Performance Management / HR

How to build a sales team fit for “The Age Of The Customer”

Buying behaviour has changed. But what does this mean for your sales team? 

Ahead of her recent Vistage webinar on September 13th, we caught up with Nicola Cook from Company Shortcuts to understand how and why the sales and marketing landscape is changing, and what SMEs can do to stay competitive. 

A changing buying landscape

Connectivity and access to information have changed the buying landscape in recent years. “The psychology of buying comes into play here”, says Nicola. “People don’t like to be sold to, yet they love the feeling of buying. It’s a very British thing: that wish not to be influenced by sales people, but wanting to feel like we’re making our own decisions”. 

In her sales rep days, Nicola would visit her customers every 6-12 weeks, bringing with her a folder filled with competitor and industry knowledge. At that time, her knowledge-based approach was seen as revolutionary. Now, though, customers are time-poor and content-rich. “They don’t have that kind of availability”, Nicola explains. “They only want to talk to a salesperson if they have a question they can’t answer, or if they’re ready to move forward and purchase”. 

It’s not only this access to information that has changed the buying landscape. Another key contributor is the blurring of the boundaries between sales and marketing. 

“Before the digital revolution, marketing would attract prospects and leads into the sales funnel, and the sales team would take the customer through the rest of the sales journey”, she says. “Now, customers have far more information at their fingertips to help them self-navigate through most of the customer journey. The point of engagement has been pushed back – and most businesses simply don’t know how to get involved that early”. 

The customer journey is blurred. “Customers are now driving the interaction”, says Nicola. “Whether it’s B2B or B2C, we can’t dictate how they engage with us – they’re in the driving seat. That’s where s’marketing comes in”. 

Coined by Nicola herself, the term ‘s’marketing’ refers to this new, blurred area between the traditional marketing and sales roles. “S’marketing has to qualify a customer: it has to define your unique differentiating proposition”, she says. Through a combination of content, intelligent nurturing and automated process, your s’marketing team should qualify prospects and push them closer to the point where they need your sales team. 

This s’marketing function is often what’s missing in businesses that are looking to scale.

The mistakes of a scaling sales team

There are three key mistakes, says Nicola, that many businesses make when they want to scale their sales team but don’t know how. 

The first is simple hiring more BDMs. “The assumption is that a brand new BDM will be able to build an entire sales engine for a scaling business from scratch”, she says. “They hire from bigger businesses – but the truth is that even a BDM from a huge company won’t know how to set up a sales engine as they’ll never have had to do it themselves”. 

The second is spending lots of money on tech. “Investing in a CRM can be useful”, says Nicola. “The problem is that many growing businesses will do so, thinking they need one, without thinking about processes first”. 

The third is a fragmented sales and marketing function. With a separate Head of Sales and Head of Marketing battling against each other, reaching prospects in the right way, at the right time and with the right message can prove challenging. 

So, what is the answer? 

Introducing The Sales Acceleration Model

For the last 20 years, Nicola has worked in scale-up businesses helping them build a profitable, scaleable, repeatable sales engine for growth. Her life work, as she describes it, has culminated in the development of The Sales Acceleration Model: a sales engine with 24 component parts. 

It’s a model that has four main building blocks: 

  • Sales strategy: “This is the plan that defines how you’ll get to the number”, says Nicola. It is formed of a number of variables, and gives a business a clear steer on how many transactions are needed, at what value and selling to whom, over what timescales. 
  • Team: Only after defining their sales strategy can a business work out the team they need: its competencies and how much resource is required. 
  • Tools: “In the olden days, your toolkit would be what you carried in your sales bag: samples, order forms, brochures and more”, says Nicola. “Today, it’s all about data, your tech stack, thought leadership and proof points on your proposition”. Your toolkit is what your marketing, s’marketing and sales teams need to do their jobs. This may still include physical elements, like samples and brochures, but also things like CRMs, marketing automation, dashboards, KPIs and other measures. 
  • Tactics: “This includes your skill sets and their execution”, explains Nicola. “It’s your culture, your motivation, your team capabilities, how well-focused they are. It’s about whether they have the right competencies and motivation to do what you need them to do to meet their goals”. 

After implementing The Sales Acceleration Model, Nicola’s customers have, on average, seen an average of 140% growth in their net profit. As well as working for startups looking to scale, it’s a model that can work for larger businesses, as well as those who are wanting to pivot. 

“I’ve seen cases where a well-established business with an established sales model wants to introduce a different route to market, or a new sales model for a different target customer”, explains Nicola. “They go into it thinking the same methodology will work, but it doesn’t. The Sales Acceleration Model gives them the framework they need to ask key questions that help them understand and devise the type of sales engine they need to succeed.

To watch Nicola’s webinar in full, click here.

Vistage members can also benefit from a free diagnostic tool by visiting this page.

Category: Performance Management / HR Personal Development Talent Management


About the Author: Vistage Staff

Vistage facilitates confidential peer advisory groups for CEOs and other senior leaders, focusing on solving challenges, accelerating growth and improving business performance. Over 45,000 high-caliber execu

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