Sales Scientists Are the Modern Sales Rock Stars: Driving BizOps Success in Recurring Revenue Businesses

by Alex Laats, CEO, Rekener

In the good old days, sales rock stars ruled. 20 years ago, we hired people with prior expertise and sales success in our target market. If we were building a direct sales team, we went for a direct sales rock star. If we were pushing our product through the channel, we hired a channels rock star.

Our bet was that this rock star’s lessons learned would translate into future success working for us. In other words, if we hired a rock star for our new band, we’d be cranking out the hits in no time.

That’s precisely the approach we took in hiring a CEO when I started my first company, NBX Corporation, in 1996. We found an opportunity to disrupt the existing business telephone ecosystem with our new Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) PBX. The incumbent providers were slow-moving giant companies like Lucent (a recent spinoff from the even slower and more giant AT&T), Nortel and Siemens, among others.

The smartest thing I ever did as an entrepreneur was recruit a former senior sales leader from Lucent who was a real rock star. He knew how to sell business telephone systems, both direct and through channels. He could see that we needed to create a reseller channel and created a team to make it happen. He knew what plays to run and who to hire. We were executing his go-to-market strategy when 3Com bought NBX, and the rest is history.

Twenty years on, we still look for a rock star when hiring a senior sales leader, someone with:

  • Experience in our domain, and the more familiarity they have selling similar products or services to the same or a similar industry, the better.
  • A broad range of experience with different paths to market, including inside sales, field sales, channels and partnerships.
  • The ability to implement successful plays while also knowing how to bob and weave when new situations arise.
  • One or more big successes in their past, because that helps us feel even more confident that some of the star power that worked for them before will work again for us.

When we find that person, we expect them to hit the ground running, and we give them a tremendous amount of leeway to execute.

Modern Sales Leaders Struggle in a Data-Driven World

Here’s the problem: You’re no longer assured a hit if you rely on the rock star model.

It’s not that today’s sales leaders are less talented than in years past. It’s that the path to market is much more complex, and the emergence of the cloud, Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) and subscription business models have revolutionized the way many tech companies operate. In other words, you can’t hire a single sales leader with all the necessary product, industry and go-to-market know-how to figure out which approach will work, what people to hire and what KPIs to measure.

To complicate matters, a salesperson can no longer be expected to keep track of everything going on within a customer or prospect account in the Fortune 500. First, there’s so much data swirling around and being gathered and generated by all sorts of tools for every prospect and customer interaction and activity. All that data grows over time as we upsell and cross-sell. Second is the fact that so many enterprise sales are made by a buying committee, as described in The Challenger Sale by Dixon and Adamson. That makes it increasingly difficult to maintain an intimate knowledge of what’s happening at a prospect or customer account, even a relatively small one. Simply put, a single account manager, even a rock star, can’t possibly track a lifetime of account interaction given today’s sales reality.

The proliferation of these tools, the massive amount of data generated by them and the emergence of recurring revenue business models changes the game. It means business leaders can no longer rely on the experience of rock star sales executives to hit bookings and revenue targets. They’re expected to find the answers in the sea of data that their business is collecting every day. And this is where sales management breaks down.

Enter the Second Era of B2B Sales Software

Since 1993, when Tom Siebel left Oracle to form Siebel Systems, the world of B2B sales has been defined by the way we use software to acquire and analyze sales data. Though CRM still dominates B2B sales, we believe that the rise of the $36 billion CRM industry represents merely the first era of B2B Sales Software.

In the first era, products like Siebel and later Salesforce showed that it was possible to take a snapshot of your current set of sales activities to inform what was happening in the business. In this era, we:

  • Built our sales processes in order to drive the volume of sales activities and measured conversion rates in a constant effort to improve the efficiency of closing deals;
  • Adapted to workflows, procedures and even sales process vocabulary that reflected the vendor-centric way of managing the sales team;
  • Relied on the tactical BizOps team to support and maintain our data, processes and systems; and
  • Consumed data to drive reporting about how individuals, teams and the overall sales organization had been performing at a given point in time.

We‘re now entering a new era where CRM is no longer sufficient to drive the complex decisions required to build business value. In the emerging second era, which I refer to as the BizOps era, we’re seeing massive transformation. Numerous changes have set the stage for how sales leaders use account lifecycle data to drive the business forward:

  • The emergence of hundreds of new products to automate sales
  • Similar shifts in marketing automation and customer service
  • Changing ways that customers buy

In this BizOps era, we:

  • Realize that enterprise value depends on our ability to improve the effectiveness of our sales teams in order to drive recurring revenue and increase the lifetime of our accounts;
  • Need to break down the silos of tools and teams that characterize the traditional, linear marketing funnels and sales pipelines and adopt a customer-centric mindset and a lifecycle perspective;
  • Depend on an increasingly strategic BizOps team to gather and analyze volumes of data from go-to-market efforts across the company in order to align our teams toward shared goals; and
  • See data as something more powerful than just numbers on a report, leveraging it as a decisioning tool that drives our investments in sales and marketing resources to achieve our business goals.

In Winning in the BizOps Era Part 1 & Part 2, I described the emergence of the strategic BizOps leader’s role in growing B2B recurring revenue businesses. BizOps is now a core competency in B2B that delivers four critical capabilities:

  1. The ability to pull together large datasets captured throughout the entire account lifecycle, typically from disparate systems;
  2. The capacity to slice and dice account lifecycle data by geography, product, and more, in order to understand which accounts and segments are best for growing revenue over time;
  3. The skill to align the go-to-market team around the best accounts and segments by sharing the results of a complex multi-object data analysis in a simple, clear and convincing format that everyone can understand; and
  4. The power to operationalize the results of this analysis by pushing prioritized lists of accounts to the sales team to enable them to focus only on the accounts that drive the most revenue over time based on the most current data available.

BizOps leaders are essentially “sales scientists” who run data-driven experiments to assess the potential of both individual accounts and entire segments. The Sales Scientist uses data from these experiments to inform strategic decisions about how to prioritize sales and marketing resources for success. The typical experiment likely includes a set of marketing efforts designed to engage and pursue a target set of accounts with campaigns and content and targeted selling efforts that capture and track results of sales activity. By integrating marketing, sales and other data, the Sales Scientist can then study the results to make a strong case whether the company should continue to invest in the current strategy or shift its resources.

We can succeed in the BizOps era by embracing the account lifecycle management methodology. Account lifecycle management is about understanding accounts at the data level. This leads to new levels of understanding that go beyond basic reporting to strategic decisioning, and ultimately driving action across the business to maximize recurring revenue.

This approach empowers BizOps teams at B2B companies to shine a bright light on the best accounts and the best opportunities for creating and sustaining real revenue growth. It does so by making it possible to leverage the power of customer account data. Using account lifecycle management, for the first time, they can:

  • Deliver real value and effectiveness of sales and marketing resources
  • Support a customer-centric approach in all aspects of selling and marketing
  • Partner with strategic BizOps colleagues to improve go-to-market strategy and execution
  • Make more informed decisions when charting the path forward

Ready to explore how to leverage account lifecycle management to drive recurring revenue growth?



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