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The Sales Readiness Index PDF Print E-mail
Written by Pete Kloppenburg   
Tuesday, 12 August 2008 12:52

What’s your Sales Readiness Index?

It is the nature of sophisticated business to business products that they are difficult to sell. Companies that sell well-established products and services face stiff competition. Companies that sell innovative new products often struggle to position their products in ways that help customers understand their value and create a sense of urgency. These are familiar challenges in the modern marketplace, where innovation is rapid, product categories shift constantly, and competition for the customer’s attention and wallet is fierce.

In our white paper “Selling in Uncharted Waters: The case for Sales Readiness”, we explore why many Sales and Marketing organizations have such a difficult time solving these problems. Put simply, Sales and Marketing can both do their jobs very well but still neglect some key elements required to achieve success in a consultative sale. Marketing can define a complete and compelling message for the product, but if that message is delivered too soon in a sales process, it may provoke objections and complicate a sale. Sales can follow a well defined process such as SPIN or Solution Selling, but if they don’t have an understanding of how to adapt the questions they ask and the messages they deliver to specific audiences at specific points in the sale, they will likely find themselves stalled, with no clear direction as to how to get the sale moving again. The solution to this problem is to focus on sales readiness: companies must develop a map of their specific sales process for their particular product and market, and then they must create the tools and messages sellers can use to push a sale forward from first contact to close. But for sellers and marketers, the more immediate question may be this: how effective are we right now at supporting our sales process?

Why an Index?

To help companies assess their sales readiness efforts, Tribal Communications has developed the Sales Readiness Index, a framework for measuring the maturity of a company’s sales efforts. Sales readiness is not simply a matter of having an established sales process, though that is certainly one factor. Sales can be done without any process at all, but it quickly runs into serious problems as the complexity of the product increases and the sales team grows.

As such, the Index does not measure adherence to a particular “correct” sales methodology. Instead, it measures how well companies frame their sales challenges and how well they respond to those challenges. It measures how effective companies are at converting leads into customers, and whether they can easily grow their Sales team to capture new opportunities. In particular, the Sales Readiness Index measures how well the sales process is integrated with the marketing message in a productive way. It also measures how well sellers can assess individual opportunities and determine the steps necessary to move a prospect forward in the buying cycle.

The Sales Readiness Index describes the stages that companies typically go through as they develop their Sales and Marketing organizations. These stages are based on our work helping clients meet their sales challenges and improve their sales results. The most important thing to remember is that the Index does not describe a necessary progression; companies do not need to achieve a level 3 sales readiness before they progress to level 4. Companies at level 0 can develop their sales and marketing materials with an eye to level 5 from the very beginning. But the Sales Readiness Index can help companies determine where they are now, and how they can improve and progress to the next level.

The Index

The Sales Readiness Index begins at Level 0 and ends at Level 5. Level 5 represents a stage of continuous, unobstructed improvement. Therefore, there is no need for a Level 6; companies that achieve Level 5 are on a path that leads always forward.

You should know that we are not aware of any company that has reached a Level 5, and we suspect very few have reached Level 4. To some extent, the index describes the growth and development of entire companies. However, even some large, established companies remain at Level 0 and small companies can achieve Level 3 or higher.

As you read through the descriptions, you may recognize stages your company has experienced in the past, and you may see stages you aspire to reach. Try to be as objective as possible when ranking your own organization; by accurately identifying what you are doing today, you can determine what you need to work on so you can do better tomorrow. Ask others in your organization for their input; poor communication between the Sales and Marketing teams is very common, especially throughout Levels 1 to 3.

Level 0: Ad Hoc

The company has no marketing collateral, or very little. Sellers are intimately knowledgeable about the product and the market. There is no separate Marketing department: sellers effectively handle both roles. Sellers often create their own supporting materials when they need them, such as PowerPoint presentations and datasheets. New sales reps are difficult to add and have a long ramp-up time. Sales pipeline management is done mainly by instinct and experience, and estimating wins and closing times is hit and miss. New prospects often come by referral or personal contacts.

Level 1: Basic

The company has established separate Sales and Marketing teams. Marketing develops collateral consisting of brochures and web content limited to describing product features and functions. Marketing collateral is often created in response to customer requests. Often a single piece of collateral such as a brochure is employed in multiple situations, for multiple audiences. The same brochure is offered to the business executive at a trade show and to the technical decision-maker in a sales meeting. The company has no explicitly defined messaging, positioning, or sales process. Sales reps often experience difficulties going up against more established competitors with more robust marketing collateral, and must spend a great deal of time on each sale educating customers as a result.

Level 2: Competitive

In response to competition, the company creates a set of “me too” sales and marketing collateral. Pieces are chosen to match what an established competitor has on their web site. Quantity of the collateral is emphasized, to demonstrate that the company can compete for the same customers, in the same space, as more established vendors. The Marketing team has the beginnings of a formal messaging and positioning framework, emphasizing unique features and advantages over the competition. The Sales team may have adopted some established sales methodology such as Solution Selling or SPIN, but the sales training is never refreshed or reinforced and compliance with the process is spotty. Sales pipeline management largely focuses at either end of the sales process: at the number of qualified leads delivered by Marketing and at the number of prospects the sales reps judges to be close to closing. Sellers are often surprised when expected sales fall through, and may have difficulty justifying the price of the product.

Level 3: Positioned

A formal messaging structure is in place that positions a company or product as a distinct alternative to competing solutions. The company has a defined brand, explicit value propositions and an elevator pitch, which are reviewed and updated only at major releases. Collateral is created to support the message. The company often follows an established sales methodology and has a well established CRM tool, which is used for pipeline management. Marketing is focused on generating leads to give to sales, and big campaigns are executed to find leads and drive sales. Sales efforts are largely a numbers game, revolving around following up leads, making presentations and creating proposals. The sales team is aware of the positioning and the collateral that Marketing has made available, but they often develop their own tools and ways of describing the product. Sellers often encounter objections when they present marketing collateral, and have developed ways to avoid using the collateral or handling the objections. New sales reps still take a long time before they become productive, time they spend developing an instinctive feel for the sale.

Level 4: Aligned

Marketing collateral is chosen and designed to support the sales process from beginning to end. The company has defined the customer in terms of circumstances, rather than demographics, firmographics, or market segment. The sales process has been mapped out in terms of uncovering customer needs, developing a custom solution, building value through the sales process, and winning sales based on value, trust, and understanding. Sales reps can gauge individual prospects in terms of how far they are along this process of building value and understanding. Based on pooled historical data, they can evaluate the size and health of their sales pipeline. Sales pipeline management is not simply about estimating the chances and timing of closing the sale; it is about understanding how to develop a prospect and move them through the buying process. Sales readiness collateral is designed to deliver specific messages to specific audiences at specific points in the sale. Sales reps always know what steps are necessary to move a specific opportunity forward, and which supporting pieces can help them. New sales reps can learn quickly and become productive in a short period of time.

Level 5: Evolving

Sales reps can identify gaps and misalignments in the sales readiness collateral. New markets and opportunities can be spotted and added to the sales effort. Metrics are gathered to identify slow points in the sales process and to help refine the pipeline valuation process. Sales and marketing meet regularly to review the overall process and suggest paths for improvement. Best practices are shared and successful or unsuccessful sales can be reviewed and analyzed for lessons learned. Sales forecasting is reliable, and the company can accurately plan for growth and react to new opportunities.

Getting Ready

You can use the Sales Readiness Index as a benchmark to determine how well you are doing now and where your company has room for improvement. If you are still uncertain as to where your company fits on the index, please contact Tribal Communications to learn more about the index and get our help to assess your sales readiness.

If your company is not as sales ready as you’d like, the next step is to start changing the way your company approaches selling. Instead of sending your sellers out into uncharted waters, start mapping your sales process and adapting your messages to match how your customers actually buy. Tribal can help with this too; we have the knowledge and experience to help companies make the most of their sales and marketing know-how to meet every challenge and opportunity you may find.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 12 August 2008 13:18