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The Sales Maturity Model explained. Part 2: Your sales approach

By June 17, 2020 No Comments

The very existence of many startups and scale-ups is at stake these days. An economic downturn is difficult for most companies, yet, besides external factors, there are clear internal factors that will help many win, increase sales and close deals. Among them is how mature your company is when communicating with prospects, and winning business.

Traffic sign in Copenhagen, sales for startups in Denmark

In its second part, the sales maturity model explores how the communication with customers and prospects actually looks like, and matures as your startup incorporates knowledge, best practices and a better understanding of how the buying cycle actually happens.  Your sales approach spans from first touches (typically marketing, lead gen, demand gen…), all the way to sales, to customer success and retention. What’s the point? If you are a startup or scale-up, increase sales, close more deals and build defensibility.

Remember this model describes your sales approach, as in where you stand, and “who you are” when you communicate. This includes live conversations with your prospects, email, presentations, collateral and your marketing communications.

I hope that when reviewing it, you get a good grip of where your company is, what challenges you have ahead, and why getting back on track in this COVID-19 related recession will be anything from super challenging to amazing, and everything in between.

In the beginning of the journey, your startup, its sales function and your statements are frequently powerless. As you review the model, notice how the sales message changes as you grow. This is crucial, as it expresses the position of your sales organization, where you stand, what capabilities you have, and how your messaging is received by your possible buyers.

Sales maturity model and sales for startups in Denmark

Level 1

INTEND

Sales message

Do you intend to buy a product like this one?

Sales Pitch is…

Product based

Negative customer result

I’ll spend my budget in another similar product, no differentiation

Leading sales indicators

Bookings to target, Cost of Sales, Head-count

Tools

Email, phone, Zoom, Skype etc. Social media platforms (basic use with no strategy, consistency or metrics)

Internal communication

Email, phone, stand-ups and meetings

Skills

Product positioning, product expertise

Channels

Inside sales, reference networking, social media

The first stage of maturity basically expresses that you are helpless. You approach customers hoping they have the intention to buy. Nothing wrong with that, right? It works when the person you’re communicating with has clear/urgent needs, expectations, and probably has done some research. It works with Innovators and Early Adopters and people in trouble.

When it works, the prospect you are calling will say something like: You came from heaven, this is exactly what I’m looking for right now.

Sounds great, except… Statistically speaking most buyers you approach are not in this rare conjunction of circumstance, budget and state of mind.

If your strategy depends on the good will of somebody buying, chances are you will not get enough customers, fast enough. For most startups this basically jeopardizes the whole adventure.

Consider that Innovator or Early adopter are not static “personality traits”. We all take those roles, but not all the time, or in all realms of life.

On the bright  side, it may work for low price tickets, low implementation risk solutions, where inside sales teams can literally pitch long prospect lists just to find those who will say yes, with very little “selling”.

Level 2

SPEND

Sales message

Will you spend your budget on a product with these features?

Sales Pitch is…

Feature based

Negative customer result

I need you to recommend solutions, not features. Too many features, I’m lost.

Your value proposition does not challenge my status quo.

Leading sales indicators

+Product cross/sell mix

Tools

+ contact database

Internal communication

+ repository for product collateral

Skills

+ account planning

Channels

+ self-service and field sales

Moving forward, a bit.

In this level your strategy is based on the will of somebody to invest in your solution based on the features and technical specs it includes.

In here you’re pretty much powerless too. The decision factor lies on your solution having -at least- some features that match exactly with what the buyer wants or needs at that specific moment.

This is where sales people frequently say: “I explained everything about our offer, they just don’t get it! Watch out, due to your own limitations in communicating you are putting the blame on somebody else…

Stop and think: Chances are you and your team are pitching features and technical specs like there’s no tomorrow. Product people and technical profiles tend to do that -a lot-, with the hope that one of the many will resonate with the buyer’s interest. 

Let’s suggest why this does not work: 

  • It is  a drag and as boring as can be for non-technical buyers
  • More often than not, technical people are possible users/beneficiaries, but no decision makers
  • It is an approach where your (secret) strategy is: Ok Mr. Buyer, here’s where you do all the work: keep awake, keep focused and connect the dots on how the numerous features of my solution may solve any of the problems you have on your agenda.

With this approach sales people are heavily trained on product features. Marketing collateral or content is “rich” on technical specs, but tends to miss out on what problems the solution actually solves, how it compares to other solutions, and how/why it represents a good business decision…

For many startups this level is a hard set-back. Even with a good solution, they feel they cannot break through. Things get worse when growth is delegated to unexperienced/not-empowered peers, or sales people that havent grown out of this.

Learning is hard. At this stage some of the customers you close, and the revenue you get will be “bad revenue”. If qualification and evaluation have not been thorough enough, or your solution won’t really be strategic for them, they may churn before expected. 

Level 3

RECOMMEND

Sales message

I recommend this product for problems like this…

Sales Pitch is…

Solution based

Negative customer result

I don’t believe you comprehend my business, or the specific challenges of my role, my area, my customers well enough to provide a specific solution

Leading sales indicators

+Win/loss and competitive intelligence

Tools

+CRM (off the shelf), customer and partner portals, customer feedback

Internal communication

+ Internal (searchable) portal with incipient value proposition “building blocks”

Skills

+ Ecosystem management & solution selling, incipient usage scenarios expertise, customer interviewing: discovery

Channels

3rd party solutions (distributors, VAR)

Getting to this level actually shows insight. We call it solution when it actually solves somebody’s problems, right?

Messaging starts to become articulated thanks to the interaction with prospects, customers and lost customers. The company starts articulating scenarios where their solution is actually a fit.

