Sales Differentiation Strategy: Optimize Your Sales Process and Sales Coaching

Differentiation is hard and getting harder. Despite heavy investments in sales tools and differentiation strategies, most companies are no closer to a predictable or controllable sales function than they were billions of dollars ago. Sales Mastery just released some interesting data on the top sales enablement priorities for the remainder of 2020 and 2021. What struck us were the #2 and #3 priorities which are:

  • Optimize our Sales Process
  • Optimize Sales Coaching

Those are pretty big and broad ideas that could go a number of different ways that either help create a differentiation strategy or leave your company behind. And, getting them wrong could have significant impacts on already struggling organizations.

Florida State University found that 61% of buyers said sellers don’t understand their buying process. 68% said they don’t adapt to their situation. 90% of sales conversations were not important to the customer or differentiated. Think about that – 90% of what they heard was either noise, boring or just flat out annoying.

So, what about that 10% of the conversation that was differentiated? A full 100% of those meaningful interactions that were differentiated had nothing at all to do with the core product being sold. Rather, differentiation for the customer was based on things like process, people and their expertise, and platforms.

And, the way reps presented their company mattered. More memorable interactions were rated as more and better differentiated. These interactions took many forms, and only shared the common trait of impact.

Sales Differentiation Strategy: What Not to Do

For decades, organizations have been talking about sales process optimization and differentiation strategies. And they’ve been investing billions of dollars into it with diminishing ROI. In fact, a common assumption is causing much of the dismaying cycle of increased dollar (pound, euro, yen) investment for reduced ROI. Here it is: if only we could standardize our process and have everyone follow it. That’s our Sales Nirvana (cue the ethereal music). Unfortunately, organizations look at sales processes as an internal exercise to standardize on what matters to them. That is actually the exact opposite of how you should be thinking if you want to differentiate.

Here’s how you flip the script and truly achieve your Sales Nirvana.

Buyer Personas and Journeys Aren’t Enough. Why? Gartner has shared how the average buying team is now 11 people in a complex B2B sale. Answer this question honestly – how would you map that journey in any meaningful way when the 11 buyers have full control of what they choose to engage with?

You’re Not Creating Differentiation When You Standardize One Way to Sell. Your buyer could care less if you’re a Challenger shop. They want you to engage with them in the way that helps them make a decision. That may or may not be to disrupt or consult or something else. Your salesperson’s ability to engage the buyer where they are (agility) is non-optional today and going forward. Your top performers know this and incorporate your training into their tool kit (along with other tactics). Low and average performing salespeople are the only ones to follow the singular process you’re teaching them.

Don’t Assume that Your Managers Have the Tools They Need to Coach. One common misconception among organization is that their sales managers are the least of their worries because they were top performers who have been with the organization a long time. Another is that they’ve already “trained” them (with general leadership models and manager add-ons to methodology training). None of this training actually teaches your managers how to coach day-to-day and in a meaningful way. And, that’s a shame because the impact of sales managers on organizational revenue is significant. Our research found that it’s about $3.5M per manager, per year on average.

Sales Process Optimization: Create Differentiation to Win

Enhance your buyer journey insight with real, valuable data on your common buying situations. Every organization has 4-5 common buying patterns that make up a good percentage of their deals. Knowing what they are is invaluable to your sales and marketing team. The factors that make up these situations should be the centering principle around content and conversation.

Move from standardizing sales to providing a framework for agility. The only way to truly engage with your buyer(s) – remember 11 people – and create differentiation is to arm your sales team with data, tools and tactics that allow them to 1. Understand the buying situations they are most likely to face; 2. Learn how to identify them; 3. Call the right play based on what the buyer is sharing, and 4. Adapt the sales approach as the dynamics of the sale shift.

Move from ad-hoc coaching to a framework that teaches your managers what to coach and how to coach to make the most impact. Our research in Cracking the Sales Management Code and Crushing Quota revealed two important pieces missing from most sales management training. 1.) A framework that aligns high-level organizational goals with field-level execution by sales managers and their salespeople; 2.) A method that enables sales managers to identify the specific selling activities and metrics that are critical to the unique sales roles they manage.