Is your sales team fit for purpose? The rules of engagement are changing, with new technology and relentlessly evolving business models. In this new world of sales, The Business Magazine staged a symposium – Sales: The Revolution – sponsored by Clarify, Xcel Sales, The Knowledge Academy and Precise Target. Tamsin Napier-Munn, campaigns manager at The Business Magazine, opened the proceedings by posing the question: ‘How have we changed the way we do business over the past 20 years?’
Back then, there were deskphones not smartphones and fax rather than the internet, but business adapted and moved on. Nowadays, the biggest cab company has no cars, the biggest hotel company has no hotel rooms, and the biggest retailer doesn’t stock any of its own products.
The world has had to change to keep up with ‘disruptive’ technology. Those who have anticipated these changes – such as Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Jeff Bezos (Amazon), and Reid Hoffman (LinkedIn) – have managed to create a new digital revolution.
What will the brave new world of sales look like in the next five years? Will your products, processes and sales teams be fit for purpose to meet this change – are they innovative enough?
To help to answer these questions, the five industry experts gave their views:
Nicola Hartland, CEO, Xcel Sales
‘Cold calling is dead, smart calling is very much alive’
Hartland’s idea of creating the best lead generation company in the country was born out of a delayed flight from Aberdeen. By the time she landed in London, she had formulated a business plan wit a clear vision – to change the tarnished face of telemarketing.
Three-step Xcel process – Get Targeted, Get Social, Get Talking
Get Targeted: have a clear, defined strategy about who do you want to do business with – in the discovery phase, you need to get to know your customers before they get to know you, so Xcel employs tools such as TAP (Target Audience Profile) to strategise your approach by industry, geography, size … .
Get Social: warm the data first, build credibility by marketing online; Xcel uses LinkedIn to start posting articles and original content in order to be seen as ‘thought leaders’, then sends a tailored message specific to their brand … not just a copy-and-paste request to connect
Get Talking: rather than B2B, think H2H (human to human) and don’t hide behind email – use the phone for its original purpose. People buy from people they like. So, don’t stick to sales scripts (they are banned at Xcel), listen to your customers and how you can help them.
When warming up a cold lead, try the following pitch: “We connected with you last week on LinkedIn … you might have noticed some of the articles we posted … I’d really like to come and speak to you about x,y,z”. This approach typically leads to contact rates of 15-20% versus a blind mailshot rate of 1-2%.
“Life is too short to have rubbish customers.”
David Meyer, managing director, Clarify
‘Innovate your sales approach to differentiate’
Buyers have less time and patience for long drawn-out sales processes. A focused approach will help prospects to make good decisions quicker.
A step change: we are nearing the end of the third industrial revolution (1970-2020), which has seen production automated by the use of electronic and IT systems; the fourth industrial revolution will take this one step further through the use of cyber-physical systems
Adapt or die: history is littered with corporate giants that have failed to adapt to changing technological trends: Nokia, Kodak, Blackberry.
Choose your focus: the sales process is polarising, towards the transactional at one end (cost-focused, no interaction required) and the consultative at the other (expertise-focused, interaction required), with the middle ground rapidly disappearing.
VM Ware, is a market leader in virtualisation, but a few years ago its market started to come under threat from Microsoft. However, it foresaw the advent of cloud computing, and so started to change the way it did business … and empowered its sales team accordingly.
For example, VM encouraged its sales leaders to invite clients along to team meetings and educated their salespeople about business problems rather than the technical aspects of cloud technology.
“The illiterate of the 21st century, will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn” – Alvin Toffler.
Craig Williams, managing director, Precise Target
‘Sales recruitment, doing it right’
Change isn’t easy, but to cope you need the right people with the right skill sets. Having been a salesperson himself, Williams knew how notoriously difficult they were to find and retain. So he decided to ‘be the change he wanted to see’ in the industry and set up Precise Target.
Don’t be arrogant as an employer: there is a lot of competition out there to recruit good salespeople, so be realistic and follow ‘good recruitment practice’; eg ask for a shortlist of ideally three candidates, set a closing date, allocate a date to interview all the prospective candidates in advance.
It is lazy for employers to insist: “We only want somebody from within industry, somebody with prior experience”? The only reason for demanding this, is hoping for prior contacts, meaning quick business … not that they are the right cultural fit for your company.
Use internal surveys: to assess your staff’s satisfaction – this helps the company to understand its culture and take any steps to ‘fix it’ in advance of recruiting new staff.
“In a job search, faced with unimpressive industry candidates, we took a risk. The job specification stated that the company wanted to grow business by 33% over the next two to three years.
So, we re-drafted the job spec and asked for people who had grown businesses by that amount over three different industries. This would demonstrate they had a transferrable skill set; ie if you are a good salesperson, you can taught about the business and the products.
After two days of interviews, the MD called us to say he would have taken on any of our three (inexperienced) candidates … but only one of the five other (experienced) candidates sent by other agencies.
Barinder Hothi, co-founder, The Knowledge Academy
‘Grow a sales team fit for purpose, and they will grow the business’
Having grown the business at a rapid rate, The Knowledge Company now employs 300 permanent staff, of which the sales team represents the single largest function.
“Grow a sales team fit for purpose, and they will grow the business.”
Challenges of building a sales team: it is expensive, and takes time to find the right candidates, as good salespeople are highly sought after.
Apprenticeships will help: a new apprenticeship levy will come into force in May 2017, which will be compulsory for larger companies (more than £3 million payroll) and optional (but 90% subsidised) for smaller companies.
Benefits of the new standard: it will help with recruitment, motivation, management, and ultimately retention.
Taking the IT technical sales apprenticeship as an example, Hothi stressed that this is an employer-led apprenticeship – not centrally-planned – and so focuses upon all the practical skills required; technical, communication skills, customer handling…etc.
This enables employees to see this as an investment in their career, and walk away with an industry-standard qualification.
“Train people well enough so that they can leave. Treat them well enough so they don’t want to” – Richard Branson.
Ross Owen Williams, head of global online content, Recruitment Guide, and author of The Recruit Mentor books
‘Encouraging Sales through Social Media’
Millenials are the future of our industry and for them, social media is their primary form of communication. So, how do we develop relationships using social media when most of us suffer from data overload?
Two different methods of online communication: you can either be ‘active’, by commentating, liking and sharing (most common), or ‘passive’, by writing, posting, and researching (less common, more time consuming).
How to communicate effectively: make the information relevant to your audience by promoting relevant events and products with humour and personality … but don’t show off, complain or go fishing for names.
Key points to remember when writing online: post regularly, make the effort to interact, watch your tone, and above all, aim to influence rather than sell.
Be truthful. An online article entitled, ‘The Broken Biscuit Principle’ sounded interesting. However, after the first paragraph, which paid lip service to a packet of broken biscuits, the author launched into an extensive sales pitch: “Is your service provider letting you down …”, which was a complete turn-off. In other words, this article turned into an anti-sales pitch