How to balance the expectations of buyers with the demands of sales leaders

Sales research confirms what salespeople already know: It’s tough out there. Quota attainment rates have been declining for the past five years, and no one knows what the next five years will bring. Customers today enjoy unprecedented power in the buyer/seller relationship, and their heightened expectations are putting pressure on B2B solution providers.

Not only is it tough out there in the field, but it’s tough back in the office, too. Sales consultants are accountable to sales leadership not only for closing deals but also for reliable input on the status of all the deals in play.

Salespeople are getting squeezed between a rock – the buyer – and a hard place: the data needs of their own sales organization. There was a time when sales professionals could meet with their managers and say, “I have a good feeling about this one. The buyer and I have a great relationship.” But feelings were never a reliable metric, and today forecast accuracy is of paramount importance to sales leaders, and to their leaders.

When CSO Insights asked participants in its 2017 World-Class Sales Practices Study if their organizations’ ability to close deals as forecasted meets or exceeds expectations, 60 percent said no. But it’s not for lack of trying.

Sales leaders, sales operations and sales enablement work together to establish qualification criteria that serve as critical checkpoints for determining the forecast, and sales reps are expected to meet these checkpoints as they pursue each opportunity. It’s a challenge, but they have help.

Sales methodology and sales process

In modern sales forces, consistent sales execution is not left up to individual sellers to figure out on their own. Sales performance is a responsibility shared by several functions across the organization, and successful companies assign an increasingly prominent role to sales enablement.

Enablement, as the coordinator of content, coaching and training to support the sales force, is at the forefront of a renewed interest in sales methodology. According to the CSO Insights white paper, “The Business Case of Sales Methodology,” “Sales methodologies are the glue between the intended internal assessment of a deal’s likelihood to close and the customer’s journey; they connect the ‘how to’ with the expectations of both internal sales leaders and external buyers.”

Most sales organizations have a sales methodology in place, but in many cases, even if the methodology is a good one, it is not sufficiently taught, coached, reinforced, updated and baked into the company culture. Of particular importance is how it is taught.

As this chart from the white paper shows, sales methodology training effectiveness correlates with higher quota attainment rates.

Sales methodology and sales process go hand in hand. “Process” is simply the series of steps from the starting point of the sale to the conclusion of the sale. For example, a sales process might define the first step as lead identification, and the concluding steps as close, implementation and customer care. Methodology provides the “how,” “what” and “why” – the methods by which the process steps are carried out.

Sales process is discussed in detail in the new book, Sales Enablement: A Master Framework to Engage, Equip and Empower a World-Class Framework, by Miller Heiman Group CEO Byron Matthews and CSO Insights Research Director Tamara Schenk. The authors observe that while processes and methodologies may be implemented independently of each other, “Jumping from sales methodology to sales methodology based on the latest best-selling business book can be confusing to the sales team and lead to a lack of faith in sales methodologies in general.”

Naturally, faith in sales methodologies should be rooted in sales results. “The Business Case for Sales Methodology” notes that “those organizations that felt their sales methodology training exceeded expectations out-performed those organizations who felt their training needed improvement by 21.5%.” And when sales methodology training is extended to the sales managers as well as to the reps, there is also a performance boost, as measured by the average percentage of sellers achieving quota.

Sales leaders who propose that their companies invest or re-invest in a sales methodology program can provide a business rationale for the expenditure that draws on hard data derived from sales research.

For sellers who feel squeezed between customers on one side and sales leadership on the other, an effective sales methodology offers a way to win with both. In world-class sales organizations, no salesperson must go it alone, and all are equipped to succeed. Yes, it’s tough out there, but the rewards are great.

For more information, “The Business Case for Sales Methodology” is available for download here.

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