A couple of months back, one of our sales reps did something during our weekly All-Hands Meeting (we at Avoma call it “All Minds”) that sparked an interesting discourse across our internal teams.
He started giving “shoutouts” to colleagues from the product, marketing, and customer success team for helping him close a deal. Nothing surprising here, right?
It’s perfectly normal for sales to thank colleagues from other teams—except that we noticed that it was becoming increasingly normal for people across the board to come together whenever there was an opportunity to get a deal across the table.
For a long time now, we at Avoma have been discussing this natural partnership that emerges between sales and non-sales teams when it comes to the subject of closing a deal. In fact, we believe in this concept of collective labor so much that our CEO recently wrote an entire ebook on the topic called The Collaborative Selling Handbook.
It’s a nice 60-page read that puts a lot of things in perspective for you even if you are not directly in sales. You should read it—you can download it for free from here.
But back to the topic, we sincerely believe that it takes a village to close deals and we think that it’s an idea that has the potential to change the way your business approaches selling. For what it’s worth, you might already be practicing collaborative selling even if you were not aware of the concept so far (just like we did at Avoma).
Therefore, it’s worth acknowledging something that might already be happening plus has the power to improve your win rate the moment you systematize it. This blog is a primer on what collaborative selling is and how you can leverage it to your business advantage.
What is collaborative selling?
The old definition of collaborative selling was only focused on working together with customers to close a deal. A lot of times, new prospects approach us and ask if we can share with us recommendations from your existing customers. That is, indeed, an exemplary form of collaboration that takes place with prospects and customers.
However, it’s a somewhat limiting definition if you leave out other collaborators in the process.
Yes, customers are an integral part of collaborative selling. But so are people from the marketing, product, customer success, customer service, legal, and even HR team who rally behind the sales team to help them get through each deal.
Taking this into consideration, it makes sense to come up with a more inclusive definition of collaborative selling:
“Collaborative selling is a process of working with collaborators on both sides of the fence to identify the optimal solution for the customers.”
Collaborative selling also shares its DNA with the concept of “team selling” that most people are already familiar with. Team selling is a pretty popular concept in B2B sales—especially in industries that witness long and complex sales cycles or the nuances of impressing the enterprise buying committees.
It takes place when companies form a team—sort of like a special sales task force—to close deals instead of leaving it in the hands of a single sales rep—especially when the stakes are too high. The nuance here is that team selling is limited only to collaboration within the sales team. Again, it’s somewhat of an oxymoron to speak of collaboration and limit it within the confines of just one team.
Collaborative selling is not just collaboration between your sales and customers but a dance ritual between other individuals and teams involved on the buyer side as well as the seller side.
It’s much more meaningful to combine the concepts of collaborating with the customers or the sales team and expand the definition to include collaboration with other stakeholders who play an equally critical role in closing a deal.
What can collaborative selling do for you?
Selling becomes faster when your product is of better quality, when your messaging is clear, and you have sales-ready collateral that reps can use during their customer conversations.
Selling becomes easier when your customer success team is clear about what use cases their product supports and they have the right case studies to show to the customers.
The point is that everything is easier and faster when people have the right mindset around collaboration rather than assuming that individuals are responsible for selling. Let’s look at what each of these collaborative partnerships looks like in the real world when you formalize collaboration across the board.
1. Collaboration within sales
The collaboration that happens within the sales team—a.k.a team selling—can help you improve the efficiency of the sales process and speed up your sales cycle when you lean on your peers’ expertise.
For instance, let’s say you are a sales rep negotiating a deal with a prospect from a Fortune 500 company. You can increase the likelihood of closing the deal with this particular account if you can glean into the process that one of the top reps from your company employed to close a deal with a similar company just a few weeks back.
Maybe the account that you are handling has a complex set of integration requirements or maybe they have specific objections about your product pricing. Looking into how the other rep successfully navigated through similar deals in the past, how they handled objections, and how they positioned your product over the rival brands can teach you a lot about what questions to expect and how to avoid common mistakes.
Then there’s a coaching element to this collaborative partnership where you can reach out to leaders to help you push the deal forward in situations where you don’t know how to proceed. Experienced sales managers often have more context about the entire sales operations that might be beyond your visibility.
Therefore, they can lend you precious nuggets of information that can help you gain important insights about a deal, account, or the kind of prospects you are talking to.
And this collaboration is not just limited to meeting conversations. For example, fellow salespeople or your managers can look at how you are responding to prospect emails and improve the quality of your email response rate by just changing a few words or phrases in the email copy.
Usually, the more thoughtful your interactions with the prospects is, the more likely they are to accept your offer to schedule a demo, sign up for a trial, or bring in the right person in the negotiation process.
There’s an app called Front that makes email collaboration look like a breeze. Front empowers email collaboration by allowing you to tag or invite other people from your sales team to help you word your response better right within the email client. So the feedback is near real-time and highly contextual—as opposed to the old way of taking a screenshot from your Gmail or Outlook inbox, sharing it with your team via Slack, and copy-pasting their feedback back in the email client.
