To remain competitive post-COVID-19, companies need to do much more than report they have achieved their fiscal plans to investors.

In the sales blog – Anticipate the next three, four, or five obstacles ahead we discuss the challenge that salespeople’s performance, consistently achieving quota is not getting better; it is getting worse.

Forward-looking companies are recognising this trend as a red flag that their sales teams may not be adapting to a data-driven approach to selling. However, for many other companies, they have been papering over these cracks for years, but why?

For the answer, we need to consider research from CSO – Selling in the Age of Ceaseless Change: The 2018-2019 Sales Performance Report that highlights that over 90% of companies are achieving their fiscal plans.

If those higher up in a company answering to investors, who have the authority to sponsor change, are not hurting because they are achieving their fiscal plans, what will compel them to change?

In the sales blog – Are you adapting your sales discipline to be competitive virtual selling? I referred to one of my favourite Warren Buffett quotes – “It’s only when the tide goes out that you learn who has been swimming naked .

With the lockdown crisis and possibility, we are heading towards an economic downturn not seen since the Great Depression; the tide has unexpectedly gone out and exposed cracks in many companies sales pipelines, sales behaviour and sales discipline.

Many companies will look back at the pre-COVID-19 era and realise they never had it so good. If it were not for this crisis, many would have continued to report achieving company sales targets, making their companies look good to a point, and accommodated salespeople who are struggling, many of whom were inconsistently achieving their quota targets.

Instead, COVID-19 has accelerated an already rapidly changing digital-first sales environment, which is quickly becoming the New Normal.

We will see rapid technology adoption and the sunsetting of other technologies. It is no different for sales behaviour and practices that were once commonplace being replaced by more agile, adaptive and customer outcome focused behaviour and discipline.

To gain a competitive sales advantage, where should I first focus?

To gain a competitive sales advantage, where should I first focus?

For some companies, the speed of change will be too fast, and cracks will be left exposed, allowing their competition to gain a competitive advantage.

For others, their transformative planning to upgrade policies and procedures, and focus on improving sales behaviour and discipline will competitively position them to become the next market and thought leaders.

These companies will focus on areas of weakness exposed by the current crisis. One area every company must focus is adapting and implementing better appraisal, development and reward systems, which we discuss in a series of sales blogs, starting with – How will you adapt to the new world of sales?.

Another exposed area of risk requiring immediate attention is to improve sales discipline required for strengthening sales pipelines. It includes providing sales teams with the coaching, development and tools to be more competitive in a digital-first world. These tools will not disrupt sales work regimes but augment with them, supporting salespeople and improving sales behaviour and discipline.

These sales tools will support more agile work regimes giving time back to salespeople to focus on selling and strengthening their sales pipelines.

They will be transformative, supporting greater collaboration between all stakeholders, including prospects and customers, required to earn trust, maintain transparency and deliver value.

These tools will provide management with the data required for useful analysis and reporting and support artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. We will discuss shortly, the value in data science is not found in massive datasets, but rather augmenting and applying human activity to use these technologies addressing real business problems.

A new data driven sales playbook is emerging

A new data driven sales playbook is emerging

In the Salesforce report, 26 sales statistics that prove sales is changing, Tiffani Bova presents a strong argument that there are no sales pitches in the new Age of the Customer. Today, the name of the game is “customer experience”, and the consumer is king.

Salesforce research – Third Edition State of Sales, found that customer satisfaction is the number one measure of sales success. To win at selling, salespeople must help customers to win too. I discuss this within our series of sales blogs dealing with sales playbooks.

One sales blog in the series – Why are our sales books failing us?  We discuss why the subtleties of conversation are involved and we should never take what people say literally.

The conversation is the surface of sales, whereas real selling is what goes on beneath the surface. Few take the time to go here, which is a shame because these very human insights give us the most significant leverage building and managing a value-based sale. Taking the time to discover these insights are at the heart of earning trust and value-based solution selling. Get this right, and you will also benefit from salespeople and managers delivering more accurate sales forecasts.

