Pop quiz: name three companies who’ve mastered the art of sales acceleration today. You’ll likely pick giant performers. Answers might include Apple, SAP and Salesforce, or maybe exciting newer companies like Shopify, FAEF, YOUi Labs Inc., and Kinnser Software. Did you put your own company on the list?
If not, the reason goes far beyond your sales record. It has everything to do with a set of beliefs around what drives and sustains success in this market.
I’ve spent my career studying the winning habits of the best performers in all kinds of markets. And let me assure you: there’s no secret magic formula behind sales acceleration. The formula is obvious, repeatable, and applicable to all businesses.
Companies either embrace a smarter way of working in today’s market. Or they won’t, and will fail.
You are either right on the money, or you’re not.
Rethink the Customer Engagement Lifecycle
Take what you thought you knew about customers and put it upside down. It used to be that buyers didn’t know who sellers were until they called them. Today, it’s the opposite. Now, buyers only reveal themselves when they’re ready, and only on their own terms—not yours. It used to be that sellers had to seek out buyers aggressively with cold calls. Now, buyers do their own research, qualifying companies with referrals and credibility checks and then they cold call the seller! You must adapt to this radical transformation by making yourself known. It’s already happened. With a market that’s now driven by the buyer, your sales team’s job now is to accommodate this shift from selling to facilitating buying.
I have a client who wasn’t hitting their revenue numbers. They wanted me to help them with their closing rate. Turns out their closing rate well exceeds anything I have ever seen! It’s legitimately into the 70% range. Their problem isn’t closing opportunities: it’s opening them. Not enough buyers know who they are. Once we started this company on an awareness campaign, they tripled their opportunity creation and got revenue back on track. Now, they’re right on the money.
Remove Time as Friction from the Buying Process
Buying today is as much about timing as it is about quality, convenience, or even value. Show up at the right time and you’ve eliminated a key friction point that stands between you and your customer. You see examples everywhere. McDonald’s deliberately chooses a new location on a major roadway where it predicts drivers will be really hungry and ready to hit the drive-thru window for a bite. And then Wendy’s does the same thing across the street. Grocery stores and direct-mail marketers do this, too: carefully placing the right product within your reach at the right time. That’s why I call this time-based branding. Embrace it and thrive: or ignore it and get beaten by a smarter competitor.
Make your Buyer an Insider
Blow up a major assumption about the marketplace that just isn’t true anymore: that selling is somehow still about creating partnerships with your customer. Boom! The truth is that buyers have moved on. That began with their demand for customized, scalable solutions. Sellers scrambled to include buyers more tightly in the sales process. And yet even then, many still treat the buyer like an outsider—as something to be managed! Don’t do this. Bring your buyer in. Show them that doing business with you means gaining privileged access to resources, insights, and benefits.
Engage clients that are right on the money embrace insider selling by positioning their sellers as conductors rather than pinch points. They ask their sales team to manage customer success teams. That might include a sales manager, a customer service rep, an installation specialist or an accounts receivable employee: asking them to each develop at least three relationships inside key accounts. You retain and grow your clients by developing more relationships, not by hoarding just a few.
While sales processes have changed a lot over the years, sales compensation plans have not. It’s shocking. Some sellers today are paid the same way they were in the 1970s (only adjusted for inflation): a one-size-fits-all mindset in which money is used to both motivate and create fear. And it’s ineffective. You need a personalized incentive plan that reflects how sellers work now, and is in alignment with your company’s goals and performance management standards.
How’s this for radical? Some high-performing companies are dumping commissions completely and opting to pay the team a full salary with the expectation that they hit commission. They get a bonus for accelerating, and risk losing their job if they fall shorter than a set benchmark. Plans like this are helping these companies to create a 100% @ 100% culture.
Don’t Squander the Bounty
Today’s marketing programs give you an overflowing abundance of insights on buyer behaviour, high-quality leads, and quick-changing market trends. And yet many just squander it. Look at the facts: sales closing ratios today are stagnating at 33%. That’s in spite of the fact buyers are already 60% through the sales cycle before a salesperson is even contacted! This is happening while very modern, very expensive marketing and automated systems are running 24/7 in the background to keep sales pipelines filled to the brim with prequalified buyers. So what’s going on here? It’s inertia. Sales leaders keep telling themselves this is just the way selling has always been done, rather than seeing it for what it is: a problem that needs to be fixed.
Control Data Before it Controls You
To be right on the money with steady sales growth, you must keep your existing customers while gaining new ones. Data helps you do both, but only if you do it right. Most companies rely on data to locate and target new buyers with offers, but the smart ones do more. They also use it to create early-warning systems for customer defections, to forecast report inaccuracies, buyer disengagement, market stagnation, and profit-margin erosion. You don’t get these things through guesswork. You grow only if you’re first able to predict losses and respond, and if you also understand the meaning behind all that data and know ahead of time what you’re looking to measure and why.
Embrace Instant Gratification
Today’s buyer refuses to hurry up and wait. They instead have a wait-and-hurry-up mindset. They wait until the time is right to buy, and then expect companies to fulfill every requirement immediately and without fail. Market leaders in instant gratification—Netflix, Amazon Prime and Spotify—have normalized this expectation. Mastery here means you can then leverage those expectations into quick sales, generate predictable repeat orders, and instill deep evangelism in your customers.
Embrace the New Performance-Management Culture
Being a top seller is the salesperson’s job. The sales manager’s role, on the other hand, is to teach and refine the seller’s skills to help them hit their peak and stay there. Your best sales managers succeed only when their top salespeople are outperforming what they once achieved as sellers themselves. Take those wins and learn how to use top sellers to your team’s advantage. That’s the new performance-management culture. It also means sub-par performance is not accepted: 100% of sellers are expected to achieve 100% results. Just as important, where measurement happens in real time, feedback is implemented instantly. Customers also have a say in how everyone is measured.
To conclude: there is nothing standing in your way of being right on the money, or staying there if you have already reached this state. Challenge your beliefs, change your behaviours and grow. Or ignore the massive changes that have already happened in the marketplace and be ready to deal with the risks and pitfalls.
Colleen Francis is president of Engage Selling.