Monday, September 21, 2009

Influencing Sales Behaviour - Tips for Marketers

(excuse the image as a metaphor for influencing sales behaviour... but anyone in B2B marketing who has tried to guide what sales does will understand)

Being able to accurately understand and score leads is only as valuable as the likelihood that your sales team picks up those leads and begins to work with them. If you cannot change behavior in sales, then your lead scoring efforts are of limited value. However, if you are able to influence sales, the effect on your overall revenue creation can be tremendous as effort is focused only on leads that are nearly ready to convert.

Influencing, and ultimately changing, the behavior of a sales team, however, is a challenging undertaking. Sales behavior can be difficult to change, and it may seem as though there are limited tools at a marketing team’s disposal to help guide this behavior. However, there are a few techniques that can be used to guide behavior and ensure success.

Firstly, and most importantly, is buy-in. Both sales management, and the sales team, should be engaged in order to get their buy-in as early in the process as possible. Without this buy-in, it is extraordinarily difficult to enact the needed changes in behavior.

Sales Management

For sales management, there needs to be a common view on the fact that buyers’ buying processes have fundamentally changed, and that success in today’s environment depends on a shift towards understanding where buyers are in their buying process and aligning sales resources with only those buyers who are ready to buy. If this philosophical agreement can be reached, then marketing is in a good position to offer a much clearer view into buyer behaviors.

The next step with sales management is to reach alignment on metrics. In an ideal B2B marketing process, there should be common agreement on the definition of a marketing qualified lead (MQL), and that those leads will be worked on by sales. However, if the sales team is managed (and compensated) by metrics on activity, such as a number of calls per day, they will not respond well to a lower number of more highly qualified leads.

Sales Team

Getting the sales team’s buy-in, as discussed in last week’s video on lead scoring best practices is a matter of having them understand and agree with why a lead is scored a certain way. Both dimensions of lead scoring should have agreement from sales; the explicit criteria (“who” a lead is) and the implicit criteria (“how interested” a lead is). If sales is engaged early on, they can provide critical input into which of your content assets truly indicate an interested prospect. This forms the basis of your structure for how to score a lead’s activity.

Once a lead scoring structure has been defined, a clear marketing focus on sales enablement can show sales more detail on their leads, accounts, and territories than they have historically seen, and give them insight into the underlying digital body language of their prospects upon which the lead scoring is based.

These sales enablement techniques allow you to build credibility with the sales team. By showing the sales team incremental aspects of the value that your marketing team can provide, you can gain their trust, buy-in, and enthusiasm for leads that have been qualified based on their buying activities.

Carrots and Sticks

With the definition of a marketing qualified lead created, and the need for alignment between marketing and sales agreed to by the management of both functions, you can then build a process that facilitates sales, while still encouraging adoption of the overall system. First, with a Service Level Agreement (SLA) in place between your marketing and sales teams, you can define an agreement on how long sales should have to follow up with a qualified lead. If they do not, marketing is allowed to “claw back” the lead in order to nurture them, or pass them to another sales person.

If you manage this sales hand off carefully, the growing acceptance within sales of the fact that marketing qualified leads are better to work with can act as fuel for sales motivation to adopt the process. With claw-backs in place, having a lead pulled back and perhaps passed to a channel partner or another rep can be a strong motivation to act quickly. Likewise, for sales people who are performing well and are quickly following up with their leads, an increased flow of these leads can keep their enthusiasm high for continued quick follow-up.

Top-Of-Mind Presence

Like any initiative, keeping your efforts top of mind with your sales team is helpful for success. Prospect activity can be communicated in real time to your sales team with email alerts each time prospects do anything interesting on your website. Similarly, each of your successes with sales engaging with qualified leads can be marketed internally. This can build upon those successes and lead to a much broader awareness in your sales team that qualified leads are critical to their success.

Influencing Sales Behavior

Gaining traction with a sales organization is difficult for any initiative. For deeper sales and marketing alignment, however, your marketing organization must engage with the sales organization in order to facilitate a change in behavior. However, by focusing up front on buy-in from both management and the sales professionals, and at the same time delivering value at each step, this alignment can be achieved.
Many of the topics on this blog are discussed in more detail in my book Digital Body Language
In my day job, I am with Eloqua, the marketing automation software used by the worlds best marketers
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Bo Strömberg said...

Hi Steven,
You are elaborating on the fundamentals to enable change.
You don't say much on how to do it.
My experience is that the way sales management work with their sales force and the metrics are potential show stoppers in changing behaviour.
My challenge was to change the global sales forces' perspective from system sales to solution sales. I have been working with extensive training including customer (segment) knowledge and customer process analysis as key elements with Hutwaithe as partner for generic parts(SPIN and Major Account Sales Strategy).
We used role plays at REAL customers for the process analysis parts. This led to a gold mine for the sales person responsible.
And also th elocal sales managers were given new tools for supporting and managing their sales persons as well as coaching training.

Steven Woods said...

great points and I agree that there are many more parts of the task of changing sales behavior. Sales methodology is indeed another key one.