By Mike Kunkle
When I talk to sales enablement or sales leaders and ask them what initiatives they’re tackling or what solutions they’re implementing to achieve sales growth or improve performance, I often hear that they want to do things like:
Occasionally (but not nearly often enough), I hear they want to improve sales coaching or to better enable other aspects of sales manager effectiveness.
Those are worthy goals, no doubt. They’re also problem statements and goals, though, not initiatives or solutions.
My next question is usually “Why that, and why now?” Those answers are frequently clear, but they’re often not very detailed. When I ask about benchmarks and metrics, things tend to get a little fuzzier.
The conversations devolve quite a bit further when I start to ask how exactly they’re going to accomplish those things. Typically, somewhere after my fourth “How’s that?” or “What’s your plan to ensure that happens?” question, I hear, “I guess I hadn’t thought of that” or “Maybe we need to step back and look at this differently.”
I don’t go into these conversations trying to take the wind out of anyone’s sails (or sales). I’m asking out of a genuine curiosity to see what people are tackling and how they’re going about it. Often, what I learn is that the problems aren’t very clearly defined, the solutions are less so, and the implementations aren’t likely to make that much of a difference.
Worse, the initiatives in play are often very reactive and tactical, rather than being part of a larger plan that is being systematically implemented.
This wing-and-a-prayer approach makes me worry that problem-solving methods, root cause analysis, thoughtful solution design, and disciplined execution are waning, based on the urgency of often-reactive projects, for leadership teams with an attention span of 15 minutes. I believe we can do better, and I believe it’s up to us—the sales enablement leaders (whatever our formal titles may be)—to lift the level of thinking about sales performance improvement in our companies.
In my experience, taking a systems approach is the best way to transform a sales force and dramatically improve performance.
A system is a set of distinct parts that interact to form a complex whole. There are open and closed systems, with the human body, automobiles, and organizations being examples of open systems, where pieces and parts interact with one another.
Using an automobile as an example, it doesn’t work very well when systems are not functioning or out of alignment. Imagine an 8-cylinder car with 4 cylinders that are either not functioning or misfiring, and a problem with the drive train. This is a car that won’t be going far or fast, if it moves at all. (See Figure 1.)
Organizations aren’t much different than this. In the sales function, there are many systems in the sales performance ecosystem. Like the automotive example, if you get the systems in alignment and running smoothly, performance improves. An organization development pro would remind us that systems extend far beyond the sales function, and we’d get even better results by aligning systems across functions. But in my experience, getting some effective sales systems in place can be enough of a challenge—and is a great “land-and-expand” starting point.
First of all, there are a lot of options and systems within the sales performance ecosystem. (See Figure 2.)
It’s overwhelming to consider all of possibilities, isn’t it? I see many sales enablers shying away from systems approaches for a variety of reasons:
While we should always do a gap analysis and select interventions that are specific to the situation, I’ve found four systems to be foundational for sales transformation work. Getting these right is the ticket to entry. I call them the “Four Sales Systems,” which includes:
If you truly have one or more of these systems fully in place and running smoothly, congratulations. Move to the next one that makes sense for you. If you truly have all of them in place and functioning at a high level, I would say you are in the vast minority—based on what I see. But in that case, move on to other systems in the sales performance ecosystem and continue to build or align those systems. Or move on to other organizational systems or performance levers.
For most organizations near the middle of the bell curve (relative to having these systems implemented and running well), one or more of these systems could make a huge difference. Here are some results I’ve seen from implementing one or more of these systems:
The framework and components for each system can serve two purposes. You can use them as a diagnostic tool, to explore how well you are (or aren’t) addressing the elements of each system. You can also these frameworks as a solution guide, to help address problems and implement the systems.
This system is designed to help you hire the right sales reps and sales managers for the right roles. The elements of this system include:
This system is designed to ready and enable your sales reps to effectively engage with your buyers, uncover opportunity, wins deals, and develop accounts. The elements of this system include:
This system is designed to support the effective implementation of skills-based training initiatives to foster the adoption of the training and the change of sales behavior across the sales force. The elements of this system include:
This system is designed to provide frontline sales managers the support they need to effectively hire, train, coach, develop, manage and lead their sales teams. The elements of this system include: