Why can’t we build better sales managers? (Part 2)

Last week, I opened with the idea that we have sales management wrong.

Fundamentally, this is because we aren’t thinking/working from the customer interaction backward.

So, let’s talk about that customer for a moment.

According to research published by Demandbase (2018), B2B buyers said that the top five most important variables in making a buying decision are:

  • Deployment time/ease of use (77%)
  • Features/functionality (72%)
  • Solved a pain point (71%)
  • Reviews (65%)
  • Sales team demonstrated knowledge of our company and insights into our problems (64%)

Additionally, they also said that the top 5 winning differentiators of successful sellers are:

  • Demonstrated a stronger knowledge of our company and its needs
  • The timeliness of a vendor’s response to inquiries
  • Demonstrated a stronger knowledge of the solution area and the business landscape
  • Provided informational content that was easy to consume
  • Provided higher-quality content
  • (Note: 76% of all buyers wanted content to be tailored to their company)

Compare that with CSO Insight’s (2018) list of what buyers want from their sellers:

  • Understand me. Know my business.
  • Demonstrate excellent communication skills.
  • Focus on post-sale.
  • Give me insights and perspective.

Some pretty clear patterns emerge.

First, buyers are very focused on getting the kind of clarity that sellers don’t always have. When you add in the data point from Accenture (2018) that buyers are over halfway (57%) through their buying process before they even engage a seller, the narrative is pretty clear that sellers are either (a) not equipped and/or (b) not skilled enough to provide any value when customers often need the most clarity – defining what the heck is actually wrong/blocking their progress.

Second, buyers want to be the center of attention. In other words: no off-the-shelf content, off-the-shelf support, etc. You and I both know that they don’t care about your other customers. They don’t have the bandwidth for that kind of hypothesizing. They want EVERYTHING tailored to their reality – and their speed of life.

Third, buyers want their sellers to engage and support their business before AND after the sales process. In one of the more fascinating bits of the CSO Insights research, 90% of all buyers would be willing to engage sellers earlier if the business challenge was:

  • New for the buyer (34.1%)
  • Perceived as risky for the organization (21.1%)
  • Perceived as risky for the buyer themselves (19.1%)
  • Complex (e.g. impacted several departments) (16.2%)

I think this particular insight is incredibly important because none of those scenarios are limited to just “buying something.” They are all deep, intense, resource-dependent opportunities for a seller (and her team) to engage early and stay engaged long after the buying decision. But far too often, sellers are not successfully empowered for this kind of relationship.

So, what does this all mean to our discussion on the idea of sales management? I don’t know about you, but when I ask people to define the three most important priorities that sales managers must deliver, they are not:

  • Make sure your sellers provide clarity earlier in the buying process
  • Make sure your sellers tailor everything for their buyers
  • Make sure your sellers are empowered to engage and support buyers before and after the sales process

You can argue that Marketing and other functions are supposed to step up here, but if you have ever been a sales manager, you know exactly how hard it is to get consistent support from the other functions in these areas.

Then, when you add how much time it takes to actually do all of this – while also doing all of the other things that Sales Managers have to do (see last week’s blog for more) – and we are right back to my idea that we have sales management wrong. They simply don’t have enough time, if they are doing these three things at all.

What’s the bottom line here? I believe with all of my heart that a sales manager who can successfully do all three of our customer-centric priorities will make sure that the sales team hits its numbers. We just have to figure out how to make that happen (which I will explore next week.)

In the meantime, please share your ideas on (a) whether you see the problem that same way that I do and (b) what you would do about it.

I mua. Onward and upward.

By Tim Ohai

P.S. Here are the links to the research that I referenced – Demandbase and CSO Insights.

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