It Takes More Than Just Great Salespeople To Create a Successful Sales Team


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Thirty years of working with successful commercial organisations has taught me that they all have one thing (at least) in common; they can sell AND they can deliver. Let’s imagine for one minute that ‘delivery’ is a given, and focus on ‘selling’. Being successful at selling is about many things; market leading products & services always helps, so does effective marketing, topped by the best sales people supported by a great sales operations infrastructure.

In my experience, most sales organisations focus on recruiting and developing sales people at the expense of the underlying infrastructure that enables them to do their job effectively. Just think of the sales people you know who have been successful in one company and then failed in the next; was it their fault, or the fault of the employer, who perhaps failed to provide that infrastructure?

So what do we mean by ‘sales operations infrastructure’ and how can you assess whether yours is fit for purpose? Let’s take each part of that question in turn. We would define a Sales Operations Infrastructure (SOI) as the processes, procedures, systems and governance required to support and enable a successful sales operation. Assessing its level of suitability and maturity is a whole new ball game. Whilst there are many proven ways to benchmark sales people’s capabilities (psychometric testing for one), there appear to be few, if any, ways of benchmarking SOI.

My company developed and has used a bid capability benchmarking tool (BidMAP™) for nearly 10 years. Based on gap analysis techniques (your aspirations minus your current capabilities equals the gaps to be closed), it has enabled us to work with over 50 organisations to develop their bid capabilities to the level they aspire to.

Using this approach as the basis for a new model, we spent six months consulting a number of seasoned sales professionals about what they felt were the critical things to get right if their sales people were to be successful. This resulted in the following list:

1. Understanding the Market – How well does your organisation understand the requirements of its target market and clients?

2. Capability & Pricing Information – What standard, prewritten capability information is readily available to support the sales people and process, and how readily available and accurate is the corresponding pricing information?

3. Creating Opportunities – How well does your organisation proactively create opportunities?

4. Qualifying Opportunities – How well does your organisation qualify opportunities throughout the sales process?

5. Developing Win Strategies – How well does your organisation develop win strategies (win price, solution and differentiators) and define business value for individual opportunities?

6. Proposing & Presenting – How well does your organisation propose / present solutions to clients?

7. Negotiating & Closing – How well does your organisation negotiate and close opportunities to maximise revenue and margin, and ensure mutually acceptable commercial contracts are in place?

8. Reviewing & Learning – How well does your organisation review and learn from the success or otherwise of individual opportunities?

9. People – How well do the client focused people in your organisation understand the sales process, and do they have the skills and time to contribute?

10. Sales Processes – What sales related processes have your organisation adopted when creating, developing and closing opportunities?

11. Management Information & Reporting – What level of centrally held client and pipeline information is available to support the ‘sales process’, and how well is it presented?

12. Measuring Success – How well are individual and company goals, targets and objectives defined, communicated, understood, measured and reviewed?

These formed the basis of SalesMAP™, which we are currently using in a ‘controlled’ environment. This has involved a number of ‘proof of concept’ exercises. The first was with Jon Hughes, formerly of the Microsoft UK Partner Management Team and now Channel Sales Director at Sophos. Jon said:

“Having seen BidMAP™, I was keen to review SalesMAP™ and came to the conclusion that it was an ideal vehicle for any sales organisation to quickly understand what they need to do to improve their all important sales infrastructure and operations. I also felt that it would be an ideal tool for vendors wishing to assess potential channel partners on sales capability rather than technical capability.”

This was followed by help from Nick Brown, formerly UK Channel Sales Director for Sage, and currently MD of the GB Group. Nick introduced us to a leading Sage Channel Partner, and sat in on a two hour SalesMAP™ self assessment workshop. Nick said:

“I was impressed by the SalesMAP™ approach for two reasons; the comprehensive nature of the model and the fact that it was a facilitated group self-assessment, which meant that the sales leadership team was agreeing their own level of capability and setting their own aspirations, rather than being told by a team of Consultants.”

Our next port of call was Trevor Ward, UK Sales Director for Adobe Systems:

“Having worked with Chris before on sales related projects, I knew he could help me in my new role at Adobe. It was critical that I quickly understood what worked, what didn’t, and what I had to do to fix it, so I asked Chris to run a SalesMAP™ session at my next Sales Meeting. This was very illuminating, as each of the twelve areas provoked heated debate, but we quickly reached a consensus on where we were, where we aspired to be and how to get there.”

Another important input was provided by Tony Mulligan, a highly respected and successful former Oracle sales professional, and now an independent consultant:

“When Chris showed me SalesMAP™ I was initially sceptical as I had seen many tools that purported to help with sales effectiveness, but when I saw the subjects covered and the facilitated self-assessment approach I was won over. In my experience it can take weeks or sometimes months to get to the heart of the matter in under performing sales teams; SalesMAP™ gets to the same place in hours.”

Not long after this we were contacted by a long standing customer who had concerns about the sales performance of one business unit within his new organisation. A SalesMAP™ workshop followed, and he was able to use the outputs (findings, conclusions and recommendations) to make fundamental changes that delivered immediate improvements in morale and performance. The process was then repeated for two other business units, and the consolidated output was used to define a major sales operations change programme which is still underway. He said:

“When I asked Chris to look at the under performing business unit I expected a good outcome, but SalesMAP™ delivered outputs far beyond my expectations, and this enabled us to move forward quickly and make the necessary changes to improve all areas of our sales operation.”

Going forward, we will be working with a partner to do a controlled launch of SalesMAP™ and associated services during Q1 2008, starting with existing customers and our joint network.

We see SalesMAP™ as a valuable tool for Sales Directors in the following situations:

1. Established in their role with a revenue and margin mountain to climb

2. New in their role and trying to make an impact in their first 100 days

3. Trying to integrate multiple sales teams after a merger or acquisition

4. Got a great sales team who work hard but are still not hitting their numbers

5. Unsure of the capability of the sales operation that supports their sales team

6. Dependant on their channel for revenue and margin but unsure of their ability to execute

If you would like further information on SalesMAP™ or to be kept informed about the launch please contact [email protected] or call me on 0870 421 5150.

Chris Whyatt
Practical Bid Solutions
Chris Whyatt is a founding director of Practical Bid Solutions and creator of the BidMAP and SalesMAP methodology. The primary focus is bid and sales process development and deployment.


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