For over two decades we CSO Insights has focused on doing primary research to identify the challenges facing B2B sales teams, and what companies are doing to deal with those issues. Our primary target survey audience are sales professionals; CSO’s, sales managers, and salespeople. In addition, we also get input from marketing and service professionals on their views of sales and how they collaborate with sales teams.
As much has been written recently about dramatic shifts in the “buying process” we decided to expand the scope of our research to bring another set of data points into the analysis equation – those of people ultimately making purchase decisions. The key qualifier for the 500+ business professionals we surveyed was that they had to personally be making solutions purchase decisions of >10,000USD on behalf of their organization.
The survey collected 55 metrics on buyer behavior and what influences or adds value to the decision-making process. In reviewing the data, one metric really stood out for me. We asked the study participants to share the top three resources they leveraged to learn about products or services. A summary of their responses can be seen below.
|Third party subject matter experts||42.9%|
|Past experience with vendor||35.7%|
|Industry/professional online communities/networks||29.7%|
|Business or industry publications, trade media||29.1%|
|Local or national professional trade associations||12.2%|
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Let the results sink in fully. Consider for a moment how much of your company’s total revenues are being spent to acquire, develop, support, and retain sales professionals who can effectively engage with customers and prospects. Yet when we asked buyers what resources they rely on today, ninth on the list is interacting with a sales person. That finding needs to be explore on not just the sales management level, but at the boardroom level as well.
Having surfaced this business challenge, I explored other CSO Insights sales performance related studies. In doing so, four key items emerged that most sales organizations should focus on to start moving salespeople up the list in terms of resources buyers want to engage with.
As part of CSO Insights 2017 World-Class Sales Practices (WCSP) study, 45.5% of the survey participants gave their understanding of the customer’s buying process a “needs a major redesign” or “needs improvement” rating. Based on that score, the first recommendation is to ensure sales has a comprehensive understanding of how “buying” is evolving in their marketplace.
To do this, take a subset of recent deals; wins, losses, and no decisions, and interview prospect on their perspective of what happens during the buying process. What business issues initiated the process, who was assigned to the project team, what goals were set for the initiative, what vendors made the long-list and short-list (and why), how did buyers get educated on and evaluate alternative solutions, etc. Once you have that input, map your sales process to the buying process and see where there are areas of misalignment and change the selling process to better support the buying process.
Second recommendation is optimize sales force education offerings. As part of CSO Insights 2017 Sales Enablement Optimization study, we analyzed the quality and quantity of training provided to sales teams. The results were underwhelming. In terms of Value Messaging training, 50.3% of the study participants gave their efforts a “needs a major redesign” or “needs improvement” rating. Furthermore, scores for training on Customer’s Marketplace, the Customer’s Journey, and Social Selling were all subpar, coming in at 54.7%, 56.0%, and 56.3% respectively.
We must go beyond just educating salespeople on our products. To enable our sales teams to more effectively engage with customers, and demonstrate a value-add that sellers can bring to the table when working directly with customers, we need to invest in giving sales professionals new skills and insights to do so.
A third area that needs attention is ensuring sales teams can go beyond generating accurate configurations and proposals. Referring again to the 2017 WCSP study, only 42.4% of the firms surveyed had a “meets or exceeds expectations” rating in regard to the ability of their salespeople to build a solid business case/ROI to justify the purchase of their firm’s products or services. This work needs to be done for buyers to get an internal approval to move forward, and sales teams need to be an active part of that process.
Finally, we should not ignore the rest of the sources for information that buyers are turning to. Looking at the list again, one idea that could be leveraged with nearly all the other sources mentioned here is creating case studies overviewing the success a vendor has had helping other customers achieve their goals. Here again though we see a challenge, as only 38.5% of the 2017 WCSP study rated their ability to generate and maintain case studies as “meets or exceeds expectations.”
If the above sounds like work, it is! But the cost-of-doing-nothing is screaming in our faces. Having salespeople be ninth on the list a year from now is unacceptable. Fix it!