Sales as a Difficult Endeavor… Part I

It’s quite fascinating that I can describe, in detail, the process for learning how to swim in a pool.  But that doesn’t mean that the act of swimming can be readily accomplished. Knowing how to swim is a skill that transcends simple instruction.  The same holds true for implementing the dictates of business writings– especially around the topic of sales and sales management.

Sales Management is a complex endeavor akin to building a fine mechanical timepiece.   Each piece must work in precision with the other parts to keep functional time.  The more progressive the individual parts work in synchronization, the more precision the timepiece has.  And when the individual parts don’t work in sync, then the entire timepiece is no longer functional.  When thinking about sales management as individual parts to build a collective whole, close to 100% alignment is critical to constructing a successfully executing sales operation.

So what are some of the parts of the sales management timepiece that need to be built and managed with such care & precision?  Many of these topics could become entire articles in and of themselves… but we’ll briefly touch on these as just an overview.

1.   A company has to get very clear on what their value proposition is and ensure that every person on the sales team (and actually everyone within your entire organization) understands the value proposition and knows how to articulate it properly.  Your entire sales platform rests on what your product or service can solve for your potential customer.

It’s that important.

2.   The sales compensation plan must properly motivate sales representatives to align their selling interests with the company’s business interests.  It also must properly reward the right performance with the correct amount of attainable compensation to make the sales position stable yet attractively rewarding.  Top sales reps always gravitate to companies with great compensation programs.

The ability to attract outperforming sales reps = ability to obtain outperforming top line revenue or GP growth.

3.  There must be alignment of purpose between your marketing, sales and customer efforts.  Although there are cases in which marketing can play a predominant leading role in generating earnings (such as Apple, for example) most companies are not Apple and require a strong sales effort to take the lead in generating revenue or GP.  Typically, the marketing function should provide a level of lead generation for sales execution.  The sales function then qualifies and converts leads into customers and revenue.  Customer satisfaction preserves the income stream and provides a base for expanding revenue.

The roles within each of these functions should be clear, with a defined process of how each function objectively integrates with the others within the organization.  This is key for proper sales execution.

4.  People Leadership:   The right sales leadership sets the tone for everything else which follows.  A great frontline leader requires a sales manager who knows how to set the proper expectations with staff from the onset, with clarity.  He or she needs to know how to develop underperforming team members though the ability to teach all elements of the “sales cycle”… and do so in a manner that builds trust.   Yet the sales leader must also possess the dual ability to provide “perspective” to outperforming team members who do not need as much in terms of sales coaching.  And a well-seasoned sales leader knows the difference between the two.

The careful & thoughtful sales leader considers all factors when evaluating individual performance and can consistently steer individual team members to ever higher sales accomplishment through resource support, training, motivation and focused development.

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In Part II, we will look at hiring profiles and elements of building an effective sales process, including the construction of effective sales campaigns.  We will also touch on the proper use of sales tools and support systems as well as creating and analyzing KPI measurements.

In Part III, we will review incorporating sales training into the organization, building effective sales incentive programs, territory management and the role of negotiation in helping to build bridges to organizational alignment.   We will close by providing example “thought chains” to consider how and why all of these elements must work in sync with each other.

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A Sales Blog Like No Other?

I have been encouraged to start a blog by a number of people over the course of time, but a recent conversation inspired me to move on the idea for real.  I reside in Seattle, Washington and even though I am a fairly recent transplant here, it definitely feels like home.

I have lived in a number of places– St. Louis, Portland, ME and Tampa, FL to name a few. Everywhere that I have been, the one universal business truth that I have seen is that the sales function has always had a central role in business planning.

I have found the experience in Seattle to be different.  There are a lot of startup companies  in the ebb and flow of the Seattle economy.  The exciting thing about that is that it really is a glimpse into the workplace future, due to all of the amazing creativity.  That said, as we all know, the failure rate for startups is high.  Scott Shane, in an article in “Small Business Trends” has researched a quantitative number that trends as high as 45-50% over just a five year period.

One observation that I have made is that many small business startups rely heavily on the product/service innovation itself to lead the way of their sales efforts.   Sometimes they will bring a marketing emphasis into the equation.   But in my discussion around how the sales effort is being led, I have repeatedly been asked things like “What are three easy ways to jumpstart sales?” or “What are six or seven quick selling methods that I can use to guarantee my product’s sales success?”   I am essentially being asking for the “magical elixir” to plan their sales effort.   And much like the real concept of “magic”, this can often be a delusional bag of tricks that conjures up nothing but difficulty and struggle in the absence of formal sales planning.

My answer to them, and I’m sure this will resonate with many an experienced sales management professional, is that the concept of sales management is much harder than it appears.

That precept will lead to my first topical blog post, “Sales As The Difficult Endeavor…”