Building On Shaky Foundations

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It was an interesting conversation. I was meeting with a very thoughtful sales executive. He was about to make some pretty big investments in training and in technology tools.

I asked him why he was making those investments, he replied, “We really need to raise the skills and productivity of the sales people. They aren’t performing as they should be, we need to up their game.”

I then asked, “Is it the absence of those specific skills and that technology that is impacting their ability to perform?”

He paused, and looked at me, “What do you mean?”

As we went through the discussion, we started to discover the sales people weren’t executing the “basics” as effectively as they should be, and managers weren’t coaching people on these basics.



The signs of this poor execution and coaching discipline started becoming very obvious. Pipeline integrity was very poor. Win rates were decreasing, sales cycles were increasing. Forecast accuracy—well one couldn’t use those two words in the same sentence.

They had invested a lot over the preceding years in developing a sales process and had trained their people in two leading sales methodologies. But as we looked at the data, very few people were using them, including the managers.

We went on to look at their account planning, territory planning and other prospecting approaches. There wasn’t any consistency, there weren’t even metrics to track expansion within accounts, new customer acquisition, and so forth.

After reviewing all the data, the sales executive sat back and said something very important:

“All of us know what we should be doing, we have invested in training and tools so that we know how to do it, we just aren’t doing those things!”

He went on to say, “Until we get better at doing what we know we should be doing, we will never get the value we should from the investments I’ve been thinking about!”

It was a painful insight, but important in driving performance improvement in the organization.

This executive is not alone, the majority of sales organizations I encounter face the same thing. They aren’t executing what they know they should be doing and what they know how to do. Too often, rather than focusing on improving what they already have in place, they look to something new—whether it’s a new training program, technology, new programs or strategies.

Those can and might improve things somewhat, but they are seldom sustainable, or they never achieve their full potential.

And too often, that cycle continues.

It’s incredibly intriguing to me. Virtually every sales executive I meet is very smart. They know what they should be doing, they know how to do it, they know why they should do it. To get where they are, they have been through all sorts of training and used all sorts of tools and technologies.

The same goes for most of the people in their organizations. When I meet with sales people, they give me the list of all the training programs they have gone through, all the books they’ve read, all the things they’ve learned.

They just fail to put these into practice, do them consistently, and learn/grow/improve.



It’s foolish and confusing to sales people to continue to pile on new approaches, methodologies, tools when they aren’t using those they already know and have in place.

For virtually every sales organization I encounter, the quickest route to performance improvement is not to do something new (though that may be important over the longer term) but to master the execution of the things you know you should be doing, but aren’t.

Afterword: The tool that we’ve developed to help sales people and sales leaders understand and master this is the Sales Execution Framework. Please reach out for a free copy of it.

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