This is the first in a number of posts about how selling in B2B start-ups (my parameters are start-up businesses up to $100M) is rapidly changing and why, without a strategy for selling, your sales organization will increasingly not achieve what you want and you will not understand why. I am certain most will think they have a selling strategy. I find more often than not, that strategy is hiring (and firing) sales teams, that is not a selling strategy it is a sales tactic.
The first question to ask is if you are getting the results from your sales team that you want, expect, or need. I suspect the answer is “No”, perhaps even a “Hell No!”. What follows will start you on a journey to improving sales execution and moving you from an internally-focused sales process to a buyer-centric strategy.
According to Gartner research, 80% of B2B buyer interactions will be via digital channels by 2025. However, that doesn’t suddenly start Jan 1st 2025, that change is happening now. Too many start-ups are based on the principle that 100% of buyer interactions are through salespeople. It is easy to like this approach. We hired salespeople to make revenue, if they don’t make revenue, it’s the sales team’s issue. We hold them accountable, and off they go. Feels good for about a minute until you realize you can’t make the number with a freshly ramped team of new hires. Missed goals, blame, and confusion.
The reason this approach is both dated and a material problem, is that by trying to diagnose any sales execution issues, by asking questions like, “Why is Charlie missing their number?”, “What are we going to do about Alex?”, “What the hell is going on with the sales team?”, is not fixing the right problem. This may have been the right way to solve the problem ten years ago (it may not but that’s a different debate), but it isn’t the first place to start today. I already hear cries of, “It’s sales execution, of course it’s the right place to start.”
The issue is selling execution but it may not be sales execution. Sales execution is about the sales team, and selling execution is about the process the customer goes through when buying from you. If 80% of interactions are digital, the most likely place to look for the issue is in the digital flow of information from your company to the customer. It is the 80/20 rule where the 80% is literally in the title.
Salespeople selling in today’s landscape are increasingly focused on helping the customer contextualize the multiple channels through which the buyer is interacting; therefore when you are not getting the results you expect, try looking in some of the following places:-
- Are you seeing an unexpected drop-off (a choke point) at a specific interaction point in the pipeline – perhaps you are not delivering the buyer the information they need at that point in the interaction
- Do you know what information the buyer wants? Are you certain?
- Do you have the information the buyer needs at that point in the interaction, or are you relying on the sales team to create this content?
- How, and when, is the information to be delivered? Is it being delivered as per the plan?
- Have you trained salespeople on the ideal buyer interactions and the context behind the content delivered to the buyer via all channels you are communicating with the customers?
This is not an excuse that salespeople should not be accountable for revenue, however, we must recognize the days of the salesperson as the channel to the market, whose job it was to build relationships and drive sales forward as a one-man band has gone the way of the fax machine. Buyer’s behavior has evolved, starting with the move of product content online twenty years ago, and this change in buying behavior accelerated with the pandemic. When we diagnose sales execution issues, we have to start with the buyer interactions, and how the customer buys. As that has changed, we have to adapt from simplistic sales execution, “Let’s fire Nic,” to look at our end-to-end selling execution and how the buyer is consuming and understanding information.
Salespeople have work to do, evolving from product salespeople to context sherpas, making certain the customer is consuming the information that convinces them to choose our product and helping them make sense of the information overload they find themselves buried beneath in this digital-first environment. Where we must hold the sales team accountable is for understanding what information we should share with the buyer, helping the customer understand this information, understanding what the competition and analysts in the space are saying and why, and helping the customer sort through this firehose of information to make an informed decision. It is the salesperson as a sherpa rather than the salesperson as a mountaineer ready to plant the flag.
This move by buyers to digital interactions should be a benefit. It is scalable, it means salespeople deliver materially more revenue per head, the outcome can be optimized through data analysis, and most importantly it means we are selling the way our customers want to buy (more on this in a subsequent post). When we are focusing on sales execution and not the selling motion, we are going to replace salespeople and not fix the underlying problem because we have not evolved with the customer. Understanding the customer, understanding how and why they buy, then selling to them the way they want to buy, is the key to the future of selling.
#b2b #selling #startups #saas