Miracle cure; courtesy Microsoft Clipart

Sales Enablement – really?!

Sales Enablement … or is it Disablement?

Sales Enablement (SE) has emerged as a business role or function over recent years and it has its origins in some work started by Forrester in 2008.  Since then SE has grown into an industry in its own right consisting of technology, training and consulting businesses that exist to support the creation and operation of SE functions in their customers.  But what is SE?  There are many, many answers to this question so for simplicity I will use the most basic definition that I could find; “The processes, practices, technologies and tools that improve the performance and productivity of the sales organisation”.  This must seem like a good thing to most readers but as someone who has worked in the field of sales performance improvement for many years I can see how SE can damage the productivity of sales organisations and, in particular, individual sales people.  To understand why I raise the original question it is important to appreciate some key points in the recent history of the evolution of sales and selling in B2B businesses.

  1. Until the mid-1990s in-company sales training schools operated by companies such as IBM, Rank Xerox, Mars and, my former employer, British Olivetti, provided the primary mechanism for the training and development of raw recruits into skilled professional sales people.  Very few such schools still exist which is why recruiting skilled sales people is now such a difficult task; there aren’t enough of them out there.
  2. Until 10 – 15 years ago, the most common model would involve a sales person; generating their own appointments, conducting the complete new business sales cycle and then going on to manage the relationship with the customer growing and expanding the amount of business being done.  Some companies still work this way but in many cases; lead generation, new business hunting and account farming have been split into separate roles.
  3. Nowadays, although the primary role of the sales leader has always been to help their individual sales people, and the team as a whole, to be more successful by using their most powerful weapon – one-on-one coaching –  it is not uncommon to find sales leaders who NEVER accompany their people on sales calls and apart from a monthly sales meeting that focuses mainly on talking about past and future numbers little time is spent with the team as a whole.
  4. It is now common that SE (incorporating what may once have been called sales support) is removing further aspects of the selling role from the sales people.

In my view there is a clear case of cause and effect at play here. Companies stopped training sales people and managers stopped coaching leading to a reduction in general skill levels, this led to the fragmentation of the selling role in the hope that a more limited scope would mitigate the lack of a complete skill set. In most cases this didn’t really work so the next move was to implement tools (CRM being still the most common example) in the hope this would make the sales people more successful.  Tools didn’t really solve the problem and in many cases made it worse as sales leaders withdrew further away from the selling front line, where they should be, in the belief that tools would replace the need for coaching whilst also increasing their oversight of selling activities.  All that happened in most cases was an increase in the administration workload for sales people.  So, we arrive at SE, the latest attempt to make the sales and selling functions more effective but this just adds to the fragmentation of the selling role and it further de-skills the sales people who are the ones in the front line actually meeting prospects and customers.

Do you honestly want inadequately trained and skilled people doing the most important job in the company?

So, my answer to my own question is; I do believe that Sales Enablement is part of a continuing process of disabling the individual sales person that commenced when companies stopped investing in the development of individual sales professionals leading to the fragmentation of the role.

This is not to say that sales and selling “processes, practices, technologies and tools” are unimportant, far from it, but these things need to be fully embedded in the day-to-day operation of the activities of sales and selling not contained in a separate function.  Close inspection will find such arrangements to be neither efficient nor effective.

Does this matter?

If your business lends itself to a go-to-market model involving sales people who are the main interface with your prospects and customers then it matters a lot.  Surely, you need those sales people to be as well-equipped as they can be as they not only represent your products and services they also represent your brand.

While taking up references on someone we recently recruited for one of our customers I was told “X made the difference; she lost very few of her customers and even some who did leave came back citing X as the reason.

I do believe that in some markets and businesses, splitting the role of new business hunting and account farming makes eminent sense and using dedicated appointment makers can also be a good solution in many cases.  However, if the journey to splitting the selling role is about addressing unsuccessful attempts to make an integrated model work then there is a clear danger that you will just make matters worse if you continue on that journey.  My observations of many actual businesses suggest the creation of SE functions is often a reaction to earlier failed attempts to improve sales performance and productivity and hence SE is just a continuation of the journey away from where the real solution can be found.Before continuing the process of de-skilling and fragmentation we recommend that our customers first undertake a root cause analysis to understand the origins of the problems they are having.

So, I am clearly very anti Sales Enablement? Wrong!

