How B2B Buyer Behavior Has Changed

This is a Guest blog post by Chris Tully. Some great info and stats below regarding the changing nature of B2B purchasing. Thanks for reading and please subscribe!

How B2B Buyer Behavior Has Changed

I’ve always believed that at the heart of it, business buyers are just consumers with different priorities and a bigger checkbook.

Businesses now shop for suppliers like we shop as consumers: digitally. That behavior is increasingly the norm. These pandemic months of sheltering in place have only accelerated changes in B2B buyer behavior.

Comfort in socially-distanced shopping was already here way before the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to the demise of brick-and-mortar stores that didn’t keep up with the times (seller beware). Digital shopping:

  • Transcends business-hours time barriers
  • Allows for wide product search and research before point-of-purchase
  • Provides instant give-and-take help chats, and
  • Leads to instant purchase gratification.

What’s not to like?

Consumer digital shopping

Let’s take the auto industry example of consumer digital shopping outlined in a McKinsey report:

  • Digital is the number one information and customer influencing channel. A huge 70% of vehicle buyers start their journey digitally.
  • Digital has given rise to very well educated customers. They do their research online before they purchase.
  • Digital car sales are a matter of fulfilling prerequisites and of creating a value proposition.

The transition to fully online sales is inevitable (see the www.carvana.com model for an example in action). Digital car buying is turning the existing dealer model upside down.

Business digital shopping

For business buyers, B2B buyer decision-making is largely driven by their learned consumer behavior. As recently as 10 years ago, says a Forrester study, “Vendors held the power of commerce by controlling information. But the business consumer, digitally savvy and self-directed, is now in control.”

  • 92% of B2B purchases start with search.
  • 68% of B2B buyers prefer to research online on their own, up from 53% in 2015.
  • 60% of B2B buyers prefer not to interact with a sales rep as the primary source of information.
  • 75% of B2B buyers use social networks to learn about different vendors.
  • 62% of B2B buyers say they can now develop selection criteria or finalize a vendor list — based solely on digital content.

Now more than ever, business marketing and sales decision-making means figuring out how to attract and keep a buyer online. I’ve seen statistics that say nearly 40 percent of clients move on if your digital platform doesn’t perform well.

How you present your company digitally is hugely important: you can either represent your excellence or create a huge credibility sink.

Think of your website as your first sales call

  • Your website needs to speak well for you in engagement, content, and performance.
  • Your demand generation strategy needs to match up to buyers’ behavior – if 92% of B2B purchases start with search, then you need to control the message in search results.
  • If your value proposition isn’t clear on your site, you will lose credibility. And since buyers don’t really want to speak to a sales rep, you could lose the buyer entirely.

Know how your prospects shop

Get the right answers to the questions below to precisely define your target client. Then apply them to your site. SEO should result in sustained lead flow.

  • Where do they look for you?
  • What are they looking for?
  • What keywords drive the type of leads that you want?
  • How do you show up on searches? Is your website optimized for SEO success?
  • What are you telling buyers that is meaningful and relevant? Why do they care?
  • What is your call to action?

Plan how to respond to a solid online lead

The more complex and expensive your offering, the sooner you will want a sales person involved in client interaction.

  • Who responds first, an email bot or a real person?
  • What’s the objective of the first interaction?
  • Where does the first interaction take place (email, telephone, virtual meeting)?
  • How are you going to monitor progress?

Recognize the buyer behavior evolution

Buyer behavior has been evolving for more than 25 years, since the first secure retail transaction over the Web in 1994. Both the Amazon.com online shopping site and eBay launched in 1995.

Most B2B decision makers have been virtual shoppers for quite some time.

2017 Frost & Sullivan study asserts that B2B online buying will continue to evolve to be more like B2C: “Customers expect things to be online and intuitive, desiring a self-service model with personalized and targeted B2B sales accessible from anywhere at any time.”

It’s probably time to recognize that your sales strategy has to match the way your B2B buyer wants to buy.

Chris Tully is Founder of SALES GROWTH ADVISORS. He can be reached at (571) 329-4343 and ctully@salesxceleration.com“For more than 25 years, I’ve led sales organizations in public and private technology companies, with teams as large as 400 people, and significant revenue responsibility.I founded Sales Growth Advisors to help mid-market CEOs execute proven strategies to accelerate their top line revenue. I have a great appreciation for how hard it is to start and grow a business, and it is gratifying to me to do what I am ‘best at’ to help companies grow faster and more effectively.Let’s get acquainted. I am certain I can offer you an experienced perspective to help you with your growth strategy.”

Brace for Economic and Tax Uncertainty After the Election

This is a Guest blog post from Pete Ryan, CPA and Michael Wetmore, CPA, founders of the accounting and consulting firm of Ryan & Wetmore.

Introduction

The next six months will bring a period of uncertainty. Businesses and individuals must plan to react to the many changes in stimulus plans, Covid-19 disruptions, tax laws, estate laws, and other laws and regulations based on election results. This article should not serve as legal advice – companies should plan to consult with attorneys, CPAs, investment advisors, insurance advisors, and others. Regardless of the election results, there will be big changes. Sources of systemic change include:

Comparing Tax Proposals: Income and Capital Gains

  • Tax proposals are subject to change during the legislative process and may get watered down by the other party or moderate lawmakers.
  • Changes in control of government could still bring big changes and tax increases, expert tax planning by tax advisors and CPAs will be essential.

Overview

  • Some notes on the process of passing tax legislation:
    • There is precedent for retroactive tax proposals, so a tax bill passed in 2021 could be retroactive to the first day of the 2021 tax year.
    • Some of Biden’s tax proposals could be phased in over time rather than taking effect immediately.
    • Although it is common for Presidents to have tax proposals, all tax legislation must originate in the House, where Democrats are likely to keep their majority.
    • As changes make their way through congress, they are usually watered down somewhat – especially if control of government is divided.
    • If on party win a simple majority of both houses, they can avert a Senate filibuster by passing a tax bill in a process called budget reconciliation.
    • Many parts of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 (TCJA) are temporary and will expire in the next several years even without legislative action.
  • Biden’s tax proposal includes corporate tax increases and income tax increases for people making over $400,000. Trump’s plan is mainly to expand/extend the TCJA tax cuts, though he has issued few details about second-term tax plans. Both candidates have committed to not raise middle class taxes.

Payroll Taxes

  • Biden’s proposal imposes a 12.4% Social Security Payroll tax on wages above $400,000, creating a payroll tax “donut hole,” where income between $137,700 and $400,000 does not incur the payroll tax. This also affects self-employment taxes for individuals. (It’s not clear when or how this will be implemented.)
  • Trump’s plan institutes a payroll tax holiday for the employee-side payroll tax deferral that is currently taking place.

Corporate Taxes

  • Biden’s proposal increases the C-Corporation income tax rate from 21% to 28% (lower than the top rate of 35% in effect prior to the TCJA) and establishes a corporate minimum tax on book income.
  • It also doubles the tax rate on GILTI and imposes it country-by-country.