2. Collaborating with marketing
It’s a universally accepted fact that tighter alignment between marketing and sales leads to better outcomes. Without marketing’s support, sales is like flying a twin-engine aircraft on a single-engine capacity. It’s risky and hard to scale, to say the least.
The collaboration between the two teams helps sales leverage new channels like social selling and influencer marketing to draw the attention of the right audience and educate them instead of trying to push your products into their lives.
However, it’s usually the sales team who talk to prospects on a daily basis and it’s not a core part of their job to capture prospects’ feedback at length to share it with the marketers. As a result, a wealth of information in the form of customer feedback and important insights gets lost in thin air.
But if there were a process that automated or made sharing of such information effortless—salespeople would be happy to cooperate better because now it only takes them a minute instead of 15 minutes to compile their notes and share them with the marketing.
This has happened to us at Avoma more times than we care to admit. One out of four prospects who approach us ask our sales team the same question—how is Avoma better than Gong.io or Chorus.ai? We expect these questions, but instead of letting every sales rep answer such questions on their own, our sales shared this as feedback with the marketing team.
In no time, the marketing team whipped up amazing alternative pages comparing Avoma with Gong and Chorus that the sales team can now share with skeptic prospects in just one click. The collaboration has also led us to unexpected benefits like helping us drive SEO traffic to our alternative pages and improve conversions.
Our secret to such effortless collaboration between marketing and sales? Our sales team relies heavily on our own conversation intelligence platform to proactively share important information across the board that doesn’t require the sales reps to document their understandings of customers in a two-page essay format.
3. Collaborating with product and engineering
When the product team isn’t in sync with what’s happening on the sales front, it creates problems for all parties. While sales is busy increasing your company’s sales volume and accurately representing your product’s capabilities to the prospects, the product and engineering teams often tend to build the product in silos—mostly working on assumptions based on their conversations with a handful of potential users.
The further your product team is from the customer, the slower your product development is going to be and the farther away they are going to build products that your customers don’t want to use. On the other hand, closer proximity between the sales and product can help both teams improve the product quality and communicate the product value better.
We see this all the time at Avoma. We have built a culture for our sales team to share every single customer feedback, new feature requirements, new enhancements, or general friction points that our prospects don’t like on Slack channels or as Avoma as snippets.
As a result, many times our engineers build enhancements or tweak certain things on the product that were not originally part of a product roadmap. It has helped our sales in closing a deal more efficiently because they could convince fence-sitting customers about Avoma’s value by building small components into the product faster.
The free-flowing of customer feedback in common Slack channels also helps our product teams deliver delightful product experiences and act on pressing customer feedback immediately before it’s too late.
Traditionally, the sales used to feed such information to the product team through email who in turn created a JIRA ticket or documented it as a possibility in their upcoming product roadmap. This caused unnecessary delays or—worse—inaction because there was no direct feedback loop between the two teams.
But if the engineers listen to the feedback of customers going through some painful process—they usually take immediate action to solve the problem. It’s much easier for the sales reps to share customer feedback directly with the engineering because they can bypass a lot of process-related complications and solve the problem faster than how the product team would have liked to prioritize in the next product iteration.
4. Collaborating with customer success
In the past, the sales team just had one large target—to acquire new customers in order to meet or exceed your company’s revenue goals. In the subscription economy, such a plan would fall flat on its face if you don’t account for recurring revenue in your sales strategy.
No matter what your goals are—revenue, expansion, or maximizing customer lifetime value (LTV)—a better relationship between sales and customer success is an absolute must to achieve it.
If you think about it, customer success is a deeper-level extension of sales. While the sales team is responsible for acquiring new customers, the success team ensures that customers buy your product repeatedly so that you can maximize the lifetime value. Therefore, a lot of principles that apply to SDRs and AEs also apply to CSMs.
The role dynamics between sales and customer success is like the coordination that plays out between two teams of an airline. Sales is like the ground staff at the airport who usher passengers inside the plane. Customer success is like the aircrew who welcomes them on board, helps them settle in, upsells them on food and other services, and ultimately helps them make the most out of the in-flight experience.
The job of customer success begins where sales end—and customers expect nothing short of a royal treatment once they are on board with your brand.
It’s also why sales and customer success should have a smooth customer hand-off between them. If your customer success team doesn’t give them a matching experience they perceived during the sales stage—customers will soon opt-out of your brand. On the other hand, good collaboration between the two teams can help customer success identify the early signals of customer churn and stop the bleeding.
Collaboration between sales and customer success can happen through several means like setting common goals, sharing customer insights, documenting the best practices, and using the same collaborative tools.
5. Collaborating with AI tools and other technologies
Collaboration with AI and other tools has three-fold nuances to it.
Collaboration with AI and tools isn’t possible without people if they don’t have the right mindset for collaboration to start with. Therefore, people and their mindset are the first prerequisites.
