Enterprise Sales—More Art Than Science? And Why It Really Matters

By Jay Valentine

There is a clear trend today toward a metrics-driven enterprise sales model and the impersonal, interruption marketing needed to make it work.

Some managers actually count the number of emails, phone calls, face to face calls, events that a rep makes and make that a determinant of his or her performance. This is highly symptomatic of the science of sales—everything is reduced to numerics.

This mindless focus on metrics appears correlated to large enterprise tech companies and those who have several rounds of private equity.

In order to make metrics work, one needs lots of transactions–often referred to by everyone other than the sales force as “leads.” Lots of transactions are measurable—only a few activities are not measurable and thus lie outside this sales science model.

After these leads are generated from anyone who dares download a whitepaper or attend a webinar, they are flogged by inside reps who are equally measured in large part on transaction activity.

Prospects loathe this model—aptly proven by the 60%-80% of whom will not use their corporate email address.

Then a sales “professional” takes over the lead and begins a “sales process” moving though a sales funnel, to the ultimate close. Every step has a percentage “close.”

How hard can this be?

There appears to be an interesting observation from several of the leading companies using this model, particularly several well-known high flyers—very few people are making quota.

Turnover often exceeds 30% a year. At a particular such firm, whose management loves this model quite publicly, there is over 100% turnover in their western region. Of the total sales force, fewer than 10% make quota in any year and fewer than 5% make quota two years in a row. They budget for 40% turnover. Their internal numbers show that just to train a new rep has a cost of $50,000.

These stats, even to someone who may believe in that model, are telling. If fewer than 10% of your reps are making quota you have issues far beyond metrics, messaging, marketing or sales.

You have a cancer in that sales force that will eventually kill you.

And if fewer than 5% make quota two years in a row, it means virtually nobody stays around and those who do make quota make it through an “extraordinary event” like that one time large deal you will never see again.

While common sense would clearly show this is unsustainable, it is quite sustainable if you keep bringing in more rounds of equity to pump it up.

Are we to be reduced to this mindless metric or are there people out there doing it better, more creatively, differently?

There are, and they will never work for this sales model.

Over the last few months, we have had a lot of interaction with reps chained to this metrics-only model and the feedback has been most instructive. Over 200 such reps, and former reps of this system made their comments and an interesting thesis began to take shape.

The thesis is there is a “natural law” of sorts in enterprise tech sales people—

While only yet a thesis, it does appear to be taking shape and becoming much more clear from more responses.

That natural law is that all other things being equal, enterprise sales reps are a creative sort, know how to handle the complex human interaction of persuasion, and if left to their own devices would use their natural creativity to exceed the sales they would make in a constrictive environment.

With deference to Homer, a story tells it best:

A 30ish sales rep from a metrics-mad company emailed and set up a time for a chat. We had several 30-year-plus enterprise sales reps on our end—from different companies and even industries.

After reading an earlier post, he said he had little time for sales because he was constantly in forecasting meetings.

He knew the braindead emails he had to send had zero response but he had to send them so he could get enough time to go out to make sales calls. He actually sent emails at night so he could free up time to make sales calls in the day. You cannot make this stuff up.

When he got an appointment with a live person, his sales manager always wanted to come along. That manager started the meeting with—“well, do you have budget for this?” “Are you the decision maker?” “Who else in the organization is involved in this decision?”

The poor sales rep thought it might have been a good first step to start with “hello.”

His entire team had turned over twice in less than a year (6 people).

The sales manager had never been a successful sales rep. He was a rep for a year, one deal came in on his watch which he did not know about until a VAR brought it in, and he was then promoted.

Our advice was to just get out. He was leaving anyway, thus no kudos for that one.

However, our colleague spent a lot of time with this rep on this and later calls going through a different way to approach a sales territory—one that had a little more natural human art, which we almost all have, not an artificial, metrics driven science.

Some of his advice is:

—build an ecosystem in your territory of 4-5 non-competitive vendor pals who call in generally the same technology area and share info about the account you would never get through cold calling. Meet every week or two and always bring some info to the others.

You will learn so much detail and so much of the human side of the account and be far more effective. These other vendors can get info you will never get.

—when you are in front of a real person, try this: “Bill, thanks for visiting today. I know you get lots of calls from vendors—what makes you take a call? What can someone do to get your attention?” “What do you most dislike about sales people bringing you solutions?”

Thus, you are leveraging the innate sales prejudice of most prospects (because they have dealt with the process guys) and using a very disarming technique to build some level of agreement—usually that both you and your prospect loathe the metrics driven reps—and their manager.

I had a call with a CIO several years ago and he just opened up when I asked him this type of question. He received over 150 calls a day, had a special phone where people left well-crafted, brilliant marketing, high value voice mails, which his AA deleted every evening without even listening to them. The CIO loved the question and went on for 20 minutes—and is a friend to this day.

—work your old lists. Most enterprise sales are 6 -18 month cycles and people who nibbled on some webinar or seminar 9 months ago may be ready now—go after them. They are far more valuable than the stuff most marketing departments generate. And you will be the only rep doing it. Your competitor will be trying to survive on the new stuff that is 6 -12 months out.

Previous post here: https://www.contingencysales.com/knowledge-nibblers-lead-you-to-customers/

—learn how to cascade deals—rather than making an appointment for someone who is quite hard to get, invite them to a lunch with an existing customer.

Several years ago, one well-known airline would not meet with us. But we knew they were interested in a solution like ours. (Our weekly vendor meet told us they were meeting with our dreaded competitor).

So we invited them to a lunch with an existing customer. After we had the intros, and everyone ordered, I quickly ate my meagre meal and said I had to make a call—so they could talk without me there. Then after 30 minutes, I came back, paid the bill, and we departed.

And, yes, we got the deal months later. Because of being a human, not a robot.

—take the guy who just got fired out to lunch, often. Yes, top IT execs get fired. Then they get ignored. I have met with several CIOs who were fired and we had lunch every few weeks. I even sent some of them lead lists of companies looking for CIOs or whatever their position might be. Guess what? One is the CIO of one of the largest universities in the world today. Another is the CIO of one of the largest aircraft manufacturers. Think they take my call? You bet. I was there when nobody else was.

Be a human, works every time. (Process guys would never do this, it cannot be measured in Salesforce as an “opportunity.” There is no percentage close tied to “humanity.”)

While these are level 1, trivial steps, they were not trivial to our new sales friend. More importantly, he just wanted to hear that his natural instinct to be creative, human, was not a voice alone. More than any advice, he wanted to hear that his natural inclinations were not crazy.

Creativity and process-driven mindsets are opposites. They are not a continuum. You are not sort of process and sort of creative. You are one or the other.

Creative sales people will crush metrics-driven every time because prospects are human, not numbers. Find a place that values creative sales, not its opposite.

Sales is the most human of endeavors. And humans love creativity and seek interesting people and things.

Remember Herodotus: “There is no force great enough to compel inability.”

Not even process. (He did not say that, we did)

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