I plead guilty to enjoying a cold beer or two, and I’ve watched with amazement as the decade-long bull market in the craft beer industry shows no signs of abating.
Whether you’re a startup or more established business, there are times the sales team needs to be refocused. This is required when a new market opportunity emerges or your company launches a new product and suddenly your sales team is treading in unfamiliar waters.
Recently, we introduced a new product that required us to redefine our sales model and go-to-market strategy – learning several valuable takeaways that can help other entrepreneurs navigate a similar pivot.
The first product was an enterprise file sync-and-share solution deployed on customers’ IT infrastructures, and we sold to a well-defined universe of IT professionals. Our technology-savvy sales team and compensation model supported a sales cycle that spanned multiple product and security reviews. Our latest offering is a cloud-based collaboration software tool targeted to end users within an organization. As a “freemium” offering, users begin paying for it only when certain usage levels, such as storage-capacity, are exceeded. With this self-serve model, users don’t have to engage with us at all to use or buy the product.
Overnight, we moved from being on a first-name basis with our IT customers to dealing with people who anonymously downloaded our product. Thus, our focus changed from directly servicing the IT community to helping businesses drive new efficiencies and increased productivity. We went from delivering quantifiable benefits to needing to understand how people use our new product.
Building a Map
Almost immediately, we lost control over sales since the product now goes directly to virtually “invisible” customers. We had to quickly figure out a new way to directly engage them. To align sales efforts with prospects, we began mapping the customer journey with a Buying Process Map that illustrated the steps a customer takes when considering a new product. This quickly helped us accomplish several key goals:
Fine-Tuning the Prospecting Strategy
Not knowing who your customers are is challenging, to say the least. In our case, virtually anyone can use the new product, but that’s not an effective way to segment a market. We needed high volumes of prospects and quickly realized that the advantages of doing the calling in-house (quality control, messaging and experimentation) were not as valuable as the advantages associated with outsourcing (volume, accountability, etc.) At that pivotal phase, we hired an outside firm to manage the cold-calling function and building a pipeline.
Next, we conducted rapid evaluations with our marketing team and our cold-calling vendor, who was able to provide quick feedback on our messaging and offered us critical benchmarks by comparing this effort to other clients’ results. Our primary measurement for evaluating effectiveness was the ratio of calls to actual conversations (we were able to have true conversations with prospects in roughly 5% of calls). We listened to sales reps so we could gauge their subjective feedback against experiences on the phone. We learned and made appropriate, timely adjustments where needed.
To follow up, we defined who would most value our product’s unique strengths and then tested multiple messages—benefit-focused, feature-focused, and various combinations of both. We found that we could tell if a message was resonating with prospects within 15 to 20 conversations – about 5 percent of total calls. Within a few weeks, we knew whether or not we were on target. Subsequently, we had to translate a prospect’s usage patterns into meaningful data and insights. However, we realized we didn’t have the right tools to accomplish this, so we added several specific data analysis products to garner stronger analytics and key insights into the features customers found most valuable. This data helped us identify meaningful ways to leverage customer information and better support our reps.
Re-Examining Rep Profiles and Compensation
When we changed the role of the sales team in the process, it changed the fundamental skill set that was originally needed. Since users no longer engage directly with us, our sales reps needed to be comfortable relinquishing some control. They also needed the ability to dig deep, listen and understand the value that users are gaining from the product. With that information, they can contact users and become more consultative in helping customers find new ways to use the product, thereby increasing sales. This revelation required us to update our compensation plans to better reflect reps’ overall time and effort spent with prospects to achieve an actual sale.
Checking the Pulse
Getting through this pivot was exciting and absolutely the right decision, but was not without its challenges. We had to reset our expectations and update processes several times before finding an effective formula that worked for us. While we found most people were generally on the same page, we also uncovered some notable differences that could have taken us off path. Ultimately, we decided to revisit the process each year to ensure proper sales and marketing alignment, and guarantee that the entire organization is always focused on the same goals.
Jeff Harrell is the vice president of marketing at AeroFS, a leader in team collaboration software. Reach Jeff on Twitter @jeffharrell.