Four Ways High-Performing Sales Teams Excel in the Age of the Customer

11/14/2016 09:40 am ET Updated Nov 14, 2016

During my twenty years leading and analyzing sales organizations, I have seen a steady cadence of trends come and go, but only lately can I say I’ve witnessed the marketplace — and subsequently the very role sales reps play — transform. A series of relatively recent milestones such as the rise of the smartphone, rapid fire adoption of social media, and the growth of online communities have created a new breed of customers who, for the first time ever, are truly in charge of their buying journeys and decisions. To put this in perspective, sixty-one percent of consumers — and 76% of business buyers — say they feel significantly more empowered than they did five years ago, according to Salesforce Research’s "State of the Connected Customer" report. For the layperson, it’s surreal to think about how much everything has changed in such a short span of time. For the salesperson, it can be downright daunting.

So how can sales teams step up and excel in the Age of the Customer? After reading the new “Second Annual State of Sales” report it’s evident that this is on the top of sales leaders’ minds. The research shows that six of the top eight sales objectives over the next 12-18 months are customer-oriented, and meeting customer expectations is cited as the top overarching challenge to sales organizations’ processes. Let’s take a look at how high-performing teams — defined as those at companies who have significantly increased year-over-year revenue — are changing their team culture, strategy, processes, and technologies to win in customer experience.

Here are four “aha’s” about high-performing sales teams that I took away from the report:

1. High Performers Have Strong Alignment and Buy-In

Before you begin to think about implementing new processes and systems, make sure you have total buy-in from your sales team. Do your reps truly understand the value of that shiny new tool you are handing them? Will they be able to use it efficiently? While new technologies offer a lot of value, your team’s culture, knowledge, and mindset are first and foremost when it comes to its success.

High-performing sales teams are:

● 2.4x more likely than underperformers to be aligned on how to empower sales to exceed goals

● 2.1x more likely than underperformers to be aligned on changing customer expectations

● 2.4x more likely than underperformers to be aligned on resources needed to engage customers

● 2.5x more likely than underperformers to be outstanding or very good at sales training

2. High Performers Treat Selling as a Team Sport

The majority of today’s consumers (73%) and business buyers (78%) are likely to switch brands if a company provides inconsistent levels of service (i.e., it feels like dealing with a different company, instead of a different department, when talking to a sales rep versus a service rep).[1] In order to win customer loyalty, Sales must be seen as a team sport across the company. In order to be successful, this team must include departments like marketing and customer service. The research shows that.

A lot of sales teams are talking the talk

○ 73% rate collaborating across departments as absolutely critical or very important to their overall sales process

○ 62% view collaborative selling as absolutely critical or very important to their overall sales process

○ 68% say it is absolutely critical or very important to have a single view of the customer across departments/roles

Source: “State of the Connected Customer,” Salesforce Research, October 2016

High-performing teams actually walk the walk

○ 2.1x more likely to be outstanding or very good at providing a single view of the customer

○ 2.1x more likely to be outstanding or very good at partner and customer/prospect collaboration

3. High Performers Embrace Process-Enhancing, Customer-Engaging Technologies

It takes a lot to keep up with the expectations of today’s customers — especially their desire for immediacy and personal interactions. Today, seventy-five percent of consumers and 82% of business buyers say it’s absolutely critical or very important for someone to be available when they need them when interacting with Sales.[1]

However, many sales teams are currently buried in time-consuming daily tasks that get in the way of engaging with customers quickly. In fact, excessive administrative tasks are ranked the top internal sales process challenge among the sales professionals we surveyed. Even more, on average, sales reps spend 64% of their time on non-selling tasks. Top teams arm their sales reps with the technologies they need to streamline processes, exceed instant expectations, and spend more time actually talking to customers.

High-performing sales teams are:

● 3.5x more likely than underperformers to be outstanding or very good at mobile sales

● 2.4x more likely than underperformers to be outstanding or very good at analytics

● 2.7x more likely than underperformers to be outstanding or very good at process automation

Source: “State of the Connected Customer,” Salesforce Research, October 2016

4. High Performers are Ready for Smarter Sales

When it comes to changing expectations, we’ve only reached the tip of the iceberg. I remember when customers started demanding flexible pricing based on usage, industry specific examples and references, custom deployment requirements from sales reps, and teams had to scramble to keep up. The future will only bring more change — 51% of consumers and 75% of business buyers expect companies to anticipate their needs and make relevant suggestions before they contact them by 2020.[1] Top teams are testing, adopting, and even mastering technologies of the future, such as predictive and artificial intelligence, to completely revamp their sales process.

While most sales teams have a vision of smarter selling:

○ 78% have been more focused over the past 12-18 months on anticipating customer needs

○ 76% have been more focused over the past 12-18 months on being proactive

Source: “State of the Connected Customer,” Salesforce Research, October 2016

High-performing sales teams are farther along at embracing intelligent processes:

○ 3.4x more likely than underperformers to currently use artificial intelligence

○ 2.3x more likely than underperformers to use guided selling

Taking on the new role of sales is no picnic. Sure, it takes a lot of hard work to line up the processes and technology required to thrive in this new customer climate. However, even more challenging — and fundamental — is obtaining the right organizational alignment and mindsets both inside and outside of sales. But the alternative to embarking on this journey is far scarier. Indeed, we’re already seeing a disparity between the bottom lines of those who embrace the new dynamic and those who continue with business as usual.

I invite you to download the full report to learn more about what makes a high-performing sales team and what steps your team can take to become one.

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