If you consider some of the most common components that go into a SE function I do think it is crucial that a company provides such support to its sales people. Examples of things I have in mind include:

  • Collateral; not just product specifications but real meaningful material that supports each sales case by describing clearly the benefits and value that can be delivered; the focus must be customer centric; what they will gain not what the supplier can provide. This is about making sure it is selling collateral not marketing collateral.
  • Bid support;  a dedicated function that pulls together all the threads of the bid and crafts the proposal is especially valuable in the case of complex deals for large corporations or government departments.  Just ensure it really is a sales proposal that matches the customer’s stated needs and do not cut the sales person out of presenting the proposal. The key word in bid support is support!
  • Developing the skills of the sales people.  Training is important to provide a foundation but the real development work is done in one-to-one coaching by the sales leader.  The primary task of sales leaders should be the development of their people, not attending internal meetings or poring over spreadsheets and other historical data.

While I think all of the above will to varying degrees improve the performance and productivity of sales operations and individual sales people it is key to recognise these things must be structured to support the front line not replace it.

Reality Check: Sales Is Like an Orchestra, Sales Enablement Is the Maestro
Spotted recently on a LinkedIn discussion

This did make me laugh! 😂

So, where next for Sales Enablement?

believe there is an important role for SE especially in B2B companies and even more so those with complex propositions.  However; there is a real and present danger that companies will look to SE as the sole means of solving sales performance issues and if nothing else is done e.g. better processes, better recruitment, training and coaching of the sales people, then SE won’t deliver the required improvements.  There is in fact a danger that over focus on SE will exacerbate the problems leading to good sales people leaving the organisation – I know of a recent example.

I think SE is at a crucial fork in the road and the chosen direction will be very important as it will impact on the effectiveness and productivity of B2B sales and selling for many years to come. Strictly SE should be unnecessary as its purpose has been dictated by key mistakes made over the past two decades:

  • The lack of investment in people leading to the progressive de-skilling of the selling role thus falsely increasing the need for support.
  • The deskilling or misdirection of the sales leader role away from people development towards spread-sheet management.
  • The over complication of the selling role caused by, for example, a misguided belief that the “empowered” buyer is now in the driving seat so selling has become subordinate and reactive.

Companies, who decide to fix these problems at their root will probably find they still have a need for SE but it will clearly be as a support function not as a substitute for an effective professional sales force. 

Meanwhile for those who do not tackle the root causes today, preferring to add more tools whilst further fragmenting the selling role. They may see SE as the solution but in many cases it will be little more than a sticking plaster and they will eventually have to address the root cause so – why not do it now?


What can sales managers learn from the Olympics?

The Olympics are over, but will your sales managers help their team strive for gold?

When I say sales managers I mean anyone who manages; account managers, new business sales people or desk based telephone sales people.  You may be the owner of a business to whom the sales people report; you are still their sales manager.

So, what can you learn from the Olympics?  In a word: COACHING; a steady, constant, cumulative process that progressively builds performance.

Whenever Olympic competitors are interviewed about their success they rarely say “I” but they do always talk about; the coach and/or the coaching team.  Perhaps it seems odd; a top athlete who has already won Olympic medals looks to someone else to help them perform at the top, but it is a tried and trusted approach.  The same approach can be seen in almost any sport and also other disciplines such as the armed forces that train and practise constantly and the arts where actors, dancers, singers and others also practise and rehearse constantly.  All of this practising, rehearsing, training, etc., is done under the watchful eye of someone who will coach as a means of maximising performance.

Sales people need to be considered in the list those who benefit from structured, regular coaching.  It is not enough to recruit experienced people and assume they will just get on with it.  It is not enough to put people on a training course and assume when they return to the office they will by magic be a different person suddenly able to do things they couldn’t even spell before the course.

The received wisdom from 1,000s of successful sales managers is that their primary role is coaching; working one-on-one and also with the whole team where the sole purpose is to get each individual sales person and the team as a whole to perform better and to be more productive.  Time spent in unnecessary management meetings or pouring over a spreadsheet of last month’s figures is a wasted opportunity.  You owe it to the sales people you employ and the company as a whole to ensure sales management time is proactively focused on performance and productivity as its top priority.

