Filling the Sales Funnel: Account Managers Into Sales Hunters
Sales leaders and revenue executives face numerous challenges – yet none seem as pressing as understanding how to increase the volume of qualified leads entering the sales funnel.
Those revenue executives taking action are doing so in a variety of ways – for example – bolting on outbound Sales Development Teams; questioning the structure of their entire organization; revamping their marketing strategy or focusing on new markets they believe to be untapped.
Recently I have spoken with several revenue executives who are taking a hybrid approach – selecting new, target rich markets and working to evolve and refocus teams of account managers into sales hunters to drive new client acquisition.
There are pros and cons to all solutions, but not taking action is the surest path to failure. For those interested in transitioning sales professionals with experience in account management and growth into sales professionals driven to find, qualify and close new business, there are three areas to address to ensure success.
Understand Where You Are Going
New markets can be tantalizing and alluring – full of promise and potential. This is largely due to the fact that these markets may be unknown to you or your teams. But before you push your sales teams into the wild, make sure everyone knows where they are going.
While not an exhaustive list, make sure you have answers to the following questions and use your research to temper your expectations:
- Is the market subject to regulations or oversight your team has encountered in the past?
- Do you understand the buyer?
- Not just their persona and the buyer’s journey, but how they buy (procurement, through partners, resellers, etc.) and when they buy?
- Are their buying cycles longer or shorter than other markets you have worked in?
- Do you understand the competitive landscape in the new markets and the ways your solutions differentiate from others?
- Do you understand the business models of the companies in this new market? How they make money and the types of margins they target?
- Are these new companies more susceptible to changes in political or geo-economic climates?
- Do you have tools and processes in place to collect information on the market dynamics moving forward?
Your leadership and insights into this new market will be critical to build confidence with other executives and your team.
If you can not articulate why charging into this particular breach can generate financial returns, do not expect your team or company to follow your lead with the passion and energy required to accelerate success.
Assess Today, Prepare For Tomorrow
Many pundits will say the skill set of account managers and sales hunters are not that different, and I – to some extent – agree. The sales profession has a wide set of skills that must be developed, practiced and perfected over time – much like any sport. Sales skills are perishable and when not used, become less effective. Think Tiger Woods putting after his first back surgery.
Account Managers have spent years developing the skills necessary to understand an account, to move effectively throughout different levels of the organization and built relationships with influencers and power players. They should understand that account at both a macro and micro level – understand how the changes in the market affect their financials and where to go to uncover new opportunities. In the purest sense, their playing field is defined, known and accessible.
Asking them to now approach a new, largely unknown market where they may have a limited network requires them to focus on building muscles and using skills they have used in the past, but at a scale, velocity and level of intensity that can quickly become daunting.
As you share your vision for the transition and the new opportunities this will create for your team, make sure you are fairly assessing the individual sales reps and their skills. There may be a need to re-align roles and positions, but setting people up for failure will impact not only their careers, but also your ability to achieve your revenue targets.
- Who on your current team has the skill set necessary to identify, qualify and close business – in a large, unknown market?
- Do you have team members who are not willing to make the necessary changes in behavior?
- Who has the greatest sense of curiosity and excitement about trying something new, or expanding their skill set?
- Have you assessed their personalities and accomplishments against the new metrics for success?
- Have you developed a new compensation model that will incent and excite the existing team?
- Do you have realistic expectations about the length of sales cycles in the new market?
Understanding the market is the first step, understanding your team is the second. If you are unable to map the gaps in the team you are transitioning, you will not be able to take the third step and generate the types of returns you want.
Equip The Team Appropriately
More than 60% of all sales professionals have never had sales training. Those that have often say it was a ‘one time thing’ and not reinforced or evolved over time. Considering the changing nature of B2B buyers in general, providing your team with the right training and tools is critical to enable their success and capture the growth desired.
There are three key components to enabling sales professionals:
- A defined and shared understanding of a sales methodology,
- An articulated, accessible and scalable sales process, and
- An understanding of the specific skills your newly focused team will need to master and ways to fill in the gaps.
Account Managers have prospected, but not at the scale new business hunters must operate. Account Managers have negotiated with customers, but typically where a deeper relationship exists than with a new customer. Account Managers have used SFA, CRM, Social and other tools to develop their credibility but again, within accounts where mis-steps can be forgiven as a result of shared history.
Without providing a sales methodology, process and skills profile you are essentially sending your team into the wilderness without food, water or a tent. The landscape may look familiar, but charging up and down uncharted hills without the right tools results in casualties and lost opportunities.
When done effectively, I have seen sales leaders generate impressive results with this hybrid type of approach, but it should not be seen as a quick fix. A great deal of preparation and planned reinforcement is required – by you, your fellow executives, and the members of your team.
Focus on these three areas and exhaust your investment in each. If you do, the top-of-funnel – and the bottom line – will quickly surpass your targets because your team and organization are equipped for success and focused on the same goal.