The selling model has big changes ahead. According to Forrester's "The Selling System in the Age of the Customer" report, a critical gap exists between businesses that espouse a customer-centric approach and a sales and marketing process that still focuses on products, not customers. The report, authored by Forrester principal analyst Scott Santucci, was released at Forrester's Forum for Sales Enablement Professionals in Scottsdale, AZ.
The gap between what customers need and what sellers are offering is already wide. In Forrester's 2013 "Sales Report Card" survey, only 24 percent of executives agreed that people who sold to them understood their issues and how to help. "That is horrifyingly low. That is Business 101," Santucci says.
Santucci sees the problem as one of execution. "CEOs and executives make customer-centered strategies, and come up with new ways to innovate, but the problem is the sales and marketing infrastructure, the selling system, is designed in the old way," he says.
An example of a product-centric view in the current state of sales processes would be if you "say the opportunity is defined [by] if the client has budget or not. The problem with that approach is once budgeting happens, the client has already figured out what they want to do," Santucci explains. The right way in the new age of selling would be to have a prospective customer identify a root cause problem, then fund the opportunity that way.
By implementing a customer-centric view, companies can reduce waste. "The byproduct of the current state is what we call 'random access sales support,' random inquiries for sales support that don't map to the needs of the customer," Santucci says. "We estimate fifteen percent of SG&A [sales and general administrative cost] is available to be redirected or repurposed."
Santucci has already seen clients take steps to close this gap between a customer-centric intention and executing it in the sales and marketing team, though he hasn't shared the preliminary positive results yet. The report quotes Symantec CEO Steve Bennett on an earnings call a year ago acknowledging its "before" state. "On our go-to-market strategy, what I would say simply, we had talented people everywhere in the world really working hard but that our system doesn't work, or probably better said we don't have a system. Our process, our technology, the tools we have, our knowledge management, our sales force is not empowered and freed up to sell," Bennett told investors during the call.
If companies don't embrace a go-to-customer approach, Santucci warns, they will be reduced to competing on price. "You'll be treated as a commodity supplier," he says. By focusing on how to solve the customer's problems, companies can bring their sales teams in step with the knowledgeable, budget-conscious buyers that dominate in this age.