I spent much of last week at Dreamforce. Before I go on, if you’ve never experienced it, you should attend. It’s one of the best events, I’ve ever attended. I’ll write more about it later.
Dreamforce, like many other user conferences, CES and other trade shows gets a technology geek’s, like me, head spinning! One sees and hears about all sorts of technology–each apparently the answer to every sales/marketing person’s and executive prayers. Install this solution, click here, a few clicks there, and all of a sudden you are over quota. At least that’s the imagery one gets from each session or vendor visited.
I’m a rapid fan of technology–but with some caveats. Technology enables us to do much of what we used to do far more efficiently. We can research more deeply, yet more quickly, becoming better informed. We can reach more customers in far less time, we can manage our time more efficiently.
Technology also enables us to do things we could have never imagined in the past. Analytics and business intelligence solutions provide us insight and capabilities to intercept customers at the right time, with the right message, with the right offer–creating a far greater experience and better results then we could have ever done in the past. We can collaborate and work with people both in and outside our companies–globally.
Technology also enables us to create crap at the speed of light! We can make tragic mistakes–both quickly and for free! Which makes us all the more susceptible to making those tragic mistakes.
We can send that “tailored email,” to hundreds of thousands–even though it is probably meaningless to 99.99999% of them. We can do it again and again. We can set up autoresponders and content management systems that enable us to continue this meaningless conversation for as long as we want—all in the spirit of “nurturing.” (By the way, I’ve found a cool application of technology. I’ve set up my autoresponders to respond to your autoresponders, to carry on your meaningless conversations, mess with your scoring systems, and generally mess with your marketing people’s minds. So many companies are have great conversations with my computer–except my computer doesn’t issue PO’s.)
Today, I engaged in a discussion with a reader advocating that with the use of technology, sales no longer needed marketing, sales could develop all the content themselves. Politely, my response was, “Yes, technology enables us to do this, but do we really want our sales people to become content developers? Could they leverage technology to spend more time in meaningful conversations with customers?”
The problem with technology is that just because it enables us to do something, it doesn’t mean that’s the smart thing to do! Currently, technology by itself is relatively dumb. A CRM tool does nothing unless we have a strategy, goals, objectives underlying the implementation–and sales people are leveraging it in ways that make them more impactful. A BI tool is meaningless without thoughtful questions.
That’s the part of technology we forget. Too often, we blindly apply the technology without having strong strategies, processes, goals in place. Even things like the culture, beliefs, and values of an organization are critical to leveraging technology to maximum impact. We have to think and be purposeful.
Too often, we think we can skip that stuff, technology will somehow address that. We spend millions, waste person years of time, only to find, we have insufficient results, or more tragically, have done the wrong thing.
Technology is important. No sales person, no organization can perform at the highest levels possible, without leveraging technology as much as possible.
But remember–technology supports, amplifies, accelerates, what we currently do. Whether we are doing the right things or the wrong things, technology makes it bigger, faster, broader.
We need to make sure we do the homework to leverage technology to have its intended impact.
But doing that stuff is the hard work–the stuff we are supposed to do all the time. The stuff that technology might free up time to enable us to invest more time in.
Depending on the research you look at, “No Decision Made” has a huge impact on results we produce. The lowest levels I’ve seen with leading market research firms is a little more than 20% of forecast deals end in no decision made. Other reports have it going up from there, some as high as 50% of forecast deals.
Recently, I’ve noticed a weird kind of psychology around these types of deals. Yes, we don’t like them, but somehow it isn’t as bad as losing to our competitors. We don’t treat these deals as a loss, we typically don’t go through loss reviews, we just do a collective sigh, a shrug, and say to ourselves, “better luck next time.”
No Decision Made is a competitive loss–probably the worst kind of competitive loss we can suffer. I’m assuming here, that we executed our strategies flawlessly, we were well aligned with the customer, but the competition had a better solution. In any kind of competitive effort, teams can compete vigorously and effectively, but in the end one wins. (Yeah, I know most of you will say this is a very flawed assumption, but give me a break–at least for the purposes of this article.)
No Decision Made is possibly the worst kind of competitive loss because we failed with the customer. There wasn’t a better solution the customer chose instead of ours, we simply failed in getting them to prioritize and drive change in their organizations.
No Decision Made arises from a number of factors:
1. It wasn’t a real deal in the first place. In our qualification, the customer accepted a meeting, smiled at us, fogged a mirror, and continued to engage us in discussions. Perhaps they had some idle time, perhaps they were doing research for the future, perhaps they were lonely. In any case, we jump all over it, put it in the pipeline, and pursued it as an opportunity.
Maybe I’m exaggerating a little. We may have found some people really interested in doing something, it was legitimate in their minds, but, we failed to qualify widely or high enough. So while some people were serious about buying, it was never real because all the people involved in the decision were not qualified.
