Sales Engagement: How the Rules Have Changed
Software-as-a-service (SaaS) continues to change how businesses run every aspect of their operations, from their day-to-day accounting processes to inventory control to human resources services and so much more.
Shifting software to the cloud offers a significantly new landscape for the relationship between sales reps and their customers. SaaS is, by definition, an ongoing relationship, meaning sales reps need to take on a much more active role as cloud computing becomes more and more dominant.
Engagement Vs. Enablement
There are two terms I believe need to be clarified for this discussion. Sales engagement is the relationship between the sales rep and the customer. Sales enablement is the act of training a sales rep on new or enhanced sales skills, product information, competitive insights, and differentiation.
Put another way, sales enablement is the ongoing process of making the sales rep an expert, not only in selling a specific product line, but in knowing the market, the competitors, market trends, recent customer deployments, and product features. (For SaaS, knowledge of cybersecurity technology can also be an exceptional addition to your portfolio.) Sales engagement puts this expertise to use for the benefit of the customer, becoming a consultative resource to help the customer solve their problems, improve their processes, and build their business.
Built correctly, an effective engagement will see sales reps proactively reaching out with information and support, building an ongoing relationship based on value and trust. The information learned in sales enablement activities is critical in building rapport with future customers.
Previously, the sales relationships were all about selling the biggest license possible. A singular, grand transaction that transitioned a customer from buying to implementing and in many cases, the end of the sales cycle. Contrastingly, in the world of SaaS, the buying and implementing cycles are more continuous events, which over time can expand the customer wallet share and further deepen the customer investment, while improving the customer’s ROI or TCO.
Creating these buying cycles requires sales to constantly be on the lookout for new and impactful expansion opportunities. Customers will be far more engaging if sales take a vested interest in the customer's business challenges, pain points, and future vision.
To build this level of trust and rapport, it’s vital that the entire support, implementation and relationship management constructs are in place. Customers do not expect perfection, but they certainly expect commitment and transparency. Even the worst implementation challenges can turn into strong relationship building if handled correctly. It will also help build trust that can be leveraged for future solution expansions.
As I alluded to earlier, this new buying cycle requires sales reps to think consultatively. Customers rely on the training, experience, and industry contacts of their sales reps to advise and troubleshoot challenging issues. Sales reps become teachers, advisers, and experts, and their customers learn as they interact. All of these consultative actions can also help influence the customers’ purchasing decisions.
It bears repeating. To be successful in this approach, you need to know your product, your market, your competitors, ongoing market trends, and your customers.
Identify and Understand
That last one—customers—is perhaps the most important and the most challenging. To know your customer, you need to identify and understand their short- and long-term needs and goals. You need to know who they are competing against; why they win and lose in the market. You need to know how their business has been, is, and will be transforming to respond to the market. You need to develop a plan on how you can add value to their strategy. What information, expertise or relationship can you bring to the table that customers will see value in and separate you from the competition? If you don’t know, you will need to conduct discovery sessions to better understand the motivations, political landscape, and business challenges at hand.
To know all these benchmarks, sales reps need to be able to effectively use the tools they have learned—and continue to learn—as part of your firm’s enablement strategy. Seminars, formal instruction, trade shows, supplier meetings, and other similar training opportunities can go a long way toward achieving these goals.
Networking is also a key element. One of the most effective relationship builders I have seen boils down to this simple statement. “I may not know the answer, but I can find it for you quickly.” Networking with trade show representatives, existing customers, seminar speakers, supplier agents, and so on give you access to a tremendous catalog of knowledge and the relationships to tap into it when necessary.
Networking with additional members of your customer’s organization can add similar value. A frontline user may offer a significant insight that a buyer might have overlooked. Expand your customer network to add stakeholders to improve your understanding of the organization and how they are using your product.
The bottom line is to always be nurturing and always be networking. Enablement is not just a course or a class. It’s a constant desire to learn and apply knowledge to drive business outcomes. From the user to the C-Level, the goal should be to bring value to every discussion.
Eric Tambyln leads CX strategy and business development at Oracle. With 30 years of experience in the industry, he’s led CX innovations in contact center, speech, voice platform, and web customer service to financial services, human resources, social media, mobile, and telecommunications industries.