When I read this article by Michael Webb, I knew I needed to share it with you. Why? Because so many execs fail to realize that unless their salespeople create value, everything else is irrelevant. And sellers don't do this magically. It requires a a good sound sales process.
B2B Sales executives often believe that hiring the right people and training them well is the most important success factor in their business.
Unfortunately, believing this is a serious mistake.
Want proof? Consider:
You would probably agree there are a LOT of great people in companies like GM, Ford, and Chrysler.
Yet, Toyota, Honda, and Mazda have been kicking their asses in the market for decades.
Would you say these landed Japanese automotive companies are winning because they’ve hired the right salespeople, or because they’ve trained them better? Is it because they use Sales 2.0?
Of course not. The greatest salespeople and the best sales training in the world will not save the American car companies.
The caliber and training of a company’s people are no match for the larger forces in play here. Yet, these same forces are pressuring every business all the time, especially in today’s market.
So, why are the landed Japanese companies winning?
They are winning because they create more value. The proof is in the market’s reaction: they sell more.
Clearly, the sales process is only one component of their success.
Unfortunately, many, many talented sales leaders are trapped in corporations that view the world in ways similar to those of American automotive companies.
It is high time for B2B sales executives to stop being so myopic about their trade.
I’m not saying people and training aren’t important; they are important. But they are not the most important thing.
The most important things are as follows:
- Find a starving market (i.e., what customers want)
- Develop a system that finds, wins, and keeps customers (i.e., a sales process)
- Develop and continuously improve the organization to execute that process (i.e., the people, training, machines, materials, systems, etc.)
Businesses need to grow out of the false assumption that the sales process is “what salespeople do.”
This error causes B2B organizations to get their sales process completely wrong. It is the reason salespeople only give lip service to the sales process. Salespeople know better, although they are usually unable to articulate why.
The fact is, processes that work create real value. Not only that, people follow them.
In sales and marketing, the sales process is what causes customers to become:
- aware of their problems,
- interested in your solution,
- convinced of your value relative to your competitors, and
- committed to your products and services
Companies must recognize it takes more than just salespeople to do all those things, especially in today’s market.
It is irrelevant whether the customer’s actions are caused (or enabled) by copy-written ads, social networking, web pages, or the words of talented, trusted salespeople.
If something your company did got the customer to take one of those steps, it created value.
If your competitor did a better job of it, they deserve the customer instead.
If your prospects are now looking for information they need on their favorite search engine, and you insist on hiring and training more salespeople to make cold calls, that is your problem, not theirs!
Further, consider all the things your company does that cause no customer actions, such as generating tons of brochures no one reads, spending millions on branding exercises customers care less about, consuming thousands of hours on proposals that are never purchased, or asking salespeople to pull out picks and shovels to turn over more rocks in their territories looking for leads by hand.
All these are mostly waste.
It is high time that B2B sales executives stop being so myopic about their trade.
They need to learn to think of their business as a system for creating value. Value is created when customers take the steps listed above: it is called the “customer’s journey.” Every one of those steps is measurable with hard data. Data from the flow of people through their customer journey is proof you will be able to deliver revenue to your company in the future.
If it is to work properly, your company’s system for getting customers to act needs to be designed. It requires the best selling savvy you can muster. It must be as automated as possible. Your salespeople need be able to implement the portions of the process that cannot be automated.
Executives who cling to old-fashioned notions about selling (hire the best people! make more sales calls! twist more arms! work harder!) are riding the Titanic to the bottom and will be looking for bail outs, just as the American automotive companies are doing today.
The quality of your people is important, but it is not the most important thing.
Michael J. Webb, president and founder of Sales Performance Consultants, is the author of Sales and Marketing the Six Sigma Way (Kaplan, 2006) and is the foremost expert on sales process improvement. Michael and his team have helped executives of Fortune 500 as well as tiny start ups to improve sales and marketing results by eliminating waste and making the sales funnel flow faster. His company’s website (www.salesperformance.com) contains helpful information around designing, managing and improving B2B sales processes.
The most important thing is the quality of your business process.