Jonathan Farrington interviews Tiffani Bova, VP, Distinguished Analyst at Gartner
JF: You first introduced the concept of the ‘sellers’ dilemma’ back in 2013 – what does that actually mean?
TB: While my research here at Gartner has focused on the B2B side of technology sales, I believe that it is applicable across all industries. The greatest growth challenge for companies today may be in finding the means to protect and defend existing customers (and revenue) while at the same time reinventing the sales organization and go-to-market model to meet new market and customer demands especially if they are publically traded. We refer to this as the “seller’s dilemma.”
JF: Why do you think companies are finding it more difficult to ‘hit their numbers’ is it only because of the sellers dilemma as you just described?
TB: Well that is a big piece of it, especially for sales managers. But it actually has more to do with the overall (company) strategy being translated into execution – sales execution to be more specific. While technology has seen unprecedented advancements in the past decade, the sales models used to take those products to market have remained largely unchanged – how can that be? Because of that, sales organizations are increasingly coming under scrutiny as they begin to show cracks in their efficiency and effectiveness and results. Sales leaders are finding their existing go-to-market models and sales metrics out of alignment with recent shifts in buyer and market demands. As a sales leader, meeting these demands will not simply be met by incremental changes in sales process and capabilities or by more sales training or a “new” sales methodology that is based on old assumptions. It will require an entirely new look at what companies are doing today to take their products to market and then being willing to make hard decisions on changing core tenants of their entire organization.
JF: You have been travelling the globe speaking in front of thousands of executives about the trends impacting current sales models. What has been the biggest challenge you have identified along the way?
TB: There have been a few key themes which I think have really resonated with people I speak to. One is that most sales managers are focused on what I like to call the “last mile” or tactics of selling – which is where the sales professional meets the customer. And while improving individual rep performance thru training and enablement tools are important – it is clear that what got you here isn’t necessarily going to get you there – and while it may result in better skills and performance metrics in the short term it will not help you solve the larger issues you may be having with hitting revenue targets. The second and much more critical learning I have had is the most senior executives within a company are focused on setting the strategy for the business – yet they struggle to define the role sales will play in executing against that strategy (if they even attempt to do it). The gap between strategy and sales is getting bigger with each quarter that passes and can’t continue to be ignored. Setting strategy without go to market considerations is a recipe for disaster.
JF: What can companies do to get sales more involved in the planning process to help close this gap?
TB: Gartner came up with this concept called the “Connected Model” which pushes companies to begin with: what is the product – who is the (target) customer – how do they want to buy? While that may sound basic, you would be surprised at how few companies actually get the answer to those questions prior to a product launch. I hear all too often – “we are about to launch this product (designed by engineering) which we can sell to anyone (because there was no market segmentation done) – and we are not sure how to sell it?” How can that happen? Without knowing the answers to those questions, you run the risk of missing the mark on so many levels. And when one of those is out of alignment customers know it.
JF: What do you mean customers know it?
TB: Customers are on a more fluid buying journey today, controlling where and how they consume information. They are far more educated by the time they get in front of sales rep and know what they want. Because of this, they are able to decipher what companies ‘get them’ and speak to the business problems they are attempting to solve (with the right products and messaging). When there is a clear disconnect between what the company may put forward in their marketing materials versus what the sales rep says to them – they become less satisfied with the process. Unfortunately, this reflects poorly on the sales rep more than it might on the company itself. It is important that you empower those in the front line – ‘last mile’ to create the best customer experience you can…and it has to start with being much more connected in the business from top to bottom.
You can also listen to the audio version of this interview here: