Organizations are always looking for ways to improve sales force effectiveness and be able to measure it in meaningful ways. Fortunately, there is sales force automation and customer-relations management technology that can be implemented and configured without costly in-house programming or IT support. The technology can be very effective in streamlining processes and providing the metrics needed to better forecast sales and manage the sales team.
As organizations start the journey of changing their sales processes, the tendency is to look at all the challenges they face and tackle them all at once—which is only natural. You’re investing in a new technology that can fix all your organizational problems, so why not just get them all done in one sweep so you can move on and put the focus back on sales.
However, the result of that approach is a major disruption in sales activity as the sales team focuses on learning new software and many new processes all at once. They are required to turn their energy away from selling so they can figure out how to manage all the change and try to understand how it will affect their lives and livelihoods.
The everything-at-once approach is almost always doomed to failure because it tries to accomplish too much too fast with no meaningful metrics in place to measure change. The journey ends almost before it begins and the new technology, which has enabled all the change, becomes yet another problem to be solved.
Enable, Don’t Constrain
The better approach to sales force effectiveness is to think of it as a long-term journey with a series of small steps that lead to the ultimate goal. Sales management needs a long-term vision of where the organization ultimately needs to be and then define the core processes to be changed and the order in which they need to get done. Trying to do too much at once causes friction within the sales team and contaminates the good changes that might be successfully implemented.
However, don’t confuse a series of small steps with sales process methodology, which defines every step a sales person is required to complete in a precise order along the sales cycle, with the sales person checking off each step completed before moving on to the next. It forces the sales person to march down an inflexible path, one step at a time, instead of focusing on bottom-line effectiveness. Implemented when a sales organization is not prepared, process methodology can be doomed from the start because it over-manages the sales force and is perceived as compliance tool that does not help them be more effective in their jobs. Change needs to enable the sales team, not constrain it.
When you’re looking to improve the effectiveness of team selling—especially on complex sales—you’re not just changing sales team processes, you have to bring in other functions to support the change (e.g., support staff, engineering, etc). You want everyone focused around a common language and a common set of processes. Technology is an enabler, but box-checking methodology doesn’t really do that. You’re not deploying sales steps; you’re changing an entire process on how you reach out to new and existing customers to meet sales goals.
A Journey of Small Steps
As with any journey, sales-force effectiveness starts with a single step. Typically, a sales manager will want to know what accounts a sales person is working on, what products or services they are pitching, and what department or person they’re pitching to. That’s starting too granularly to begin the change process. The sales manager needs to start at a higher metric.
Pick one or two core processes to change at a high level, put meaningful metrics in place, coach the sales team on what the changes will be and why it will help them and the organization, then work on that for a few months. When it becomes a natural part of everyone’s normal process and the sales team recognizes the value of it, you can move on the next set of changes. It’s a quick win that inspires the team as opposed to a string of failures that demoralizes them.
For example, start by having the sales team forecast revenue from all accounts for the next month. It’s a meaningful metric that will take a salesperson very little time to generate. Coach them on exactly what you’re looking for and then measure for three months. If everyone is doing a good job, then take the next step and delve into more detail (e.g., forecast revenue at the product level), measure for a couple months, succeed and move to the next step.
That applies to channel management as well. If you have multiple channels to manage (e.g., inside sales, outside sales, distributors, etc.), managers are inclined lump them together and address them all at once. Trying to tackle all the issues in a complex sales channel in one step is a recipe for failure.
The Only Meaningful Metric
Measuring success is key to demonstrating that change is being implemented, and companies that embark upon transforming their organizations need to be totally metric driven. Sales force automation technology is a great tool for capturing and reporting metrics.
There are many metrics that an organization can use, but the most meaningful metric for sales force effectiveness is your win ratio (or close ratio). There is a lot of debating on how you calculate win ratio, but the only way to measure it meaningfully is on revenue, not deal count.
I’ve seen many companies try to measure and win ratio by excluding deals where the client did not make a decision to change providers. If you deliver a proposal to a client, only two things can happen: you win or lose the business. The reasons are nice to know, but at the end of the day it’s revenue that impacts the company. If a sales person closes ten deals, but misses their revenue goal by 30%, how does that really count as a win?
Revenue is also important because that’s how salespeople are compensated. They already focused on the amount of revenue they are responsible to bring in, so asking them to report it and be measured by it is very natural to them and reduces their resistance to change.
Revenue—profitable revenue—is the key metric for measuring success and it is what drives the organization. Revenue without the level of profit your firm deserves is a going-out-of-business strategy.
Managing Change a Step at a Time
It is difficult to get organizations—especially complex ones—to change. Sales automation and CRM tools can help; however, the key is to focus on the long term goals, don’t be overly ambitious, implement change gradually, coach the sales team every step of the way, and keep a laser-tight focus on metrics that can really move the needle. Sales force effectiveness is a journey of small victories that ultimately leads to significant change and a more profitable company.