The budget process is pretty much done, you have worked with marketing to develop the go-to-market plan, sales roles have been identified and the right talent is on board or planned. You feel good about 2010; you have the right coverage to reach your prospects and customers, the economy seems to be turning if not at least leveling off, you have more training in the budget, your CRM utilization is not bad'¦
So, now what? What are you going to do different this year? How are you going to be sure you know what your reps should be doing every hour, every day, and every month? How are you going to manage your expectations of them? How are you going to track the underlying business plan assumptions that add up to revenue?
First of all, don't wait for anyone to tell you what to do. Daily productivity is a team effort involving both reps and sales leadership. My philosophy on this is that you should set your company's expectations as a whole; make sure there is belief in the sales teams. That includes both the technology and finance departments, not just the more obvious corporate functions such as marketing and customer service.
How much output each rep will realize can be facilitated by sales optimization. Technology can provide systems to make workflow more efficient and minimize time needed to perform administrative tasks. Finance can provide access to the right data, but you also need to work on what to do with that data.
Productivity is largely influenced by the front line sales manager who must have the reporting capability to track relevant statistics. Productivity metrics include many of the obvious stats but also lesser-known activities such as tracking the types of sales calls that are being made and being able to identify the calls that aren't bringing in business. Visibility into these metrics and action plans to drive the numbers allows your sales leadership more leverage to take action before it's too late.
Productivity is about executing every day and having actionable visibility into the details. These are the business drivers that will get you to where you want to be in 2010.
While many companies adopt specific sales processes, they are often using criteria that are either too complicated or sometimes too simplistic, and often promote the wrong selling behavior.
Managers are hired and promoted for showing expertise in leading their teams and driving revenue for the company. However, managers often like to adopt their own spin on the sales process and often your company may end up with too many variations to the playbook. Imagine if on the sidelines of a football game you had each coach carrying out their own version of the game plan. It would be chaos. The same can occur in a company's sales environment if your team is not on the same page.
In today's economic environment, it is paramount to set the right criteria to drive behaviors that will impact the company's bottom line and long term goals. This criteria has to be succinct and measurable, and workflow must be instilled to assure each manger is sticking to the process you deployed.
Working smarter also requires driving this repeatable process on all levels of sales. Providing sales management and sales reps with the visibility and insights they need to see how they are performing, and allowing them to measure where they stand across "metrics that matter," forces managers to follow the plan.
A recent survey done by CSO Insights with 1,000 respondents found that "just over half noted that spreadsheets are still a primary vehicle for managing." The report states, "using spreadsheets can often be error prone (at a rate of three to five percent) and limit the integration with key technologies like sales analytics, CRM software, and Sales 2.0 systems. But, by combining rich sales and post-sales data, managers can set plans that better motivate reps and identify areas where rep coaching is needed."
In adopting a system-wide approach with built-in workflow and consistent utilization of sales coaching tools, your chances to succeed in sales will increase substantially.
In the ever changing landscape of business sales the competition is tougher than ever. Companies who want market share typically look outside their own walls to an acquisition or a joint venture where they can take or merge business into their own. The thing is, customers are more sophisticated than that, and demand more. Just buying the business through acquisition does not guarantee that your customers will stay with you.
To meet customer needs businesses need to have an organized and systematic approach to winning the deals and keeping the customer happy. Having a systematic approach that includes a structured sales methodology, quality products and services, attention-grabbing advertising, and reliable customer service helps businesses successfully grab new customers, generate more revenue, and increase market share.
As a senior sales manager or C-level executive, the one area that can be impacted immediately is process. Having a structured accountability process in place is not a luxury, but a must have. Design a plan with marketing to target potential new customers and hold your salespeople to pitching according to the plan. Use the information you already have in your customer relationship management (CRM) system to develop your campaign and focus your sales process.
The Sales Manager has many competing priorities in their day to day work. However, one of the most important is the need to manage the sales functions and be sure that salespeople are focused on what is expected. The goal of having a system in place is to improve the quality of the targeting, goal setting, and action planning efforts of your salespeople. This enhancement will lead to an increase in the profitability and market share for each individual territory.
Though the exact methodology and structure of the sales process may vary depending on the type of company, it should always serve the purpose of growing your market share. An effective sales process and accountability system is the heart of the sales organization. A nonexistent or unstructured sales process will most likely slow down growth. It is possible to do more than just sustain; you can grow and gain market share with the right approach and systems in place.
Sales management as we know it has changed. The current economic situation has sales people and sales management doing extraordinary things in these challenging times that are often unnatural. It is time to take control of your selling environment before someone else is asked to.
