5 Sales Resolutions for 2016

Mike Kunkle, senior director of sales enablement, Brainshark

If you work in the sales profession or a supporting role such as sales training, sales operations or sales enablement, chances are that your work life this past year was a combination of highs and lows. Why do I say that?  Well, data from CSO Insights shows that more than four in 10 sales reps miss quota. Meanwhile, the Pareto Principle is alive and well, with 13 percent of salespeople producing 87 percent of corporate revenue.

Fortunately, the new year brings an opportunity to tackle challenges and take a fresh approach to improving sales team performance. Here are five resolutions sales leaders and their teams can make – and tips for accomplishing them – to drive better performance in 2016 and beyond.

1. Hone forecasting
To be more accurate and improve the chance of making a number (and motivating and retaining A and B players), managers need to take a fresh look at their quota-setting and budgeting process. 

While growth should typically (but not always) be a goal, the percentage of growth managers aim for should be determined by market and account potential, not simply adding a hopeful percentage above last year’s number. They should consider market potential (new logo or acquisition growth), current account potential (and their account objectives – will they grow, retain, reactivate or retire accounts), new product/solution launches, and the roll-up potential of these accounts into regions/territories, or however the company is structured.

Depending on their business nuances and sales reps’ roles, assigning quotas based on how much business a rep closed the previous year is often a very flawed model (account performance or certain windfalls may not be repeatable). A roll-up approach will often be more accurate and achievable than cascading down numbers from a corner office.

2. Improve social selling
There’s still a lot of buzz around social selling. While some reps have ascertained or been trained on how to access and use the information available on social networks to sell effectively through these digital channels, many social selling practices employed are, frankly, deplorable.  

To up their game, sales reps should avoid the tendency to make a connection, then immediately “pounce and pitch.” It’s important to build and nurture relationships made through social channels. It’s equally important not to abandon other prospecting, networking, relationship-building and selling methodologies. Information gained through digital channels can just as easily feed into other methods. What we don’t want to do, and should purposefully guard against, is bleeding over the poor practices from other prospecting into our social selling practices.

3. Deliver smarter content
The key to improving sales productivity and results is for sales reps to serve up the right content in context to the right buyers at the exact moment the asset is needed in the buyers’ journey. This is the promise of many sales enablement tools, but no matter how good the tool, there are still ways to reduce its effectiveness by using it poorly, without a sound underlying strategy.

To enable reps with the right content, managers must:

  • Map out the buyers’ journey including the most common buyer personas. (If your company is not an expert at doing this, hire an expert, because this foundation should be based on market/buyer research, and this next part is really important.) 
  • Document the buying process exit criteria, for each persona, for each stage of the buying process. Those exit criteria should include what each buyer needs to understand, see, feel, hear, touch or believe in that buying stage, to feel comfortable moving forward to the next stage of their journey, with the sales rep and the company.
  • Ensure reps have access to meaningful, compelling content that addresses the exit criteria, for each persona, in each stage.
  • In their sales enablement system, managers need to map the content to the stages and personas, so reps know when to serve it up to the right buyers at the right time.
  • Use analytics to determine the effectiveness of the content and pivot/adjust content accordingly, over time.

Note for reps: Remember that personas are great for marketing and planning, but as a frontline, customer-facing sales pro, you sell to people, not personas. You need to do deep discovery to ensure the general buying process exit criteria is important (or isn’t) to your specific buyers.

4. Focus on a go-to-customer model
Taking a buyer-centric approach to selling is nothing new (Mack Hanan first published“Consultative Selling” 40 years ago), but it’s something many organizations still need to improve. The selling process should be less product-centric and more buyer-oriented and consultative.

Once you understand your buyer, their journey, their decision process and decision criteria, you can go deeper through discovery to truly understand:

Point A

  • Their issues and concerns
  • The implications of not taking action to address the issues

Point B

  • The positive outcomes of taking action that addresses them
  • How those outcomes are measured (what success looks like)…

…all of which leads to a clear Need Statement.

A Need Statement is simply the buyers’ perspective of the difference between Point A (where they are) and Point B (where they want to be), with no hint of a vendor’s specific solution. Sometimes the Need Statement includes their perspective on a solution that will move them from Point A to B, but not always. The most important thing is having the two states (before and after) well defined. I call this having Customer Acumen.

It’s only at this point that you have begun to earn the right to introduce your products, services, or solutions. At that point, you can demonstrate Solution Acumen, meaning how well you know and can communicate your solutions and how they address your customers’ issues (or how well can you create and communicate real value)?

When you have Customer Acumen, you are truly able to “go-to-customer” with your solutions, which should vastly improve your win rates and improve overall sales productivity and performance.

5. Leverage technology more effectively
Sales processes are often hindered when organizations sew together myriad applications (the Frankenstein approach) – creating a monster of tools that don’t integrate or work together seamlessly.

The goal of each individual app is often to improve efficiency, but without a seamless interface or process, efficiency isn’t maximized and effectiveness often suffers as well. Organizations could experience better outcomes by focusing on improving processes and finding solutions that enable those processes and cover a broader spectrum of sales enablement needs.

I believe we’ll see this trend grow in 2016, as the practice of sales enablement begins to mature, and more buyers look to increase overall sales effectiveness and outcomes, rather than making fragmented efforts to gain efficiency.

Mike Kunkle is senior director of sales enablement at Brainshark Inc., a provider of sales enablement software that accelerates revenue through faster training, increased demand and more successful sales conversations.