A radical reshaping of IT channel sales behaviours and processes is required to combat the shrinking of deals through the traditional sales pipeline.
That's according to comments from Gartner distinguished analyst and sales channel expert Tiffani Bova, speaking at an ITEuropa summit on managed services and hosting today.
"Customer behaviour is significantly different today," said Bova. "But the old pipeline meetings are, to be frank, a complete waste of time. Because they're linear, whereas customers are in fact cycling in and out."
Prospects today have lots of information easily to hand before they even speak to the company – even if not all of it is accurate – and will research and evaluate, then speak to a vendor perhaps, then speak to customers, evaluate again, then speak to a supplier, and on it goes.
"You don't own the customer," Bova (pictured) said.
The industry generally is still segmenting customers in the same way it did in 2000 or even before, but customers have moved on, and so therefore should the channel, she said. The sales funnel/triangle diagram remains popular but no longer represents the sales pipeline per se.
One key issue is the need for salespeople to better understand what the customer has done so far and understands so far about the product and the supplier.
This means working much more closely with marketing teams, who may have information stored in databases, for example, such as what the prospect's last contact with the company was, and what happened, whether they have met staff before or been a customer previously.
It is just not good enough – and merely alienates many prospects – to give standard talks on brand and identical presentations to prospects today, many of whom have already done a large amount of research and know quite a lot already.
Furthermore, frustrated prospects may often feel as a result that salespeople are acting like "idiots" by not knowing or recognising these details about the customer.
That's even though the poor salespeople are only responding to the way they themselves have been trained and managed, Bova said.
There needs to be an improved focus that takes in both a more technical approach, and adapts according to how far the customer has already come on the journey to making that purchase, she said.
In many cases, this will require a radical reorganisation of sales processes – and if it cannot happen from the top down, if the chief executive or managing director doesn't understand the need, then salespeople themselves must work to change things at grass roots level, piloting new ways of doing things.
This is extremely difficult and will take time, noted Bova, but it is essential as volumes rise, outbound lead numbers shrink, and fewer deals are being closed in the traditional way.
For more on this issue see CRN, out 6 October
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