How do you deliver the real benefits of a Sales Guide programme?

We provide a process to capture the information required to sell a specific proposition. We usually capture the information in a Sales Guide (often called a Playbook in the US). Our approach was initially developed when we worked in a £640M ($750M) corporate partnership group. There we realised our partners had very little ability to sell our solutions.

The process captures information about the solution, the market needs, the buyer needs (DMU), the competition, the sales/buyer cycle, the customer business case, etc. Much of this information is, in theory, already available to our clients’ salespeople. But it’s dispersed, inconsistent and misses the buyer perspective.

Our external view has proved to be extremely valuable. Although our clients’ team has great expertise and experience, they often have conflicting views of what works in front of the customer. We provide effective prioritisation/mediation/facilitation between sales/marketing and product management.

You will be familiar with research sponsored by Google and other social marketing companies. This suggests that social and digital marketing is of growing importance in the sales cycle. For example, ‘57% of the decision process is complete before the customer’s first engagement with a salesperson’. As I pointed out in my earlier blog Why is knowing your Sales Cycle important? these statements are unreliable, to say the least. They are averages. They don’t take account of the type of sale being analysed.

We’ve worked across a wide range of mainly industries and from big Telcos to smaller start-ups. The common thread is that or clients are not selling ‘catalogue items’ but complex solutions and high-value contracts.

What really helps in complex sales?

As with all sales challenges, the answer is relatively simple, although rarely executed well:

1 Sales Cycle

Perhaps 95% of our clients haven’t mapped the buyer journey/sales cycle so they don’t focus on the specific activities that make a difference early in the cycle. For example, we had one client that always won against Cisco if they did an in-network pilot. But that wasn’t in a step in their CRM/SFA tool. Correct mapping helps identify activities that build trust early in the cycle, 3-4 years before the RFP in a current client example. That’s not about product/solutions, but all about understanding the customers’ needs and environment (PEST).

2 Customer Environment

Ensuring that salespeople understand their customer environment, and their customers’ customer environment is vital to building relationships early. Most of our clients differentiate on experience, expertise, track record and innovation. They need to be able to articulate this in addition to product/solution information. And they need to lead the team (it’s always a team in complex sales) to move the sale forward. Rarely do clients realise that large sales can be won by individual team members.  And for infrastructure sales, you are selling the company, not the product.

3 Market Segmentation

Finally, a good sales enablement process often highlights problems in other areas. The two I most frequently see are weak Product Management and poor Market Segmentation. Good segmentation means salespeople are addressing similar needs, so previous engagement experience and knowledge are immediately relevant. Poor segmentation is based on things like size, geography, etc. So sales are knocking on doors trying to address the wrong needs. Segmentation can be based on customers strategy, rather than immediate needs. That will help Sales to focus their C-level discussions.

We always use a workshop process to capture the real experiential information, rather than just people’s ‘views’. This helps us avoid the trap of using averages, such as the ‘57%’ and to focus 100% on our client’s market. That’s a big investment for the client, but it pays back in terms of a tangible difference to sales and marketing engagement; that’s the value of Sales Enablement and of capturing the key information in a Sales Guide.