Companies and their sales leaders face significant challenges in addressing growth goals in a rapidly changing world. Despite technological advances, changing customer behaviors, and increasing complexity in the sales channel, sales models have changed little in the past several decades. It is easy to see why companies are struggling.
We've uncovered lessons from leading industries that offer the most improvements to others looking to unlock more sales growth—the core elements of this new approach are what we call agile selling. Agile selling is how companies use a broader mix of intermediaries, channel partners, and customers to extend their reach and growth into markets, and is used by leaders in the industries with the most complex distribution channels. Internally, it involves a specific set of opportunities used to tune the internal sales process and organization with significant results.
Leading-practice companies—today's agile sellers—use this relationship-management experience to:
- Increase sales. A wider, deeper network of "selling partners of choice" can become top producers.
- Raise profitability. Leads may be converted at higher rates due to channel optimization.
- Extend their reach. Agile sellers are particularly adept at quickly aligning themselves with companies already established in new markets.
- Understand the customer. Agile selling is about channel partners that share critical sales and planning information because it is in their best interests to do so.
The Secrets of Agile Sellers
So what exactly do agile sellers do better or differently?
They think outside the company. Most importantly, when designing and building sales programs, agile sellers consider the skills and requirements not only of their direct and indirect resources, but also all parties that inhabit the selling ecosystem: intermediaries, channel partners, competitors, even customers. Agile sellers make sure that each step and each party in the sales process contributes materially to the desired customer experience and, ultimately, to a return on investment.
They retain a tight focus on the customer experience. Agile selling leaders have aligned their front-office functions and have reduced complexity and cycle time across certain processes to create a more efficient and agile organization. Beyond specific offerings, the most powerful competitive differentiator may be how well companies deliver experiences that match customers' needs and preferences. Agile sellers create innovative pull-oriented selling processes designed around the customer.
They apply deep analytical capabilities. Improving the ability to capture and leverage data is key to agile selling. The linchpin is often predictive analytics. Predictive analytics helps you recognize profit-generating and productivity-optimizing opportunities more rapidly, deploy salespeople more effectively, prioritize leads, exert greater influence on key prospects, and better assess salespeople's effectiveness to appropriately align compensation.
They align sales and IT. Agile sellers align their sales and IT organizations. Chief sales officers and chief information officers work collaboratively to develop flexible IT infrastructures and applications, design robust sales-technology-training programs, and use analytics to help external partners' sales forces improve both sides' sales, marketing, lead management, and compensation programs.
They adopt early—and strategically—tools such as social media, mobility devices, and cloud computing. Agile sellers use social media's networking capabilities to build cross-functional communities of knowledge that spark new levels of collaboration and information sharing. Agile sellers recognize that mobile devices can turbocharge the sales cycle, so they build formal, balanced mobility-technology strategies and programs—exercising appropriate control without restricting people's mobility-aided effectiveness. And cloud computing allows agile sellers to road test ways to improve demand generation.
For most companies, agile selling is a work in progress. But that doesn't mean rewards aren't being logged along the way. The reality is that a complete shift may not be necessary or even feasible. Yet every step in the building of an agile selling model can yield profitable benefits.
Robert Wollan is global managing director of Accenture’s Sales & Customer Services practice. Naveen Jain and Michael Heald are managing directors in the practice.