Having grown up a sales person and then gone into sales and general management I have been all sides of the fence when it comes to building efficient and effective sales programmes. The big difference – depending on where you sit – is whether you believe there is a need for structure and process.
As sales person I appreciated the structure of a territory, a strong portfolio of products and services, marketing support and a fulfilment capability that ran as smooth as clockwork. But I didn’t appreciate “admin”. I always seemed to be in conflict with what I thought was worthwhile against what my business valued.
When I moved to sales management however I started to appreciate the need for a sales process. I did not want to be simply a policeman – checking activity, qualifying forecasts and managing with a carrot and stick. A sports background has taught me the value of a common purpose and coaching and in the same way that a sports coach needs a game plan I knew I needed the benchmarks against which I could coach how to get the best out of a situation.
When I moved into general management my target was no longer a sales number, it was a P&L measure which meant I needed to achieve a number of different goals including the efficient and effective allocation of resource. I could not do that through guesswork, I needed key performance indices (KPIs) that let me understand the dynamics of what was going on and I would then drill down in to the activities that contributed to the KPI under scrutiny.
All very logical. So what?
The “admin” I resented as a sales person was “unnecessary” reporting forced on me by what was called the sales process. This included my monthly forecast, opportunity reviews, account reviews, database management and anything else that kept me from face time with the customer.
And yet this “admin” serves two key purposes.
Firstly, without understanding what is going on in an opportunity or an account a sales manager has no chance of delivering the real value he or she can offer – effective coaching. You cannot provide advice without the benchmarks of “what good looks like” and where we are against them. If, as a sales person, I am forecasting an opportunity I want my manager to be able to give me insight not only with regard to whether I am calling it right but also with regard to how I can win the bid. The better the sales manager coaches the better sales person will become.
The second is that the greatest barrier to a sales person’s success is, more often than not, internal conflict. Resource allocation, pricing strategy and the eternal “lead or no lead” debate are just a few examples. To be a mean, lean selling machine requires a common language and a cross-functional alignment with a common purpose. Only by having your whole organisation recognising the labels attached to the various stages of the sale can you start to mitigate against the conflicting priorities.
Your organisation equally though has a responsibility to you. It needs to recognise and promote coaching as a key management role and to promise to take unnecessary activities away – focussing as much on the efficiency of the sales process as the effectiveness of it. The golden rule regarding sales process? Never ask a salesperson to anything twice!