Companies are looking for profitability over growth which often means they require fewer sales people to get the same or better result. They are re-evaluating their priorities and forcing sales management to be accountable and do more with less. They are looking to put a structure in place that has the highest likelihood to prosper in this difficult sales climate.
So, what can your company do to ensure it will stay relevant?
Embrace Structure in the Sales Function
Show your employees that you are in tune with the changing times and are willing to put structure around sales. A sales structure is not all that different from the ones you probably have in place for your factories, warehouses, and other functions of your business. Make sure your employees are clear on their roles within the structure. Here are some suggestions for instituting a successful sales structure:
- Put in a Sales Accountability System
- Hold sales management to clear expectations on not only the numbers, but also on building a quality team.
- Use a systematic approach to track both lagging and leading indicators as well as role-based skills or competencies within your sales team.
Reduce Wasted Effort
With the proper system in place, your sales managers will not be hunting for data or spending countless hours analyzing team performance. Analysts' statistics show that having an accountability system in place reduces sales management administration overhead by over 30 percent. Sales managers should also focus on where they can add value by using those on the team who are most coachable. If you have built a strong team, your sales managers should not have to be on every call.
Consider the Alternative
We in sales all have a responsibility to shape our future, drive revenue and profitability. Sales management specifically has the extra task of managing morale and coaching, while holding salespeople accountable.
Status quo never works; the hammer only works for so long and the alternative to putting in structure is to do nothing. Without a structured process, you will not be able to explain who is strong and who is weak, and what you are doing about it to better the team.
The trends of the selling marketplace have shifted towards a more structured and accountable environment. If your company genuinely lives and breathes these values it will be in a position to thrive today and in the future.
You need more sales -- more revenue to be exact -- but there is "no budget" to spend on marketing. Sound familiar?
Maybe, just maybe, more marketing spending is not what you need.
Whenever I sit in a meeting about prospects, we discuss the biggest challenges that salespeople face. Number one is always sales or attaining revenue. The funny thing about that however, is there is often an assumption that with more lead generation, more marketing dollars or more advertising, the sales team will be able to sell more.
Don't get me wrong, your prospects still have a need for what you sell and it's important for them to know you exist, but even with the best prospects or greatest lead list, if your sales people are not at the top of their game, you will lose way more then you will win.
Think seriously about shifting your focus to what you can control. OK, there is no money in the budget to do more marketing, so take what you have and make sales managers and sales people better.
Focus your energy and the money you do have on your sales managers:
- Put a program in place to assure they are spending time with the sales people who have the greatest opportunity to improve.
- Start tracking your sales team's leading indicators, such as who they are calling on, how often, and what products they are presenting.
- Assign your managers the task of tracking subjective data. For instance, rate the reps' ability to present your products, their knowledge of the message, and their ability to sell.
- Spend what money you have on taking away administrative tasks from the sales managers and provide them with a system or tool to track, manage, monitor leads, and coach.
Ask yourself the hard question: How do we make quota this year? And realize that the answer to this question requires you to understand every person on your team and their ability to deliver.
Forward-looking organizations like Lenovo, Corning, Innovex, Motorola are known for being leaders in adopting effective sales processes and technology. Many of these companies are now leveraging new processes and capabilities to empower their sales management teams and to get more out of their sales people through tracking key performance indicators and coaching. Even though you may be a small company in comparison, the key to improving sales in your organization is where you focus. The focus should be on your salespeople and their performance rather than the resulting numbers. One way to assist your salespeople is to identify key members of the sales team who have the greatest propensity for coaching and create a buddy system whereby your salespeople are supporting one another and encouraging each other to meet their goals.
In a recent study by the Sales Executive Council (SEC), companies were surveyed to determine the relative impact of effective coaching on A, B and C performers. The study clearly indicated coaching offers greater value when targeted specifically at the B players, or "core performers"—those who show ability but have unrealized potential. In fact, the study indicated that you can expect to see a 17% or greater improvement in productivity and revenue from your B and C players when consistently coached.
Do this simple exercise, regardless of the size of your company, and you will be able to determine where to focus your coaching efforts.
- What percent of reps made their assigned quota?
- How many reps came at least within 20% of their targets?
- What is your turnover percentage and how many reps are new?
If you are like most companies, you are likely to have 10-20% of your sales team that are in the "A" category and 10-20% that are new hires. The core 60% or so from this simple exercise is where your sales leaders need to focus their time and efforts and where you should be spending your money.
