Want an Effective Sales Process? Make Sure Science Complements Art

Want an Effective Sales Process? Make Sure Science Complements Art

Sales – or the process of selling -- is often perceived as a matter of building and managing relationships. Most Sales professionals treat it as an art, and for many decades, that approach worked fine.

However, in recent years, intensive focus on making Sales a measurable process, combined with much improved consumer understanding thanks to the real-time availability of information about your company and its products, has led to a perception change. Increasingly, there is realization that Sales is a process that necessarily blends both science and art, but that it needs to now tilt more toward the former. 

The Art and Science of Sales

This need for making the entire Sales process more predictable, timely, and outcome-based at every stage is leading to increased application of a more scientific approach. 

The most successful companies are those whose Sales and Marketing teams are well-trained in today’s science-based principles. In fact, following these principles has become the new imperative for success in today’s disruption-driven, fast changing, highly competitive business landscape. 

The purpose of this article is to share my views on what the key elements are for making the Sales process more scientific - first by demystifying the Sales process itself, then discussing which essential tools you need to get a more scientific process going in your company.

EFRAC, a portfolio company of Mandala Capital, has successfully deployed this scientific process of Sales during the last couple of years, helping the Sales team to increase their effectiveness. Therefore, the learning distilled in this article to move the Sales function from a traditional type to a more scientific process is based on the practical experience in elevating the same at EFRAC. 

Demystifying the Sales Process

There are myriad of issues with the traditional “relationship” approach to selling that can result in a lower rate of success.

For instance, it can take considerable time to develop qualified leads. Even when leads are generated, your resulting pipeline may be inadequate. Plus, your team may be tempted to close inappropriate deals simply because they are the “easier” ones. These issues could be overcome by deploying the following “more scientific” elements of an effective Sales process:

- Adopting and implementing a consistent Sales Methodology
- Better articulation of your differentiating Value Proposition
- Standardized methods for managing and reporting on pipeline activity
- Trained Support services

I can tell you that using a more “scientific” process such as this can benefit your business in many profound ways. You’ll enhance your chances for success, increase the breadth and depth of customer engagement, find it much easier to make internal support resources available, and ultimately achieve far stronger customer validation. 

In a nutshell, here’s how it works.

Sales Methodology

The core process of Sales engagement methodology involves three stages:

  1. Market Analysis and demand generation to get an improved customer target list; 
  2. A rigorous Account Planning (or Prospect Planning) process to distil the opportunities; and,
  3. Opportunity Planning to ensure faster realization of your desired outcomes.

Market Analysis

Market Analysis requires structured segmenting of the market(s) you are targeting based on measurable criteria. It also involves mapping the overview of the opportunity based on business size, growth, share, and profitability. This would be followed by an analysis of potential competition to get the leads. You’ll find that your lead-generation process will become very predictable if you take a systematic three-step approach of prospecting, nurturing and pipelining. 

A robust prospecting process will help in opening new doors and leads. Lead nurturing will help in strengthening the rate of success. Nurturing involves time and patience to build the relationship with a goal to gain the business, when the customer makes the decision to buy. In the pipeline stage, one aims to close the deal with clearly defined terms and timelines.

Account Planning

Account planning involves gaining deeper understanding of the issues involved with the customer and finalizing the Value Proposition for that opportunity. One needs to define the power base of the organization to understand the decision makers, the strategic influencers, and the account’s buying motion.  Further, one needs to identify the selling strategy, and develop a time-bound opportunity map with exceedingly clear milestones.  

Customer interaction during account planning should be focused on deeply understanding their problems.  Every chance you get to obtain information needs to yield clear answers to key questions like: What are the major issues faced by the industry and the company? What capabilities are needed to resolve the issues in terms of people, product, processes, and performance? What will be the impact of bringing an effective solution to the issue? What’s the core Value Proposition? What’s the opportunity engagement plan? How can you show them the best way forward? 

Account planning is the stage that involves careful thinking and deep insight. This stage is analogous to setting up a battle plan prior to execution. Failing to set this up properly leads to aborted and unsuccessful sales cycles. 

Opportunity Planning

Opportunity Planning requires four deliberate actions. First, identifying what each of the individual selling steps to close will be on each of your opportunities.  Second, developing a plan to create a sense of urgency for deploying the solution in the mind of the customer. Third, comprehending the competitors you face in seeking this account and developing action points to counter them is essential at this stage. Finally, closing the deal involves confirmation of a mutually agreed-upon engagement plan, finalizing a contract including terms and rules of engagement, and building utmost trust in your ability to deliver the solution.

Essential Tools of the Scientific Sales Process

The overall effectiveness of your Sales process will be significantly enhanced once you institute and use the appropriate Sales tools for making your process more scientific.   By that I mean tools like Value Proposition, Competitive Strategy, Engagement Plan, and Effective Negotiation. The appropriate use of such Sales tool requires continuous and intensive training to sales team as we have practiced at EFRAC.