Individual Income Taxes

  • Biden’s plan would raise the top individual income tax rate from 37% to the pre-TCJA level of 39.6%.
  • It would cap itemized deductions at 28% of value for those earning over $400,000, temporarily increase the Child Tax Credit to a maximum of $3,000 and the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit to a maximum of $8,000 from $2,100. Biden’s plan includes other middle class tax relief.
  • It would also bring back a first-time homebuyer tax credit of up to $15,000.
  • Biden’s plan would reduce 199A 20% deductions over 400k.
  • Trump’s plan would maintain and extend the tax cuts in the TCJA and possibly cut middle class income tax brackets.

Capital Gains

  • Currently the top long-term capital gains bracket is taxed at 20%.
  • Trump has proposed lowering the top rate to 15% or indexing it to inflation.
  • He would also expand the TCJA “Opportunity Zones” program, which provides capital gains tax relief to encourage long-term investments in economically distressed areas.
  • Biden has proposed taxing long-term capital gains and qualified dividends at the ordinary income tax rate of 39.6% on income above $1 million and eliminating the “step-up in basis” for inherited assets.
  • Many individuals and businesses will want to consider selling or donating appreciated assets (such as marketable securities) by December 31, 2020 or before new laws are enacted in 2021 – consult your advisors and CPAs.

Estate Planning

Estate Tax

  • The TCJA extended the estate tax exclusion from about $5.5 million to $11.4 million, but this is set to expire in 2026.
  • Biden has previously said he supports both lowering the exclusion to “historical norms” (which could mean the pre-TCJA level of $5.5 million) and returning estate taxes to “2009 levels” (which could mean a $3.5 million exclusion and an increase in the top rate to 45%).
  • Biden also supports ending the “step-up in basis,” which allows estates to realize capital gains without incurring capital gains tax upon the death of their owners.
  • Many individuals are rushing to their estate attorney before December to discuss making large gifts.

Grantor Retained Annuity Trusts (GRATs)

  • A GRAT is an irrevocable trust that is set up for a period (a tax is paid upon establishing the trust). An annuity is paid from the trust every year, and when the trust expires, the beneficiary receives the assets tax-free.
  • The TCJA increased the estate tax exemption to $11.4 million, but it would decrease if the provisions expire in 2026 or if it is repealed, making GRATs more attractive.
  • Also, GRATs are most effective when interest rates are low – as they are right now.
  • Neither candidate has proposed changes to GRATs, but the way they are treated for tax purposes could change in a new tax proposal.

Sales to Intentionally Defective Grantor Trusts (IDGTs)

  • IDGTs are irrevocable trusts where trust income is treated as the grantor’s for income taxes, but the assets are not treated as the grantor’s for estate taxes.
  • Just like with GRATs, the candidates have not talked about IDGTs specifically, but the way they are taxed could change in a new tax bill.

Accelerating or Deferring Income or Deductions

  • Given the potential for big changes to the tax system, accelerating or deferring income or expenses into a certain tax year can have big advantages (though the effectiveness depends on projections of the future).
  • These strategies are complex and depend on future conditions – talk to your advisors and CPAs about them.

Accelerating Income in 2020

  • Accelerating income in 2020 has three main advantages: (1) The TCJA cut the top income tax rate; (2) losses due to the economic downturn may push taxpayers into lower brackets this year; (3) accelerating income increases a taxpayer’s AGI limitation for charitable contributions.
  • If taxes are hiked in 2021, the changes could be retroactive to the first day of the 2021 tax year, so receiving income in 2020 could be preferable to 2021.
  • Some income acceleration strategies include: Converting an IRA to a Roth IRA, electing out of installment sales, triggering an inclusion event for opportunity zone investments, harvesting capital gains, foregoing like-kind exchanges, exercising stock options, and declaring and paying C corporation dividends.

Accelerating Deductions in 2020 or Deferring Deductions in 2021

  • Biden’s tax plan caps the tax benefit of itemized deductions to 28% of value for those earning over $400,000, potentially increasing the benefits of deduction acceleration.
  • On the other hand, income and payroll tax hikes in 2021 could increase the benefits of deduction deferral to 2021 (since they would have a greater tax benefit in 2021).
  • Most cash-basis businesses normally accelerate deductions at the end of year to reduce taxable income. In 2020, they may decide not to this.

The Wider Economy

  • The state of the economy is evolving day-by-day and new stimulus is likely to be the top priority after the election. Be sure to monitor email updates from Ryan & Wetmore.

New Stimulus

  • After briefly ending negotiations on new stimulus, the Trump administration proposed $1.8 trillion in stimulus, but the proposal was immediately rebuked by House leadership (as not enough) and Senate leadership (as too expensive).
  • The Trump Administration also pushed for a bill repurposing $130 billion in unused funding from the Paycheck Protection Program for a second round of PPP, but House leadership rejected it.
  • The House originally passed the $3 trillion HEROES Act (which was rejected by the Senate) and then passed a reduced $2.2 trillion HEROES Act.
  • New stimulus after the election will be a top priority after the election no matter who wins. Make sure you get updates from your advisors.

Other New Bills

  • No matter who wins, stimulus will probably be the top priority after the election.
  • However, if Democrats do well, they will probably push for one or more other big initiatives (such as a big infrastructure package). Some of their priorities include:
    • Healthcare, green infrastructure/climate, police reform, immigration reform, and guns.
  • Two top priorities are expanded on below:
    • Healthcare reform: The House has already passed a bill to expand Obamacare subsidies and lower drug prices. Joe Biden’s plan also includes creating a public option.
    • Green infrastructure: The House has already passed a $1.5 trillion green infrastructure plan (similar to Biden’s $2 trillion plan) that includes money for roads, bridges, transit options, housing broadband coverage while emphasizing reduced emissions and transitioning the electricity grid and generation to renewables.

Long-Term Interest Rates

  • The Fed has cautioned that the pandemic will continue to weigh on growth, employment, and inflation in the near and medium terms.
  • As a result, “dot plots” from the Fed Open Market Committee show that most members do not expect to raise interest rates above 0-0.25% before 2024.
    • Similarly, bond markets imply that traders do not expect the Fed to substantially hike rates until late 2023 or early 2024.
  • In August, Fed Chair Jerome Powell said the fed will likely pursue an inflation target of “moderately above 2 percent for some time,” indicating plans for low rates.
  • Low rates mean that it is potentially a great time to talk to advisors to consider refinancing existing loans.

Banks and Deferred Loans

  • When states began locking down in March, banks rapidly implemented forbearance programs, allowing borrowers to defer loans and avoid default. Stimulus programs also allowed some people to keep making payments when they might otherwise default.
  • In the third quarter, JPMorgan reduced reserves for loan losses, indicating that it expects fewer nonperforming loans, but it also noted a lot of uncertainty.
  • There may be a real estate stimulus plan – all borrowers should monitor stimulus plans and review loans for refinancing opportunities, stimulus, and forbearance agreements.
  • Businesses should be in regular communication with their bankers about extending lines of credit, terms, etc.

