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Is Guided Selling the Next Big Thing?

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Chanin BallanceBy Chanin Balance

According to IDC research, 33 percent of all unsuccessful client deals could have been won if the salesperson had been better informed and had acted more client-oriented. Sellers need access to more relevant information to drive richer conversations that result in a more client-oriented experience. That's where "Guided Selling" comes in. Guided Selling makes critical support available at each stage of the buying cycle – from sales reference aids and training bursts, to customer-facing collateral – and, in turn, improves sales productivity and effectiveness.

What is Guided Selling?

According to Sirius Decisions, Dynamic Guided Selling is the next evolution of sales force automation, which collects data from multiple internal and external sources (e.g. industry information, prior transactions, customer buying history, customer environment, business goals, social media content and market data) to create a unique guide for each sales transaction. For example, when an opportunity is assigned to a seller, a Guided Selling platform automatically suggests relevant support, such as the company's product information, discovery questions and sample success stories or proof points. Each item is a quick reference to aid the seller to drive deeper conversations of value with the prospect. These automatic recommendations should map to the prospect’s buying persona and be relevant to the salesperson’s needs to guide them through each stage of the buying cycle.

How Is Guided Selling Automated?

Leveraging technology to provide relevant, real-time sales support in order to coach the sales rep or channel partner on how to message the product and drive conversations of value specific to the prospects’ needs can help improve lead conversion by 15 percent or more. In order to be really effective, Guided Selling needs to make it easy for sellers to find pertinent information on any device (smartphone, tablet, laptop and PC) and in the tools they already use (CRM or partner portal). Sellers need to be able to easily search and filter information, so they quickly can access the reference materials, short training snippets and customer facing collateral most relevant to their needs with one click.

Is Guided Selling Right For You?

New partners are often sent through a flurry of onboarding activities in the first 90 days and then given a link to a portal, with the expectation that they’ll be able to find everything they need. However, studies show that portals average 18 percent engagement, with many as low as 5 percent. The reality is that training should be an ongoing process in order to nurture successful partnerships, but striking the correct balance for communications is key. Guided Selling can be an extremely effective tool to share information that is directly relevant to channel partners and their needs, as well as increase credibility and help foster a deeper relationship. But how do you know if it is right for your organization?

Here are a few questions to ask yourself:

  • Are you looking to drive better engagement with your channel? Do you want to hire more channel partners or make your existing partners more effective?
  • Are you satisfied with your current channel training program? Do you have a process for providing follow up training after the initial onboarding is completed?
  • Are your materials mapped to the buying cycle and easily accessible in the tools your channels are already using – smartphone, tablet, laptop, PC, partner portal?
  • Do you have proper visibility into your partner participation?

Guided Selling is a great way to ensure that sellers have access to marketing collateral that is up-to-date and on-message. But, relevance for these partners is more important than ever so your communications should be helpful, supportive, and role-based. Align your resources accordingly, and don’t be afraid to invite deeper collaboration from them.

How Can You Leverage Guided Selling Usage Data?

Tracking engagement and usage data such as how many and what types of training and reference materials your channel partners consume is invaluable. Laz Gonzalez with Sirius Decisions said, “Instead of peppering the partner with quarter-end calls to check on pipeline, channel managers should continually track mutual progress (e.g. training programs delivered, partner participation, selling resources the partner committed to, and frequency of deals closed)." By doing so, channel marketers can detect if their training is being optimized. Data like this and more can help you identify improvements needed, as well as spot leading sales indicators of success. Detecting those patterns is the first step to making any necessary course changes.

Plus, through feedback forms and knowledge checks, marketers can gain insight into which pieces are most influential to selling and can continue to improve their internal and external marketing efforts. Thoughtful and prompt two-way communication is necessary to maintain a healthy partnership. Your channel managers and sellers need tools to share thoughts and opinions as well as provide input.

Sales reps and channel partners should be able to share both the good (e.g., an amazing new feature, a new use case, real customer results) and the bad (e.g., end users consistently encounter X bug, Y feature doesn’t work, competitor challenges). Integrating a seamless feedback widget into your engagement materials is good, but a little prod can up your feedback rates immensely. In addition, it is important that channel partners feel that their responses make a difference. When you receive feedback, assess whether change is possible or practical, and respond to their concerns. As for the things you’re doing right, ask yourself: is it possible to replicate elements of that success elsewhere?

Using Guided Selling to put relevant information in the hands of informed salespeople not only helps them to stay on-message, but drives richer engagement with prospects and continuity in the representation of your brand. Once you have created an optimal, repeatable model that is still flexible enough to accommodate different needs, you are well on your way to boosting your partners’ sales effectiveness. By tracking usage and feedback from channel partners you can glean information to help you continue to improve your materials as your sales programs evolve.

Chanin Ballance is CEO at both VIA and MobilePaks. She frequently speaks about learning, mobile engagement and sales enablement solutions and has written for prominent industry publications such as Chief Marketer, Chief Learning Officer, ChannelproSMB and more.

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