Modern sales managers are wise to rethink the classic sales commandment that “coffee’s for closers.”
While the ability to push a deal across the finish line is forever valuable, making an impact in the earlier stages of the funnel is also worth encouraging and incentivizing — with a tasty cup of java or otherwise.
Creating opportunities and developing new business relationships is a critical objective for B2B organizations right now, especially those that might be seeing a reduction in conversions due to the state of the economy. This is why “taking charge of top-of-funnel lead management and pipeline” is among the top sales ops strategies being recommended by leaders in the field.
When reps grow these skills, the organization benefits in a big way, so it is very much a worthy coaching emphasis. In his recent post at Membrain on today’s three frontline sales management priorities, Bob Apollo leads with this one: direct your coaching efforts toward early-to-mid stage opportunities.
“Ensuring that salespeople are focused on and skilled at these core complex B2B sales disciplines has a critical impact on the true quality and value of the overall pipeline, and the speed with which qualified opportunities can be advanced from stage to stage,” he writes.
Let’s explore some ways that sales leaders can nurture and build the skills of their teams in this essential area.
Usher Sales Reps into the Age of Human, Relationship-based Sales
It’s a little ironic: at a time where the mechanics of B2B selling have rapidly become more digital than ever before, the functional fundamentals are recentering on the human element. Jake Welsh wrote earlier this month at Business 2 Community about the revolution to humanize B2B brands:
“Despite the focus on digitalisation and the Industry 4.0 movement, we’re operating in a human era, where personalised experiences are expected,” Welsh says. “Customers are demanding companies to be more transparent, empathetic, open and authentic; to be less corporate and more, well, human.”
This puts sales managers in an interesting position when it comes to guiding their teams. You’re trying to help reps master new technologies and digital tools, while at the same time playing up the vital importance of coming across as real and genuine. It boils down to making relationship-building a central fixture.
“The days of formal sales pitches and service calls have been replaced with daily interactions in the context of strategic, collaborative, long-term relationships,” Welsh argues. Embedding this mindset is a key step toward a successful modern B2B sales strategy.
Preach the Power of Data for Prospecting
According to Gartner, 60% of B2B sales organizations will transition to a data-driven selling approach by 2025. This jibes with the trends we identified in the State of Sales Report 2020. By coaching reps to understand and leverage the power of data, you’ll be helping them grow essential skills for their own careers, while also moving your sales team in the right direction.
Forrester just released its SiriusDecisions Planning Assumptions 2021, which are designed to “help leaders uncover key trends to prioritize their resources and investments in the year ahead.” Among the core directives put forth: “Sales operations must improve capabilities to collect and analyze data.”
“The job of the B2B sales representative is no longer to convince customers to buy but rather to help them buy,” per a briefing on the report. “Sales operations must improve its capabilities to collect and analyze data to provide on-demand insights to reps and sales leaders.”
What does this look like in practice?
Create a Culture of “Quality Over Quantity”
Many ambitious reps have an innate tendency to gravitate toward volume and numbers: more contacts in the CRM, more opportunities to pursue, more potential deals. There was a time where simply running up the numbers might have impressed a savvy sales manager.
That time has passed. Mark Hunter laid it out well during his conversation with Meredith Elliott Powell in a new episode of the Sales Logic podcast, which ponders the importance of prospecting in the midst of COVID-19.
“I say you get a better prospecting list by the tighter, the more qualifications you have for that prospect to be able to fit into your list. Because here’s what my goal is. I don’t want just a thousand prospects. I want 10 prospects that I can spend more time with,” Hunter explains.
He adds: “The more time I spend with my prospects, my best prospects, the better the value I’ll create for them. The bigger, the solution I’ll be able to help them with and guess what? The better off they will be. And the better off I will be.”
Good advice for any rep who still views quantity as an aspiration.
Invest in Sales Coaching as an Asset
Being able to effectively coach critical skills for the modern era is itself a critical skill for the modern era – one that may be worth investing in.
That’s the subject of Barry Trailer’s latest piece at Customer Think: A Sales Enablement Conundrum: Who’s Coaching the Coach?
He points out that the sales outcomes and metrics most companies spend against are “important and all contribute to growing the business. But it is also important to grow your people. Like coaching, everyone appreciates the value of this sentiment but, too often, it remains just this: sentiment. How to get beyond good intentions to active coaching?”
Trailer acknowledges that the current environment poses some unique challenges on this front:
“In addition to the value of coaching which is generally recognized, and the rigor of coaching outlined above, COVID and remote working from home have added one more layer of difficulty to being a real coach. Not insurmountable but more difficult than when everyone is showing up in the same office or location. Do not be deterred; the effort is worth it and the growth of your players will be reflected in their improved results.”
Put Me In, Coach!
Sales coaching is one of the many elements of our profession that leaders should be rethinking and reconfiguring to align with a permanently altered business environment. Chasing quota and treating leads as commodities rather than human beings won’t yield sustainably strong results for modern organizations.
Closers can still have their coffee, but relationships are the straw that stirs the drink.
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