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Sales Transformation – No Guts, No Glory

I read somewhere recently that organizations should consider very carefully whether to undertake a full-blown sales transformation initiative, because of the time, effort and cost involved.

Really?  Whatev! (Sorry, I live with teenagers.)

Yes, perhaps if your basic strategy or business model is flawed, your product has serious quality or value-delivery issues, your service delivery destroys customer loyalty, or your costs or pricing/profitability are grossly out of line, you might plug another hole first while bailing water.

But before long, you need to address revenue, profit, and growth. No organization has ever cut their way to the top. Sales remains the lifeblood of organizational success. As the old adage goes, “Nothing happens until someone sells something.” I simply have a hard time imagining a more worthy corporate endeavor than transforming your sales force into a more effective, well-oiled machine.

And I’m not talking about 3 or 5 percent incremental improvements, either.

Aim Low, Hit Low

You’ve probably heard the quote that we use only a small portion of our brain’s potential capability, right? I’d argue that generally-speaking, we’re in the same boat with our sales effectiveness.

Perhaps you’re thinking that so many organizations are already doing extraordinarily well at growing sales year-over-year, that sales transformations aren’t necessary? I do know this is true in some specific cases. Some organizations are doing quite well;  have already taken a logical, organized, piece-by-piece, evidence-based approach toward sales transformation, have addressed multiple parts of the sales performance ecosystem, and are steadily progressing toward system and organization alignment.

I tip my hat to these company leaders, but I don’t see enough of them.

Frankly, I haven’t walked into an organization as an employee, where I didn’t believe that we could double sales, with the right people, focus, attention and effort.

Yes, I said double. But if my zeal makes you uncomfortable, pretend I said 25 percent improvement. Anything but 3 to 5 percent.

Look, I want to be more positive about our current state of affairs, but when we look at the big picture, let’s be real. Week in and week out, I continue to come across these and similar data points:

  • Over the past four years, various sources, including CSO Insights, have reported that 36 to 46 percent of sales reps do not achieve quota.
  • According to Xactly Corporation, 40 percent of sales teams make less than 80 percent of quota.
  • The average tenure of senior sales leaders is 18 to 24 months.
  • ES Research Group, Inc. estimates that 20 to 33 percent of salespeople do not have the capabilities to be successful at their jobs.
  • ESR also estimates that 80 to 85 percent of sales training produces no long-term impact (after 90 days).
  • In ASTD’s report The State of Sales Training, 2012, half the respondents felt that 50 percent or less of the training they received was relevant to their job.

Seems to me that there are a few more opportunities for sales transformation initiatives.

Sales Performance Ecosystem

sales-transformation

In a post for ASTD’s Sales Enablement community recently, I talked about the Sales Performance Ecosystem, as I see it

I suggested that we’re not doing more because it’s daunting and complex, and so many sales leaders are under short-term pressure to make their numbers. I believe that’s true. Our short-term, stock-price driven economy sometimes pulls us toward the urgent and away from the important. Fact of life, though, and it is not changing. Note that panic is not a business strategy.

Over the years, I’ve seen some recurring themes that hold companies and leaders back.

No clear ownership: Look at the various functions that are involved in managing different aspects of the ecosystem. Coordinating sales, marketing, IT, HR, and others is like herding cats.

  • Sales transformation, like any major organizational change effort, rarely is (fully) successful without top-down involvement, support and accountability. Whether or not an “owner” is clear or assigned, or whether it’s a coordinated team effort, top leaders need to be involved and coordinated project management is required.

70 percent of change efforts fail: So why try?

  • If that’s true, as we’ve heard from John Kotter for a while now, 30 percent of initiatives succeed. Change leadership and management is not a mystery, with arcane secrets locked in a vault somewhere. It’s just not typically done well. Do it right, or work with experts who can guide you. There is a difference, by the way, between change leadership and change management, just as there is between leadership and management. To maximize your chance of success, you need both.

Boiling the ocean: Whether they try to do too much at once, or hold back because they fear it requires doing that to transform a sales force, I’d like to have a nickel for every time I heard “let’s not boil the ocean,” in a meeting room.

  • Sales transformation usually requires an overhaul of many areas. They don’t need to all be done at once. Prioritize initiatives based on potential impact, and do a few at a time. Do, however, have a master plan to get everyone and everything in alignment eventually, and continue to execute over time. Continuous improvement is also not a mystery. Just be clear that expecting it to happen without a purposeful, evidence-based, well prioritized and orchestrated plan, is like wishing on a star.

Not knowing where to start: Like “paralysis from analysis,” this is “paralysis from overwhelm.” The ecosystem is big, spread out across the organization, and has a lot of moving parts.

  • Using analysis, problem-solving methods, decision-making tools, and some plain old logical thinking can help you cut through the clutter. Sometimes, a tool like Kurt Lewin’s force field analysis can help. It’s public domain, free, simple (not necessarily easy – the thinking needs to be valid), and has helped many. Check it out.

Not sure how to do it: There are so many moving parts these days, who can possibly be an expert at everything?

  • In this case, the previously-perceived downside of ecosystem functions being spread throughout the organization is a benefit. Capitalize on the distributed nature of talent in your organization and involve people who are experts in areas where you are not. And if you don’t have experts in a particular area, charge someone with becoming one, hire the expertise, or outsource. Then, if you’re a senior leader; listen. Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of real expertise squashed at a conference table, in favor of an idea, which had little validity in comparison. I hesitate to say this, but very often, training leaders know how to maximize the impact from training, but can’t get buy-in to execute on what will really work because it involves more than just putting people in classrooms or taking courses

This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it does cover themes I’ve seen frequently. If you’re struggling with any of these issues and unclear about whether you should tackle a sales transformation, or how to best proceed, feel free to contact us to explore your situation and possible options. We’ll do our best to guide you. And as always, I’d enjoy hearing your thoughts in the comments.

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