Building Real Relationships – Working out loud and Sales #wolweek

Working out loud has a great potential to help with sales. However the help is not in the way most people expect. Sales people don’t need more marketing to low probability prospects. The value of working out loud for sales is the ability to participate generously in client’s work and to know when best to engage them. Working out loud is a way to build real relationships with clients that help them do their work better.

Forget the Spruiking

Many people initially see working out loud as a way to market their work. This marketing mindset leads them to share work as a way of bragging, highlighting their offers and generally pushing messages at clients and prospects.

The key problem with all marketing is that we don’t know when clients are ready to buy. This is why so much marketing has low single digit conversion rates. The vast majority of it is wasted because it arrives at the wrong time for the potential purchasers. Adding sales people to this push message strategy does not improve performance and can be a huge waste.

One of the key ways to improve sales effectiveness is better targeting of sales time to higher value prospects. Too much sales time is already wasted where there is no chance of a deal. A sales person can’t devote their time to low single digit prospects of success.

Work out loud to help Clients, not your Business

The majority of my business opportunities come from referrals or clients discovering my work when they need it. As a result my sales time is better spent where it can be most effective.

Genuine working out loud builds relationships of trust in networks. Deep and wide relationships of trust help sales people to be more effective. Sales is not a solo activity. The best sales people collaborate with their organisation, partners and client prospects continuously. Every sales person wants to expand and deepen their network and giving to others to help their work through working out loud is a key way to build the reach of that trust.

Working out loud with referral partners & client influencers is a key first step. These partners will understand clients and may have related goals. Helping these partners to do their work better through working out loud can enhance your understanding of client opportunities and your ability to convert them. Sharing your work in this exchange will help referral partners to better understand your abilities. Before you ask for a favour it always helps to do one.

Any sales person loves to know what their clients are doing. Helping your clients by finding ways to work out loud directly with them on their goals is a great opportunity. You will not be marketing your product and service. You will be a trusted partner sharing ways that they can achieve their personal and work goals. Creating a working out loud circle with clients or prospects is an opportunity to deepen relationships, understand the other and put some value into that relationship.

Highly effective sales people identify a customer’s problem and solving it in ways that create new value and support an ongoing relationship. They start by understanding others and making contributions, not marketing. That sounds like working out loud to me.

Scaling enterprise sales

Selling to enterprise clients is the new black. However, enterprise sales rarely comes easily.  The challenges highlight where businesses need to innovate to engage enterprise customers.  

With the successes of organisations like Workday, Amazon Web Services, Yammer, Salesforce.com and others in selling to enterprises, many entrepreneurs are looking to generate revenue for their start-up by selling to enterprises.  Over recent years I have spoken to many people, keen to sell services to large organisations.  Like all good entrepreneurs they are keen to move fast and scale their businesses.  However, few have invested time and effort in how they will scale their distribution to enterprises.

David Sacks CEO and co-founder of Yammer gave a recent talk to Khosla Ventures that highlighted the challenges of enterprise sales:

  • Enterprise sales aren’t viral.  You might be able to win enterprise users with a click, but money takes sales effort.
  • You need a sales team to get the sale and you can waste a lot of time and money with a poor performing sales team.
  • You need to know your buyer or you can waste a lot of time navigating organisations and dealing with many parties
  • You need to shape your buyer’s perceptions
  • The enterprise rarely has one mind and you may find conflicting agendas, decision rights, etc.  It is not uncommon to have technical, finance, legal and other gatekeepers who need to be satisified before a check is cut by the buyer.

Sacks called for start-ups to put as much effort into innovating distribution as they do their product. Any business to business sales business should do the same.

