Sales Performance Improvement, Where To Start

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I wrote, “Improving Sales Performance Without Changing How You Sell.” Readers started responding, “This is great, where do we start?” Here are some thoughts:

“One size fits all:” Too often, we have a “one size fits all” approach to performance improvement. We focus on one thing, for example prospecting or pipeline coverage, and inflict this on the entire organization. Yet each person is different, as a result we may be doing the wrong thing with some, or may not be as impactful as we might be.

For example, we may have high performers who have a great prospecting cadence and healthy pipelines. Focusing them on these initiatives creates no value for them, or may distract them from what they need to be doing. Or those who struggle in the sales process, we may be making things even more difficult by diluting focus.



It turns out each person is different, we have to assess each person, working with them to improve performance. We must identify the one thing they must focus on to improve performance, coaching them and working with them to achieve it, then move to the next, and the next.

“A Plague Of Initiatives:” Sometimes we see numerous conflicting initiatives. They may be well intended, they may have originated with different groups, each trying to be helpful or “doing their jobs.” For example, sales enablement may have several initiatives to improve performance, marketing, sales ops, and so on.

The result is, inevitably, confusion and loss of focus. Sales people don’t know which they should focus on, which will produce the best results. They are distracted by each group, while well intended, pushing them, “How are you doing, where can we help?” What happens, in addition to confusing sales people, is we divert them from what they really should be doing–selling.

We need to drive change, we need to introduce new initiatives to support those change efforts. Too often, we inflict plague of intitiatives on our people because we don’t know what we should do, we fail to commit to a course of action, so we try to do everything. These always fail.

We must focus those efforts, providing context and direction to the sales people. Long time readers know my mantra, “What is the one thing we need to focus on?” Every initiative we develop must be positioned in the context of that one thing and must contribute to that. Otherwise, we have no focus.

Everyone in the organization needs to understand the focus and priority for driving sales performance. All initiatives must be positioned in the context of these. No sales person should have more than 2 initiatives they are responsible for implementing/executing at any point in time. Otherwise, they just won’t be done.



Overwhelmed by complexity: Our performance improvement initiatives sometimes fail because we try to accomplish too much, we are not focused, or we make them too complicated. The best initiatives are simple (don’t confuse this with easy). It’s incumbent on leaders/change agents to make things as simple as possible. If it isn’t, inevitably, we don’t have the clarity we need to have to achieve the outcomes we hope to achieve. Mark Twain is famous for the quote, “I would have written you a one page letter, but I didn’t have the time; instead here’s this 10 page letter.” It’s great advice. We should be able to express each initiative in a couple of paragraphs, or no more than a page.

Each person should clearly understand what to do, how to do it, how to measure/assess progress. They must be coached and helped in execution.

Starting then forgetting about it: Too often, we start an initiative, either with the organization or with an individual, but we fail to monitor progress and follow up. The hard part of driving any kind of change or new initiative is not coming up with the initiatives themselves, but in execution. As Mike Tyson has said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.” The real difficulty is in implementation and execution. It’s incumbent on all leaders to measure, track, follow up, coach, adjust, improve.

Where you start is often less important than starting: I often get managers asking me, “Where do we start?” For example, in coaching a sales person, “do I improve their qualification skills, discovery skills, prospecting, opportunity management, account management, and so forth.

We shouldn’t obsess on finding the right starting point. What we know is all these things are important, and they are all interconnected. So as we start improving in one area, we will see changes rippling through to other areas. So choose the starting point most important to you and the organization or individual you are coaching. Commit to that, master it, move to the next. Eventually you will come full circle.

At the risk of confusing things, while you can start anywhere, generally there are some starting points that offer more leverage than others. The pipeline is a great starting point, it helps you understand where the performance challenges might be and helps you identify and focus on the most impactful. I’m biased to the selling process, disqualification, then discovery. Being very good in these, ripples through everything else very quickly. They drive more winning deal strategies, higher quality prospecting, more focused account/territory penetration strategies.



But all this is just me, you choose the starting point you think most impactful.

Afterword: We developed the Sales Execution Framework to help managers and sales people address these issues, learning where to start and how everything is interconnected.

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