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Why You Should Let the Buyer Design Your Sales Organization

Every organization needs to map their target buyer’s buying experience before they make any decisions about the design of their sales and marketing function. TOPO came to this realization as we worked with clients over the last year to solve vexing challenges in their sales and marketing organizations. A client would come to us and ask a critical sales or marketing question. While we offered best practices and strategies to the client, most of these questions were best answered by their buyers. For example, marketers would often ask “What content types do buyers prefer?” or “What content will really convert?” The more questions we heard, the more we realized: The buyer is the best person to answer this question.

The buying experience will tell you how your buyers want to buy. This insight will allow you to properly design your sales and marketing organization to deliver the buying experience your buyers want. As a matter of fact, our research has found that the buying experience is more important than product and price. Homayoun Hatami, co-leader of the Sales Growth practice at McKinsey, provides his take on the importance of providing a buyer-centric sales experience: “Sophisticated customers are not interested in traditional sales models. They demand faster, more seamless, and even enjoyable sales experiences.”

Today’s post is about designing your sales strategy and process based on an in-depth understanding of your buyer and how they buy. In most cases, the sales leader wants to build their organization and processes based on their past experiences. While there is tremendous value in proven experience, often times the “proven” sales methodology is forced upon everyone, especially the buyer. It’s not that the sales leader is wrong, it’s that your buyer is right. Sales leaders who craft their sales process based on their target buyer’s preferred buying experience are typically more successful than others. Dave Stein from ES Research Group: “The best sales leaders understand that they have to have the right people, the right behaviors, the right technology, the right coaching and infrastructure to be able to sell how their customers want to buy”.

sales blueprint

In order to demonstrate our point, let’s look at some of the core decisions management makes when designing their sales organization:

Sales process design

The most common questions we get on sales process design are “what sales processes have you seen work?” or “do you have any sales process models we can use?” Sometimes there isn’t even a question, it’s a statement: “Here is the sales process I used at XXX and we grew the business from 0 to 100 million. Let’s implement it.” The truth is the most effective sales process should be designed to support your buyer’s preferred buying process. In other words, the real question organizations should be asking is: “How do we organize our sales process to support how our customers want to buy.” Your buyer will go through a series of steps to buy your solution. The buying experience map will detail each step.  Then you design your sales process so your sales people can help facilitate the buying process. Dave Stein: “Evaluate and assess how the selling process overlaps with the buying process. If an organization finds that 60 percent of the sales process maps to the buying process, then the other 40 percent is a gap that needs to be addressed.”

Some companies create a completely different set of sales processes based on the type of buyer. A couple of years ago, I spoke on a panel with one of the best sales leaders I know, Alex Shootman, who was the sales leader for Eloqua. His sales process was not only built to support the buying experience, they actually had different sales processes for each buyer persona. Another example is of a company who sold to both the business decision maker and IT. These organizational silos had completely different buying processes. The business decision maker was an evangelistic sale. They weren’t used to buying technology so the process involved helping them first understand that they needed to address this issue and then actually helping them with their internal buying process. IT was a group of professional buyers. They knew how to buy technology and if they could convince IT, the deals moved faster but were smaller. IT bought on features and functionality and required a completely different selling process. With both examples, the buying process decided the selling process with incredible results.

Product and messaging design

Every sales team is trying to find that sales messaging that will resonate. Sales messaging is a roulette-wheel guessing game for many organizations. Marketing spends lots of resources coming up with what the company believes is the best overall company message and it doesn’t convert with buyers.  Most companies who cracked the sales messaging code do so by trial and error and that is an expensive way to go-to-market. Instead, build your sales messaging based on direct feedback from your buyer and do so for each buyer in the decision making process. Not only that, each micro-step the buyer takes in their buying experience will require it’s own set of messaging sound bytes. For example, a status quo prospect is not ready for a product pitch and will need messaging that helps them understand that they may have a problem or they can do better. On the other end of the spectrum, a prospect that is currently evaluating vendors will need a more product-centric message.  Each step has it’s own set of messages both of which are based on who the buyer is and where they are in the buying process.

Also, each buyer will require his or her own set of sales messaging. We recently met with an executive who told us how his company had considerable success selling to IT. As they moved to selling to marketing, the sales reps used the same approach and as a result, progress has been slow. The company failed to realize that marketing was a completely different target buyer. Marketers have their own unique buying process. Marketing leaders want shorter decks without a features and functionality discussion. Instead the want more information on what the solution is and what it will do for their organization. They certainly don’t want a Sales Engineer delivering a technology presentation. A critical step in a go-to-market design is a thorough understanding of your target buyers’ preferred buying experience and this example highlights this point.

