Deming-Focused Scientific Sales Operations


by Ryan D. Bretsch

‘It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.”                  — Sherlock Holmes


What is an Sales OPDSA Planning Process?

The derivative Sales OPDSA is a variation of a W. Edwards Deming designed management methodology (PDSA) used to ensure quality in the planning and decision-making process. It is particularly focused on providing continuity, direction, alignment and organization when designing and planning the improvement of sales operations processes. OPDSA is a universally validated, scientific method/approach to business process design because it applies a disciplined, systematic and rigored approach to solving complex sales operations issues.

In a business world where “3 Easy Ways to Increase Sales” or “How to Do $10M in Sales on Shoestring Budget” is the new normal, the concept of planning and applying the proper resources to business execution may seem almost old-fashioned.  Interestingly enough, however, the difference between the 80% of new businesses that fail and the 20% that succeed is oftentimes having a well-defined plan and getting clean execution on it versus the fashionable but dangerous mantra of “just do it”.   That works for Nike, but guess what?  It is not a practical application for accomplishing standard business objectives.

So let’s talk about effective planning.   And let’s talk about applying Deming to the sales operations world.

The components of the Sales OPCSA (a derivative of the Deming PDSA cycle) are as follows:



In Deming Circles, observation is ascribed to “grasp the current condition”.   In other words, this means taking the time to record the state of affairs in sales operations as it exists currently.   Observation incorporates working to understand and document any inefficiencies and challenges presented by the current method of accomplishing work/selling goals. Determine what needs to be measured and reviewed.



Before we even begin talking about planning, I want to emphasize an important note:  The executive team must be “aligned” to pursue planning objectives.  Don’t assume “alignment” exists.  It is one of the largest mistakes an executive team can make for gaining swift business execution further down the road.  Test for it.  Planning involves identifying and establishing the objectives and processes necessary to deliver sales results in accordance with the expected sales targets and goals.

  1.  Analyze the previously observed “current situation” by reviewing all associated data.  Identify both positive and negative  outcomes along with their associated causes.  Rank their importance and set priorities for action.
  2.  Define the criteria for measuring data (key performance measurements) related to the sales operation; in advance of  further assessment.
  3.  Establish specific objectives and successful “outcomes” for what needs to be accomplished.
  4.  Create the plan. Document an ordered process for taking action, with specific agreements and responsibilities defined, agreed upon and then assigned.
  5.  Document and resolve, through planning, any expected barriers to implementation.
  6.  Document the concrete steps needed for execution, with the associated timeline for accomplishing specific objectives.
  7. Common tools to use in the PLAN stage for analyzing data inputs are Histograms, Correlation Analysis, Pareto Charts and Cause/Effect Diagramming. 



Implementation phase. Execute the agreed upon sales operations process/plan. Responsibility for execution and resultant accountability rests solely where it has been previously assigned. There should be no overlap or interference of responsibility, engagement or assignment. Collect data for documentation — to provide further analysis for the next steps.



Study the actual results of implementation and the manner in which the plan was executed. Verify that the execution phase was carried out on schedule and executive staff completed all assigned responsibilities. Compare the “actual” results of execution against “expected” results to ascertain what the differences are and why they occurred. Review to ensure the plan was realistic to implement by listing actual barriers to implementation.   Finally, look at deviation in the execution of plan by assigned responsibility and determine reasons for deviation. Assess to ensure any deviation from the agreed upon plan was for valid reasons.



Adjust the plan as needed, to reconcile the difference between the new current state and the desired state, as previously outlined in the planning objectives.  Request corrective actions on significant differences between actual and planned results. Analyze relevant differences to determine their root causes.  Determine where to apply changes which will improve the process.  Implement these changes.


Considerations for Hiring Correctly in the Sales Organization- Part II

by Ryan D. Bretsch and Jeff Rogers

In Part I of this article, we identified four mindset types of the typical salesperson.   To a high degree, success in a sales role is all about fit and comfort.  For example, putting a salesperson with an “account manager” mindset into a cold calling role is probably going to be a painful experience for all involved.  Matching the right cultural fit to the sales role needed improves the chance for a long-lasting employee relationship with reduced attrition. This is a win/win situation for all– the employee, the company, HR and the sales function.  There are other considerations that are useful for making consistently sound sales hiring decisions that should be discussed.

So how do you minimize risk in the hiring process, significantly reduce attrition and hire to gain outperforming sales results?

It starts by hiring the right people for the available sales position… from the onset.  Here are four dictates for hiring sales staff:

1.  Define the criteria for what needs to be accomplished in the sales role.  Do not hire first without carefully defining criteria and discussing why the criteria exists.  What does a successful sales rep look like for the hiring profile needed?  What is the process for assessment?   And what is the process for on-boarding so that the expectations of what success looks like are clear for your new sales hire?

