Is your phone ringing constantly with new leads? Is your pipeline full with qualified opportunities? If so, you must be doing a great job with existing customers. Exceeding their expectations and delighting them in ways that motivate them to recommend you to others. If not, then this article is for you.
I will start with a story of quite a remarkable sales professional, let’s call her Anja. The company she works for develops and sells learning systems for technical education. The average deal size of her peers is €30-40K and their primary contact person is the Faculty Head at a university or vocational school. But the company’s strategy is to generate more deals with an average size of €500K. A tough challenge and only a few sales professionals like Anja are achieving this today. Let’s take a look at how she works.
Anja starts by researching countries in her region where she suspects there is a significant need for better technical education and training e.g. a country with a growing industry and a shortage of well-trained graduates. While her colleagues might dismiss the universities in this country as poor prospects because they lack significant budgets, she looks at this as an opportunity.
Researching the need
Step 1 for Anja is to analyse the current offering of universities and vocational schools with departments related to her business. Anja visits school directors and faculty heads to understand the current situation and their challenges. She positions herself as a consultant who wants to help them improve employability of their students – not as a sales person.
Step 2 is to conduct or commission a survey with the relevant industries in the country concentrating on the level of satisfaction with the skills of graduates entering the jobs market. The results are compared with international responses to similar surveys and often reveal a much greater level of dissatisfaction compared with companies in developed countries.
So far Anja has done the groundwork and identified a clear need. Business leaders believe they could turn their industries around if they had enough well trained and qualified staff. But in her region neither industry nor the schools have the money to invest in improving the essential vocational education.
Finding the funds
Step 3 in Anja’s sales process is to elevate the conversation to the responsible department in the Ministry of Education. She often leverages the Ministry to invite school directors and industrial companies to a workshop about their specific needs and to present case studies from other countries.
Identifying a need but discovering there is no money would be enough to put most sales people off and plenty of managers would discourage their team from wasting time on this sort of project. But Anja is very creative and has experience in overcoming the issue of funding.
She knows that many developed countries and corporations have funds available for overseas development. In one particular example she identified a Western country's development fund as a potential source of funding and supported the Ministry of Education to position the project to the potential donor.
Completing the puzzle
Let’s recap quickly. Anja identifies a need and provides evidence. She develops a solid solution and a strong value proposition. She then identifies a potential donor to fund the project. The donor then typically writes an RFP and conducts an evaluation with the support of a consultant.
But Anja doesn’t wait for the RFP to be issued. She identifies the consulting firm proactively and supports them throughout the specification phase. Once the tender is issued by the donor organisation, she develops and submits an excellent proposal. Not surprisingly Anja has a very high win rate – she has one of the best sales processes I have ever seen.
Hire more people like Anja
The first thought of many companies that want to make demand generation a core competence is - just hire new, better sales people. But to tell you the truth it is very hard to find people with experience and a successful track record. An alternative approach is to make your sales team work like the best performers. I don’t guarantee they will all make the change but it makes more business sense than searching for superstars.
Create more people like Anja
Start by interviewing “your Anja’s”, the people whose skills you want to replicate. Ask them to explain the actions they do at each step in the sales process and the collateral to go with them. The key here is to create a step-by-step approach that is replicable. You need to put practical tools and techniques in the hands of all the members of the sales team.
Then create and deliver a training for the sales team based on the case studies of your top performers. The fact that one of their own team has already achieved this sort of success adds hugely to the credibility of the training. Introduce the skills, competencies and tools and link them directly to a successful sale in their industry by one of their colleagues. This makes it real for them.
Internal coaching is crucial
We all know that sales people can leave a training session full of enthusiasm and new ideas only to go back to their old ways very quickly. Sales training is just the first step; real change only happens when all the tools, required skills and competencies are applied in numerous sales opportunities. And critical to the transformation is the involvement of internal coaches whose job is to ensure the new way of working becomes the way everyone works all the time.
It may be that not every member of the team can make the change and it is crucial that pursuing large long-term opportunities is not at the expense of meeting short- and medium term sales goals. But I do believe that demand generation should be part of salespeople's DNA.
- Would you say that demand generation in your company is a strength?
- Do your sales people expect marketing to generate leads?
- How well do you replicate the DNA of your top performers?