Focusing on this core makes sense from several perspectives:
- They are most coachable and your money invested will be well spent.
- They represent the largest fixed investment in your sales budget.
- Given the law of numbers, a simple 3-5% performance improvement in the core will yield a significant overall impact.
The practical goal is not so much to expect 100% "A" players, but minimize the under performers' impact on your business and coach this core team to better results.
More companies today are leveraging technology in the area of coaching, sales management, and sales operations to drive not only selling efficiencies, but also the overall effectiveness of their sales team. Traditionally, investments in sales technology have been looked at as a necessary evil, and are often shunned by IT departments who think they can build it themselves. The reality is that it took sales guys like Tom Siebel, of Siebel Corporation, and Mark Benioff, of Salesforce.com to build true CRM systems, while IT guys were building and throwing away miles of code.
Forward-looking organizations like Lenovo, Corning, Innovex, Motorola and many others are leveraging the capability and domain expertise of technology built by sales managers to empower their sales force. Many of these solutions utilize SaaS technology to build flexibility in sales management, measurement, and coaching. However, as organizations tighten their belts, resources including financial and human capital become difficult to obtain and managers must work harder than ever to ensure that their employees are focused on achieving critical objectives.
The good news is that technology can be a key enabler in achieving these goals. If employees, especially sales people, are coached, and have clear objectives that are tied back to the organization's strategy and operational plan, it's more likely that the strategy will be achieved. In a recent study done by the Aberdeen Group, it was confirmed that this economic downturn has placed even greater pressure on the sales function. Sales leaders must increase sales effectiveness while external forces reduce the number of real opportunities and threaten top-line revenue growth.
Business leaders need actionable data to align sales behavior with business objectives and rapidly adapt to changes in the market. Aligning and automating sales execution with organizational goals requires a holistic approach that includes compensation management, process optimization, and data analysis. Research reveals that traditional manual coaching and sales management processes reduce productivity for multiple functions, not only sales; finance, operations, and IT are all impacted as demand for sales information increases, in turn affecting both top and bottom line growth.
Companies must keep abreast of the latest technology strictly from the standpoint of whether or not it can help you increase your business volume. Regardless of the industry, sales people must be held accountable to know the products, know the marketing message, understand the sales process, and have the skill set to use the arsenal provided by the company or institution. Face it: If you don't make sales, you're not in business.
One way to use technology to your advantage in coaching and SPM is to have it accessible while the coaching session is taking place. To have the ability to coach on the spot and track what you have taught is invaluable. Being able to follow up immediately with the sales person on the objectives set and create an ongoing dialogue, will lead to more effective and more productive sales people.
In the highly competitive sales industry, a key source of competitive strength is the execution skills possessed by your on-the-ground or telephone sales force. This has become more critical than ever as the economy has slowed down and workforces are shrinking. Without a system to track the ability, skill, and overall effectiveness of your sales team you will suffer consequences in today's competitive environment.
Do you have examples of how your company has utilized sales technology to optimize your bottom line?
More often than not, when it comes to companies meeting their sales figures, there is a disconnect between what the CEO expects and what the vice president of sales can realistically deliver. The true challenge for the head of sales lies in how to substantiate to the CEO why the numbers were missed, or, if they were made, how they were arrived at.
A recent article published on MarketingProfs.com titled "Lies, Damn Lies and Dashboards," stated that CRM and business intelligence dashboards are often manipulated by managers and marketing execs to present a positive outcome that doesn't necessarily promote the truth.
The key to establishing a trusting relationship between sales and the boardroom is to put in place a process for determining how a representative or team is doing against expectations. This often involves using technology that can track, measure, and report on both the leading and trailing indicators of the company's sales goals. It also provides you with a system for tracking the progress of your salespeople.
Done properly, senior sales leaders can deliver the truth that CEOs can and want to handle. If things are going well, the vice president should be able to explain what is driving the success of sales and why, and also how those sales will be sustained. If it is a rebuilding model, the same applies. The vice president must be able to show where the bad news is; he or she should have an explanation for what is happening with the sales trajectory, and what the plan needs to be to correct the situation.
CEOs make the connection between fluff and what matters. And with sales, it can't all be smoke and mirrors.
Patrick Stakenas is president and CEO ForceLogix, a Chicago-based company that builds on-demand sales performance management solutions.
- Are You Ready for 2010?
- Following the Sales Playbook
- Sales: Gaining Market Share
- How to Stay Relevant in Sales
- Driving More Revenue: It's Never in the Budget
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