One of the upsides in sales is that success is simple to quantify. It is always, no matter what other executives or board members or peers tell you, about the numbers. Every day numbers are evaluated, totals discussed and strategies for shortfalls analyzed.
But focusing just on the numbers for this month, this quarter or this half creates a false sense of control and impact. It encourages sales executives to look at micro challenges in their sales efforts rather than reinforce a foundation and context designed to drive long-term success.
Granted, it is more exciting and often fun to focus on the latest strategic opportunity or move by a competitor, but as a sales leader, you need to be able to provide predictability and results.
Your company needs you to achieve targets today, and tomorrow and next year – regardless of what the chaotic business world or unpredictable customer’s throw at you.
But how and where should sales leaders focus for maximum impact?
START WITH THE FOUNDATION OF SALES METHODOLOGY
Let’s make this as simple as possible. There are really only three components sales executives must focus on – ensuring they have the right methodology, coupled with the optimal process and executed by professionals with the right skills (or a plan to increase those skills).
Yes, there are multiple elements to each of these, but focus for a second, I said staying ‘macro’ drives results.
An effective sales methodology provides an engagement framework with a common language and set of tools that enable predictable interactions and results. As a sales executive, you are responsible for ensuring the chosen methodology not only allows for differentiation but enables speed and precision in your sales teams. This requires consistent monitoring and reinforcement.
There are numerous methodologies to choose from, and in some cases, I have seen large companies, not interested in using other people’s IP, work to develop their own. This is an option, but I would suggest finding a methodology and toolset that is proven, flexible and adaptable to today’s selling environment. This will provide a solid foundation for your sales efforts and, if applied correctly and consistently, ensure sales strategies and tactics can be easily evaluated based on their ability to complement, enhance or extend the foundation.
Your sales methodology enables your teams by teaching them HOW to be the most effective at their jobs. It should provide a framework and toolset applicable across your teams – from Account Based Sales teams to Account Executives to Sales Development Reps to Outbound. And most importantly, your sales methodology should provide a common language not only for sales teams but for the organization as a whole.
The right methodology creates tighter cohesion between marketing and sales, enables faster response to market and competitor changes and highlights what makes you and your company unique, even if you are selling commodities.
To ensure the sales methodology is providing right foundation to your team’s efforts, I recommend analyzing and reviewing the methodology annually – typically before the annual sales meeting. Changing methodologies can be disruptive, but not making the change or working without one increases the risks that you will not achieve your targets.
PLUG IN THE RIGHT PROCESS
Sales methodology and sales process combine to complete the foundation. The sales process is a set of clearly identified milestones defining progression through closing opportunities to achieving value realization with the customer. These are the defined steps that enable your teams to differentiate throughout the sales process and to leverage marketing efforts to accelerate the journey from prospect to customer.
In too many cases, the sales process is only reviewed and updated when a new sales executive is hired. It seems to be the first place sales executives focus. Perhaps out of comfort more than anything else. And while making too many adjustments to a sales process can cause disconnects and challenges, there should be no fear in evaluating what is working, what is not and making the changes necessary.
91% of the more than 500,000 salespeople assessed to date did not have/follow a structured sales process.
– Objective Management Group
There seems to be an unconscious desire to believe that once defined the sales process is set, is something that provides rigor and accountability to a profession that can often be chaotic. I have fallen prey to this myself and I have seen companies put the sales process on a shelf, point to it when needed, but rarely leverage it as an evaluation tool.
A sales process is a living thing, reflective of your current sales environment, and without attention and review, can often become a stumbling block for teams rather than a tool for acceleration. The right sales process does not need to be complex but does need to be defined and those definitions need to be assessed quarterly because the process tells your team WHAT they need to do to move opportunities forward and your managers WHERE to look when coaching and reviewing accounts.
A sales process, coupled with the right methodology, has the power to enable differentiation of your company, solution, and teams; to help you drive results. But it should not be ignored. I recommend a quarterly review of the process to ensure it is providing the right impact and delivering management the correct insight.
DEVELOP THE RIGHT SKILLS TO FEED YOUR SALES ENGINE
The last leg of the stool is sales skills. The skill set required to be successful in sales is extremely varied and perhaps the reason there is only one college, I am aware of, offering a sales focused curriculum. These skills fuel your sales engine – allowing sales professionals to consistently leverage the chosen sales methodology and sales process to achieve the desired goals and targets.
The diverse skill set of ultra-high performers is also part of what makes interviewing sales professionals a challenge – there are behaviors which indicate awareness of the desired skill set, but often no way to test a person’s effectiveness in any given skills area. Sales skills impact every aspect of the sales process and can provide a micro area to focus on to create impact.
55% of the people making their living in sales don’t have the right skills to be successful.
– Caliper Corp
But again, we want to think macro. As a sales leader, you should be looking at the entire skills landscape of your team as compared to the ideal profile. It is easy for sales executives to embrace the perceived immediacy of developing and training in any one of the skills-based areas but looking across the skills set of the entire team is where large impacts can be generated.
Consider just a small sample of skills possessed by top performers:
- Effective Prospecting Skills,
- Account Management,
- Business Development,
- Business Acumen,
- Research and Analytical Skills,
- Strategic / Creative Thinking,
- Soft / Interpersonal Skills,
- Presentation Skills, and
- Written Communication to name a few.
Yes, there will be times when focused training on one set of skills is required, but ensuring those focuses efforts support a larger pool of skills becomes the challenge. Upleveling and maintaining the skills of a growing and diverse sales team is a constant challenge, but one that fuels the investments in methodology and process to drive record-setting results.
The reality is we live in a business environment where everything feels as if is accelerating and this is nowhere more true than in the offices of B2B sales executives. The demands on our time continue to multiply, technology provides insights and often data points but can be overwhelming, and there is always someone who wants to talk about something.
Focusing on each of these, in turn, is part of the job, but if you are working to maintain the macro context of your sales methodology and sales process, it will be easier to prioritize what needs attention and drive the results you know you can deliver.