Don’t Wait for Godot: You Can Make Sales More Effective Without the Latest Killer App


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The most misunderstood of all CRM domains, sales effectiveness, continues to be a just-out-of-reach goal for thousands of organizations despite years of having tried and failed to implement “sales effectiveness” technology. Therein lies the mistake every organization we’ve ever worked with makes: Waiting for Godot.

So how are sales effectiveness mistakes like Samuel Beckett’s play? In the play, two characters wait by a tree for Mr. Godot, whose arrival they expect imminently. They learn that Godot’s arrival is postponed until tomorrow, then the day after. But they, nonetheless, continue to wait with high expectations.

That’s not so different from IT and sales organizations that are essentially waiting for some vendor to develop a sales effectiveness “killer application” that will be easy to implement, elegant to use, appealing to the intractable and invaluable to the enterprise. All the while maintaining the status quo under the guise of current state inertia. Sound familiar? If it does, then we’ve got good news for you: Sales effectiveness isn’t a technology, so there is no need to wait for a killer application before you make meaningful changes.

Not too long ago, the sales consultancy side of our business began working with a company in the professional services industry that was struggling to improve its sales and marketing performance. Quarter after quarter, employees spun their wheels trying to improve both corporate performance as well as customer satisfaction. Internally, sales reps were spending way too much time managing the logistics of proposal creation, begging … er … looking for resources and generally not selling.

To folks in marketing and service delivery, it seemed as though sales was forever “crying wolf,” and, thus, skepticism as to opportunity validity prevailed. Finally, and perhaps most seriously, while customers were generally happy with a project’s outcomes upon its completion, they continually complained about the inordinate effort it took (and patience required) to actually get to that point. We can generalize these complaints as “the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing.”

After several attempts at what sales thought was sales effectiveness (i.e., SFA technology), the senior vice president of the department brought us in to help. The first thing we suggested was that this company get its head around the notion that sales effectiveness is more than sales automation or sales training. We stressed that it’s the people, processes, technology and information required to enable individual sales representatives and the sales organization as a whole to continuously realize every team member’s potential. This applies equally to organizations with large and those with small sales forces. It’s important to note that you will never achieve “sales effectiveness”; it’s an ongoing journey, or program of iterations, that should provide measurable return. With that in mind, here’s what we did to help this company get on track.

We assessed the major processes in use throughout the sales organization and the linkages to the extended selling team. We evaluated processes for both effectiveness (e.g. Is it useful?) and efficiency (e.g. Does it work well?). We also looked at organizational, informational and technology relationships. The most important linkage was to the enterprise’s corporate strategic business planning process. We found that sales was operating in a vacuum, with lots of broken processes, manual tracking and lots of territorialism.

Using the processes that worked€”those that were effective but not necessarily efficient€”as a backdrop, we helped sales create a big-picture sales process flow that included the information and other resources required at each stage, including organization, compensation, information, technology and governance.

We identified and assessed gaps between how things are (current state) and how the new “big picture” envisioned that things should be (future state). We looked for gaps not only in business processes but also in organization, compensation, information, technology and governance. In this case, compensation was a huge issue, as sales was not specifically compensated to sell the services that the company had determined to be strategic.

We then prioritized gaps. But our approach is to start with those that will yield the highest return if fixed. We didn’t ignore areas that, while providing little financial return, could have a large impact on morale (such as faster review of special requests from reps). We assigned an owner to each gap. This person managed the “project” and was accountable for its results.

We ended up with four major initiatives:

  • Sales process training. In this case, we recommended ValueVision Associates’ ValueSelling sales methodology.
  • SFA system refresh (reimplementation). This was undertaken with a huge focus on in-context process training.
  • Sales Program Management Office. This was to “triage” proposals and assign resources.
  • Systematized sales forecasts. We combined these with regular and structured pipeline interrogation.

The turnaround was amazing. Employees communicated better. The company saw its attrition taper off and saw real gains in ROI. Take a look at some of the specifics:

  • The sales team grew revenue at 16 percent year over year compared to an industry benchmark of 2 percent.
  • The number of President’s Club winners increased from 17 percent to 55 percent, radically improving morale of the sales team.
  • The average time to effectiveness for new hires went from nine to12 months to three to four months.
  • The average deal size increased (from $52,000 to $83,000).
  • Sales signed six deals greater than $1 million, where the company had previously had only two million-dollar deals in its entire history.
  • The cost of sales decreased 4 percent year over year.
  • The average discount decreased from 15.8 percent to 8 percent.
  • The “qualified” pipeline decreased pipeline by 55 percent while backlog increased by 75 percent.
  • The number of proposals written decreased by 40 percent.

There is tremendous potential in adopting a culture of sales effectiveness improvement. Although there is no “simple solution,” organizations can typically drive rapid returns from many small projects by addressing gaps in people, process, information and technology. A well-planned approach will deliver significant returns on investment, resulting in increased sales performance and lower overall costs to deliver sales. All without waiting for Godot.

Liz Roche
Customers Incorporated
Liz and Jim Roche are the founding partners of Customers Incorporated, a CRM research and consulting firm. Liz has 20 years of IT and business experience. Jim's approach is driven by more than 25 years of sales, marketing and management success. They are based in Stamford, Connecticut.


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