Friday, April 12, 2013

Top Ten Ways to Immediately Improve Sales Tool Adoption

You’ve worked hard to produce new value-focused tools, empowering your sales team to meet the growing challenges of today’s more empowered, skeptical and frugal buyer.

And you are not alone, as SiriusDecisions reports that the average company now spends a whopping $43K on marketing content and sales tools per salesperson per year. Yet, despite such enormous investments, results are mixed, as the American Marketing Association reports that up to 90% of marketing deliverables are not used by sales professionals, squandering an estimated $38K per sales rep per year.

With such low adoption, it should not be a surprise that despite some good wins, your new value-focused sales tools might not be garnering the anticipated usage.

So how do you achieve sales tool adoption in 2013?

The More Things Change, the More they Remain the Same

When asked to change a certain behavior or practice, science tells us that people tend to resist change naturally, even when there is a compelling and logical reason to change.  This is not imagined, but proven by research, and called Status Quo Bias - a cognitive pre-disposition for maintaining the status-quo. 

As the studies indicate, business-as-usual is a more comfortable state of mind, because we all tend to outweigh potential downside risks higher than significant and compelling upside rewards - a risk aversion that causes a natural resistance to change.

Most sales professionals will readily admit that buyers have taken control of the buying cycle, and are demanding a different more value-based sales approach. Yet we see time and again that sales professionals are having a difficult time abandoning their old product or solution focused sales methods, and adopting new strategies and tools remains difficult even when there is significant and compelling evidence that change is needed.  Forrester reports that less than 12% of sales professionals are perceived as value-focused by executive prospects, while the inability to communicate value messages remains the number one challenge for sales teams making quota.

Is there a way to get sales to sell on value and leverage the tools to do so?
The answer is “Yes”, and the following ten status-quo busting sales tool adoption practices are presented to help drive sales tool adoption:

Step 1: All Sales Sees Is All There Is

The strategy of “Build it and they will come” might work as the basis for a movie, but rarely works in real life. So the first key question to address: Are your sales teams even aware that new sales tools exist? After all, if they don’t know about the tools, how can you expect the sales tools to be adopted?

To help improve awareness, a series of attention grabbing programs should be implemented to make sales cognizant that new tools are available. These should be very promotional in nature – not an exhaustive set of training – but a promotion of the tools outlining:
  • The challenge with today’s customer
  • The day-to-day impact of these challenges
  • How the sales tools can address these challenges, and where precisely to apply the tools
  • The value the sales tools deliver
  • Success stories, from those who have successfully used the tools
  • Links to access the tool, especially posting them in sales portals and into sales playbooks to make them easy to access
  • Basic overview of the tools operation, so that the sales team sees that it’s not hard to use and apply in the sales process
  • Clarity over where they can get support and services to help create the business case and present / defend results.
The awareness building can take several forms and include:
  • Scheduled introductory training sessions (no more than 30 minutes recommended) and on-demand recorded training sessions (again, keep it short)
  • Introductory briefs in sales newsletters and e-mails
  • Listings as a resource in sales portals and playbooks
  • Road-show training to regional or national sales team meetings
Always remember, there are a lot of new tools being introduced each week, so awareness building is only the beginning of the journey towards successful sales tool adoption.

Step 2: A Change is Gonna Come

As the science indicates, there is a status-quo bias to overcome, and, sales folks are not going to adopt change without being presented with significant and compelling reasons to overcome the more heavily weighted perceived risks.

Transformations, such as those you are trying to accomplish via the new sales tools, are never achieved when people don’t understand why the change is necessary. Although it may seem obvious to marketing why the old sales tools and techniques won’t cut it with today’s buyer, sales teams need to hear and understand the “why” behind the initiative.

It is important therefore to inform the sales folks as to why and how buyers today are different, more overloaded, skeptical and frugal than ever before (a condition called Frugalnomics), and how these changes have affected their selling effectiveness:
  • Causing more than 58% of the current sales pipeline to be stalled at “Do Nothing” (Sales Benchmark Index)
  • Delaying when sales is invited to engage, until almost 2/3rds of the purchasing decisions have been made (CEB)
  • Lengthening the sales cycle, with purchase decisions taking 22% longer (SiriusDecisions)
  • Increased discounting by 20% or more.

Step 3: Where we are Going?

Understanding the “why” is important, but sales pros also need a clear vision of how the tools can be used to change the process, and deliver the desired outcome. Getting sales folks to visually understand how their lives will be improved via the sales tools is important.

Starting with the end in mind, paint a picture for the sales team as to how their customer engagements will evolve using the new sales tool. A connection, engagement and presentation scenario can help bring clarity to the necessary steps, and bring into focus how the sales tool can be easily used to help facilitate and drive the value selling approach.

As contrast is a powerful mechanism to promote change, demonstrate just how antiquated the current product-oriented speeds and feeds approaches are in reaching today’s buyer, and do so side-by-side with the prescribed value-based sales tool driven approach, for easy head-to-head comparison. This contrast can clearly illustrate how the old techniques just don’t work any longer, and the superior value-added nature of the new approach.

Step 4: Lean on Me

Many studies indicate that, more than any other factor, the key to sales success is coaching, yet how many sales enablement programs include a formal coaching plan and commitment to drive adoption, usage and change? For a program this important, formalized sales tool coaching is a requirement.

The sales tool coaching plan can utilize field sales managers and / or champions to work hand-in-hand with sales folks to guide them specifically on when the sales tools should be used, how customer engagements should be conducted, and how resultant analysis proposals should be presented.

