Once again, Alabama will be playing for the national championship this year and I am reminded yet again of the importance of a comprehensive system for competitive excellence. At Alabama, they don’t just have a scheme for offense and defense, they have a system for everything from who they recruit to how they practice and prepare to how they coach. And they are fanatically committed to that system. If this approach helps the Alabama football team achieve the highest winning percentage in college football, could help your team win at a higher rate as well? Absolutely!
Let's face it, the sales profession is beset by a myriad of challenges (I know, beset and myriad in the first sentence of a blog is frightening, but hang on). Buyers engage with sellers later in their evaluation than ever before – and that’s if they engage at all. More products are sold more often, without the involvement of a sales professional, than ever before. Yet, despite our loss of control over information about our own solutions, there is hope. When buyers do engage with salespeople, that engagement will likely have more impact on their decision than the product, the price and the company combined!
Whoop-de-doo, what does it all mean Basil? (Blatant Austin Powers reference … Happy New Year!) It means that selling more effectively may be your company’s most important competitive advantage. Unfortunately, many companies are leaving sales excellence to chance and missing a great opportunity to differentiate themselves in a powerful and compelling way. These companies often have little to no formal processes for this critical business function. They often lack predictive, leading indicators for sales performance and their models for opportunity management, account management and sales coaching are often poorly defined. The result: sporadic achievement, missed forecasts and mounting frustration.
Please don’t misunderstand me, it isn’t that these companies aren’t trying to sell better than their competition, everyone wants to sell better, just like every college football team wants to win every week. However, most companies still treat selling as something between black art and acquired skill, where they either try to gain an advantage by hiring people who have already figured out how to sell or they send everyone to training once a year in the hopes that new skills will stick. What these companies really need is a comprehensive sales operating system that drives superior execution of proven skills – they need a full-blown sales operating system.
Now, before you tap out because that project is too overwhelming to even consider, let me provide a four-point roadmap and reassure you that this can be done this year.
- The first stop on our journey is to implement models for your most important selling behaviors, including how your people will engage with prospects and customers. This cannot just be a fancy way to tell your company story, prospects don’t meet with you because they think your story will be more compelling than the season finale of Survivor. They meet with you because they need help figuring out what is best for them, which means you need to understand them. Your customer engagement model should help you build great relationships by being completely aligned with what your buyers need at each step along their journey. More than random skills models, your people need to know WHAT to do, WHEN AND HOW to do it and there should be some consistency and agreement about on what poor, acceptable and exceptional execution looks like. To facilitate this, you should have clear information objectives (what you want to know about them) and models for everything from learning about their business to developing differentiating decision criteria to presenting recommendations based on their unique situation and criteria.
Key point – wherever possible you need the ability to capture artifacts for the effective execution of these models.
For example, if your people should be gathering specific information about their opportunities such as business issues and differentiating criteria, this information should be available for review as artifacts of effective, or perhaps ineffective execution.
- Second, you need a model for how your sales managers will coach and develop your people. In fact, sales coaching is arguably the single most important habit for a high-performing sales team to develop. This needs to include the cadence and approach for everything from funnel/pipeline reviews, to opportunity and account plan reviews to joint sales calls. Once again, there must be measurable outcomes for effective coaching conversations with selling or developmental assignments. With nothing to measure, you will have no way to evaluate the effectiveness of your coaches and their ability to develop your team.
- Third, both your selling and coaching models must be embedded into your CRM. This means more than just creating a few fields and reports. The typical CRM is a great platform for sales success, but it doesn’t have any applications to help people win opportunities, build and execute account plans, or coach and develop sellers. Done properly, the CRM can actually help drive best practices and help you create accountability for better selling and coaching engagements. Don’t be fooled by custom development projects with no clear behavioral models or disjointed point solutions that promise to drive any and all behaviors. Even more importantly, don’t accept any solution that treats learning and development of your team as an event that is separate and apart from their work. The most effective learning happens while people do their jobs, not apart from it.
- Finally, once you define these models and embed them into your CRM with applications that are specifically designed to support execution and promote accountability, you are ready to recruit your players. Now, maybe you already have the right team in place but candidly, the right players aren’t an absolute – it depends on the system they are in. Alabama has very strict guidelines for the type of players they will recruit. How committed are they? Each year, they are allowed just one exception to their profile. Not one per position, or one on offense and one on defense, just one … period! Once you know what system you are running, you can bring on talent that suits the system. And you can do it with confidence knowing that the right talent in the right system will consistently produce better outcomes.
But how do you know you are on the right track? Do like all great teams, constantly measure everything and look for ways to adjust to optimize your results. If you’ve implemented the right models and tools, it will be easier than you think to see the full “causal chain” for your sales successes and failures and you will be on the path to continuous improvement. As Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban says, “Process guarantees success. A good process produces good results.”
Want to talk more about a sales operating system for your organization? Visit us at www.axiomsfd.com, we’re here to help.
Bob Sanders has more than 25 years experience in sales, sales management, and marketing. Bob has served as President and CEO of AXIOM Sales Force Development from 2006 to 2018. His passion about sales behavior and coaching helps develop people into their best selves. Since Bob joined AXIOM as a partner in the fall of 1993, he's helped dozens of companies around the world generate hundreds of millions in additional revenue. Bob holds a degree in Marketing from Miami University. He has been a keynote speaker at numerous corporate events and industry conferences. He is a founding underwriter and frequent contributor to the Sales Management Association. He co-authored AXIOM's “Selling Sciences Program™” workbook and audio program, and is a contributor on "A Journey to Sales Transformation". When Bob is not advocating on behalf of buyers and sellers worldwide, he is an avid cyclist, father, and husband.