After decades in sales management and training, what still drives me crazy is the widespread belief that creating a great selling organization is about hiring good sales people. Time and time again, I’ve discovered it’s not the people you hire that counts in making a successful sale, it’s your strategy.
Sales managers need to craft a selling strategy that defines three things:
- How you are going to engage in the market
- How you will add value to your customer
- How your product or service differentiates itself
Sales is a discipline, like manufacturing, engineering, and accounting, which, like any discipline, is built on standards. Sales is not an “intuitive” art form based on some sort of innate abilities and gung-ho attitudes. Let’s call it what it is: a discipline. You can’t simply hire sales people and let them run – there must be an overall playbook for sales as there is for other serious business operations.
In the playbook my sales and marketing consulting firm has developed over the years, there are three mandatory stages to designing how a sales force needs to operate:
- Start by understanding the target market’s buying process. It is the buying process that makes things happen, not the sales process.
- Craft a sales strategy to fit the company. Although this may seem obvious, it’s far from easy or obvious in most cases. For example, most companies we work with say they want their sales force to focus, but then they don’t know how they want to respond to opportunities that might exist outside of that focus. They say they want the sales force to call high, but then can’t articulate what would be of real interest to targeted executives when the sales force does call high. A well-thought out strategy, which examines all possible scenarios, will determine how the company will sell.
- Design the sales process. The overall sales process needs to identify the three “w’s:” who is going to do what when, so as to synchronize with the customer’s buying process and also move that buyer forward, to complete the selling process.
Based on the outcome of this three stages, we can determine what skills are required by sales people to be successful in their role; we can equip them with the right tools to do the job; and we can manage, measure, and coach in a way that is both consistent and objective. In other words, we can turn sales into a discipline, with standards, tools, and measurable outcomes.
If we had allowed manufacturing to continue the way we have treated our sales force, factory workers – no matter how good their intentions – would be working without overall coordination and without defined procedures. This was the case on the manufacturing floor decades ago, until competitive forces encouraged companies to embrace process, to coordinate and manage functions. Now the same must be done for the sales function if it is to become a high-performing component of business.