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Hot Takes

Get Ready for the Rollercoaster Sales Stage with Johan Benoualid

Sales

According to market analysis, sales processes are getting longer by 30% on average. The sales team is experiencing a rollercoaster in the final stages of the sales process. Johan Benoualid, General Manager of EMEA and APAC for Akeneo, shares his plan to support, coach, and adapt to the new world of sales.

[Transcript] Get Ready for the Rollercoaster Sales Stage

Joe Aicher

Our next speaker, who we’re looking forward to, is Johann. He is a general manager of EMEA and APAC for Akeneo. Let’s bring Johan on-screen. There you are; welcome, Johan!

Johan Benoualid

Hi, everybody, and thanks for the introduction! Happy to join my first Hot Takes Live broadcast and so happy to be with you from Paris, Europe. 

I’m going to share with you my view of the new sales stage. You may not have discovered that sales stage yet in your process, but that’s the rollercoaster sale stage.

So before I go into giving you a little bit about the rollercoaster stage, here’s a quick intro about myself. So, I’m the general manager for EMEA and APAC at Akeneo. At Akeneo, we are a product, cloud platform sales software, and we help brands and retailers to transform browsers into buyers by delivering amazing product experiences. So, that’s what we love to do with our customers.

Fun fact: My first role was to manage summer camp. When I was doing those summer camps, one day in the middle, we would leave camp and go to a theme park. Maybe that’s why I started to enjoy the rollercoaster. That was 25-30 years ago, so that’s a long time. 

Get Ready For The Rollercoaster Sales Stage With Johan Benoualid

I’m going to speak with you about what I’ve experienced with a lot of my peers who are driving sales organizations. We call the rollercoaster sales stage which has appeared as a new sales stage and has become very important. For context, I’ve been selling to SMBs, but also mid-market to large enterprises in different technology landscapes. 

I believe that the sales process has a universal approach to selling, where it’s really identifying what the buying journey is for the buyers. It’s important to identify what problems and challenges the buyers are facing, and looking for options that can solve these challenges, and then evaluate technology, test technology, and buy technology for the buyers. 

As a software sales company, it’s our mission to match our sales process with that buying process and to have the right data and the right measurement to be efficient. I think there are a few things that have changed in today’s market that brought me to create the rollercoaster sales stage. 

So, if I go mapping the typical sales process, and I mean every company has its own version of that, but if I look at it in a universal way, our mission as a sales organization is to engage with customers that have identified that they have a problem. I have been looking for a solution to fix that problem, and our mission with our sales team is to mentor, support, and help our customer organization to identify those problems and build the solution. 

We also need to reposition our offering, assess matching the criteria for solving the problem for our customer, having the right business case, and value demonstration. We then close the transaction because we have executed that part very well.

I think what we are doing for linear salespeople and sales organizations is great, but what might have changed is the value demonstration, and in this case, it’s the transactions, things are evolving and changing.

Often in the past, our goal was to have a BANT–Budget, Authority, Need, and Timeline–confirmed with the customer, and we know we are going to be able to engage with someone that can buy. 

Get Ready For The Rollercoaster Sales Stage With Johan Benoualid

However, I think the situation is changing a lot, and I’m going to quote Mark Benioff as he said this last year: “We see customers becoming more measured in the way they buy. Sales cycles can get stretched. Deals are inspected by higher levels of management.” 

I think that’s a reality that most of us have seen and most sales leaders have experienced last year, as well as this year. That situation where our customer is doing all the sales process and has the budget-approved authority but then the transaction is on hold, and that’s where we end up in a kind of a rollercoaster. 

“Hey, we are selected! We’re going to win; we’re going to close. Oops! The project is on hold! Oops, the budget that was approved is not approved anymore. Oops! There is a new process internally on the customer’s side to be able to manage the transaction…” and that’s where we are on that rollercoaster. 

We go up, we go down, and then we go back up, then we go down. So, that’s the situation where when we analyze, we find that the average sales cycle duration was 50% longer than before, and that’s usually on that last mile of the sales process that keeps getting longer. 

That’s why I created the rollercoaster sales stage. You are selected, but now you’re going to be on a rollercoaster to ensure all the criteria were confirmed. The process, the budget, the authorities, and the decision criteria remain the same to approve the deal and close the deal. 

Why is it happening like that? I think that’s because the buyers are challenged internally. VPs or directors have their budget, but it is constantly revisited by the finance department and leadership because of business uncertainty. As a result, the company was revisiting all of that budget.

Furthermore, the internal approval process may have changed your opportunity, but you need to confirm the decision with a new board, a new internal business case process, and a new internal forum to get this transaction approved. That’s where it gets really difficult when we are selected, and the deal that’s closed gets longer.

