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B2B Sales - Have you achieved full potential?

B2B Sales growth – have you achieved full potential? 

Practical tips for business heads to unlock B2B sales growth

Picture this – your organisation has just delivered a strong sales growth, and there are high fives all around. But as a business head your mind reflects on some of your customer interactions and your commercial reviews. Based on that your gut says that there was more growth to be captured. So how do you know if your gut is right? More importantly, how do you convince your sales team to stretch further after they delivered a solid sales growth?

Over the years I have had the privilege of working with the business heads of several Fortune 500 and Private Equity owned B2B companies. They all face this B2B sales growth question all the time. While each business context is unique, you could probe four themes to uncover full potential of B2B sales growth.

1. Are your B2B sales growing in each of your micro-markets?

Organisations typically have a fair understanding of their market size, share and growth at an aggregate level. But the quality of this information rapidly deteriorates at a micro-market level. A micro-market is the market for your individual offer at a country or even district level. The task is even more difficult if your market is niche and not covered exhaustively by analysts.

The best organisations have a great insight into each of their key micro-markets. It is a capability that they have systematically developed over time. Companies sometimes build insight for one micro-market at a time. This was done by a global OEM and a professional service company.

You should explicitly task your commercial organisation to get on this micro-market journey too. Until then, use the data you have to build the best possible view of growth and share evolution for your offers in each micro-market. Read more about selling into micro-markets here

Large micro-markets where you have a poor sales or share growth become the first candidate areas to investigate further B2B sales growth.

2. Is there a large variation in Sales/FTE across teams? 

Organisations can spend lot of time and $ to get an industry Sales/FTE benchmark. However, it cannot reliably provide the precision needed to assess performance or allocate territories. If your sales organisation is big enough, always build an internal Sales/FTE benchmark

A global hi-tech company used statistical clustering to identify product-country units that would require similar level of sales effort. By doing so it discovered that Australia was similar to the UK and France, while Portugal was similar to Turkey. It then used cluster level Sales/FTE to set performance targets and size teams.

Building internal benchmark does not always require sophisticated analytics. A global specialty chemicals company calculated Sales/FTE for each product group-region. It then took the best value and adjusted it for each region for relevant market dynamics. The sales performance improvement potential in some product group-regions became too obvious to miss.

Like-for-like sales units with biggest gap to internal Sales/FTE benchmark are the next candidates to investigate further B2B sales growth

3. Is your GTM strategy tailored to business strategy and customers? 

Many organisations use sales as a primary axis to segment customers, and end up with three segments – key accounts that receive a lot of focus, small accounts managed by distributors and then a rather long list of mid-size accounts that receive varying levels of sales attention and a fairly undifferentiated selling approach. 

Best practice GTM segmentation takes into account customer’s characteristics (e.g., needs, wallet size) as well as your sales to construct distinct segments and a tailored commercial approach for each. A global supplier in processed food used this approach to uncover and systematically target customers where it could grow the most – not just those where it was already selling the most.

4. Are you executing your GTM strategy effectively? 

Evaluating the quality of GTM execution is a fairly elaborate exercise. However three questions can quickly highlight whether sales growth can be unlocked by improving quality of your GTM execution.

What is the quality of your Key Account Management?

For many B2B companies, Key Accounts are simply their largest accounts. These accounts receive special attention and service. However in reality, this could involve ‘buying volume’ by sacrificing margins. Best practice Key Account management goes beyond understanding your customer’s needs. You have succeeded at a Key Account when you have made yourself an integral part of your customer’s strategy. Further, you are jointly creating and sharing value with your customers. In doing so grow both your share of wallet as well as your margins at your key accounts.

Are you growing both share of wallet and margins at your key accounts? Is your company integral to your customer’s strategy? Are you jointly creating and sharing value? If answer is “no” to any of these questions, then your Key Accounts are a candidate to investigate further sales growth.

How alive is your account planning? 

Account planning is often seen as an administrative burden by the frontline and outside of the non-key accounts, its quality is poor. On the other hand, account plans of best performing organisations are live documents that help the commercial teams with both strategic decision making and tactical action planning.

Pull up the account plan for your high potential customers. Does it offer enough insight into customer’s needs and wallet size? Specify who needs to be influenced? Have milestones? … If you are underwhelmed with what you see, there is clearly an opportunity to capture growth by making the account plan the basis for tactical and strategic account management.

Is your pipeline well managed?

A weak pipeline that has gone unnoticed is the first sign of poor pipeline management. The pipeline of an OEM added up to the budget, though a closer analysis revealed that a significant proportion of opportunities had an unrealistic close date and were very unlikely to materialise in the budget year. Secondly, poor opportunity mix in terms of volume by stage / segment / size is another sign of poor pipeline management. Does your pipeline add up to the budget? What % of it has an unrealistic ‘expected close date’? What is the pipeline mix?

While assessing quality of pipeline management requires rigorous investigation of people, process and systems, the above questions can be a litmus test to highlight growth potential.

To conclude… 

Exploring the themes of Micro-markets, Sales/FTE, GTM strategy and commercial execution can help you uncover the full potential of sales growth. This can create a strong to case to rally your organisation to improve commercial effectiveness and realise this full potential. You can motivate your organisation to achieve this even if strong growth was already delivered!

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About the author:


Kedar Gharpure is the Director of B2B Growth Consulting Ltd. He has served business heads of several Fortune 250 and Private Equity owned B2B companies on growth strategy and commercial transformation.