Transmuting your Sales ‘Farmers’ into ‘Hunters’

Since the current economic climate began, organizations have been downsizing, reshaping, restructuring, removing layers of management, centralizing, decentralizing… you name it. As conditions worsened the focus has gone from cutting costs to cash survival (+ cutting costs). I’ve observed that no-one has been harder hit than SME businesses where, even in good times, cashflow has always been a bit of a juggling act.

So we are now fours years on, this very August. Customers and vendors who get on stick through the mire. They’ve shared the pain. What’s next?

A few organizations I deal with are gearing themselves for growth. It would be nice if they could ‘farm’ that growth from existing clients. Maybe they can but they do not want to ignore the opportunities from ‘hunting’ for new clients nor be wholly dependent on the custom of existing ones.

They seek to transform themselves from Sales ‘Farmers’ into ‘Hunters’.

Here are some salient points about their journey.

  • There are 18 benchmarked critical success factors an organization can invest in to become ‘winners’ in hunting for new business (“superbidders” win more than 3 out 4 major bids). More on this later.
  • The F-to-H transition is more of an emotional journey than an intellectual one. It’s about making people motivated, confident and curious as well as competent. This starts by making selling (‘hunting’) as easy as possible.
  • Recent years of restructuring of reporting lines and reshaping of business processes will no-doubt have been for good reason. A key question remains – what changes will customers have noticed in your people:
    – More fire and enthusiasm?
    – Nothing?
    – Or sloping shoulders?
  • Winning over the hearts and minds of (especially remote) people comes down to making their lives easier. Again, for salespeople (who follow the path of least resistance) – it’s about ‘making selling easy’ so that they can hit their sales-targets from hunting as easy as (or easier than) they can from farming.
  • Sales training in Industry, Function and Product areas will provide much of the intellectual content required but will probably have only a limited impact on all but the top 10-15% of your salesforce. Management reinforcement will help further to instill hunting practices. The research I’ve seen in this area points to single figure %age growth in sales from such training/coaching interventions. So I want to talk about 3 things that can take you well into double digit growth.

3 areas to consider should you want to go for double digit growth:

1. Benchmarking – only 4% of companies win more than 3 out of 4 major bids for new business

The largest research programme in the world into winning business (led by Prof. Colin Coulson-Thomas, Chairman of Cotoco Ltd []. I declare my hand here. I’m a Non-exec Director.) has involved over 2,500 companies. This large sample size includes companies of widely differing performance in Winning Business. Overall the results are consistent industry to industry – and across sizes of organisations.

Key Points:
• 18 Critical Success Factors (CSFs) to winning major bids

• The top quartile: “Superbidders” win more than 3 out 4 major bids

• “Superbidders” make up less than 4% of the total population

• “Superbidders” only consider themselves to be “very effective” in 8-9 out 18 CSFs. There is plenty of headroom.

• Largest number of organisations in quartile: the median is between 1:2 and 1:3 win ratios.

• Organisations in the median or lower quartile consider themselves to be very effective in only a small number of CSFs.

The top 3 (CSFs) of the 18 differentiators are:

  1. Understanding the value/benefits customers expect to gain from your products/services
  2. Understanding the cost of ownership issues that impact customers’ decisions about your product or service
  3. Establishing the superiority of your products or services over those of competitors

Organisations that spread themselves too thinly don’t catch up with the winners. I find that most organizations (I introduce this benchmark to) are already tackling a broad range of the CSFs. They do not realize that improving the CSFs you are very effective in from say 2-3 to 4-5 will have a huge impact on your win rate. So it’s about knowing the vital few to invest in first.

The benchmark informs you which CSFs to go for, to get the best RoI in winning major bids.

2. E-quipping every salesperson to engage with new C-Level clients the way top performers do – and save on your face to face training costs

This approach to enabling Customer Executive (C-Level) Engagement has been used by global companies like Cisco as well as SMEs for a number of years.

Having asked the right questions and done their research beforehand, we find that top performers engage with C-Level clients far more effectively because they use compelling evidence and messages to:

  1. Underpin the trustworthiness of your company.
  2. Raise your customer executives’ curiosity to investigate the broad range of services that your company can provide
  3. Make it easy for regular (non C-Level) customer contacts to convey, to their own peers and senior management (that your salespeople might not get to meet), the superiority that your company has to offer.

E-quipping (as opposed to the drudgery of e-learning) takes minutes. It provides the opportunity to cut out the high costs of face to face training. This can be a huge expense saving for global companies. It also means less time away from the field for your salespeople.

3. Coaching top sales performers to make the emotional breakthroughs to increase their sales by 30%+

And what about your existing top performers? How do you take them up and beyond their current levels of performance? They are already setting your company’s benchmark for what’s achievable – are they not?

The good news is that top performers are always curious about how to improve themselves. In my experience, good in-house management coaching will improve their performance by no more than say 5-10%. Going beyond (increasing their sales by 20-30% and beyond) requires coaching which (and an experienced coach who) will take them outside their comfort zones. For the journey to 30%+ is filled with emotional blocks: limiting beliefs about themselves, their client relationships and the tasks in hand. If it were purely an intellectual journey (these people are smart) they would be there already. The experienced coach gets them to dissolve these emotional blocks. And when they commit themselves to move beyond, their sales performance escalates.

Shine on…!
Paul C Burr

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