Sales Effectiveness

Meeting Sales Quota: Sales Effectiveness & Technology

Written for on November 9, 2015

Sales Quota

No matter what industry you operate in or what your role is, it is pretty clear that we live in a fast pace world where customer experience is primordial and mass customisation / personalisation is a given. If you happen to be involved with the sales of products and services and are at the cold face with the customers then you would also know how much “sales” has actually changed. The biggest driver behind that change has been the Internet, not only its existence but most importantly, its availability and mobility through the use of smart devices.

20+ years ago, when I started my sales career in B2B software sales, we would generate our leads through series of mailers and cold calls, advertising in in-flight magazines and attending big trade shows. We would send expensive brochure packs, and host breakfast briefings to educate our target market. Our days were filled with activities related to understanding issues and working out solutions. We would listen to their pains, tactical and consequential and we would formulate a solution aligning our products and services perfectly so our path was the best one to solving their problems and meeting their KPIs.

We were solution selling. We were the golden boys and girls of sales. We had the knowledge and knowledge was power.

As a consumer, I would also turn to a financial advisor to help me pick the right insurance products and superannuation plan because he was the expert, he had the knowledge. And for pretty much everything, that’s how commerce functioned; we would turn to experts in the field to get the advice, recommendations, or even just being pointed in the right direction.

The new world

The internet and Wi-Fi have turned that model on its head. Now, I can go online and get a few quotes for income protection insurance for example and compare them side by side. I can Google search a model of washing machine and compare prices online, while standing next to a same one in a store.

Knowledge is truly at our fingertips, anytime, anywhere.

As a sales person today, our target market educates us; and for many of us, it’s a hard lesson to learn.

A study of more than 1,400 B2B cross industry customers by CEB Global, revealed that 57% of a typical purchase decision is made before a customer even talks to a supplier.

The reality is that customers don’t need us the way they used to.

The rules of engagements have been changed, not by us, but by the customers. Customers are informed; they have access to information and can formulate possible solutions and shortlist possible providers on their own.

The expectations on sales people on the other hand haven’t. Organisations still need to return shareholder value, and they need a sales team that performs and achieve its targets.

What’s sales effectiveness?

If you are not too familiar with sales then you need to know that essentially sales is a process, each step is an opportunity to succeed or fail to move to the next step.

Sales effectiveness is about a sales team ability to successfully align their sales process to the customers buying process and to win each stage and ultimately earn the business within an acceptable timeframe and at an acceptable cost of sales.

There are some very important elements in this definition:

  • Sales team
  • Sales process
  • Buying process
  • Alignment
  • Stages
  • Acceptable timeframe
  • Acceptable cost

This means that the sales effectiveness is not solely the results of the action of the sales team, but in fact of the whole organisation. It combines methodologies, processes and soft skills in management. Most particularly of course, it focuses on sales but also on marketing, because marketing generate those warm leads that fill up the sales funnel.

Sales effectiveness strive to increase the organisations revenues through customer acquisitions, increased sales volumes through existing and new product, and but cross and up selling to existing clients.

Sales under the new paradigm and the Sales Quota

There is no doubt that the new rules of engagements described above are representing a significant challenge to businesses and especially to sales professionals. New methodologies (such as Challenger) are gaining ground. New processes and touch points that leverage technology and new services are also coming into play, e.g. social selling, using LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest etc… and this applies to B2B as well as B2C models. People talk about Sales 2.0 and inbound marketing. CRM platforms have grown multidimensionally to encompass activities related to marketing, services and social media.

However, some aspects of sales and their impact on the Sales Quota haven’t changed. Customers are still looking for value for money and low risks and they still need to understand what they are buying. If you want to impact your Sales Quota you should listen to what they want.

So with all the emphasis on the new toys such as social selling, etc. it is easy to get sucked into the hype vortex and forget the obvious.

With a customer far much more well informed and who has formulated a solution it is even more important for a sales person to have a deep understanding of that customer’s needs, and in a B2B situation, the industry trends and challenges, and be able to present alternative solutions that will give better returns and long term shareholder value for example.

In financial services situation for example, the amount of product choices and options is enormous. For consumers, it has become information overload. The responsibility of selecting the right product and options is now on the customer and even with access to information on the web, it is no easy task to compare like with like and make the right choices.

Providing an accurate quote, proposal or statement of advice in a timely manner should be a given, yet, again because of the multitude of options and variations, errors are easily made. Such errors can have devastating consequences, e.g. in a case of under insurance.

But there is hope!

