01/31/07

Sales reps have long struggled with positioning their products and services to deliver the most business value to their customers. Successful sales reps will attest to the immense benefit of robust, professional sales methodologies. Others will confirm the need for deep industry knowledge to deliver business value. And the insightful sales rep will emphasize the need to “think-on-your-feet” to dissect the customer’s business issues and map them to product features. I believe that the key to successful solution selling is the seamless integration of all the above three components; a robust sales methodology, deep industry knowledge and the intelligence to apply the methodology and knowledge to a deal’s unique business context. Let’s now spend a few cycles on each of these components.

A Google search for sales methodology returns over 8 million hits! There is certainly no dearth of sales methodologies out there. Leading sales methodologies include those from Miller-Heiman, Sandler and Porter Henry. A good bit of money is spent by enterprises on training their sales reps on these methodologies. But research conducted by the Society for Sales & Management Training reveals that over 80% of the skills taught in a classroom are not applied by sales reps in the field. With sales reps and their managers juggling numerous deals at the same time to meet their monthly quotas, it is small wonder that these methodologies fall by the wayside. Yet another example of something that looks great on paper, but doesn’t work in real-life.

In a previous post, I talked about the issues with sales intelligence tools out there that attempt to provide a sales rep with industry knowledge. The major failings with the sales intelligence offerings in the market today are that they are too coarse (categorized only by industry sector) & not personalized, and they do not focus much on sell-side insights. All these result in the sales rep having to plough through a mountain of information to identify the industry knowledge that would be applicable to each of his deals. Not an ideal situation when time is one of the sale rep’s scarcest resources.

Even if a sales rep has the bandwidth to apply a sales methodology and has identified the industry knowledge relevant to a deal, he has one more challenge to tackle - the deal’s business context. Some clarification here. A sales methodology, by its very nature, is generic and will need to be morphed to be relevant to a deal. Examples of issues that could influence how the methodology is applied in a deal include whether the sales rep’s organization already has an existing relationship with the customer, the types of external / internal competition that the sale rep will face, dynamics in the customer’s organization structure etc. It takes significant effort to determine how to apply a generic sales methodology in a specific deal. Similarly, just having access to the relevant industry knowledge is not sufficient. The sales rep still has to figure out how to apply the industry knowledge to develop a compelling value proposition, draw the customer’s attention and then map his product / service features to the value proposition. Understanding the business context of a deal and then figuring how to apply a generic sales methodology and industry knowledge requires intelligence, the ability to “think-on-your-feet.”

So where does all this rambling lead us? To my contention, that for sales methodologies & industry intelligence to be useful, they need to be tempered with the unique business context of each sales opportunity. And what better framework to develop such a personalized solution than Web 2.0? We think this a good idea and have been working on it for a while. Check out the SalesQB Diary category, if you are interested in our progress ...

Sampath

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