Selling certainly isn’t like it used to be. Take the requisite childhood lemonade stand, for example. Every summer thousands of entrepreneurial youths take to their neighborhood streets with pitchers of homemade lemonade to offer passers-by a cool drink for a small fee. For decades now these business startups and their transactions have generally been straight-forward. Recently, though, the owners and operators of these businesses, almost all children, have faced increasing complexity in their business environment. Local authorities have been cracking down on lemonade stands without proper city permits or food handling licenses. Potential customers have grown more mindful of product ingredients. These new idiosyncrasies have everyone wondering, “When did selling become so complex?”
Successful companies have adapted to these new selling pressures by placing emphasis on a strategic selling process. MHI Global suggests that these strategic selling processes “significantly improves the odds of [a business] winning complex sales opportunities by defining a process for pursuing sales opportunities and establishing common criteria for allocating resources.” Those companies are then able to determine when to walk away from resource-intensive deals with a low probability of success, giving salespeople the time and energy to focus on the opportunities most likely to become profitable, long-term customers.
There’s little doubt that the role of strategic selling is one of the toughest in any organization. It’s also one of the most expensive line items for most companies – so getting it right is important. There are a lot of great strategic sales teams out there, to be sure. But there’s an equal amount of selling teams that could use some advice.
Here are five ways to optimize your strategic sales teams and, in turn, increase their revenue-producing effectiveness.
Devise a Process
Strategic selling is a process. Like any process, discipline and milestones mark the way. Only through uniform use, iteration, and formal improvement will your organization, the sales team, and the salesperson become more effective. I don’t care what the process looks like…yet. Get a process that everyone can track inside your organization and stick to it. No loose cannons or end around players….they devalue the process.
Refine Your Process
Once you have an established process, take the time to refine it. The most successful strategic selling processes include some iteration of the following items:
- Assessing the selling opportunity
- Developing a competitive strategy
- Identifying the key decision makers and their motives/agendas
- An action plan
- Sales plan testing and improvement
- An organization implementation process
Create a Compelling Event
If your sales process relies solely on responding to RFPs, you are not strategically selling….you are responding to opportunities that every qualified organization will see and compete for. Create a compelling event inside your target customer. The easiest sale is the one that your competitors never knew about in the first place. Creating a sense of urgency and need inside a customer is hard work and takes time, but that’s what makes it valuable to your client and your organization. Knowing your customers’ needs and how your solution fits makes you more valuable than a traditional “RFP responder”. Be there first, be relevant, and be action oriented and your customers will rely on your solutions more often.
Make the Most of Your Resources
Time is money and both are scarce resources. Make the most of these precious resources and never fall in love with an opportunity unless it meets the following criteria. If it fits, engage fully and engage to win. No half efforts. Ask yourself these questions:
- Is there a true opportunity that has been clearly identified and agreed to within your customer’s organization? Said another way, is there a “compelling event” as mentioned above that everyone involved is aligned around?
- Can you compete to win? Does your solution or unique business differentiator align to produce customer benefit? Can it be aligned?
- Can you win? Are there any commercial obstacles that would stand in the way to your winning? These can be politically driven, relationship driven, or even solution driven.
- Is the opportunity worth winning? Does it have the desired ROI for the investment of selling resources? Does it contain enough profit to engage your organization? Is it too risky a fit (a force fit to your solution) or does the risk and reward balance? Can your customer pay for the service? Have they allocated funds?
Avoid ‘Work for Free’ Promotions
Stay away from “free trials” or “free pilot” engagements. In fact, run from them. If your customer is headed down that path, revisit number four above. It could be that they do not completely understand your solution and how it fits, or simply that they have no funds to undertake the engagement. In either case, time is money and it’s time to move on.
Make no mistake, the strategies listed above are not easy to instill in a sales organization. But by doing so, true opportunities will increase, they will have greater value, and your chances of success will soar. No hard work goes unrewarded.