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Sales Agility: Cross Selling

Almost every sales leader is familiar with this problem. Pareto’s law, otherwise known as the 80/20 rule, applies to most sales organizations. Eighty percent of their revenue comes from less than 20% of their solution portfolio. If you combine this with Forrester’s research finding it’s five times less expensive to sell to an existing customer than a new one, you will probably reach the conclusion that selling across the product line to existing customers should be a major component of any revenue growth strategy. Unfortunately, most sales teams lack the agility to execute on this skill set. But the good news is it can be learned at an individual contributor level and at the organizational level.

There are two factors that dictate the agility of a sales organization when it comes to selling across the product line. First, the learning model they apply to the challenge, and second, the accountability factor.

Left to their own devices, most organizations unconsciously apply the same failed learning model for new products. They shovel facts and capabilities at the seller, load on a couple of reference logos and call it a day.

Unfortunately, most sellers, even the brightest, hit learning saturation and can’t digest nor retain this information. Worse, this information does very little to prepare the seller to create need for the target product or differentiate in the face of competition.

I’ll share a real life example.

Years ago, I received a call from Brian Powers, the director of training for Dell at the time. Brian said my name was handed to him by a Gartner representative. He was calling to get my input on a cross selling challenge they were facing. At that time, Dell was in transition. They were attempting to fuel revenue growth by adding servers, storage and services to their solution line up. This was not a single new product addition; they were expanding their portfolio dramatically in an instant across three new product lines!

When I asked to see their training materials, I would describe them as glorified data sheets. They were attempting to shovel facts and specifications into the minds of their sellers, thinking this was going to get the job done.

I was not surprised to hear the initiative was not meeting expectations.

I was taught a lesson by a stereo sales person a long time ago. When I went to buy a home entertainment system, I was confused by the long system specification lists displayed in front of each product. The seller approached me and asked if I was overwhelmed by the choices. I acknowledged I was. He glanced down at my then five year old son, standing next to me, and said, I could ask you one question that will make this very easy to figure out. He had my attention. He asked, “do you envision entertaining adults in one room or on the patio with some nice music while the children are kept occupied in another room with a movie or TV show? I said yes. He then pointed to the system at the top of the shelf and said there was only one model that could do both. I went home with the most expensive system he had.

With that lesson in mind, here’s what we did to reshape Dell’s outcome. First we broke down each major product into a set of need creation questions. These questions come from analyzing the problems that can be solved by the new product, not the capabilities. For example rather than asking, “Would you like services to install a consistent operating system image on all 200 PC’s you’re buying?”, we had them alternatively define a problem set first. “Does your support team run into problems when the operating system installs are not consistent across the organization?” This creates the need for the solution by focusing on a problem rather than the solution itself.

As humans have evolved, we’ve developed pattern recognition for identifying problems, not solutions. We learned to identify a predator, feel the temperature change, or stop at the edge of a cliff with very little coaching. The answers to each of these problems took much longer to learn, pass on, or execute with consistency. From a learning perspective, problem identification is a more productive learning model than solution definition. This applies to sales as well. As exemplified by my stereo example, the seller only had to remember one problem definition to make the sale, versus digesting hundreds of specifications for comparison.

But learning isn’t the only obstacle. Accountability is as well.

Customers don’t typically demand the secondary products in a seller’s portfolio. Worse, if a seller spends time on a new product and gets beat by a competitor, they shy away from a similar time investment to insure they spend time on the in demand products.

In order to apply some level of accountability to cross selling, some teams stratify the quota by product line. Some incent with SPIFF’s. While others simply set expectations, measure, provide feedback and reward in other, non-financial ways. The success of any accountability strategy is highly dependent on the culture of the organization and leadership bench strength. Dell’s approach was the latter of the three. They maintained visible scoreboards, and publically acknowledged the success of the early adopters.

In any case, the learning model needs to be supported by an effective accountability model that compels application and rewards outcomes.

Within 30 days, Dell was able to track a 26% increase in their “attach” metric, an indicator of multiple products being sold in each transaction. This fueled their new product sales which grew to become a $15B contributor to their business. This is an example of a large organization learning to become agile again.

How well does your team sell across the product line? Do they need to improve their cross selling agility in order to continue reaching revenue growth expectations?

Kevin Temple helps sales teams optimize their behavior and improve revenue outcomes. The Enterprise Selling Group is a leader in delivering training, coaching and project oversight to improve the agility of sales teams around the world.

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