Training sessions that make sense for marathon runners are clearly not appropriate for sprinters, even if both want to win an Olympic gold medal. The disciplines are different. The athletes’ objectives determine their activities.
That’s the same in professional B2B selling. The business results and sales objectives determine the appropriateness of various sales activities. World-class sales performers take this practice to heart. Our 2015 MHI Sales Best Practices Study shows that the world-class segment clearly defines the activities that are required for each stage of the sales process to achieve their sales objectives (95% compared to only 43% in the “all respondents” category). This trend has increased from 2014 to 2015 by 13% in the world-class segment, but only by 7% in the all respondents category. Having a strategy and knowing the right things to do seems to be a huge differentiator between top performers and others.
Effectiveness comes first. Efficiency without effectiveness does not know what’s right or wrong.
Imagine that your frontline sales managers are focused on a certain number of prospecting calls per salesperson per day to achieve a stretch revenue goal in a few selected industries. But somehow, the conversion rates don’t improve even if the number of calls increases. Let’s assume that the organization has invested in CRM technology, in lean processes, in customer data, in targeted value messaging, etc. But were they effective? Apparently not.
FSM’s mantra part 1: Manage the right set of activities
Efficiency is clearly not the problem here. Effectiveness is. Question number one, which is in the DNA of world-class sales managers, should be, “Are prospecting calls like these the right activity to achieve our sales objectives?” They don’t ask, “How can we make these prospecting calls better, faster, cheaper?” until they are completely convinced that this is the right thing to do to achieve their desired sales objectives. As we know from Albert Einstein, we cannot continue to do the same things over and over again, but expecting different results. It cannot be emphasized often enough that questioning the current state is a fundamental sales leadership approach to developing high-performance sales teams. It’s absolutely essential. It requires sales managers to hold on for a moment, to put themselves next to the situation and to observe and analyze what’s going on and to question if these sales activities are still the right activities to achieve the desired sales objectives. Maybe it was the right approach last year, but is it still the right thing to do?
FSM’s mantra part 2: Coach the related behaviors
In this situation, the “questioning process” can reach the conclusion that the activity itself is still the right one, but it isn’t being executed with the right level of quality. Or the questioning process can come to the conclusion that the activities are no longer the right ones to achieve the desired sales objectives. Whatever the conclusion is, it has to be driven by facts and data. Maybe the salespeople had only a foundational training, but not enough practice and no regular coaching to improve the quality and the outcome of the calls? Then that’s what we have: a probably efficient activity that leads nowhere. Activities have to be connected to the desired outcomes to develop a performance culture. Therefore we need to establish a culture of learning and coaching first. In the example above – after the initial questioning process – the sales managers measure and analyze the results of the prospecting calls with leading indicators. And they share the results with the sales team. What did salespeople who had success do differently compared to those who were not successful? Analyzing the leading indicators, e.g., conversation rates or percentage of follow-up calls, with salespeople’s positive and negative experiences should lead to a tailored coaching approach that’s specific to each individual on the sales team. World-class sales managers also make sure that the best practices of top performers are leveraged to improve everyone else. Eighty-one percent of the world-class segment executes this behavior consistently and collectively, while only 32% of the all respondents segment does, according to the data of our 2015 MHI Sales Best Practices Study.
World-class frontline sales managers put it all together – in iterations
World-class frontline sales managers analyze sales activities based on leading indicators as they are happening. They are open to recognizing patterns, learning, adjusting the activities and coaching the related behaviors. And they understand that they are in ongoing iterations of analyzing, learning, adjusting and coaching. World-class frontline sales managers are brave enough to stop an activity if the facts show that it is not the best one to achieve certain sales objectives.
Executing the FSM’s mantra “managing the right set of activities, coaching the related behaviors” leads to what sales leaders are looking for: increasing sales results and productivity to achieve ambitious revenue and growth targets.