How many sales meetings, executive meetings and board meetings have we all endured where sales results are behind expectations and most of the meeting is taken up by micro-analysing every sale in its final stages to see if it can be closed? A lot. In fact, I can remember only a handful that were relaxed and that was because the year’s quota was in the bag already.
How others do it
This is odd, because when we measure and monitor other things we track progress not just outcome. If we sent a team off to climb a mountain, we wouldn’t just keep a telescope trained on the summit and wait to see if they reached it. We would constantly check in to see where they were, had they reached staging points and camps on the route, is everything going to plan, are there any set-backs we need to address. Reaching the summit (or not) won’t be a surprise because we know what is going on.
Similarly when we track construction projects, we don’t wait until the bridge is completed to know we are successful: we set up a path of milestones and stages at sufficient detail to avoid nasty surprises if we hit problems on the way. We can see them and deal with them before they become critical. We still hear of a few big project blunders of course but the number of complex projects that come in on time and profitably is amazing. This is down to project management experience and techniques developed over decades.
Some simple but brave changes…
So why not do this in sales? I think part of the reason is that traditionally, sales have not been involved until the later stages of the customer journey, when the customer is ready to engage and has BANT (budget, authority, need and timescale) agreed. But this is like only being aware of a project after it is two thirds completed. The other part is cultural. Sales performance has traditionally focused on…sales, naturally. In Board and Executive meetings, Marketing would report on leads generated (which Sales then dispute) and perhaps talk about Pay Per Click and SEO rankings which are quickly left behind because, well, it’s not actually sales, is it?
So we need to take a deep, brave breath and step back. In this new digital world we have unprecedented access to accurate information about the entire customer journey and our share of their attention. If, and unfortunately in many cases it is still an if, the sales team are also tracking and recording activity leading up to the sale, we have the opportunity to measure and monitor every stage from the customer’s first tentative web site views to the contract signature.
This will be challenging because it involves dismantling two traditions: Marketing and Sales doing their two separate things, and Sales spending time actively chasing business and not updating any systems. The Marketing and Sales collaboration has to happen anyway because it is now almost impossible to determine whether you are marketing or selling – the buyer decides what it is he or she wants. It doesn’t matter anyway, it is all about customer journey. When everyone understands the sequence of customer interactions over time and takes a team approach to influencing and monitoring them, there will be valuable data available that will show clearly if there is revenue trouble ahead. There will be time either to put more into the end of the sales “pipe”, or make sure what goes in one end doesn’t leak out along the way, and we still have plenty of sales opportunities at the other end.
There is a point where the level of customer engagement justifies a sales relationship, just as it always had. The criteria may have changed but is it still a sales role to move the (by now ready) customer to a close. In many sectors, this is not an instant activity so we need to track progress. This is nothing new, there are many sales methodologies with defined stages, criteria and associated probabilities. I am sure we all agree this is fundamental to sales pipeline management and we think that is what we are already doing.
The problem is, we don’t trust the data because we know it is not in the nature of most sales people to meticulously update their CRM opportunity records. Because we don’t trust the data we don’t use it in those executive and board meetings, so there is no pressure to get it right, creating a vicious circle of poor information. Cue the culture change required in Sales. If maintaining CRM opportunity records became part of sales DNA (and even incentivised), then we would have visibility of the progress of that entire customer journey, just like a mountain climb base team or a construction project manager sees progress and problems to be addressed.
If the data gathered in all stages of the customer journey indicates a projected shortfall of revenue, questions can be asked and action taken in plenty of time. If we invested our valuable meeting time in reviewing the customer journey data rather than spending much of it discussing desperate measures to close vital deals I am convinced results would improve and there would be a whole lot less stress too.
- Senior management to demand accurate customer journey/sales pipeline data
- Set pipeline targets and measure them as rigorously as revenue
- Sales and Marketing teams work together across the full customer journey
- Invest in marketing automation software that measures customer interactions (it doesn’t have to be expensive – Drip will be $1 per month)
- Make updating CRM opportunity data non-negotiable for sales people
- Measure and monitor journey progress to ensure we get the outcome we want
At Ascent Learning, we work with leaders, teams and organisations to help think through, plan and execute for sustainable improvement at all levels. B2B buying behaviour is now radically different from 10 years ago. If your sales and marketing approach hasn’t kept pace with the changes we can help realign it, from strategy review right down to tactics. I look forward to hearing from you.