Marketing and Sales Alignment

Factors In Choosing Your Sales and Marketing Model

It bears repeating that despite all the possible permutations of how you can get there, there are only three ways to grow your business:

  1. Increase the number of customers
  2. Increase the average transaction size
  3. Increase the frequency of purchase

In order to be successful, you must align your marketing and sales model to meet one or more of these three objectives. If you can increase all three metrics, you will soon have a world-class operation. And while there are many possible ways to achieve a revenue objective, some organizations (perhaps yours) are not using the best strategy. Each of the possible methods has its plusses and minuses, and the best choice for you is not always the obvious choice. You should not make decisions regarding your marketing and sales model simply based on what your competitors are doing but rather on your unique assets and weaknesses.

When I talk about a sales and marketing model, I am referring to the specific methods and processes that are used to generate revenue. A sales and marketing model can be as simple as a corner lemonade stand, or as complex as Amazon’s e-commerce engine. Major sales models include direct sales, telesales, channel sales, retail sales and ecommerce sales with many hybrid options.

Tough Questions That You Need to Answer

Before considering a new way of doing business, it is helpful to understand your current situation. Begin by asking these questions:

  1. How did your current marketing and sales model evolve?
  2. What is your motivation for keeping the status quo?
  3. Are you doing things out of habit or by deliberate choice?
  4. Is your sales force earning its keep?
  5. Are your current channel partners helping or hindering progress?
  6. Are there any time bombs at your company?

Time bombs are those issues that, if not addressed, could have serious consequences downstream. If you prefer a different analogy, think of time bombs as the potential Achilles tendons of your organization – where you are most vulnerable to atrophy or attack. The Andy Grove statement, “Only the paranoid survive,” certainly applies here. Sometimes, the best time to be paranoid is when you don’t feel that you have to be. Here are a few of the most insidious time bombs:

  • Metrics that are way below standards – for example, a high cost of customer acquisition.
  • Good products, but a sales team that is stable, comfortable, and very inefficient.
  • Channel partners that are leaving you for the competition.
  • A prohibitive cost-of-goods.
  • Products that are more than one generation behind the competition.

This post was excerpted from the white paper, How to Choose the Best Marketing and Sales Model.

business plan framework thumbnail

How to Survive Your Own Business Plan

Using the iterative model of business planning helps real-life businesses survive customer contact

Steve Blank’s recent video brings home an important point. He bewails the fact that many business planners create a huge, unwieldy document that “can’t survive first contact with customers.” He cites a system of “magical thinking” around these activities – “If only we could think hard enough to create a great plan and hire the right people to execute, we’re SURE to succeed.” Anyone with real-world business experience knows that’s just not the case.

I can use my own, failed business plan from a previous life as an example. I was positive that my experience with state and local health departments would create a burgeoning business within my existing consultancy. After all—a major federal agency was requiring a new grant from every health department in the country. I had written the thousand-plus-page grant for a local health department and it had been accepted. This meant that my client would continue to be eligible for thousands of dollars in additional federal grants. Once these national health departments heard about me (I thought) they’d gladly pay me to ensure that their grants would go through. I had a track record. I wasn’t too expensive—considering the money they would lose if they tried to write the grant themselves and failed!

Contact with the customer proved me wrong. They were using internal resources to get the grants written—the departments I contacted simply had no budget for me. My assumptions about the health department I worked for didn’t hold water—only a visionary director such as the one I worked for could see that hiring a contractor was the only way to use her resources wisely. That being said, the rest of my potential customers tried to do it themselves—some made it; some didn’t. But whatever happened with them, I know one thing that didn’t survive their decision–my business plan.

At the Center for Business Modeling, we have a one-page framework (graphic above) that I now revisit before I invest too much in those “It’s just gotta work” activities before they touch the customer. Steve Blank counsels that a huge document representing multiple man hours all too easily becomes a doorstop when customer reactions are less than optimal. The trick is to find iterative viability—and to continue to test-fail until a test succeeds. I did go back and ask that health department director what I had done wrong. She told me: “You can’t force people to do what’s good for them.” And you can’t force customers to march to the tune of your business plan. Planning to iterate and learning to roll with the changes works better.

business plan infographic

Build a Purposeful Business Plan with These 10 Pointers

Creating a business plan is an important step for any young business. Since drafting a plan requires putting the goals, growth plans, and marketing strategies of the business down on paper, it forces the business owner to think through many of the elements that can make the business more investor-ready.

