As a small business owner, I’m frequently reminded how challenging it is to navigate my way into “Vendortown”—the place where you’re actually doing business with a client. However, it can be a sad and lonely place, filled with the hopes and dreams from the best sales teams, yet littered with failed RFPs and sales opportunities.
If you’re fortunate enough to make it to Vendortown, all you can dream of is the day you continue your journey on to “Partnerland”—where you become a trusted advisor and problem solver for the client. True greatness lies in Partnerland, free of the dreaded RFP, three-ring circus proposals, and price commoditization. It’s the El Dorado of client/vendor relationships.
Reaching Vendortown requires overcoming the group dynamics of the 5.4 people involved in today’s B2B purchase decisions. These are the gatekeepers responsible for decision making in most large organizations. One stakeholder wants to be up and running in 10 days. Another wants the solution to be inexpensive. And a third leader wants something that integrates with four other enterprise systems.
It’s no wonder that more than 50 percent of deals die because the modern buyers can’t agree on a solution. To them, the pain of change is greater than the pain of same.
The Road to Partnerland
In my experience, if you want to move to Partnerland, you have to first define what makes you different. Unless you’re fortunate enough to be the only provider in your space, if you don’t offer unique value in your sales process, you’ll be forced to differentiate with your price. With price as your only lever, you’ll only be as good as your current margins can withstand. And when the new shiny startup company shows up and cuts the price even further, you’ll quickly be shuffled onto the next bus out of town.
To even have a shot at becoming a partner, you need to be different with your approach. By having the right sales enablement strategy—a smart mix of training and technology—you’ll have a higher likelihood of making it to Partnerland. That’s where a focus on the customer experience (CX) makes a critical difference.
According to Forbes, the customer experience is the "cumulative impact of multiple touchpoints" over the course of a customer's interaction with an organization. Essentially, everything from how you greet/prospect your customer to how you use tools and technology to serve them during and after the sale needs to be evaluated if you want to stand out from the very crowded crowd.
Great Training = Knowledge + Skills + Behaviors
Let’s start with training. Many companies are savvy enough to provide knowledge-based training on systems, products, and policies. Some even help their reps build new skills like active listening or overcoming objections.
However, very few companies go the extra mile to teach the behaviors required for the sales process to work. Behaviors usually answer “how” questions:
- How do I prospect to get the best result?
- How should I ask needs-based questions, if I don’t get much time?
- How do I follow up without being pushy?
We can spend all day teaching employees the feeds-and-speeds of our products or how to automate their sales process in a CRM. But if you don’t literally connect the dots between the knowledge, skills, and behaviors required to add value as a trusted partner, your team will spend a lot of time in Vendortown.
Let’s be clear: Reps don’t change behaviors after sitting through a PowerPoint presentation or a click-next-to-continue eLearning course. For reps to learn new behaviors, you must present them with training scenarios that match their day-to-day reality and let them make decisions. Only after seeing the results of their decisions—good or bad—and understanding the impact, will they be able to change their behaviors and stick with it.
I Can Haz Technology
Thankfully, with regard to technology, we’re seeing more companies provide iPads to their sales team. These iPads come equipped with the latest MDM software, and a few apps to help explain the features and benefits of the product assortment.
In fact, as recent as two years ago, this strategy provided demonstrable differentiation over the competition. Sales reps would show up with their shiny new iPads, swipe through a couple screens, and then stare confidently at their prospect who was entranced by the presentation. The poor guy from the competition who showed up two hours later with a printed sales sheet was doomed.
It used to be about who had access to the technology. Now, it’s entirely about what you do with the technology (spoiler alert: we’re talking about apps). It’s just not enough to show up with a product assortment app, though, confidently point at the screen, and expect to close the sale. To stand out in today’s mobile-saturated sales environment, your team needs sales enablement technology that fuses the best of human and machine worlds.
Despite what conspiracy theorists will tell you, humans are still the only element in the sales process that can smile, make eye contact, intuit feelings, and laugh at bad jokes. What’s more, despite what the best sales rep will tell you, machines are still the best at providing all the product features, specs, and details at a moment’s notice. The magic comes when you combine the two.
We’re starting to see the fusion of needs-based questions and product demonstrations with intelligent algorithms and machine learning. Combining the questions your sales team would normally ask during a sale with customer segmentation and product data, intelligent algorithms can provide a custom-tailored experience that recommends the right product at the right time. In addition, it can even provide the right product demonstration materials, animations, and videos to help make the recommendation more relevant and differentiated. So, as your sales team asks more questions and refines the recommendations, machine learning can actually influence your corporate strategy and suggest ways to improve your go-to-market strategy.
Goodbye Vendortown. Hello Partnerland.
Show Me the Silver Bullet
I’m realistic enough to know that this sales enablement stuff isn’t easy. I’m reminded of an excerpt from a book by Ben Horowitz, one of my favorite authors and inspirational CEOs: “There is no silver bullet…we are going to have to use a lot of lead bullets.”
Bottom line: Consider a well-tuned sales enablement program that combines world-class training on knowledge, skills, and behaviors with the smartest sales enablement technology, to be your arsenal. With any luck (and lots of persistence), you’ll make it past the 5.4 and be well on your way to Partnerland.