Start the Year Strong: What Sales Leaders Are Doing Now
As we close out a year of widespread economic uncertainty, many leaders are looking for ways to boost morale and prepare their teams to maintain or even recover revenue in a competitive market. The start of the year is an opportunity to capitalize on the mindset of a fresh start. Your sales team is setting goals and habits for the new year, and SKOs and strategy sessions are shifting their approach. The first month or two will be crucial in setting the foundation that will determine your organization’s success this year.
Now is the time to lay out a bold strategy and empower reps to take control of closing bigger deals, stacking pipeline and driving toward organizational goals. Here are three strategies that leaders are using to start the year strong with a message that reinforces their value in a competitive market.
1. Align with Your Buyer
In the changing environment, your buyer’s challenges may also be evolving. Your sales teams are doing their best to find new buyer challenges and align the value of your solutions to them. However, when numbers are behind, that value message may turn to shortcuts like abridged sales discovery and increased discounting. More often than not, these conversation shortcuts result in low-margin contracts.
Don’t settle for less because of economic anxiety. Double down on value negotiation to validate a premium price for your solution. The only way to ensure your salespeople can execute a value-based conversation under pressure is to ensure your entire company is operating with a buyer-focused mindset. Start to shift the narrative by asking these questions:
- How have your buyers' needs changed?
- Can you solve these new problems? How do you solve these new problems?
- What differentiators make you better equipped than the competition to address your buyer’s new challenges?
- How are your salespeople equipped to articulate your value and differentiation as it relates to these new challenges?
Even if you’re already equipped to address new challenges, it’s critical to ensure those capabilities are articulated to your customers in a way that impacts their business outlook. Develop a language around addressing new buyer needs to ensure your value is communicated in every opportunity. Your reps’ ability to tie your solution to the positive business outcomes that your customers desperately need at this moment is the key to hitting sales numbers in our tightening economy.
Don't Wait. Get Busy.
Set your team up for a strong year by ensuring executive alignment. Start by pulling your executive team together to align on the essential questions. If you asked your leaders these four questions, how many different answers would you get?
What problems do you solve?
How do you solve those problems?
How do you do it better and/or differently than the competition?
What’s your proof?
Consider how executive misalignment is impacting your buyer message. If your company isn’t aligned on the answers to these questions, it’s likely that every department in your organization is interpreting their own version of buyer value and solution differentiation. That disjointed message is probably harming your value, which manifests itself in:
Too much discounting
Long sales cycles
Too many deals lost to no decision or “not right now” decisions
Once you have that executive alignment, the next step is enabling your sales teams to articulate that value and differentiation. They must adapt that message to convey ROI that matters to the individual buyer. That means they need to be armed with discovery skills and proof points that allow them to respond to buyer concerns in real time.
In an environment where every deal is critical, you will struggle to meet your numbers if your reps don’t have these skills. Approach training through four lenses:
Mindset: The buyer needs to be a focal point of your sales execution process. You need your entire commercial organization operating with an outside-in mindset.
Process: What process achieves the desired outcome? What key benchmarks can sales reps and managers look for in a deal to validate this process?
Tools: What tools and skills are you giving sellers to execute a buyer-aligned sales process and conversation? How are you enabling managers to lead them through this process?
Content: Provide them with content to guide their journey to a new mindset and process. Here are a few resources your sales team may find value in:
Many companies think they’re aligned, but a quick analysis of the four essential questions and the above framework often reveals some gaps in the sales organization. Assess your own teams and determine where you have room to improve and elevate your strategy. Then, implement the new buyer-focused process that will ensure successful revenue outcomes this year.
2. Make Your Sales Teams Voracious Qualifiers
Sales qualification is key to efficiently closing revenue in your organization, particularly when resources are limited. The organizations that enable their teams to be voracious qualifiers will remain competitive in today’s market. Put your team in this league by introducing a rigorous qualification framework early on in the year.
Sales qualification is too often viewed as a side dish to the forecast - a “nice to have.” The truth is, qualification is a vital ingredient in nailing your forecast. Below are some common reasons sales organizations struggle with qualification. If any of these traits are applicable to your organization, improving your qualification process is a great way to drive revenue momentum this year.
Too Focused on the Short-term
When working in a scarce economy, it’s easy for sales leaders and teams to become zoned in on the current quarter and forecast. They’re treading water just trying to make the number, having qualification conversations much too late in the quarter or in the buying process. They stop building future pipeline. When your current deals are tied to the current forecast, you lose leverage and start focusing on just closing the deal at any cost. It becomes a never-ending cycle.
Everyone on your team should be on the same page about what makes a great deal and the key indicators of each deal stage. When account leaders are saying one thing, the sales team is saying another and leadership has a third language — no one is truly clear on the language they need to be using. Can you truly trust the validity of every deal? Consider how much strain this miscommunication and alignment puts on the forecast and your ability to accurately predict revenue.
Managers Not Equipped to Coach
To start the year with a solid foundation, it’s essential to effectively equip managers to coach reps on their deals. It’s easy to assume because managers are pros at selling, they understand how to guide others, but effective teaching is a skill in and of itself. Without the right direction from the organization and consistency in the sales process, managers are either too relaxed about qualification or hold strictly to benchmarks without helping sellers build the roadmap to get there. Don’t minimize the importance of teaching managers how to coach and not just enforce.
Why Voracious Qualification is Essential to Success
It’s easy to let the ball drop on qualification because it’s one of those sales fundamentals that we may lose sight of when we’re looking at a big opportunity or a large new logo. As passionate sales professionals, we’re easily influenced by the energy of the opportunity. Yet, it is almost impossible to consistently hit numbers and pursue growth without an objective qualification process.
3. Make Sales Negotiations a Process, Not an Event
Prepare your team to preserve margin, regardless of what changes the year brings, by creating an intentional negotiation strategy. With more hoops to jump through due to tighter budgets and high scrutiny on the customer side, negotiation will be key to revenue this year. Are you confident you have a widely accepted, formal definition of what determines a great deal for your company? Now is the time to get that agreement. Implement a common framework for negotiation across your entire organization to:
Provide customer-facing teams guidance on the specific priorities they are looking to address in negotiated customer agreements
Help salespeople determine the negotiation strategy needed to manage various stakeholders and reach an agreement consistent with those priorities
Ensure negotiated agreements and prices reflect not just your product, but relevant positive business outcomes for the customer based on their current concerns
Your salespeople are likely working with an increase of interested parties on the buyer side, experienced buyers who are working with strict budgets and solution requirements. They will identify and exploit the lack of alignment across your selling organization to gain leverage and minimize their costs. Remember that negotiation is an organizational competency, not just a sales skill. Share these top negotiation resources with your sales team to improve their ability to negotiate and sell on value to improve margins consistently.
Lean Into Opportunity
As you establish a bold revenue strategy for the year ahead, consider investing in your sales teams and improving their ability to execute. We're working with teams right now who are increasing pipeline and closed-won deals by figuring out the best opportunity to drive revenue and leaning into it to start the year strong.
Now is the best time to make a change.
Changing customer problems can represent an opportunity for your organization to move in on untapped market needs, secure new logos and surpass the competition. Embrace this opportunity by equipping your team with the right tools. Determine where you can have immediate impact on your goals for the year and create the foundation to repeat that success.