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Recall from Chapter 1 that Peter Drucker defined a successful marketing strategy as one that sells the product without the involvement of the sales force. Drucker’s thoughts notwithstanding, in reality very few products are so wonderful that they sell themselves. As a general rule, selling products and services requires a sales force that is well prepared to answer questions and lead a prospective buyer to a sale. In most organizations, the marketing department’s role is to arm the sales team with whatever resources they need to close a sale. We refer to this function as sales enablement. In short, sales enablement is providing the tools and training a sales force needs to win business.
Moreover, especially in B2B selling, the sales team is the most visible carrier of a company’s marketing message and value proposition. Your salespeople and channel partners spend more time in front of a prospective buyer than any banner ad or industry analyst. Therefore, it’s essential to provide your salespeople with the best possible training. For some reason, this seemingly obvious reality is lost on many marketing professionals who find training a required drudgery and would rather be working on a cool advertisement. Smart marketers understand that sales enablement is a competitive advantage. This chapter will provide an overview of good sales training content, using a sales playbook to teach salespeople, and developing sales tools to help them move prospects to customers.
How to Train a Salesperson
There are two types of sales training. The first type involves training in basic sales skills such as discovery, qualification, and negotiation. The sales organization manages this process. Sales management usually brings in an outside sales instructor to train the sales force in these fundamentals, either on an annual basis or as part of new hire orientation. This training typically involves one of the well-known sales systems, whether SPIN, Sandler, target account selling, or the newer Challenger Sale.
The second type of sales training involves helping the sales force identify and relate to the target buyers for your products. This is the training that Marketing is responsible for. Essentially, Marketing needs to convey all of the work it has performed to identify an attractive market, help spec the product, and package it up with an attractive value proposition. A best practice is to put all of this information into the context of the sales system your company uses. SPIN selling, for example, is a questioning methodology, so the training that marketing conducts should include questions aligned with SPIN. (We discuss SPIN later in the chapter.)
Finally, salespeople need to be motivated. Of course, they are motivated by their compensation plans, but a team that feels fired up and is well prepared is a dangerous weapon. Good sales training is equal amounts education and motivation.
Below are the essential components of sales training:
Identifying a Buyer – Knowing the ideal buyer profile is a very powerful tool for sales reps. It helps them to avoid wasting time with the wrong person and to navigate inside an organization to find the right person. This information should be a distillation of the profiling conducted in the marketing plan, vetted with sales leadership to make sure it aligns with real-world successes. Ideally it should include important points from the buyer persona and the buying center.
How to Qualify – Related to the buyer profile is the question of what the sales reps should look for. This is where qualification is important. Do prospective customers have the problem you solve? How do you avoid wasting time with tire kickers? Many companies use the BANT qualification mnemonic: budget, authority, need, and timeframe. A qualified prospect should have the money to spend, the authority to spend it, and a need that fits your product or service. Sales people understand how to qualify in general from their own experience and sales skills training. Marketing needs to train Sales on qualification related to the product and buyer profile.
Anatomy of a Win – The best way to teach sales reps is by example. And, like your buyers, sales reps prefer to hear from and learn from their peers. Using examples of sales wins, presented by the reps who closed the deals, is an excellent method for training your sales force. Marketing usually collaborates with sales management to recruit these reps and to prepare their materials.
Product Knowledge – Understanding the products to be sold is, of course, critical to the sales process. Studies have demonstrated that sales reps who understand their products and how they relate to customer problems are more effective than the proverbial back-slapping “relationship” account managers. Training should focus on how product capabilities map to customer problems and how they differ from the competition.
Pricing and Licensing – Once your salespeople understand how to find prospects and have gotten them interested in your product, they need to price the solution. Alternatively, the issue of pricing may come up in general terms during the sales process. Yet, many companies neglect to train salespeople and partners in this step in the sales cycle. Pricing is critical, so don’t make this mistake. Some companies train their sales reps on the value of their product to help mitigate the knee jerk reaction to offer discounts when presses by a customer.
Handling Objections – Your salespeople will learn how to handle objections generically in their sales skills training. Marketing should arm them with answers to common objections specific to your product or service.
The ordering of these components is intentional. Many organizations make the mistake of spending too much time on the product and product details. Yes, good sales teams tend to have deeper product knowledge than their peers, but they do not need to be product experts. Teaching a team how to find opportunities and motivating them to find as many as they can is much more valuable to organization’s top line.
