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Innovative Sales Practices

By Anneke Seley, coauthor of Sales 2.0: Improve Business Results using Innovative Sales Practices and Technology

Forward-thinking companies are asking their sales reps to stop visiting all but their most strategic and profitable prospects and customers. Why? They are embracing Sales 2.0 — a more efficient and effective way to sell using innovative sales practices and technology. As a result, they’ve dramatically reduced their cost of sales, improved sales productivity, and increased revenue.

In the business-to-business (B2B) world of complex selling, Sales 1.0 — the traditional, high-cost way of communicating with prospective customers — is focused on the art of building relationships with buyers. Those relationships are largely strengthened on the golf course, over drinks, or in an actual office or conference room. Many people with kids old enough to type, though, can vouch for the fact that the way we socialize is changing. Buyers have neither the time nor the inclination to “hang out” with sales reps, particularly now that staff sizes are shrinking, and more is being asked of fewer people. These customers have more work than ever and appreciate efficient sales processes that demand less of their time and allow them to buy more easily and conveniently. Savvy sales people recognize this and are embracing telephone, e-mail, and web technology as their communications media of choice.

Sales 2.0 strategies include close alignment of sales and marketing efforts, and organizing sales resources appropriately. By using the phone and Internet in the selling process and including inside sales in their sales models, companies save money and focus their more expensive sales reps’ time on closing the most profitable customers and opportunities.

Sales 2.0 companies treat experienced field sales people as the scarce strategic resources that they are: highly educated, experienced, well-paid professionals. They reap financial rewards by delegating sales activities that could easily be handled by professional, well-trained inside sales people who are well-versed in selling without travel. Barry Trailer, a partner at CSO Insights, uses my favorite analogy to describe this. (Barry admits freely that he borrowed it from a sales trainer and consultant named James Cecil.) He suggests thinking about sales the same way we think about medicine. Let’s take brain surgery as an example:

We would not expect a skilled neurosurgeon to treat patients that could just as easily be helped by general-practice physicians, nurses, physician’s assistants, and administrative medical staff. Patients typically first see their internists before being referred to a specialist, who determines surgery is required. Before their operation, they check in with a reception office, fill out forms, get prepped, and have their pre- and post-op questions answered. The surgeon performs none of these steps.

However, it is commonplace in business for executives to ask revenue-generating sales people to perform analogous sales activities. Field sales reps often generate their own sales leads, answer routine questions, set appointments, and perform other early sales-cycle steps that can more easily and effectively be done by others in the sales organization. We may also require field reps to sell lower-profit products to small customers, when they could instead be 100 percent focused on end-of-sales-cycle activities that lead to closing large and important deals. As Barry suggests, to ask field sales reps to perform tasks that could be assigned to more appropriate team members is the equivalent of asking neurosurgeons to stand in the hospital parking lot, flag down patients, and ask, “Brain surgery anyone?”

Inside sales organizations, which establish a new mindset and foundation for many companies piloting Sales 2.0 practices, perform a number of sales activities that keep higher-cost field sales reps concentrating on the highest-value, most complex, and strategic sales opportunities. An additional benefit is the reduction of travel-related costs — both financial and environmental. Inside sales groups excel at:

  • Filling sales pipelines with qualified leads

  • Measuring and tracking marketing program responses

  • Generating revenue in small and medium-size business (SMB) accounts

  • Selling additional products and services or renewals to existing customers

  • Establishing predictable revenue streams for companies that sell products on a monthly or annual subscription basis, such as software-as-as-service (SaaS) companies

  • Piloting new initiatives and testing target markets, positioning and messaging, and technology

Oracle and Cisco WebEx are examples of established technology companies with long and successful track records of using inside sales resources extensively to sell new products to certain markets and generate high-quality leads for multiple sales forces. Both companies also use telesales to reach existing customers regularly to keep them active, happy, and well qualified to purchase additional products.

Salesforce.com, the poster child for customer relationship management (CRM) software-as-a-service (SaaS), launched with a telesales-only sales approach before adding field sales resources to its sales model. Silicon Valley start-ups including Genius.com have followed salesforce.com’s example to keep cost of sales low and responsiveness to customers high. Syneron, a medical device company, experimented with this “unorthodox” way to sell products to its target market in medical offices — an audience that is accustomed to being wined and dined by salespeople — and has been rewarded with increased sales and profits.

Sales 2.0 is a growing trend in companies looking to turn sales into more of a science. It combines:

Strategy, which looks at the sales function as strategic rather than tactical, recognizing that different sales resources are appropriate for different customer and opportunity types, as well as for different stages of the sales cycle. This informs the way the sales team is structured and deployed. It also focuses on overall organization structure and compensation plans that ensure close collaboration between sales and marketing.

People in sales and sales-management roles who embrace collaborative, authentic relationships with buyers, and changing customer communications preferences from face-to-face visits to more efficient phone and Internet interactions.

Process that clearly defines discrete steps, as well as who is responsible for each step, and is measurable, predictable, and scalable. This also reveals key market data and best practices that drive company-wide sales results

Technology that makes these Sales 2.0 approaches possible and enables sales people to sell more productively and effectively while facilitating continuous sales-process improvement.

Successful employment of Sales 2.0 practices — including setting up inside sales teams, refocusing field sales people, and, yes, not visiting customers face-to-face — rewards companies with measurable business results including lower cost of sales, improved productivity, and increased revenue.

Anneke Seley is the CEO and founder of Phone Works, a consultancy that helps large and small businesses build and restructure sales teams to achieve predictable, measurable, and sustainable sales growth. As the 12th employee at Oracle, she designed the company’s revolutionary inside sales operation. Her book, Sales 2.0: Improve Business Results Using Innovative Sales Practices and Technology, is available at online retailers including amazon.com, bn.com, booksamillion.com, and borders.com. For more information, visit www.sales20book.com 

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