What is sales support and why it's failing your company.

In B2B organizations there’s a problem that costs 10% of their revenue every year. That problem is sales support.

Let's look at what sales support is, why it's failing organizations, and how you can fix it.

Does your sales support feel like the Wild West?

“Sales reps are most effective when they have the right amount of support [...] Call it the Goldilocks quandary: too little support and your salespeople can’t do their jobs well; too much, and you’re wasting money. But get it just right, and your sales efforts can drive productivity and growth.”

- McKinsey & Company

What is sales support?

"Sales support refers to a variety of functions that help your sales representatives focus on actually selling and closing deals. These functions differ per company, industry and sales team. And, they can be done by hired associates, outsourcing teams, productivity tools, and – worst case scenario – by the sales representative themselves."

In basic terms, sales support consists of the materials, tools, and support that help reps close deals. In a typical sales organization will include things like your:

  • Print and digital sales materials
  • Sales web pages
  • Email campaigns
  • CRM
  • Sales automation tools
  • Team of assistants or helpers

In large organizations, sales support may be handled  by a team of sales support associates.  These associates handle the back-end work that goes into managing and supporting the tools that your sales reps use. They'll also prepare, customize, and send sales materials on behalf of reps.

This work allows reps  to avoid wasting time, specifically prime time selling hours, and focus on talking to prospects, following up on leads, and closing deals. These are good things, but not every company is willing to invest in a sales support team.

In smaller organizations or those that aren't as sales oriented, this type of support doesn't exist. Instead reps have to support themselves. This creates a huge administrative time investment for your sales reps.

No matter what category your sales support falls in to. It's likely that  your sales support is failing you. In what way?

Why sales support fails at scale

Distributed sales organizations face a unique challenge: providing adequate support to a vast sales team. This is no easy feat. Most organizations only have enough sales support staff to organize, optimize, and order materials for their top performers.

 This is the status quo. The top 10-20% of your sales staff gets sufficient support to continue succeeding while the bottom 80% are hung out to dry. This may seem fiscally sound and even logical at first glance, but living with the status quo actually creates four far-reaching issues. These issues are far more detrimental to your balance sheet and efficiency than you may realize.

  1. The status quo turns your average salesperson into a maverick. A study by Docurated found that searching for or creating content can take 31% of your reps’ time. When sales support is lacking, reps can’t easily order or customize materials for their prospects. This leads to many reps wasting prime time selling hours to create their own custom materials or, even worse, using out-of-date, generic materials.
  2. The status quo damages your brand consistency. Misalignment between improvised marketing materials and your approved brand identity has a direct impact on your brand consistency. Improvised marketing materials may not accurately portray your brand, services, or products because sales reps simply aren’t qualified to do this work. Organizations that move from an inconsistent brand identity to a consistent one see an average revenue increase of 23%.
  3. The status quo hurts your sales reps’ chances of closing deals. 35-50% of all sales go to the first sales rep to respond, and 77% of buyers want their sales reps to integrate custom data into their pitches. Prospects are demanding detailed information that’s customized to their needs. Without proper sales support, the sales process will begin to lag and lower the probability of a deal.
  4. The status quo is the old way of providing sales support. In the “Wild West” of sales, everyone is looking out for themselves and resources are scarce. Only the top performers have access to sales assistants and the materials they need, which creates massive inefficiencies for the rest of your organization’s reps.The status quo creates compliance issues. The average cost for organizations that experience non-compliance-related problems is $9.4 million according to the Ponemon Institute. In highly regulated industries, sales materials must be reviewed by a qualified expert or attorney before going to a prospect. A maverick salesperson creating their own materials doesn’t have this luxury. This can create serious legal issues for organizations in regulated industries.

As time goes on, the status quo will keep getting more and more inefficient. How much is holding onto this old way of doing things hurting your organization?

How much can the status quo cost your organization?

“...the top 25 percent of companies we analyzed boast a sales ROI more than twice that of the bottom 25 percent. And these top performers have a 30 percent higher level of sales support than the rest of the companies.” 

McKinsey & Company

Over time organizations start accepting their problems, inefficiencies, and busy work as normal, acceptable, and even impossible to change. They may think that their business is somehow too unique to use off-the-shelf solutions effectively. Additionally, a lack of internal resources, funding, or buy-in, can make true change feel beyond their grasp.