The sales process hasn’t totally change in its entirety

Over the recent years, there has been a significant growth in the use of technology in sales. From lead gen, to eCommerce and CRM. One piece of technology, referred to as CPQ (i.e. Configure – Price – Quote) has been experiencing significant growth and gaining momentum.

As its name indicates, CPQ software focuses on those critical and often complex steps of the sales process, where a customer needs have to be identified and matched with a suitable product(s), and product features and then priced accordingly. It also includes that final step where the quote is formalised and presented into a suitable manner for the customer, whether that is on a webpage (in a self-service mode), a call centre sales agent screen, or a printed Statement of Advice for example.

CPQ technology was born in the late 1980s and first introduced in the manufacturing sector, but over recent years forward thinking organisations have adopted the technology as part of their sales process.

The benefits of CPQ technology directly impacts an organisation’s bottom line with significant improvements such as 100% quotes accuracy, 50% increase in the number of quotes produced, 27% reduction in length of the sales cycle, 17% increase in leads conversion rates, 3.9% renewal rates and overall better Customer Experience according to the Aberdeen Group (May 2014).

In their September 2014 report the Aberdeen Group found that:

  • Best in class firms turn 30% more quote into sales and
  • CPQ users increase customer retention by 3.9% annually

However, not all CPQ technologies are the same. Many product configurators can handle guided selling scenarios, needs analysis and the ability to produce a quote, but they fall short when faced with complexities such as compliances, multiple layers of business rules and mixed distribution channels.

Complex manufacturing has pushed technology providers to develop significant capabilities into their CPQ tools, and the best are built upon a robust rules and knowledge engine.

Nonetheless, it is that ability to simplify the complex and handle multiple layers of rules such as compliance, distribution channels and tapping into various backend systems (including analytics) that can empower a financial services institution to create new, innovative and personalised products and bundles that are unique to the individual, and become best in class for sales effectiveness and customer experience.

Mass Customisation

The Empowered Buyer – How Personalisation Makes the Sale

Written for on August 31, 2016

If you live in Australia, you know all about the special deals that car dealers offer at the end of the financial year (EOFY); and if you were in the market for a new car like me, June would have been your most expensive month!

After your home, the family car is most likely your biggest financial commitment, no matter how you finance that purchase. So picking the best vehicle that meets your needs and budget as well as factoring in the cost of ownership for the long term and the resale value is a significant undertaking. Buying a new car is also an emotional decision that involves more complex feelings such as status symbols, pre-conceived ideas, likes and dislikes – some acquired over many years as well as inherited from our parents – and, of course, options from family and friends. Who would have thought that buying a vehicle for getting us from point A to point B (mostly from home to work and back) could be so complex!

The challenge doesn’t stop there. Gone are the days of the Ford Model T’s “any colour as long as it’s black”; this is the era of mass-personalisation. Personalising your new car is also more than just picking the colour. Car manufacturers, like vendors in most industries, are well aware of the price-conscious buyers, so several features have been made optional. These features are not just cosmetic ones either; they range from engine or wheel sizes to safety features, sun/moon roofs, leather seats, etc.

Knowing that we start doing our homework online to help us with that decision, car manufacturers have invested in websites with a highly visual and graphical interface to help us in our selection process. We can even now get an online quote/estimate for the on-the-road cost as well as the mandatory call to action: book a test drive from the nearest dealer.

Being the detailed and analytical person that I am, I was determined that my decision process was going to be an educated one, and any influences and opinions from my father and friends could be debated using documented hard facts and solid information.

My first approach was quite similar to what I would do to select an insurance product: I looked for comparison sites to compare different makes and model features side by side. I was a bit disappointed by what I found, which was generally a clunky user interface and a lack of selection criteria. In other words, you need to know the makes, models and grades of cars you want to compare. The problem is, there are so many different cars! How do I come up with a short list?

That left me having to go through several manufacturers’ websites. I ended up making a short list of car manufacturers based on conversations with my mechanic, my father, friends and by simply looking at what I see on the road that “looked nice.” It wasn’t quite the start that I was expecting to have, but nonetheless, I had my short list of six car manufacturers.

However, things got a bit more complicated when I had to identify the actual models and grade(s) that could potentially fit the bill. Ultimately, I had to extract the information that was relevant to me and manually enter it into a spreadsheet so I could compare. One advantage of that tedious method was that I was also able to add other valuable information from other sources such as the cost of comprehensive insurance, registration and maintenance cost to get a feel for ongoing running costs.

At the end of the day, I ended up with two tabs – one that compared the shortlist of six different cars on a minimum set of key criteria then a detailed tab to compare the top two.

