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Over the past year, countless sales teams have had to rethink their processes to negotiate new dynamics and players in the sales cycle. In many cases, those adjustments have been for the better, making teams more agile and improving their sales effectiveness.
That’s what Alex Buckles, Vice President of Sales at Perkuto, and his sales team have found. And in our last episode of the Weekly Briefing, Jim Benton spoke with Alex to discuss how sales pros can navigate changes to the enterprise motion and other challenges that can undermine sales success in the current environment.
Alex, who is a U.S. Marine Corps veteran and the CEO and co-founder of Forecastable, also offered some advice to sales pros for avoiding burnout in an era of meeting mania.
Mapping Is Everything: Uncovering Hidden Stakeholders
Sales call analysis by Chorus.ai shows that, throughout the pandemic, the number of stakeholders involved in buying decisions has been increasing. And typically, the greater the deal size, the higher the number of key stakeholders involved in the process. In fact, our research shows that for opportunities valued at $100,000 or higher, sales pros can expect to see five or more stakeholders participating in the decision-making.
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Finding the right stakeholders to engage with throughout the sales process takes work — and that was true even before sales pros had to go virtual with their relationship-building.
Alex told Jim he relies heavily right now on tools like LinkedIn Sales Navigator to create a “buyer map” that allows him to visualize the organizational chart in a target company. This mapping process helps him identify the various layers of connection and influence up to the C-suite — and uncover “hidden stakeholders” as well.
“For example, if I know a VP of sales on the East Coast is directly involved, then I’ll look for another VP in the organization who is covering the Central or West region,” Alex said. “I need to get them both onto my buyer map because they both may have influence on the deal.”
Anticipating a Return to Face-to-Face Meetings for “Sizable Enterprise Deals”
Jim asked Alex if he believes he’s been successful at building relationships with — and earning the trust of — prospects and customers in a virtual selling environment.
“Yes, but it’s harder to do,” Alex said. “I’m very customer-centric, so I’ve always been able to build strong relationships with my prospects and customers. They can see that I have passion for what I do. And they know I care about helping them achieve the outcomes they want.”
He added, “I expect that sales pros who weren’t laser-focused on their customers’ needs prior to the pandemic are probably struggling right now. You’re not able to go out for a quick dinner with a customer and hope that it will get you to ‘yes.’”
Alex said he expects that virtual selling will continue post-pandemic, but a return to face-to-face interaction will be important for certain deal types, such as “sizable enterprise deals.”
He explained, “If you’re doing a $10 million deal, it’s good for groups and the buying side and selling side to meet and understand each other on a personal level. For major transactions, I think that face-to-face interaction just gives you more confidence on both sides of the process.”
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Always Be Ready to Explain Your Value Prop to CXOs
Sales call data from Chorus.ai shows that CXO participation is up over 40% year over year, on both the selling and buying side. Also, CXOs will sometimes show up to sales meetings unprompted. Jim asked Alex what impact this trend is having on the sales process.
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“It means sales pros always need to be on their toes, ready for that C-suite person to step in at any time,” said Alex. “You need to have your C-suite messaging ready and be prepared to explain your value proposition. If the value of your product or service doesn’t warrant a CXO’s attention, you’re not likely to get it. So, you always need to find a way to tie yourself to C-suite or board-level objectives.”
And that, Alex added, comes down to knowing your audience.
Jim emphasized that sales pros should welcome the presence of a CXO in the sales process, as daunting as it might be. “Our data shows that when a CFO is involved in calls, there’s a 34% increase in the win rate. So, we want them to show up because it’s helping to drive these deals,” he said.
Focus Energy on Identifying and Landing the “Winnable Deals”
Sales pros have been holding more meetings with prospects and clients during the pandemic, according to research from Chorus.ai. Alex agreed this is the trend: “If I’m not careful, every little gap on my calendar can get filled up.”
His advice to sales pros? Be deliberate about blocking time off to focus on what you need to, workwise or personally. Also, avoid being reactive and agreeing to every single meeting, as tempting as it might be in the current environment.
Of course, meetings are critical to sales, and Chorus.ai’s analysis of sales calls shows that it’s taking nearly six meetings for sales teams to get large deals (+$100,000) over the finish line. Unfortunately, many reps find they’re also spending just as much time in the sales process on deals lost as deals won.
Alex suggests that teams, to make the best use of their time and resources, strive to focus their attention and energy on winnable deals. “I think it’s so interesting how the data from Chorus shows teams are spending just as much time on losers as on winners,” he said.
Conducting post-mortems and win-loss analyses are musts for identifying the potential winners, said Alex. “Your goal as a seller should be to win 100% of the winnable deals,” he explained. “But you have to qualify them right, and ask yourself, ‘Could my company’s product or service meet the buyer’s desired outcomes for this purchase? If yes, then it’s a winnable deal.”
And, when you lose a winnable deal, figure out why — fast. You may find that you need to change up your qualifying process, for example. “When you improve the qualification process through a win-loss analysis, it pays dividends,” said Alex.
Applying the “White Glove” Treatment Early in the Sales Process
Digging more into how selling during the pandemic has changed the enterprise motion, Jim asked Alex how the team at Perkuto has tweaked their processes to be more successful. Alex said one newly adopted practice is to be much more strategic in how they respond to an initial inquiry — especially if it comes from the VP or SVP at a large enterprise company.
“In the past, we would have an SDR follow-up and qualify the lead,” Alex said. “That was just the standard process. But now, we ‘white glove’ it a little bit upfront. So, for example, maybe I’ll get on the phone first and say, ‘Hi, I’m Alex Buckles, VP of Sales at Perkuto. Let me introduce you to an account executive, here’s what we’re all about, and oh, by the way, I’m going to participate in that first call.”
He continued, “The white-glove treatment can help set you apart from the competition. Plus, it helps set up that executive alignment from the outset that you might need in the last mile to get the deal done.”
Jim said, “That’s a great strategy! You’ve got to change things up to stand out. I think we're seeing some of the best selling in a decade right now, with teams bringing that authenticity, reinventing the playbook, and being present like that.”
Adopt a “Habit of Urgency” for the Whole Sales Cycle
Jim and Alex also discussed how response times can impact deal outcomes. Not surprisingly, perhaps, faster response times are associated with higher win rates, according to data from Chorus.ai.
“Response times are absolutely important,” Alex said. “You should be responding as quickly as humanly possible in your process — without rushing critical steps, of course.”
He emphasized that moving swiftly at the start of the sales cycle is especially important because initial delays can create a negative, cascading effect throughout the entire process. “Anytime you can save even just one day in the sales cycle, you can increase your chances of success, right?” Alex noted.
One best practice Alex recommends is adopting a “habit of urgency” throughout the whole sales cycle. “I’m focused on working as quickly as possible, and I tell reps they should do the same,” he said. “You don’t want to be at the demo phase when your competitor has already moved on through pricing and is now working on the business case. That means they’re building a deeper relationship with your prospects than you are.”