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A Frenzy Of Initiatives Is No Way To Improve Sales Performance!

by David Brock on May 17th, 2011

Sales people and managers tend to be action oriented people.  It’s no wonder that when we start facing sales performance problems, our natural reaction is to try to do more faster.  Not enough qualified opportunities, pump up the number of prospecting phone calls, the number of emails, do more.  Not making the numbers, got to make more proposals, do more pitches, find more customers.

Both at an individual and organizational level, it seems our natural reaction to improving performance is to add activity and initiatives.  Somehow, if we are busier, we think we will produce more.

In most cases, this is absolutely the wrong approach.  While it is counter intuitive, doing less is probably the fastest way to address sales performance issues.

Too often, I see an organization that is having problems.  As natural problem solvers, managers can always come up with a long list of solutions and initiatives to solve the problems.  Our natural action based orientation has us trying to solve all the problems simultaneously.  Changes and initiatives are announced an launched with lots of hoopla and energy, then the tedious part of execution starts and soon everthing grinds to a halt.  This spurs another round of “problem solving,” a whole new set of initiatives, and we start all over again, producing the same result one more time.  And the cycle continues….  Perhaps with a new management team, always with new initiatives….

Today, I spoke to a colleague who described a client focused on improving sales performance—they had narrowed their 20 plus key initiatives to 10 initiatives–they were still failing to achieve the changes needed to improve performance.  The sales force was confused and frustrated.  Each initiative had a different focus, and required different actions from the sales team.  Each initiative “fought” for attention and mindshare in the organization.  There were conflicting priorities.

Changing sales performance requires focus and prioritization.  As with any change it’s difficult.  Too many initiatives create confusion and make the change even more difficult.  Doing less is critical–ideally managers should focus on one thing, at most two.  Approaching each issue in a disciplined manner is important.

“But Dave, we have 10 problem areas, we need to address all of them,” is the objection I typically get.

Focusing on one is critical—it also drive some interesting things.

  1. Focusing on one requires real prioritization.  Organizations that have too many initiatives have taken the easy way out—they haven’t done the tough work of prioritizing.  They haven’t determined the single most important thing to drive performance improvement.  It’s easy to come up with 10 initiatives, it’s difficult to determine which is the single most important one.
  2. Problems tend to be interrelated and have a solution hierarchy.  Too often, our approach to problem solving is addressing “quick hits.”  This isn’t a bad approach, but usually these “quick hits” are derivative problems.  Stated differently, too often, we are addressing the symptoms of the problem, and not the root problem itself.  If we address the root problem and solve that–many of the symptoms disappear.  By solving that highest priority, root problem, we’ve saved resources, and money.  More importantly, we’ve dramatically reduced the time to result.
  3. Sometimes there are a whole series of problems, but there is still an inherent hierarchy and solution order.  Solving the root problem may not completely address the other problems—but may change the solutions or options we have in addressing the other problems.  Too often, I see people reaching for technology solutions to problems.  But until you address the higher order/priority problems, how do you know what technology solution you need.  Prioritizing problems and initiatives, focusing on the highest priority first, shapes the solutions you choose for other problems–reducing the time, rework, and expense.
  4. The most interesting thing about focusing on one is that solving 10 problems sequentially is usually faster and cheaper than solving 10 problems in parallel.  This is the most counter intuitive thing about solving sales performance problems.  Keeping people focused on a single initiative and making rapid progress, moving sequentially through the initiatives is faster.  They are no longer confused, they know clearly what they have to do, it’s easy to measure the impact, it’s easier to maintain the enthusiasm.  Prioritized correctly, solving the most important problem first may reduce the problems to 7, it may change the approach and even simplify the solution of the remaining problems.

At an individual level, the same thing happens.  Too often, in coaching a poor performing sales person, we introduce a whole series of changes, expecting the sales person to do everything at once.  They are confused, frustrated, and usually end up failing.  As managers, we need to do the same with each individual as we do with our organizations.  We need to prioritize and focus.  Start on the highest priority change, then move to the next, then the next.  The sales person will more easily embrace the change and their liklihood of success will be much higher.

Improving sales performance is about change.  Change is most effective when we prioritizes and focus on one initiative at a time.

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