High Performance Sales – What Good Looks Like

Quite some time ago now (fifteen years actually) I left Xerox and went to a mid-cap UK manufacturing PLC as Sales & Marketing Director. My brief was to deliver a high performing sales entity.

Xerox at that time was a bit like marmite, you either loved or hated it, but no one can deny that it was at the forefront of process management in sales and marketing. The day I joined as a salesman I was presented with a database of my customers, the past year’s financial performance and a list of contacts and their numbers (I was on the ‘Accounts’ side). Colleagues in ‘New Business’ were given an establishment listing of non users. Our product marketing ran above the line campaigns and leads were fed to relevant territory holders who had to progress and report on them. We reported on our activity (telephone calls, customer meetings etc). We ran a 30/60/90 day forecasting process, listing all prospects and detailing the stages of each. We were measured on the size of our pipeline, the business we wrote and our forecasting accuracy. Later in life, having moved up the ladder, I ran a program looking at the ‘Estimated Realisable Value’ (ERV) of all the territories in the UK which used a consistent metric to establish ‘fair’ sales targets. We were a mean, keen, selling machine.

When I walked in to the UK manufacturing company I could not believe that it had none of this. Salespeople had a territory (of sorts) which was a list of post codes and customers fed from the MIS. There was no financial information whatsoever and forecasting constituted a number with some comment regards key dependencies. There were no statistical measures. Monthly reports regarding missed forecasts were more Aesop’s fables. It was mostly art and very little science. It was going to be like herding cats.

To my thinking there were three key questions I had to answer to begin to deliver on the challenge I had been set:

1. What is High Performance sales?

Understanding that the sales process is subject to the very same issues as other business processes in terms of poor quality output and waste of resource is a start to recognising what good High Performance Sales looks like. Measuring efficiency (the rate at which you operate) and effectiveness (the quality of your work) ought to be on your agenda as the means by which to monitor and continually improve performance.

2. What sales disciplines are needed?

Recognising the business potential with your customers and the type of business relationship they require should shape your market segmentation and the type of sales interaction required (from transactional activity based to solution oriented, relational sales methodologies). Selecting and developing individuals with not only the right experience and competency but also with the right attributes in terms of ego, resilience and empathy will ensure you engage appropriately.

3. What systems do I need?

Getting operational value from your core sales systems is a prerequisite to successful adoption of not only the mechanism of administration but also the core competences that are key to your success.

When I took on my first big operational challenge in my manufacturing company I had to learn all of this.  We were lucky in that the principles of LEAN, Six Sigma that drove the measurement of efficiency and effectiveness were well understood, but the market segmentation, sales competences and systems support was the value I had to bring along in order to improve our performance.

Performing to a high level in business (and a perfect analogy is sport) depends more on your strategy, commitment to it and your structured approach than it does to some ‘quixotic’ ideal. But dig deep – the end results are worth it.

Michael Conner:  Chief Executive Officer, SalesMethods

Michael Conner

Michael Conner

Michael has operated at executive board level in publicly quoted companies and has led operational activities across worldwide organisations. Michael has extensive experience of change management and implementing business transformation programmes (turnarounds and repositioning) throughout disbursed businesses. He is an expert in sales (direct and channels), marketing (including product management), general management, making acquisitions and worldwide markets. He is CEO at SalesMethods.