Some things to consider:

  • Allocate 5 hours per month for one-on-one coaching with each individual.  Spend some of this time accompanying your sales people on prospect and customer meetings but also some time across the desk.  The 5 hours per month figure is supported by some independent research conducted in 2014.
  • When managing telephone based sales people spend time sitting at the next desk and/or reviewing recorded calls.  Even with field based staff you should monitor their telephone techniques as well as their face-to-face activities.
  • Allocate a further 5 hours per month for group sessions delivering bite sized training sessions focused on single topics. In your group discussion include reviews of pipeline opportunities and win strategies as well as loss reviews.
  • Create and agree performance measures. Monitor progress towards these and use the results as the basis for coaching to improve future performance.  Every meaningful activity that forms a part of the sales person’s regular work should be a topic for review and coaching; you can get the group to model success for the benefit of the whole team,
  • Do not waste your time, and everyone else’s, by measuring low level activity such as total calls made – the only things that really matter are outputs such as qualified meetings and outcomes such as bids submitted and deals won; these are the meaningful activities that will act as indicators of future performance.
  • So that everyone takes this seriously, work with your HR people to formalise the coaching programme and incorporate it into your regular appraisal process.

Why not use the remains of the summer preparing a new regime to support your sales people through a programme of structured coaching?  Plan a meeting 1st or 2nd September with the whole team to launch the programme so you can really maximise the selling season running up to the end of the year.

First published on LinkedIn Pulse

How can the Sales Manager truly drive business performance?

A good starting point might be a definition of management.  My own simplistic view is that there are broadly three disciplines to consider; leadership, management and supervision.  While leadership and supervision are disciplines that act upon people and can influence their performance I feel strongly that you cannot manage people and that this discipline should be reserved for processes.  Lead your people, manage the processes and if required supervise your people but be aware that reverting to supervision typically means there is a failure in leadership and/or the processes are poorly designed hence they fail to drive the desired behaviours.

Sales management is simply a blend of leadership of the people and management of the processes.  The purpose will be to ensure the company achieves whatever goals and objectives it has set for itself.  In most cases the purpose will be to gain more revenue and probably at an improved margin, but at different times in a company’s life the sales operation may be required to support the achievement of other goals; accessing new markets (business sectors, geographic locations, company size …), introduction of new products or services, or working with new partners being common examples.

The basic model is; the board defines the strategy and the sales manager creates and delivers a plan to realise that strategy.

I have observed many sales managers, through our work helping companies to improve sales & selling performance, and a common behaviour that I see is attempts to ‘manage’ people descending into supervision.  For example, a frequent management tool is to count the number of telephone calls being made hoping it will provide an indicator as to the level of deals that might be done.  Unfortunately, measuring low level activity is rarely a good indicator of performance in terms of what really matters to the business; appointments attended, opportunities identified, bids submitted and the biggy – deals done.

I am a huge fan of Peter Drucker and one of his many observations is worth considering here is :
“Most of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to get their work done.”

So what should the sales manager be doing?

There are four things that need to be in place to maximise the chances of a sales operation being successful and the sales manager should ensure they all happen and ideally be fully involved in all of them.  Don’t be tempted to leave most of this to HR as this is abdication and dereliction not delegation.

  • Rigorous recruitment where the purpose is to take only those people who meet the pre-determined criteria for the role.  Don’t just take the best from the people that actually applied; if they are not good enough don’t take them!  Better to have the right person join you a couple of months later than planned than take someone simply to meet an arbitrary date.
  • Thorough on-boarding and induction ensuring the new recruits really understand the business and how it helps your customers; what you do, your value proposition and USPs, objectives & goals, market and competitors.
  • Training to ensure the whole sales team has; a consistent level of selling skills, a thorough understanding of your methods and processes so they can follow them without the need to be supervised plus product & proposition training.
  • Leadership and coaching based on understanding how to help people perform effectively and consistently to meet the company’s targets.

The first three steps should only be required infrequently and will typically be completed over a period of two to four months but step four is at the heart of the role as an on-going process of continual development for the team.  Think sports person; to stay at the top of their game all sports people train continually under the watchful eye of a dedicated coach; this is the primary role of sales management -trainer and coach.

leadership and coaching should account for at least 70% of the sales manager’s time

To make sure the new recruits stand the best chance of being successful it is very important to ensure consistency across all four steps.  Don’t be tempted to paint an inaccurate rosy picture during recruitment as this can lead to new recruits quickly becoming disillusioned when they eventually join and the reality does not match the hype of the interview.  During the interview process ensure the candidates understand what will happen if they join.  The key here is; no surprises!