Now, you may not think of these things as “tools,” but once you do, you’re on your way to greater selling success. 

Value Proposition

A great Value Proposition has specific, quantifiable benefits.  It is uniquely differentiated from competing solutions. It also provides a rational and compelling reason for the customer to buy. The Value Proposition is built in the mind of customer by spending time to surface the implicit needs as explicit ones. And make no mistake: A customer will only buy a solution when the need for it is articulated by himself. That’s why it is critically important to make the customer internalize the problem – the problem as you have framed it for him -- before he buys in to the solution. Lead him there by asking the right questions -- strive to elicit useful responses on the implications of allowing his current problem to persist; and show him the payoff from the solution you are offering.  Critically, differentiating your Value Proposition from those of others competing for the business requires granular comparison across the competition on various elements of the proposed solution. And this is where Competitive Strategy enters the picture.

Competitive Strategy

Building out your competitive positioning strategy is another tool to win the opportunities. The first principle of competitive positioning is “get there first.”  If you cannot be there first, though, which can and will happen, resolve the following key questions in order to move the opportunity forward: 

- Is the customer going to buy?
- How far along is this opportunity?
- Is our offering attractive to the customer?
- Can we win?
- Is it worth winning?  

Some useful tactics that can be used for competitive positioning include:

- Preemptive -- Use this when you are first. Make the implicit problem explicit for the customer. And work jointly with the customer to provide the solution while helping the customer realize the business impact of the solution.
- Frontal -- This is a head-to-head confrontation approach, and hence to be used only when one has very clear advantage over the competition.
- Flanking -- Flanking is the tactic used when one is behind the competition, and the approach involves changing the rules of the game.
- Divide and Conquer – This is a fall back strategy to contain the competition. Your best approach involves making the deal subdivided to get a foothold to beat the competition.
- Delay -- This is also a fall back strategy when one is losing (to stall the competition).

Engagement Plan

Developing a solid Engagement Plan involves defining specific activities with clear responsibilities and timelines. A great Sales team wins when the leader effectively guides the customer throughout the buying process but allows his sales team to be perceived as the facilitator.  Showing such “bench depth” through a successful Engagement Plan results in order materialization, and increased life of the sales cycle (i.e., more follow-on business opportunities), because deeper trust has been attained.

Effective Negotiation

Effective Negotiation is another critical tool for any great sales process. Negotiation involves dialogue between two or more sets of people who are intending to reach a win-win outcome.  To improve your negotiating capabilities, keep these bedrock principles in mind:

- Ensure your negotiation is driven by value(s), and that all the opportunities for the customer are identified.
- Hold strong to both flexibility and reasonableness; do not let emotions get in the way.
- Establish trust between the negotiating parties and deepen it as you go along by being honest and forthright.
- Always be prepared. Solid preparation is paramount in all successful negotiations. That means setting the goals and objectives, being clear about what each side wants, and understanding both the implicit and explicit needs that are being discussed. 

Beyond these principles, as we have learnt through our experience at EFRAC, it is also important to think through -- in advance -- about the various options that could come into play if the desired outcome is not reached.  Be able to discern when it makes sense to walk away, when it makes sense to agree, and the possible relationship value that can be created through a little bit of give-and-take.

Conclusion

What I’ve shared is a high-level overview of the essential elements to focus on for making your Sales process more scientific.  Institutionalizing such behavior also benefits from continuous deployment of the widely adopted “PDCA” approach to process improvement:  Plan. Do. Check. Act. Fortunately, software programs like Salesforce enable this PDCA process natively, and are now widely adopted by large and small enterprises, so getting started is relatively easy.  

To make all this happen, you just need to start, then continuously improve.  For help getting started on applying the above principles to make your Sales process more scientific and effective, just remember the famous quote by Zig Ziglar:

“Outstanding people have one thing in common. That is, an absolute sense of mission!”

The process suggested above is applicable to most of the companies. At Mandala Capital, we are relentlessly focused on adding insightful support to improve the efficiencies of various processes in our portfolio companies. We are happy to roll up our sleeves and support our portfolio companies.

Hiten Varia is a serial entrepreneur and technology evangelist, currently serving as Chairman and Founder at M9 Solutions. Previously, Mr. Varia spent 17 years in executive leadership roles at i2 Technologies, a supply chain management software and services company, including Chief Customer Officer and Executive Vice President of Global Customer Operations. Prior to joining i2 Technologies, he worked at Sylvex Cable, followed by 10 years in several management roles at EDS.
Mr. Varia serves as a Director on the Boards of Gati Kausar and EFRAC.

