Nothing drives a change programme like some early success. This is universally true but perhaps more so in sales management than anywhere else. However there is a right and wrong way to drive sales growth.
Unfortunately, the wrong road is more commonly travelled. Components of this wrong road include price, volume or timing incentives to existing customers and most awfully, a drill sergeant style barracking of the sales team. Don’t misunderstand, these tactics do drive short term sales results but at the cost of undermining customer loyalty and price strategies on the one hand and demoralising your sales team on the other. Your best people will quickly move on to more respectful sales management environments and your customers will learn to wait for incentives before committing to new orders.
The better road to travel involves aspects of targeting, key account management and deal forecasting. Let me break it into steps:
Have the sales team identify the best opportunities already in the pipeline. Simplify forecasting.
Rigorously challenge the claimed status of these opportunities. Focus on the best opportunities and use a structured score card to make this assessment. I’ll come back to this topic in a blog on deal management and address the detail of these first two steps in later blogs.
Put together a cross discipline team sponsored by the CEO. That team, led by the sales person, develops a highly detailed tactical plan with the objective of bringing in the deal in a specified time frame. Push, be intelligent and work hard but don’t be busy fools. This plan has four critical components:
A measurable value to the target customer’s business and to the reputations of the key decision makers. (A key contribution from your Marketing team is required here);
A clear understanding of the buying process (a ‘nowhere to hide’ role for sales);
Specific actions to be taken to move the deal along, key people to be influenced and a way to reach them identified. Everyone in the company can be called upon to assist as required; this is why the CEO has to lead this type of exercise. (In effective sales organisations leaders spend more time coaching deal management than any other responsibility);
Milestones and deal reviews unmovably marked in diaries of all required players. Discipline drives deals.
If this all sounds too convoluted let me share a true story. I was working with a client on just such a plan when the CEO’s phone rang. His largest shareholder was calling to arrange a meeting. During the call the CEO mentioned the deal we were working on. His investor offered to help. The CEO of the target customer was a fishing friend. Three phone calls later the deal was confirmed. No incentives offered, no prices discounted and no sales people got shouted at.
Did this all happen because a favour was called in? No, it happened because the work in Step 3 (a) above, was complete and rigorous, making it easy for the buying decision to be made.
All of the above applies in complex, consultative, B2B selling situations. If your sales are more transactional in nature you don’t need a sales team you need an incentivised and target-based Marketing operation which you should manage like a sales team.