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Send Out an SOS for Sales Optimization Secrets – Part 2

Guest Post by Mike Kunkle

In my previous post I shared the foundation of sales transformation work, as I see it, which is that sales force transformation is a holistic approach that aligns performance levers to optimize sales results.

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I also shared that a highly-customized approach was required for the best results. But since the analysis and diagnosis to determine which levers will produce the best (and quickest) results in a given organization is very detailed (and well beyond the scope of a blog post), I will outline a few key areas that I have found to most frequently need tuning. In the fast-paced, high-pressure world where the average tenure of sales leaders is 18-24 months, this focus should help.

Right People in the Right Roles

  • Jim Collins is right about a lot of things, and this is certainly one of them. You need the right people on the right seats in the bus. Hone your selection and promotion practices by assessing your current staff, determining top-producer profiles for sales and sales manager roles, and improving systems for selection and promotion on a go-forward basis. Use the same data to coach and develop your incumbents as well, or if necessary, to solidify the identification of some who may not be a great fit (always balancing against real-world performance), and developing, transferring, or terminating non-performers, as appropriate. I’d start with a focus on frontline sales reps and their sales managers.

Chasing the Right Customers

  • Are you chasing the right customers and prospects (you can help them, they buy more than others, and they are solidly profitable accounts)? By analyzing your current customers and creating buyer profiles of the various top-customer types, you can begin to target prospects that have a higher likelihood of being like your other great customers. (Developing buyer profiles is much deeper than this, but it’s a start.)

Chasing them the Right Way

  • Once you have a series of buyer profiles created, and know which customers you should be chasing, what is the most efficient and effective way to chase each type? Consider sales structure options, such as channel sales, inside sales, and field sales. And also determine your best plans for demand generation with the appropriate balance of marketing, advertising, content or inbound marketing, and sales prospecting. Then, do your coverage models or territory assignments and corresponding quotas make sense? While it certainly deserves its own category, I could add compensation and incentive pay to this category, as well. You will get you pay for, based on how the sales force interprets your comp plan (although it may not always be as originally intended). Get expert advice if needed, and get comp right.

Sales Process & Methodology

  • I’m surprised when sales reps and leaders can’t clearly articulate the difference between process and methodology, but I find the challenge to be common. Think of process as the stages of a buying decision and the methodology as the things a sales rep does in each stage to move effectively through the stages to an outcome (hopefully a successful one). Depending on the nuances of your company, industry, products/services and customer types, the process may be somewhat different by nuance. But define them. And then select or develop an effective methodology that your reps can use to move with a buyer through the stages in the process.
  • In addition to the process used by reps and the methods used to move through the process stages, managers need a clear structure, too. Help them develop a cadence of how to structure their weeks, months and quarters, and what activities to focus on and how to effectively manage their teams. You don’t often hear the same terms applied as frequently to the management equation, but I think of this as “sales management process and methodology.”

Capabilities

  • Onboarding and training for Sales Reps and Sales Managers is another area that I often see needing fine tuning (or realistically, a complete overhaul). For Sales Reps, once you determine the sales process and what top-producers do (typically the top 20%, but not necessarily the top 4-5%… focus on the group below that) to move through these stages successfully, you have a methodology that you can replicate in your sales teams. Ensure these capabilities are well documented and that effective training is designed and implemented.
  • Most importantly, make training a process, not an event. Engage top managers in the training development, along with top reps, for buy-in (and good content), but train all managers on what their teams are learning. Involve them in the training, as possible, and ensure they have the ability to identify how well as rep is using the skills and the capability to coach to close any performance gaps.

Reporting/Insight/Analysis

  • In many organizations, reporting is a mess. Data is bountiful but insight is rare. Through analytics, determine what really matters and what the leading indicators are for sales in your company, and ensure focuses on illuminating those indicators, as well as the lag results. Manage the lead indicators and the lag results will follow. Build your reporting and dashboards to support this.

Performance Management

  • While training reinforcement is a process and coaching should be ongoing, you also need to manage performance. This is part of the cadence I spoke of earlier. How often will managers speak with, meet with, and ride-along with their reps to observe and coach? How will expectations be clearly communicated and how will performance be discussed and managed? At some point, when the training is completed, learning is confirmed, transfer is reinforced, and coaching has been done, performance expectations must be met. Whether your organization calls this process progressive discipline, corrective action, or Performance Improvement Plans, they are a fact of life. If you hire, onboard, train and coach well, you will find yourself doing it less, but you’ll still do it. Remember, too, even good performance should be managed (reinforced, coached, praised, incented, learned from and shared), so don’t focus only on the poor performance. But don’t ignore poor performance, either.

Well, those are the areas that I have most often seen to be helpful starting points, although there is no replacement for doing the diagnosis in a specific organization and customizing the solution based on research. Giving sales and organizational performance improvement advice out of context, is about as helpful as suggesting Six Sigma, without knowing whether you’re talking to a Fortune 50 manufacturing firm or a 3-person auto repair shop. But hopefully, this points you in a general direction, which will provide some focus.

Let me know in the comment section below what you think and how helpful you find the advice.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mike Kunkle is a training and organization effectiveness leader with special expertise in sales force transformation. After his initial years on the frontline in sales and sales management, he’s spent the past 16 years as a corporate director or consultant, leading departments and projects with one purpose – improve sales results. And through sales training, organization effectiveness practices, leadership development, aligning performance levers and leading change efforts – he’s done just that. At one company, as a result of six projects, he and his team delivered an accretive $398MM in revenue, year-over-year.

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