Why has selling changed so little over the last 20 years? When compared to other functions it still looks pretty similar to the 80s and in some organisations even further back than that, where as in Finance, Logistics, HR, Production etc you will see something very different.
The most striking thing about today’s’ selling is how amateur its approach still is. This is revealed in several significant ways:
- The Sales Directors board report. Many still have no real robust forecasting model, a last minute ring round of sales managers who have been cajoling their sales teams for ‘the latest numbers’ is as good as it gets for many meetings. There is little programmed activity around pipeline analysis, scenario modelling or market tracking.
- Improper use of CRM (Customer Relationship Management). Often it’s used simply as a recording mechanism to track what salespeople are doing rather than an integrated part of the value proposition.
- The lack of effective performance management. With many sales organisations the ends still justify the means. If the salesperson delivers reasonable numbers – job done. Where is effective expectation management, a robust consequence model (covering good, bad and indifferent outcomes) and rich feedback mechanisms?
- Target setting is still seen as a war of attrition between the sales person and the sales manager, with very little authentic dialogue. It’s very common to see management almost desperate to find commitment in their teams when in reality they are lucky if they have even achieved compliance. It’s still common to find salespeople with an emotional investment in proving to their management why their numbers are not going to be achieved rather than the opposite.
- The lack of professionalism around sales recruiting and on-boarding. ‘I can pick ‘em, let’s give her/him a go’ is still a sentiment heard in sales functions. Little use of competencies, structured interview techniques, assessment centres or psychometric support.
We’re not suggesting all these faults exist in the same sales organisation, but in many at least one of these amateur approaches is still seen as the norm.
Very few people go into selling as a vocation, something they wanted to do from an early age. Yet when we spend any time with high performing salespeople one of the most striking things about them is how engaged they are, and how passionately they believe in what they doing. Selling is something that gets in the blood stream, something that when you realise you are good at it you can’t stop doing it. As the old saying would have it, ‘selling is the most fun you can have with your clothes on’.
This is intriguing, why does it have this affect on some people? We think we have found the answer.
…Selling is the only business discipline where innovation and performance are simultaneously created…
At face value that doesn’t seem to be a big deal, but we think it is. What happens in front of each customer is unique; no matter how disciplined the process, how grooved the technique or how seemingly repetitious the conversations, there are uncontrollable variables which create the potential for unplanned and original things to happen. A salesperson’s ability to be creative, to weave new approaches on the fly, into the way they manage this particular interaction requires flexible innovative thinking.
And whilst they are doing that their performance is being formed in real time. This call, this meeting, this customer review, will impact the targets they achieve, the standards they have set for themselves. Their performance is created as a function of their ability to manage each of these unique interactions; the ratios that track their productivity change as a result of every different customer connection they make each day. In other roles a bad day can be recovered or compensated for, work can be made up. In selling a bad day can have performance repercussions for many weeks, even months afterwards.
This we have found is a major reason why successful salespeople love what they do. They have the potential to redefine their role, to take it to a new level of performance every time they engage with a customer. And they can do that in their own way, finding a new approach, a new line of questioning, a better objection handling technique, or a new hot button to press.
Best Practice used as a development tool is one of the most powerful ways to improve performance. In this article we give an overview that covers how to go about embedding its use into your sales organisation.
- Management must understand its significance and define their terms. Our working definition of best practice is: The conscious understanding of what works, applied constantly in all that we do. WHAT WORKS drives Best Practice. There has to real belief that every part of the sales process can be modelled against an exemplar standard. Its this standard that is used as a benchmark to develop people against.
- Next, is to make sure your sales culture will support its adoption. For Best Practice thinking to gain any kind of traction people have to own their personal performance. If management spend all their time trying to get salespeople to do what they otherwise wouldn’t do, (management imposed activity targets is the obvious symptom of low ownership) then the engagement of Best Practice will not happen.
- A coaching rather than ‘sink or swim’ development process is required. Effective Best Practice development is highly iterative, needing a constant, candid, two-way dialogue between coach and coachee.
