.

3. More planned, structured / systematic approach – applying key account management principles to those prospects that you want to become next quarter, or next year’s accounts is key. That includes more communication, more information, more meetings, more contacts and so on.

4. Dialogue not sales pitch – it is not about selling and it is not about your product, or service. It is about finding out what the prospect wants to achieve in his/her business, the problems and challenges being faced and exploring how and if your solution can address these.

5. Joint process of engagement– It is not about the salesperson doing all the running. The buyer has to see a pay off from talking with the salesperson in the first instance and thereafter from engaging with the salesperson in the exploration of needs and solutions. When the solution is agreed, the buyer had to see it as his, or hers, not just yours.

6. Marketing and sales go hand in hand. One to one relationship building is backed up by a supporting programme of marketing, that may include direct mail, white papers, email newsletters, etc. That ensures multiple touches over time across the buying group and ensures the sales persons has new messages, insights and conversation points to share with the customer. All this communication is centrally coordinated by means of a sales database, or CRM system.

7. Expert not salesperson. Buyers are increasingly averse to the traditional salesperson. They want to talk to experts, not sellers. The ultimate achievement for the salesperson is to be considered a trusted advisor, or a peer.

8. Selling is a team sport, just as is buying. The seller is in contact with twice, or three times as many influences in target accounts as was traditionally the case in the past. That involves a team on the sales side, which with match executives in the buying organization with executives in the sales organization. The personal and business motives of all the buying group are carefully and systematically addressed.

9. Sell to strategy – Any major purchase is first and foremost a business decision and if the salesperson is involved in at the strategy stage his, or her chances of success are greatly increased. That means the conversation must focus not on your product or solution but how it will help the buyer and his/her company achieve its goals.

10. Understanding the buying process – it sounds obvious but the salesperson has to focus not on selling, but rather on helping the buyer to buy. That means he, or she needs to fully understand how the decision will be made, including; who will be involved, the decision making criteria, the budget range, etc. Rather than trying to shoe horn the buyer into the salesperson's sales process, the buyer must feel that he, or she is in control at all times.

11. Ongoing review of process / position – any key account or prospect strategy is only as good as its last review. Pipeline reviews have to be more regular and have to be seen not as a critique of the salesperson, but a vital means of ensuring his, or her success. The salesperson is in tune with his, or her gut instinct with to the account and constantly looking out for red, or yellow lights which can point to where more effort is required.

12. Be prepared to walk away. Don’t start off by assuming the customer needs your solution, find a reason to start a discussion about the customer’s needs and priorities and if it makes sense take it from there. But remember you cannot win ‘em all and that means you must be brave enough to walk away if a genuine win-win cannot be achieved with the prospect.

13. Business decision trumps buying decision. Behind every major purchase decision is a important business decision. The salesperson has to be concerned with the business case, more than the sales proposal. He, or she has to understand the costs, benefits and risks associated with the buyer's decision.

14. Buyer risk is paramount. Buyer adversity to risk has increased in the present turbulent environment. That is not just the business risk associated with the project, but the risk associated with selecting a particular vendor. The seller's task is to minimise and manage this risk. The salesperson’s full tact and skill is employed to ensure that all unspoken issues are addressed.

15. What do you want to do next? A new approach to prequalification is required, one that engages with the buyer. That means understanding if there is a budget available, what the timeline is and so on. The salesperson tests these variables, for example asking quesions such as 'is there any reason why this issues has not been address prior to this?', 'is the budget contingent on a success business case being demonstrated?', or 'are there other projects competiting with this one for budget?'

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