When it comes to building sales, a structured 12-18-month plan pays dividends.
Regardless of what the media tells us, it’s still tough out there. In a lukewarm or sluggish market, it is tempting, perhaps even desirable if you have an antsy Board, to hire your way to sales growth. Recruiting and retaining top sales talent is a tricky and expensive proposition that only the largest organizations can afford to do well. The reality is that many successful salespeople in these environments are little more than conduits in a chain of well-orchestrated events generated by successful marketing and product development departments.
I’ve heard many sales vice presidents say, “Success has a thousand fathers.” Their success often depends on keeping feet on the street, hiring people who have strong personalities and are good at pushing product in front of customers. In hot markets, it’s hard to fail. However, despite close to 100 years of sales skill development seminars and publications, many people still push what to them looks like, and indeed may be, a hit product. But what if you don’t have the latest greatest “sells itself” product? Or if your “product” is really a service offering, what do you do with sales people who only know how to push product?
We’ve recently gotten reports from two clients that do business with currently distressed sectors of the marketplace—temporary staffing. The sales results for both companies over the past twelve months were rather startling given the doom and gloom we all read in the papers: national accounts are up 15%; there are week-over-week increases in new account acquisitions; and major accounts are up over 25. These are results that would be astounding even during a hot market, not like now, when the bread-and-butter market of their customer base (the construction industry) is lagging.
Two things stand out about these companies: their service offerings are very straightforward—providing workers—and easily copied so there is plenty of competition; and, they have both taken methodical, almost textbook approaches to developing their salespeople and sales managers. The approach has been the recipe for their success.
For those companies that don’t currently have products and services that sell themselves, acquiring new customers and growing existing customer relationships requires a consistent methodical approach—and a heavy dollop of strategy (which we won’t tackle today). This path requires planning, patience—and, most importantly, getting your CEO on board.
Here are a few of the steps toward laying out an approach that provides results:
- No matter what sales process you choose, successful implementation requires first that you plan the journey well. Define your vision and mission with the mindset of an entrepreneur and customer’s point of view. Set solid, and real, twelve-month objectives that are measurable, and that you’re willing to stand behind. Develop real strategies that will inform your organization how to meet the objectives. And plan your projects and initiatives well, so that you stay focused on those strategies—not the shiny balls that appear along the way.
- Train your executive and management team in your sales process first, and then train them on how to coach and manage the process. Inevitably, our initial conversation with the Vice President of Sales starts with a request to train the salespeople. Since a large part of what we do is training, this is of course a natural request. However, we find that in close to 100% of situations that we could train the salespeople till the cows come home and nothing much will change. It’s the sales managers and sales executives who must get out front of the curve, learn the process, learn how to coach the process and lead the way. Once your management team is up to speed, then, and only then, roll out your sales process and train the salespeople.
- Even though your sales managers have become process experts, measure and pay them for their coaching capability, not their ability to rescue the deal. Your sales managers are first and foremost your coaches. Nothing kills momentum and dumbs down your sales force quicker than a team of heroic sales managers.
- Don’t create process silos where none currently exist. CRM (Customer Relationship Management) and HRM (Human Resources Management) need to be tightly linked to your company’s sales process. In other words, measure and compensate only for the behavior you desire. Salespeople are coin-operated. They will do what you pay them to do.
You should count on a period of 12-18 months from conception to full implementation. This may seem unreasonably long in a dynamic market, especially when it’s so easy to just go out and purchase a training class, but following a well-planned process and not skipping the steps will pay dividends you can only dream of today. In company after company, in industries ranging from software to staffing to agriculture, over the past 28 years, we have found that taking this type of methodical process produces both change and big results.