You Need a New Sales Strategy To Beat the Competition

By Mark Borkowski

Top-line growth is where it is at for all companies.  The fact is that it’s rare, precisely because it’s difficult.  Astute managers armed with spreadsheets can financially engineer any enterprise using industry agnostic techniques.  They can boost or reduce ratios and improve profits.  Some results may endure, but many are often fleeting.

True, predictable, profitable revenue growth, however, requires business engineering.  It is a long term process which is iterative and adaptable.  It challenges cherished assumptions about ideal customers, profitable products, marketing & sales staffing and resources, and target markets.  And it must be increasingly integrated with corporate strategy, as trends such as additive manufacturing (3D printing) and “the internet of things” shapes the landscape upon which revenue will be grown in the near future.

At its core, though, the process of predictable revenue growth is built on a model that aligns sales & marketing with buying behaviors.

Helping buyers buy

This discussion is founded on extensive research and statistics – two of which are foundational: Ninety-three per cent of all B2B buying originates with an Internet search; and secondly buyers are 70% of the way through their buying journey before they’ll speak to a sales representative.

“Yes, but…” is the reflexive rejoinder many business executives offer at this point in the conversation.  “My product is different”; “nobody shops for this online”; “this isn’t like buying a pair of sneakers”; and “that’s not the way this industry works” are all common rationale offered by ‘traditional’ businesses.

Structure & Methodology

What’s required is a synthesized, strategic approach that too often is inadequately defined as one of the tactical elements.  The objective is to replicate the traditional sales rep interaction with prospects that are determined to avoid it Attract – Buyers today avoid cold calls and ignore most advertising.  They research solutions to their challenges and select possible suppliers from among those who provide insight.  Simply put your company’s expertise must be found when 93% of buyers search.  And you must be found on the first page or two of results.  That used to be a simple “SEO” (search engine optimization) challenge – but today is a very complex process built around volumes of thought leadership content.

Convert – Simply being found, getting clicked, and being appreciated isn’t enough.  Website traffic is a “vanity” metric with limited business relevance.  What’s critical is to quickly engage visitors with thoughtful and helpful information, and to offer more in depth information in exchange for a quick registration form

Nurture – Today’s buying journey is long and convoluted.  Prospects don’t want to speak to a rep.  In fact they often don’t even search for a product, and don’t know if they want to buy something.  They search for help, ideas and solutions – products and services are incidental until much later.  So early prospects are all inherently ‘unqualified’ and both prospect and sales reps will be left unfulfilled by premature contact.

Instead you need to begin a very deliberate and personalized program to automatically nurture prospects into leads.

Close – Along the way prospects become leads and later leads identify themselves as potential customers.  For most B2B transactions that final step still requires a sales rep – and a great sales rep still distinguishes them from the average.

Tactics & Skepticism

This is a largely internet driven and digital process.  That means that many of the tools and tactics will have familiar names, and often evoke strong emotion among traditional sales and executive teams who are skeptical that prospects in their industry use those tools, or who have been bitterly disappointed by the lack of measurable results from previous investment in such approaches.

Measure, Analyze and Manage

The payoff for today’s analytical managers is substantial and extends beyond top line growth.  These approaches solve the traditional budgeting dilemma facing executives who instinctively understand that a large percentage of marketing spending is wasted, but who are unable to identify which portion to eliminate.

Suddenly every activity can be evaluated against intermediate goals, and directly tied to resultant revenue – both immediate, and eventually, lifetime.  And pipeline, close rates and revenue can be predicted.  A clear correlation between certain activities and the resulting revenue informs growth planning and substantially limits the uncertainty and risk of investment.

Every action can be A/B tested; every result compared against norms.  Essentially real-time results provide managers actionable information in the area which has traditionally been most opaque.  That insight has organizational implications beyond continuous improvement of a business function which has traditionally boasted of “impressions” and “creative.”

As buyers increasingly control their buying process and rely on the internet and digital resources to educate themselves and research options, the traditional PR, marketing and sales organizational structure and resource allocation must be realigned.  That shift requires resource adjustments, and the rich analytics which digital tools generate provide management with the business intelligence to optimize resource allocation.

Your company is great.  It’s time to get full credit and benefit.

Mark Borkowski is president of Mercantile Mergers & Acquisitions Corp. Mercantile has been a mid market M&A brokerage for the past 32 years.