If you are an experienced B2B sales leader or an entrepreneur with a B2B offering, one thing you surely must have been asked to achieve is sales targets that are exponentially higher than the previous year.
That’s where B2B sales acceleration comes into play.
Sales acceleration is the process of increasing the velocity of the sales process of a company on a sustainable basis. It is a combination of strategy, tactics, processes, activities, technologies, and resources, utilized to shorten sales cycles, increase deal sizes, and increase win rates, thereby allowing an organization to achieve superior sales performance.
The question, of course, is how does one do this.
In this post, I will point towards the 8 levers that can be used to accelerate B2B sales. In subsequent posts, I will delve into each lever in depth and provide actionable tips that you can start using right away.
So here are your 8 levers of B2B Sales Acceleration:
- Generating high-quality leads
- Sales workforce planning
- Hiring an ‘A’ team
- Personalizing sales training to roles and individuals on a daily basis
- Institutionalizing metrics-driven sales coaching
- Retooling CRM software to drive daily productivity of sales reps
- Driving the right behaviors through the right compensation plan
- Getting marketing and sales on the same page
I am making a few assumptions here. You have product-market fit and are now looking to scale up sales. Your business goals are in place, broken down by product, region, BU, etc. You have a well-defined and proven sales methodology and process.
1. Generating high quality leads
Generating high quality leads is a foundational pillar in B2B sales acceleration. Finding the ideal lead i.e. customers in the right target segment, who are grappling with the problem that our product solves and who are ready to buy right away is a dream come true for every sales and marketing professional. Unfortunately, rarely does one get a lead so ripe. One has to do a lot of work before a buyer reaches this stage.
Content marketing is one way in which such leads can be generated and nurtured.
A client feeling the pain of any problem, will be googling the topic and its solutions. It is during this process and context that your brand or product has to be found.
A potential customer who discovers high quality content from your website that is relevant for his or her stage in the journey as a buyer will view you in a positive light and may start an interaction from that point.
Of course, content marketing is not easy. There are millions of businesses doing it and you need to stand out in that crowd. It requires patience and expertise.
To accelerate sales through content marketing, you need to make sure that:
- your company’s content is easily found at every step of the buyer’s journey
- you have something relevant and valuable to offer
- you have a call-to-action that is a hook to engage your buyer
- you have a clear process of moving the buyer along the buying cycle.
This entire process has to be thoroughly instrumented to collect data and analyzed regularly to find what works.
Content marketing is a vast subject and it’s not the purpose of this post to get into the details of it. There are tons of very good resources on the net. The one that I particularly like is the book ‘Epic Content Marketing’ by Joe Pulizzi.
Content marketing is a very dynamic field. The rules of the game keep shifting as Google keeps improving and fine tuning its search algorithms that best serve the interests of the user.
There are also newer platforms and trends that keep emerging. I’m listing three trends that any marketer today should take note of:
- Video: It is predicted that 80% of all content consumed by 2020 will be in the video format. Studies have shown that adding video to your emails increases your click through rates by 200%. Therefore, video should definitely be a big part of your content marketing toolkit.
- Conversational marketing: This is an emerging but a very promising trend. It capitalizes on the fact that people increasingly do not prefer to fill forms on a website. They’d rather have a chat with someone. With the maturing of AI based chatbots, this is now possible to do this at scale. Chatbots can help you qualify buyers, send appropriate material to them and book meetings, thereby accelerating the rate at which relevant leads are generated. Drift.com is a pioneer in this field.
- Social media platforms: These platforms have really matured and now offer very targeted and flexible lead generation tools. It is a great place to get engagement with users going and then use that engagement to drive leads. Each platform is different and one should follow the best practices of engaging in each medium.
2. Sales workforce planning
Given that you are aiming for a much higher sales target, you will have a commensurate increase in the number of leads and opportunities that your sales team will have to chase down and convert. You will need to figure out how many salespeople you need and in which locations, focusing on which products or businesses. In other words, you will need to be engaged in sales workforce planning.
To accomplish this in a somewhat scientific way, you will need to have some numbers in place e.g. conversion ratios, average number of dials/calls/meetings that a sales rep can realistically achieve, average sales cycles, and so on.
