Strategy 1 Find Growth Before Your Competitors Do
Look Ten Quarters Ahead
Sales leaders continuously monitor economics, consumer behavior, and other forces to identify two or three relevant trends each year.
Surf the trends. Good sales leaders know how to hit monthly and annual sales targets. Great sales leaders tap into the big picture, watching for strategic openings in economic trends or changes in customer sectors and regions. They know these can be real opportunities.
Invest ahead of demand. This might mean making a small investment in analytic capabilities or beefing up the number of frontline sales staff ahead of the emerging trend. Make it a way of life. Programs that successfully exploit emerging trends are not one-off flukes or lucky bets. Leading sales organizations have a built-in forward perspective and mechanisms to turn insights into action.
Mine Growth beneath the Surface
The sales leaders across a range of sectors agreed that taking this sort of granular approach to growth is essential in deciding where to compete and in translating market insights into actions. The most successful sales leaders were extremely proactive in mining the growth that lay right beneath their feet in what seemed to be mature markets. Many have delivered impressive results thanks to this micro-market approach to growth, even under the strain of the recent financial crisis. At the core of this approach to find growth ahead of competition, leading sales organizations do three things:
- Find the pockets of growth. Using micro-market analysis, companies can identify where opportunity lies at a very granular level based on a combination of market characteristics, including competitive intensity and market attractiveness.
- Look beyond sales to mine growth. To maximize the benefits of micro-markets, leading organizations recognize they need to involve functions beyond sales.
- Keep it easy for the sales team. Micro-market strategies by their very nature are heavy on the analytics, so it’s important that sales teams on the ground don’t get bogged down by the detail and can simply harness the information in the most effective way.
Find Big Growth in Big Data
Many leading-edge companies already use big data as an engine of growth. Powerful data strengthens their ability to outperform their peers; simply put, mastering data is mission critical. In looking for growth from big data, three ideas are particularly important:
- Harvest every source of big data. Create opportunities for customers to provide more data, partner with external providers, and generate insights through advanced analytics and experimentation.
- Get personal in selling. Use sophisticated micro-segmentation and personalization analytics to create tailored selling propositions and approaches that precisely meet buyers’ needs.
- Put big data at the heart of sales. Make data availability, scientific investigation of growth opportunities, and decisions based on big data cornerstones of both sales strategy and sales culture to develop a competitive advantage.
Strategy 2 Sell the Way Your Customers Want
Master Multichannel Sales
There are four particularly important aspects of multichannel management:
- Blend remote sales and field sales. Many companies have adopted remote sales as a low-cost way to serve smaller customers. Leading sellers have innovated by blending their remote sales with their traditional sales forces to drive growth while lowering costs.
- Integrate online and offline. The sales leaders we talked to have integrated their digital channels with other sales channels, seamlessly serving customers across online and offline channels.
- Orchestrate direct and indirect channels. For leading sellers, going direct or indirect is no longer a binary choice. They build selling approaches that take advantage of their capabilities and those of their channel partners.
- Bring service channels into the fold. Good companies understand that great service drives today’s and tomorrow’s growth. The leading executives we interviewed effectively use each service interaction with customers as an occasion to sell.
Power Growth through Digital Sales
There is a constant need for both B2C and B2B sellers to connect digitally with customers and prospects. The sales executives continue to invest in digital to boost growth, improve the customer sales experience, and lower the cost of sales. From these leaders, we have learned three precepts of digital success:
- Optimize fanatically and often. They rework their sales strategy and operations to maximize sales ROI across digital platforms (their own and those of channel partners). They test and adjust their programs in a nonstop effort to build brand loyalty and turn clicks into sales.
- Get mobile to drive growth. They have a clear grasp of how mobile is shaping customers’ decision journeys, and they use mobile to extend their relationship with customers to build value.
- Integrate digital in a great omnichannel experience. They understand at the most granular level how to use digital to create a seamless customer experience, guiding buyers through a series of online and offline contacts, from marketing to presale to purchase and post-purchase service across physical and digital channels.
Innovate Direct Sales
Mastering traditional direct-selling models—whether it’s in B2B or B2C—is no longer enough for the world’s leading sellers. Top sellers constantly seek new and creative ways to boost sales and innovate. The approaches vary, but the common theme is an overinvestment in the right customers.
Engage customers early. Involving customers long before the actual sale benefits the vendor and the customer alike, and can take a variety of forms.