These lesson reflect what any business to business organisation has known for years.  Enterprise sales is a demanding body contact sport where the rules and the opposing players keep changing.  So how do you do it better than the average depends on how your design your innovative sales model to leverage these insights:

  • Be ready to be right first time.  Enterprise buyers are time poor. If you don’t have your questions or your pitch clear, then don’t expect them to wait for you to sort it out.  These are first impression sales so you want to create and maintain a positive momentum from the get-go.  Plenty of great ideas died at the doorstep because the sales person wasn’t ready to sell.  Make sure your team is capable of delivering the message.  Spray and pray can do more damage to your reputation.  In many cases, there are few buyers of your solution and unlike consumers they rarely forgive.  In a social era, enterprise buyers increasingly know each other and collaborate on insights into vendors.
  • Collaboration is better than going alone.  Leverage internal change agents and partners who can help you understand the organisation, the agendas and find the buyer. Invest time in research before you act. There is enormous power in having someone inside the organisation who can work the system for you and supply you with the right information to go forward. Too many perfect fits fail because meetings don’t get followed up.  Just like internal change agents, partners who have already done the leg work on that or similar organisations are ways to accelerate your efforts.
  • Understand the buyer’s needs.  What your product does is irrelevant.  How much the users love it is irrelevant.  Your feature differences to competitors are irrelevant.  Your analyst ratings are irrelevant.  Don’t confuse the tool with the result.  What matters most to corporate customers is the problem that they are trying to solve today. Make sure your pitch is meeting their strategic needs.
  • Help the organisation understand value by solving their need exceptionally well.  The decision criteria in organisations can be as bewildering as the choice of solutions that the organisation faces.  One thing is clear to every company the amount of money that they are being asked to put out the door.  The better job you do demonstrating real value is a multiple of that specific cost, the easier your sales job is.  We are not talking promises or soft benefits.  We are talking demonstration of real hard value.  If it can’t be demonstrated by a pilot or experiment in the organisation then you will need to invest in case studies with role model global organisations that everyone else wants to copy.
  • Manage a pipeline of sales opportunities:  Enterprise sales take time.  Providing continuity of management over time is important to maximise your chances and minimise waste.  Managing a pipeline enables you to assess continuously where each deal is at, assess prospects of success, kill bad deals quickly and shepherd customers through from suspect to prospect to opportunity to purchase decision to order and then through to implementation.  
  • Plan for and design for servicing of the account to realise value. Winning a licence fee or a service fee is well and good. However, unlike consumers you can rarely leave a enterprise client to its own devices to make the value from your product.  The multiple agendas mean that there will be changes, new questions and always new agendas. If you want to retain and grow their business given all you invested in a sale, treat sales and service as a continuum.  You will need to plan to support your customers to grow the use of your product and leverage that to grow your revenues.

As Sacks argues, you need to innovate in your distribution model. Enterprise sales don’t just happen. If you want to scale, enterprise sales you will need some new magic. My advice is to focus your distribution model innovation on the key issues because a better solution to these issues combining service design and sales will deliver big advantages down the track.

Sales and service are a continuum

Every interaction is a moment of sales and service to a customer. Sales and service exist on a ever shifting continuum, not as discrete functional experiences. Organisations treat these two functions differently because often the capabilities and the measures of performance differ. However for a customer, sales and service are just ‘getting what I need’.

Recently I was trying to make a change to an account with a provider. This should have been a simple service request to better align the product to my needs. However the provider clearly took the view that my request made me a retention risk. Instead of offering to help me meet my needs, they started to frustrate my efforts to make the change delaying matters with additional requests. Unfortunately the team wasn’t trained to ask the simplest sales question -‘why was I making the change?’. Had they asked, the change was a precursor to an additional purchase, not departure.

There is no surer way to lose a customer and miss additional business than to make it hard for the customer to get their needs met in any channel. Every interaction is an opportunity to find out what the customer needs and to make it happen now. The best way to keep a customer is to work to meet their needs to the best of your capabilities every chance you get.

Service processes that don’t facilitate a sales opportunity for customers miss huge opportunities. Sales channels that can’t fix other issues leave customers doubting your interest in their business. Creating a continuum can be as simple as helping service teams to ask a few key questions and supporting sales people with service issues. Theere are big opportunities in leveraging a moment that a customer is asking for your help.

Customers don’t wait. Customers don’t come back. Customers aren’t interested in your process complexity or functional model. Making sure you treat every customer moment the way they want. Meet customer needs as best you can offering a continuum of sales and service.