Professional sports teams such as FC Liverpool train every single day to remain at the top of their game. In addition to a grueling practice schedule, players undergo extensive performance diagnostics - often utilizing software and artificial intelligence. Drawing a comparison of performance optimization of this scale to sales may sound like a bit of a stretch, right? Because let’s be honest: Sending your entire sales team to daily sales training sessions and conducting regular performance diagnostics sounds a bit unrealistic at first. After all, both sales teams and supervisors are often primarily concerned with day-to-day business and closing deals. Employees who are constantly undergoing further education, training, coaching or performance assessment may very well become preoccupied and lose focus on daily business - or so one would think.
However: Sales professionals in the B2B and SaaS business (as well as in other industries) can in many ways be compared to top athletes. They are in constant competition with their peers and competitors alike, must always be awake, alert and in good shape, frequently push themselves to the limit and consistently give 100% when the time is right. And what do competitive athletes (such as Liverpool FC) do to be successful and win competitions? They train almost every day, and they strive to maximize their performance in a variety of ways: through strength training, building up endurance, agility and concentration via scrimmages, drilling or training in the gym. They are usually guided by a whole team of trainers, scouts and doctors, who know how to get the best out of each individual through measurements, analyses and individually tailored fitness and nutrition plans.
If we think of the role of a B2B or SaaS sales manager in terms of managing a professional soccer club, the bulk of a successful sales rep's week should consist of diagnostics and sales training. Optimally, sales reps could remain better concentrated on the events on the field when it’s game time - that is, where their skills are put to the test when engaged with customers and paired up against various competitors. Of course, the daily routine of Sales Managers in B2B and SaaS sales involves a variety of other activities which go far beyond actually "selling" a product or service (see also: "The perfect day: How to organize the week for a B2B SaaS Sales Manager"). Thus, a direct comparison to top-level sports falls short of capturing day-to-day reality of sales.
Nevertheless, sales people are too often left to fend for themselves with their SaaS products and processes. Customer requirements have undergone a dramatic transformation in recent years - not least due to the Covid-19 pandemic - as sales managers meet increasingly well-informed buyers, especially in B2B and SaaS sales. According to a recent McKinsey survey, the overwhelming majority of software buyers or stakeholders involved in software purchasing expect prompt attention and high expertise from B2B and SaaS salespeople. Fueled also by the steadily growing number of software review platforms, software buyers have an increasingly better overview of the market and good prior knowledge about functions, prices or even weaknesses of their own software.
This means that sales managers have to react quickly to customer inquiries and immediately adapt to individual customer wants and needs. However, despite good prior knowledge of the software vendor market, customers often remain unclear on which of their own specific challenges the software they intend on purchasing aims to solve. If B2B and SaaS sales managers are not able to quickly and simply convey the value and benefits of their software to customers, they will quickly lose prospects to competitors.
For instance, it’s not enough to explain the solution to the sales team once and equip them with a sales deck. In order to maintain a solution-oriented approach when selling (see also: "Why Solution Selling is King for B2B SaaS") and to build on customer satisfaction throughout the sales process, sales managers must receive continuous guidance on the added value and the customer problems that can be solved with the software. A buyer may never have purchased a software or technical solution, let alone had it implemented by a department, despite prior market research. Without a thorough understanding of the added value of the product and the problems that can be solved for the customer, the prospective customer will not understand what business impact the product your team is selling delivers and why the customer needs it.
B2B and SaaS products ideally have a variety of useful functions and exciting features. However, knowing and listing these is far from enough. Whether and how these features prove useful to the customer can only be determined through comprehensive customer discovery, for which B2B and SaaS sales managers should be conscientiously trained and educated. Plus, relating specific features and configurations of a software or other technology to the customer's business goals also requires practice.