- The effective collection, collation and dissemination of meaningful data. Without objectively underpinning the Best Practice standard with supporting, current data, the conversations are too vague and subjective.
- Ownership of the standards must be with the field, not at the centre. HR or Sales management should never be in charge of the Best Practice ‘bible’. If they are, it quickly becomes a sterile, bureaucratic nightmare. We believe most sales organisation’s ‘selling’ can be captured in well under 20 separately indentified processes. Each of these should be owned by the person who operates to the Best Practice standard – they become the Best Practice owner. It is their responsibility to codify what they do (to a standard format) and then share it with others. When someone else performs that process (say an account review) better than the standard, the Best Practice gets reset and ownership passes to that salesperson.
- Reward and recognition tools should be used to differentiate sales people who are owners of best practice from those who are not.
- Managers facilitate the sharing of the Best Practice and vigorously coach to the standard.
We believe when Best Practice is used effectively its one of the most effective sales performance enhancing tools available.
Businesses are all looking for the perfect performance management systems, either looking for the ultimate process, the ideal software or the most elegant paperwork.
Unfortunately, developing each of those takes time, and can result in a constant loop of careful refining and redesigning, resulting in a very nearly perfect approach which never gets released in to the business to make a positive difference to performance.
It’s not surprising that so many well intentioned performance management projects stall or end up as unusable fudges.
The stumbling block seems to be the perceived need to get everything up and running perfectly in one neat project. Performance management just doesn’t work that way in organisations that have been used to working in previously different ways.
Effective performance management implementation takes time, and the first objective of a performance management change programme is to get people thinking and talking about performance.
When people know how to set objectives well, they’ll do it, working with employees to ensure they’re relevant and meaningful. Once they understand how to assess and rate performance they’ll do so, having regular conversations about it to make sure that nothing comes as a surprise. When people feel confident about giving objective, constructive feedback, you can’t stop them doing it.
Performance management processes and administration support can evolve over time to ensure that they deliver maximum impact across the organisation, but in order to evolve they need to be out in the wild, being used, adapted and improved in the business environment. So if waiting for perfect performance management solution has is keeping you from building a performance culture, talk to Predaptive about how we can help you get your people performing.
One of the most revealing ways of identifying someone who can influence beyond their level of authority and control (which is a simple, but effective definition of leadership) is to really listen for the person’s point of view. How often (and perceptively) do you hear them talk about their industry’s future, what the change dynamics facing their customers really are? How will their own role need to evolve to stay relevant? How will technology change their value chain? How will the new macro-economic environment evolve? Etc. etc.
Recently we’ve been working with an organisation that asked us to unpack the Point of View issue and turn it into something that their managers could develop for themselves. A word of caution, we found two issues that demonstrate an anti point of view, ways of behaving that masquerade as a point of view but in fact demonstrate the opposite:
- Having strong opinions about what won’t happen, what won’t work and what people are mistakenly focusing on. This is saying rather than envisioning the future.
- Having fixed views that don’t change. A Point of View is about passion and belief, but it’s not about dogmatism.
We found a strong correlation between having a coherent point of view and being someone others listened to as well. The person was influential, often beyond his or her own functional area and several levels higher up the hierarchy than their formal position warranted.
They were viewed as being interesting, ‘go to’ people who really know stuff, but equally they are not intimidated by not knowing stuff. Their learning curve constantly sits at a steep angle. This of course makes them interesting and valuable to clients as well. We found if these people were market facing their impact was significant. A point of view is not only good for the quality of conversation; it’s also very good for business.
The culmination of our work was the development of a point of view workshop that showed people the requirements of how to develop this (we believe) critical capability.
We’m sure you’ve attempted to make some New Year Resolutions, some you might not have even broken yet. Below we list some you will be wasting your time making. How do we know? – because each year we hear managers say these are the things they are going to do better at, but seem to find very hard to achieve:
- Demonstrate more leadership and less micro management. If anything this seems to be getting worse not better. Few managers seem to be able to inject greater leadership into their working practices.
- Consistently make a more value-added contribution. Stand out from the crowded mediocre manager space through your insight and original perspective, rather than simply stating the obvious, confusing quality with quantity or producing poorly thought through ideas.