State and Local Taxes (SALT)

The SALT Deduction

  • Prior to the TCJA, taxpayers could deduct all state/local property taxes and the greater of income or sales taxes from taxable income, but these deductions were capped at $10,000 annually by the TCJA.
  • In late 2019, the House passed a bill to eliminate the SALT deductions cap except for taxpayers with AGI above $100 million (which then died in the Senate).
  • The Biden campaign has confirmed that he supports repealing the $10,000 cap.
  • Paying your fourth quarter 2020 state income tax estimates between January 1, 2021 and January 15, 2021 may be a prudent planning move for most taxpayers – talk to your advisors and CPAs.

Sales Tax

  • Tax revenues of states and localities are projected to fall a lot in fiscal year 2021 and beyond while spending on public health will soar – and many states have requirements that they balance their budgets.
  • This could lead to big revenue shortfalls and state and local tax hikes if the balanced budget provisions are not repealed and there is no federal government aid.
  • Sales tax is set by states and localities so elections to national government do not have a direct effect on them.
  • However, the original version of the HEROES Act passed by the House included over $1 trillion in state and local aid, which could reduce state budget shortfalls.

Health Insurance

  • Employers expect about 4 to 5% benefit cost growth on average in 2021 compared to 2020, roughly in line with previous increases.
  • People may use more medical services in 2021 because they put off routine care and elective procedures for much of 2020 due to the pandemic, and treating COVID cases carries large healthcare costs (especially given the potential for a case spike in the winter).
  • Some likely trends in health insurance in 2021 include: Cost increases of around 4 to 5%, expanded options for virtual care, increased focus on mental health, more on-site clinics, greater access to “Centers of Excellence” (options that encourage employees to seek specialized care at hospitals known for high quality).
  • Employers and employees should monitor the costs of health insurance, changes in plans, self-insured plans by employers’ costs, changes in taxability in benefits to employees and meet with advisors and CPAs to plan for them.

The State of the ACA

  • On November 10 (a week after the election), the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments for California v. Texas, a case that that could render some or most of the Affordable Care Act (ACA or Obamacare) unconstitutional.
  • The ACA could be struck down wholly or partially, and a series of provisions could go down with it, including:
    • Protections for people with pre-existing conditions, individual healthcare subsidies, expanded Medicaid eligibility, coverage of people up to age 26 under their parents’ insurance, coverage of preventative care with no patient cost-sharing, and the tax increases that fund these provisions.

Planning for Increased Economic Activity

  • Current pandemic conditions won’t last forever. Businesses should start preparing for the possibility of increased economic activity (possibly from a vaccine or treatment breakthrough).
  • Over 200 vaccines are in early development. Over 40 are in human clinical trials. At least 10 have reached the final stage of testing (Phase 3) worldwide. At least one vaccine will probably prove effective.
  • It will still take several months to distribute a vaccine widely to the public and significantly decrease risk of transmission.
  • Federal and state governments have already started planning rapid vaccine distribution.
  • Interest in rapid testing (where results are less accurate but can take as little as 15 min) is increasing. HHS has started sending rapid tests to states, and some states say they plan to use rapid tests at schools and nursing homes.
  • Businesses should be prepared to accelerate activity based on testing and vaccine conditions – this may require additional working capital.

PPP Loan Forgiveness

  • A PPP Loan recipient is eligible to have the entire amount of its loan forgiven if it was used for eligible payroll and nonpayroll costs, with at least 60% being used on payroll (subject to certain conditions).
  • Forgiveness will be reduced if full-time headcount or salaries / wages declined during the loan period.
  • Employers may be exempt from the penalty to loan forgiveness that is tied to pay, headcount, or hours reductions if they can show:
    • They restored pay and headcount to original levels.
    • They attempted to restore headcount / hours but were unable.
    • They were unable to operate at pre-pandemic levels due to COVID restrictions from HHS, CDC, or OSHA.
    • (This is not an exhaustive list.)
  • Loan forgiveness applications may be submitted any time before the maturity date of the loan, but loan payments are deferred only until 10 months after the last day of the loan forgiveness covered period.
  • The most important things for business owners and accountants to do now is to document everything to show compliance and use their best judgement. (Payroll reports and other records must corroborate loan / forgiveness application numbers.)
  • Participants in other relief programs (especially healthcare firms and government contractors) should take special care as they usually are not able to “double-dip” and include expenses in multiple programs – consult advisors and CPAs for guidance.
  • Talk to your advisors and CPAs about taxability of loan forgiveness in 2020 or 2021. A second round of PPP is possible – keep up with updates from Ryan and Wetmore. ersonal note: Ryan & Wetmore has been providing tax, accounting, financial analysis, due diligence and M&A services for our portfolio companies and investors since 1986. Great firm and I highly recommend!

Personal note: Ryan & Wetmore has been providing tax, accounting, financial analysis, due diligence and M&A services for our portfolio companies and investors since 1986. Great firm and I highly recommend!

Having CPAs and advisors you can trust is crucial heading into this historic period of uncertainty. Contact us here.

6 Ways Innovation and Entrepreneurship Promote Prosperity

entrepreneurship innovation

This is a Guest blog post from Andre Averbug.

It is not a coincidence that the most developed nations are also the ones with the highest levels of entrepreneurial activity and innovation. While starting from a minimal level of development helps support the latter two, for example through basic access to capital and institutional stability, the impact of innovation and entrepreneurship on the economy and society more broadly cannot be overstated. In fact, it goes beyond usual suspects such as increased productivity, competitiveness, and job creation, spilling over to areas as diverse as regulation, infrastructure, the environment, and social inclusion. Below I provide a (certainly non-exhaustive) list of six such effects. While every issue deserves an article (or even a book!) of its own, I provide but a brief overview on each point, leaving the interested reader to dig deeper on his or her own.

  1. Innovation can drive regulatory improvements

Although ideally the right conditions, including regulations, would be in place to enable the occurrence of innovations, the reality is that the order is often inverted. Regulatory changes can be drawn by the innovations themselves, from the bottom up. For example, in Kenya, Safaricom launched a series of increasingly innovative financial services through its M-Pesa platform, such as e-money transfer, virtual savings accounts, and virtual credit. The government watched while the company experimented and innovated and, once the demand for its services were demonstrated, the government enacted and amended laws to adequate the functioning of the financial system to M-Pesa’s offerings. This set a new regulatory stage in Kenya that benefited other fintech startups and helped democratize access to finance. When regulation follows innovation, it tends to work better than ex-ante efforts, which are often based on non-transferable international practices and struggle to support innovations that are not yet fully understood.

