Improving Sales Performance Without Changing “How You Sell”


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Too often, as executives look to improve sales performance, they look to doing something new or different. It may be adopting a new methodology, new technologies or tools, changing your go to customer strategies.

Any of these can improve sales performance, but the come with their costs. Since these represent major changes, the change management process and time involved in solidifying changes can be very long. Again, with any change, or doing something “new” or “different,” there are huge risks, and then there are the costs.

Ironically, when we assess the performance of organizations, we find they aren’t as effective or efficient as they can be, using the things they already have in place. Stated differently, most every organization can achieve huge improvements in performance by executing what they already know or what they already have in place. In every case we’ve seen, there are huge opportunities for performance improvements, improvements in effectiveness and efficiency, just by improving execution on the things that are already in place.

Here’s a laundry list of ideas, primarily focused on doing what we know we should be doing and what we know how to do more effectively.

  1. Pipeline cleanup/pipeline integrity: We waste so much time and productivity with sloppy/bad pipelines. Virtually every organization I get involved with, when I look at their pipelines, I can eliminate at least 40% of the pipeline. Too often, we have bad opportunities, opportunities that have “exceeded their expiration date,” unqualified opportunities, or opportunities far outside our ICP. Managing these takes time away from focusing on the real, highly qualified deals. Additionally, they mask performance issues and cloud our ability to correct them. As bad as it may look, a high integrity/high quality pipeline will immediately illuminate the key issues and dramatically improve your ability to address them.
  2. Hyperfocus on your ICP. As people struggle to make their numbers or to maintain their pipeline/activity metrics, they tend to cast a wider net, losing focus on the Ideal Customers, pursuing marginal cases. As in (1), these opportunities are low probability, but consume lots of sales time. While it seems counter-intuitive, the fast way to improve performance is to narrow your to your ICP.
  3. Doing (1), (2), and (3) changes the dynamics of your numbers. Your win rate will skyrocket–simply because you are focusing on opportunities you can win. This means you don’t have to carry as many qualified opportunities in your pipeline, so those skinnied down pipelines don’t look so intimidating. Also, your average sales cycle will probably decrease, freeing time up for people to look for more qualified opportunities. Chasing bad opportunities and pursuing low odds opportunities is a time suck. Typically it takes us twice as long to lose an opportunity than it does to win an opportunity. Think of the time you can free up simply by chasing the right opportunities.
  4. Focus on disqualification. Even if you are focused on your ICP, sometimes we chase deals where the customer has no compelling need to change. These customers may buy, eventually, you will want to nurture them. But the most important thing to drive performance is focusing on customers that have a compelling need to change. These customers will tend to move through the buying cycle more quickly, there is a smaller likelihood of “no decision made.”
  5. Make sure your people are executing the sales process. The sales process represents our best practice in aligning our activities with the customer buying process. We develop the sales process based on the things we identify that maximize our success and ability to win. Yet too many sales people aren’t using the sales process. They are wandering aimlessly, usually reacting to the customer and not being as effective and efficient as possible. At the risk of repeating myself, the sales process represents our best experience in developing and executing winning strategies. Why wouldn’t we exploit it, why wouldn’t we make sure every sales person is executing it with precision. You don’t have a sales process……… Shame on you, get one in place immediately (remember, the sales process and a sales methodology are different.
  6. If your people have been trained in a methodology, make sure they are using it. Like the sales process, sales methodologies work, but you have to be using them. Every client I walk into has had some training in a sales methodology. But when I look at what they are doing, the majority aren’t using the methodologies. The data on sales training is that over 80% of the skills that were developed on no longer being used 90 days later. Your people have been trained in these methodologies, they have the tools to help them implement them. Make sure they are using them, make sure your managers are coaching them on them when they do deal reviews, account reviews, territory reviews, and so forth.
  7. Keep a disciplined review cadence. That which gets inspected gets done. Too many teams don’t have a disciplined review cadence. They may go through the motions of having weekly meetings, pipeline reviews, deal reviews, etc. But they are just going through the motions. They aren’t using these to communicate consistent priorities, to follow up, and to make progress. I can’t tell you how much improvement organizations achieve just by having front line managers establish a regular cadence of high quality reviews. To learn how to do this, look at Part 3, Reviews–Accelerate Your Coaching Impact (pages 97-140) in Sales Manager Survival Guide.
  8. As an initial focus, once you have a high quality pipeline, coach people on these three thing (focusing on one at a time): Increasing win rates, increasing average deal size, decrease sales cycle. Don’t do anything else, but improve the ability of each person in each of these areas. This is all about execution.
  9. Pay attention to your people’s weekly schedules and “time blocking.” Too much time is wasted by not having a disciplined approach to doing the job. People tend to react/respond rather than managing their time proactively. Make sure they block time for all aspects of their job, prospecting, managing current deals, preparing for customer calls/meetings, administrivia (keep in minimal), training/learning. Make sure they do what they are supposed to be doing in those time blocks.
  10. Make sure everyone knows what they are accountable for, how performance is evaluated, and why it’s important. Then hold them accountable for doing their jobs. This seems obvious, but sadly, people are confused. Sure they know their quotas, but that’s just an outcome measure. It doesn’t clearly communicate what their accountabilities are. And too often, we don’t hold them accountable for doing their jobs. As a result, performance of the overall organization suffers.

So far, these activities focus on the sales person and the front line sales manager. Senior sales management should look at the following:

  1. Attrition, voluntary or involuntary. Or the counter to that, what we we doing to hire and retain the best talent possible. The cost of turnover is represents millions of dollars for each person. This is all opportunity cost. Reducing attrition, will immediately drive performance improvement. I believe this is one of the top 3 issues sales management must confront in the coming 5 years. You may want to look at Are We Underperforming Our Potential?
  2. Look at “time available for selling.” As our businesses and organizations get more complex, unwittingly we start impacting time available for selling. We, typically, see time available for selling at 15-25%. Imagine increasing that by 50%. Without changing anything about how your people sell, you have simply given them more time to sell.

I’ll stop here. I’ve not talked about any new approaches or methodologies to selling. I’ve not talked about implementing new technologies or tools, or new training programs, or new structures, or anything new at all.

All I’ve focused on is improving our ability to execute what we already know we should be doing and we already know how to do. Yet, few organizations are doing these things.

There’s too big a temptation, and too many consultants, trainers, and sales automation companies that want to separate you from your money with the promise of “new, latest greatest.” Many of these are good and can contribute, but if we are building on a foundation that is already shaky, we will never achieve what we should from those new initiatives.

If you haven’t realized it, all I’m doing a focusing on a “Back to Basics” focus. Virtually every organization I look at has a tremendous execution gap. They know what they should be doing, they know how to do it. They just aren’t doing it.

Imagine how performance would improve just by focusing on these basics.

Afterword: Our Sales Execution Framework provides a tool for managers and sales people to get back to basics, identifying how to improve their focus and ability to execute. Just reach out if you want a free copy of this white paper.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Dave Brock
Dave has spent his career developing high performance organizations. He worked in sales, marketing, and executive management capacities with IBM, Tektronix and Keithley Instruments. His consulting clients include companies in the semiconductor, aerospace, electronics, consumer products, computer, telecommunications, retailing, internet, software, professional and financial services industries.


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