February 6, 2017

Successfully Navigating a Sales Pivot

By Yuri Sagalov

Recently, I found my company in uncharted waters when our new product required us to completely redefine our sales model and go-to-market strategy. Overnight our customers changed from IT department personnel to team members scattered throughout the enterprise – who are now anonymously downloading the product. Our focus changed from directly servicing the IT community to helping business users drive new efficiencies and increased productivity with a cloud-based collaboration software tool targeted at end users.

During this process, I learned several valuable lessons I believe will help other entrepreneurs navigate a similar pivot.

Customer Mapping Is Critical
Almost immediately, we lost control over sales since the product now goes directly to virtually “invisible” customers. We had to quickly find a new way to effectively engage buyers. To align sales efforts with prospects, we mapped the customer journey with a buying process map that illustrated the steps a customer takes when considering a new product.

Our next steps were to:

  • Define the sales team’s responsibilities within the buying process
  • Identify the changes needed to increase our success, such as how do we use our data more effectively? What attributes do new hires need to close this type of sale? How do we compensate reps appropriately?
  • Delineate the role of other groups inside the company. Does the Customer Success team field customer support questions and handle the relationship with customers? How does our new buying process change the relationship between sales and marketing?

Fine-Tune Your Prospecting Strategy
Not knowing who your customers are is challenging. In our case, virtually anyone can use the new product, but that’s not an effective way to segment a market. We needed high volumes of prospects and quickly realized that the advantages of doing calls in-house (quality control, messaging, and experimentation) were not as valuable as the advantages associated with outsourcing (volume, accountability, and scale). At that pivotal phase, we outsourced the cold-calling and pipeline-building functions.

Next, we conducted rapid evaluations with our marketing team and cold-calling vendor. Our primary measurement for evaluating effectiveness was the ratio of calls to actual conversations (we were able to have real conversations with prospects in roughly 5 percent of calls). We listened to sales reps to gauge their feedback against experiences on the phone. We watched, learned, and made appropriate, timely adjustments as needed.

Then, we defined who would most value our product’s unique strengths and tested multiple messages – benefit-focused, feature-focused, and various combinations of both. We could tell if a message was resonating with prospects within 15-20 conversations. Within just a few weeks, we knew we were on target.

Subsequently, we needed to translate a prospect’s usage patterns into meaningful data and insights. So we added several specific data analysis products to garner stronger analytics and key insights into which features customers found most valuable. This enabled us to identify meaningful ways to leverage customer information and better support our reps.

Modernize Rep Profiles and Compensation
When we changed the role of the sales team, it fundamentally changed the skill set we originally needed. Since users no longer engaged directly with us, our sales reps needed to be comfortable relinquishing some control. They needed the ability to dig deep, listen, and understand the value that users gain from the product. With that information, they could contact users and become more consultative in helping customers find productive ways to use the product, thereby increasing sales. This revelation required us to update our compensation plans to better reflect reps’ overall time and effort spent with prospects to achieve an actual sale.

Discover Your Winning Formula
Successfully navigating the sales pivot was exhilarating, but not for the meek. Truly examining your sales model, resetting expectations, and constantly updating sales processes before finding an effective formula were key to success. It’s not a “one and done” process by any means. You need to commit to revisiting your processes each year to ensure proper sales and marketing alignment, and never assume your organization is focused on the same goals at the same time. While pivoting is a massive step, it’s only the first one. To win, you need to continue to synch your sales and marketing strategies, update your customer acquisition and prospecting models, and know your customer to ensure you are set for long-term success.

Yuri Sagalov is co-founder and CEO of an innovative Silicon Valley collaboration software company, AeroFS.