2.  Don’t focus so blindly on industry experience.  Industry concerns can often be readily taught and you’re more than likely planning on indoctrinating your new sales hire in your corporate culture and the “wiz-bang factor” of your product or service anyway. Focus on selling competency within the framework of the “selling mindset” that is needed for the position instead.  This applies to hiring your management team as well.  Do you want someone who knows how to lead your sales team?  Or someone who has 5 years experience in SaaS?    You are probably overestimating how hard it is for a smart, intelligent salesperson/sales manager to learn your product.

3.  Consider performance NOT just based on a measurement of sales and/or selling volume but also on customer satisfaction results.  More often than not, you want to be thinking about a business that builds a sales relationship with an exceptional customer experience in mind versus just closing on a “deal” or “transaction”.  A sales representative that can show a history of outstanding customer satisfaction “gets” the total picture much better on how you need to run your business.

4.  An often overlooked consideration starts with this question:  What is the business itself focused on?  Is it primarily gross profit or revenue volume… or maybe a distinct combination of the two?   Sales representatives usually demonstrate a level of competency around one or the other while some sales representatives are most effective at striking a balance between the two.   Revenue focuses on the ability to consistently land volume while GP focuses on an ability to build value in the final business arrangements.  By probing sales behavior in the interview,  you can usually find out where the salesperson aligns in this aspect.


To know whether or not you are making good hires, it is strongly recommended that you begin measuring three-year attrition rates for your staff and begin comparing against the industry average.  If the attrition rates are high, this is a possible indicator that your sales leadership/HR recruiting team may not be as effective in correctly identifying the sales talent you need and they might need some help.  When attrition is high, it is probably costing your company significant lost revenue opportunity.  Not to mention training and other related costs.

A final word on hiring.  An effective sales leader is always sourcing talent vs. hiring it.  The concept of “hiring” talent most often reactively relies on an HR recruiter providing candidates to interview when the decision is finally made to hire a salesperson.  The HR recruiter is often not instinctively well-versed in what you truly need as a sales manager, putting computer screened sales candidates in front of you so that you can choose the “best” one they offer you.

And that’s just it.

You only get to choose from what they have to offer.  When you “source” talent as a sales leader, however, you are out constantly seeking talent as part of your selling process and thus, you gain a degree of control over that process.   Don’t wait for talent to apply to your organization.  Think of yourself literally in the role of a recruiter… partnering to proactively meet great people at a grass roots level instead of acting like a harried sales manager who is simply amassing resumes and passing judgment as the last cog in the hiring process.

And please, help your HR sales recruiter out… have specific conversations with them about what you need and enroll their talents as an integral part of your sales process.   Let me repeat that — enroll your HR Recruiting team as an integral part of your sales process.  Because they already are a part of that process.  Don’t use them as a scapegoat for a history of less than successful hiring decisions.  Remember that building a relationship with your HR department pays dividends for you in the long term.  Give them the tools, resources and your time & education to help them source the right candidates for your sales team the first time.

Think about it.  What are the dividends?  Would you rather spend your valuable time in the herculean effort of “coaching up” poor to average performing sales reps with limited selling prospects that have the wrong “sales mindset” for the position?   Or… would you rather hire a self-sufficient, well-performing team of sales reps from the onset and spend your time focusing on advanced sales strategy and how to outperform at the group level?

In my role as a sales manager, we once went through an 18 month period of zero attrition.   I still found it valuable to always be informally interviewing and sourcing my future bench strength.  We went from a five year retention rate of 38% for existing staff to 86% for new hires.  This is practically unheard of in the CableTV industry, with 25% annual attrition rates.  But the reason that attrition was low was because we had the right new salespeople in place, for the most part.  I’ve certainly have had my fair share of “misses” in the hiring process.  We all do.  But having measurable performance in this area kept me motivated to hire a sales team that made all of the difference in the overall sales result for our company.

Remember: it is the sales team that actually produces the result.  Not the sales manager, who is simply the catalyst.  So make sure you have the best team you can possibly muster in place.

Hiring is your most important role as a sales leader.

Considerations for Hiring Correctly in the Sales Organization – Part I

This article is a follow-up to my collaboration on sales hiring with Jeff Rogers.  Part I to be published today and Part II on Wednesday.

by Ryan D. Bretsch and Jeff Rogers

Being an effective sales leader requires many skills.   It most certainly requires coaching, development, sales training, leadership and administration skills.  Dependent on the level of leadership, it may also require an ability to build sales processes, handle commission and territory planning, create channel strategy, manage sales incentive planning etc.   In  its totality all these disciplines comprise roughly only 60% of what a sales leader needs to manage a sales staff with impact.  So what about the other 40%?   Frankly, it comes down to one essential skill.