But because it is so significant, creating a business plan from scratch can be an intimidating prospect.

Unsure where to start? Check out this insightful infographic from Washington State University. It not only shares why you need a business plan to begin with, but lays out ten essential considerations for outlining and writing a successful one.

On the EarlyShares platform, a company’s business plan is a major key to an investment offering’s performance. Our favorite advice from the WSU piece is to distinguish your business from competitors to enhance your odds of obtaining investment capital. In our experience, that’s critical.

After you read through the infographic, share your advice on building a great business plan with us in the comments. What pointers could you have used when creating your first business plan?

business plan

Reprinted by permission. View the original post here.

swot template

Use SWOT Analysis to Crank up the Volume on Your Business

Like most people, I have tons to do and not a lot of time to do it. There are just too few hours in the day so I often put even the most crucial activities on the back burner. That’s why I am so grateful for CBM’s SWOT analysis tool. As a small business owner, I don’t schedule time to check in on my marketing plan. (I’ll bet some of you reading this are getting a very guilty look on your faces right now!)

Maybe, like me, you have a pretty good marketing plan, one that you work from because in any given calendar year, certain activities on your plan keep the cogs of your business turning. But when was the last time you took a clear eyed-view of your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats as they related to your plan? Have you really revisited the plan in light of these? If not, face the music and grab this tool.

The CBM tool is easy to use and intuitive. That’s not to say it’s needlessly simplistic. For example, I was able to look at my products and services in several different ways. I was able to understand that although I had a plan for putting these in front of my prospects, my understanding of what competitors were doing in this arena was foggy at best. I was missing a key opportunity to grow my business by virtually ignoring my competitors. Danger, Will Robinson!
Understand, too, that in most cases, growing my business (and yours) depends mostly on the right networking, which costs money. How much were my various networking activities costing me and which products and services was I highlighting while engaging with prospects? What dollar amount should I be spending for my networking investment based on which services were selling? Were these services the most profitable or were they low-margin services? The CBM SWOT tool uncovered all of these questions and more. Once I was able to hone in on where I should be spending my time, I was able to use my time better.

The fact remains—no SWOT is a “one and done” proposition. But the CBM SWOT analysis tool can grow with me. Once I solve this first batch of “problems” I can check back in on my first analysis and see where my next batch of challenges will be. I can use this tool to virtually guarantee that I am doing everything in my power to keep my business volume cranked up to 11.

sales process

But We Have A Sales Process…

A couple of weeks ago, I was on a panel with a number of peers. A couple of the panelists suggested the majority of companies they worked with had no sales process in place. I have a slightly different point of view, one that is perhaps worse news. Most of the organizations I work with have a sales process in place.

At least that’s what they say. They’ll even pull out a piece of paper, a flow chart, or show me their CRM system to prove they have a sales process. I’m always curious, so I ask a lot of questions and generally I find a couple of things at play:

  1. While a company may have a sales process, it has not been updated to fit current market realities and priorities.
  2. The managers and sales people just aren’t using the sales process.

It’s actually pretty easy to see this. Just sit in a pipeline review and listen to the conversations managers and sales people have in reviewing their deals. As they discuss the deal, look at the activities they have defined in their sales process. Ask a few questions about the deal, using the activities as a guideline for your questioning. See if the responses are aligned with the sales process. For example, the other day I was sitting through a review with a new client. They had two key activities in the discovery phase of their sales process: Understand the customer decision making process and who is involved. Also, understand the criteria by which the customer will evaluate the investment in the solutions and justify it internally. Great criteria! However, we were reviewing a number of deals that were in either the proposing or closing stages of their sales process. I started asking some questions, “How does our solution look based on their justification criteria?” “Who is involved in the decision making process, who’s the real decision maker?”

If these deals were truly in the proposal and closing phases of the sales process, the sales people would have had very clear responses to those questions. They didn’t–they mouthed some nominal responses, but really didn’t answer the questions—–then they went on to talk about what they were doing to win their deals. Hmmmmmm, what’s up here? Clearly they aren’t using the sales process. A few more questions and you can determine whether the sales process is out of date or just not being used.