As expected, this type of communication is easier to digest for possible buyers, as it takes off a lot of the work you put on them on the previous maturity levels.

The problem here is, scenarios are generic, and not sharp enough to adapt to context, industries or geographies. Most importantly, to the specific context of the buyer (a person) in question. This is one of the main reasons you lose deals.

Note that the organization has moved a great deal, can make sense to more Innovators and Early Adopters, and is better organized internally. The revenue and cost of sales focus widens to include closing rates and how to improve them.

At this point, startups may look into 3rd parties like partners or VAR if that makes sense with their model. Onboarding partners before this stage frequently fails because if you and your startup haven’t actually figured out how to sell your solution (and can’t articulate it terms of process and workflows), a partner has very little chance of succeeding. They won’t sell it if you are not able to sell it yourself.

Think of it this way, onboarding partners means scaling your reach and accelerating market penetration. However, what you scale is operations and processes. Onboarding customers and getting revenue is not necessarily scaling

Sales and Marketing people start understanding the market in terms of an ecosystem, and what role the company plays in it.

Level 4

COMPREHEND

Sales message

I comprehend your objectives and my product solves them in this way for these results

Sales Pitch is…

Objectives based

Negative customer result

Why can’t you blend your companies capabilities to my specific objectives?

Leading sales indicators

+ Product/Service mix, revenue leakage and funnel stage led optimization

Tools

+ forums, ideas, industry reports, segmentation & engagement tools & metrics

Internal communication

+ internal sales communities

Skills

+ Industry expertise, advisory-based selling, building a business case, organizational savviness, comfortable with non-linear customer journeys, amazing follow up, changing gears and situational communication adaptive to context 

Channels

+vertical-specific solutions, services-led selling, support-as-sales/customer success

Great, your pitch conveys your comprehension of a wider context. You are able to articulate how your solution actually helps your buyer reach their objectives.

Remember maturity is incremental. You are now able to articulate scenarios better, and actually pinpoint which features enable users to get there. This works because you’re becoming more customer centric by working in the direction of making things easier for people. By now your whole team should understand customer experience during the whole buying cycle.

This stage in the maturity of your sales approach brings a certain level of success, as it allows your startup to take more firm steps in rebuilding a pipeline, and close more/better deals. All marketing/sales and product initiatives of the startup should aim for revenue optimization and customer success.

Your sales force is mature, learns and implements, is open to best practices from inside and outside your industry and category. They are trusted advisors (and buyers agree they are). If you are able to capitalize and substantially grow here, this starts to feel like a product/market fit.

There is still a big limitation, though. There is no perfect solution. In the language of the buyer this means your solution has limitations, as they‘d like and prefer this or that capabilities, modules, functionalities you currently don’t offer. Your solution works great, but it may start lagging innovation on the customer side (as an example, think about how many companies are limited or constrained by how Salesforce wants things to be. And what do many do? Turn to some of the other great CRM solutions available in the market.

At this stage of maturity, your solution, and your knowledge of your solution help customers solve present or immediately future needs. This is great, and many companies will happily stop here.

Check out the last stage to see how this is still a limitation.

Level 5

BLEND

Sales message

Will you blend your objectives with my company’s capabilities to create innovation in your company?

Sales Pitch is…

Buyer based

Negative customer result

“The End”.

Leading sales indicators

+Customer lifetime value (CLV)

Tools

+Social Media/Social CRM, intent data measuring tools, solid martech stack

Internal communication

+Real time internal collaboration

Skills

Sales in the digital era

Channels

+ A strategic channel mix that responds to strategy

This is the ultimate stage of maturity in the sales approach. Your solution not only solves current or immediate needs, it can actually help catapulting buyers in their quest to success. You become a strategic piece in the puzzle, and they need your solution as much as you need them.

It can support them in creating an unfair advantage, designing solutions yet to be seen, go places them or their competitors have not dared to go yet. At this maturity level, a significant portion of your users love your product, and would be very disappointed if they could no longer have it. That’s what we call product/market fit.

The role of your sales force is enabling and empowering buyers. How? By helping them debrief, differentiate, compare, and make sense of the avalanche of information they have. Understanding this will help you get bounce back faster, and stay longer.

No negative customer result. Successful acquisition, onboarding and success. “The end” includes quotation marks as this is either temporary as the market and your competitors evolve, or limited to a number of customers for whom your solution is truly strategic (nope this won’t be the case for everybody). That’s why your main success metric is customer lifetime value, which will increase along with the number of strategic customers you have, the more successful you make them, the longer they stick around.

Take a closer look at the skills. Your sales function (spanning all teams in your startup) has to be proficient in all digital tools available today to connect, interact, engage and collaborate with buyers, for the most part supporting a digital/online customer journey. Your marketing function is aligned with this by effectively moving buyers through the pipeline, and the role of your sales force is enabling and empowering buyers. How? By helping them debrief, differentiate, compare, and make sense of the avalanche of information they have. Understanding this will help you get here faster, and stay longer.

Take action!

Use this model to assess your operations today. There is no shortcut on mastering sales operations! Involve your team, your board and your customers, and assess your metrics.

Need help? Get it with no delay, from me or a mentor you really trust. This is about your target market getting the solution your company wants to offer the world… Get hands on and get your way out of the downturn.

Did you miss Part 1 of the Model? Find it here:

The Sales maturity model explained. Part 1: Your sales operations.

Up for a different but related read?

Don’t be fooled: in sales the solution is not more important than the relationship, nor vice versa (1)

The traffic sign photo is actually taken in Copenhagen, Denmark. Credit Jan Baborak @ Unslpash