This is the 7th article in a January series on the Architecture of the Sales Force. Here are the others:
- Organic Sales Growth and Its Impact on Sales Architecture
- Overlooked Conversation Between Sales Managers and Salespeople
- Do Technical Salespeople Need Sales Training?
- Why Doesn't Sales Methodology Get More Attention?
- Getting a Sales Organization to Buy-In to Sales Training
- Marketing and Sales Feedback Loop Can Help You Grow
Operationally, sales forces have become more complex. Pipeline management tools, CRM, proposal generation, scheduling software, and inbound and network marketing have all exploded. It's commonplace for companies to sell directly, through distribution, via representative firms and through partnerships. Value propositions across product lines are different, sales cycles vary greatly, and the compensation and skill levels across most sales organizations are distinctly different.
Following the economic downturn of 2008, large numbers of salespeople left the industry and both the financial services and building construction verticals saw significant declines in their sales population. Today, there are fewer skilled salespeople available. Making this worse, large companies, which for decades hired and trained new salespeople, have cut back significantly in this area. Today, virtually every established company with whom I speak have a large number of salespeople nearing retirement.
On the customer side, prospects have more information, feel more empowered and often have greater autonomy. The productivity gains of the last five years have also forced employees to be responsible for a wider range of topics, creating less expertise in any one specific area. In many situations, salespeople must first unsell a prospect before they can begin the process of selling to them.
To succeed in today’s environment, VP’s of sales and sales enablement need to rethink and execute.
Factors to Consider
- Development should begin prior to hiring. Adopting or expanding a behavior-based interviewing approach is essential. Salespeople know how to present themselves in a favorable light. They offer facts and examples of success that often go largely untested in an interview. The real story about their role, responsibility and context for success requires investigation, which can go 3-4 levels deep. Finding the underlying limitations (or sales DNA), by using a sales-specific assessment early in the sales recruiting process, helps to identify priorities for development. Discussing and gaining agreement and commitment to address issues and challenges should be part of the selection process.
- Most sales managers want to hire people whom they believe don’t need to be managed. Objective Management Group has evaluated 700K salespeople since the 1990. Only 18% of sales managers are having a real impact on their sales forces. One factor is a manager's lack of desire to truly manage people. If your goal is to develop people to their maximum potential, this approach is fundamentally flawed. New hires are commonly given too much latitude in their first 90 days. This empowers a belief that “I will figure it out on my own” and makes it much more difficult for managers to hold people accountable and emphasize their development.
- Many CRM systems track a sales process which measures whether the required steps have been completed for the company to close a prospect. These systems do not measure whether or not the salesperson has developed a high-value relationship, identified and thoroughly discussed the business drivers of a purchase, and if the salesperson has identified a compelling reason for the decision-makers to do business with them. All too frequently, management is relying on a forecast derived from the wrong data.
- Process and control systems are great, but only when the managers on the ground use them consistently. Major account management, overseeing channel relationships, selling internally, planning, and strategy development occupy a growing percentage of a sales manager's and VP’s time. Situational coaching, focused on how a salesperson reached a call outcome and how a different outcome could have been achieved, are the mechanism for competency and performance changes. How many weekly, one-on-one, development-focused coaching sessions does sales leadership conduct? If you know the answer, what was talked about, what changed and what is the mechanism through which others in the organization learn from this?
- Listening is an art and a science. On balance, human beings are really bad at listening. The desire to say something intelligent, make our point, hear ourselves speak and plan what we will say can be all-encompassing. When we are invested in the outcome, things can become even worse. We all know that our salespeople need to ask better questions. You do need to verify that your salespeople can articulate key business issues on demand without thinking, but the real skill is listening. Management puts too much emphasis on whether their salespeople can articulate a value proposition and not nearly enough on whether they are actually hearing what prospects and clients say. Developing this skill only comes from practice - something that most salespeople and sales managers rarely, if ever, do.
Frank Belzer’s post, Organic Sales Growth and Its Impact on Sales Architecture, discusses how sales managers must invest their time to have significant impact on their sales organizations.
I invite you to join me and a panel of sales experts for an impacting, one-hour webinar discussing sales architecture and more on February 5: "Leading Your Ideal Sales Force - Part 1" at 11:00AM Eastern Time.