Cheesy salesman Most of the companies I speak with are focusing on changing their go-to-market models and asking their sales people to call higher in organizations. The term “trusted advisor” is batted about within the halls and conference rooms of vendor organizations.

I’ve yet to run into a marketing or sales leader who IS NOT encouraging their sales team to elevate their access level. 

Who could have a problem with a sales organization focusing on gaining more consistent access to the budget holders that control their fate? 

The real problem here is that these organizations do not realize they are making a dramatic and fundamental shift from being focused on market share (promoting products and measuring their unit sales) to a wallet share (the percentage of available spend a particular executive has in the vendors category) orientation.

Incremental changes don’t work when you are fundamentally changing the game. 

What am I talking about?

Part of my job is to field inquiries (which is a 30 min scheduled call about a topic of our clients choosing.  We use this to help apply our research to their organization). I’m often speaking with organizations wondering what they can do to improve the adoption of a new selling model within their sales force.

Most want their sales people to be calling higher, and be “trusted advisors” to their customers. What have they done to date?

Sales people have been herded through a “corporate car wash” type training session where in a day or two they are trained on some ideas for how to gain access and influence executives. This material is usually generic, like executives want to know this or that — but doesn’t focus on the problems the vendor can help address. Sales people are asked to go “read the annual report” and “get to know the business”.  In some cases, sales people are asked to create a SWOT analysis of the business they are calling on.

Does this approach lead to "trusted advisor" level sales people?

No. Actually, we’re hearing from the executives you are trying to sell to that its actually getting worse. 

Here’s why.

No doubt there have been some significant improvements in how meetings are set up. Vendors have moved away from the big promises of “I can save you 20% of your infrastructure costs” that they cannot back up and don’t reflect reality. Sales and marketing groups are being much more targeted.

These targeted messages make executives think, “Wow, these people understand my issues — I can actually have a business conversation with them.”  So, these business leaders allot more time for these meetings, only to get the standard PowerPoint pitch as the pay out. To them, it’s still the exact same kind of sales pitch they avoided in the past, only this time, they have been duped. 

In order to help isolate these various bad practices, we’ve developed a term to describe this phenomenon.  We call it: the rise of the “C-rate” consultant. 

The idea is really simple — it’s basically when a sales person is trying to communicate with enthusiasm things they have “discovered” about the company they are calling on (by reading publicly available information) and have been able to make a connection between a business objective and their products that isn’t quite right.

Sort of like finding out a company is looking to boost its margins (no, really? Large corporations are looking to boost margins — wow, what insight!) and claiming the cost-take out offered by an outsourcing service would save a CEO of a $50B company . . . cue Dr. Evil… ONE MILLION DOLLARS! While $1m might seem like a lot of money, that’s not the kind of savings that are going to move the dials for a CEO, or even any of their direct reports. To put this in perspective — Pfizer has launched a multi-year effort to remove $4 billion out of their cost structure. 

Whose fault is this? While sales people are always accountable for their own actions, we actually think this is the result of a poorly planned and executed training and support program. In other words, it’s much more the environment with which sales people operate, than it is the sales people themselves.

What is a "C-rate" consultant?

A "C-rate" consultant is typically the by product of a poorly executed transition from a product-selling culture to a solution-oriented one. He or she is a sales person who is unable to effectively synthesize business information about a targeted account which is relevant to a particular topic, in context of a given executive’s perspective, and articulate specifically how their company can help that executive address those stated problems.

Because they are unable to achieve these outcomes, a "C-rate" consultant takes up more of an executive’s valuable time and offers no more insight than their product-centric peers. As a result, each "C-rate" consultant creates conflict with every executive they encounter. A sales force populated by "C-rate" consultants contributes to some major problems such as: rising costs of sales, wasted marketing resources, slower than expected traction of corporate strategy, and stagnate organic growth.

Are you creating a crop of "C-rate" consultants?

Unfortunately, the answer is probably yes.

Here are a five questions to help you determine if you might be retooling your sales force into "C-rate" consultants.

  • How many people in your organization have ever held the position (CIO, CFO, etc) for a company you are looking to target? If that number is less than 30, how do you know you are getting enough of a sample size to build an engagement strategy to target that role?
  • How much access do you have within your client base to that targeted role? Does your organization assist these executives through the entire problem solving process, or typically engage at key points in time?
  • How do you develop hot button topics for that executive, and once you do, how do you maintain that information?
  • How do you connect executive level hot button issues with industry accepted best practices, and then relate that back to the specific capabilities your organization can bring to bear for that customer?
  • If you are creating this program, how do you validate what’s being said, and how do you make sure it’s different than what your competitors may offer?

For your sales teams to effectively execute go-to-market strategies which require elevated access, the information they use to engage with targeted executives must be: authentic, accurate, and actionable. Without that, you’re not really adding value and your sales teams are bound to become "C-rate" consultants.