LSA 2013: Seven Rules for Surviving New Sales Environments

Today at the Local Search Association conference, Bob Sanders, President and COO, AXIOM Sales Force Development, zeroed in on some strategies for sales organizations to deal with quickly changing marketplaces.

As was discussed in this morning’s SMB session, it’s a challenging environment to sell local media and advertising. The size of that long tail market has attracted all kinds of companies, giving us today’s fragmented and saturated supply side.

The good news according to Sanders is that local advertising isn’t the first industry to go through this. Lots of learnings can be gained from other industries that faced the similar disruption, such as the telecom industry post-deregulation circa 2000.

These marketplaces can be characterized by an influx of new competitors, disruptive technology, rapidly changing market conditions, commoditization, and buyer confusion. This certainly sounds like the local search and advertising space.

“The key question is what did we learn in previous industries that went through this, and learn [how] optimize sales forces now?” said Sanders. “The first and most fundamental lesson is that the buyer conversations has significant role in the decisions they make.”

Expanding this point, Sanders cited data that the conversation between a sales rep and customer will have more impact on a sale, than the product itself, the price and the brand combined. With this as a backdrop, Sanders focused on 7 lessons for sales organizations.

1. Create a Common Selling Model: Domain expertise isn’t enough for successful sales people. And you can’t just give them a cell phone and a quota then call it a day. Sales habits and standardization is vital.

2. Gain 100 % Buy-In: Once you create the common selling model, don’t implement it by having your CEO announce it at an internal sales summit. “You can’t watch sales people closely enough to ensure they’re practicing all of the standards, said Sanders. “So they have to buy in and believe it’s in their personal best behavior before they actually engage in that behavior.”

3. Become a Trusted Adviser: Sanders here invoked Neg Norton’s quote from this morning to “have a servant’s heart.” This goes against longstanding sales paradigms that are taught, which end up putting sales reps in competition with their customers and creates a confrontational relationship. This paradigm needs to shift.

4. Invest in Elevating Skill and Knowledge: In quickly changing environments like local media, you have to constantly retool the skill and knowledge set. “Invest in the people that are representing you,” said Sanders, ” so they can help customer find the right ROI.”

5. Establish Coaching and Accountability: Transforming behavior means nothing if you’re not measuring the right professional development and showing how that correlates with better results. The common practice of benchmarking against the last period’s sales “is literally like driving down the road while looking in the rear view mirror,” said Sanders.

6. Integrate All Customer Contact: As you’re executing all of the above, it’s also important that the messaging and behavior are aligned throughout the organization, including marketing, customer support. Everyone has to be on the same page.

7. Integrate Methodology with CRM: The technological backbone has to be aligned with all of the above, including nuts & bolts-level capabilities of CRM tools. If it’s not, it will be a bottleneck and inhibitor from any of the above tactics bearing any fruit.

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