The only reason to have a sales process is to help sales people manage opportunities from qualification through closure as effectively and efficiently as possible. The activities identified in the sales process are a result of analyzing both how customers buy, and the activities critical sales must undertake in facilitating the customer’s buying process. If sales people aren’t using the process (and it’s an appropriate process), then they aren’t performing at the highest levels possible. Additionally, since the pipeline is an aggregation of all the deals sales people are working on, the integrity of the pipeline and its accuracy for forecasting are immediately suspect.

Sales people not using the process are not performing as they should. Managers not assuring their sales people are using the sales process are being irresponsible–both to the sales people and to their organizations. Deal reviews are most effective if they are initiated by talking about where we are in the process—that means using the process to inspect the deal, using the process to provide a road map on next steps, using the process to assure you are competitive, and using the process to make sure you are creating value for the customer. Everything else is a drill down into the details of the activities.

As I mentioned, one of the reasons sales people and managers don’t use the process is because it has become irrelevant. Over time, the way your customers buy changes. Markets, competition, and your solutions change. What may have been a great sales process 5 years ago, is probably irrelevant today. If your sales people aren’t following the sales process, but consistently winning business–reassess and update your sales process. The only thing worse than not using an irrelevant sales process is using an irrelevant sales process–but you will see that with plummeting win rates, long cycles and loss of competitiveness. Make sure you review and update your sales process periodically. If there are major changes in market conditions, if there are major changes in your target markets, if there are major changes in your solutions–you probably need to update your sales process.

Organizations that don’t have a sales process need to have one. Organizations that have a sales process but are not using it are fooling themselves.

If you want to drive the highest levels of sales performance, make sure managers and sales people are using it. Make certain your process reflects current best practices for winning business. Everything else is a waste of time.

Reprinted by permission. View the original post here.

Customer-Centric Sales Planning

Sales plans centered on customers create the most value for your organization. Sales Productivity Architects’ paper, Elements of a Successful Sales Plan tells you how:

  • To ask the right questions and target the right customers
  • To find out where in the sales cycle you should make your move
  • To make your sales spend pay off for the highest-value customers

Easy-to-use checklists in a question-and-answer format will give you more than food for thought—they’ll give you a sustaining model for changing to a customer-centric sales model and power up your success. Download your copy here.

buying process

The Buyer’s Funnel: A More Dynamic Way to Convert, Sell and Win

Sales methodology has focused heavily on a seller-centric view of the customer journey through the sales and buying process. This is why it is referred to as a “sales funnel.” There are several tried-and-true variants by which a prospect who doesn’t know about your product or service eventually becomes a customer or client.

While the seller-centric sales funnel has its merits, it’s an incomplete picture that may not be dynamic enough to address what your prospect needs, costing you leads and sales.

Reason one? It’s too linear. Customers that are unhappy with the engagement stage may walk back up the funnel and revisit the evaluation and engagement steps with a different provider. Once this prospect enters the top of the funnel as you, the seller, imagines it, they may be already be 75% of the way through the buying process!

Consider this scenario: A prospect calls a company ready to buy, but an automated process or a sales person following the typical linear sales process thinks they’re a new lead. (This is partially a pitfall of totally automated marketing.) Instead of hearing good qualifying questions, they’re barraged with entry-level questionnaires or high-level collateral, and leave the top of your funnel because they’re already well along the way in their own funnel – the buying funnel.

It is true that certain prospects need to be educated carefully and led through the process and it will take better sales people and a more responsive marketing content ecosystem to get there. Other prospects just need someone to facilitate the last steps of the buying process. Unfortunately, I have noticed a preponderance of time spent on training sales staff with rigid processes and not enough time spent training them on how to understand the customer’s buying process and their unique challenges. The point is that one size does not fit all.

In order for my clients to better understand the foundation of the dynamic buying process I have segmented the buying process into four key components – the Four E’s:


  • Exploration

    A prospect does broad research to discover a particular universe of relevant solutions.

  • Evaluation

    A prospect digs deeper into the features and claims of these solutions, weighing them against each other.

