By Mark Crofton
I wrote an earlier blog post here on 4 sales tips for startups. Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to speak to many more early-stage Miami companies as well as take a new role leading a global sales training program. Here are (just) three tips based on those experiences:
1. Sales can be taught
It’s an age old assertion: Salesmen are “born, not made.” In fact, many people have told me that I’m a “natural” sales person or that I was “born” with all the attributes and talent to be a salesperson. Yet the truth is that while there are many attributes or traits which correlate to success in sales --such as enjoying interacting with others, ability to express oneself well-- there are also numerous skills to be learned to effectively run an enterprise sales cycle.
Few people enter this world intuitively knowing the best techniques for generating new opportunities, qualifying those opportunities, identifying all the relevant decision makers/influencers/stakeholders, or negotiating tactics. This is especially true if your early stage company is selling a product or solution that is even marginally complex to another business, as is an enterprise sale. The good news? There is a wealth of material, research and documentation on what works and doesn’t work in enterprise sales. You certainly can be taught the necessary skills.
2. Don't set and forget. Learning is an ongoing thing
Another well-known tenet in sales is that things change. Whether it’s your product, the competition, or the way your customer buys, if you don’t continuously give your sales team learning opportunities to catch up with change, they risk falling behind. At that point, it’s not only about losing to the competition, but the fact that their hard-earned customers simply won’t buy from them anymore, because they aren’t selling the way the customer buys.
Consider a fundamental way that selling has changed: determining where in the sales cycle to engage customers. When I began selling 20 years ago, most sales cycles began with a customer telling me about his challenges or problems. I would then look into my sales bag and present a solution, or better yet, several solutions that would solve his problem. I’d explain what each product did and how it would addresses his problem. The customer didn’t know very much about my products or often even about what was available in the market place. There was asymmetrical information: I knew a lot about my products and the customer generally knew considerably less. I was essentially engaging my customer in the early stages of the sales cycle.
Fast forward to today: It’s often the case that by the time the customer calls your sale rep, she understands their problem, is familiar with your product, as well as your competitors’, and has read all the reviews. She is simply much further along in the buying cycle. Therefore, the approach to the customer is different, and you need to provide your sales executive the ongoing training to sell accordingly.
3. Measure the impact, and then course-correct
Training your sales force is probably going to be a costly endeavor, both in terms of money and time. In addition, if you consider the cost of being out of the field, and not selling while occupied in class, the true cost can be much higher. So, why do so many organizations fail to track their return on this important investment?
In companies where I have worked, we compared the performance of a sales executive who took the new-hire onboarding class, versus those who did not. The data helped determine that it was a good use of his/her first week on the job, and this information was also used to convince other managers of new hires to make the investment. Ultimately, this could have an important impact for the company.
However, it is also valuable, but generally much more difficult, to track the effect of a single course. For example, what happens two quarters after your sales executives took a new Prospecting class? Was pipeline multiple affected? If not, is it necessary to eliminate the class or perhaps retool it? Having the right data on hand for instructional re-design is critical, as well as incorporating specific feedback to help course-correct.
As you consider your ongoing investment in your sales team, don’t forget to factor in some time and budget for training. If you follow these 3 tips, investment is sure to pay off.
Mark Crofton is a Vice-President at SAP SE. He is a leader of the SAP Academy, the global sales training program for developing the next generation of SAP sales executives. Mark is also involved locally in Miami mentoring and advising startups.
Read more: Four sales tips for startups