The Salesforce blog – Virtual sales is on the rise. Research tells us why, offers us further insights that sales teams are adopting new data-driven approaches. They are spending more time connecting virtually with customers and breaking down the silos that had prevented businesses from offering a connected experience through the customer’s buying journey.

The rise of virtual selling does not mean salespeople can get preoccupied with data and stop carrying a bag with them as they get more comfortable at their desks behind a computer screen.

The importance of building customer relationships and earning trust is as relevant today as it was before the shift to a digital-first sales environment.

We may live and operate in a more digital world that has reduced our travel time. However, our customers are expecting a more connected, personalised, rapid engagement. Companies and sales teams that are adapting to these changing rules of engagement will become more productive and thrive in the digital-first sales environment.

Now is the time to throw out yesterday’s playbooks. The actions that previously drove results may no longer be relevant.

You need to adjust quickly and develop new plans of attack. A successful data-driven sales playbook is one that provides and guides salespeople to build direct connections to the front line.

The front line is not tracking a sales lead through your company’s sales pipeline and reporting it in a forecast. It is not marvelling at the application of AI or machine learning to deliver more valuable insights, although this is a crucial component of the new data-driven sales playbooks.

The front line is your prospects and customers, their buying struggles, and helping them through their buying journey.

A data-driven sales playbook will help focus your salespeople on delivering value Selling the problem you solve, not the product.

We will have more insights at our fingertips than ever before. We can make more connections than ever before, able to chat with more prospects and customers from behind a computer screen than ever before.

As we are all forced into a digital-first world of virtual of sales, we need to throw out our old sales playbooks and embrace data-driven sales playbooks and sales plays.

Can a data-driven sales playbook improve poor sales behaviour and discipline?

Can a data-driven sales playbook improve poor sales behaviour and discipline?

Whenever there is a shift in the market and technology steps in to help. There will always be those who see it as a panacea to their challenges.

In the sales blog – Why do many sales teams struggle to manage a value-based sale?  We highlight why not focusing on helping buyers through their buying process is why many sales teams are struggling to manage a value-based sale and maintain an accurate sales forecast.

Technology will give us more information and data insights, and the application of AI and machine learning will help us make sense of it all. However, we still need good sales behaviour, discipline and selling skill, including virtual selling skill, to apply those insights delivering value and earning trust.

Data-driven sales playbooks need to include sales tools that adapt to salespeople’s working regimes and improve sales behaviour and discipline. Also, support sales managers to be more productive in managing deal reviews.

Improving sales behaviour and discipline means you must stop accommodating mediocracy – Your silver bullet is changing how you manage your inconsistent and struggling sales performers.

The new data-driven sales tools will break the silo mentality that has crippled many companies success to date. These tools will help salespeople to better deliver a connected customer experience across sales, marketing and service interactions. According to Salesforce research, 75% of business buyers say connected processes are very important to winning their business.

According to another Salesforce report – State of the connected customer, second edition 76% of customers expects companies to understand their needs and expectations. However, 51% of customers say most companies fall short of their expectations for great experiences. And, 54% of customers don’t believe companies have their best interests in mind.

If your sales teams’ behaviour is exasperating these customer experiences, your company’s ability to deliver value and earn trust will be no better than, possibly even worse than mediocre.

You and your company are at risk because post-COVID-19 prospects, customers, partners and your competition will be more focused and critical than ever before to delight customers in a digital-driven sales environment.

Companies who consider the panacea to the challenges posed by having to adapt to a virtual sales world is their sales playbook, risk also swimming naked. And they will probably continue to paper over inconsistent and inadequate sales discipline managing their sales pipelines, for as long as their senior managers achieve their quota targets.

Forward-looking companies will be planning for and deploying their digital-driven sales playbooks. It is here where we focus on supporting companies to integrate sales tools such as the Sales Pipeline Development Platform into their existing sales regimes and systems.