The Status Quo Could Cost 4% of Your Yearly Revenue or More

You may even think that changing the status quo is too good to be true. But, this decision can cost you more than you think.

The research shows that living with departmental misalignment and poor sales support hurts efficiency and profitability. This impact will only become more and more profound as your organization grows.

The status quo can cause your annual revenue to decline, but it also leads to overspending on internal resources and massive opportunity costs. What’s the root cause of the status quo? What can your company do to overcome it and be a top performer?

Is your sales team showing these symptoms of weak sale support?

"Lack of direction, not lack of time, is the problem. We all have twenty-four hour days."- Zig Ziglar

It may be difficult to see the status quo, but the symptoms are obvious. What are the most common symptoms?

Tension Between Sales and Marketing

The misalignment between sales and marketing is directly caused by a lack of transparency and communication. Over time, this evolves from small miscommunications to big issues. At its boiling point, sales and marketing might not even talk to each other anymore. Tension is a sign of misalignment, and this results in poor close rates, overspending on marketing materials, and low ROIs.

Slow to Market

When your sales reps can’t quickly follow up with prospects, their close rate will go down. You may recall that 35-50% of all sales go to the first sales rep to respond. If your sales reps must wait 2-3 weeks to get the materials they need, then they’re missing opportunities to close sales. This lag between ordering materials and receiving them is generally due to misalignment between sales and marketing.

Misalignment with Client Needs

Sales within a distributed sales organization are almost always consultative. Using a custom pitch is a proven way to increase your close rate. The study mentioned earlier showed that 77% of buyers want their sales reps to integrate custom data or insights into their pitches. But, this doesn’t happen when there’s weak sales support. When there’s inadequate sales support, reps tend to rely on their best pitch instead of taking a truly consultative approach. This is because custom materials take longer to receive, are more complicated to create, and add hassle to the process.

Is Your Organization Feeling the Strain?

The symptoms of misalignment and poor sales support are common across many industries and organizations. Poor alignment creates a costly learning curve for new sales reps, a lack of communication between sales and marketing, and results in marketing valuing output over effectiveness. But, these things happen to every organization, right?

Thinking this way can lead you to believe there’s no solution, that it’s just the status quo, but that’s not the case. You can find the solution to your sales support problems through careful diagnosis.

Diagnosing the real problem with your sales support

“Sales and marketing alignment is about one shared goal: revenue that is delivered or over-delivered every quarter. There will always be tension, but that tension can be positive if there is a culture of clear expectations and communication.”

Craig Rosenberg

To diagnose your sales support problems, you need to get granular. While the source might be a misalignment between sales and marketing, it’s important to understand the specific touchpoints where your sales support is letting you down. Follow these four steps to find easy opportunities for improvement.

1. Identify Your Sales Process

Companies with a formal sales process see 18% more revenue growth than those without a formal sales process.

Harvard Business Review

Knowing the steps in your sales process is essential to pinpointing issues. To identify your sales process, start by researching your existing sales funnel, marketing, and CRM (usually the steps in your sales process will already be included there). Then assign a status change to each step in your process.

2. Attach a Timeframe to Each Status Change

Observing your reps and CRM metrics will be helpful for assigning an average time to each status change. The point isn’t to create ideal time frames off of this research. Instead, your goal is to define the current averages, get a snapshot of your sales process, and compare these with your ideal times.

3. Investigate the Changes in Lead Status

Which status changes are consistently taking longer than expected? Where are there disconnects in your sales support and why are they happening? Answering these questions will help you understand where sales support may be lacking.

Looking at the outcome of these sales can also be helpful. Are your reps quickly getting a solid “yes” or “no”? Or are they mainly getting postponements or “maybes”? Are these “maybes” related to particular types of sales?

Finally, which groups of sales reps show the largest problems with their status changes? Are they the top performers with full access to sales support? Or are they the ones lacking critical resources that could help them improve?

4. Gather Qualitative Data on Your Sales Process

Once you’ve identified the biggest lags in your sales process, you should perform interviews to find out why those lags are happening. Set up meetings to talk with your marketing team, sales managers, reps, and channel partners. During your meetings ask questions like:

  • How do you prepare for a sales call?
  • How long does it take to prepare yourself?
  • Do you feel like you have the right information?
  • Are your sales materials up to date and properly customized?