  • Engagement

    The prospect reaches out to request demos, prices and granular information that tells them whether or not the solution will effectively address their needs.

  • Experience

    The prospect becomes a customer and, ideally, experiences the benefits of the solution and becomes a repeat customer as well as an advocate for the vendor partner.

If you better understand the customer’s buying process you’ll be better able to respond with the information, materials and messaging that shows them you understand where they are and what they need. Shoving product-level materials at a client when they really need a case study? Giving them a canned demo when they need one tailored to their challenges? Delivering an overly technical demo for a more business-oriented buyer? These are no-no’s that happen all too often with rigidly linear sales models.

Most companies have a sales process based around the seller-centric funnel. Others have no process at all. According to CSO Insights data, salespeople on average spend only about 35 percent of their time actually selling. How do we improve this? Building a sales acceleration platform that gets the right information to the right prospect at the right time—and tracking it all. This also hinges on teaching sales teams the right question-asking skills to locate the prospect in their own dynamic buying funnels.

To improve you have to understand where you are today. What does that look like? How are you defining your sales process? Have you defined customer buying processes, and how are you mapping that to your sales process, training and content delivery? Do you know your close ratios and where leads are coming from?

When I challenge sales leaders on the linear process, sometimes it looks as if their heads will explode. They’re still trying to enforce that process—sometimes with the help of automated tools—and cling to their model of the world.

But the fact is, the ratio of closes to identified opportunities is getting worse, not better. Sales people are spending a third of their time selling and the other two thirds running around for references, slogging through proposals and RFPs, creating new presentations because they don’t like the ones marketing gave them, and so forth. A more responsive and dynamic lead and content ecosystem means they spend less time doing non-sales related activity and are able to assemble, deliver and track the right information from one application. That, with better training, can help align your sales and marketing departments for better effectiveness and attune your organization to the realities of the buyer-centric process.


Sales Planning

Without a sales plan, we are adrift in the market, hoping to succeed. The sales planning process forces us to analyze our environment, determine the resources and support required, and points us in a direction toward our goals. In a previous article, I discussed strategic planning basics; this article will focus on the sales plan.

One of the most enjoyable jobs I had was working for a semiconductor distributor. Our sales manager developed a sales goal for the division based upon past sales, corporate desires and sales team input. Once the goal was determined, everyone developed his or her sales plan to meet the goal. Our plans were simple and were base upon some “science,” we planned how often we’d meet with our customers, how many demos we’d accomplish, we analyzed our market and then submitted our plans.

Planning is about the journey not necessarily the battle. The planning journey prepares the army, by allowing the army to anticipate hurdles, allocate resources and reduce risk.

Michael James Smyth

From my military planning experience, there are two parts of plans, conceptual and detailed. I think of a conceptual plan as a business plan and detailed plans as the plans that make up a business plan such as a sales plan or a project plan. A plan should be continual assessed and updated, things change, assumptions are wrong, the plan must change with the ever-changing environment.

A sales plan is a detailed plan because it explains how the sales goal is to be met. Detailed planning works out the scheduling, coordination, technical issues involved with sales channels, regions, administering and sales force.

A sales plan should be simple and flexible… yes, detailed but also simple and flexible. The sales plan will help you: set your goals, choose a sales strategy, identify sales tactics, execute the plan and motivate your team, budget and review/assess the plan.

Sales Plan Checklist:

  1. Identify your sales goals.
    • What are your revenue targets?
    • Determine contributions by direct and channel sales.
    • Identify resources to meet your goals.
    • Understand your sales model.
  2. Analyze your competitive position.
  3. Develop your sales objectives.
    • Break goals down into achievable objectives.
    • Establish direct and channel sales quotas to meet your goals.
    • Create commission plans consistent with objectives.
  4. Define the tactics to meet your sales plan.
  5. Execute the plan.
  6. Monitor and adjust the plan, as planning is a continuous process.

For additional information, here are related planning and strategy resources.

executable business plan

4 Steps to Building an Executable Business Plan

Typically, when I ask business owners if they have a business plan, they either point to a stack of papers that’s doubling as a doorstop, or shrug their shoulders and say, “Ah, we never got around to doing that,” or, “We just got started.”