If you ask heads of sales what they desire most in their job, the answer will likely be a repeatable, predictable sales process. The more one deal can look like another, the better a sales manager, director, or vice president can predict the likelihood of a win, and the better his or her forecasting will be.
This objective is difficult to achieve when different salespeople are selling in different ways. Though every customer situation is unique and every sales rep has a distinctive personality and style, more often than not there are common points in a sale as well as common mistakes or pitfalls to be avoided. Making your sales team aware of the critical points in a sale and how to avoid common mistakes will smooth out the process and improve sales efficiency.
This is where sales playbooks come in. A sales playbook is a collection of one or more sales plays – a series of steps to move an opportunity to a closed deal. The concept is analogous to a football team’s playbook that contains a number of plays for different situations (In contrast to a football playbook, however, sales playbooks should be simple and should contain only a limited number of plays.). Whether a company should employ multiple plays depends on the number of products they sell and the range of buyers they sell to.
All playbooks should include three critical pieces. The first is the description of the play. This is essentially a quick overview of the play and how it works, including the market, the buyer profile, and key trends. The second piece is comprised of step-by-step play activities. This information typically is presented as a workflow diagram that displays all of the stages involved in the play as well as the activities associated with each step. The final piece describes the tools and assets by step. – This is essentially a list of sales tools and customer assets, mapped to a particular step in the sales play, with guidance on how to use them.
A play starts at the point a sales qualified lead (SQL) has been handed off to sales, or when a salesperson has created a sales generated lead (SGL). The steps of a sales play should be aligned with the sales stages that sales management uses to track progress within their pipeline. These stages are not the general stages of awareness, research, consideration, and purchase that are part of the customer journey, as discussed in Chapter 11. Rather, these are specific stages that sales management has defined for a specific organization, its products and its customers.
Many of the steps in a sales play are sales fundamentals that focus on qualifying opportunities, discovering specific customer problems, obtaining agreement or quid pro quo from prospects, and preparing to close the deal, also known as “the close.” Each step should be completed in sequence and should include a corresponding set of tools that will aid a sales rep in getting to the next step.
Figure 1 shows a play that was employed very effectively by a team I worked with while at Symantec, generating over $500 million in software sales (I genericized the play to mask some of the team’s secrets.). Without giving too much away, the play worked because Sales had gathered specific information to qualify the customer, reps obtained certain quid pro quos from the customer in advance, and the security risks discovered by the product were presented back to customers in a compelling format. Sales leaders swore by the play, and they would lower the likelihood of closing a deal if they discovered a rep had skipped a stage.
Sales plays and playbooks are a great tool to align sales and marketing. After each play is defined and agreed to by sales and marketing management, a set of key assets needed to accomplish the sale will emerge. This will quickly net out the needed customer assets and internal sales tools. The assets listed in the sales play stages may be a little different from the asset map we presented Chapter 15, which included the awareness and research stages of the customer journey For example, a sales play would include internal assets, such as checklists for salespeople and pat answers to customer objections, that would never be used as part of a demand generation program. Note how in Figure 1 the sales tools used in each stage are listed.
A caveat on sales plays and playbooks: Without support from sales management, playbooks can involve a lot of work for very little gain. The best sales teams enforce the process, just as a coach would insist on running a play the way it was drawn up on the board. A well-designed sales play will have milestones that, once achieved, increase the probability of a sale and help sales management improve their forecasts.
Aligning Sales Training with Sales Methodology
As mentioned, many direct sales organizations use a specific sales methodology. SPIN selling, Scientific Selling, Target Account Selling, the Challenger Sales and Sandler are just a few of the more popular ones. Although each methodology is quite general, they all include prescribed methods for discovering sales opportunities, qualifying opportunities, handling objections, and negotiating.
People who sell for a living often consider training on sales skills to be more valuable than product training. It’s a part of their professional development, and it may help them close more deals than learning the latest product features. In addition, it adds to their overall sales skills, and it will serve them well even after they have left your company.
To better engage with salespeople and to align with their sales skills development, truly effective sales enablement should be conducted in the context of their sales methodology. Mapping information about your product or service into their sales methodology bridges the gap. Marketing will be speaking Sales’ language and giving them tools that they can use in the field right away. Plus, why would you leave it up to your field sales organization to do the mapping? Mapping is most effective when it is performed centrally and only once. This approach ensures consistency. More often than not, if you leave mapping to individual field reps, they will not do it at all, or they will attempt to do it on the fly, with mixed results.