So, how can we help our organization evolve on that path? ROI tools is a must in helping our customer build the business case; having an internal ROI demonstration and giving them tools to build it for their internal reviewing process is a must. 

We also need to support them by providing more sophisticated tools than what we’re used to having in the past. I think it’s important to have our customers sell internally and understand how to build the internal demonstration to win again the budget that they had that was on pause that may be revisited by the finance department. 

We can also provide templates, documents, and typical materials for internal demonstration. Also, we, as leaders, re-managing that deal inspection more carefully. Answering the question: How can we help our sales team really dig into that last mile of the sales process? 

Yes, you are selected. Yes, we are the prepared vendor, but how do we make sure that the project is going to be completed now and that the budget improvement, and the decision criteria that was confirmed in the past, remains to be the right one? 

In that case, technology that helps you get the voice of the customer and a conversation AI tool like Gong, Modjo, etc. These types of platforms are really useful for us to get the data and help our sales team understand that new sales stayed between when we are selected and when we could close by managing this rollercoaster internal approval system. 

So, my key takeaway is that it’s really important to understand the business process; it has changed a lot, and that’s what’s causing a lot of additional work on the sales execution. 

Enterprise business with an understanding of the criteria, the prioritization, and the internal budget for the customer remains the same as the one we had at the beginning of the sales process through BANT to avoid being on a rollercoaster, close the sequence, and land the deal. 

That was my learning of that new rollercoaster sales stage!

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Hot Takes Live

Replays

Catch the replay of Hot Takes Live, where 30 of the top SaaS leaders across Marketing, Sales, and RevOps revealed some of their most unpopular opinions about their niche.

These leaders shared what lessons they learned and how they disrupted their industry by going against the grain (and achieved better results in the process).

Joe Aicher

Thank you, Johan! Man, I cannot tell you how many deals we have in our pipeline right now that are stuck on that rollercoaster. 

It is almost refreshing to hear you tell me that that’s a common problem because this is something that we’ve been seeing more and more over the last year to two years, especially as we get to the end of our deals. 

I’m not going to throw anybody in our company under the bus on this one, but it was funny to hear some of our top execs say, “Hey, that deal they said that they’re going to close, so we’re going to close it in the CRM tomorrow, right?” 

Only realize, no, we have another two or three weeks ahead of us to get through the paper process and to go through the budget problems that they have had. 

How often is this starting to come up with you in your teams with the business? 

Johan Benoualid

Yeah, I think that’s something that was in every deal. I think that’s part of the learning process. 

Internal sales are much more complex for the buyer than it was in the past, and I think that’s really what we need to understand, which is, what’s going to be the internal selling process to secure that approval? 

I think that all the coaching, the questioning, and the deal inspection need to be in that space and potentially during the inspection with the champion–to do it, you have to create the right relationship to get the leadership to understand the situation. I think your leader is an exact sponsor on that type of deal. It could be a way to get them in front of that situation as well.

Joe Aicher

Yeah, I mean resetting expectations internally with your team is good, and understanding that we need to account for a few weeks potentially. Hopefully, less, but at the end of our deals, because there’s a lot more scrutiny that goes into getting these over the finish line. 

I think your “Champion” comment is totally correct too. Helping your contact, your “Champion” within the company, overcome some of those internal obstacles is really the name of the game, in my opinion, about how you get this moving quicker. Do you agree? 

Johan Benoualid

I completely agree; I think for most people, it also means probably changing the way the forecast is built by understanding that this last mile will take longer. 

So from a predictive model, you have to adapt your model. That’s why we created a new sales stage on our side. A lot of my peers were doing the same between the closing and the last stage, before closing, to manage the new sequence that needed to happen at the stage because there is so much competition now between the different projects that the company will internally approve. You need to create this sale stage to manage the rollercoaster situation and help your team to be successful. 

Joe Aicher

Yeah, I think you’re right. I think it’s just as much managing expectations with your buyer and understanding that as is managing expectations internally with the team and maybe helping the front-line sales rep who’s in the mess of it, understand that it’s okay. 

You’re at that stage. There’s a history of us being in this stage for a few days or a few weeks, and let’s just manage it and let’s get it to the next step.

Johan Benoualid

Give me your rollercoaster ticket; you’re gonna be on it! So, yeah, let’s experience that!

Joe Aicher

Johan, thank you so much for joining! I love this topic. Definitely something we’re gonna carry over to our teams. If anybody has questions or wants to follow up, you can feel free to check out the recording, and we’ll be able to get contact information as well. Once again, thank you so much, Johan! Looking forward to connecting soon!

Johan Benoualid

Thank you very much! Have a great day!