  1. Innovation can support infrastructure progress

Innovation can also promote infrastructure development. In the early 2000s, in Africa, the growth of telecom pioneer Celtel was hindered by insufficient cellphone coverage in countries like Congo, Gabon and Zambia. But the company did not just wait for government investments. It took matters into its own hands and invested in cell towers itself, as well as other complementary infrastructure such as roads, to be able to service the towers effectively, and water supply, so workers and their communities could have basic water access in remote areas. This investment has paid off for Celtel, enabling the exponential growth of the business, and the countries where it operates, which benefitted from improved infrastructure. Similarly, in Nigeria, Tolaram launched its popular brand of instant noodles Indomie, the first of its kind in the country, which quickly became a hit and a must-have dish across the country. The growth of the business, however, was being hindered by the precarious infrastructure and logistic capabilities in Nigeria. Tolaram invested more than $350 million in developing its own logistics company, with over 2,000 trucks, and building infrastructure including electricity and sewage and water treatment facilities. Furthermore, the company took a leading role in developing a $1.5 billion public-private partnership to build and operate a deep-water port in Lagos, all to support the long-term growth of its business. Both cases are discussed in details in the book The Prosperity Paradox.

  1. Innovation and entrepreneurship can promote environmental sustainability

There is plenty of evidence that this generation of entrepreneurs and innovators, especially younger ones, tend to be more environmentally conscious than businesspeople from previous generations and government bureaucrats. In fact, many startups are set up specifically to mitigate environmental challenges. Colombia’s Conceptos Plasticos, for example, contributes to the circular economy by using recycled plastic materials to form Lego-style bricks which are then used to build affordable housing. Global startup Airborn Water, in turn, designed a technology that efficiently produces fresh (potable) water from the air’s humidity, contributing to sustainable water supply in even the remotest areas. Moreover, even when the business itself is not focused on solving an environmental issue, (younger) entrepreneurs are generally more mindful of mitigating potential negative externalities, following sustainable practices, and adopting a triple-bottom-line approach to business.

  1. Innovation and entrepreneurship can mitigate social problems

Entrepreneurs are problem-solvers who understand that a problem can become the opportunity for a profitable business. They often build companies around solving pain-points they have identified in their own lives and communities. Many startups have business models that rely on resolving social problems or targeting the base of the pyramid as consumers, workers, and suppliers. In fact, three of the examples provided above – Celtel, M-Pesa and Indomie – illustrate businesses that have great social impact. Also, there is a subset of social entrepreneurs that run non-for-profit enterprises which are committed, first and foremost, to addressing community challenges. Hospital Beyond Boundaries provides health services to poor, underserved communities in Malaysia and Cambodia. Zomato Feeding India combats food waste in India and provides meals to the poor. It has a network of about 25,000 volunteers across more than 100 cities and has served over 33 million meals to people in need.  She Says is an organization that fights for gender rights in India, especially those of women and girls that have been victims of sexual assault and harassment.

  1. Entrepreneurship can promote inclusion and change cultural norms

Many countries face challenges when it comes to the inclusion of minorities and women in the economy. In certain regions of the Middle East and Africa, for example, business is still not seen as an appropriate activity for women. They are expected to take on domestic roles or perhaps become teachers, nurses, or work in traditional agriculture and manufacturing. In Africa, only 9 percent of startups have women leaders, according to Venture Capital for Africa. In such context, the development of programs that promote women’s entrepreneurship, for example through business education, incubation and acceleration, helps debunk taboos and shake the status quo. Initiatives such as New Work Lab, in Morocco, and the Kosmos Innovation Center (KIC) in Ghana, Senegal, and Mauritania, are making targeted efforts to support women entrepreneurs. Similar initiatives abound throughout Africa and the Middle East and are paying off. The landscape for women in the workplace is changing for the better, as female entrepreneurs become role models and serve as inspiration to others, regardless of sector and occupation. And the economy benefits too. According to the Women’s Entrepreneurship Report, women entrepreneurs in the Middle East and North Africa are 60 percent more likely than male entrepreneurs to offer innovative solutions and 30 percent have businesses with international reach, which also exceeds their male counterparts.

  1. Entrepreneurship can strengthen ties with diaspora and help address brain-drain

Many developing economies suffer from brain-drain, with an important share of the well-educated and resourced leaving the country to search for better opportunities in developed countries. The growth of a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem creates the opportunity for people to choose to develop their talent and invest their resources locally, instead of voting with their feet. It also motivates the diaspora to re-engage with the local economy by becoming (angel) investors, mentors, connectors – and eventually even returning to their countries. For example, ChileGlobal, part of Fundación Chile, promotes and facilitates the development of business projects and the introduction of innovative technologies through its network of influential Chileans living in the United States, Canada, and Europe. Pangea, in turn, connects African entrepreneurs and successful diaspora members by providing both training and business intelligence for diaspora investors and engaging the diaspora in the startups Pangea has invested in.

Do you have additional points to raise? Examples to share? Agree or disagree with a particular issue? Leave your comments below and let’s keep this discussion alive!

Andre portrait

Andre Averbug is an entrepreneur, economist, and writer. He has over two decades of international experience working in the intersection of economic development, entrepreneurship, and innovation. He has worked and lived in multiple countries across North and South America, Europe, Africa, and Central Asia.

Andre has started and run four startups, in Brazil and the US, and was awarded Global Innovator of the Year in 2009 by World Bank’s infoDev. He has extensive experience supporting companies as mentor and consultant, both independently and as part of incubators such as 1776 and the Kosmos Innovation Center, and programs like Shell LIVEWire, StartUp Weekend and WeXchange.

As an economist, Andre has worked in topics ranging from innovation ecosystems, entrepreneurship and MSME development policy, competitiveness, business climate, infrastructure finance, monitoring and evaluation (M&E), and country assistance strategy for the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), and the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES). He has also consulted for clients such as DAI Global, the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), TechnoServe, among many others. He holds a master’s degree in economics from the University of London (UK) and an MBA from McGill University (Canada). Andre lives in the Washington, DC area.

He writes an awesome Blog called Entrepreneurship Compass and you can sign up here: https://entrepreneurshipcompass.com

What Does Effective Sales Coaching Look Like?

What Does Effective Sales Coaching Look Like

This is a Guest Blog post from Chris Tully.

What Does Effective Sales Coaching Look Like?

Although much of the world is still experiencing pandemic-related restrictions, business owners are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. We constantly hear the phrase “new normal” and it is something that must be adopted by businesses and sales teams who want to come out on top. By embracing the mindset that the new obstacles can be overcome, resilient companies are seeing this as a time of investment into sales strategy and sales coaching to seize the opportunity!

A downturn in the market has historically been a time we’ve seen creative business leaders forged a path to leapfrog their competition. Whether this be on large playing fields or in the small business sector, the key is the ability to propel forward swiftly. One of the key battlegrounds to achieve this kind of success is in the sales trenches. That’s why it’s a critical time to revisit what effective coaching looks like. For owners who fill these shoes, self-evaluation is key to assess their ability and willingness to invest themselves more deeply.

There are four key things that sales leaders need to do in order to effectively coach and lead their sales teams through unprecedented market conditions:

  • Partner with your salespeople and dig deep into market conditions and changes necessary to the sales process. By experiencing the environment firsthand and uniting with your team in the trenches, you will more quickly be able to devise alternative approaches and tools. Gaining buy-in from your sellers happens naturally through this approach because they are involved in the development process while also gaining experiential training on the fly.
    