- Trust people more.
- Communicate more effectively. This is always near the top of the complaint list when employees are surveyed. Why is this so difficult? Note to self: there is no necessary relationship between how many minutes (hours?) a day you spend emailing/blackberrying and how well you communicate to your people.
- Spend more time with customers and less behind a desk.
- Pay more attention to success inputs rather than just measurable outputs. Profits, sales, GP etc are all consequences of doing something. Focus more on the doing. This seems to defeat many managers.
- Design more effective bonus schemes, ones that promote the right behaviours as well as performance.
- Smile more, not when it suits you, but when it would make a real difference to the meeting or situation.
- Increase your learning.
- Work less hard. Perspective is everything, many managers fail in obtaining some. Modern business life makes it very difficult to calibrate work rate or hours expended.
If you can apply even half of the 10 you will stand out from the crowd.
Most organisations, whenever their financial year starts, use the New Year as a time to look at their Training Plan and see if it’s fit for the year ahead. After the traumatic events experienced in 2009 all organisations need to plan for and anticipate the challenges expected in 2010.
To ensure your Training Plan for 2010 is fit for purpose – it should take into account two seemingly contrasting demands; is it focused on the organisation’s Vision, Values and Goals – what we call the Purpose Framework? Whilst at the same time taking into account the diverse training needs of the individuals that make up that organisation?
Off-the-Shelf Training: most organisations can find some benefit from generic training courses; whether ‘soft’ skills or more technical skills. Where they have small demand but well-defined training needs, these types or courses can give individuals useful tools and techniques to help them develop the required skills and knowledge back in the workplace.
Standard Corporate Training: larger organisations often have their basic skills from Induction through to Management Development programmes standardised to fit the organisation’s culture and predominant learning style. Where this approach leaves gaps in the individual’s training needs the next style is often required as well.
Coaching & Mentoring: again most organisations benefit from delivering some one-to-one training sessions where they can utilise the knowledge and skills of experienced people to support trainees toward their individual training objectives. These can be highly impactful and tailored to suit different learning styles although they are less cost-effective as a result.
Bespoke Solution Training: in order to bring together real organisational focus with interventions that are tailored to suit the individuals’ training styles, courses should be crafted specifically to have maximum impact in a cost-effective approach that maximises the contribution to success.
All four of the above training quadrants have their pros and cons; some are more cost-effective than others but may only have limited impact on diverse employee populations. Other methods may produce more profound results but are more costly in terms of time, cash and resources.
For 2010 to be a real turning point for your organisation and position you for success in the decade ahead, your Training Plan needs to utilise and combine these four approaches in the most business-effective manner.
With selling very much on the agenda , customers are increasingly looking to buy great value. When you’re up against stiff competition, making sure you’ve got a compelling business case for your offer can make the difference between making the sale and missing out. We’ve developed this in-house course to help your salespeople make the most of every selling opportunity.
This workshop has been developed for managers who have commercial responsibility and need a better grasp of the key business issues that must be addressed in a business case. It is a very practical course that will be immediately applicable in your business.
What You Will Learn
- The key questions and areas you should be addressing
- Analysing and utilising information within your reporting pack
- Developing a business case that focuses on ‘fact based selling’
- Linking your ‘story’ to key corporate strategies
OPERATIONAL & CAPITAL INVESTMENT
- The principles of investment appraisal
- The key ROI methodologies used
- Quantification of benefits (hard, soft & intangible)
- Best, worst & likely cases – Sensitivity analysis
- Case study
BUSINESS CASE STRUCTURE
- The effective and high impact questions you need to ask to prepare your business case
- Business case structures & templates
- The key areas you must focus on: costs, margins & sales volumes
- The consequences of not getting your business case approved
- Translating business issues into business solutions
PRESENTATION IS KEY
- Presentations that have focus & impact
- Focusing on the requirements of your audience
- Identifying & delivering key messages with clarity & consistency
- The opportunity to present your business case to an audience of senior managers – and receive constructive feedback on whether it was compelling!