With global markets in a constant state of flux and growth becoming ever harder to achieve, the most successful companies today are those that sense opportunities early, adapt quickly, and strike before their competitors can. These companies are on the leading edge of approaches to sales that are emblematic of a new model called agile selling. At its core, agile selling involves making greater use of selling forces not “owned” by the company -- intermediaries, other channel partners, competitors and even customers.
Leaders in the consumer goods manufacturing, pharmaceutical, high-tech and insurance industries have long employed the principles of agile selling due to necessity. Their business models required them to build and sustain high-value relationships with channel partners outside of their own sales forces –retailers and distributors for consumer goods companies, physicians for pharmaceutical firms, agents for insurance companies, and integrators and resellers for high-tech organizations.
In fact, the success of these companies has hinged on how well they can identify the right channel partners to go to market with and through; create the right relationship with those partners that benefits all parties involved; and deploy the right processes, systems and other resources to help partners sell successfully.
The experiences of these industries illustrate how agile selling can help most companies gain the flexibility, accountability and responsiveness necessary to capitalize on growth opportunities in today’s new economic environment. More specifically, by embracing agile selling, companies will be better positioned to excel in six key ways.
Redefining the boundaries of their business. Many companies today still draw a fairly sharp distinction among themselves, their customers, their suppliers, other channel partners and their competitors. Companies that are leaders in using the agile selling model have no such distinctions -- instead, they recognize and accept that the “dynamic ecosystem” is a permanent way of doing business.
Creating a “faster front office.” The pace of change in today’s market means companies must dramatically increase the speed at which they can respond to customer demands and competitor actions. Companies engaged in agile selling have done so by forging tighter relationships among sales, marketing and service, enabling them to decrease the cycle time of processes that span these front-office functions.
Adding more agility and reach to their sales force by rethinking the sales channel mix. One of the keys to the effectiveness of the agile selling model is to determine the best proportion of sales force (the company’s “owned” professional salespeople) and selling force (everyone inside and outside the organization, including channel partners, who can convince people to buy the company’s products). This is especially important for companies pursuing opportunities in emerging markets, where the cost of entry is large and ever increasing.
Embracing leading-edge digital tools. Companies that embrace agile selling know that customers and salespeople want more quality information. They can take advantage of that interest by using technology (especially mobile) to redesign sales processes. The “pull” from customers and salespeople enables leading companies to change the selling experience at a much faster pace
Becoming the best option for the leading channel partners in their markets by empowering channel partners as extensions of their business. One of the tenets of agile selling is making it as easy as possible for channel partners to sell your products instead of competitors.’ Leaders not only provide extensive training to partners, but also capitalize on new technologies -- especially cloud-based software-as-a-service solutions -- that enable a partner and provider to collaborate more deeply than ever before.
Applying analytics in a focused way to run a more profitable business. Agile selling leaders are precise in how they apply analytics technology. They determine the most important business decisions they must make and use that insight to select the analytics that would help them make those decisions better and faster.
As the world becomes an increasingly difficult place in which to do business, the effectiveness of traditional ways of selling and going to market will continue to wane. By embracing agile selling -- or even just some of the practices that companies excelling in the use of the model employ -- companies will be better positioned to find and capitalize on growth opportunities in some of the most difficult, but promising and untapped, markets around the world.
Naveen Jain and Michael Heald also contributed to this column.