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There’s a lot of discussion in distribution these days about “sales transformation.” Between the decade-long digitization of buying and the reframing of seller activities jolted by the pandemic, many (if not most) sales organizations are wondering what they should be doing about sales transformation.
There are several obstacles to clear when thinking about this important question. For one, there is the challenge of defining “sales transformation.” Are investments in sales training or sales technologies (such as CRM) considered a sales transformation? Is a new, outbound-calling inside sales team a sales transformation? Is a hybrid (outside/inside) sales coverage model a sales transformation? If you ask a room full of distribution executives and sales leaders if they are currently going through a sales transformation, a majority will say yes. In most cases, what they really mean is that they are going through “selling changes,” which is not the same as a textbook sales transformation.
To clear up some of the confusion, I’d like to propose a simple, bright-line test for defining whether a company has already, or is in the process of, implementing a true sales transformation. Hopefully, my definition is simple enough for most sales leaders to immediately get a binary yes-or-no answer to whether they have or haven’t done a sales transformation. Leaders should also be able to identify where in the process they may have already accomplished some of the building blocks and highlight where their transformation is incomplete.
The Difference Between “Wild West Selling” and Having a Sales System
Here’s the demarcation line. Traditionally in distribution, sellers operated autonomously as independent agents; each one doing their job the way they wanted to, as long as they hit their numbers and kept customers happy. Sales managers hired people like themselves, threw car keys and keyboards at them, and said “Go get ‘em Tiger!” Sales executives, of course, could not reliably forecast or budget performance, as the variability of performance was so great that it was unreliable. Sales training consisted of lunch-and-learns with vendors. There was no formalized account management process or call planning. On any given day, sales leaders had no consistent idea about who was talking to whom, about what, or why.
This approach is a roulette wheel of performance, with occasional random acts of excellence to sustain its incumbency. If this scenario feels like your company, no matter how many selling changes you have made, you have not accomplished (or perhaps even attempted) a sales transformation. You are still experiencing a “Wild West” type of selling environment.
“Wild West Selling” is the opposite of a sales system. A sales system is characterized by a controlled sequence and linkage of inputs, processes, outputs, outcomes and metrics of success. It lends itself to a Six Sigma approach to identifying, quantifying, and remediating selling defects. In a sales system, none of the inputs, processes or outputs are random or autonomous. Sellers (and their managers) still have discretion and adaptivity, but they do so within a clearly defined sales system.
Key Components of a Sales System
In distribution, you know you have a sales system when building blocks are formally and universally in place, such as the following:
Formal, Documented Buyer Persona & Buying Process Research
If we are to design a sales system that sells more, that system must ultimately help our buyers buy more (efficiently, effectively, frictionlessly). To build a robust sales process, we must first identify the buyer personas we seek to serve, where they gather information, when/how they engage online versus with sellers, how they make buying decisions, etc. In a sales system, your company has formally identified key buyer personas and their buying processes to support the development of a formalized sales process.
Formal Sales Process
In order to help buyers buy more, we need our sellers to consistently execute a formalized sales process that is grounded in the buyer personas’ buying processes. Each seller has a defined process for how to engage prospects and customers at each stage in their buying process — resulting in a defined sales process where all sellers within a given role selling to a given buyer type sell the same way. It doesn’t matter which seller a prospect or customer engages with — the sales system and seller actions and behaviors are the same. This is the hallmark of a true sales system.
Talent Assessment & Selection
The formal sales process will identify key formalized activities that must be mastered to drive consistent sales outcomes. Because sales talent is one of the key inputs in the sales system, you must clearly define the talent parameters for each of your sales roles. Sales assessments allow you to screen for intrinsic (sales DNA) traits as well as extrinsic competencies that you can measure, train, and coach to mastery.
Continuous improvement of your carefully hired sales professionals is key to the successful mastery of the competencies underlying the execution of your buyer-centric sales process. Each seller progresses through a formal onboarding process, sales skills training (as distinct from product/application training), sales coaching to attain mastery of defined competencies, and personalized learning plans for continuing professional development.
Another sure hallmark of a sales system is formalized call planning for all sellers. Call planning maps out the mix of resources for sellers to apply to prospecting and existing-customer account management: who calls upon whom, about what, with what frequency, and to what end. A seller’s daily calendar has prescribed calls/actions, time allocation, and call playbooks to guide execution. On any given day, management knows who is talking to whom, about what, to achieve what outcome. Key performance indicators (KPIs) measure both activities and outcomes. The opposite of this is “Wild West Selling,” where each seller spends time as they please.
For each assigned existing account, there is a defined process for how each seller engages their customers to add value, assess gaps and opportunities, and engage buyers in conversations that create and capture true economic value and relationship equity. If a seller cannot consistently execute account planning and attain measurable outcomes for a given account, that account is either retired or reassigned to a seller who can accomplish measurable outcomes.
As hinted above, a sales system with underlying formalized call planning and account management systems needs to be data-driven. It is impossible to economically allocate precious sales resources without sales insights to assess the current state, defined desired future state, and specify the right call-planning allocation of seller activities to fulfill account management potential. If your call-planning and/or account management processes are data free, informal or random, you have “Wild West Selling.”
Sales Lead/Campaign Generation
With strong sales analytics to identify qualified prospects and leads for new business, and target gains in share-of-wallet, pricing or profitability for existing accounts, a sales system identifies, prioritizes and prescribes the prospecting and account management objectives for sellers to execute in daily workflow. Lacking sales analytics, “Wild West Selling” leaves sellers on their own to determine how to allocate their precious time across competing priorities (and non-priorities).
With these key components in place, management has a reliable revenue system that can be forecast, managed, measured and applied to optimize market coverage and revenue conversion rates.
A Sales System will be Your Guiding Framework
While chance still plays a role in performance, chance has been limited to its proper role. What is controllable (who works when, and how, on what, for what purpose) is managed and controlled. The building blocks proceed appropriately from buyer to seller to sales system. With this sales system as a guiding framework, investments in sales training, analytics, and technology will reliably support the performance and outcomes of a true sales transformation.
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