Organizational design

The buying experience map will tell you who should interact with buyers and when. The first question we get from founders or newly minted sales leaders are about organizational design. The critical decision is not just what you want to do as company (product, market, fit), but it’s how the buyers want to buy. At the Sales 2.0 conference a couple years ago, Jim Cyb from Zendesk, a leading cloud help-desk application provider, talked about how they had customer service and help desk professionals on the sales floor supporting the sales team. Zendesk had realized that their buyers preferred to interact with their peers in the sales process and organized themselves to support that preferred buying experience. This is one of my favorite examples of out-of-the-box sales organizational design that wasn’t done just to be revolutionary, but was done because that is what their buyers wanted.

Inside sales is one of the hottest trends in sales management right now. Many organizations are attracted to what they perceive as lower-cost, easier-to-manage inside sales people versus the expensive, demanding direct reps. Product and price play a huge part in deciding whether to build an inside sales team, but the most important factor is whether the buyers want to buy this way. Inside sales guru Trish Bertuzzi: “The key for sales leaders considering inside sales is to look at the buyer variables that will impact their ability to be successful. How do their buyers want to buy? Do their buyers utilize online resources to educate themselves? Do their buyers feel comfortable communicating over phone or email? Can their buyers be educated over phone or online?”

We recently spoke with VP of Sales about his former company’s failed experiment with inside sales. The CEO was drawn to the cost savings and potential scale of inside sales. They created a cheaper version of the product and hired 10+ inside sales reps. The VP of Sales: “He never considered that our target buyer actually preferred to spend more to have the hands-on buying and onboarding experience.” Ultimately, the inside sales experiment failed because the decision to move sales inside was what the company wanted not to do with little regard for what their buyers wanted.

Sourcing and hiring sales talent

Once you understand who the buyer is, who they want to talk to, and what it will take to move them from one buying step to the next, you can then model your ideal hiring profile. Bertuzzi: “There is a big difference between selling to the “C-suite” or to an application development manager.” The hiring profile then becomes one of the key points of leverage as you look to scale the business. The sales organizations that scale to greatness have often figured out what type of sales rep they need to execute.

Mark Roberge from Hubspot is a well-respected thought leader in sales management. His hiring practices have been frequently chronicled. I always point people to his methodology as an example of a buyer-centric hiring profile that is critical to a sales leaders growth strategy. One of the key facets to Roberge’s sales strategy is hiring the “same kind of sales person”.

Here is his description of how they came to their hiring profile:

We need to educate people over the phone and literally convince them to turn their sales and marketing process on its head. To do so, our sales team needs to earn the prospect’s trust, gain a deep understanding of the prospect’s business goals, understand their sophistication with sales and marketing, and articulate an adoption plan of inbound marketing that aligns with the prospect’s context…A demo of the entire product would take hours and would overwhelm the prospect. Sales reps need to be sophisticated enough to tailor the demo to the prospect’s context…[Based on this criteria} we started off by writing down a set of attributes that we thought would be important, and used these during interviews to evaluate candidates.

The best sales person at another company may not be the best fit for your organization. While past success must always be a key factor when hiring sales people, the other key attributes should be based on what type of sales people can effectively interact with your target buyer(s).

Sales enablement

Sales enablement is providing the tools and training so your sales people can successfully execute your sales process. Content is a hot sales enablement topic and we often get the question: “What content works?” or “Should we build an ROI model?” The question should have been: “What content assets does my buyer need to advance in the buying process process?” The buying experience map will tell you the content types your buyers prefer and the topics that will resonate. We recently met with an executive whose last company targeted application developers. As part of their original selling process, they would push prospects to a webinar and only small numbers signed up or attended. After a more rigorous review of their buyer and their preferences, they realized that a product demo was the better offer. Their target buyer did not want to go to thought leadership webinars. They wanted a deep understanding of the capabilities of the product.  The demo was a breakthrough content type and they began to get 1000’s of attendees and revenue finally started to hockey stick (click here to learn more about content selling).