Let’s take an example of new recruits joining your company. More often than not, new hires are shy to ask questions because they assume that they have already passed the window of time to raise questions during their recently-held onboarding program. But new hires should be reminded that everyone has different levels of learning curve. No question is inherently stupid since asking the right question might also help other hires who share similar concerns.
To overcome this challenge at Avoma, we have created a couple of dedicated Slack channels to help everyone get answers to their questions without any judgment. For instance, we have a channel called #product_questions that is open to everyone. Anyone who has a specific question related to Avoma can pop a question in the channel and get an answer in an instant.
Over time, the channel has served its purpose so effectively that now when a new recruit posts a question in the channel, it’s not just an expert from the product team who responds. Many times, it’s people from go-to-market teams who have acquired enough knowledge about the product’s technicality and are qualified to respond with the right answer.
The point is that people with the right collaborative mindset are one of the first prerequisites to enable collaboration with tools.
Next, you need to have processes to facilitate good collaboration between individuals and teams. Taking a leaf out of the same example from above, we at Avoma have clearly defined that anyone with a product-specific question should post it on #product_questions.
If anyone has questions related to customer support, we have an entirely different channel called #support to discuss those issues. To foster meaningful collaboration between people and teams, you need to clearly define ways and processes that they can follow to exchange or look for information.
Tools come in last only after people and processes are aligned in harmony. What tools people are adopting is less important than who and how they are going to use them. You can have an amazing collaboration with others on paper if you have the right attitude and processes around it. By the same token, you can have the most expensive tool for collaboration but it can fail with the wrong mindset and lack of processes around it.
Take the system of collaboration for instance. Most of the evolution in software technology can be traced back to some sort of system of records, like a CRM or an employee record management software. These were first-generation software that captured all important data and stored them in a centralized database. It’s why the likes of Pega, Siebel, and Salesforce proved to be really valuable during the 1990s.
The next-generation tools that became valuable after that were the system of engagement. Systems of engagement—such as email automation platforms, mobile apps, content management systems, live chat tools, or even social media—went beyond recording data and enabled you to engage with customers a lot faster. Some of the companies that continue to master the system of engagement domain include tools like Outreach.io and Salesloft.
Next up, it was the system of intelligence that dominated the collaboration space with software that gave you insights into your interactions with customers. But while the system of intelligence added a layer of insights on top of them, the intelligence was still not actionable.
It’s easy to take action—and collaborate—when you are talking to people, having meaningful conversations, or making important business decisions. The best collaboration happens over business meetings, email threads, Slack channels, or text messages. And that’s how the system of collaboration was born.
Early systems of record or engagement like Salesforce or HubSpot intentionally stifle collaboration—they charge people to collaborate with each other. But restricting access to information goes against the very definition of collaboration. Most—if not all—SaaS products should be collaborative by design.
That’s because the faster the collaboration happens in an organization, the higher its chances of succeeding. If you democratize customer information to everyone across your organization instead of limiting its access to a handful of salespeople, that’s when ideal collaboration takes place.
That’s the principle Avoma was built with. When we conceptualized Avoma, we wanted to make sure that the product teams can be as close to customer conversations as possible. We wanted to foster collaboration rather than creating friction and allowing access only to people who are on the frontline.
The bottom line is—once you have the right mindset and culture around collaboration, pick up the right set of tools that empower collaboration. With the right collaborative tools, you can move with efficiency, speed up your execution time, and drive better outcomes as a company.
Does collaborative selling scale?
Just because you are a big team—or you are growing big—doesn’t mean you can’t leverage collaborative selling. Sure, a few things will change here and there when you grow. For instance, you might add a few new rules and guidelines for efficiency or optimize a few processes to match your growth. But if you have built the right culture around collaboration during your formative years, scaling collaborative selling becomes really easy.
Fundamentally speaking, small teams are more efficient when it comes to collaborating. At Avoma, we are super-efficient when it comes to collaboration between cross-functional teams and reducing wastage. This efficiency has helped us create different product experiences and powerful functionalities despite being a small company of less than 25 people in a niche filled with sharks valued at billions of dollars.
Admittedly, things change when you grow big. Big enterprises lose their character as fast-moving startup teams when they start adding new processes and procedures around everything. They lose that agility to surprise their customers and become complacent with their growth. They might start sugarcoating their inefficiencies behind corporate lingo like “sorry for the inconvenience we may have caused you”.
The worrying part is—the more friction that you add to your collaborative processes, the more you slow down your company’s speed of innovation. It often results in customers being disappointed in the way your company interacts with them. Customer delight happens when you go out of your way to do something that they didn’t expect.
If you want collaboration to scale along with your growth, you want to avoid such sloppy culture. Ideally, you would want to retain that element of surprise of sweeping your customers off their feet. And it starts when you embrace your mistakes. You should be willing to admit that you screwed up when it happens and fix the customer problems right away. That’s how small companies operate and that’s what you would want to carry over even when you grow into a mammoth company.
If you want to learn how to tighten the collaboration across your teams in order to expand your revenue potential, you must read The Collaborative Selling Handbook. Click here to download it for free.