When you work in sales, hitting your budgets and closing deals are the primary objectives.
But in an increasingly complex business world where competitive barriers are being torn down, great selling alone often won’t get you over the line.
Collaborating with others from outside of your sales team is not only a great way to gain deeper insight but it could also lead to alternative ideas and new solutions for clients.
This type of collaboration is an important process for any sales executive from a massive company like Twitter, to a newer up-and-comer like InExpress. We spoke to some senior sales executives for their insights on the value of collaboration.
Research is everything.
For Suzy Nicoletti, head of online sales for Twitter Australia, research is the foundation of everything.
“Twitter is consistently optimising our product based on user and advertiser insights gathered by our research team,” she says.
“Research is the foundation for our efforts to consistently evolve our product and make Twitter the best possible experience for users and advertisers alike.
“We use research insights to identify the best and most utilised features by users on the platform, and with these insights, we help to provide tailored solutions for our advertising partners.
“As a real-time, public and conversational platform, feedback from Twitter users on their experience is constantly being used to improve the platform and in turn assist advertisers to engage with their consumers directly through Twitter.”
Educating yourself and your customers
With researching comes education says Gareth Ball, sales director at Sustainable Energy Solutions.
Ball says the typical “hard sell” works in very few environments these days, rather customers want to learn more about a product or a company before buying into it.
He says by working with specialists outside of his company’s primary revenue stream, he is able to add more value to his clients energy requirements.
“For example energy costs comprise of two main components: raw energy and distribution costs. Whilst we are experts in the raw energy market our knowledge was limited when it came to the transmission cost of power which is the larger portion of the overall cost,” he says.
“Working with market leading companies within this area has assisted in us moving away from the hard sell and towards demonstrating our value by educating our clients on all matters energy related.
“By working with parties outside of our team we have created a more comprehensive tailor made energy procurement strategy from which our clients benefit from as do we.”
If you can’t do it, find someone who can strike a deal.
This is common theme among the executives we spoke to. If your team or your company lacks required expertise for a deal the best way to retain customers, and keep them happy, is to find partners and strike up a mutually beneficial agreement.
“At the end of the day to be an effective sales person, you want your customers to keep coming back to you,” says Shaun Birley, head of sales and operations at InExpress, an Australian importing and exporting services startup.
“Collaborating with different companies and having partnerships allows you to become a one-stop-shop for your customers. Doing so allows you to share your customers or a database and refer your customers to someone you know will provide them with a great [supplementary service].
“If it’s something we can’t assist with we’ll always point them in the right direction. We always try to collaborated with people who have the same target market or ideal customer, so that we can create a value ad to our service.
“We don’t want our customers going out and looking for alternative solutions. The idea is keeping our customers with us.”
This principle of putting the customer’s needs first is essential to retaining clients and remaining competitive.
Listen to customers.
Shaun Alexander, strategic partnerships manager at Pandora Internet Radio, says for him it’s all about understanding people; their wants, needs and motivations.
“Our goal is to make the complicated appear simple and concise, in a competitive landscape where two dozen similar salespeople all have your client’s ear,” he says.
“Communication has always been the weapon of choice for sales professionals, but it is the preparation and collaboration that is the difference between a good meeting and a great deal.
“We have a team of incredibly smart people who we work closely with every day. Research analysts cement our hunches with fact, graphic designers bring our ideas to life and our operations team ensure we always deliver on our promises. Together we craft the credibility that goes into our pitches which leads to the success of our salespeople, our company and ultimately the campaigns of our clients.”
Despite being a sales executive in completely different industry Hong Nguyen, head of sales and commercial at MedicalDirector, couldn’t agree more.
“It’s not easy keeping 17,000 GPs happy and everyone wants something different. It’s about making sure we understand what our customers want, finding those unmet needs and actually doing something about it,” Nguyen says.
“By collaborating with users, industry, partners and using real world data it has enabled us to focus on what’s important to our customers, build a better product, innovate and exceed customer expectations. If you can do all that, the bottom line benefit will naturally flow through.”
He says his collaboration centres around three key sources: opinion leaders, customers, and data.
“It’s important for us to understand which people drive awareness and are our product champions… key opinion leaders can contribute to shape the future design of MedicalDirector products,” he said, “[and] asking your customers what they want and what their challenges are is the easiest recipe for success.”
But it’s not just external collaboration that improves the end result. Working with people within another area of your company can also have it’s benefits.
Seek to collaborate internally and externally.
Robert Enslin, president of global customer operations at SAP, says collaborating with people internally can also deliver solutions that creates customer success.
“This means deploying virtual account teams inclusive of all functions related to the customer lifecycle – development, sales, services, support, etc. – that helps address the full range of customer needs,” he says.
“As a leader, it means embracing my corporate function partners as members of my own team, providing full transparency to ideas, plans and issues. Doing so allows SAP, and me personally, to not only have the right perspectives to make the right decisions, but to ensure our customers have the ability to adopt the right innovations, at the right time, delivered in a manner right for them.
“Collaboration isn’t merely a process, it’s a mindset. Our entire business model is one based on collaboration, both inside and outside our business. Only through constant collaboration can we achieve our end goal to always keep the promise to our customers.”
Iterate on great existing ideas sourced far and wide.
One executive we spoke to had a great explanation for why collaboration was so essential to those in sales.
“A wise man has many counsels,” said David Boldeman, national sales director at Allure, Business Insider Australia’s publishing company.
“Sales is an idea-based industry. Essentially there are no new ideas – only borrowed or copied ideas. Think about all the customisation ideas for example. Timeshare started with holidays but now we have time share cars with goGet, timeshare yachts. Timeshare holidays eventually led to Air BnB – essentially the Uber of accommodation.
“Tapping into other people’s ideas helps you build and apply these to your industry. People only have a finite number of ideas. Relying on one person for idea generation will eventually lead to stale ideas.”
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