Every day, we are pummeled with experts talking about how to make sales people more efficient. The most fashionable ideas seem to be around extreme specialization/mechanization of selling.
These pundits often cite applying manufacturing principles to designing our sales engagement strategies. Some cite the grandfather of lean/agile manufacturing principles, the Toyota Production System (TPS).
At the same time we are pummeled with increasingly specialized tools to help free up time to sell. Sales and marketing stacks are growing, I’ve seen one Fortune 50 company “bragging” about their sales stack of 19 tools.
All these things are supposed to make us better, more productive, more effective, more efficient.
Yet year after year, the data shows the exact opposite is happening. The percent of sales people making goal is less than 50%, the percent of organizations making plan is declining. Virtually every data point we see, the results we are getting from sales and marketing is not getting better.
We see customers becoming increasingly disengaged. Our ability to reach them, engage them and help them achieve their goals is becoming increasingly difficult. Customers provide feedback:
- Sales people don’t understand me and my business.
- Sales people don’t talk about the things most important to me.
- Sales people don’t understand their products and solutions and how they will help me.
- Sales people just want to pitch their products, leaving it up to me to figure out how to make them work for us.
- Sales people waste my time.
We see endless data about customers preferring to engage sales people later and later in the buying process, and, if at all possible, avoiding them, buying in online markets.
At the same time, we see data telling us that customers are struggling. As much as 60% of their buying decisions end in no decision made. Others are struggling, because they haven’t recognized a need to change or realize there may be a need to buy.
So we have an interesting paradox. The need/demand from customers is increasing. The performance of sales organizations in decreasing.
It seems the chasm between what customers need and what our sales and marketing initiatives do is widening, where one would think it would be narrowing.
Today, the pundits and sales/marketing automation vendors tend to try to solve the problem by increasing volume/velocity. But the results from those initiatives aren’t producing what we need. Instead of analyzing why these initiatives fail, it is just far easier to pump up the volume and velocity.
Where in the past, 100 out of 1000, may have opened our emails, today only 10 are. So the immediate response is to send out 10,000 emails. And when that’s insufficient, we just crank up the volume/frequency. The incremental cost of our web/email based communications is virtually zero. Rather than diagnosing why customers aren’t responding and how to fix it, we just do more of what’s not working.
Back to the TPS pundits. The problem is, none of them understand TPS and its basic principles. They think it’s about mechanization, specialization and efficiency.
Recently, I’ve been following a number of interesting and very earnest conversations about increasing the specialization, breaking up the sales process into smaller more specialized roles. Moving from SDR, AE, Account Managers to more specialized versions of each role and people supporting those people. For example, to minimize the time our people spend on research, why don’t we put people/resources to do the research in place?
In all those conversations, there is one thing missing–the customer. All the conversations focus on our own internal processes, our own internal productivity, how we become more efficient.
The customer and their experience with us is never mentioned. They become widgets we move through the process, the victims of our internal attempts to be more efficient and productive.
And all of this is driven under the mantra of making revenue more predictable.
I hope by now you are appreciating the terrible irony of this.
If we are trying to make the revenue more predictable in all these approaches to improving sales and marketing, how come our results in terms of people making goal, companies making plan, are declining?
We mouth the words, “customer experience,” yet we design our organizations and processes without mentioning the word customer. Our focus in on what makes us more efficient (note we aren’t talking about effectiveness) and not on what causes the customer to want to engage us.
Pundits of this approach always use the concepts of TPS to rationalize what they do–but they miss the fundamental underlying principle of TPS–It is all about the customer! We always start our design process with the customer and the value we must create to serve the customer, designing our processes backwards from that. (By the way, if you want to understand how we can and can’t apply TPS to sales and marketing, ask me for my free eBook on the topic.)
Many of our initiatives are designed to free up time for our sales people. But what are we freeing up their time to do? Presumably it’s to get more deeply engaged with customers, but increasingly they are spending less and less time with customers. And they aren’t able to engage customers the way they want to be engaged.
This is simply madness!
Somehow we have to stop the insanity and bad thinking that is dominating too much of what we do in sales and marketing.
We have to go back to fundamentals and basic principles. We have to have great clarity about who our customers are, how we create differentiated value, how we create great customer buying experiences.
Once we have those fundamentals in place, lean and agile methods can be applied in very powerful ways. Automation and tools can be applied in very powerful ways. We can apply principles of design thinking in very powerful ways.
But it always, always, always starts with the customer!
Unfortunately, we seem to have lost the customer in our approaches. Unfortunately, we seem to be ignoring the data that tells us this.
There are a few organizations and leaders who have gotten this. Their organizations constantly outperform others. Their organizations are both effective and efficient, but most importantly intimate with their customers.
Hit the pause button on all your efforts. Go back to fundamentals and start rethinking what you do.