What I found interesting was how each manufacturer allows consumers such as me to identify their ideal car. This is where things also started to get complicated and frustrating since some options are not available across all base models or grades. Car manufacturers have created a hierarchy that goes something like: Make -> Model -> Grade -> Car. So to start with, I had to pick the right grade to get exposed to the features that I wanted. That sometimes caused problems, because I wouldn’t always know what the features would be until I had made that grade selection, and backtracking to select another grade often meant starting from scratch (sigh).

Another point of frustration was when I tried to compare side by side two different grades from the same model. One manufacturer had a convoluted method that required me to select a totally different model in which I had no interest, and then replace it with the one I wanted (sigh again).

None seemed to offer the ability to save my configuration so that I could return to it at a later date. This meant that I had to reconfigure vehicles dozens of times over and over again, which is an expensive purchase since a decision wasn’t going to be made in just a few clicks!

Lastly, what was also disappointing was that my online requests for booking a test drive fell into black holes. There were either no or very late follow-ups, and they were totally disconnected from my actual visits to showrooms.

So my advice to car manufacturers is this:

First, you’re doing great work with the visual appeal of your websites – the embedded videos and images look awesome.

However, remember that we consumers are channel hoppers

we sometimes start on a PC/laptop, but we also use tablets, smart phones and different browsers too.  So it needs to work and be responsive across all of those platforms. Then, of course, we are going to visit the dealer and go for a test drive. If I book a test drive online, I should get a call back within 24 hours at the most, and when I visit the dealer, they should know already who I am and what I want to test drive.

When it comes to configuration, given the growing number of options and variations, whatever technology you are using now isn’t cutting the mustard … sorry. It started well and gave me the expectation that I could “build my car” easily, but it failed very quickly. Your “configurator” didn’t allow me to start the selection process where I wanted with the features that matter to me. There wasn’t even the option to rank some feature categories such as safety or fuel consumption to narrow down the choices, and it didn’t allow me to go back and forth as I changed my mind or changed priorities (and I do that a lot). I didn’t get any guidance in the process, and the fact that after spending a few minutes configuring my car, there was no option to save it was also disengaging.

The good news is, there is affordable technology that does all of the above and more; it’s called Configure-Price-Quote (CPQ), and the best ones are integrated into your CRM.  It’s a game changer when it comes to empowering consumers to personalise a product, services or bundles of the two. How do I know that? Because I happen to work for one of the leading CPQ vendors on the market.

And for those who are wondering what car I ended up buying, I got the Mazda 6. It came out on top of my selection criteria and even has a bonus “zoom zoom” button!

Omni-Channel Strategy

Looking to Adopt an Omni-Channel Strategy? Here Are the Top Considerations to Be Aware of

Written for on September 12, 2017

At the core of the customer experience is understanding the needs and wants of customers and the ability to consistently delight them at the right time – regardless of channel.

Like many industries, consumers’ expectations of brands are ever-changing targets in insurance. They are influenced by everyday digitisation and easy-to-use devices brought to us by tech giants such as Apple and Amazon, as well as their own unique consumer lifecycles. One pivotal aspect of customer experience and influencing a consumer lifecycle is engagement, and here lies a significant hurdle for insurers. Insurance is typically a low-touchpoint industry and a tremendous barrier to the crucial engagement that’s required to create an ideal customer experience. Getting over this hurdle requires innovation, creativity and the right technology.

Life-insurance products and general-insurance products are distinctively different, and health insurance is a beast in its own right. From a provider’s perspective, that means very different challenges and ways to engage with consumers. However, one thing they all have in common is the low touchpoint. In most cases, there is only contact with the insured at buying time, claims, renewals and occasionally when changes need to made to an existing policy. This means that there are very few opportunities for the insurance companies to get to know their policyholders and engage with them.

The low-touchpoint nature of insurance means that there is a significant reliance on data collected from claims and other big-data sources to understand consumers’ needs, map their lifecycles, create new products and provide a better customer experience. Selling insurance is selling a promise, and in the case of life insurance for example, one that might have to be fulfiled decades down the road. Therefore, trust is also a big factor. For example, Total and Permanent Disability (TPD) insurance, maintained over a couple of decades, can amount to approximately $60,000 in paid premiums. Consumers need to trust that the insurer will still be around to pay a claim should the need arise.

The term omni-channel originated in the context of a seamlessly integrated retail experience across multiple channels, such as online stores, apps, telephone and brick-and-mortar shops. Clearly, there is a close relationship between the sales channels and the technological platform. The seamless aspect is essential to a flawless customer experience, despite the significant interoperability challenges. The ability to engage with customers across multiple platforms increases friction and opportunities to capture further relevant data.