  • Review and revise sales metrics to align with today’s selling world. Virtual selling has dramatically impacted indicators such as Sales Cycle Length, Number of Outreaches, Presentations and Quotes, etc. Break down prospecting and sales stages to isolate additive areas to monitor productivity until your salespeople have fully adapted to their new environment.
    
  • No matter the previous track record, hold all sales team members consistently accountable to the newly defined metrics. The ability to benchmark performance across multiple salespeople will expedite the solidification of new methods being introduced. It is likely you’ll find tenured salespeople more open than typical during these unprecedented times given that they are also striving to reclaim their high-performance level.
    
  • This is an ideal time to span across industries you’ve previously seen the greatest success. To do so effectively, develop a laser focused strategy by refining your sales process to accommodate varying industries. Equip your salespeople with industry specific sales playbooks to include unique sales messaging, insights into market trends and conditions, customized buyer process stage mapping, etc. Empowering your team with this level of preparation will give them confidence and clarity as they explore new areas.

If you’re an owner who holds the sales leader seat in your organization, it’s time to scrutinize options to fulfill the granular level of leadership needed right now. The unique solution of an Outsourced VP of Sales may be the answer. This resource is equipped to coach and manage your sales team while also partnering with senior leadership to formulate company pivots or directional changes. This allows the Owner to focus on big picture objectives while having peace of mind that sales implementation is being led by a professional that is familiar with “what it takes” to come out on top.

How do you determine your company’s sales objectives each year? Do you have a documented sales process that is consistently followed? What keeps you up late at night thinking about your business? Take my FREE SALES ASSESSMENT QUIZ today to gain exposure into key questions you want to be asking yourself to stimulate new ideas.Click to take my Sales Assessment Quiz

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Chris Tully is Founder of SALES GROWTH ADVISORS. He can be reached at (571) 329-4343 and ctully@salesxceleration.com“For more than 25 years, I’ve led sales organizations in public and private technology companies, with teams as large as 400 people, and significant revenue responsibility.I founded Sales Growth Advisors to help mid-market CEOs execute proven strategies to accelerate their top line revenue. I have a great appreciation for how hard it is to start and grow a business, and it is gratifying to me to do what I am ‘best at’ to help companies grow faster and more effectively.Let’s get acquainted. I am certain I can offer you an experienced perspective to help you with your growth strategy.”

Leading a Sales Team out of a Slump

This is a guest blog post from Chris Tully.

Leading Your Sales Team Out of a Slump

Leading Your Sales Team Out of a Slump

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but a sales slump can, and will likely happen to every business at some point. One minute, your company sales are cruising along, only to be hit by stagnating or plummeting revenue. These speedbumps in growth can be caused by a variety of reasons, but business owners and sales leaders need to be able to recognize early warning signs and commit to the right steps to get back on the path to success. Too often, there is pressure to do more, when instead the approach should be on doing the right things better.

Current business conditions have brought many new obstacles and distractions which have salespeople’s heads spinning as they try to determine effective next steps. The new sales landscape has also made holding salespeople accountable challenging for owners and sales leaders.

If this sounds familiar, it is time to usher your salespeople into a new normal that will make them stronger and more resilient performers. The first step is for company leaders to get a pulse on the conditions the salespeople are navigating within. Just as important is to take note of your team’s mindset by gauging their confidence level and readiness to engage in a new landscape. Leveraging a senior sales consultant is a worthwhile consideration for such an important evaluation to ensure an effective recovery plan can be developed. It’s natural that your sales reps will need to regain their self-confidence by seeing new approaches modeled. Providing them with a resource that has a proven track record navigating changing market conditions, will expedite their ability to transform their sales approach.

Leadership

In the meantime, here are three practical things you can implement immediately to help your sales team reclaim their balance.

1. Incorporate Activity Reporting

If your sales team is struggling, daily check-ins for a period of time can create a way for your salespeople to share a high-level review of their day including successes as well as difficulties. Avoid turning this into micromanagement by encouraging use of technology to simplify the process. Activity reports can be done with a voice recording, video or chat tool. Drop them a call, voicemail or email every few days after reviewing their daily reports to share feedback, encouragement, and ideas. The goal of daily activity reporting is to bring focus to the fundamental sales activities needed to grow results and to spot early signs of trouble, lack of alignment or to collaborate to get them “un-stuck”.

Based on individual progress, work up to a weekly report cadence once you can tell the salesperson is on the right track with activity consistency, positive mindset, and renewed clarity on how to navigate. This report can dive in deeper on client activity, sales numbers, difficulties, and goals for the upcoming week. And again, make sure you are responding to the weekly reports to engage with your team. Owners and sales leaders should consider taking the information from the reports to summarize in a weekly message to the sales team. Recognize individual successes, help set goals, give encouragement, and address issues from a leadership role to maintain an open line of communication with the sales team while also fostering the spirit of teamwork.

2. Shift from Time Management to Productivity Management

We cannot manage time, but we CAN manage our actions.   It may seem elementary, but it’s time to revisit the basics of prioritization with your sales team. Without basic best-practice guidelines in place during turbulent times, even a top performer can get derailed!

Walk through the basics of calendar blocking for prospecting time, ending every day with creating a plan for the following day, and protecting time by grouping together meetings and non-selling activities. Let your team know where you want them spending their time and focus throughout the day.

While it sounds simple, productivity is generally a difficult skill for salespeople to master due to how their brains are commonly wired. This is exacerbated given the multitude of tasks to be accomplished each day. With a little guidance, you can lead your team to not think about “multi-tasking” for portions of their day. Instead, by them giving undivided attention and focus to the sales tasks at hand, they will have the clarity to achieve success and complete all necessary customer objectives more effectively.

 3. Virtually Moving Ahead

Like it or not, virtual meetings will continue long after the pandemic is behind us, so it is essential to ensure your team is acclimated to engaging with customers in this format. Start by determining if your team is prepared, knowledgeable, and comfortable with adapting their sales approach, including embracing the technology needed to efficiently lead and run meetings. Don’t take their stated confidence for granted. Consider virtual meeting training as the “new normal” format to support the likelihood that virtual selling will continue for some time, maybe forever in certain industries. Learn virtual best-practices and use these tools to differentiate your company from your competitors. 

Even though the goals of virtual and in-person meetings are the same, you will likely need to partner with the sales team to create new approaches and tactics for virtual meetings. Sales teams need to adapt their approach to prospecting, building rapport, uncovering needs and gaining buy-in, as all of these facets of the buy/sell relationship are different in a virtual environment. As the leader, it is your role to ensure the team has access to proper technology, and easy to use digital versions of all documents. Schedule and lead training sessions using role-plays through your video platform to evaluate and improve sales performance. Your company’s digital selling experience demonstrates your company’s professionalism and will influence the customer opinion and buying decision.

