The past year has provided abundant evidence that driving sales people to "sell harder" and hoping that this will boost revenues is an out-of-date and ineffective strategy in a world of increasingly well-informed and generally risk-averse B2B buyers.
It's clear that sales people are having to sell smarter - and to ensure that they can diagnose and deal with the obstacles that might be preventing their prospects from making buying decisions.
Successful sales people, and successful sales teams, exhibit a superior ability to eliminate the common barriers that would otherwise prevent their prospects from making buying decisions. They take pains to identify how and why their prospects choose to buy, and what they need to do to straighten the path and remove the obstacles that might stand in their way.
What sets them apart is their ability to think about the problem of winning more business in terms of helping to facilitate their prospect’s buying process, rather than the increasingly unproductive approach of simply trying to push their sales people to close more aggressively. In short, they have chosen to sell and market smarter, rather than harder – by facilitating the buying process.
The B2B buying process...
During each phase in their buying decision process, your prospect will be faced with the choice of staying where they are, advancing to the next phase in the buying process, or abandoning the journey altogether. The checkpoints that mark the prospect’s transition from one phase to the next provide observable evidence of the true status of their buying journey.
For reasons that should be obvious to anyone who has been responsible for coming up with an accurate sales forecast, finding evidence of the prospect’s passage through each checkpoint is a much more reliable way of assessing progress than the traditional approach of relying largely on self-reported sales activity which may have little relationship to the prospect’s propensity to buy.
Measuring flow and leakage...
Sales pipelines share a number of characteristics with their industrial equivalents – they are prone to problems with both flow and leakage. Flow measures the amount of time an opportunity takes to pass through each stage in the pipeline. Leakage measures the percentage of opportunities that fall out of the pipeline at each stage. Taken together, these two metrics are proving critical to identifying the most common barriers to buying.
Extended stage times – slow flow – can indicate a lack of urgency, or a failure on the part of the vendor to provide the prospect with the timely information they need to have before moving forward to the next phase. High leakage rates – particularly towards the end of the process – can indicate a failure to elevate useful or important needs to urgent.
Removing the obstacles...
A careful analysis of sales pipeline flow and leakage invariably highlights a handful of places where significant numbers of opportunities are either getting stuck or falling out of the pipeline. Once the underlying causes have been identified (we use a number of different methods) then these can be addressed through targeted programmes aimed at eliminating these barriers to buying.
The messages and programmes necessary to remove these roadblocks depend on the nature of the obstacle. Some early-stage obstacles are best addressed through better targeted marketing campaigns designed to self-qualify opportunities according to their true potential. Towards the end of the pipeline targeted sales tools can be highly effective in reinforcing urgency, reducing risk, and highlighting the consequences of deciding to do nothing.
An evidence-based approach...
Adopting an evidence-based approach eliminates much of the guesswork and wishful thinking associated with many sales acceleration initiatives. Companies who are able to reliably determine exactly where the prospect is in their decision-making process (and how they might be helped forward to the next stage) are in a much better position to target sales and marketing resources on the things that will facilitate the buying process and move the sale forwards, avoid wasted effort and reinforce prospect goodwill.
What are the common barriers to buying in your markets? What are the factors that determine whether or not a prospect moves forward to the next stage of their buying decision journey with you? Where are the bottlenecks in your sales pipeline where deals get stuck or fall out all together? What can you do to systematically eliminate these obstacles?