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Building a Global AgTech Platform – Part III: Opportunities Ahead

Building a Global AgTech Platform – Part III: Opportunities Ahead

This article is part of a series by Aric Olson, President of Jain Irrigation, Inc., on how Jain Irrigation built its global AgTech platform in  a short period of 5 years. Read Part I: Acquisitions are Integral to Strategy and Part II: Challenges and Strategies for Implementation.

During the last few years, there were noticeable challenges in the Western United States getting and keeping farm labourers. There were even stories of crops that were left in the field un-harvested due to the lack of available labor. Growers had to plan around not only availability of water and land, but also farm labor.  

Due to the increased labor costs and availability issues, growers have been more rapidly pursuing automation. They are trying to automate as many tasks as possible on the farm, including irrigation which is labor intensive for certain crops. Farmers are now looking for the ability to turn on/ off pumps with field valve control from their phones or computers, whereas in the recent past they would have their irrigators drive the fields to manually turn on valves. As farms become larger, it also became much easier to manage large blocks of acreage using automation for the irrigator, in effect multiplying an owners’ time and effort across larger acreages.  

With our acquired and internally developed hardware and software, we are in a great position to immediately begin helping the grower automate irrigation on their farms.  

We can also deploy our agronomic and diagnostic tools to better help the grower with the choice of when and for how long to irrigate. These key decisions can be made utilizing over 10 years of farm data acquired with the Jain-Puresense acquisition. Soil moisture, local weather information and history can be utilized in machine learning models to accurately predict how deep the water from an irrigation event travels through the soil - Whether the irrigation event reach the roots, or if the event goes past the roots and the water, fertilizer, and energy is wasted).

Jain Irrigation's Drip Irrigation System Arrangement

The accurate prediction of soil moisture, paired with the upcoming weather forecasts and associated ET (evapotranspiration) can lead to simulations for getting water to the root zone (no more nor less). Taking this one step further, Jain Irrigation will have the ability to then further automate the irrigation cycle by asking the grower where they want the water to be (at what level in the root zone), and irrigation schedules can be automatically sent to the pump and valves through our automation systems. 

We will also take a satellite space view of the field correlated to the point source information we have. We are really the only company in this current position, with so much soil moisture and infield data, automation control capability, and the use of machine learning to deliver this leading solution that saves labor and resources (water, energy, fertilizers), helping the grower farm better.   

There are increased regulations in California and other parts of the country for the amount of ground water that can be pumped. Surface water utilization will also be regulated to ensure that basins are in balance. Due to agriculture’s nitrogen run-off and ground water leaching challenges, you now need to manage and report on Nitrogen usage and how it relates to what the crop utilizes in many parts of the country. The focus will be to manage the applications of nitrogen appropriately so that the grower will get a good crop, while also ensuring that there is no waste or pollution.

Management of water and nitrogen (most forms of nitrogen are water soluble and readily flow throw the soils with water movement) will provide significant business opportunities. With our monitoring and controls systems, we can help growers apply the appropriate water and nitrogen with the right timing for maximum yield with the lowest environmental impacts.

The future is bright for the Jain Irrigation, Inc. Through smart, strategic, and timely acquisitions, along with internal parent company support, the division is set to provide globally leading technology to farmers to fulfill the mission – Leave this world better than you found it.

Aric Olson 

CAIS, CID, MBA, CSSBB, CPIM, CSCP

President | Jain Irrigation, Inc.      

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Happy Independence Day from Mandala Capital

Happy Independence Day from Mandala Capital

Dear Partners,

Mandala Capital wishes you a Happy Independence Day. Thank you for your support all these years and for many years to come.

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Building a Global AgTech Platform – Part II: Challenges and Strategies for Implementation

Building a Global AgTech Platform – Part II: Challenges and Strategies for Implementation

This article is part of a series by Aric Olson, President of Jain Irrigation, Inc., on how Jain Irrigation built its global AgTech platform in  a short period of 5 years. Read Part I: Acquisitions are Integral to Strategy here. Look out for the finale Part III releasing in coming weeks. 

“What we found with our investments in Ag Tech is that it is far easier for a large multi-national company to make “bolt-on” acquisitions to an existing footprint.  In many cases there is no need for duplicate G&A staff, buildings and locations. These savings alone along with some minor market-place pricing adjustments and focus on selling the value are enough to take cash-burning startups into a breakeven situation.  The “bolt-on” acquisitions also obtain benefits of a more secure future with a stabilized and larger entity. The agriculture and irrigation technology customers also get a sense of security in their large investments knowing that the company has a better chance of existing for support in years to come.”

Jain Irrigation Systems Limited (“JISL”) has a globally integrated work force across India, Israel, Australia, and the United States, to name a few countries. 

