Whether you’re in a start-up that’s recently confirmed your product/market fit or in an established company that’s ready to act on a new growth opportunity, to increase B2B sales you should periodically assess and tune your revenue engine. To make sure your sales and marketing processes are ready to help you accelerate your business, here are 5 steps you should take (or re-take) before you push the pedal to the floor.
1. Simplify and Document Your Existing B2B Sales Process
If you’re running a startup, you likely kept your sales process flexible while you were determining product/market fit. And if you recently hired a new sales leader, they probably made changes to any existing process you were using. Most established companies have a sales process that was established and documented at some point in the past. But, if you’re in an established company that’s ready to act on a new growth opportunity, your sales and marketing staff may simply apply the approach they’ve been using for their existing products/markets to the new opportunity without re-assessing whether any changes are needed.
If any of these scenarios sound familiar, now is the perfect time to take a fresh look at your sales and marketing processes and systems. Write down your sales process on a clean sheet of paper (or the back of a napkin) and take a good look at it. How many steps do you have?
If you have more than about 5-7 steps, then you likely have too many. The more steps you have in your sales process, the less clear the transition will be between steps. This will increase data capture errors, since most sales reps rather move forward with a prospect than worry about tracking each opportunity “micro-stage” in your CRM. It will also make it difficult to analyze, track and focus attention on problem areas. So, take another look at the process you’ve outlined and consider whether some of your steps are really sub-steps that are better captured as a secondary parameter.
2. Ensure Sales and Marketing are Aligned
To efficiently grow B2B revenue, the sales process must encompass both sales and marketing. As Pamela Vaughan of HubSpot writes in The Steps You Need to Define the Stages of Your Sales & Marketing Funnel, one of the most frequent causes of sales and marketing misalignment is the different view each team has of the funnel. In the worst cases, each team has it’s own funnel with it’s own terminology.
The first step for creating a well-tuned revenue engine is to ensure that your sales and marketing teams are working with a single funnel, based on a shared understanding of the key steps in the process. Your funnel should encompass your entire process from lead generation to close.
One of the more crucial areas of the funnel is the hand-off between marketing and sales. Many organizations use a process that was created by someone with a sales background. This often results in a funnel that starts with a qualified lead, ignoring the steps required to generate and qualify the lead.
The best approach is to make sure your funnel has a discrete step to measure leads that marketing has qualified. These are typically called “Marketing Qualified Leads” or MQLs. Your funnel should also have a discrete step to measure those MQLs that sales has accepted, typically referred to as Sales Qualified Leads (SQLs) or Sales Accepted Leads (SALs).
Implement a Service Level Agreement (SLA) to Reduce Finger Pointing
Simply creating a funnel with discrete stages for MQLs and SALs is not sufficient to ensure sales and marketing alignment. To ensure a smooth process, make sure your sales and marketing teams work together to define these stages and the actions that each party will take. As addressed in The Marketing Metric that Aligns Sales & Marketing, an SLA should address certain expectations that each party has concerning leads:
- Sales expects a steady stream of incoming leads
- Sales expects leads to be of a reasonably high quality, matching the company’s ideal customer profile in some way
- Marketing expects the leads to transition smoothly from them to sales
- Marketing expects the leads to be worked on promptly and regularly
The key to ensuring that each party’s expectations are met is to implement a Service Level Agreement (SLA) between sales and marketing. This process is not as hard as it sounds, and certainly shouldn’t require lawyers to review the contract. As described in How to Create a Service Level Agreement (SLA) for Better Sales & Marketing Alignment, it really only requires four steps:
- Get Sales and Marketing to agree on the definition of an MQL and get Marketing to sign up for how many MQLs it will deliver to sales
- Get Sales and Marketing to agree on the minimum follow-up requirements for every MQL
- Set up reporting to measure and communicate how Marketing is doing on its MQL goals
- Set up reporting to measure and communicate how Sales is following up on MQLs
Agree on the Definition of Marketing Qualified and Sales Accepted Leads
There are several approaches to lead qualification, the most frequently cited one being BANT (for more on BANT see World Class Lead Qualification – Increase Conversion by Vince Koehler). While specific qualification criteria for MQLs will vary by company, they should encompass both fit and interest. Fit, is a determination of how well the lead is aligned with the company’s target market. As I wrote in a previous post titled Sharpen Your Target Market to Build a Better Demand Generation Machine, if your target market is too broadly defined you will generate a huge number of MQLs, but your overall conversion rate may suffer. However, the degree to which a lead is aligned with your target market should not be the only criteria for passing it on to sales. Marketing must also determine the level of interest or how close the lead is to being ready to buy.
How should you determine which leads are accepted by sales? The standard approach is to for the sales rep to conduct a discovery call before accepting the lead and moving it forward as a sales opportunity. The sales rep should confirm the fit and interest, as well as obtain additional information on the need, the buyer and the buying process.
3. Make Sure Your CRM System Reflects Your Current Sales Process
Does your CRM system align with your sales process? In many companies, the CRM system has not evolved to reflect the current sales process. And if you’ve just updated your process you need to update your CRM system to reflect it.
The advantages to a unified sales process are nicely summarized in If you Don’t Have a Sales Process, you’re Doing it Wrong. It allows sales reps to:
- Be more efficient
- Develop stronger skills through repetition
- Not have to reinvent the wheel with every new opportunity
- Have next-step guidance
- Attain a sense of company commitment and a united team
- Close more deals!
And it allows sales managers to:
- Manage expectations and hold reps accountable
- Effectively manage the sales funnel and the sales pipeline
- Better forecast bookings
- Determine where in the process reps are getting stuck
4. Determine Which Metrics Everyone Should Focus On
Now that you’re capturing data on how opportunities are progressing through your sales process, which metrics should everyone focus on to reach your goal and increase B2B sales? There are nearly as many potential metrics as stars in the sky, but if you cover the walls or your employees’ screens with too many metrics they won’t pay attention to any!
The most useful metric to make visible and focus your marketing team on is how they are progressing with their MQL generation goal. This is best shown as a chart of month-to-date MQLs plotted versus a goal line.
The most useful metric to make visible and focus your sales team on is how they are progressing on their bookings goal. This is best shown as a chart of month-to-date bookings plotted versus a goal line.
Sales and Marketing executives will want to monitor the health of the entire funnel and optimize any stages where bottlenecks occur by looking at the change in conversion rates for each stage:
As well as changes in such metrics as:
- Sales Cycle Length
- Average Cost Per Sale
5. Make Your Sales Metrics Visible to Increase B2B Sales
The final step is to make your metrics visible, so marketers, sales reps and management can see how they and the entire team are doing. It’s important to make team metrics visible, not only to spur competition between individual’s, but to enable team members to see where extra help might be needed.
Marketing staff that are aware that opportunities are not closing, for example, might hold off on executing another lead generation campaign and turn their attention to creating content that focuses on the later stages of the prospect’s decision-making process. Similarly, sales reps who see that marketing is behind on their MQL generation goal, might be inclined to brainstorm some new ideas for lead gen campaigns based on their recent successes.
When you’re all done, don’t forget to continuously monitor your metrics to detect problems before they escalate out of control and leave your team frustrated and demotivated. In other words, pay attention to the ‘check engine’ lights on your dashboard and attend to them as soon as they comes on, so you’re revenue engine is well-tuned and always ready, as you accelerate to meet continually increasing B2B sales goals.
What’s your best tip? Please let me know in the comments! I’ll be reading them all.