November 2013 and some of us remember it was 50 years since the assassination of the late President of the United States, John F. Kennedy. We also remember in 2003 England won the final of the World Rugby Championships beating Australia 20-17 in the last minute of extra time.
John F Kennedy will be remembered for many things, but his skill to relate and talk to his people in a language they understood was fantastic. His messages were clear, powerful, positive and really got to the heart of the American people. It was not by accident that JFK achieved the position he did. One of his mentors was his father Joe who was a very successful businessman. He was quoted as saying “selling politics is like selling soapflakes”. In other words, look at your proposition, make it appealing and attractive and ensure you communicate it to an appropriate target audience.
It was with great pride and passion that the England Rugby team received the William Webb Ellis world cup trophy. What a fantastic match with nerve-wracking excitement throughout. The success was the culmination of years of hard work, dedication and practice. What caught my eye at the presentation ceremony after the game was the number of coaches who, as part of the team, received medals . There was a coach for kicking, one for line outs, one for throwing etc. These coaches are all ex players themselves who have spent many hours over the last four years coaching the best rugby players that England can produce.
Why then when it comes to business is there a macho approach that refuses help and even perceives help as a sign of weakness? This is especially true in the sales arena where, often help is needed more than ever. I have even heard Managing Directors say “I don’t need any help that’s what I pay my Sales Director for.” This statement, of course, with no consideration for the many demands placed on a Sales Director’s time on a day-to-day basis and his possible lack of ability?
Why sales organisations need more help than ever
- Over the last 15 years we have seen the flattening of sales organisations and the introduction of IT technology providing enormous amounts of data on products and customers. When, how and why are they using this valuable information?
- Add to this the reduction of effective sales development, a lack of field sales management and field coaching and, subsequently, motivation.
- Required standards of sales performance are seldom demanded or monitored. Sales management is stretched and spending most of its time on issues and with people who are making little contribution to increasing the sales performance – the wrong people.
- The sales recruitment programme lacks rigour, allowing salespeople to be employed with insufficient skills and ability to perform the role successfully. When they arrive they are given a territory, a price list, a mobile phone and a laptop if they’re lucky – but little or no direction.
As a result ,organisations are spending enormous amounts of time and resource (ultimately, money) on employing and terminating salespeople. The opportunity cost, recruitment fees, lost business and wasted management time means that money is flowing out the door with little or no return on the investment.
What can we do to improve the performance of a sales organisation?
- Build a sales plan highlighting where you are going to sell your products in terms of territory via specified channels, to a particular level of decision-maker with an agreed quantity and mix of products to be sold.
- Prepare and communicate the sales policy that supports the sales plan covering pricing, volume discounts, target markets, target accounts and how salespeople will spend their time.
- Prepare detailed sales propositions that the salespeople understand so they can articulate them clearly with vision to their customers. The sales propositions should show features, advantages, benefits, proofs of these benefits and progressive open questions which guide the customer where you want them to go..
- Set, agree and communicate the standards of performance required on a continuous basis
- Agree realistic targets to achieve the required result, for the quantity, quality and direction of sales effort both at a group, and individual basis.
- Prepare the Knowledge Attitude Skills and Habits template required for the recruitment of successful new salespeople and the continuous assessment of existing people.
- Ensure all new salespeople are interviewed by trained people (ideally, sales people) skilled in using appropriate processes and assessment tools / procedures to ensure that candidates meet the above requirements
- Introduce review procedures for all salespeople supported by a programme of joint visits with a sales manager capable of leading and coaching his sales people
- Introduce a forecasting system that demands a common qualification approach to prospects that gains credibility with the directors and gives them confidence in forecasts and pipeline reports.
- Implement a skill development programme for all sales people (and sales support if possible) which is supported by an agreed programme of field support to implement new working methods. Training on its own is inefficient and rarely improves performance
- Understand what motivates your sales people (download “How to motivate sales people” for our views) and then introduce an ongoing programme of events to motivate your salespeople accordingly.
- Ensure all departments in the company understand and support the sales effort
- Employ the services of an independent experienced sales professional to review the sales organisation and assess how it measures up against industry best practise and thus what needs to change to achieve the results
- Agree a management change programme to improve sales performance by the implementation of agreed measurable activities
Back to the rugby
The success of the English Rugby team will be well documented in many books, papers and speeches that will be delivered in the coming months and years ahead – and rightly so, but this much is common knowledge:
- They had a vision
- They had a plan and that was sold to the various investment bodies
- They communicated their plan with passion and belief
- The money provided by the various bodies was invested in resources to maximise performance
- They were well organised, professional and covered every aspect of their game in great detail
- They set standards with discipline
- They understood the competition and what they had to do to beat them
- They employed specialist coaches to work with the players – on and off the pitch
- The players, in turn practiced and worked hard improving their confidence, performance and skills
And what about JFK?
John F Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States was recognised as one the best leaders the United States of America has ever produced. He was a man who had tremendous communication skills and oozed with confidence. Despite many barriers and obstacles he managed to win the presidential election by a narrow 110,000 votes. He was a man who could sell his policies and make them appealing to the voters despite much opposition.
The difference between winning and losing is often a very narrow margin. England won the rugby final by three points in extra time and President Kennedy won his election by a mere 110,000 votes from a count of millions.
So how are you going to gain that narrow advantage for your company?
A few questions you may want to ask yourself…
- How appealing are your sales propositions to your customers?
- How rigorous are your recruitment programmes to attract and keep the best salespeople?
- How good are you at communicating with your customers at many levels?
- How well do your customers understand what you can do to improve the performance or profitability of their company?
- How well respected are your sales people by your customers?
- How good is your account management?
- How good is the leadership and direction given to your salespeople?
- How do you measure the quantity, quality and direction of sales effort delivered by your sales team?
- How do you compare with your competition? How do you know?
- What are you doing to continuously improve the performance of your sales organisation?
- Why aren’t you working with experienced, independent sales practitioners who can assist you in this process? It worked for England.
‘It is an immutable law in business that words are words, explanations are explanations, promises are promises — but only performance is realty’
– Harold S Geneen