Sales Efficiency

The more customers that I talk to, the more that I see a fundamental problem with sales teams, particularly those who sell a highly technical product / service using technical people.  In general, the problem is that there is no systematic approach to selling so sales activity is often haphazard and inefficient.  It stands to reason that the more sales activities a team completes, the more sales will result.  However, inefficient activity leads to lower sales than efficient activity.

It is my belief that this can be resolved by looking at three things

1.       Where do the team focus their effort?

2.       What do the team focus their effort on?

3.       How do the team do it?

Where do the team focus their effort means which countries and which companies in those countries do they focus their efforts on.  Not all companies are likely to buy their product at the same time so determining which companies to focus on is important to do so that their effort is directed to the ones most likely to buy.  I call this “What does a good customer look like?”

What do the team focus their effort on means which opportunities do they focus their efforts on.  Again, not all opportunities are worth pursuing every day, some are longer term, some are shorter term, some return significant revenue, some return high profits.  Determining which opportunities to chase should be through the application of a consistent analysis.  I call this “What does a good opportunity look like?”

How do the team do it means what process do they follow?  To build a sales process, it is important to build it from both a generic process (eg customer research, needs analysis, validation, proposal, presentation, negotiation, close) and from the experience of the sales team as to what works well and what does not.  Each product and service may require separate processes.  They may be very similar within one company but will vary more company by company.  To be valuable, the process must be documented, understood, followed and efficient.  It may be necessary to amend it every so often based on new experience.  This can then be codified for all sales people to follow.

Obviously, the sales team need to have the right skills to be able to follow the process effectively and to execute each activity as well as possible.  Training for the team should be aimed at improving the team’s skills in the activities that are important for their process rather than abstract concepts without context.

In order for a sales manager / director to support, develop and mentor their team, they need to manage their activities, not just report on their outcomes.  Too many metrics used to track sales are ones which the sales team do not have complete control over.  Opportunities can be lost through no fault of the sales person but they can only be found through the right activities of that sales person.

Each opportunity can be mapped to a stage in the sales process so that the next activity is therefore defined.  By tracking the activities, which are wholly within the ability of the sales person to do, sales managers can more effectively manage their team.  By executing the right activities at the right time, more sales and more revenue will result.

To manage the team effectively, the sales team need to keep a record of their activity in a simple and quick way.  The manager needs to be able to review their activity in relation to their opportunities and the process so that it can be measured against targets.  The metrics used can be either high, aspirational targets or minimum acceptable levels depending on a company’s viewpoint.  The metrics need to be based on criteria that can be directly managed, ie such that a sales manager can directly influence the metric by asking someone to do something differently and experience the desired change in the metric.  These are called leading indicators.  Lagging indicators, such as revenue, inform management too late for corrective action to have an effect.

In terms of tracking activities, CRM is not the answer.  CRM is built around the customer, not around the sales team.  A CRM system is usually sold to a CEO who wants to “understand the pipeline of business”.  However, it relies on extensive input from the sales team for little personal return.  Keeping track and editing tens of opportunities is a time consuming task that is frequently ignored.  In addition, it only allows for tracking once an opportunity has been identified whereas there is significant sales activity in advance of this.

If you want to track sales activity, then a specific application needs to be deployed that matches the requirements of the team.  The tracking application needs to be easy to record activity in, needs to be immediately and easily visible to management and needs to reflect the sales process.  It can be linked directly to an opportunity management system so that opportunities are updated at the same time as the activity is logged.

To fully develop, manage and mentor your sales team, you need to develop and manage to the Sales Triangle.

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1.       Build a consistent way of evaluating and ranking customers so that you only focus on the best ones

2.       Build a consistent way of evaluating and ranking opportunities so that you only focus on the best ones

3.       Build a consistent process for the sales team to follow and track their activities against this process.

Naturally, Hoolock Consulting can help you to do all of this and train your team to be effective and efficient in their work.