Getting it right is more important than ever!

Mention “sales management” challenges to directors of small and medium sized IT companies and observe the unfolding pain in their eyes. They are tormented by constant new holy grails of sales wisdom: “You don’t need sales any more, marketing is all you need. Consultative selling is out; you need to stimulate customers with insights. Relationship selling is a thing of the past; customers buy by committee and consensus. Cloud models make sales redundant; you need great digital marketing strategy to create a great buyer journey.” Feeling confused?

The fact that only 1 in 4 Sales New Hires deliver results speaks for itself.  This Status Quo in the industry burns not only a lot of money, but also means significant loss of opportunity.

Well, let’s ask some tough questions. If a Sales New Hire would ask a few pointed questions like: “What is our value proposition? Why should a customer care? What is our sales process? How do we out-play competitors? Where is my most promising target market? What are our success stories?“

Hand on heart: can you answer these questions? If yes: congratulations.  If your answer is: We do Challenger Sales or Miller Heiman, then you describe only a methodology NOT a sales strategy. You describe most definitely not a competitive play, because most of your competitors would have attended the same sales training do something similar. The real question is: what is the sales process for your business that gives your sales people a blue print to win? If everybody applies the same approach, everybody creates the same customer experience, the end result is simply another level of commoditisation.

In the world of subscription based business models, gig and share-anything economy, the pressure on managing not only the effectiveness but also the cost of sales is becoming a paradox. The old remuneration logic doesn’t work anymore because customer value is harvested over many years. The upfront sale is still important and competitive. However, what becomes more and more  important is the ongoing effort to retain and grow customers.  It requires a thorough re-thinking of the concept “sales force”.  All of the sudden, the rather old idea of “hunters” and “farmers” bubbles again to the surface, although we might call them today Business Development Managers and Customer Success Managers.

The question arises: How do you to make sales a core competency that differentiates you in the eyes of the customer, but has also relentless focus on delivering revenue? Here the essentials:

1)      Strategic Revenue Plan comes before Structure

Where will the revenue or profit come from? How will it be resourced? Do we have the right skills? What are the right sales cycle and value expectations? What is the pipe we need and which target markets will we pursue?

2)      Define your market position, competitive differentiators and stick with it

If you don’t know what you stand for, nobody else will.  The hardest part of committing to a clear position is that you need say to “no” to other things, so you can actually focus on succeeding in your most important big play.

3)      Clear sales strategy, structure and process  for repeatability

Document your sales process the way you know it works best, in other words, create a model  every sales team member can refer to. It works magic to qualify pipelines, focus on the right opportunity and determine what the next step is that moves the sales forward.

4)      De-risking the hiring and on-boarding process for sales people

It is critical to get the right talent for the role you need to fill. Traditional interview techniques clearly don’t deliver.  Augment your recruitment process and introduce evidence based interview techniques where you can see candidates in action. You need to move beyond hearing “what they say” to observing “how they do it”. Customer scenario simulations are best to achieve this.

5)      Introduce disciplined funnel management to get confidence in plan-revenue numbers

Assure that all marketing activity is directly aligned with your strategy and revenue plan. Make sure it’s measurable. And no, having a website or your logo is not marketing. Only consistent well designed campaigns closely aligned with sales activity deliver over time.  It’s your  engine room to produce steady pipeline and create awareness in the market.

6)      Operational Sales and Marketing Management is the pivotal role for success

The best sales people do not make necessarily the best sales managers. Equally, founders and directors who built the business on the back of their subject matter expertise find sales and its management challenging.  The operational side of sales is crucial for activity and opportunity planning as well as performance management. It is the most pivotal skill set when it comes to realising revenue plans.  The most important hire is your first sales manager.

And here comes the kicker:

7)    “What got you here doesn’t get you there” –  Challenge the sales model & structure every year

When everything around you changes means a constant challenging of the status quo. As your business changes  and grows demands a review of sales model and structure. Remember: what got you here – doesn’t get you there. Most importantly is resource and skill alignment with revenue objectives.

As always, there is no silver bullet. It is the simple truth that you need sacred time to work on the business and have the right people around you. Make sure you get fresh thinking and the “devils advocate”. The treacherous gaps between strategy and execution, planning and doing need to be bridged; otherwise any aspiration and plan remains just a nice idea.