I had an interesting call with a long time colleague and friend today. He is a well known and respected leader in his field. His expertise and notoriety has been developed over years of innovating and perfecting processes that are measurable, repeatable and produce consistently high quality results. This guy is, and has to be a great sales person in order to sell his ideas and grow his business. Currently, he is a partner in a software business, developing and offering software that provides automation and process management in his area of discipline.
The call was motivated by a problem he is having growing his business and he was seeking assistance. He explained that, while they have marquee customers internationally the majority of their business is confined to one region. Expansion to new territories is critical, he explained, because we need to grow revenue sure but there more important and strategic reasons. He went on to explain that they need to expand their global implementations as part of a strategy to mitigate risk of competition coming into the region from elsewhere and to increase the value of the enterprise for stakeholders.
He called me specifically to discuss channel development. His executive team and advisors had concluded this was the way to grow international sales and he called me because he knows of my track record and experience in developing channels and managing indirect sales. After a brief overview of his business and hearing his “ask” for advice and involvement in planning and execution I thought I should ask a few questions.
First line of questioning was around market opportunity and ecosystem internationally. Although they had not made a sale outside their home territory in over year, it was clear by the amount of competition and involvement of major integrators that there is robust market around the world with many high quality potential distribution partners. Probing for barriers I learned that language, product distribution, implementation, customer service and culture were not issues. The market is shaped by a highly specialized discipline that, for the most part transcends vertical industries, language and cultural issues. The product is very effectively distributed, implemented and supported via the web. So, I concluded its not a distribution or customer intimacy issue that needs to be solved for.
Next line of questioning was sales and marketing.
It was great to hear that my friend’s company is employing some leading edge practices in the marketing and sale of the solution. They are heavily invested and quite disciplined in content creation, measurement and analytics. A dedicated resource creates content, is actively posting, engaging and manages the overall content marketing process leveraging Hubspot and a cloud content distribution system. A weekly webinar hosted by my friend offers valuable insights to prospects and generates good attendance that contribute to a healthy flow of contacts who express interest in them.
Then in sales, he informed that there are three senior and accomplished sales people. All three in the HQ office in the home territory. They are using a sales force automation system (Maximizer) and they are tight with the marketers in that they have direct insight to activity on the portals, landing pages and webinars. They use GoToMeeting for on-line meetings and use phone and email extensively. There’s a rich library of materials and content at their disposal that is managed for them and available through the cloud distribution system. The Sales People are expected to generate their own leads as well as produce sales and they are. However, all sales in over a year have been in the home territory regardless of the abilities that the web tools afford.
So, I’m starting to conclude that they have the elements needed to be effective in selling internationally, yet they are not. Then I uncovered two critical issues.
They are passing Marketing Qualified Leads to Sales.
I define Marketing Qualified Leads as individuals who have offered details about themselves as part of an inquiry. These are clearly people who have shown interest in the solution and given up something (their deets) to get something (content download, attendance on a webinar etc.). Sadly, this is not an isolated case. This is prevalent across many industries and it is problematic. In a recent CSO Insights Survey it was learned that 79% of such leads die when they get to sales. This really bothers me for two reasons; one is the time spent by sales people trying to reach these people so they can qualify them against budget, authority, need and timing in order to prioritize them as a sales lead before they take them through the opportunity management process. And the other is even more vexing. Most of those leads will never be contacted by sales as sales people are going to prioritize there own leads over marketing generated ones almost every time. I suspect this is one of the main reasons my friend is not making sales outside the home territory.
Sales process, effectiveness and buyer behaviour is not being measured.
You can’t manage what you don’t measure. Again this is not an isolated case. This shop, as in many others, has invested in marketing automation tools and is gaining actionable insight from content analytics in the lead generation process. These concepts and measurements, when extended into the selling channels enables sales and marketing managers to uncover the critical issues affecting both positive and undesirable outcomes. This knowledge then informs the right decisions for adjustments in process and most importantly, for effectively coaching Sales People to perform at peak.
Oh, and there was one other key piece of information exposed. They had tried hiring reps in remote locations in the past and failed terribly. I didn’t have to ask why.
The bottom line
My friend’s desire to expand into more, and more distant territories is motivated by sound business reasons. His conclusion to use channel partners to achieve this – simply will not work. In the absence of any other change, It will suffer the very same result that they experienced when they placed sales reps in remote locations.
I advised that he would be much better served to do two things.
1) Address the lead qualification issue. I introduced the concept of a Lead Develop Rep and suggested this be integrated into the Marketing team. Alternatively there are some very cost effective outsource alternatives. An outfit like Plan27 has proven capability and repeatable process that takes contacts (lists) and Marketing Qualified Leads and deliver Sales Ready Leads. Unlike other lead generation services Plan27 sweats the details of understanding the target buyers and developing comprehensive messaging and detailed procedures with their clients prior to initiating any activity. They do this for less than the cost of a headcount and consistently meet or exceed their service level agreements delivering sales ready leads.
2) Give the sales people lots of love and some new tools. Starting immediately with a tool that actually helps them without hindering. While Maximizer does what it does well, it doesn’t really help them do more of what they do to make sales or extend to new regions. A tool like RemoteRep® and its Sales Results Workbench™ would solve a lot problems for his reps and for his business. The reps would have one dashboard where they can access the marketing content, tailor it for an individual customer and deliver it effectively in any of three ways. RemoteRep® can be used when presenting to a customer in person, it has co-browser for on-line presentations and it can send the material via email. In all cases the sales activity data is being automatically collected and the customer engagement with the sales material is being measured, just like they do in marketing with the tools employed there. This one tool would directly or indirectly solve the majority of the problems he is experiencing.
Sales People can very effectively reach globally and sell like they are local. Measurement of accurate and timely sales activity data arms the sales leader with actionable insight that can be used to drive the correct behaviours, like following through on all leads regardless of location. Customer engagement measurement in the selling channel will inform messaging adjustments and provide meaningful data to help sales prepare for the next call. Marketing material management means that reps are not searching for things and that they are always using the latest updated materials.
When I told my friend about the real-time alerts in RemoteRep® he about fell off his chair. He immediately understood the value of an alert to the sales person the moment a prospect starts viewing the selling materials. This is a game changer! Shorter sales cycles and less phone tag will make a significant difference for his sales team. He was imagining his sales people engaging their prospects and customers at the perfect time, the time when the customer has chosen it is most convenient and they are already studying the materials!
I truly hope my friend follows this advice. I will be following up and sharing any further insights as I do so.