Sales Planning for Start-Ups

The right focus, at the right time, has enormous influence on top-line and bottom-line growth for any company, but it’s especially true for new ones.

At the moment a company’s founders decide it’s time to add a sales team there are usually more issues to think about than who. “Sales” is used as a catch-all for a long list of activities and documentation that need to be rolled-out before the sales production line is running smoothly. Hiring a traditional salesperson first, before sales-support, and a marketing-driven lead-generation engine is in-place is a recipe for disappointment.

Chief Marketing Officers and Business Development VPs must understand the evolution of effective selling techniques to identify skills and timing that will achieve the best results for their new company. Professional selling is about leading the customer to imagine how your product will improve their condition.

Before there were Challengers: In the 1800’s through 1925, producers and collectors were recognizable personas of formal selling – also referred to as Hunters and Gatherers. Producers were the highly-compensated sales people who secured new business, while “collectors” were low-value operators assigned to gather fees and payments.

In 1925, E.K. Strong published “The Psychology of Selling.” Strong formalized descriptions and methods to handle objections and focus on features and benefits. This approach stood until the 1970’s when research created SPIN selling (Situation, Problem, Implications, Needs). SPIN segmented customers by size and sales by product complexity. The approach was popularized by Neil Rackham’s book, “SPIN Selling.” By then procurement organizations were seeking ways to control costs through various negotiations frameworks. McKinsey & Company introduced the McKinsey 7S process and procurement embraced it as a way to vet suppliers.

Contemporary sales thinkers, leaders, and sales trainers are driving high performance through programs based on the Corporate Executive Board’s research and 2011 book, “The Challenger Sale.” Written by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson it’s based on surveys from more than 1,200 companies about their B2B sales performance. Dixon and Adamson identified five sales personas and their occurrence rates: The Hard Worker (21%); The Challenger (27%); The Relationship Builder (21%); The Lone Wolf (18%); and the Reactive Problem Solver (18%).  They noticed that in low complexity sales, there was little difference between performance rates among the five types. But as product & service complexity increased Challengers separated from the pack as they generated a higher share of companies’ sales and profits.

Five Sales People Profiles

Challengers thrive: In complex environments with multiple stakeholders in the buyer’s organization. The Board’s research found that as product complexity increased performance separation began to favor Challengers over other sales personas.

Challenger Advantage

Here’s how Challengers do it. “A Challenger is defined by the ability to do three things – teach, tailor, and take control – and to do all of this through the use of constructive tension,” (Dixson and Adamson 2011).

Challenger Skills

Teach, Tailor, Take Control – great news – it’s possible to teach other personas and mid-performers how Challengers apply those skills in the buying process. Challengers don’t tell – they create business partnerships to uncover meaningful insights; they see the world from the customer’s point of view and generate ideas to help them grow faster and more profitably. Challenger selling engages the whole organization to think about ways to generate value for customers. Simply put, the Challenger method can be learned. The trick is to understand the mechanisms Challengers use to manipulate the buyer’s path.

Challenger Path

Marketing automation: The arms race between sales and procurement has been accelerating.  Contemporary marketing automation strategies, enhanced through lead-scoring programs offered by Act-On, Hubspot, Pardot, Infusionsoft, and others, are force-multipliers that allow sales and marketing organizations with a few employees to close complex deals with large customers, faster, at a higher-rate.

It doesn’t take an active imagination to realize what a Challenger could accomplish if they were handed a list of prospects who poked around the company’s website, viewed pages with information about implementation schedules, and opened a pricing page multiple times over the previous four days. Marketing automation is a goldmine. Want to see it in action? Download the beacon viewer extension from ghostery.com, once it’s active on your browser visit your competitors and other leading companies’ websites and check out the tools they’re using to track visitors.

Summary: For CMO’s, finding someone who understands the customers’ business and has the bandwidth to position the seller’s products in a meaningful way, earlier in the decision-process, will make a big difference to their new organization’s success. And if you don’t need a Challenger, you might not need a sales team. Sales people cost far more than sales and marketing automation programs, so a solid plan that incorporates both is necessary to drive success from each. A Challenger mind-set, along with a comprehensive list of lead scores from the new company’s prospective customers creates a good starting point.

Ideas and Suggestions:

  • Identify customer personas, and determine those customers’ “consideration paths” to buy your products, then organize content to respond to what you already know.
  • Launch your website early to accrue benefits the Google search algorithms bestow for site age.
  • Focus on meaningful, relevant content to drive participation on your site; refine your meta tags, keywords, and messaging to achieve low bounce rates, and increase visitor times on-page to drive higher organic search results – read “Call to Action” Bryan and Jeffrey Eisenberg’s e-commerce classic if you don’t know what this means.
  • Hire a good marketing person to create and publish sales collateral, marketing materials, and develop content that buyers will exchange personal information to get their hands on.
  • Launch a marketing automation program to capture buyer interest and develop a sales pipeline.
  • Now you’re ready to hire a Challenger sales leader.

Slides: From “The Challenger Sale.”