This is a critical first step to achieving your sales numbers. If done in a reasonably detailed manner, this will give you a good understanding of your people requirements. While this planning exercise should be fairly detailed, you should take care not to get too caught up in the rigor of the analysis, which might make it too time-consuming.
3. Hiring an ‘A’ team
Assuming that the workforce planning exercise has thrown up a requirement for hiring additional sales reps and managers, hiring the right people at the right time is the next priority.
There are three critical aspects of hiring that you will need to address:
- Profile of the sales rep: This has to be thought through carefully in light of the business strategy and the stage your company is in. For a new product, sales reps should be very good at selling concepts and evangelizing.
On the other hand, a matured product, where the selling is relatively more transactional will require people who are good at hitting activity numbers. The key is to document the traits and the skills required and making sure everyone involved in hiring has the same understanding.
- Selection process: This involves identifying how a company will test a candidate on the key traits and skills that are required for the job. This step should identify the questions, methods, and tools best suited to give an understanding of what the candidates bring to the table.
- Bandwidth for hiring: This is a crucial piece and frequently the biggest derailer of the hiring effort. Adequate management bandwidth needs to be freed up to meet the time requirements of the recruitment process.
If this has been a problem in the past, then it might make sense to have recruitment as a KRA for your sales managers. Hiring bandwidth also includes the capacity of the HR or recruitment team. In the case of companies which have very large sales forces e.g. large SMB/Mid Market lending companies in India, with sales forces upwards of 500 people, recruitment process outsourcing is a very viable option to create the capacity for hiring.
4. Personalizing sales training to roles and individuals on a daily basis
Getting each new hire to be independently productive in the shortest possible time in a scalable fashion is critical for sales acceleration. Sales training, therefore, has to be handled and executed with care.
Executing a highly effective sales training program will include the following key aspects:
- Identifying the critical roles & audience: If you are hiring lots of sales people, then of course the new hires are the most important audience. But there are two nuances to keep in mind.
First, if you have both fresh (new to sales) hires and experienced hires and secondly, if you are hiring or promoting new managers. Training for each of these audience groups will be different, hence it is good to be clear who the audience is.
- Curriculum: This is what the new sales rep or manager needs to learn to become independently productive and effective in his or her job. The curriculum should provide a detailed understanding of the customer and her buying journey, products, selling skills, competitors, sales methodology, and technology used in the company. The best way to go about creating the curriculum is to precede curriculum design by a study of the key success drivers of the high performing sales people in the existing team. The curriculum should also include ways to assess learners.
- Post training support: This is an often-ignored aspect of training. Any person going through a 3-4 day training on a multitude of topics can never retain more than 50% of it immediately after the event. In fact, if appropriate post training support is not provided, learners retain less than 10% of the content after 90 days.
This is clearly not where you want to be. The best way to reinforce training is by contextualizing the post-training support. You can achieve this by using micro learning resources and pushing them to the learners in the context of their performance, or their daily workflow – their deals or their activities. Contextualizing ensures that the sales rep finds it relevant and micro learning ensures that the content gets consumed easily.
- Measuring effectiveness: Effectiveness of training can be measured at various levels from simple smiley sheets (measuring satisfaction) to ROI. More complex levels of effectiveness measurements take time and money, so I suggest just keep it simple. In its simplest form, measuring the effectiveness of sales training should include assessing learners to see whether they are able to absorb and retain the content. Secondly, there should be a periodic survey of managers to determine whether the relevant skills are being demonstrated and more importantly, at how many days/weeks are the new hires becoming independently productive.
These two measurements should give a pretty good indication of the types of content and training that are working and what needs improvement.
5. Institutionalizing metrics-driven sales coaching
Sales coaching is one of the biggest drivers of sales productivity. But it is also the most ignored lever. If sales acceleration has to happen, one cannot ignore coaching. Institutionalizing sales coaching requires the following:
- Visible commitment: The sales leadership team should display a very strong and visible commitment to sales coaching.
- Cadence: For coaching to be effective, it has to be done at a regular cadence. One-off or infrequent meetings with team members just do not help.