While no business owner or sales team leader wants to experience a sales slump, it’s bound to happen. The key to getting out of the slump quickly will be dependent on the company leaders recognizing the warning signs and partnering with the sales team to create a path forward. Even starting with the three simple changes we mentioned above, consider it the first step up toward recovery. With salespeople anxious about job security and other personal challenges, given the current conditions businesses are experiencing, supervisors who push and seek to control may only amplify the stress. These times call for owners and leaders to shift their focus from pressing for performance to supporting their people and leading the way to provide a sense of direction.

Chris Tully is Founder of SALES GROWTH ADVISORS. He can be reached at (571) 329-4343 and ctully@salesxceleration.com“For more than 25 years, I’ve led sales organizations in public and private technology companies, with teams as large as 400 people, and significant revenue responsibility.I founded Sales Growth Advisors to help mid-market CEOs execute proven strategies to accelerate their top line revenue. I have a great appreciation for how hard it is to start and grow a business, and it is gratifying to me to do what I am ‘best at’ to help companies grow faster and more effectively.Let’s get acquainted. I am certain I can offer you an experienced perspective to help you with your growth strategy.”

How to Use CRM to Add Value to Your Sales Team

This is a Guest Blog Post by Chris Tully.

Your customer relationship management (CRM) software system is filled with details about the people and companies most important to your business. But are you using CRM to add value to your sales team?

If you haven’t set up a CRM system to actively monitor and effectively track the steps your sales team takes with business opportunities, then you’re both walking around with your eyes closed. You can’t see what the sales team is doing – and neither can they.

If It’s Not in CRM It Didn’t Happen

About one-third of small to mid-sized businesses I encounter don’t have a CRM system. They are still managing the business on email and spreadsheets. About half of the remaining businesses have purchased CRM software but haven’t fully implemented it. Still others use their CRM for marketing or customer service, but not sales – missing the value of integrating the functions.

In my opinion, if sales activities are not visible in CRM they didn’t actually happen. I’d go so far as to say that if your sales team closed a deal that was not in CRM, hold back the commission. That may sound draconian, but I believe you’d only have to do that once to make the point.

Sales CRM is highly effective for the money. You and your team have the ability to see leads as they are captured, follow the progression of contact and communication through your sales stages, and easily record results. This allows the sales leader to be a more effective coach, gives immediate visibility to results, and provides some insurance if one of your salespeople leaves.

In the bigger picture, capturing all stages of the sales cycle allows you and the team to analyze what works best and recreate the most successful steps – continually refining and improving your sales effectiveness and growing your business.

CRM Guides the Sales Path

Clearly defining sales stages is valuable for your team. For example, Salesforce CRM software allows you to customize the objectives of each stage, enabling a sort of “guided path” to follow. Within the software, there are a series of questions that have to be answered positively before someone can progress. Seeing the hurdles that have to be cleared to reach those objectives can only help your sales force improve.

A good CRM helps the team better quantify sales leads. They can build a qualification score to see how strong each lead is (or becomes) by assigning points as the deal progresses. For example, is a compelling event driving the customer’s decision on the deal? Is an economic ROI stated or implied? Has the decision maker gotten involved in the evaluation of your proposal? All of this allows you as a leader to monitor progress and assess effectiveness.

The more disciplined your sales team is in following an effective, repeatable process and quantifying deals against the rubric you set up, the better they will be as salespeople and the more you’ll increase your company’s sales.

CRM Engagement Is Key to Adding Value

In order for your sales team to embrace CRM, the system has to:

  • Be easy to use
  • Add value by supporting and guiding the sales process
  • Be the “ground truth” of all sales reporting to and by company leadership

Promote engagement by taking two giant steps to successful CRM implementation: get used to asking questions of your sales team that can only be answered by referring back to the CRM, and make your CRM the source for all sales reporting in the company.

You’ll be able to quickly customize reports to illustrate specific sales performance indicators, and visually represent the team’s up-to-the-moment performance in the key metrics you choose to display on your dashboard.

Choosing a CRM System

There are at least 10 good cloud-based CRM systems out there that can meet the needs of most sales teams. There are also sites to help you decide which system to choose. Final choice will be your personal preference, but from my perspective you can’t go wrong with SalesforceHubSpot, or Pipedrive.

Selection and implementation are important. However, engagement is what will make or break CRM effectiveness. The single most important quality of a CRM system is that it adds value to your sales team – it should make their work easier, and help them be more successful.

Chris Tully is Founder of SALES GROWTH ADVISORS. He can be reached at (571) 329-4343 and ctully@salesxceleration.com“For more than 25 years, I’ve led sales organizations in public and private technology companies, with teams as large as 400 people, and significant revenue responsibility.I founded Sales Growth Advisors to help mid-market CEOs execute proven strategies to accelerate their top line revenue. I have a great appreciation for how hard it is to start and grow a business, and it is gratifying to me to do what I am ‘best at’ to help companies grow faster and more effectively.Let’s get acquainted. I am certain I can offer you an experienced perspective to help you with your growth strategy.”

How Far Will You Go to Get Funded?

This is a Guest blog post from Ines LeBow.

Entrepreneurs are going to extremes to make themselves memorable to investors.

Earlier this spring, at the beginning of the pandemic in the US, I published articles on creating and delivering a digital investor pitch (“Now’s the Time to Get Your Business Funded: Coronavirus Edition”) and on featuring the sustainability of your business in any market (“Pandemic-Proof Your Funding Pitch Deck”). Some of my contacts have shared how great the advice in those articles was, but were struggling to get the opportunity to pitch or even engage with investors.

I read a Wall Street Journal article a few weeks ago called “Startups Turn to Remote Fundraising” (9/21/2020 print edition). It mentioned the lengths that many entrepreneurs are going to stand out with investors or even simply to get in front of investors. Here are a few examples:

  • Elocution Lessons – A start-up CEO took voice lessons to improve his speech, tone, emotion, and inflection to be more compelling and effective on voice and video calls.
  • Guitar Playing – A founder played his acoustic guitar to the Eagles song “Hotel California” during a fundraising meeting.
  • Custom and Animated Backgrounds – One executive even built his own solution to create animated and custom backgrounds for video calls that turned into its own startup that got funded.
  • Highway Billboards – An entrepreneur advertised his start-up idea on several miles of California highways frequently traveled by Silicon Valley investors using the Adopt-A-Highway program.

Initially, I got a really good chuckle. Then I thought about it more and realized that these were examples of people who inherently understood that they needed to stand out to the investor audience. To do so, they needed to do something different than all the other entrepreneurs. As Dr. Seuss famously said, “Why fit in when you were born to stand out?”

Investors are still investing. But, more than ever, entrepreneurs need to do something to capture and hold their attention and stick in their minds.

What are you going to do to stand out?

To learn more on how to stand out with an epic fundraising story, contact me for a complimentary consultation by phone at 314-578-0958 or by email at ilebow@transformationsolutions.pro.

