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B2B Selling: Five trends from 2016 and predictions for 2017

One of the joys of our business is that each day we get to work with some of the smartest sales and business leaders on the planet. While our job is to train their sales teams, we often learn as much as we teach. With this in mind, there are a handful of themes that gained traction in 2016 and we expect will have an even greater impact on enterprise selling in 2017:

Customers are more empowered than ever. Buyers are in control and they know it. This isn’t new, but it’s accelerating at an increasing rate. The implications are more and more clear, with some enterprise sales leaders reporting that buyers are as much as 90 percent of the way through their journey before they ever talk with a sales rep. Data sheets and solutions briefs are no longer a starting point for sales conversations, and the salespeople who fail to adapt to this dynamic are simply not going to make their numbers. Sales people need to become masters at reframing the problem set to differentiate their offering in the face of often unknown competition.

CEOs will increasingly abandon incremental changes in favor of big shifts. A 2016 study by KPMG says that four out 10 CEOs expect to be running significantly transformed companies in as little as three years. Our clients tell us market, competitive, regulatory and pricing challenges are forcing them to adapt quickly. And that leaders no longer have the luxury of time to see how their strategies play out. In short: the race will be won by those who adapt and move fast.

Tech spending will slow and the fight for budget will intensify. Gartner predicts sluggish growth in IT spending through 2020. Gartner also predicts that in 2017, the CMO will spend more on IT than the CIO, yet another indication that technology spend is shifting from the IT organization to lines of business. Sales organizations will need to adapt to smaller budgets by getting stronger at justifying the need for their solution. And they will need to develop the skills to navigate across customer organizations, new buying stakeholders and budget centers.

There will be more turnover of senior executives as CEOs look to spark growth. The average tenure of a CMO in Silicon Valley is about 18 months, far less than for B2C companies. We’re betting the axe won’t be limited to marketing, with leaders in sales, IT, product development and other areas on a short leash as well. Sales professionals are used to the perform or perish model in their own careers, but will need to learn to adapt faster to a changing landscape of buyers, competitors and influencers.

New roles and functions will become the locus of power and budget in the pursuit of growth. Old titles and portfolios are giving way to a new C-suite populated with executives responsible for revenue, digital transformation, privacy and security. Old customer entry points and buying processes are likewise being replaced by new centers of power and budget, which will vary from customer to customer. Sales professionals will need to become adept at understanding and managing the new buying landscape.

And one more: sales leaders will demand even more from salespeople. It’s true, the goalposts have always moved, so why is this a prediction? We see a new urgency driven in part by the need to capitalize on recent investments in sales force automation, sales performance management, sales enablement and related technologies. Our clients are telling us they will be placing more emphasis on change management and skills development to drive more productivity and effectiveness from their teams.

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Three Suggestions For Building A Sales Funnel In The New Year

If January marks the beginning of a new fiscal year for you and your team, here are three sales leadership suggestions that can help your team get started on building a productive funnel.

1. Define a Personal Quota Now!

It seems like the larger the organization, the longer it takes to distribute new annual quotas. I’ve witnessed some organizations take three or four months to distribute official quotas. The associated sales behavior in the absence of a quota is palpable. It’s no wonder why the first quarter is typically the least productive quarter for enterprise sales teams.

My suggestion is to select an interim aggressive growth target. For example, if your company is on a 20% growth trajectory, select a 30% or 40% growth target over the prior year for each personal quota target. Then develop each individual territory plan around this interim aggressive goal; including prospecting targets, call goals and so forth. The idea is to build and execute a territory plan without waiting for the machine to catch up. Then when it does catch up, the real but comparatively lower quota that actually gets assigned will feel like a relief rather than unimaginable, and your team will already be firing on all cylinders.

2. Identify, Develop and Roll Out a Strategic Initiative to Rally the Team.

Remember the adage, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” The idea is to select an initiative that is smart, achievable, adds to the success of the team, and moreover, is measurable. It could be a focus on adding services to every sale, or focusing on dominating a certain competitor, or a tactical target to call on three new executives in the largest account as just a few examples. Ideally it develops a muscle that is atrophied on your team, produces a measurable success, and is achievable. Use the initiative to spur action, share information, and further develop your own leadership skills.

Here are some key topics to include in your Strategic Initiative Plan and communication:

Why: Communicate why the initiative is important, and why it’s good for the team and individual.

What: Communicate tangible, measurable goals.

How: Communicate how the goals are to be achieved. This might include the identification of new skills, training, reading a book, activities that have not been used before, or teaming suggestions.

Consequence/Reward: Don’t forget to tie the initiative to a reward and consequence. It could be a specific SPIFF or a simple lunch on you, but a payoff is critical to the measurement and achievement recognition. Conversely, the consequence should be fair in proportion to the initiative and not arbitrary.

3. Celebrate Small Victories.

With twelve months in front of you, or three if you’re really quarterly focused, a strategic initiative can lose steam very quickly in the face of everyday distractions. Good leaders celebrate the small victories on the way to success. For example, if your selected strategic initiative is to call on three unfamiliar executives in your key accounts, celebrate success when each team member achieves their first appointment. The idea is to maintain a focus, keep the team motivated, and rise above the noise of the daily din.

Kevin Temple guides sales teams to be more agile and improve revenue outcomes. He can be contacted at kevin@enterprise-selling.com. The Enterprise Selling Group is a leader in delivering sales training, coaching and project oversight to improve the agility of sales teams around the world.