Systematizing selling: applying a framework for a more effective sales force

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1 Article Systematizing selling: applying a framework for a more effective sales force 34 Volume 5 Issue 2

2 Getting people to part with their cash in these tough economic times is hard enough for successful ventures, let alone companies that struggle to make ends meet. The harsh reality for businesses with a poor sales strategy is that they face a bleak and uncertain future. But the prospects for organizations that challenge their performance through an assessment of performance applying a five-element sales framework are much healthier. Authors Steven Gleed EMEIA Customer Center of Excellence Leader Ernst & Young Michael A. Thompson EMEIA Advisory Accounts Leader Ernst & Young 35

3 Article Figure 1. Maturity assessment model People, roles and processes Technology and tools Sale process Sales strategy and planning Sales management In today s globally competitive economy, companies are concerned about missing new opportunities in their target markets and failing to keep pace with a changing business world. Now, more than ever, businesses risk squandering market share to their rivals if they stand still or fall behind. But there are measures that organizations can take to avoid slipping up. Evaluating their sales performance and comparing it to those of their competitors and other top-performing sales organizations is the first step. Ambitious organizations constantly evaluate the effectiveness of their sales force and operations to avoid standing still. These companies evaluate their operations relative to the maturity model: a five-element framework based on the sales practices and strategies of the world s leading organizations. How this model is applied may differ depending on the size and complexity of a firm s sales force and operations but it is appropriate for firms across all industries. Building blocks: applying the maturity model Sales strategy and planning When establishing the right sales framework for their business, directors should incorporate the maturity model s five key elements. The first of these five elements is about having the right sales strategy and level of planning in place. Companies need to know what they are selling and its value proposition, the price relative to its value, who the buyer is (taking into consideration their territory and account coverage model) and how the company will profit from the transaction. This information is then passed onto the sales team to make sure they understand what the product or service is, their objective and how customers will benefit from dealing with them. Weaker sales organizations generally do not explain the benefits of their products or services to clients, or fail to tailor their sales approach based on the customers needs and buying behavior. Sales management The second element in the maturity model focuses on sales and performance management and whether the team is being managed properly. Selling is a discipline that requires a high degree of consistency, accountability and management to get the best out of the available sales resources. In particular, having strong leaders who manage the pipeline of opportunities, review performance and set forecasts and quotas, allocate resources to the accounts that bring in the most revenue and promote compliance are essential at every level of an organization. 36 Volume 5 Issue 2

4 Systematizing selling: applying a framework for a more effective sales force Ambitious organizations will constantly evaluate the effectiveness of their sales force and operations to avoid standing still. Top firms understand that when it comes to sales management, overseeing staff requires as much attention as it does to close deals each month. Weaker organizations will often promote a successful salesperson to sales manager without knowing whether they are capable of leading. Such companies are also guilty of not training newly promoted staff to take on more responsibility, which hampers their chances of success. A gifted salesperson can replicate their performance at a senior level, but that does not mean they can inspire others to perform to the same standards. Sales process The third factor in the sales effectiveness maturity model involves the sales process, and understanding how team members can take advantage of potential leads and opportunities. Successfully managing customer relationships and satisfying clients needs comes from creating and adhering to a robust sales process. To achieve this, the sales team has to understand their customers requirements. Historically, salespeople were encouraged to sell on the shelf products and services with little regard for the needs of, or challenges facing, the client. This productpush approach is still common among organizations that lack a strong sales process, which should start with understanding the clients needs. With so many companies offering similar products and services, customers are fully aware of what is available. Understanding this, a leading sales force will anticipate its clients needs based on regular dialogue with them, and develop their sales approach accordingly. If necessary, they will also encourage customers to consider different approaches to addressing their needs. Change management is also important when attempting to establish a successful sales process. After developing or amending the sales strategy, the management needs to set an example by fully embracing and adhering to the new business approach. One global accountancy firm has recently learned the cost of getting this wrong. When adapting its sales effectiveness framework, the company spent millions of dollars on establishing a new approach to managing accounts and opportunities, communicating the revised approach to staff, including the behaviors they were expected to exhibit, and giving them the necessary tools to execute the strategy. However, the changes were not adequately embedded with the firm s executive leadership, and the need to adopt the new sales methodology was rarely reinforced during discussions about the broader business s performance. Despite learning the new sales methodology, the salespeople were still encouraged to follow traditional selling 37