Coaching Sales & Marketing

Measuring Web Site Quality With Net Promoter Scores

Mike Premo, ARC’s President, gave a presentation during the CTDA conference in Lake Las Vegas last week. Mike showed us how ARC has turned to the Satmetrix Net Promoter Score to measure their performance. It turns out ARC’s score is a 70 – which basically means a lot of their customers are raving fans. See more about other companies’ scores here.

The Satmetrix Net Promoter Score is gaining traction as a way for retailers to measure key performance indicators that lead to increased profitability. I like it because it’s simple and offers powerful insights about your company’s performance. Keeping in mind the profit equation is profit = revenue – costs, then NPS can help.

NPS

Let’s look at the online retail world where site bugs can have an outsized impact on NPS, but are difficult to quantify in other ways. Bugs lower revenue. When they affect a Website’s shopping or check-out paths their impact will show up initially as lower conversion rates and higher bounce rates. Fatal errors and other bugs that annoy customers to the point they shop elsewhere will also reduce visitor numbers to your site over time. Since it’s difficult to measure this effect it’s easy to ignore. Online Travel Agencies (OTA’s) face another problem – interactions across different lines of business. Visitors who start their search for a particular product, flights, may end up purchasing a hotel or package (usually flight plus hotel).

For this discussion the site architecture for flights, hotels, packages and cruises is designed as discrete shopping paths with a bespoke checkout process that ties into consolidated back office accounting and reporting systems. Great online marketers design intuitive paths that minimize customer frustration, but bugs can undermine every designers’ best efforts. Customers will tolerate errors in their own way and may forgive slow response times but bounce when an ad flashes at them. Once the customer chooses a product, an error during checkout, or a price jump (we’re talking about travel here) can drive customers away before the transaction is complete and these problems add up. How much do bugs cost?

Most Web sites track numerous statistics and site performance metrics to uncover friction points or areas to improve, but these reports often miss interactions across paths or temporal changes. I’ll set up an example and describe several assumptions to show you how. For simple math, let’s assume that Hotel and Flights each drive 40% of an Online Travel Agency’s site traffic, while Packages and Cruises account for another 10% apiece. There are many use cases, but most leisure travelers who are flexible about their destination and timing will search for flights fist, and then hotels. This experience suggests that the ratio of flight searches to completed checkouts is higher than it will be for Hotels. Moreover, once a customer settles on a specific flight, they’re able to begin shopping for a hotel. But what if the customer experienced a major bug during checkout? They’ll leave the site and never become a hotel shopper. In this case the poor experience with the flight path caused the customer to search another OTA and they never showed up as a visitor in the hotel path.

Bugs are typically rated by their frequency, severity and location in the purchase path. Frequent, severe bugs that occur during payment have the greatest effect on financial performance since the customer was extremely likely to complete their transaction. Digging deeper you’ll find a second layer that’s often missed too, since the customer has already invested a lot of effort in the process, they are more likely to bolt later in the path to avoid finding the same bug the next time around. Sharp marketers must estimate this behavior to gain better visibility over a particular bug’s impact. Managers who identify a bug that occurs during 1% of visits when typical conversion is 100% would incorrectly assume that the bug will lower conversion by the same amount. That’s wrong from the start if, as most travel sites know, buyers visit to shop many times before they make their purchase, so errors in early parts of the path that frustrate visitors and interfere with shopping will drive shoppers away and site visitors will decline over time, thus conversion rates may decline by 1%, but shoppers may decline 10% too, which would compound the losses and be indistinguishable from other problems.You might spot this by tracking changes in the ratio of new visitors to returning visitors but this metric is affected by new browser and device releases and doesn’t provide the detail you need.

In the previous example as one line of business drives a customer away permanently, than visitor numbers in the other lines of business will experience a steady decline. Once again the bug’s effects are invisible in the conversion rates throughout the checkout path, and it will be unclear why direct visitors and returning visitors have declined. The OTA will need to spend more on paid search to drive ever more new customers to their leaky bucket.

This thought exercise demonstrates that it’s important to measure bugs across the enterprise and the Site’s 1-N list should be discussed widely and in the context of corporate strategies about staffing, and marketing spend. The Net Promoter Score can rescue Travel Agencies from internal bug lists and give you actionable intelligence about the ways you might be preventing sales. NPS is independent from the hidden correlations and mountains of data that overwhelm online marketers and site-health professionals each day. Fix the biggest problems and watch your revenues and profit climb.

For more information about these topics check out Avinash Kaushik on twitter @avinash Author, Web Analytics 2.0 & Web Analytics: An Hour A Day | Digital Marketing Evangelist, Google | Co-Founder, Market Motive; Bryan Eisenberg @TheGrok, Marketing Optimization & use the Data expert (small or big data), keynote speaker & New York Times best selling author. Austin, TX  bryaneisenberg.com; and great dashboard ideas: Juice, Inc. @JuiceAnalytics “We craft applications that help people understand and act on data.” Reston, VA · juiceanalytics.com

Sales & Marketing