By Scott Gordon, The Chief Revenue Officer
Over the nearly two decades I’ve spent in sales, I’ve held many positions: sales engineer, sales executive, sales manager, director of sales, vice president of sales, etc. I’ve also been on the buying side of the equation as a homeowner, business executive dealing with vendors, and as an insufferable American consumer. It’s safe to assume then, I’ve probably seen it all.
Regardless of which side of the fence I find myself on – buyer or seller – the same patterns repeat themselves when it comes to sales people and process, regardless of industry or product. The purpose of this piece is to dive into some of the more common areas where sales professionals, by and large, can up their games, make more money, and have happier customers by adopting process.
My first introduction to true sales professionals was as a sales engineer working for companies like Fujitsu and Avaya (at the time a recent Lucent Technologies spinoff). My job was to support the sales teams as a technical resource. This included attending customer meetings, learning requirements, cobbling together solutions, supporting the close, and seeing the solutions we proposed become reality in our customers’ enterprises. It was a fantastic job, not only for the excellent technical and project management experience I received, but for the exposure it gave me to sales people of every ilk.
What being a sales engineer allowed me to do was observe the best sales professionals working alongside the worst while the vast majority existed in the myriad shades of gray area in between. I was fascinated how the same few sales people won every sales contest month in and month out as the worst of them complained that the contests were rigged or that the reason so-n-so always won was because “she has all the plum accounts”.
As an engineer at the time, the real answer was quite obvious to me. Great sales professionals are great because they have great processes that they follow consistently while underperformers fly by the seats of their collective pants hoping others will pick up after them and/or dump leads in their laps.
Additionally, top performers learned the corporate processes necessary to see a sale through to implementation while their low performing counterparts delegated responsibility for corporate process to back office bureaucrats who had never set eyes on a customer. To add insult to injury, often what these low performers turned in contract-wise was incomplete (since they didn’t understand the process) and required incessant follow up by customers and support staff to correct – costing everyone time, money, and goodwill.
I learned early on that sales people who use process in their businesses spend less time doing unproductive tasks (like chasing paperwork) and spend more time with their customers closing deals. They exerted far less effort to make far more money.
Sales process is understanding not only what tasks need to get done in a day, week, and month, but doing them at the right time, with the right people, in the right order to achieve maximum impact. This often requires a bit of vision.
Working backward from a goal – I need to sell $1M worth of software licenses this quarter to make quota is a start. Better is – I want to earn $500K this year – how do I do that? This is especially powerful if your stated income goal exceeds what you’ll be paid at plan since it will require you to stretch a bit to exceed quota.
Now that you know how much money you wish to make, it’s as simple as figuring out the process to get there – your roadmap. This takes planning and later working that plan until you’ve achieved or exceeded your goal.
Discipline is the act of remembering what it is you truly want.
If you had to drive from Los Angeles to New York City would you jump on the 10 freeway, head east, and hope for the best? Of course not, but sadly this is how many sales people run their businesses. They get on the road (quota) and see where it takes them (underperformance or worse).
As a consumer of everything from automobiles to windows, I’m shocked at how often a salesman comes to my house, pitches me, leaves a proposal, and disappears for all eternity never to be heard from again. I will only do business with sales professionals who follow up with me incessantly – to the point of being annoying. Why? There is a much higher likelihood that ‘follow-up’ is a part of their process and, as a result, they’ll see the project through to completion. Their reward? A consistent and growing stream of referrals from happy customers.
You see, good process also means less prospecting as time goes on even as your sales volume increases. Customers who are the recipients of good sales and operational process are happy customers and happy customers are referral engines. Referral sales carry the lowest cost and require the least amount of effort of any acquisition channel.
When I later entered sales management, I was floored by how often good closers turned in half-baked contract packages. Well, nothing gums up a construction project faster than incomplete paperwork. The project manager chases the salesman, then the customer, and finally a manager who can step in and force the salesman to do his job or has learned it’s far less painful instead to make a quick phone call to the client followed by a Docusign to mop things up on the low performers behalf (if you’re a manager and you’re doing this today, you need to stop – immediately).
In this scenario, nobody is having a good experience (most especially the client) and the company in question is shelling out scarce financial resources to do something over and over again that the salesman should have done correctly in the first place.
There was a time when I looked at underperformance as an issue with personal motivation. In other words, I believed low performers were lazy. While I must admit that experience has proven that many of them are lazy, most of them aren’t. They simply don’t know what they need to be doing to be successful:
The results are predictable – if you don’t know where you’re going, you’re never going to get there. Lack of training equates to lack of process which leads to fewer sales with higher costs.
Another less talked about issue is the fact that, unlike operations folks, salespeople, by and large, are not linear thinkers. Thus, following steps (no matter how simple) is often less natural for them. Therefore, it’s imperative that successful sales organizations make the adoption of process a natural part of the sales function. This is best done by discussing with prospective sales candidates what a typical day, week, month looks like from an activity standpoint during the interview process (and not hiring those who can’t answer the question) while in parallel implementing intuitive process driven systems for them to use once onboard with the training regimen to support adoption.
These systems should not just metric and measure activity levels, but be smart enough to suggest and direct sales professionals to those activities with the highest return on time invested. These activities should reflect the best sales practices of the firm’s selling methodology and be based on real world sales data collected over time.
Sales is the lifeblood of every organization. If your sales are suffering, if your sales organization is a revolving door, chances are you need a sales methodology and a process to ensure its adoption more than you need a pile of new sales people (sadly most organizations believe the inverse to be true).
Until you fix the root cause of soft sales (training & process), missed targets and gross margin will continue to leak out of those sales revolving doors like cool air conditioning on a sweltering summer day.
The sooner you get started, the better. What are you waiting for?