Time and again, when issues arise in a sales organization, it often boils down to the performance of sales representatives.   Either the wrong people are being hired who are not good cultural fits for the organization or substandard selling performance rules the day. Perhaps a wrong-minded sales leadership team is in place, impeding sales results.  Or perhaps people are simply unclear about what is needed in the selling role. There are a multitude of reasons for why selling issues exist.   Many are tied to how staffing requirements are filled.  I would like to lend perspective to some considerations that should be weighed out when making your next sales hire.   We’ll start with this truth:

Great sales reps come in many forms… with skills that may be incompatible with what you are trying to achieve as a sales organization.

It is important to understand that there are different types of selling mindsets that professional salespeople operate comfortably in, each of which brings their own set of strengths and challenges to the ability to perform well within the confines of what the larger sales unit is trying to accomplish.  For Part I of this article, I have broken these mindsets out into four archetypal types.   On Wednesday, we’ll review how to use the understanding of these selling mindsets to help you make solid hiring choices as well as offering up other critical considerations for making successful sales hires.

Lead Generation Mindset:

Strengths:  Ability to make a large, repetitive volume of calls without tiring and tends to be the most fearless when it comes to matters of rejection.  They are best able to identify with the concept of sales as a numbers game.  Tangible production is very important to them and this type of rep is often very conversational and outgoing.  They place a heavy emphasis on friendliness to advance limited causes, such as setting sales appointments or selling products that are “transactional” in nature.  They are comfortable with working on the phone without necessarily getting to know the customer on a face to face basis.

Challenges:   Very much focused on production, their personal selling process is often limited to what is needed to close the deal and they are centered on meeting or exceeding more immediate term sales goals.

Prospecting Account Executive Mindset:

Strengths:  Probably not the biggest fan of outright cold-calling, representatives with this makeup often use creative ways to gain appointments with customers.  Networking is often a favorite prospecting activity.  The tendency is to work towards personal meetings and salespeople operating in this mindset show only a somewhat limited fear of rejection.  They can usually hold their own quite well when not a lot of complication is required in the selling process and they also place great stock in building very friendly, face to face selling relationships.  Very comfortable showing “hustle” for business.

Challenges:   In part due to the typical nature of their compensation, this type of sales rep is also focused on production concerns.  Sometimes the organization’s goals may collide with the salesperson’s goals, leading to conflicting purposes.  The selling approach can lean towards being “transactional” in nature without a desire for thinking about longer-term customer ramifications.

Account Manager Mindset:

Strengths:  These type of sales representatives genuinely enjoy having a central role in problem solving for their customer(s) and providing a high level of customer service for them.  The customer experience is important.  They prefer the consultative approach to selling and love sharing in the success of their client(s) on an on-going basis.

Challenges:   Sales reps with this mindset like to be “introduced” to their customers and have some sense of a stable relationship with them.  These sales reps like to form selling relationships based on meeting on relatively equal terms.  Calling on customer prospects unannounced might be problematic and a degree of support and planning may be required.  Cold calling is almost universally NOT a skill preference that this type of sales rep possesses.  Because they are so intimately passionate about the long-term success of their customers, rejection is a very personal proposition.

Inside Sales Mindset:

Strengths:  This type of sales representative is comfortable with working on the phone to build a selling relationship.  However, they do not typically possess the same ethos as the a salesperson with a “lead generation” mindset.  Personal style is usually a cross between the “prospecting account executive” and the “account manager” with the difference being  that the typical inside sales rep is OK with not meeting a customer face to face.

Challenges:   Can be hard to determine what type of selling mindset this representative truly possesses because it can run the gamut.  However, the desire for gravitating to an inside sales position often indicates a desire for stability in their selling work and a lack of propensity for prospecting.  This is because the nature of inside sales often produces warm leads to convert… an important appeal for the role.


So what does this mean for hiring purposes?   In each of these types there are success stories and a level of sales greatness that can be readily achieved.  But the mindset needs to match the selling role.  The key to hiring is NOT to go in with the expressed purpose of passing judgment about what actual selling experience the sales representative has previously held….  but rather to find out how they like to sell, if they had a preference.   What is important to them?   This reveals their selling mindset and once you find this out, it then becomes a matter of matching that mindset to the responsibilities of the position.

 On Wednesday– Part II:  

So how do you minimize risk in the hiring process, significantly reduce attrition and hire to gain outperforming sales results?


Why Successful Hiring Practices Equal Revenue Success


I recently had the honor of collaborating on an article with the amazing Jeff Rogers, the CEO of OneAccord Partners, a sales management consulting company based out of Bellevue, WA.   Our article delved into the role of people, who bring life to all of the components of sales operations that you will find me discussing in this blog.  It goes without saying that in the absence of acquiring great talent, even the best sales process goes nowhere.

The hiring function is the most critical of undertakings for a sales leader to possess strong acumen in.  The article takes a look at how hiring practice solidifies your sales process, which then allows you to grow revenue.  Enjoy.

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.


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.

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…”