2. The customer was interested, we qualified properly, they had a strong desire for a new solution, but they couldn’t organize themselves to make a buying decision. In complex B2B sales, many people are involved. Each has a different agenda and priority. Each has a different constituency and goal. There are politics involved between individuals and groups, there are struggles for power. Finally, they may simply not know how to buy–in many B2B decisions like complex software solutions, major capital investments, and so forth–they may only buy once in their careers–so they simply don’t know how to buy.
Letting this happen is a sales error. If we are aligning ourselves with the customer in their buying process, we are also going to facilitate that process. We are going to help them align the disparate agendas and motivations. We’re going to help overcome the power struggles, we’re going to help them learn how to buy.
3. The perceived risk of change is greater than the risk of doing nothing. This is a huge factor in No Decision Made! Customers may genuinely be interested in our solutions. They may be interested in the potential we offer in helping them address new opportunities or to improve their businesses. But then we have to deal with the “Change” issue. Doing nothing is much easier. Doing nothing requires taking no action. Doing nothing means no risk. Doing nothing is what everyone is comfortable with—even if there are some problems or challenges, even if the customer knows there is a way to improve.
Doing nothing is the easiest course of action until we make the pain/risk of doing nothing greater than the risk of making the change. It is our responsibility to create a compelling need to change. We need to make sure the customer believes doing nothing is not an alternative, they must change, they must act.
4. The customer has a better use of their resources, time, energy, and funds. No it’s not choosing a competitor, but they choose to invest in a completely different project. We may be selling a new software system, we have won over IT and the users, they are hot to trot, they go to the CFO to get funding for the project only to learn the company has chosen to paint new lines in the parking lots and to upgrade the food service in the cafeteria. (OK, so I’m exaggerating.)
We may qualify and win at the functional and departmental level. But unless we, and our customers, get the project to the top of the corporate priorities, funding and resources may be diverted to completely different purposes. Our customers compete for funding and resources within their own companies. As excited as they are about their pet projects, unless they convince upper management to allocate the resources and funds, they — and we — cannot move forward.
Yes, we try to call higher up the food chain to get executives involved, but we also need to make sure our customers are “selling” internally, getting the support of everyone they need to move forward with the project.
I’m sure there are many other excuses for No Decision Made, but I’ll stop here and rely on you to add more in the comments.
But No Decision Made is, possibly, our biggest and most consistent competition. Failing to develop and execute strategies against this competitor is a sales failure. We waste our customers’ time, our time, and lot of resources.
It’s our responsibility to develop and execute strategies to counter this competitor.
As managers and leaders, we need to analyze and understand losses to No Decision Made. We need to include these in our loss reviews and win/loss analysis.
It is unacceptable to sigh, shrug our shoulders, and say, “Better luck next time.”
I spend a lot of time talking about sales managers, executives, and sales people. Often it’s on how we maximize our impact in connecting with customers, or maximizing performance –organizationally or individually.
But the Sales Operations and Enablement functions are critical in providing the ability for managers, executives, and leaders to do this. It’s sales operations that provides the systems, tools, processes, training, and programs that sales people execute. It’s sales operations that tracks the results, helping sales executives determine whether we are on track or take corrective actions in getting back on track.
Good sales operations executives focus on enabling their sales teams–helping maximize the results they produce.
Great sales operations executives have a much broader view. They look outside the organization–starting with customers, looking at channel partners, then everyone in the sales organization. They focus on “How do we make it easier for the customer to buy?” “How do we make our solutions the preferred solutions for our partners to sell?” “How do we make it easier for our sales people to engage and connect–producing value in every interchange with partners and customers?”
Great sales operations executives remove all the clutter–not adding more–but focusing on those things essential to customer, partner, and sales success. They guide marketing, product management, and the rest of the organization in driving programs that create clarity, insight, and value for sales, partners, and customers.
But then there’s another aspect to what great sales operations executives do. They fight for the customer, partners, and sales within the organization. They are the voice of those constituents within the organization. They help the rest of the company understand what’s happening and what they can do to contribute to results. Whether it’s new terms and conditions, improvements in customer service, new marketing programs, new products, new needs–great sales operations executives are the advocates for sales, partners and customers within the organization.
I wish I were smart enough to have these insights on my own. However, I learned these in a great discussion with a great sales operations executive. Katherine Tate, Vice President of Global Sales Operations for the Attachmate Group of Companies, shares her perspectives on Sales Operations in a great discussion.
Katherine has a very broad view of the role of Sales Operations–it’s exactly what sales operations needs to be–focused on the customer, channels, and sales–doing everything possible to enable them to achieve their goals, making it easier to do so.
Enjoy this conversation, pay attention to Katherine–don’t let my rambling distract you.
If you want to understand Sales Operations, I can think of no better person to explain it than Katherine!