It’s become fashionable to talk about Sales Acceleration. I suppose it seems sexier than talking about sales effectiveness or efficiency. Perhaps we can visualize the concept of speed much more easily than other metaphors.
Inbound sales people are constantly trying to accelerate sales by getting to the customer quickly. Just the other day, I made the mistake of downloading another white paper, within minutes I get emails and calls from sales people about demoing and buying their product.
As sales people, we try to move things faster through the sales process. We want to get things done, book the order, move on to the next opportunity.
Sales Acceleration seems to be well matched with how many of us live our lives—mulitasking, overcommitted, always running to the next new thing.
Virtually every new book has Sales Acceleration or similar concept built into the title. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of those books are really good, but their titles are a reflection of current fashion. And too many seem to focus on us as sales people, perhaps missing the real challenge to Sales Acceleration
But upon reflection, Sales Acceleration isn’t really the problem.
I don’t know a single sales person that would turn away a purchase order on the very first call, saying, “I haven’t gone through my sales process, we have to go through the right steps as fast as we possibly can.”
The issue we really must confront is Buying Acceleration.
What slows us down is those damn customers! They’re slow, and confused. They don’t know how to buy. They shift priorities, They shift attention. Increasingly, they spend a lot of time, only to make no decision at all!
If customers weren’t so bad at buying, we could really focus on sales acceleration. But until we solve this problem, all the focus on sales acceleration isn’t very helpful.
If we were to focus on Buying Acceleration, what might that look like?
First, I think we would be spending a lot more time in the qualification process, getting the customer to qualify or disqualify themselves. We’d get them to ruthlessly address the issues: Why change? Why now? What are the consequences and risks of doing nothing? Do they outweigh the investments, challenges, and risks of change?
We might work with the customer in establishing a deadline that helps center the process. We all know that externally imposed deadlines have always accelerated buying decisions. For those of you old enough to remember the Y2K era–just preparing for that drove huge numbers of huge buying decisions very fast. More recently regulatory requirements drive the urgency for change–there is no other option, they have to change.
A toy manufacturer wanting to have a new toy on shelves for the Christmas buying season needs to have it available for the Spring buying shows and needs to start shipping in the late summer. Having the product ready to show in July means the manufacturer has missed this Christmas season and has to wait another year—losing $10’s-$100’s of millions in revenue. So all the design work has to be completed in early spring, manufacturing lines have to be in place and tested late spring, parts, materials, packaging all need to be selected and orders in place—all so they can have product on the shelf for the Christmas buying season.
Other industries have other cycles that drive the need to change, all of which great sales people leverage to increase the sense of urgency and accelerate the customer buying process.
Increasingly, we see new technologies, non-traditional competition, “disruptors,” getting more traditional organizations recognizing the need to do something.
Other things drive the need to change: Quality, customer satisfaction, market competitiveness, cost reduction, cycle time, new opportunities, market or product expansion, product life cycles, …. the list can go on.
There are lots of things smart sales people can leverage to heighten the customer sense of urgency, drive the need to take action, drive the need to change, drive the customer to saying, “We must take action now! We must having something in place by ……!”
Without this, it’s difficult to engage the customer in buying, let alone accelerate the buying process.
But then there’s the whole messy thing about buying once the customer has decided to change. Customers don’t know how to buy. There are, typically, lots of people with different agendas and priorities involved. There are varying levels of knowledge about the issues, problems and challenges—forget the solutions—until they get aligned about what they are trying to do, they can’t even begin to research alternative solutions.
As they move through their buying cycle, there are all sorts of things that can derail them and slow them down. Mostly it’s internal, sometimes it’s sorting through a dizzying number of alternative solutions, most often, it’s the process itself. What should we be doing now? What’s next? How do we move forward to make a decision?
Unless the customer gets very good at buying, there is no way we can begin discussing Sales Acceleration.
But in many cases, particularly in complex B2B sales, there’s absolutely no reason for the customer to get good at buying. It’s not a competence they need to use every day. It’s not something core to their jobs. It’s probably a disruption to their normal work. How many times in a CFO’s career does she put in place a major new financial management systems? Or an HR executive deciding on talent management solutions.
I know lots of sales and marketing execs are reading this, and I know you hope you never have to make another CRM, Marketing Automation, or similar decision again.
Lots of what our customers buy in complex B2B buying, they buy infrequently. So it’s a waste of their time to get good at buying.
But if we are focusing on Buying Acceleration, we have to help the customer get very good at buying, even if it is just this one time.
Consequently, the second key to Buying Acceleration, is how we help the customer accelerate their buying process–even if it’s just this one time. How do we teach them how to buy? How do we help them align the interests and priorities within their own organization? How do we help them overcome internal hurdles?
How do we help them organize and define their process—it a way that enables them to meet their deadline, achieving the goal that drove them to buy in the first place?
How do we help them sell what they want within their own organization and management chain?
Somehow, it seems to me that Sales Acceleration solves itself, if we understand Buying Acceleration.
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