Flat technology sales? Is your sales model faulty?

14 February 2016 by Charles Howden

Picture this. You are the CXO / CTO / CFO of an early stage technology company. Your funding has been secured (no doubt after a lot of work and some sleepless nights) and now you are feeling the pressure of having to generate the reliable sales growth you confidentially supported your funding application with.

You are now in month two or three and your Q1 figures show a flat trajectory and little change from any previous quarter you’ve seen. Worse still, the news from the sales team is confused and unclear. “We need longer!” “We need better pricing!” “We need a better product…!” Ouch! Not what you want to hear just in advance of an investor meeting.

So what’s going on? Before you leap into the fray (I know it’s tempting), take a step back and look at the bigger picture of what is going on in your sales delivery.

Start with your value proposition. You may have a clear understanding of what your technology does, how it works, and the problems it solves for a target market, though how well do your sellers understand it? How are they using it to support their sales activity? What kind of conversations are they having with sales prospects?

Move on to looking at your sales model, which you can determine by simply listening to sales calls, and sitting in on conference calls. Are your sellers using pre-formulated problem / implication / value questions that support a consultative sales model and capture margin? Or are the calls punctuated by fraught feature / price led statements straight from the commoditising transactional sales space?

And finally, consider the alignment of your sales activity with your prospect’s buying stages. Are your sellers focusing on advancing their prospect through a series of pre-determined sales stages, securing agreement and involvement at each point? Or is it to “close” the sale whether or not it is at this final stage and actually closable? Yes, you may need to secure new business, though this does not make your early stage opportunities any more receptive to actually being “closed” (the “first date” dating metaphor is highly appropriate in this context). Shortening the time between each stage is the aim, rushing to the end goal and missing out critical stages, is not.

At which point, you may have identified enough weaknesses to add to your already too long to-do list. And without addressing these (sometimes re-jigging the numbers on the spreadsheet may seem like an easier fix) fast-forward three months to the end of Q2, will anything have changed? Time may already be running out.

So what’s the answer? For technology businesses with complex propositions, here are the five steps to follow to achieve dependable sales results:

Step One: Identify the sales model your business should be operating, which will sit somewhere on the consultative – transactional continuum (the more cutting edge your technology is, the more likely this is to be at the consultative end). This is essential not just so that your sellers know how they should be selling, but also so that you know what sort of seller you should be hiring (and maybe even firing).

Step Two: Unpack your value proposition to its basic elements to support your sales model. What (precise) problem does your proposition solve, for which roles in what markets, generating what ROI over what period. So that marketing and sales know to whom and to where, they should be directing their attention.

Step Three: Determine the buying stages of your target market for a proposition that requires the level of investment your technology requires. Build these into your CRM, each step through which should only happen on the basis of verifiable events.

Step Four: Populate your sales model with selling tools that help your prospects to understand their unaddressed problem state, the implications of not finding a solution to it, and how your proposition represents the most risk free solution, at an ROI that is acceptable. So that sellers are completely clear about how to actualise the sales model, and their efforts can be managed through their success at progressing opportunities through the mini-milestones set up in your CRM.

Step Five: Take everyone involved in your sales effort (marketing, pre-sales, sales, post-sales, customer services, and even product development) through the journey. If you want your business to be customer facing and fully sales orientated, then widening the understanding of how the process should be working will help everyone to make their own contribution towards achieving it.

Changing your sales model will change your sales trajectory. And it becomes a whole lot easier if you know what the steps are, and of course, if you start in advance of when you need your sales line to take off.

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