Key sales activities

Key activities are the plays that sales people make at each step in the process. Key activities are part of you overall sales and marketing design and as you probably have guessed by now are best determined once you understand what your buyers prefer. One example of a key activity is deciding what channel is best to communicate with your buyer at a given stage. A common question is when to use the phone versus email. Another example is whether to use social or not. It’s really not that complicated. If your buyers are social, then you should be social.  At TOPO we sell to marketing and sales. We know that many of our buyers interact socially via Twitter (marketing) and LinkedIn (sales and marketing). Social has proven to be equally if not more effective to reach prospects than the phone.

Metrics and optimization

There are a number of sales metrics that can be used across most businesses such as retroactive metrics like revenue generated or closed/won, etc. Metrics are really powerful when they can tell you where you are BEFORE you close the business. While you can’t ask the buyer which metrics you should use to track them, you do want to use the buying experience map to determine what the true milestones are in the buying process that you should focus on. By focusing in on the right buyer milestones, you can better manage your sales people and understand where you truly stand in the process.

For instance, at TOPO, an absolutely critical step in our customer’s buying process is called the stakeholder meeting. Our first meeting is a critical first step and we track first meetings. However, our enterprise buyers cannot move to their next buying step until we have a bigger meeting with all the stakeholders. The first meeting-to-stakeholder meeting conversion rate is a critical metric for us as it has the biggest impact on pipeline acceleration and ultimately closed business. Because we track these metrics, we are able to optimize the plays (messaging, champion content) our sales team runs in that very specific and critical point in the buying process.

Here is another example of a company successfully managing metrics based on their buyers’ buying process. A cloud software company offers both demos and trials during their sales and marketing process. Initially, they only tracked their trial metrics. The demo was just an activity that was tracked but not a critical milestone. After examining their buyers, they determined that their larger company buyer personas did not do a trial. As a matter of fact, they preferred the demo. This revelation caused major renovations to the sales process, messaging, sales plays, and it became a critical metric to track and optimize for going forward.

Sales technology

There are many reasons sales technology implementations fail. A lack of training and product ease of use are good examples of this. However, another major reason is that the technology is not relevant to supporting your interactions with your target buyer (This is not true for all technology. For example, compensation management is internally focused). Sales technology is a very popular topic right now and sales leaders always want to hear about the latest and greatest application. Frankly, a lot of the innovations in the sales technology space are very exciting. Choosing the right technology to support your sales team is one of the key factors to consider as you design your buyers’ buying experience.

After you to determine each step the buyer will take during their buying process, then you will determine your sales process. Once you have built your sales process, only then should you determine what tools are needed. For example, I spoke with a sales operations person at a startup where the VP of Sales wanted to implement an elaborate quoting application because he had used this application in his previous position. Their buyers are IT managers who want simple and easy buying experiences. Product management understood this about the buyer and created a downloadable cloud product, but clearly the VP of Sales had not.

We could fill an ebook with additional examples (in fact, maybe we should!). But the core idea remains the same: let your buyers help you design your sales process.

What examples do you have?

Craig Rosenberg is the Funnelholic and a co-founder of TOPO. He loves sales, marketing, and things that drive revenue. Follow him on Google+ or Twitter

  • Comprehensive look at wrapping Sales around the hub of the Buyer/Customer. Nice post.

  • LinkedIn for Sales

    Another great post Craig. “While you can’t ask the buyer which metrics you should use to track them, you do want to use the buying experience map to determine what the true milestones are in the buying process that you should focus on.”

  • trishbertuzzi

    Seriously, this post should be an ebook. We all talk about buyer based messaging like it is the only time the buyer needs to be considered. Buyer driven selling is a fantastic idea that requires a ton of work and analysis. Hopefully more organizations will make the commitment and reap the rewards.

  • Dammit Craig, you’re taking blog posts to a new level these days. Totally agree with Trish, this is required reading for sales & marketing pros that want to get it right and drive real market traction.

  • I agree with Trish – this is not a post, it is a primer. Would love to see it published. Great ideas for sales and marketing leaders to think about. Tying all of the components around the buyer instead of forcing a sales methodology is, well… refreshing. And… you had me at the blueprint (nice).

  • Very insightful Craig! I not only second the ebook idea but suggest you consider making this into a session you present at conferences (Sales, Marketing, Customer Service) and then record it and post on web University/Academy sites. Organizational development folks would love it! And likely always a controversial topic most any Sales VP would engage in debate on! Where do you come up with this stuff!

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