The phone conversation was pretty typical: “Dave, we’re starting a major training initiative with our sales organization.” Or it may start, “Dave, we have the wrong people, they aren’t producing the results we need.”
My response is almost always, “That’s interesting, what makes you think that will solve the problem?” Often, at this point, you can hear the discomfort over the phone. Often I know the thought is, “Who is this guy asking me about my problem, I’m smart, I know what my problem is.” Sometimes, it’s confusion, “What do you mean?” Or, as my friend, Niall Devitt, describe, they get upset that you are asking the question, “We just need sales, training, we wanted the cheapest price available, tell me what you can do for me, why are you bothering me with these questions?”
Almost always, when someone presents me an issue, they usually are presenting the solution and asking for my help in implementing the solution. Virtually, all the time, what is being presented are the symptoms of the problem, not the problem itself. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes the symptoms are so severe, you have to deal with those first, before looking at the root cause, but more often than not, solving the symptoms will provide some short term improvement, but usually not sustained performance improvement.
Managing a sales organization is something like a working with a complex puzzle. There are lots of pieces, without all the pieces put in the right place, you never solve the puzzle, only focusing on a few pieces, not matter how much you wish, will not give you the completed picture.
Sales is more complex than the puzzle, because the picture changes over time and the shape of each piece changes over time, but the puzzle is the closest analogy for the moment.
What are the pieces of the puzzle:
So what are the pieces of the sales management puzzle? Everyone looks at it a little differently, but the critical elements, to my mind, include:
Sales Strategy and Priorities: This really focuses on the customer. It focuses on how we reach the customer most effectively and what we offer the customer. It is driven by the business strategy. The strategy defines who our target customers are, how we will reach those customers, and what our core solutions are. It sets the priorities for what’s important to the business. Ideally, it sets boundaries. There are many important metrics for this piece of the puzzle, but the key metric is the “NUMBER.” It’s the revenue/order plan for the organization or quota. There may be related numbers like year to year growth, product line numbers, share, profitability, and so forth. Many of the measures may be financially oriented.
Culture/Value System: The culture and value system is the glue that holds everything together. It is what attracts people to work in the organization and to buy into the strategies and goals. It is what attracts customers to want to do business with your company. It answers the questions: who we are what we stand for. It also speaks to the issue of how we value our people and how we value our customers. It is possible to establish some metrics around culture and values. These include employee attitudes/opinions, customer attitudes/opinions, and others.
Leadership/Leadership style: Many people are surprised that I include this, but the leadership style is a critical element of what drives the organization and how it performs. Some people include this in the other elements, but I think the leadership style and orientation is a critical piece of the puzzle. Included is a view of what the role of management is, what we expect of their performance, what they think of and how they want to manage and motivate people. Metrics include turnover, attitude, employee complaints, performance management metrics, and others.
People: People are the engines that drive the sales function (yes, even for those organizations that have a 100% internet driven channel). Without the right people, no organization will succeed. With people we want to make sure we have the right “characteristics,” skills, backgrounds/experience, drive and other characteristics. It’s important there is a fit with the organization. Some metrics around people include headcount, attrition rates (voluntary and involuntary), performance plan skews, and attitudes/satisfaction, and others.
Structure: This is the organization– It includes the sales deployment model (direct sales, indirect, channels, etc.). It really defines how we’ve organized people and resources to execute the sales strategy. The structure also defines different roles that may be required to for the organization to effectively achieve results. It may define inside sales roles, sales support, direct, field sales, channel management, manager and other roles. Some of the measures here may include headcount, budgets (for example Cost Per Order Dollar).
Process: There are a lot of processes in the sales function, but the core process is the “Sales Process.” It is the road map of critical steps and activities required to qualify an opportunity, propose a solution, close and implement. In some organizations it includes finding opportunities. Every organization has its unique sales process, focusing on the sales people on the most effective and efficient step to drive business. One of the key metrics here is the pipeline, funnel or forecast. There are a number of other metrics that measure the execution of the process, some are deal based, some are territory based, and some may be account based.
Systems and Tools: This includes things that facilitate the ability of the organization to do their jobs. It includes IT systems, PC’s, email and reporting tools, CRM, Sales 2.0, lead management tools, and others. I also put training into this category. There are a wide range of metrics that can be used to look at the effectiveness and utilization of the systems and tools.
How do we manage the pieces of the puzzle?
In a well functioning organization, all the pieces of the puzzle fit together precisely. They present a complete picture of the business and how it is managed to achieve goals. If a piece is missing, the puzzle falls apart or the picture is incomplete.
Changing any of the pieces has an impact on the other pieces. If we change the strategy, it has an impact on every other piece. If we change the leadership/leadership style, it has an impact on every other piece. Things no longer fit together, the puzzle starts to fall apart and the picture is very unclear or nonexistent.
Now imagine living in a dynamic world, the picture is changing, key elements of the puzzle are changing (sometimes outside the control of the sales managers. Managers must continually adapt the puzzle, so that it fits together. They can’t focus on just one piece, they have to look at all the pieces and how they interact with each other to put together a complete picture. Inevitably a focus on just one piece looks at a symptom of a problem, but may not get to the root of the problem.
Optimizing sales in this dynamic environment requires management to continually inspect all the pieces, assuring they complement each other, and protect the integrity of the “whole.” Addressing any part, without assessing the impact on the others actually decreases sales effectiveness and impact.
For sales executives and managers wanting to delve into this more deeply, look at resources on “systems thinking” — not IT systems.
Working with vendors:
The other day, I was coaching a manager assessing alternative sales training vendors. He was uncomfortable with the proposals he was getting, but couldn’t put his finger on his discomfort. We started talking about this “sales management puzzle,” and it struck him immediately.
The vendors he was talking to focused only on his training needs – they were doing a good job at that – but they weren’t asking about how the training would be incorporated into the sales management puzzle. They weren’t challenging him on role of the leaders in reinforcing the training. They weren’t asking how they could incorporate the organization’s strategies and priorities into the training programs. While taken by them, the programs were excellent; this manager astutely saw that this piece didn’t fit the overall puzzle.
We see the same thing about CRM systems, sales compensation systems, and other areas.
Challenge your suppliers to make certain their piece of the puzzle fits. If they aren’t challenging you on how their solution fits into your overall sales system, they aren’t serving you as well as they should.
Don’t be put off by vendors/partners asking you about your selling system. Let them challenge you about your strategies, processes, culture, leadership system and other areas—they are doing this to make certain the pieces they deliver have the greatest impact.
Some of you may react, “Dave, you are really overcomplicating things.” My response is simple: Look at the billions of dollars, euros, yuan, yen spent on CRM, training, and other tools that have produced no results. Look at the thousands of sales initiatives that have failed to achieve their goals.
The evidence is all around us. Focusing on the part, without considering its impact on the whole, is a path for lowering performance.