Twelve Digital Disruptions of Your Sales Cycle

Twelve Digital Disruptions of Your Sales Cycle

GUEST POST from Geoffrey A. Moore

The good news for a salesperson selling into a disrupted industry is that the forces of change are bringing net new budget dollars to the table. The bad news is, the budgets have not yet landed. In effect, then, there are two kinds of sales opportunities to target. You can go after the landed budgets, the incumbent ones, knowing that they are under assault and will be dwindling, but also knowing that at present they can be deployed quickly and readily. Or, one can go after the much larger budgets that have not yet landed, the ones that will power the future of the target industry and your company’s role within it, but with the knowledge that this is a time-consuming effort that requires a completely different approach from the normal sales motion. Basically then, you can make quota in the short term while marginalizing your company’s future, or you can build a platform for the future while putting quota at much higher risk.

Of course, what we need here is an and not an or. And that is possible, provided executive leadership and compensation programs acknowledge this challenge openly and segment the field of play accordingly. The key distinction is simple. Selling into undisrupted industries requires to you to compete to consume budget, whereas in a disrupted one, you must create to consume budget. The first activity is conducted with middle managers charged with deploying operational budgets as efficiently as possible. The second is conducted with executives seeking to reallocate investment assets to meet the new challenge as effectively as possible. As just noted, these are two very different sales motions, and the challenge facing many sales teams today is that, like it or not, they have to do both, and do both well, if their companies are going to succeed.

The Impact of Digital Disruption on the Sales Cycle:

Here are twelve ways in which selling into a digitally disrupted sector calls for a radically different approach from what marketing, sales, and service teams are used to:

  1. Conventional lead generation does not work. It is based on hooking up with mid-level managers who have influence or authority over RFPs and budgets already in place. These people have no influence or authority over sales cycles involving redeployment of assets into new areas. All they will do is steer you to the old regime. Pursuing leads here will ensure you miss the next wave. And cold calling can’t succeed either. Executives employ people called administrative assistants for the express purpose of blocking your call. Instead you need to enable referrals, where a peer or trusted contact of the target executive enables the introduction.
  2. Product narratives don’t work. They are based on having an established view of the problem and of the competitive set. This is very much the case in non-disrupted industries but never so in disrupted ones. So PowerPoint presentations and demos don’t serve. All they do is disappoint and cause executives to redirect the salesperson back to a mid-level manager and an ever-diminishing established budget. Instead you need problem narratives, stories that surface the critical changes under way and that resonate with the business leaders undergoing them. That’s what the early conversations in the sales cycle need to be about.
  3. We need thought leadership here, people! Executives in disrupted industries are hungry for frameworks that can help them diagnose their new situation, envision a novel solution, and engage with peers to discuss their ideas. Slick slogans and asking “What’s keeping you up at night?” won’t cut it. But any vendor, be it a start-up or an established enterprise, who comes with a useful framework will get a good hearing, and the one whose framework gets adopted gets to orchestrate the others in building out a solution architecture. Narratives really, really matter.
  4. Relationship marketing is fundamental. Executives in disrupted industries are open to forming new relationships and are looking for a trusted advisor. To compete for this role salespeople need to monitor industry developments, personal information, and workflow status in real time so they can bring key issues and ideas to the table in a timely manner.
  5. Let’s get vertical, vertical! Digital disruption is unfolding on an industry by industry basis and manifests itself in ways unique to each one. That means that the early framing conversations need to be couched in the language and issues of the target industry, not the technologies and themes of the vendor’s industry. This requires marketing to develop a whole new set of muscles and sales to learn a new foreign language, which calls in turn for some judicious hiring of insider expertise and a sales training capability to get field teams up to speed fast.
  6. Sales and marketing need to map out a new customer journey. All sales cycles are built on an underlying model of the customer journey. These become the backbone of workflows through any CRM system. The problem in a disrupted industry is that the conventional sales cycle maps are all wrong because the journey is taking a very different route. Sales teams need to work with their counterparts in marketing to map out the new journey and align their sales cycles and their CRM systems to it.
  7. Proof-of-Concepts are necessary but not sufficient. To teams used to selling into non-disrupted markets POCs feel like going back in time, but they are key for disrupted industries where neither the problem diagnosis nor the solution prescription is well established. The challenge here is to manage them judiciously. Conservative forces inside the target customer will try to slow roll things here to buy time, whereas visionary sponsors may be too quick to want to leap to the full implementation. The trick is to make sure they are neither an obstacle to sales progress nor become a destination in and of themselves.
  8. Professional services organizations need to lean in. They have to provide insightful pre-sales consulting on a low-latency, cost-efficient basis, while still maintaining billable utilization via their other work. In addition, they have to take the lead in the first few implementations, where their role is often as not to be the chief spear catcher, and then be prepared to package up their expertise and hand it over to partners just when the projects become predictable and profitable. Running professional services inside a technology company is an incredibly important and almost always thankless endeavor. But as the next point makes clear, it is core.
  9. All offers are services-led—period. In a disrupted industry no one buys a product. The early adopters buy projects and the pragmatic majority buys solutions. Both of these offer types are services led. That means all proposals need to be services led as well. That is, they cannot be about products or even ROI; they have to be about changes under way and the responses needed to address them properly.
  10. All sales motions are land-and-expand. No responsible executive underwrites a massive re-engineering undertaking with a single check, even when they already have established a deep relationship of trust with a particular vendor. Most follow a three-phase approach, where the first phase is to prove feasibility, the second, confirm desirability, and the third, achieve scalability. There is no place in disrupted industries for fly-by selling of any kind.
  11. Customers have to step up too. This means that sales teams need to learn diplomatic ways for holding the customer’s feet to the fire, provoking them when they are not rising to the occasion, and holding them accountable when they do. Often this is best done through third parties, so creating communities of interest and sponsoring dialogs among peers become critical sales enablers.
  12. Change management becomes an integral part of every implementation. Getting the new paradigm adopted is key not only to the customer’s success but to the vendor’s continued expansion within the account as well. Service organizations and partners need to be engaged, enlisted, monitored, and compensated accordingly, and this initially at least has to be orchestrated by the sales team who has the winning proposal.

That’s what I think. What do you think?

Image Credit: Pixabay

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