Unlock growth in key accounts. Buyers’ expectations and sophistication have risen, and they expect their relationships with sellers to be smooth. Preparation ahead of time can ensure deal success, and explicitly aligning account teams will ensure these accounts deliver sustained growth.
Pursue new prospects relentlessly. Meaningful sales growth comes only by converting prospects into customers, but this is easier said than done. Traditional hunter/farmer models are not always the best approach. Sales executives have tuned their prospecting efforts to the big opportunities they see.
Invest in Partners for Mutual Profit
Companies that master the challenge and avoid the pitfalls win big, improving channel revenues by 10 to 20 percent and reducing cost of sales by 5 to 10 percent. Companies that excel at managing channels do two things well:
- Manage partners as an extension of their sales force. In contrast to the “hire and forget” approach to channel partners of some companies, leading sales organizations work as hard to improve their partners’ performance as they do that of their own sales force. They don’t see profits as a finite sum to be divided across the value chain but, rather, as a rising tide that can lift all boats together.
- Confront channel conflict head-on. Sales leaders spend considerable time engineering the right balance of competition and collaboration between channels. They also continuously challenge partners to raise their games or be cut from the program, and they reward those who succeed with more support, training, etc. to propel them to the next level of performance.
Sell Like a Local in Emerging Markets
To accelerate growth in emerging markets, leading sellers understand three imperatives:
- Get on the ground. Successful companies invest in all the data sources and expert information available to them, but nothing beats getting a firsthand sense of how the market works by visiting local areas and resellers. It is that ground-level view that also gives sales leaders a clear read of where the market is heading and lets them plan for it.
- Overinvest in the right partners. In developed markets, a company may have many capable potential partners. In emerging markets, finding a partner is a much more strategic endeavor. The cost of switching is higher, so partnerships are for the long haul, which means finding ones that not only have the right capabilities but that also share your values.
- Build talent for the long term. Annual growth in emerging markets can exceed 10 percent. That pace requires sales leaders to think creatively about how they will attract and retain the talent, and build the capabilities, they will need to keep up.
Strategy 3 Supercharge Your Sales Engine
Tune Sales Operations for Growth
The leading companies focus on two areas of improvements to propel operations to the next levels of sales excellence:
- Give sales teams more time to sell. Sales operations are crucial to releasing reps’ time from non-selling activity; once they see the benefit of the change, their behavior becomes self-sustaining.
- Use sales operations to customers’ benefit. Improving operations can have an enormous impact on customers. A smoother and faster sales process can boost loyalty, even if it may require some adaptations to customers’ own operations.
Pay More Attention to Presales
Heads of sales and CEOs need to take a more active role in extracting the function’s full potential. Leading sales organizations do two things particularly well:
- Focus on quality, not quantity, of leads. They use analytics to unearth the most profitable deals so they don’t waste the time of their precious presales staff.
- Use expertise appropriately before and during the sale. Savvy customers need access to presales staff to answer their more complex questions, while even for relatively simple transactions, having experts readily available—physically or virtually—can make or break the deal.
Get the Most out of Marketing
There are three specific actions that leading organizations take to bring marketing and sales closer together:
- Capitalize on a company-wide understanding of buyers’ needs. Great sales leaders work hard to align with marketing (and other departments) to make sure everyone knows what buyers want and how they want to buy.
- Smooth the flow of insights between the field and marketing. Both functions generate enormous volumes of valuable data on customer segments and preferences, but the flow of those insights tends to be one-way. At outperforming companies, the front line reports back to help marketing refine its value propositions.
- Collaborate to influence the journeys that drive repurchase and loyalty. Repeat business is profitable business and, in leading commercial organizations, marketing and sales combine forces to generate enviable loyalty rates.
Build a Technological Advantage in Sales
What are companies that maximize returns on IT investments doing right? Based on interviews, we found that they use technology to succeed on three fronts:
- Arm sales teams with insights. Giving reps on the ground and in the office the tools to make them more productive and effective is vital in maximizing sales potential.
- Enable channel partners. To treat partners as an extension of the sales force, they invest in collaboration tools to improve the flow of data between organizations.
- Gear up for analytics. Leading sales organizations recognize the potential for big data applications, micro-market or macro-trend analyses to enable new ways of selling. As the technology emerges, they are making targeted investments in tools, technologies, and talent to make the most of these opportunities.