We see salespeople playing three key roles during the sales cycle: domain expert, strategic orchestrator and risk alleviator. In some sales cycles, the rep may play multiple roles; in others, none of these roles may come into play. Sales and marketing leaders need to understand: 1) where these roles are needed in their sales cycles and 2) the skills, knowledge, processes and tools required for success. Here is a brief description of each role and suggested action items for sales enablement.

Domain Expert. Buyers expect reps to have knowledge about their industry, company and business drivers from the very start of the sales process — with the rep able to align his/her offerings with the buyer’s specific business drivers. Buyers also expect that their rep will have a baseline understanding of the products and solutions they’re selling, even if a subject matter expert (with deeper domain expertise) may be brought in later in the sales process. Ultimately, buyers want reps who add value by having the knowledge to introduce solutions or issues they may not have considered themselves. Enablement Action Item: Ensure reps have been adequately educated with the product knowledge they need to engage buyers early in the decision process, and that they have the processes and tools to gather and analyze information on the companies they call on.

Strategic Orchestrator. No salesperson is an island; today’s complex buying process typically requires a team selling approach. In this role, the salesperson aligns resources from his/her sales organization (e.g. sales engineers, client references, briefing center visits, and arranging meetings between executives from both companies) to the buyer’s organization. Enablement Action Item: Review the customer’s buying process to understand what selling resources must align with key inflection points.

Risk Alleviator. Consciously or subconsciously, risk is a factor in every buying group’s decisionmaking process. Purchasing decisions often come down to whether reps have demonstrated that their solution’s perceived risks are outweighed by perceived rewards (or, just as importantly, that their solution is the safer choice). This is especially true at the end of the buying cycle when risk becomes very real for the buyer (early in the cycle, perceived risk is low). This is why so many sales organizations see stalled deals late in their pipelines. It is also a frequent cause of the dreaded “no decision,” because sometimes the safest decision is no decision at all. We see risks falling into four broad categories for buyers:

  • Financial risk. Are we getting the best price? Should we spend this money now? What is the expected ROI, and will we see it? Should we be spending the money elsewhere?
  • Solution risk. Are we getting the right solution for our needs? Will the product/solution work as promised? Should we go with a solution that’s new and untested? Will we fall behind if we go with the tried-and-true?
  • Vendor risk. Is this vendor viable? Will it back its products and solutions? Can the vendor be trusted? Can we work with its culture?
  • Personal risk. Is there the potential for this decision to hurt my career? Do I trust the rep and his/her team to deliver on their promises? 
  • Like lawyers who steadily build their case throughout a trial and then look to convince the jury in closing arguments, the rep in the role of risk alleviator must “make the case” and minimize the risks in the eyes of the buyer, often by offering appropriate “exhibits” (or proof sources). Enablement Action Item: Provide reps with the tools to demonstrate a strong business case (e.g. ROI and total cost of ownership calculators, use case scenarios) and the skills to deliver risk alleviation messages effectively.