Ines LeBow is the CEO, Transformation Executive for ETS. She is a known catalyst for business operations, bringing 30+ years of hands-on experience. Ines has a long history of being recruited into senior executive roles to improve the execution of business operations and to drive revenue growth. You can see her LinkedIn Profile at www.linkedin.com/in/ineslebow, view the ETS website at www.transformationsolutions.pro, or email her directly at ilebow@transformationsolutions.pro.

How to Create Highly Effective Virtual Client Interactions

This is a Guest blog post by Chris Tully.

How to Create Highly Effective Virtual Client Interactions

In this seventh month of social distancing, client communications seem ever more remote – less accessible and a bit aloof as well as physically distant. How in the world can your sales force stay on top of their game and meet their goals? Now is the time to reassess your sales team’s online skills, and teach them how to create highly effective virtual client interactions.

Recent research about how sales have changed during COVID-19 tells us that sales teams need to adopt new skills in addition to adapting the old ones. It’s similar to losing one of our five senses – when we can’t see clients’ body language during a virtual meeting, for example, our other sales-senses have to learn to pick up on different cues.

When you are making a virtual presentation to clients in a group setting, remember:
• People have shorter attention spans
• Key decision makers often go missing
• Attendees are more reluctant to say what they’re really thinking, so you could get blindsided in follow up.

You definitely don’t want to wing it! Here are some guidelines to follow, based on Gartner’s Framework to Enable Effective Virtual Selling. These will make your client interactions more engaging and highly effective.

Pre-Meeting Planning

Iron out your rough spots. Most people’s presentations have one section that generates a lot of questions or sparks debate, maybe because it isn’t crystal clear. Role-play with sales team members acting out the client’s part until you’re satisfied you can address all concerns.

Make sure the stakeholders will be there.
 When you’re giving a pitch your all, you want the decision makers to be there! Check ahead of time to ensure all the stakeholders will be present during the webcast. If not, find out the designated proxy so you know whom to focus on.

Share your agenda of expectations.
 Give a meeting agenda to your contact ahead of time of three or four items indicating what you want to accomplish and what questions you anticipate from them. This laser-focuses your audience.

If you’re in a situation where the client also is meeting with your competitors, these focus points will make you stand out as a company that won’t waste their time.

You’ll be prepared for a very productive virtual meeting!

Client Presentations

Before the Meeting

Limit your meeting to 45 minutes, including the time for open discussion. Clients often schedule meetings back to back, on the hour, and often schedule you on the same day as your competitors. One thing I’ve learned over my career is how appreciative they are when you give them some down time!

Commit to starting the meeting 15 minutes after the hour, or ending 15 minutes early. Sharpen your presentation to 20-30 minutes and end the discussion a little early. Remember, less is more.

Insist on key players in attendance.
 You’ve already checked on the key decision-maker’s presence or proxy in your pre-planning. What if you log onto the meeting and they’re not there? You can ask if they want to reschedule – if the absence is last minute, they just might want to.

If it’s professional and polite to continue, then make sure to follow up directly with the person who missed your presentation to share your materials and your ideas.

Have your material up and ready to share.
 Make your presentation interactive by engaging your audience with questions. Encourage collaboration by using electronic white boards if you think that will help people better understand the concepts (particularly if it isn’t the audience’s main area of expertise).

Don’t be afraid to bring in “experts” via live link or a recorded testimonial – the more tools of engagement you use the better, as long as the content is relevant and not for theatrics.

During the Meeting

Test for understanding as you go. Using live polling if you can to get quick feedback or see what your audience is thinking – it works really well if you’re presenting to a large group logging in from multiple devices.

Zoom, GoToMeeting, and other platforms have a polling feature. This is a great engagement tool that lets you find out if people are tracking what you’re saying.

Call on audience members. 
When you get objections (expected from your pre-call rehearsal), pull out potential support by calling on specific individuals to share their perspective.

For example, “Tom, you had some thoughts when we talked last week – can you share your perspective?” This can backfire, but you should be smart enough to know who to call on and how to address any negativity.

Get consensus on next steps.
 Have specific next steps in your presentation and get agreement on these before you end the meeting or revise them to suit the situation. Email those next steps along with a proposed timeline to all in attendance following the meeting.

Immediately After the Meeting

Debrief with the decision maker. Ask the most senior client rep to stay for a debrief at the end of your presentation (“Could you hang out with me for a couple of minutes to clarify a few of things?”). Since you’ve kept your meeting short, you have a good chance that person will have time for you.

Email your “leave-behind” of the presentation after the meeting. Many clients will ask for a handout ahead of time, but don’t do it. You want them to listen to your emphasis and elaboration, not follow along on the handout and perhaps miss the point. Emailing the material after the meeting also gives you a chance for an extra touch point with clients.

Follow Up

Within 24 hours after your presentation, do these three things:

Thank the client for the meeting in an email.
 Include a recap of your key points and the agreed upon next steps.

Confirm the next meeting date.
 Also confirm who will be attending and the objectives for the meeting.

Include a specific call to action to continue their engagement with you.
 An example might be to, “Please complete a 1-3 question survey about our discussion.”

100 percent of your sales team’s time is trying to influence others or engaging with someone trying to influence them.
Your job as a leader is helping them get good at handling both of these roles with a focused, genuine manner. Then they will be able to create and participate in virtual client interactions that are highly effective, as well as productive for your company.

Chris Tully is Founder of SALES GROWTH ADVISORS. He can be reached at (571) 329-4343 and ctully@salesxceleration.com“For more than 25 years, I’ve led sales organizations in public and private technology companies, with teams as large as 400 people, and significant revenue responsibility.I founded Sales Growth Advisors to help mid-market CEOs execute proven strategies to accelerate their top line revenue. I have a great appreciation for how hard it is to start and grow a business, and it is gratifying to me to do what I am ‘best at’ to help companies grow faster and more effectively.Let’s get acquainted. I am certain I can offer you an experienced perspective to help you with your growth strategy.”

5 Keys to Convince Investors Your Product Can Make Money

This is a guest blog post by Ines Lebow.

Even if you’re too young (or too old?) to know where the line “show me the money!” comes from, everyone knows the phrase “follow the money”. When it comes to attracting investors and getting them on board with your vision, it’s all about the money potential.

Many entrepreneurs, especially in the tech field, are under the mistaken impression that it’s all about the product. If the product is sexy, fresh, or disruptive, investors will be falling over themselves to put their money behind it. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

Consider the case of Bombas. What was their big idea? Socks. Hardly disruptive, right? Yet the co-founders of Bombas went onto the show Shark Tank and secured $200,000 in funding to launch their idea. Yes, they presented some nice ideas about making a better athletic sock, but they were still trying to pitch a sock. So what made Bombas so attractive to invest in?

Laser Focus

The co-founders of Bombas had a laser-focus on their product and market. From personal experience and lots of interaction with potential consumers, they understood that people were generally unhappy with the comfort of socks, especially for athletic activities. After lots of product testing and user feedback, they identified several areas of improvement for their future products.