Speed and professional process management are further keys to success for B2B and SaaS sales managers in addition to expertise. Various studies and surveys show that the speed of a response to a customer inquiry is one of the most important factors for success. The faster contact is made with a potential prospect, the higher the likelihood of converting the lead into a satisfied customer. Interestingly enough, just a few minutes can make a difference. For example, the average lead conversion rate in B2B and SaaS sales can be increased by almost 400% if a lead is contacted within the first minute of receiving the lead registration. After the first three minutes, the probability of successfully converting a lead drops considerably - the prospect is then already on the landing page of another SaaS provider and also asks to be contacted there. Of course, it will not always be possible to contact a lead within the first 3 minutes after registering a lead, especially since time zones pose yet another challenge for companies who do business internationally. Yet even over larger periods of time, prompt attention to inquiries can lead to significant differences in lead conversion rates: Contacting a new lead within the first hour increases the probability of a successful lead conversion by a factor of 7 compared to a 2-hour time window and by a factor of 60 compared to a 24-hour time window.
One thing is clear: success in sales depends on many different factors. The exact recipe for success may also be a little different for every sales manager, as everyone has their own individual strengths and weaknesses. The question is, what should regular B2B or SaaS sales team training look like and how should reps be trained on an individual basis?
Nowadays, of course, the solution lies in the right technology. Here, too, many parallels can be drawn with sports. For some time now, data on training, nutrition and games of soccer players and other professional athletes has been analyzed in great detail and evaluated. With the corresponding scouting data, all of the players' actions can be recorded as statistics: How many attempts at shooting a goal were made? How often did they score a goal? How many of the passes found their target? How many duels were won? In addition to these statistics, so-called tracking data is recorded. This is used to record running behavior and positional play. On their own, this data is essentially worthless. To be successful, you have to understand how the individual pieces of information are connected. In the past, this job was done manually by scouts - but now, this task is being taken over by analysis software at an increasing rate. The 2019 Champions League winner and internationally recognized Liverpool FC is considered a world leader in this discipline. The club relies on artificial intelligence, i.e. algorithms that are able to recognize patterns in player data and derive appropriate recommendations. Moreover, the more data that is fed into artificial intelligence, the more advanced it becomes. For this innovative project, Liverpool FC already employs 5 data analysts, called Data Scientists. They process the data and constantly develop the algorithms further in order to develop ever more efficient training methods and more successful game tactics.
Meanwhile, the industry of new stars in sales tech is booming. The first providers have already received several hundred million investments with valuations in the billions. But the "old hands" in the industry, such as Salesforce, are also investing in these new technologies with their own corporate venture fund, Salesforce Ventures. The titles of the new B2B and Saas sales tools sound promising: Sales Intelligence Software, Revenue Operations Software, Conversation Intelligence Software or the newest category AI Guided Selling Software - which also includes Dealcode's Smart Sales Assistant. What they all have in common is that they want to make the B2B and SaaS sales of tomorrow better and more efficient by means of artificial intelligence, which is also of urgent necessity in light of rapidly changing purchasing behavior. Lead data, sales conversations, emails or - as with AI Guided Selling solutions - the ideal way to conclude a contract are analyzed, depending on the respective customer and salesperson type, both of which can differ immensly. AI Guided Selling in particular is an extremely exciting discipline, as this software involves a multi-dimensional analysis of multiple attributes. After all, even if the lead fits the provider and the solution, it’s of little help if the system evaluates this lead and it ends up with the wrong sales manager and no deal is made in the end. AI Guided Selling takes this process one step further. The corresponding tools act as a kind of navigation software which suggests the ideal means of transport (= sales manager) and also plans the ideal route (= activities, sales cycle, etc.) in order to reach the target at the desired time. This way, sales teams can be deployed more efficiently to the right customers, find the best way to close a deal, and B2B and SaaS organizations can scale and expand more successfully.
Clearly B2B and SaaS sales can learn a lot from sports and top clubs like Liverpool FC. The times of acting on gut feeling are over. It’s with artificial intelligence and perfectly adapted training and tactics that titles like Champions League are won. With the appropriate implementation of modern sales tools like AI Guided Selling Software, CRM data finally translates to real added value for the entire sales team allowing you and your team to close more deals successfully.
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