These tools guide the conversations salespeople have internally and with partners, prospects and customers, providing them with data and process insights that delight, deliver value, and earn trust to be awarded the deal ultimately.

Success in a digital-first sales environment requires discipline

Success in a digital-first sales environment requires discipline

The problem with data is it is incredibly noisy; you need to make sense of it. That requires considering the source, processes and situation from which the data is originating. Next, you need to test one or more hypothesis against the data, which for salespeople is their skill, asking questions. It is here AI and machine learning offer value applying data insights to real business problems.

And finally, you need to come up with insights deduced from asking hypothetical questions and your critical analysis, evaluation and opinion questioning skill. Good questioning skill and discovering insights is where the focus needs to be to augment sales behaviour, discipline and selling skill with technology such as AI and machine learning.

Data itself has little intrinsic value; it is the salespersons’ skill, supported by technology, to make sense of it and personalise it to deliver value and earn trust.

Samuel Flender, in his article – Data is not the new oil  provides a good explanation from a data scientists perspective why you need to consider the steps required to turn your data into profit. From a sales perspective, it is no different; your need to refine your data, which requires having the right tools, sales behaviour and sales discipline.

We can be as data-focused as we want if that data does not support uncovering insights helping buyers with their buying struggles to move along their buying journeys. Our data-driven sales playbooks will fall short of delivering value and create a false sense of security and success.

Data-driven playbooks and sales plays need to support our sales teams to adapt to different buyer groups’ situation. Adapting to our audience’s situation requires us to make human connections, whether physical or virtual, with all those influencing, making and following through on the decision to buy.

We need to ask questions that uncover and discover insights helping buyers deal with their buying struggles and move along their buying journey. We discuss the value of active questioning skill in the sales blog – Why are our sales playbooks failing us?

In the sales blog, – How should I develop and reward sales talent?  We discuss the need to guide developing your sales team and managers’ behaviour to balance achieving their short-term sales revenue quota goals and foster the behaviour, discipline and actions required to deliver your longer-term company value growth.

Salespeople cannot stop carrying a bag with them and get comfortable at their desks. To succeed in a digital-first sales environment, you need to steer a balanced focus on short-term achievement and the behaviour and discipline required to achieve longer-term business value growth.

That balance mustn’t release managers and salespeople from being accountable for achieving their short-term quota targets.

Sales pipeline management is a critical discipline in a digital-first environment, especially when sales leaders have less opportunity to sit down with their sales teams physically.

Pulling it all together

Pulling it all together

To be successful in a digital-first sales environment requires the sales behaviour and discipline to maintain a “pulse check” on all sales leads flowing through a sales pipeline, while continuing to work remote in a virtual selling. You may not be able to meet your contacts physically; and they may not want to meet with you, but that does not mean you must not deliver value and earn trust.

Your job as a sales professional, manager or leader has not changed. You still need to adapt your behaviour, sales discipline and internal processes and tools. That means you need to keep the focus off yourself and focus on discovering how you can help your colleagues, partners, prospects and customers.

How you behave, your habits and sales behaviour will continue to determine how much trust you earn. The world around us will have dramatically changed; the skill to earn trust, influence and move others, to build a value-based sale remains a constant.

Navigating virtual sales engagement and working remotely, including managing more effective deal reviews with your boss or your team, is where the new data-driven sales playbooks, using tools such as the Sales Pipeline Development Platform need to focus.

In the next sales blog – How do I leverage EdTech to reinvent my sales enablement? ( URL ). We discuss reinvesting your training funds and more into a sales enablement and training strategy supporting your business reinvent itself.

About the Author

Treve Wearne is the founder of Nazca Services Limited. Treve supports businesses and sales teams positioning themselves and increasing sales revenues. Improving sales forecasts, talent development and retention in the most challenging business environments.

Get In Touch