Unfortunately, most business owners view business plans as a secondary concern, or worse, entirely unnecessary. Here’s what I have found to be true: In every case, both in business and in life, having a plan will generate better results than simply winging it.

Think about the last time you put together a new outdoor grill without instructions or ventured on the open road without a map, or better yet a GPS. You probably had a few miscellaneous grill parts leftover and you may have taken a few U-turns after ending up stranded on a back road in the backwoods.

At minimum, a business plan sets in motion the thought process required to complete your project in less time. I’m not saying never be spontaneous, but when you leave things to chance you leave room for error. There are 60 workdays in a quarter. If your team members work eight hours per day, 40 hours per week, that’s 480 hours per person per quarter. That’s a lot of time to waste on chance.

Write out a purposeful business plan that considers who you are as a business – meaning who you serve, what you do and why you do it – and chart a course for your team to align and work toward common goals.

Four steps to building a strategic business plan:

  • Define your priorities – those things that make big impacts on your business. Brainstorm with your team to discover your long-term (3- to 5-year) and short-term (1-quarter to 1-year) business goals. One way to identify your priorities is to think about your strengths – what you do that your competitors don’t ­– and then think about how you can build on those assets. Once you pinpoint your goals, phrase them in six- to eight-word sentences and write them down. Remember to be specific and measurable when constructing your priority sentences. (Feel free to email me for a goal-setting smart sheet.)
  • Assign ownership of tasks to employees. Break down your priorities into tasks that team members can own. Assign due dates or these tasks may never be accomplished. Also, when assigning tasks, consider each team member’s strengths. Studies show employees are more engaged, and therefore more likely to accomplish tasks, when they’re doing things they enjoy doing and are good at.
  • Review your plan often and revise it. I can’t tell you how many small business owners I’ve talked to who have a business plan but haven’t looked at it in years. You should review your plan monthly, or better yet, weekly. The economy changes, the market shifts and your business needs the flexibility to respond and adapt.
  • Execute your plan. Don’t let your business run you, run it. Distractions and curveballs will always be thrown your way. Don’t let them be excuses to sidetrack your plan. Let your competition get bogged down by the day-to-day while you keep the bigger picture in focus. Executing your plan is the difference between true business success and simply getting by.

Reprinted by permission. View the original post here.

Relationship Marketing

Relationships are Dead? Smart Sales Models Resurrect Them

For me, reading the Bain and Company white paper, Is complexity killing your sales model? was like being splashed in the face with cold water. The ideas presented here about relationship selling were counterintuitive, at least for this former sales force communications manager. After all, I was used to the sales success mantra of—Relationships are everything! Then I read:

“Buyers can readily gather basic information about products online. Then, in the vendor selection stage, total cost of ownership and return on investment trump relationships. Purchase decisions that were previously controlled by one manager now involve a web of stakeholders.”(page 1)

Crazy, right?

But after I read the entire paper, I realized Bain was telling me how we need to rethink current B2B sales relationships and stop creating complex, inefficient sales models that use these relationships ineffectively.

  • The changing shape of demand means that customers are researching more before they buy, expecting to find solutions for their business problems, not just one-time products. The sales relationship thus becomes more consultative and the relationship even more crucial
  • Smart sales models reward their sales personnel for expanding the customer relationship through cross selling but also put a high premium on the difficult process of landing that new account.
  • Early in the sales cycle, smart sales organizations are loading their sales bench with specialists who are industry experts. That’s how they avoiding losing sales because customers fear salespeople “don’t know their industry”
  • Sales models that include a specialist and a generalist create a team that will grow with the product line. The relationship that a specialist builds with the “new kid on the block” is also rewarded somewhere in her compensation, to ensure that the knowledge needed to close deals expands across the company, across time, and in tandem with the sales cycle.
  • Make sure the relationship between the back office and the sales organization is seamless. According to Bain, the back office is the company’s “secret weapon” in protecting customer loyalty and freeing up to 30% more of the sales representatives’ days for actual selling. (10) Allowing a well-staffed, expertly trained back office to protect the relationship with new and existing customers can save money, untold heartache and, yes, Virginia, I’ll say it — relationships. To download the entire Bain and Company white paper, click here.