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.

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.
sales marketing plan alignment

Sales and Marketing Plans Need to be Aligned

As a B2B marketing outsource provider, my team and I usually work very closely with the sales department at our client companies. Marketing and Sales PlansThe goal is to achieve effective alignment between what the marketing and sales teams are doing: driving to a common goal and reaching agreed-upon revenue targets. In the best-case scenario, we get to review and provide input for the sales plan. At the least, we want to understand the sales model so that we can formulate a marketing plan of attack that best supports the sales plan.

As an example of why this is important, imagine two very different sales models: In the first example, awareness is created and generated leads are fed to a business development function. In this scenario, direct sales reps will only see leads that have been pre-qualified, usually by a business development rep (BDR) who has personally qualified inquirers by asking a series of questions about budget, authority, timing and so forth. To best support this type of sales model, we want to drive as much activity into the top of the funnel as possible, creating the critical mass of inquiries needed to achieve the target number of qualified leads that have passed through the qualification process.

Let’s now look at the second sales model and how we align it with the marketing plan. If an organization utilizes a direct sales force, but provides no pre-qualification function (e.g. no BDRs), our focus in the marketing plan will be more on quality than quantity. This is true because we know that in most B2B scenarios, somewhere between 10 and 15 percent of all inquiries will pass the qualification filter. This means that sales reps will talk to 8.5 to 9 suspects before reaching one qualified prospect. This imbalance leads to two negative consequences. First, the reps fail to call all the suspects, finding reasons to disqualify them before making the calls. Second, reps get busy chasing their hot prospects and neglect to make the qualification calls in a timely manner. At some point, slow follow-up is almost as bad as no follow-up. If you want to see the impact of slow lead response, read my blog post on this subject.

In this type of sales model, we purposefully back off the quantity goal and align our marketing plan to deliver leads that are more qualified. Reps that discover that one out of every three or four suspects are qualified. They are then more likely to make the qualification calls and optimize their time. One of the easiest ways to produce quality is to require suspects to provide more data about themselves on the web form, thus pre-qualifying themselves. Each additional piece of data you ask for will reduce the number of responses, but will also drive up average lead quality.

These are just two sales model examples. When you include hybrids, there are dozens of possibilities. And every sales model will require a marketing plan that is tightly aligned. If you have a gap between sales and marketing, it’s best to address this quickly, especially by creating a service level agreement between the two departments. You can read more about Bridging the Gap here.

The above article by Christopher Ryan is republished here
from his blog Great B2B Marketing.