Many times these questions have never been asked or are dismissed because people assume they are common sense. But, they’re essential to the “new day of sales” where authority and a consultative approach are essential. By asking these questions, you can identify whether the true problem is speed, customization, resources, preparation, or a previously unknown factor.

Three ways to improve an under-performing sales support process

“75 percent of sales organizations waste resources due to random and informal coaching approaches.”

CSO Insights 2016 Sales Enablement Study

In the last step, you identified the signs in your sales process that prove that it’s sales support that’s failing the team. You may have found many small technical changes that will create incremental improvements in your sales numbers. But, as we’ve discussed, a lack of sales support is an organizational problem and not merely a technical problem.

 There are three key steps you can take to effect large-scale change in the way your organization approaches sales and marketing.

1. Bring in a Visionary Leader

Problems in your sales process are indicative of an adoption problem. Most distributed sales organizations rely on an intranet, portal, or CRM to track their sales process, keep their team on the same page, and enable them to order marketing materials. But, many times, sales reps won’t adopt the solution or keep it up to date.

Adoption problems have little to do with the actual solution being used, instead, they’re leadership problems. For a new solution to be chosen, optimized, and adopted quickly, there needs to be a visionary leader at the helm. Bringing in a leader has two main effects:

  1. It reduces or eliminates bickering between employees who are fighting for particular features in the solution. Your visionary leader can cut through the discord to focus on the overall business impact and results the solution will achieve.
  2. Your leader can champion training programs, employee incentives, and review processes to ensure the new solution is adopted.

By taking this step, you ensure that alignment is created from the top down.

2. Eliminate Busy Work

According to one Content Marketing Institute study, 60-70% of B2B sales content is never used. This means that you’re either wasting 60-70% of marketing’s capacity or you’re missing out on a very large number of pieces that would be beneficial to sales. These inefficiencies can’t be overlooked.

To eliminate wasted effort, you need to create transparency and find out what your reps in the field need. This requires you to learn which materials and tactics work and which ones don’t. To learn this information, follow these four steps:

  1. Audit your marketing materials. This first step will help you cut waste and streamline your marketing tools. You can perform this audit by reviewing the total orders for print materials and see which ones are ordered frequently and which are never ordered. To discover these insights, you may need to rely on numbers from your intranet, portal, or CRM. However, at this point, it’s key to remember that Marketing’s KPI is effectiveness and not utilization. A balance that’s difficult to strike when you can’t see the entire marketing supply chain.
  2. Identify top-performing sales materials. How often a piece is ordered has little to do with its true effectiveness. To understand what’s getting the best reaction and helping to close deals in the field, you need to talk with sales managers and top performers. Reviewing the feedback that marketing receives can also help you understand which copy, benefits, stories, and images are helping reps to close sales.
  3. Eliminate or shelve materials that are ineffective. After trimming ineffective content, take the top-performing pieces and list them as recommended options for your sales team.
  4. Regularly survey the sales staff to see how satisfied they are with the marketing department’s work. Use these opportunities to learn which marketing materials they would find valuable. You can also leverage real-time business intelligence from the field to find out what sales is using and how they’re using it. This will help determine the effectiveness of marketing's work and their ability to create new content that is most likely to be used by sales.

3. Define Your Departments’ True Customers

Having clearly defined roles for each department is essential for alignment. But, there’s one disconnect that happens across many sales organizations - marketing assumes that its one and only customer is the market. That’s not the case.

Marketing’s true customer is the sales department. If marketing can’t convince sales to use a piece of content, then they’ve already lost the battle. By the same token, sales needs to learn to act like a customer and request what they actually need, collaborate in choosing topics for future sales materials, and provide constructive feedback.

Once these roles are defined and accepted by both departments, it becomes significantly easier for marketing to produce pieces that will actually be used. This acceptance of roles can create a shift in how the departments communicate, which will lead to better results.

Sales support experts to diagnose, consult, and improve your process

Understanding how to fix your sales support requires broad and deep knowledge. You can't implement a one-size-fits-all approach. You need to take a holistic view of your business and improve processes and alignment across departments.

Our team's experience in sales support spans multiple decades, business models, and organization sizes. We help sales-driven organizations that are ready to increase revenue while decreasing waste.

Set up a conversation to talk through your  goals for sales support and uncover solutions that work.

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