The answer to the question; what should the sales manager be doing, is laid out in the four steps above and of these leadership and coaching should account for at least 70% of the sales manager’s time.  Sitting in offices pouring over spread sheets, attending interminable internal meetings will not help the sales people sell more.  Time spent crying over last month’s poor results would be better spent in the office or the field helping the sales people to close more deals for this month and further into the future.

I have heard it argued that sales managers have to spend time on their role as part of the senior management team or, if they have been given the title of sales director, in the board room.  This won’t make me popular but I feel strongly that sales should be led by managers not directors so there is no need to spend time in the boardroom.  As for senior management meetings; I would have thought a couple of hours per month would be perfectly adequate so that shouldn’t distract the sales manager too much either.

The purpose of employing a sales manager should be laser focused on ensuring sales people sell more and if they do not, then it could be argued that the sales manager is just an overhead.

I would summarise the role of the sales manager as follows:

  • Develop a sales and selling plan to deliver company strategy
  • Put in place metrics based on KPIs, that are totally relevant to achieving the strategy, which provide a simple performance dash board indicating progress of the team as a whole and the individual team members.  A CRM will help with this but make sure the system is a slave to the sales process not the other way around
  • Set relevant achievable targets and compensation plans to match
  • When new people are joining the sales team to take a full and active part in the recruitment, induction and on-boarding of new people
  • At all times lead the people
  • At all times focus on developing the capabilities of the people through training and coaching
  • Hold regular sales meetings where the primary focus is contacts and opportunities and identifying obstacles to overcome and strategies to apply, and sharing success stories; another approach to developing the skills
  • Meet all sales people 1-to-1 at least every month.  Ensure the meetings are genuinely 1-to-1 as it is only too easy to slip into a 1-to-0 where the sales manger does all the talking and telling and the sales person receives a ritual telling off rather than something constructive that they can learn from
  • Accompany all sales people on sales calls at all stages of the sales cycle over a period of time.  The purpose is to observe live situations which provides real opportunities to coach and may also identify areas where additional training may be required.  A typical pattern with an established sales team might involve a day a month with each sales person with the objective of attending two or three appointments
  • Manage the process not the people; coach the people in the process as necessary

Sales Manager should be a dedicated role but if the team is small it may have to be a part-time role.  This is not ideal but if it is necessary then it must be done properly and the key thing is to ensure sales management is the primary not the secondary activity.  Also be aware that the prime discipline of the person undertaking the part-time sales manager role will leak into their sales management approach.  For example, an accountant will focus on historical numbers and at certain times; month end, year end, vat return time; the accountant role will dominate – they will be of little value in training or coaching the sales people who will also only get sporadic management.

The founder/owner/MD as sales manager

In many ways this is simply a special case of the part-time manager but it comes with additional issues.  It is not unusual that the person at the head of the company has previously been the selling resource for the organisation.  This is especially true for smaller companies, or where the founder is still active in a larger business.  I would be very rich if I had £10 for every time I have been told something along the lines of “I am the greatest sales person and if only they were half as good as me …”.  This is well described as Founder Syndrome or even better the more comical version is Founderitis.

The problem is that as the founder or MD you engage in sales activities as the founder or MD not as a bag carrying sales person.  You come with all sorts of advantages arising from your position and title that gives you unfair advantage over the sales people.  Try getting some visiting cards printed with the title Sales Representative, rather than MD, and walk in the shoes of a sales person for a month – let me know how you get on 🙂 BTW, when I say walk in their shoes I mean the whole job; cold calling on the phone to make appointments, wrestling with the CRM, suffering lack of resource from the technical team, marketing or pre-sales support, etc.

Consider different selling roles

There are two primary selling roles to consider; hunters and farmers.  Typically the hunters , will be professional new business sales people whereas the farmers will be account managers who may have a professional selling background but may also come from a different discipline such as accountant, architect, project management or customer services.  It is also quite common these days that a single person could perform both roles; hunter/farmer.

While the overall philosophy of managing people will apply in all scenarios it is important for the manager to appreciate the potential for different needs and motivations of the different people.  While hunters will generally be totally focused on finding and winning new business, account managers may have additional responsibilities so managing them will need to take account of their multiple responsibilities and a balance must be struck between different objectives.

If sales management has to be part-time do it properly.