R&D is focused on the development of agronomic applications with product management out of India, United States, Australia, and Israel and software development out of India, Ukraine, United States, and Australia. This unique talent pool helped in dealing with the initial challenges of integrating all of the technologies, different programming languages, different interfaces and so on that we had acquired from around the world into a common platform.    

Once the integration was complete and we proceeded to commercialize our technology offering, we learned of new challenges in selling and servicing growers. Growers in the United States and other countries have struggled to extract the full benefits of technologies offered by most market participants. Small startups entering the market promising major technological breakthroughs or massive yield gains for farmers have largely under-delivered and/or have run out of cash before reaching scalability. 

With regards to sales and pricing, we found that even when a technology/idea is relatively proven in the sector, there can be large pricing swings and demand elasticity for the technology/idea. We learned the importance of the sales teams to market and develop a value proposition for more accepted technologies/ideas and for management teams to ensure margins can be sustained in the product / service being sold. The difficulties experienced in the industry have made growers skeptical and hesitant towards readily adopting new technology.  

We found that it takes local and committed field support and distribution to be able to grow sales and the incentives offered to the sales and distribution network have to be greater than usual to ensure the product is pushed. Through our experiences we have explored direct models, dealer models and hybrids to arrive at the right combination.  

It is clear that in order for larger scale and rapid growth, one needs a strong and committed dealer network. As a result, we recently invested in the two largest micro-irrigation dealers in California to get closer to the grower, to be able to sell and deploy technologies through their sales and marketing teams and to build an entry point as all of their new construction projects could put in monitoring and automation starter kits and be designed in such a way that technology upgrades sales would be much easier to make and provide value at a much lower cost of ownership for the grower. For JISL, there were other added benefits with the investment in distribution.  

Now with an amazing technology platform that includes the the ability to provide all irrigation components after the pump (and solar pumps for some projects), our own distribution in California and one of the industry’s best global supply chains (where the best and highest quality irrigation products that come from India at a low cost/high value), our competitive future looks bright.

We can confidently say that we have an unrivalled irrigation and technology platform and are best placed to expand on the opportunities we have created. 

In Part III of this series, we explore the opportunities that lie ahead for the AgTech industry. 

Aric Olson 

CAIS, CID, MBA, CSSBB, CPIM, CSCP

President | Jain Irrigation, Inc.      

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Building a Global AgTech Platform – Part I: Acquisitions are Integral to Strategy

Building a Global AgTech Platform – Part I: Acquisitions are Integral to Strategy

This article is part of a series by Aric Olson, President of Jain Irrigation, Inc., on how Jain Irrigation built its global AgTech platform in  a short period of 5 years. Look out for Part II and Part III releasing in coming weeks.

Jain Irrigation, Inc (“JII”) is a wholly owned subsidiary of Jain Irrigation Systems Limited (“JISL”) based in Jalgaon, India.  In 2015 JII developed a strategic plan to create a leading AgTech irrigation company with a billion dollar target valuation. At around the same time, Mandala Capital invested a total of USD 120 million across the Jain group.

From 2015 to 2019 the company acquired Puresense Environmental, Observant, Pty. Ltd., and ETwater Inc..  Also, JISL’s sister company, NaanDanJain, acquired Gavish Control System (a leading nursery and greenhouse controls company) in 2014.  JISL also formed a partnership with Agralogics.

One of the many strategic acquisitions undertaken by Jain Irrigation. Agralogics is the leading provider of data infrastructure for the AgTech space.

Post the Mandala investment, JII had managed to bring together leading start-ups in remote sensing and irrigation automation and integrated the different technologies and supported their developmental roadmaps.  At the same time, JISL, through the funds from Mandala Capital, made significant internal investments for the development of irrigation controllers, solar power controls and pumps, and fertigation pumps and controls. 

By incorporating acquisitions as an integral part of the strategy, JISL could provide all of the leading agronomic monitoring tools and capabilities to its customers, as well as develop the ability to control irrigation systems, all in a short period of time.

In Part II of this series, we discuss the challenges faced and strategies for implementation.

Aric Olson 

CAIS, CID, MBA, CSSBB, CPIM, CSCP

President | Jain Irrigation, Inc.      

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EFRAC launches Asia’s first NABL accredited CO2 Laboratory

EFRAC launches Asia’s first NABL accredited CO2 Laboratory

Mandala Capital's portfolio company EFRAC recently launched Asia’s first NABL accredited CO2 Laboratory. Increased testing, inspection and certification ensures higher quality and safety of products for consumers.

Learn more about the Gas Division and the NABL accredited gas testing lab (ISO 17025:2017). 

Mandala Capital is a private equity firm focused on long term and sustainable investments across the food value chain in India and South East Asia. We partner with visionary promoters and management by providing complete financial and operational support to increase the companies’ value and help companies achieve sustained leadership in their sectors.

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