When you think about sales, sales training and sales performance, what comes to mind? Of course, for many, they think of their salespeople, their product, their customers, and perhaps a training methodology as the total of the contributing factors affecting their sales performance. But, in reality, the sales function is much more complex than that.
Sales is like an ecosystem. An ecosystem is defined as a combination of living and non-living components of an environment interacting together as a system. In an ecosystem, we understand that the ecosystem needs to be healthy for any living organism to flourish. An ecosystem that is not functioning optimally is likely to affect the life that is sustained by the system. In the same way, when a sales ecosystem is unhealthy, it impacts your sales performance.
If a plant in your garden was not growing, would you immediately assume that the seed was a bad seed? Or, would you consider the environment, the soil, access to water, and the sun’s position?
Of course, no one would blame the plant. Yet, all too often, as sales leaders, we jump too quickly to blaming our salespeople when the business is not hitting its number. For your salespeople to perform at their peak, they need a healthy ecosystem and a healthy sales ecosystem needs, at the very least, the following;
Sales Strategy – Does your business have a clearly defined sales strategy? Your sales strategy should enable your business strategy if your strategy is to focus on a particular market and to serve them with a selected product set in an ambition to reach a revenue target. Then, how you approach getting your target must align with the overall strategy. Sadly, more often than not, I see strategy meetings taking place once a year, being documented in a lovely presentation, and never again see the light of day. Your sales strategy should be clear, with defined territories, your approach and value proposition defined, your systems and enablement initiatives should all align with the strategy
Sales Culture or culture of Sales – Peter Drucker quote famously said that “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. The message is clear: your company’s culture has more influence over your results than any external forces, regardless of how effective your strategy may be.
You see, as I alluded to earlier, Drucker points back to the importance of the human factor in the success of any organisation. You can have the most effective strategy in your market; if the people executing the work don’t nurture a healthy culture (environment), you will not hit your sales number.
Culture informs how your salespeople will act in critical situations, how they manage pressure and how they respond to various challenges in the business and the market. Culture comes right down to how your team treat customers, suppliers and each other.
Position of sales in the environment – As a business becomes more sales-focused, it needs to build a strong understanding of sales. One that extends past something that the “sales department does”. Everyone needs to share a common understanding of your sales culture, approach, and products. They should share a language across the business.
It’s challenging for a sales team to function well in an environment that is, at times, hostile towards them. However, a common sharing of the sales responsibility allows the sales team and leadership to develop to their potential in a supportive and sustaining environment where growth and success are celebrated.
Open and robust discussions happen when everyone is invested in seeing the sales team win.
Sales Performance Management – Who ensures that the organisms in the ecosystem are thriving? In the sales ecosystem, that role falls to the Sales Manager or shared with the Sales Director. These sales leaders are responsible for the execution of the sales strategy. But, execution starts with a structured approach, proper planning, and an unwavering commitment to focus on what they can control. Deliberately ignoring what they cannot influence.
Many sales managers either step in themselves to sell for their people or focus on internal admin/reporting to explain their numbers.
Frictionless Sales Operations – Your sales ecosystem needs the various parts of the system to work with each other, symbiotically. They need to be aligned and focused on doing what it takes to serve the client. It begins by listening to the salesperson responsible for aligning with your customer and ensuring all the divisions of the business work together to meet the client’s requirement.
Marketing and sales need to be aligned, beginning with a shared understanding of what a qualified opportunity or lead looks like. Then, marketing should be looped into sales results just as much as sales are looped into Marketing’s product campaigns. Going back to what we said earlier about culture, if you get sales and marketing aligned in a culture of accountability for results; and a commitment to learning from our mistakes the sky is the limit.
Sales processes – You will recall that we said an ecosystem is made of living and non-living organisms interacting as part of a system. Your sales process is a non-living part of your ecosystem. It is a set of repeatable steps that a salesperson takes to take a prospective buyer from the early stage of awareness to a closed sale. Typically, a sales process consists of 5-7 steps: Prospecting, Preparation, Approach, Presentation, Handling objections, Closing, and Follow-up.
Ideally, you want to take the best possible way of selling something and ensure that the best becomes the standard. But, unfortunately, I often see ineffective or onerous processes being standardized—procedures designed to satisfy legal, compliance or finance but not designed for a smooth sales process.
Processes should support the sales performance; they are not primarily designed as a management tool, although the insights can be invaluable in a sales management conversation. Infield coaching is the only way to get real time performance; forget “management by mouse”!
Sales Compensation – Few roles are as scrutinized or as rigorously managed as sales. Yet, few businesses regularly look at their sales compensation plans to assess how effective they are and how closely the sales growth metrics are aligned with the company strategy and the compensation plan.
Don’t assume that the way you were paid at your last company or the way your industry pays is the right fit for your business and your salespeople. For example, I know of at least one firm that has gone from basic plus commission to commission only, but they have increased the commission percentage significantly. So there is a genuine win-win opportunity for both parties, which does not encourage behaviour that leads to a poor buying experience.
The way you pay your salespeople should be simple; it should allow the salesperson to do very well in their role and align with the strategy and customer expectations.
Sales Enablement – The top-performing companies invest in their sales teams in the same way the owners of any top performing sports team may invest in their team. There is a team of people to support the players. Sales Enablement is that team; ensuring that the reps have the collateral they need, trained, and with access to all the tools they may require to do their job, at any stage of the sales process. This team sits between sales operations, business and the individual sales contributors deftly create and collate the tools that the sales team apply.
This is not an exhaustive list, but you can see a myriad of functions that can and should be looked at when a team is not performing. Now, this doesn’t mean that you can’t have a bad apple or even a few bad apples. The problem is we might be discarding perfectly fruitful recruits because we fail to manage and maintain the environment.