If you have such a small team that you cannot sustain the overhead of a full time sales manager and part-time seems to be your only option then consider employing a part-time manager from outside rather than resource sharing internally.

This option means you will get a fully experienced sales manager who comes with all the essential skills and experience outlined above so you get 100% effective sales management during the time they are focused on the role; more than you could expect from the accountant or MD.

I can guess you may be thinking at this point; Shipperlee is a consultant, so this is a case of the butcher saying buy more meat.  Think that if you wish but then think about all the other business functions that you outsource either because you don’t have a full time need or because you want to time share a larger pool of skills and knowledge.


Key to Success, image courtesy of Microsoft.

Five ages of a founder

You’ve no doubt heard of the various ‘Ages of Man’**, well if you apply that concept to the life of a founder, our business growth model visualises five main transitions on their continuous journey from foundation through to exit.

What are these five (st)ages?

  • Artisan; you and your co-founders do everything in the business.
  • Hero; you have now brought in others to help as the business is expanding but you have many of the answers they require to do their jobs so they often turn to you for help; you are their hero.
  • Meddler; the people you brought in are now fully capable of doing their jobs having learnt from you but they are also applying their own ideas to getting the job done. You probably haven’t fully developed your next role so you turn to what you know which is helping your people but as they now know the job you may end up meddling. Test yourself; do you find yourself saying; ‘we don’t do it that way’, or ‘we tried that and it didn’t work’ or worst of all ‘in my day ….’ Ouch!
  • Manager; this is the logical step for you from Hero. You trust your people, there is mutual respect and you know that in some cases they will have better ideas than you. Rather than measuring their activities at minute level you set them objectives and use a few KPIs to monitor progress. If your KPIs are well designed they will warn you of impending problems so you can step in to see if help is needed and if it is provide that help with laser-like focus on the problem and then step back again. This enables you to multiply your influence many times over as you are helping others to do their jobs rather than you doing the work for them; when required you are a hero coaching your people to perform better.One key thing the company will need from you, while wearing your manager hat is for you to be a rainmaker. Using your contact base and depth of knowledge of your company to create new opportunities that your team can pursue and turn into new customers. This will help you to deliver the hero role while avoiding becoming a meddler.
  • Leader; here the role is mainly about setting the strategy and ensuring the whole company is focused on pursuing it. You are confident that your managers and their people are doing their jobs driven by the strategy and the principles you have set for the way the company conducts its business. You have your own KPIs for monitoring the business and if you spot a problem coming down the line you speak to the relevant manager to see what they have planned to deal with the issue. If necessary you can coach your managers if they are struggling with a particular issue.

So, what are you? Are you doing what you think you should be doing and is it the most effective way for you to develop the business?

Developing through the stages

Many businesses feel they have no choice but to start as artisans and while that is true for many there is no reason why the journey has then to step mechanistically through the other four stages or indeed become mired at stage one.

Our formula for developing a healthy growing business can be summarised as:

  • If you are able then start the business wearing the leader hat and no other. I accept that for most this will not be possible.
  • Even if you start as an artisan think leader; prepare for the day when the business will have grown to the point that it needs a leader. By preparing in this way you will be speeding the process to when that day comes and you will be ready. Businesses that think this way invariably grow faster and go further.
  • As the business grows and you start to employ people, or get work done through suppliers or contractors, think and behave as the manager. You will need to wear the hero hat but you will do it always thinking manager, never meddler, looking to coach your people to solve their own problems rather than telling them to do it your way. In this way you will also begin to identify those candidates for succession planning and building your own confidence that the roles are in safe hands.
  • If you have followed the previous two steps you will quickly find yourself spending time leading; it will just happen naturally as a progression because you have always thought leader you will naturally become one.
  • If you are comfortable with the words used for the five stages then as you employ people and take them through the on-boarding process you can share the model with them as a way of marking where you are on the journey. Give them permission; no, make it a requirement, to pick you up when you are meddling as this will help to lock the whole team together around a common idea while helping you to stick to your plan.

The key messages here are; start with the end in mind, behave like a leader even when you are an artisan and do all you can to skip the meddler stage.

Happy hunting and enjoy the journey.

** 3 from Sphinx, 4 from Ovid, 5 from Hesiod, 7 from Shakespeare

The Rainmaker Approach to Business Growth

As a founder of a business you are often the best early sales force for that business, but if succession planning isn’t enacted, then there will come a time when other aspects of the growing business will demand attention and sales could suffer.

