Do you need to improve sales performance? If the answer to this is YES you will need to successfully deliver and sustain change. To make change stick you need more than a sales manager to lead the team.
Sales management is great but is it enough?
Sales management is common place in most sales organisations, and for the most part they do a decent job of managing the day to day activities of the sales team. They move people in, out and around the team, organise them, measure things they do and set targets. They build reports, review spreadsheets and have review calls (in some cases lots of these).
These sales management teams are often called sales leadership teams and they are responsible for improved sales performance, but do they do enough to change performance? In simple terms the answer is ‘sometimes’. Some teams I have worked with take a step back and truly seek to improve their competitiveness with a clear strategy. They work out the proposition, people and process changes that will improve sales and focus hard on executing these changes . Others struggle to make the time to ‘see the wood of the trees’ and use fewer incremental changes that can fail to address the issues.
At Outside In we believe in marginal gains and the impact many smaller improvements can have on your performance but you need a vision of what good is to focus these efforts and a solid understanding of the levers for effective change.
Sales leadership is about influencing and focusing resources to achieve a goal.
Sales leaders are orientated towards change. They know that continuing as they are will not deliver the results needed in the future, and that they need to take the sales organisation to a new place. Great b2b sales teams are largely dependent on great people and therefore to affect change it is necessary to take these people with you.
To change the behaviours of people you should engage them throughout the process. It is not often sustainable to implement change without the buy in a support of your team – if you just ‘do things to them’, don’t expect any of the changes you implement to stick.
In sales improvement initiatives, the important resources to invest time with are three-fold;
- You will need the support of an executive team who buy in to your vision and are responsible for approving and releasing the investment needed to deliver the project. Can you manage up effectively?
- The sales team are your resources that you will want to change the most. They are often resistant to change unless you can get them on board, so you need to manage down effectively and inspire them toward your new way of working.
- The project team who work closest on the sales improvement projects. Often they will be the owners of the change programme and it is essential that they can all see how their individual efforts come together to deliver the goal.
Sales Leaders have a vision
Stephen Covey in 7-habits of highly effective people says start with the end in mind. I couldn’t put this any better, for effective change you must have a vision of how the future will look. Something for the team to understand and get behind. Something that you know will make you more competitive in the context of your competitors. Something that you are sure will deliver greater value to customers and have them wanting to do business with you.
Do you have a clear view what great looks like in your business?
A vision must engage people at a personal level. Individuals need to have a good understanding of how the proposed changes will impact THEM and so they know what THEY need to do differently in the future.
I regularly see well intended plans from sales leaders. Some will draw up a list of sales improvement initiatives based on how the team believe they can evolve their current approach. Lacking in external validation in terms of a comparison to external benchmarks or to customer expectations. Often these changes are not enough to really address the issues and they fail to improve performance.
A good example of this in one client of ours, they achieved a 50% reduction on the customer quote process timescale from 3 weeks at the start, good progress. However, it failed to realise the customer and competitor performance that expected turnaround in simple quotes of 2-3 days.
Another common situation I find with clients is that they try to do too much. A very long list of initiatives so extensive that it lacks clarity, priority and focus. As a result the whole team are so overwhelmed by the “25 priorities” that it is unable to “eat the elephant” in one sitting and changes are not sustained or delivered.
A vision contains some core elements
To improve b2b sales performance you need to bring together improvements across a few fundamental areas;
- Customer value is at the core of your activities (outside in)
- Compelling Proposition
- Capable People
- Effective Process
By building on these core elements, create a clear view of what good looks like and how everyone can play their part. With an engaging picture the sales team can see that proposed changes are more than a fad and that the initiatives will not suddenly be surpassed in favour of the next new priority. They are in it for the long term.
Developing effective change initiatives is where leaders shine. Leaders must make a difference by steering a new course for the sales organisation and step up from a purely efficiency agenda. Leaders, not managers, have a vision of an improved future and lead the team toward it.