What keeps Sales Leaders awake at night?

In this first of a 3-part blog series, Dr John Heaford, Head of Sales Methodologies, at SalesMethods, (salesmethods.com) will outline his perspective on what keeps Sales leaders awake at night, and how to effectively address the challenge.

Research published in 2013 from several key organisations, particularly Accenture, CSO Insights, The Aberdeen Group and Harvard Business Review, concur that one proverbial “elephant in the room” for sales leaders continues to frustrate their business performance aspirations. It is the black art of sales forecasting accuracy.

In one particular survey of 1,700 organisations, an average of 46% of opportunities closed against forecast. That has two consequences – it makes a mockery of sales forecasts and it means that half your sales organisation’s time is wasted.

It is no surprise therefore that a focus on sales forecasting accuracy is proving to be the key to wider sales performance improvement. Closer examination of the research suggests a route to achieving this improvement. A strong correlation exists between best-in-class performance and the mandatory application of a formal sales process discipline. So how do you go about achieving this?

The advent of CRM and ‘social’ communication would, on the surface, suggest deployment of the sales process is more achievable than even a few years back. However, on closer examination, the emergence of CRM 2.0 as a potential magic pill or ‘silver bullet’ for curing the ills of inadequate sales performance is proving to be more of a hindrance than help.


We are still failing to see the symbiotic relationship between education (training), process support and effective sales management. To achieve the results we require from the implementation and management of a hopefully world class sales discipline, we need to bend our processes (and software support) to fit our world and educate our sales management on how to add value to the sales person through effective coaching.

Most training and development programmes, in the B2B environment, are seen as an event that creates an instant euphoria in the participants, and an early enthusiasm, associated with the novelty and potential embodied in the new skills or processes. Typically, this wears off after the first few months for a number of reasons including:

  • Lack of forethought as to how the chosen sales principles integrate with the sales processes driven by the CRM
  • Little or no auditing of the learning process takes place and hardly any coaching of the delegates occurs.
  • Individual sales people are rarely guided through the day-to-day practice of implementing a new process with the emphasis placed on what’s in it for them.
  • Not closing the loop, in terms of inspecting results and looking to re-enforce best practice.

Comprehensive follow-up audits, professional project management and subsequent coaching of individual delegates, with the support of the training provider, ensures that any new techniques remains alive in the organisation. Effective management reports driven from the data off the CRM platform then promotes visibility and dialogue regarding key indices and improvement actions. This starts with a focus on the most troublesome of areas – that of sales forecasting accuracy.

The Need for Re-focus

The broad purpose of any formal sales methodology is to change attitudes, behaviours and skills in a way that positively impacts business results. Evaluating the effectiveness of these initiatives in order to understand whether they meet their objectives is critical so that you can measure the programme’s contribution to the bottom line and its predictability.

Systematic evaluation of CRM based sales tools and their associated training underpinning is an essential step in improving the overall quality of the broader business change programme and measuring its impact on the organisation.

The focus has to move from training as an event to training as part of an overall change programme, by incorporating a plan to shift core competences, skills and behaviours through education, training, systems support and effective management.

Nor should we be looking at training feedback sheets alone but instead be measuring our investment in a change programme and the business results that accrue.

The second post in this 3-part blog series will look at Determining Effectiveness for the organisation, as well as Reaction, Learning & Practice, associated with the agreed formal sales methodology, training programme and CRM based sales tools.

Read part 2

John Heaford

John Heaford

John is a sales skills training consultant, company director, conference speaker and training systems designer. His ultimate goal is to build world class training support tools, for distribution over the mobile internet to hand-held personal devices, to field sales professionals and business executives. He is Head of Methodologies at SalesMethods.