It is natural, if you feel you own the relationships with your customers, to be concerned that the relationships might be damaged if you are not involved, or that they only keep coming back because they are dealing with you as one of the principals. If this is the case, then it is time to consider succession planning; how else will you ever grow your business or get a true holiday?

So, as the business grows the founders need to make decisions about where they focus their time and for many this becomes a choice between; business development, creating new offerings, delivery or wider business matters such as; finance, supply, HR or recruitment. Making such choices can be challenging, especially if the founders have been the primary means of generating business as the change may portend a drop in revenue if poorly executed.

A business that having grown well starts to stagnate, with revenue staying stubbornly at a particular level, is a likely candidate for a rainmaker approach.

The issues and concerns outlined above are perfectly reasonable and none is insurmountable. The hardest part, when confronted with multiple horses, is deciding which one should be your main ride. Are you going to be sales, delivery, or a back office person? In making this decision there are a number of key factors to be taken into account:

  • Which area of the business plays to your main strengths? This may not be what you have been doing to date.
  • Which area of the business is the most crucial for on-going success? There will almost certainly be several areas in which case it is important to ensure each is the top focus for someone in the business.
  • Which area of the business is most interesting for you? This needs to be a consideration but should not be the ultimate driver in deciding where your focus your energies going forward.

If the decision is to move away from front line business development but you have the concerns, outlined above, about the impact on customers then you should consider the rainmaker approach. This enables a smooth transition from a total dependence upon you to the eventual position where you will have a dedicated self-contained business development function that is not dependent upon you for its success. Even if the decision is to focus your efforts on business development, the rainmaker approach will enable you to scale your efforts to keep the business growing.

raindanceA rainmaker uses their skills to create the environment for opportunities to germinate and grow into fully productive new customers or to facilitate existing customers giving you additional work.

Here are a few tips on becoming a rainmaker:

  • You need to learn to sell your organisation not yourself
  • When you meet new prospects or first time contacts at, for example, a networking event, conference or a trade show, make sure you use the word “we” instead of “I”. In answer to the question; what do you do? you say “we” or “our company” does … rather than “I” do …
  • You position yourself as the Head of Business Development or the Commercial Director and refer to your sales people or account managers by name
  • You explain your commercial engagement process again reinforcing you as its head but making it clear the prospect will be dealing mainly or entirely with others
  • You explain how you will remain involved in the overall strategy of the solution thus giving the other party the confidence that they will be getting a part of you.

This approach enables you to leverage your strength and the power of your position as the founder/owner without requiring you to perform the minutia of the selling role. This will increase significantly the number of prospects that you can have influence over thus multiplying the effect that you can have on winning new business for the company.

Considering this move naturally creates concern but it is a common commercial model; you don’t expect to meet Mr. Marks when you go into M&S, or Mr. Lewis when you go into John Lewis, so why should you be expected to stand at front of house all the time?

Try it; we are sure you will like it.

Radar screen

Are subtle changes slipping under your radar?

Are you like the frog in boiling water?

It is said that a frog in water, that is slowly heated, will not notice the effect of the warming and will get to a point where the heat makes it impossible for it to escape from the water.  On the other hand if you drop the frog into the already heated water, it will react immediately and do everything it can to climb out.  We quote this idea as it is commonly used by business commentators and observers rather than as an exact reference to actual medical experimentation done in the 1800s.

The point of our little story is to draw a parallel with what can happen in a business where small changes increase the “temperature” progressively making things too hot.

Common things that can happen in any business to “make the water feel hotter” are:

  • Costs slowly increasing over time tend not to be noticed
  • Revenue growing more slowly than planned
  • Margins slipping over time as discounting is used to bolster flagging revenue
  • New competitors arrive shrinking the appeal of your established solutions
  • Bad publicity damaging public perception of your industry

This slow and insidious process eventually makes the water so hot that it becomes increasingly difficult for the business (the frog in our story) to climb out.  Where ever you look there seems to be a source of heat making it difficult to decide where to start to dampen the fires.

One way to go about tackling this problem is to look back at changes you have made in recent years to see if there may be clues to the cause of current issues.  Many businesses were forced into actions by the economic turmoil that commenced in 2008 so that might be a good place to start looking.