While coaching provides guidance as to the when and how the sales tool should be used, support is also important. Much like you wouldn’t send a salesperson out to discuss technical details of a solution, you need to provide sales with diagnostics and justification support. This should include:
  • Remote Support – to answer questions about the application and use of the sales tool, particularly around the questionnaires and data collection, calculations, defending and presenting analysis results.
  • Deal Desk – for the larger deals, having an expert to assist directly in the customer engagement can be critical to success, and a deal desk can be called upon to provide on-line meeting or face-to-face sales tool engagement advice and support in customer meetings and presentations.

Step 5: Show Me the Money

The longstanding reputation is that sales folks know where the money is, and know how to get it. Misaligned incentives can surely lead to lower than expected adoption, so take advantage of this real or perceived reputation by making sure incentives are properly aligned with sales tool use

To make sure tools are used, some organizations require sales tool usage on each and every deal, discounting commissions if the tools are not used and results presented as part of the sales cycle. However, tying tool usage directly to commissions may be too extreme for many, and the sales tools may not be appropriate for each and every deal.

A lighter approach would be to quantify what’s in it for the sales pro, so they know exactly how much sales tool usage could increase their success rate and commissions. Quantify the business case to the salesperson, proving that usage can drive tangible increases in deal win rates, size of deal and time to close, including how the sales tool usage can help:
  • Open new opportunities, by providing the tools to engage higher and earlier with decision makers
  • Unstick stalled deals on up to 5% of "Do Nothing" pipeline
  • Shorten sales cycles by 10%
  • Increase deal size / reduce discounting by 30%
  • Increase competitive win rates by 60% (IDC).
Some incentives are not tied to money, but instead relate to achieving company goals, objectives and directives. Executive sponsorship and recognition (or the lack thereof) can be just as important to sales tool usage and can often be incentive enough to get reluctant sales folks to adopt and use the new sales tools and value-selling approach. Getting an executive to communicate that not using the tools is unacceptable, and impart that their job depends on it (because in the end, if they don’t change it really does).

Step 6: Birds of a Feather

When communicating the why, the vision, coaching and incentives, would the message be better coming from marketing, or perhaps from a respected and vibrant member of the sales team? After all, sometimes it’s not the message, but the messenger that can make all the difference in whether the communication is able to connect and engage the audience.

Utilizing a member of the sales “tribe” to help drive awareness, explain the why / vision / incentives and share success stories can be the best medicine to cure ailing adoption. Although marketing team members might think they are part of the same tribe, often they are seen as outsiders, and not part of the sales family. The tribe member is often best a respected sales professional or leader. Sometimes it can be a closely related teammate, such as a key sales support or enablement professional.

Step 7: Try It, You’ll Like It

When sales folks are presented with a new sales tool, it’s not too different than putting a different meal in front of a finicky five year old. You are guaranteed to hear, “I don’t like it”, even before they take a bite.

Not too dissimilar, sales teams often dismiss new tools with just a glance.

So it’s important to get the team to try it, not unlike getting that five year old to take a bite.
“Try it, you’ll like it” needs to be the mantra.

Step 8: Address the Naysayers

We all have them on our teams. The ones who say it can’t be done. The ones who always find something wrong in all that’s right.  More subtle are the helpers, those who say it would be perfect if it only had this one more benefit, or one more calculation, poking at the tools and being a cynic.

Get enough vocal naysayers and helpers and the perceived risk of the program gets elevated even more, making it almost impossible to overcome status-quo bias.

It is important to classify the criticism and rally the sales professionals on everything that is right with the tools and program, versus focusing on what is wrong and can be improved.

Step 9: A Part of My World?

The sales tools need to be integrated into sales’ daily world. This usually revolves around the CRM system and opportunity management, but could include sales portals and playbooks.
Sales reps are already working within these existing systems to help manage their opportunities and find relevant sales content when and where they need it most.

The more the sales tools are properly placed with the systems and methodology, promoted properly at the right time and place, and accessed seamlessly, the better adoption will be.

Step 10: Mission Accomplished?

With sales finally adopting and using the sales tools it’s easy to declare Mission Accomplished. However, experience tells us not to declare victory too soon.

There is a continuous need to drive awareness, and educate, after all sales turnover is higher than for many other groups (26% per year according to CSO Insights). There are new sales team members joining all the time, many without the awareness, why, vision, and incentives needed to motivate value-focused sales tool adoption and use – but most eager to learn and desperate to succeed.

Even without turnover, continuous reinforcement via shared success stories and best practices helps to keep the team sharp, driving proper sales tool usage - in turn, driving superior sales performance.

The Bottom-Line

A new sales tool often represents a change in method and approach for most sales professionals, and change is not easy for anyone. Science tells us that when change is presented, the risks are amplified, while compelling benefits are heavily discounted, leading to a status-quo bias.

Overcoming this bias is important to increase sales tool adoption and usage, vital to meet evolving buyer expectations, facilitate buying cycles and fight Frugalnomics.

Applying these ten status-quo busting tips can dramatically help overcome the resistance to change, and drive success:
  1. Raise awareness
  2. Sell the “why”
  3. Lay out the vision
  4. Implement coaching and deal support
  5. Align incentives
  6. Communicate success via members of the tribe
  7. Try it to like it
  8. Handle the naysayers
  9. Make it an integral part of their world
  10. Don’t claim success too soon

Following these ten steps can help lead to better sales tool adoption, usage and successful return on sales tool investment.

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