Team Selling and Relationship Mapping for Complex Industrial Sales

Ed Marsh | May 23, 2022

Using Team Selling to Succeed with Large Buying Teams

Introduction to SignalsFromTheOP

Guide to episode

  1. Buying teams are growing - why do we still rely on a single sales person to manage the opportunity?
  2. Team selling should be built on a consistent relationship map
  3. Management must commit their time to support team selling, and update the sales process accordingly
  4. Salespeople must take responsibility for managing the process efficiently

Transcript follows:

Hi, I’m Ed Marsh. Welcome to this episode of Signals from the OP. Signals is designed to put new ideas and perspectives in front of busy industrial company executives, in brief, easily digestible videos.

When we talk about team selling in traditional industrial sales we probably mean one of two things. It could be someone from applications engineering working alongside a field sales rep to define technical specs and prepare a quote, or a channel sales manager working alongside indirect sales channel on a deal.

But let’s zoom out to a world of complex sales and buying teams. According to Challenger, Inc. research the average buying team has grown from 5.4 people in 2014, through 6.8 in 2016, to 10.2 in 2018. If we project that rate of growth the team size would have been 15.8 in 2020 and >25 in 2022.

I haven’t seen their research updated with an actual recent number, but it seems likely that COVID has both raised risk awareness, and possibly risk aversion, and remote work makes it easier for larger, dispersed teams to collaborate. Bottom line? The number has almost certainly grown from 2018.

Those people are in numerous functions from management, finance, and supply chain, through operations, to engineering, maintenance, HR, and safety. And they are in roles at the local plant level, corporate, and perhaps independent board directors, and often external consultants such as retired talent and EDCs.

In my recent webinar on the Industrial Sales Myths of a “Decision Maker” and deals lost to “No Decision,” I broke down the five decisions that are part of every capital equipment purchase. Further, I highlight the fact that at least a couple of them are well beyond the purview of your typical field sales rep. When the board, CEO, CFO and capital budgeting committee meet, not only does your rep not know or have insight, their deal champion at the plant or corporate level probably doesn’t either.

So, we have three choices.

First, we can just accept it, change nothing material, and be content with the unpredictability and cyclicality of revenue.

Second, we can work to train up our salespeople so they have better sales skills and can leverage the tools we provide in marketing technology, sales force automation, intent data and sales enablement to intuit more about the buying team and process. Maybe with this process they can directly reach four or five, and perhaps reach another couple buying team members using content as their proxy.

Or, third, we can decide to solve the problem by figuring out how to sell directly to EVERY member of the buying team.

Of course, this won’t be easy. It will take management commitment, resources, training and sales rep time. It’s not a solution for MRO transactions – although it might be for strategic MRO agreements – or simple B2B transactions like office supplies. Capital equipment used in production of a company’s core product, however, would be different as would cybersecurity technology and insurance, and other complex, high-profile prioritization and purchasing decisions.

So how should team selling work? Let’s start by revisiting the Overall Revenue Effectiveness™ framework. Like OEE in manufacturing that seeks to optimize each step as part of an optimized whole, that means team selling should start with strategy, then incorporate marketing, and then specific sales skills.

I won’t dive too deeply into the strategy and marketing piece today, but a couple quick examples will help illustrate how all the pieces fit together in a revenue growth framework that’s been optimized with a process engineering mindset.

From a strategic perspective, you’ll want to make sure that the account fits your ICP, or ideal customer profile. Their industry, size, brand philosophy, composition, ownership, market position, competitor alignment, target market vitality, growth rates and other factors will determine the fit. That in turn reflects your company’s strategy for growth markets (industry and geography), product roadmap and innovation, special and unique capabilities, and expertise and more.

Marketing will support the efforts with data (database access, marketing automation captured intent signals), paid ads programs for “air cover” and awareness in key target accounts, and enablement content ranging from prospecting sequences, through content designed for specific buying team roles and stages in buying journey, to even one-off content created for specific tactical situations.

Those related, and hopefully integrated functions will provide the foundation for the team selling effort. That’s the focus of this short video, so let’s quickly shift to that.

Team selling is about directly connecting with each member of the buying team. We seek to do that by matching compatible folks in your company to counterparts at the prospect to increase the likelihood of these connections. Compatibility in this context generally refers to corresponding function and job title. You’ve heard of top-to-top for instance.

A middle-market CFO will have much more likelihood of connecting with an F5000 CFO than a field salesperson, regardless of the skills and attributes the latter brings. Similarly, engineers will prefer to deal with engineering counterparts at certain stages in the buying journey.

There are other factors of course. Common experiences – education, previous employers, board service for instance – can augment compatibility as can valued common acquaintances. At its core, though, the goal of team selling is to position people in your company to connect directly with their counterparts by job title and function in the buyer’s.

This doesn’t happen automatically. It takes several important steps and commitments. First, management must buy-in. They will have to invest some of their time and possibly social capital to support the effort. That means the CEO and president must lead the CFO, COO and CHRO by example, and those CXOs must do the same for their VPs who in turn do so for their managers, etc. So, management must be explicitly committed.

Second, the sales process needs to incorporate these steps and identify the stage and tactical objectives of each engagement, using a lexicon with common definitions. This will be adapted to meet each specific sales and account situation, but it’s not just applied in an ad hoc basis. The time of folks on both sides of the transaction is too valuable to treat in a cavalier way.

Third, starting very early in the sales process you must create a relationship map that will be continuously updated throughout the project. Opportunity qualification should include the progress of this map – from identifying key buying team roles, through identifying the people who fill them, to matching them to the right folks in your company. Further, it should include adequate research to justify the mapping and to arm your execs with details to facilitate their tactical objectives.

Finally, field salespeople and their managers must assume accountability and responsibility. If the CEO and his/her team are at your disposal for use in accounts and situations that meet pre-agreed criteria, the sales team shoulders the burden of using that high-value resource as effectively as possible. That means adequate advanced notice, consolidation of requests, preparation and briefs, content and drafts prepared to simply action steps, and efficient coordination of priorities, sequencing, desired outcomes, and tactical objectives.

Some of you may want to do this manually – a VIZEO diagram with standard buying roles might suffice to complement target account buying roles defined and tracked in a CRM. Others might consider purpose-built software tools such as Boxxstep for relationship mapping and Smaply for mapping the buying roles across the journey. In either case the evolving diagram should be part of the opportunity and referred to and updated as part of the continuous requalification and deal management process.

Industrial sales has changed. One field sales rep, no matter how accomplished and connected, can’t effectively sell to distributed and growing complex buying teams. It takes a sales team to succeed with a buying team – that’s the role and imperative of team selling for complex sales like capital equipment.

I’m Ed Marsh. Thank you for joining me for this episode of Signals from the OP. If you enjoyed it, please share it and subscribe – either to my YouTube channel EdMarshSpeaks.TV or at the related blog