The consumer buying process is also very different. To many people, insurance is boring, and buying policies is often dictated by affordability. Health insurers are very much at the mercy of comparison sites, which essentially are brokers in their own rights, and only compare and sell the products from participating health insurers. Gradually, we are seeing similar comparison sites for general insurance such as for vehicles. This effectively creates a race to the bottom, where premium cost is the key measure of comparison. This is actually quite dangerous, because it often results in under-insurance (either by choice or unknowingly), while customers should be comparing products based on benefits and coverage in the event of having to make a claim. It is clear that with both health and general insurance there is no consumer loyalty – switching is as easy as swiping the screen on an app.

Health and general insurance have essentially become commodities, where ill-informed consumers can fall into the trap of purchasing the wrong policy or underinsuring themselves. An omni-channel engagement that simplifies the process of comparing similar products and their benefits (not just cost) would not only help consumers to better inform themselves but also make educated choices and decisions beyond simple price comparisons. Being a “trusted advisor” and reliable source of information, such as advice in risk reduction or incident prevention, could also facilitate building up brand loyalty.

Life-insurance products, including TPD and income protection, have further complications. For many people, these are bundled into their superannuation, and in most cases, they have no idea as to whether or not they are the best-suited products for their individual circumstances. Plus, it’s better than having no insurance at all.  However, this might change soon since regulators are wanting such insurance products to be decoupled from superannuation. This will mean that customers will need to become more knowledgeable about the products and more conscious in the decision-making process.

In fact, the regulatory change may create a great opportunity for providers of TPD and income protection to engage with their prospects and create meaningful customer relationships.

Life-insurance products are complex, and they elude most people. Clearly, consumers need to be “educated” on the nuances and given the tools to make the best selections. While some will still rely on the sound advice of a financial adviser on this matter, many do not have access to that advice. Leveraging their different sales channels as well as communication platforms, insurers have the opportunity to proactively drive that “education” aspect and build a bridge with consumers. For example, using web-based presentation tools, an insurer could host a live presentation with Q&A on regulatory changes and implications. While an app might not be as useful to a life insurer as it is for a general insurer, an authentication app could streamline lost-password resolution, call-centre authentication and justify downloading the app.

In regards to insurance policies that are sold via financial advisers, the churn here might not be as intense as it is in general and health insurance. However, some insurers noted that brokers’ upfront commissions have been used as an incentive to frequently switch clients to different policies, despite the risks and effort associated with this.

Here again, the regulator-imposed changes on commissions are having an impact. One of those consequences is that for many financial advisers, some clients have become too costly to manage, and insurers now need to have a suitable channel to look after those policyholders. This is further compounded by the fact that quite often people are still unclear about the policy they have bought and don’t fully understand all of its aspects. If this isn’t addressed in a timely manner, it is likely that the policyholder’s perceived value may not be strong enough, resulting in a buyer’s regret and a cancellation.

Channel challenges don’t stop there. As discussed earlier, consumers’ expectations are influenced by the likes of Amazon, Apple, Uber and Airbnb. We are connected 24×7 thanks to our smartphones and increasing number of IoT devices. However, buying insurance, especially life-insurance products, is a lot more complex. Product Disclosure Statements (PDSs) are lengthy and hard to understand, which is why a number of providers have ongoing initiatives regarding the simplification of that buying process. Automated underwriting is gradually making its way in, and the use of big data also provides further insight into consumer lifecycles and their changing needs.

Insurers rapidly have to come up with innovative ways to engage with their customers more frequently, educate them and sell the value of their policies no matter the life stage. Consumers are a moving target and a fast-moving one too. Insurers should be working hard at keeping customers well within their sight while implementing innovative and agile ways to engage across all of their relevant channels.

However, here’s a word of caution. While leveraging an omni-channel engagement approach is clearly beneficial, each individual channel needs to make sense and be relevant. Jumping on the “me too” bandwagon and offering a multitude of channels to customers to match or be ahead of the competition can have disastrous consequences. The chosen technology-driven channels need to add value to the consumer as well as to the relationship. Furthermore, the correct technology needs to be in place to support the channel-hopping nature of the consumers’ behaviour.

Insurers are at a turning point. External influences and regulatory changes have opened opportunities to engage more closely to consumers, and great customer experience can lead to brand loyalty and advocacy. However,  achieving this requires consistency in the delivery. Leveraging omni-channel sales models as well as omni-engagement platforms has significant benefits in delivering outstanding customer experience; however, caution must be exercised since a channel or platform must remain relevant to the customers.