- Data-driven coaching: Coaching should be data driven as opposed to anecdotal, which it frequently is. The coaching conversation should be based on the performance data of the individual and what each data point is saying about the gap areas of the individual e.g. an individual who has a high lead drop off rate towards the later stages of the pipeline is most likely not qualifying well early enough.
- Analytics platform to enable coaching: Institutionalizing data-driven sales coaching also means that sales managers need to manage by leading indicators instead of managing by output metrics only.
For this to be a reality, sales managers should have access to a comprehensive set of metrics covering all aspects of sales for each individual at all times. This requires an organization to deploy an analytics platform that will calculate these metrics on a daily basis. A platform like 19th Mile does this seamlessly.
6. Retooling sales CRM software to drive daily productivity of sales reps
Increasing the daily productivity of a seller is a big area for sales acceleration. If a sales rep handles 20 leads in a month, can we enable her to increase her volume to 30 or 40 leads a month? The solution lies in utilizing the latest in sales technology.
Here are some examples of what can be done:
- Automate admin tasks like entering data on activities done or messages sent.
- Prioritize leads so that the sales person doesn’t spend time identifying high probability leads
- Identifying risky opportunities and prompting action on them
- Automatically identifying delays and proactively planning activities
- Giving maps based inputs on nearby clients or best route to follow for meetings
- Automatically scheduling calls when new leads are assigned
- Scanning business cards directly into a mobile app and updating it in the CRM automatically
- Having all customer information in one place and in a mobile app especially for field sales
- Automatically researching and compiling information about a company
- Having all the tools used by the sales rep such as phone, calendar, email, WhatsApp, SMS accessible and usable from one place i.e. the sales mobile app
- Having ready access to collateral in the daily workflow without the need to spend time searching for it
7. Driving the right behaviors required for B2B sales acceleration through the right compensation plan
Compensation is a big determinant of the behaviors of the sales team. The compensation structure should be aligned with the business objectives. If these two are not aligned, the outcome is always sub-optimal for the business.
As a case in point, a telecom company had structured their sales compensation with a base salary and a variable salary dependent on the gross adds in customers.
This worked fine till the time industry was in a high growth and all that was required was the total number of customers added, even though there was significant churn. However, the moment a downturn came the company found that focusing on net customer adds, which represented consistent future revenues, was a better strategy.
To drive this behavior, the variable compensation was then tied to net customer adds instead of gross customer adds.
8. Getting marketing and sales on the same page
Marketing and sales are rarely on the same page. This is true for every organization. The degree varies. At the root of this disconnect is the definition of what constitutes a high quality lead.
The consequences of misalignment between these two important teams can be disastrous for growth.
Marketing can continue to fill the hopper with leads, which the sales team will chase down with very low conversion rates.
Here are some pointers for you to look at to bridge this divide:
Agreement on a definition: The first step is to have a common definition of a good quality lead. This can differ by customer segment. What has to be agreed upon by both teams is for a given customer segment, at what stage of the buyer journey should marketing hand over the lead to sales.
Agreement on indicators: The next step is to agree on the indicators that a buyer has reached the right stage of the journey for marketing to hand over to sales. E.g. For a tech company, it could be a white paper download or a free trial request. For an insurance company, it could be when a person fills a form asking for price.
Agreement on selling approach: Once a lead has been handed over, it is very important to understand what’s the best way for the sales team to convert the lead to a paying customer.
If a lead is at the stage of reviewing options, the selling approach could be to directly talk of benefits, pricing, implementation, and comparisons. If the lead is a little further up, then a more consultative approach and selling on the concept or product could be appropriate.
KPIs to track alignment: Given that this alignment is very critical for sales acceleration, it should be tracked closely. The following KPIs can indicate alignment:
- Leads to customer conversion ratio
- Average sales cycle time
- Marketing qualified leads (MQLs) to Opportunity ratio
- Conversion ratio by lead source
The need for sales acceleration is an inevitable reality for all companies. As described in this post, there are specific levers that can be utilized to drive sales. There may be other levers as well depending on your industry. You may not require effort in each one but by and large, addressing each of these will definitely put your B2B sales machine in high gear.
Here is a list of books whose ideas have shaped my thinking on this topic and have helped me practically in scaling the sales effort at 19thMile: