your Logo

The Pete Kloppenburg Showcase

More than you ever wanted to know about Pete

Selling in Uncharted Waters: The case for Sales Readiness PDF Print E-mail
Written by Pete Kloppenburg   
Tuesday, 12 August 2008 12:56

Sales readiness can be defined as “the ability to match messages and resources to a buyer’s developing understanding and requirements throughout the entire sales cycle”. This is a fairly straightforward definition, but it masks the enormous difficulties that sales and marketing organizations have in actually preparing sales representatives to sell product.

These difficulties can be seen in the familiar complaints that sales teams and marketing teams often have about each other. Marketing says that Sales isn’t doing enough with the leads they generate, and Sales says the leads are no good. Sales says the message didn’t work, and Marketing says that Sales didn’t deliver the message properly. And of course there is the eternal question of whether Sales belongs to Marketing, or Marketing to Sales.

The fact that these conflicts arise over and over, and endure despite the best efforts of sellers and marketers to sort them out, suggests that something fundamental is at work. This many smart people can’t all be wrong.

Conflicting Truths

The root of this problem lies in the contrasting ways in which Sales and Marketing conceptualize and address the basic selling challenge. You can see these two differing approaches in the books and concepts that form the bedrock of much of modern business, particularly in the high technology field where products are complicated, competition is fierce, and change is constant.

For Marketing, one of the most widely read and most useful books is Positioning, by Al Reis and Jack Trout. Using the concepts in Positioning, marketing departments search for the unique niches and messages that will allow their companies to carve out their own spaces and box out the competition. Having found that position, they build the messages and brands to support that position and work hard to enforce those messages in all communications. Other books such as Good to Great and Blue Ocean Strategy reinforce this idea, and give marketers a wealth of tools with which to find their position and craft their messages.

For Sales, particularly sales in high technology and other sophisticated business-to-business markets, the most useful concepts and books have been SPIN-Selling, by Neil Rackham, and Solution Selling, by Michael T. Bosworth. Both SPIN and Solution Selling emerged from ideas and techniques developed at Xerox in the 1970s, and they present essentially the same framework for selling.

The essential insight of SPIN and Solution Selling is that selling is a process that unfolds over time, and that order matters. The letters in SPIN refer to the sequence of questions a seller should ask a prospect: situation first, then problem identification, the impacts of that problem, and finally the needs identification or solution. The hallmark of the consultative sale is that it takes a long time. Many products and services are so complex, so expensive, and have such a big impact on the buyer that making the sale requires weeks or months of work to craft a deal. What’s more, the surest way to derail a consultative sale is to try to short-circuit the process by presenting the solution before the buyer is mentally prepared to hear it.

This is precisely the point where Sales and Marketing part ways. Through positioning, marketers craft a detailed and nuanced picture of their company’s solution. They then create a set of messages to paint that picture and work to ensure that every communication from the company supports those messages, including the white papers, datasheets, brochures, and presentations they provide to the Sales team.

But this message is merely the end point for Sales, the destination toward which sellers need to lead their prospects. By presenting buyers with the full message from the very beginning, sellers short circuit the sale. By pushing key features that differentiate their product from those of their competitors before the buyer has even identified their own problem, these marketing messages create resistance and provoke objections. In short, good marketing often makes for bad sales.

Uncharted waters

So where does this leave Sales? When marketers create the positioning and messaging for a product, Sellers have a destination of sorts: a vision of a problem and its solution that they wish to get their buyers to understand and accept. What sellers still lack are the directions for how to reach that destination.

Of course, a single set of directions aren’t enough. What sellers really need is a map, and the means to find their bearings. Every customer is different, with different circumstances and needs, and a different understanding of their problem and the possible solutions. Within a single company there are typically several different decision makers, and perhaps many more decision influencers. Using the same messages for both the technical decision maker and the business decision maker will not typically produce a good result.

And because sales take time and order matters, the questions a seller needs to ask at the beginning of a sale will differ greatly from the questions required in the middle or at the end of the sale. If the seller is going up against a competitor also vying for that sale, the seller has to be ready to counter the competitor’s arguments, or box out the competitor by defining the problem and solution in a way that favors the seller’s product.

Without a map of the sales process, sellers are left to take their chances in uncharted waters. Experienced sellers may be able to compensate, either by creating their own materials or doing a good job of handling the objections that arise when buyers are presented with feature lists for a product they don’t understand yet. Less experienced sellers will have a tougher time and won’t have a clear understanding of what questions to ask when, how to push a sale forward to the next step, or even what the next step should be.

For all sellers, selling in uncharted waters means that sales will progress slower than they should, some sales will be lost unnecessarily, and successful sales will be limited to the lowest of the low hanging fruit.

Sales Readiness

Sales readiness materials provide the guidance, information, and messages that sellers need throughout the sale. These materials include sales tools to guide sellers at different points in the sale and customer facing pieces such as white papers and brochures that advance the customer’s understanding and knowledge in specific ways at specific points in the sale.

With a complete set of sales readiness materials, sellers can quickly assess a prospect and formulate a game plan. It then becomes easier to gauge how well a sale is progressing. It also becomes easier to build value throughout the sale, uncover hidden needs, and justify the price when it comes time to close the deal.

Sales and Marketing departments quickly find that budget they might have otherwise invested in glossy brochures is better spent on pieces that more accurately speak to buyer concerns. The pieces they do create have more focus: instead of trying to tell the whole story to everyone all at once, they tell a particular part of the story to a particular audience.

Frequently when sellers are given sales readiness collateral (instead of the standard marketing brochure they are expecting) they will say it is the best marketing they have ever seen. Of course this is unfair; Marketing has probably created an excellent message and brand. But we do a disservice to this message when we force it to do a job it was never meant to do. By adapting Marketing’s message to Sales’ process and customer knowledge, sales readiness makes the most of both groups’ best efforts.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 12 August 2008 13:19