Expert: Put Sales Teams in ‘Unique Position’ to Take Control of Opportunities

Scott Peterson

Scott Peterson has dedicated the last couple of decades to sales, leading and managing sales teams and working with executive leaders helping them build, lead and maintain high-performance sales teams.

Peterson, the founder and managing principal of Carver Peterson Consulting, a Chicago-based revenue growth consulting firm founded in 2014, has an over-riding “big idea” about who is responsible for what in developing a sales plan for a business.

Peterson shared that idea — and more of his expertise — in a webinar, “Take and Maintain Control of Your Sales Engine,” put together by the National Association for Business Resources in partnership with the Best and Brightest Programs, Corp! Magazine and MichBusiness.

“As the executive leader it is your organization’s responsibility to design your unique sales process so that your sales people can take and maintain control of the sale,” Peterson told the webinar audience. “If you don’t, you’re handing control of the buying journey to your prospect, which they will gladly take, and the performance of your sales team will vary significantly.”

It’s important, he pointed out, because research shows most potential clients are already more than halfway down what Peterson calls the “sale journey” by the time a sales team sees them.

It’s a statistic Peterson called “startling.”

“Customers are already 57% of the way down the purchase path before they consider engaging with you,” Peterson said. “What I take from it is your prospects are learning about you, comparing and contrasting you, they’re looking at your reputation, they’re looking at your pricing, they’re vetting (you).

“They’re making real decisions before you even get an opportunity to interact with them,” he added. “That makes it all the more critical that when you finally gain that initial connection you’re able to take control of that initial buying journey.”

During a series of poll questions in the webinar, Peterson showed participants what they should be looking for. The questions helped determine:

  • Approximately 31% to 40% of a company’s clients are driving 80% of that firm’s revenue.

“What we can take from this is there’s a small percentage of clients that are driving the vast majority of revenue,” Peterson pointed out.

  • Some 50 percent of participants were “confident” their time and resources are focused on the company’s biggest opportunities and best clients. Some 40% weren’t sure, and another 10% aren’t confident of that.

“So 40% of clients are driving the revenue, and half of you are uncertain if you’re allocating your time and resources to that same group,” he said.

  • Some 45% of sales representatives are emailing their sales proposals to prospective clients, but more than half (55%) aren’t emailing it at all, opting instead to simply do it live. “We want 100% of our proposal opportunities presented live, rather than emailed over in advance,” Peterson said. “Based on our small sample, it looks like about half our audience (55%) was presenting live while the remaining group emailed it over in advance.”
  • Some 30% are incorporating at least 2-3 stakeholders in the sales process, 10% are only considering a single stakeholder, and the other 60% are somewhere in-between.

“For the most part we’re incorporating more than a handful of stakeholders,” Peterson said. “We want our clients identifying and incorporating the right stakeholders.  It appears 40% are including 3 or less stakeholders and 60% are including 4+.”

It’s an important statistic, Peterson said, because research shows that, on average, some 5.4 stakeholders are involved in buying decisions. That’s different than it was when Peterson started, when pitches were basically made to the top individual.

“There was a single decision-maker who was going to be critical and as long as we had that person we were able to influence the sale,” Peterson explained. “Stakeholders have different wants and different needs and different desired gains. We need to … to really understand them and understand what’s most important to them, so we can continue to tailor our messaging, we can ask the right questions and ultimately add value to these individuals.”

Buying behaviors started to change with the economic downturn from 2008-2011. Instead of being made by a single person, buying decisions were being made by a group consensus decision.

“What you can see is there are 5.4 people (now), making it all the more complicated to get to that final ‘yes,’” Peterson said. “What we need to recognize is these stakeholders had different jobs, different needs, they’re paid differently, their jobs are at risk differently. It can become very complicated to be able to sell unless you can get this buying group to agree on the problem.”

Peterson said research shows that some 38% of sales pitches end up being “ghosted,” or ending without a decision. It doesn’t get a “yes,” it doesn’t get a “no” and it doesn’t even get a “not yet.”

The problem, according to Peterson, is that the ghosting makes it hard for a company to make decisions in its pipeline and its funnel.

“When you get into your CRM (Customer Relationship Management) and you see a weighted funnel, and opportunities that are relatively deep into the stages, it’s safe to assume that a good portion of these opportunities are going to end up disappearing,” Peterson said. “It becomes extremely valuable to explore those opportunities that are in your pipeline, making sure they’re current and accelerating through your sales process.”

Another problem is a high turnover rate among sales people. According to research Peterson presented, the turnover rate among U.S. sales people is some 30%, or three times the normal rate of other professional services roles. That means 3-of-10 people aren’t going to still be around at the end of a year.

“What we’ve found is the majority of that turnover are sellers inside of their first year,” Peterson said. “Again, when I look back to why this is happening, a large portion of it is they don’t have a repeatable and scalable and sustainable approach to sales that they’re growing up in that they’re immediately able to step in and start performing.”

Peterson said organizations are casting a wide net, rather than putting together a “really focused approach” from a business development standpoint.

“What we’re seeing in most organizations is that they haven’t taken the time to really examine … the demographics, the trigger events that are taking place, like really analyzing and understanding that group so we can prioritize our best resources and invest appropriate time,” he said. “Our sales and marketing efforts really (should be) focused on prospects that match that ideal profile.

“All too often sellers are not incorporating the key stakeholders they really need to be part of that journey,” he added. “Too often we’re seeing deals advance down the funnel, stakeholders not being involved, and a hidden stakeholder who is influential kills a deal at the finish line.”

Peterson reiterated key points businesses need to take into account when they’re fashioning sales teams and a sales strategy:

  • Have precision and focus on that small group of clients, really examining them and understanding their unique characteristics, and making sure to allocate time and resources to prospects that match.
  • Bringing in the 5.4 stakeholders into the buying journey, specifically at the discovery, proposal and final proposal review.
  • Have really good and thoughtful questions, rather than pitching or demonstrating.
  • Present proposals, rather than emailing them.
  • Get final decisions, rather than no answers.

“My recommendation is that you take some time,” Peterson told the audience. “Start to define what financial alignment looks like to you, and what cultural alignment looks like.”