To understand the specifics of alignment, consider the following example. The product marketing group in a company that employs SPIN selling creates a set of questions that connect customer problems discovered using SPIN with the company’s product capabilities. SPIN is a mnemonic that reminds salespeople to ask the following questions:
- Situation: Questions concerning the overall business or organization
- Problem: Questions aimed at uncovering problems or issues
- Implication: Questions intended to identify the potential negative impacts of the unsolved problem
- Needs-Payoff: Questions designed to highlight the positive impact of solving the problem.
When the product marketing team conducts sales training that is built around SPIN, they teach the sales rep not only the specifics of their product, but also how to communicate with customers concerning the product.
Certain sales methodologies also use charts, tables, or scorecards to qualify opportunities or to plan account strategies. Companies can create sales tools for their products that align to these elements. these sales tools can be included in the appropriate stage of they playbook. For example, the “Top Objections Guide” from Stage 1 in Figure 1 above was written in the style of Sandler, the sales methodology used by the sales team.
Aligning with a methodology may not work for companies that sell through the channel. The partners will have their own sales strategies; in fact, some of them might not subscribe to a methodology at all. If you have a large partner that does a significant amount of business, it might be worth dedicating the time to align a channel sales tool to their methodology. Otherwise, you can generalize qualifying questions and methodology-specific tools (We discuss channel enablement further in Chapter 19.).
Other Training Methods
In addition to formal training at sales kickoffs or academies, there are a number of other methods to train a sales force. In this section we focus on four widely accepted approaches:
- Webcast series
- Online training
- Whiteboard training
Webcasts are not only for customers. A regular series of webcasts on an expected cadence, or schedule, is a great way to reinforce training. In many organizations with large sales teams, however, webcasts and live training by themselves cannot provide the necessary training. For these companies, recorded training, delivered online with built-in testing, is an effective strategy to scale out training and build in certification. Some companies also employ this strategy with channel partners to get them up to speed and set a gate – meaning they have to take the time and pass the built-in test – to become certified to sell the product.
Podcasts – sometimes called “drive time” training —are an excellent medium for reaching a large sales force and allowing them to train on their own time, like when they are driving to the office or to an account. Podcasts are most effective when they are kept short. Producing a series of podcasts enables you to cover more material. With the proliferation of iPods, pushing out training information in MP3 format allows reps to learn even while they are on the treadmill.
Finally, training via whiteboards provides two benefits. First, teaching sales reps to reproduce a standard whiteboard presentation – created by marketing – gives them a useful sales tool for customer meetings. As we covered in the last chapter, whiteboard presentations are great for small, interactive meetings. Second, because reproducing a standard whiteboard presentation requires practice, sales reps will absorb the material, in contrast to a PowerPoint presentation that they may never read until they are in front of a customer. Figure 2 below is a step-by-step whiteboard presentation guide created to train sales and channel partners at PGP Corporation. The guide covered what to draw, in what order, and what points to emphasize.
Figure 2: Step-by-step whiteboard training guide created by PGP Corporation for training direct sales and channel partners.
In addition to customer-facing collateral like data sheets, brochures, and presentations, marketing – specifically product marketing – is often called upon to create tools to assist the sales team in winning. The tools can take many forms. One widely used tool is the call script, an example conversation a sales rep would have with a customer. Another popular tool is the calculator, which usually calculates potential cost savings a customer would gain, used by a sales rep to prepare for a customer call or to complete while sitting down with a prospective customer. In this section we examine some commonly used sales tools in more detail.
Call scripts are prepared scripts used by telemarketing or inside sales for prospecting on the phone. These scripts should contain a value proposition, an offer to interest the prospect, and a next step to commit the customer. They should also include answers to common objections. In addition, they frequently contain “branches,” or discussion paths, that a telemarketer or an inside sales rep can follow based on the answers customers give.
Discovery guides consist of a series of questions that a sales rep can utilize to discover customer problems or issues. A good discovery guide should offer a range of questions that reps can ask during meetings and phone conversations, along with a short description of how the organization’s products address the issues or problems.
Regardless of whether a prospect has sent out a request for proposal (RFP), he or she may be evaluating multiple products. The best tool for comparing products is a scorecard, which is a spreadsheet of criteria, weighted for importance, that outputs a score for each vendor. Creating and providing prospective customers with a scorecard weighted to your organization’s strengths can be a very effective sales tool.