5 Article Successfully managing customer relationships and satisfying clients needs comes from creating and adhering to a robust sales process. practices and processes. Amid all the confusion, it later emerged that the sales staff were not penalized for ignoring the new guidelines. By the time the issues were spotted, the company had already invested huge sums in creating a new, effective sales strategy that was not executed properly. People, roles and processes The next element in the maturity model involves people, roles and competencies. Getting this right requires hiring and retaining an experienced and competent team of salespeople, and creating an organizational structure where employees can thrive. While aligned to the business structure, the environment in which the sales team works should empower each member to perform effectively, and encourage them to plug any skills gaps by seeking regular training. In addition to understanding the roles that people play, it is important to know how incentives can drive the sales culture of a firm. Leading businesses scour the market for the best talent, make clear the rewards available to people already working in the company, and continuously offer new and existing staff development opportunities. Conversely, in firms that fail to outline the benefits or offer little to no training, new employees may initially struggle to adjust, feel that their remuneration does not reflect the contribution they make, or lose heart soon after joining. Another concern is when salespeople have no idea how their performance contributes to the broader objectives of the company. Businesses that lack the ability to motivate staff could suffer from falling productivity or uninspired employees who are not carrying out their duties. companies determine whether data related to any client interaction is beneficial to the business. Within a weak sales infrastructure, it is common to find disconnected forecasting and reporting tools that offer little insight into customers. For example, companies may use various spreadsheets to log information, rather than storing it in one Technology and tools The fifth and final element of a robust sales effectiveness maturity model is technology. Executives need to make sure that the sales team has the right tools to perform their duties and maximize their productive sales time and revenues. One of those tools is the customer relationship management (CRM) or Sales Force Automation system, which is an essential component within the sales team infrastructure. These systems document when and how a firm interacts with its customers (ensuring visibility of client information across the organization), and log the client s experience after a transaction. They also help 38 Volume 5 Issue 2

6 Systematizing selling: applying a framework for a more effective sales force Getting the sales strategy right A need to address the organization s sales-related shortcomings was motivation enough for Ernst & Young s leadership to take decisive action in At the time, the EMEIA practice was struggling to keep pace with its rivals in a difficult year for the global economy. As this extract from Ernst & Young s Outperforming the competition in a downturn report explains, the organization took measures to boost sales across Europe, the Middle East, India and Africa. Having found itself exhibiting characteristics of underperforming sales organizations, Ernst & Young s EMEIA geography performed a deep diagnostic on its sales force capabilities and effectiveness. The diagnostic highlighted gaps between its desired and current state, which helped to define the plan for improved performance. Following a year of effort addressing its identified short-comings, from 2008 onward, Ernst & Young closed the gap with its rivals by between US$200m and US$500m, and between 2008 and 2011 it was the growth leader, outpacing its rivals by between 0.7% and 3.5%. To read the full report, please visit /salestransformation place, making it difficult to keep track of sales figures and targets. Systems designed purely for the benefit of management (rather than sales people) can also frequently increase the admin time required from frontline reps, rather than providing them with valuable tools and insights to improve performance. Understanding whether the tools and technology assist or hinder the business is critical to assessing the level of sales maturity within the company. Without this knowledge, businesses can quickly become unhinged a lesson that one global IT firm discovered in recent years. With the share price tumbling and interest in the company s products waning, the management realized that something was seriously wrong. An internal investigation was carried out, which pinpointed the problem: the company s fragmented sales infrastructure. There was no accountability for missing targets, and no one had made any sales projections based on past performance or deals that were too close to sign off. Moreover, a lack of planning meant that the company did not have the necessary supplies to fulfil client orders. Consequently, the disorganized, inefficient sales division was disrupting the rest of the business. Having identified the problems, the management introduced new tools and technology to create a more efficient, productive sales infrastructure. Greater transparency, based on their globally consistent CRM system, gave staff throughout the company access to the sales figures and details of what clients were buying. Additionally, data sharing improved, and the sales team s performance was assessed regularly to make sure all business units and offerings were on track. Conclusion With businesses battling for market share in a globally competitive marketplace, it is imperative for companies to seize any opportunity to outpace their competitors. Any tool that enables them to maximize revenues by improving their sales function cannot be ignored in today s tough environment, where only the strongest survive. While it offers no guarantee of success, the sales effectiveness maturity model can help companies boost their sales figures providing they implement it correctly. Failure to do so could prove costly in the long run. 39

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