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Selling to the Middle

September 04, 2012|Jim Ninivaggi

It’s rare that a company starts its life focused on selling to the mid-market (which we’ll define as companies with $100 million to $500 million in revenue). Most start focused on the Fortune 500 – a market easy to define and quantify. But at some point, a company will look at the mid-market to maintain growth. Here are some tips and common mistakes to avoid in selling to the middle.

It’s rare that a company starts its life focused on selling to the mid-market (which we’ll define as companies with $100 million to $500 million in revenue). Most start focused on the Fortune 500 – a market easy to define and quantify. But at some point, a company will look at the mid-market to maintain growth. Here are some tips and common mistakes to avoid in selling to the middle.

  • Ramp up the demand engine. With hundreds to possibly thousands of prospects to call on, your reps need all the help they can get in creating demand. Here’s a situation where alignment between marketing and sales is critical, with a focus on keeping reps out there calling on “warm” vs. “cold” leads to improve productivity. Be sure to have tight SLAs between marketing and sales that include commitments on lead volume (from marketing) and pursuit (by sales).

  • Business issue selling. Probably the single biggest mistake companies make is treating middle market selling as transactional. The sales cycles may be shorter, less complex and end in smaller deal sizes – but the money spent will typically constitute a larger proportion of an overall budget, and may be coming directly from the owner’s wallet. A buyer once said to me, “Jim, I can either spend this $30,000 with you on training my reps, or on this new boat I have my eyes on. Convince me the money I spend with you will help my business.” Unlike large corporations, where the money spent comes out of a budget, and decisions are made by folks far removed from the business issues, middle market selling requires reps to sell business value to senior level execs. Make sure they are ready. 

  • Models of efficiency. The name of the game in the middle market is productivity. Key behaviors and skills to look for in reps are exceptional time and territory management skills; the ability to early-qualify opportunities for viability; and a love of activity. Unlike managing a few key accounts, managing a territory of mid-market accounts requires “hunters” with the skills, knowledge and instincts to manage a pipeline of multiple deals from multiple companies. Reps must pursue only those accounts they feel they can win. Support their needs (e.g. lead gen, data, back-office) to maximize the time they have to “hunt.”

The time I spent selling sales training to the mid-market was some of the best of my career. Not only was I dealing directly with CEOs or owners (the true decisionmakers), helping them solve real business issues, but we could actually track the impact our training had on the business. As for the client who was wrestling with where to spend his $30,000, he ended up investing it with us in training his salespeople and managers. With the growth we helped create, he was able to buy a bigger boat.

Jim Ninivaggi

Jim Ninivaggi is Service Director, Sales Enablement Strategies, at SiriusDecisions. Jim’s focus is on helping to deliver data, knowledge and insight that our clients need to improve sales performance and drive ROI. Follow Jim on Twitter @jninivaggi.
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