Sales Record

By the time Bombas reached Shark Tank, they had already been through two funding rounds. Before their official launch, they secured more than $140,000 through crowdfunding. In the year after their launch, they raised $1 million from friends and family. They also had a track record of sales to show to eventual investor Daymond John, offering a better understanding of the potential return on investment.

Unique Business Model

At the core of Bombas is a business model committed to giving back. It’s not a marketing gimmick but part of the guiding principles of the company and its founders. For every pair of Bombas socks sold, one pair is given to the homeless. Not only does this uplift the spirits of consumers who are willing to pay $12 for a comfortable pair of socks, but it addresses a real need in the community, as socks tend to be the single most requested item at homeless shelters.

Take a Punch

Bombas proved that they were ready to take a punch, from consumers and in the market. Their extensive work in market research before even creating a product provided them with a network of targeted consumers who were willing to give detailed opinions and feedback on a product and how it was delivered. When the Bombas team created their initial prototypes, they were applauded for creating a better sock, but willing to listen and make changes to the product. Their team of consumers didn’t disappoint, but came back punching hard. As a result of the critical market feedback, Bombas made two additional improvements to their products before a general market launch.

Leadership Team

The co-founders of Bombas were able to convince investors of their ability and dedication to execute on the business vision. So while the product was “just socks”, the co-founders had a vision they were able to articulate to investors that made them consider “but look at what socks can do.”

Through these five areas, Bombas was able to convey who was driving the bus, who the competition was in the market, the investor’s potential for a financial return, and how consumers would relate to the product, their company, and their marketing model. As a result, Bombas grew from zero in 2013 to $4.6 million in 2015 to $46.6 million in 2017. In 2019, Bombas exceeded $100 million in revenue. By April 2020, they have donated 35 million pairs of socks.

What will your story be?

To learn more about creating an epic fundraising story for investors, contact me for a complimentary consultation by phone at 314-578-0958 or by email at ilebow@transformationsolutions.pro.

Ines LeBow is the CEO, Transformation Executive for ETS. She is a known catalyst for business operations, bringing 30+ years of hands-on experience. Ines has a long history of being recruited into senior executive roles to improve the execution of business operations and to drive revenue growth. You can see her LinkedIn Profile at www.linkedin.com/in/ineslebow, view the ETS website at www.transformationsolutions.pro, or email her directly at ilebow@transformationsolutions.pro.

How to Make the Move to a Virtual Sales Force

This is a Guest blog post from Chris Tully

Tips for Hiring a Virtual Sales Team | Lucidchart Blog

 

As we start our sixth month of quarantine across America, it is time to come to grips with the fact that some version of “virtual selling” is here to stay. What this means for leadership is that just adapting in-person techniques to digital/virtual sales will no longer get the job done.
Instead, teach your team how to make the move to a virtual sales force.

Leaders are preparing for a greater virtual sales presence than anticipated earlier in the pandemic. A recently released Gartner study reports that in June, “a remarkable 23% of CSOs reported plans to permanently shift field sales to virtual sales roles” with another 36% unsure whether or not to do the same.

The study provides a framework for leadership to enable virtual selling. Here are key skills and tools to help your team effectively sell from remote settings.

Provide Virtual Sales Force Tools

High-speed Internet – This is mandatory for smooth virtual communications and presentations. You should consider funding team members’ Internet access upgrades since they are working from home by necessity. Salespeople represent your company – do you want potential clients to equate poor quality audio/video with the quality of your products or services? Spend the money, and upgrade those plans to gigabit internet, where possible.

High-end wired or wireless headsets
 – Salespeople are keen observers of body language. Without the advantage of being in the room with clients, it’s even more important for them to be able to hear the nuances of everything that’s said.

A reliable meeting platform
 – Zoom, MSFT Teams, Mitel MiCollab, GoToMeeting, Cisco Enable, Google Meet, and more: these are what companies are using and they all have their advantages and disadvantages. Standardize the best solution for your company based on your existing technology stack. Be prepared to train your sales people on several platforms – they’ll need to be nimble enough to navigate clients’ preferred platforms, too.

Get your CFO onboard that these are all essential purchases right now and for the foreseeable future.

Tightly Integrate Sales and Marketing

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated digital B2B buying and selling. A McKinsey & Company survey report and infographic highlight the shift from in-person to digital, and what B2B sellers need to do to adapt.

Integrate sales and marketing processes
 – You need a demand generation strategy across platforms. The strategy should have well thought out social media, email, and outbound telesales support, and well-defined sales processes once a lead arrives. Make sure all your sales channels are incentivized to collaborate.

Optimize your e-commerce channel
 – For buyers’ ease and convenience, re-design to address top buyer frustrations with company websites. These are difficulty finding products, a long ordering process, hard-to-find contact information, and technical glitches.

Utilize online sales-enablement functions that intersect with buyers
 – AI-based conversational analytics help manage the full sales pipeline. Solutions such as sales chat bots, which reach back into your product database and answer questions, are becoming quite popular. These tools exist to improve customer experience and aid client problem-solving. They also improve the leads you capture from site visitors and help build your knowledge about their buying preferences.

Provide a robust CRM solution – 
Make sure both sales and marketing can access the same data. Customer relationship management (CRM) software should give your teams access to a full sales and marketing mix such as contacts, accounts, opportunity management, and campaigns, so both teams can work seamlessly toward increasing your revenue.

Provide Virtual Sales Force Training and Readiness

Sales people have limited attention spans (just like clients). So here are some hints for re-thinking sales training.

Deliver virtual training in tight 60-minute sessions
 – Break each session down into two parts: 50% presentation and 50% interaction (case studies, conversation, and questions). Limit training content to only the most valuable information, with a focus on understanding the client’s perspective.

Record and digitally archive sessions
 so they’re accessible to the team – This will be valuable for those who miss a session, need a refresher, and for future team members.

Role-play behaviors
 – How you talk with clients and how they respond is different virtually than in person. Role play across all stages of a sale, from first introduction to close. Have team members take turns being the sales person and the client; their calls will be more effective as a result.

Practice using presentation tools
 – Because everyone will be training from different remote locations, practice using multiple presentational tools and platforms with each other. This also helps people find the tools that are the most comfortable for them, which will support their ease and confidence in front of clients.

Changing to a virtual sales force also changes the way you think about and manage your sales team. Be prepared to reallocate your investments, and rethink sales strategies and performance metrics.

 

 

 

Chris Tully is Founder of SALES GROWTH ADVISORS. He can be reached at (571) 329-4343 and ctully@salesxceleration.com

“For more than 25 years, I’ve led sales organizations in public and private technology companies, with teams as large as 400 people, and significant revenue responsibility.
I founded Sales Growth Advisors to help mid-market CEOs execute proven strategies to accelerate their top line revenue. I have a great appreciation for how hard it is to start and grow a business, and it is gratifying to me to do what I am ‘best at’ to help companies grow faster and more effectively.
Let’s get acquainted. I am certain I can offer you an experienced perspective to help you with your growth strategy.”