One of the questions I dread most when speaking at conferences is, “If you had to choose to invest in one thing to improve the sales team’s revenue performance, what would you pick?” The choice is typically between sales methodology/training and sales productivity technology.
Let’s consider these two sales fundamentals, along with an all-important third, that we could address to significantly move the needle on customer and market growth, revenue generation, and profitability. Should you invest in mindset, skillset, or toolset?
As industry watchers and consultants, we like to ask business leaders the question, “If you were starting with a blank sheet of paper, how would you design your sales force to maximize revenue and profit and best serve your customers?” Given the evolution in buying and selling across industries that has been brought about by the increased expectations and competition of our modern, automated world, many would opt for a do-over of their existing organizational structure.
Not every executive has the luxury of scrapping or reorganizing the existing sales team. In 1985, though, we took a huge risk at Oracle Corporation (which was an emerging start-up at the time) by doing just that. Oracle boasted an unparalleled field selling organization of top professionals, to which we added both sales development (lead gen) and inside sales teams. In 1988, we introduced these programs internationally. This organizational design doesn’t sound revolutionary today, as it has been duplicated successfully by many companies and is considered best practice, but it was at the time.
What if you were to rethink the sales and marketing resources, roles, and compensation plans required to reach different kinds of buyers at different times, situations, and businesses?
Your sales culture -- another mindset -- could also be an area for improvement. Today’s customers don’t respond to pitchy “quota busters.” Companies like IBM and ADP are implementing change management programs to turn their sales professionals into “social sellers” -- those that research their buyers and provide personalized information and industry expert resources before asking for orders. Also, the old “everyone for her/himself” approach, described in books like Elay Cohen’s SalesHood, is making way for the “we’re all in this together” peer-sharing culture, in which reps share customer success stories and learn from each other.
Questions to ask yourself:
- How would you innovate and experiment with the 1985 Oracle sales model (now long in the tooth!) to modernize it?
- Can your inside team -- or a reimagined version of it -- serve customers that are currently served by field reps?
- Can your website (plus a robust chat team) serve customers that are now served by an inside rep to further reduce cost and sales cycle time?
- Do you -- or your customers -- still benefit from having a distinction between inside and outside sales in a world that is technology-enabled and geographically dispersed?
There are myriad sales skills, methodologies, and best practices courses designed to provide a common framework for your sales team and guide their sales conversations toward a successful “next step” outcome -- ideally for both the seller and the buyer. There are even popular and trendy selling approaches that are backed by research proving the right methodology yields the best results.
Although most sellers I know consider methodology and process major buzzkills, they are key elements for developing the skillsets required for a best-performing sales team. A one-size-fits-all approach, however, is contrary to the personalized everything world in which we now buy and sell. An inflexible sales process or methodology that suits your largest customers in the mid to late stages of buying may be overly complex or inappropriate for your small or mid-market customers, whose sales cycles or buying preferences are different. You don’t want your customers to feel like Ryan Block, whose infamous Comcast-cancelation-call-from-hell went viral.
Skillset training delivery options are multiplying as well. Video-based lessons are not just for university and public school students; they allow sales teams to access content on-demand on computers or mobile devices from anywhere. They can even be facilitated by trainers, first line managers, marketing, or sales enablement staff from remote locations.
Questions to ask yourself:
- What are the most important skills for your sales team to be most valuable to your mobile, online, “I want it now” customers?
- How are those skills best taught initially and reinforced on an ongoing basis?
- If field reps were to develop the skillsets of inside reps, how would that help your customers? How would it help your financials?
- Why is an inside sales or lead gen rep’s skillset considered more junior -- or less important -- than a field rep’s?
- What if lead gen reps were senior professionals and could access decision makers faster and earlier in their buying cycle?
- What if inside reps were highly experienced and could travel when needed?
How many emails, voicemails and InMails have you gotten today from technology suppliers, promising that companies just like yours have increased revenue and/or decreased cost by using their products? Today it’s a full time job to stay on top of the thousands of productivity applications that can help your team reach more people, faster, and with better information than ever before.
The most successful teams we’ve observed introduce a limited number of tools at a time to their already overworked and often skeptical sellers. In the world of technology enablement, focus is key and less is typically more, given the training, coaching, and continuing management required for successful adoption and measurement of outcomes and results -- not to mention the associated costs.
Questions to ask yourself:
- How many tools am I asking my sales force to learn and use consistently?
- Are your reps up to speed on the basics? (CRM, marketing automation, screen sharing/web conferencing? Social listening? Others?)
- Which tools are being used most consistently?
- How do they help my team sell?
- Can I calculate an ROI or business return?
- Which sellers and seller role results are measurably improved by technology?
- Can other sellers learn from them?
Rethinking sales -- the mindset, skillset and toolset -- can make the difference between an average sales team and a stellar one.