To assist this journey of exploration we have shared a few of the typical heat sources that we see in businesses that we work with:

  • If you had cut investment in marketing and selling, but have yet to return to your pre-recession levels, this could contribute to slow revenue growth.  Also the focus of the investment may need to change so explore both the level of spend and where the money is going.
  • If, as many businesses did, you cut recruitment budgets you may now be missing some skills that the business needs to address the 2014/15 business environment which is quite different to that which prevailed in 2008.
  • A lot of companies have outsourced HR and recruitment and while that might have been the correct decision then, and it may still be correct now, you should investigate how much is now controlled outside the business.  Outsourcing the administrative areas of these functions is probably still a good thing but you should still own your staffing strategy in-house.  The subject of bringing services back on-shore and/or back in-house has received growing media coverage in recent years and just this week the BBC News had an item on “Re-shoring”.
  • Training is another area where budget cuts are often used as a survival mechanism but this can evolve into an entrenched habit of spending little or nothing on training and development.  Investing in the continual development of your staff is a sure way to keep the business sharp and strong.
  • If you have flattened your hierarchy and cut back on management headcount, if those that remain no longer have time to develop and coach their direct reports it will almost certainly be having a negative impact on the overall performance of the business.

It will not have slipped your notice that some of these steps will involve additional expenditure. Many businesses used cost cutting to survive the early ravages of the recession but cost cutting is just a survival strategy so to thrive, the business will need to return to spending on key areas that can leverage healthy growth.

While we would not recommend chasing the latest business fad or fashion we would also suggest that putting faith in if it ain’t broke don’t fix it is not a great formula for success either; after all, the steam engine ain’t broke, but it ain’t competitive neither.  Consider a mix of; keeping what is working well and is relevant, repair & overhaul where required, and upgrade or add new where there are gaps.

So; how do you decide what to change in your business?

All business functions and practices benefit from a regular review and if required overhaul; not as a reaction to an external force but as a calculated assessment of the return being gained from the activity and how that might be changing over time.

This process of review and assessment should be applied both at project level and at least once per year for the business as a whole.  In a recent article we talked about a zero based approach  where you question everything you are doing and ask; is this still necessary and if it is then can it be done more effectively?  If there are factors in your business “making the water too hot” then by zero basing everything it will help you to identify what needs to be changed and how.

Two areas where there have been significant changes since 2008 are marketing and selling.

  • The world of marketing now provides many new options to raise awareness and pique interest in the minds of those who might one day become a customer for you.  While this is of course good, the wealth of marketing choice available today makes careful planning all the more important.
  • The world of selling has been impacted by two opposing forces.
    • Firstly, courtesy of the Internet and Social Media, potential customers apparently have access to a plethora of information leading some to believe that they will make much of the journey to a buying decision without directly engaging with potential suppliers.  So, this means sales people need to be savvier about the prospects’ business issues and they need to be more courageous ensuring they proactively engage with prospects early in the buying cycle.  To do this they need to be able to focus on true prospects, understanding why customers really buy from them.
    • The second and opposing force is that the availability of fully qualified professional sales people has been dwindling for many years and this has been compounded by savage cuts in training and development budgets since 2008.  Gone are the days when it was a sellers’ market, the skills of a true sales professional are once more essential if the supplier is to succeed with the discerning buyer.

One of the things you may need to do differently is to put in place the means to grow your own sales and selling talent.

Through the quality manager’s eyes

When I write an article or a blog or make a comment on a LinkedIn discussion I always come at it from my area of expertise which is sales, selling and marketing.  So we thought it might be refreshing to provide a different perspective to the issue.

SPC Control Chart

Identifying Randomness

Di Woodcock, co-founder of Performative, was attending a recent meeting of the Chartered Quality Institute in which the subject of decision making was looked at through the eyes of sales management.  One very important conclusion drawn was that when actions don’t always produce the desired effect, maybe the basis for the decision was flawed, especially if the choice of action misconstrued fluctuations in results and outcomes as something more than a one-off.  Statistical Process Control is not just for manufacturing, it can be valuable for all aspects of business; the use of visual trend analysis based on what actually happens in the business helps you to avoid reacting to randomness by providing statistical evidence of your KPIs to support your decision making.

BTW No frogs were injured in the making of this blog!

Customer engagement for win-win deals

Customer Engagement

If your customers are slow to make decisions and your pipeline forecast is forever moving, we can help you.

If your sales force are submitting bids with a low uptake so you feel you are just providing free consultancy, we can help you.

Markets are changing and customers have more opportunities for research before they buy, consequently the sales force has different challenges in order to engage with customers. Gaining insight into your Customer’s world and thereby understanding how you can deliver greater value than your competitors can be key to how you approach your target market.

We have helped companies in various sectors re-focus their propositions and markets for greater customer engagement, leading to more new and extension business. This also assisted the sales management to obtain more reliable forecasts.

“Working with Performative greatly improved the quality of engagement with potential customers and our ability to forecast outcomes from those.” MD, Mobile Technology company.

Feel free to call us for a confidential discussion.

shorter sales cycles, new customers, more business, increased profilts, better cashflow

Challenges of the Sales Leader #3

Remote and mobile sales teams.

doing business on the move

out of sight does not mean out of mind

Is managing remote and mobile sales people really different to managing people who are entirely or largely office based?  Does it deserve an article of its own?  The answer to both is yes.

When considering this question the starting point has to be another question; what, if anything, makes managing any sales people different to managing other employees?  There are in my experience several factors that make managing sales people if not unique quite different to most other management tasks in business.  However, when considering these factors there are parallels between sales management and, for example, sports team management and leadership in some aspects of the armed forces.

The key difference in the management task emanates from the nature of the job being done by sales people when compared to other types of work.  Most jobs involve people following a routine which may be defined by a professional discipline such as; lawyer, accountant, engineer or HR professional.

Whether supported by a professional qualification or not, most employees do a job which follows a routine, set of procedures within an overall process.  The accounts department will probably have regular routines for the day, week, month and quarter.  Within the department the payroll person or the credit control person will have a regular pattern of work that provides structure to their working day.

Being office based people have regular access to their manager and also have the support and camaraderie of working with colleagues.  Working in a job with regular recurring activities provides structure and a degree of security for the employees.  Typically such employees know what to do in most circumstances as a result of the routine which means they will have tackled most problems before and therefore do not need support from their manager in most cases.

So, to those remote and mobile sales people.

What is different in their working lives compared to office based people?

  • Although some of what a sales person does is routine; make calls, attend meetings, write proposals, etc., each new customer is different to all the rest.  Different because the people within the customer are different.
  • Each customer will have different approaches, style, culture which makes each a new challenge for the sales person.  In effect each new customer is a little like joining a new company; the sale person has to learn new “rules of engagement” for most new customers.
  • Each new customer situation is rather like a game for a sports team where the opposing team presents a new challenge to that encountered in the previous matches.  So the coach prepares the team for the next match, helping them to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the opposing team and developing strategies to win the game.

All of the above applies to all sales people regardless of whether they are office or remotely based.  However, if they are office based, they can have regular contact with their manager and colleagues enabling both informal and formal support.

Assuming the sales people are experienced and skilled in their profession then the level of support required is mainly focused on coaching around individual customer situations, team training in new techniques and sales meetings where the team members can reinforce each other.  Giving this sort of support to remote sales people is quite a challenge.  If the manager has, say, ten sales people spread across the UK, they will typically only see each person once per month and once more in a monthly team meeting.  To deal with this you need to …

  •  Ensure you are aware of their diary and plan calls around prospect and customer events.  Being aware of what they are doing makes them feel you care and it also provides structure for the telephone conversations you will have
  • Schedule regular telephone contact; ideally daily.
  • Make the effort to meet individually at least twice per month and on at least one of these occasions, formally review their pipeline.
  • Make time to join the sales person in selected sales appointments.  Make sure it includes ones they’re confident about so you can see them working well and thus better help them with those they’re less comfortable with.  Don’t wait to be invited.
  • Organise team events such as webinars, weekly training and rah-rah sessions.
  • Hold monthly sales meetings when, amongst other things; you can provide an update on achievements for the previous month and they can individually present their plans for the coming months.

For the dedicated sales manager the above, even with a team of ten, is perfectly achievable provided you do not allow your time, while you are in the office, to be hijacked by non sales management activities.  However, in today’s world of business many sales leaders also have other important jobs to do such as being the MD.  For the sales leader who wears multiple hats we would recommend you get a dedicated sales manager once the sales team gets to five or more people, or their geography becomes too diverse, prior to that you should be able to deliver the recommended management regime.  Alternatively, you could create a structure within the team where some of the more experienced people take on the role of supporting and coaching two or three less experienced colleagues and your main focus would then mainly be on the two senior people.