Creating RFPs can be a lot of work for customers, and slanting the requirements toward your company’s strengths can increase your odds of winning. For these reasons, high-performing organizations provide sample RFP templates to prospects early on in the sales cycle. Sales teams prefer to avoid RFPs because they extend the sales cycle and increase the salesperson’s workload. However, many customers insist on using this process. When they do, your company generally will fare better if the RFP template resembles yours.
Providing satisfactory answers to common objections is critical in moving the sales process forward, and no organization wants their reps to be caught flat footed. Therefore, marketing should prepare objection handling guides that provide a standard set of answers to common objections. Top-performing organizations will actually practice using these guides to answer objections in live training sessions.
Prospects are often seeking to quantify the size of the problem or the value of the solution. Calculators, whether spreadsheets or small applications, are the ideal tools to provide these answers. Calculators can be provided by the selling organization, based on estimates or data from other customers, or by a third party with an objective stance or a comprehensive knowledge of the market. Calculators should enable customers to customize the inputs, weight the key variables, and generate a report that they can share inside their organization.
Battlecards — one-page summaries of how your organization lines up, or goes into battle, against the competition —are a common request from a direct sales organization. Battlecards typically list key selling points, discovery questions, competitive differentiators, and traps to set for the competition.
Case Study – The Vontu Playbook
Vontu was a security software company founded in 2001. Based in San Francisco, the company hoped to grow based on what was at the time a radical idea. Rather than designing software to keep out the bad guys, Vontu wanted to prevent employees from inadvertently or foolishly exposing confidential information from the inside.
At that time this inside-out, rather than outside-in, approach to security was unheard of, and no one was looking to buy it. This constituted a major obstacle for a fledgling company whose objective was not simply to sell their software, but to sell it at a premium in six- and seven-figure deals.
Vontu was dealing with a significant business issue – how to sell a brand-new security product for a lot of money that no one knew they needed. The company’s founders were confident that they could sell their product if they could communicate directly with customers and show them all of the confidential data their employees were exposing . The challenge was to convince prospective customers to meet with someone who was selling a product that solved a problem they didn’t know they had.
To overcome this hurdle, the company developed a play: offer the customer a risk assessment free of charge, and then have the sales rep follow up with a report that revealed all of the data that were leaking out of the customer’s organization. The sales reps now had an offer – the free risk assessment – and a natural follow up – the report – that demonstrated a pressing need for the product and thus justified the high price. Significantly, Vontu had designed its software so that it was easy to drop off an appliance with the software already loaded, connect it to the prospective customer’s network, let it scan the emails employees were sending out over a period of two weeks, and then print a report of all of the confidential data that were being exposed.
The play was developed by one of Vontu’s founders, Kevin Rowney, and its head of product marketing, Maureen Kelly. These two executives rolled out “the playbook” at an optional session during the company’s quarterly sales training. After a few reps reported success with this strategy, sales management made “running the play” mandatory. Management would question reps on weekly calls not just about their forecasts, but specifically where they were with the play on every deal. The risk assessment, or RA, was so effective in closing deals that it became a leading indicator – sales management could predict the odds quarterly revenue attainment based on the number of RAs.
Along the way, Rowney and Kelly made adjustments to the play. One problem arose when some reps rushed to offer the RA without properly qualifying the opportunity, thereby wasting both their time and valuable sales engineering resources. To address this problem, Rowney and Kelly incorporated qualifying questions to step one of the play. Now, a prospective customer had to be qualified before the rep would agree to have the first meeting with a customer. Qualifying also made this meeting more effective, because the rep had collected a lot of valuable information up front.
Another issue confronting Vontu was that the report was not being seen by the right people in the account, such as the chief information officer, the general counsel, and the head of human resources. These were the people who really understood the business risk posed by exposing sensitive intellectual property, customer information, and employee details. Vontu alleviated this problem by adding another crucial gate to the play. Before Vontu would perform the risk assessment, the customer had to agree to invite these key executives to the meeting where Vontu revealed the results. This quid pro quo, although uncomfortable for many reps, aligned perfectly with Vontu’s use of the Sandler sales methodology, which emphasizes the use of these “up-front contracts.” Requiring the business people, and not just the security team, to attend the meeting assured that the report received proper exposure. As a result, deploying Vontu’s technology frequently became a company priority.
In the end, Vontu helped define the market for what is now known as data loss prevention (DLP). The market mushroomed to almost $500M by 2011 and deploying DLP has become the highest priority for security teams in large companies – quite a contrast to the early days. In 2007, Vontu was acquired by Symantec for $350M. The play is still in use today.