In the book ATOMIC HABITS, the author James Clear says that companies and people do not rise to the level of their goals, but rather they fall to the levels of their systems.
I for one agree with his statement, which certainly includes the sales and retention organization in most organizations. For this article, I’m going to focus on the sales organization.
So, what do systems do for us? Systems provide a consistent support structure for processes and pathways. Actively working the system offers the organization efficiency, predictability, and accountability. I’m sorry to say that in my experience, the typical sales team is inept at capitalizing on the power of systems. All one needs to do is open the CRM of most sales organizations and you’ll find a database about as unused as the old cassette player in your basement.
Many companies refer to sales executives as “individual contributors” who bring home new clients to the company leaders who are waiting with flowers, parades, and the red carpet rolled out. Rarely does anyone ask how they did it, they are simply thrilled to have a new customer.
What I’m saying is that sales executives are often given a lot of latitude to do their jobs and held accountable for only one thing - meeting their sales goal.
Nobody reports to the sales executive, which is the lens that Human Resources or leadership sees them through. Hence the label “individual contributor”. The value of a talented and producing sales executive in any organization is very high – but they do a job like everyone else in the enterprise. Too much fanfare can and does have a negative impact. Sales Executives should not function as “mavericks” and be aligned with the company goals and collaborate with others on the team. No exceptions.
Takeaway: Many sales executives do not like systems and are reluctant to use them. But it is imperative that they do.
More Than Goals
Sales leaders are responsible for ensuring tools and reporting systems are utilized and accurately reflect what the sales team is working on in their cumulative pipeline. This is not an easy task if members of the sales team believe they are untouchable and feel like the “administrative tasks” are meant for someone else to do.
Commonly known as Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems, give the sales leader and the organization line of sight into prospective opportunities, the actions being put against each one, and approximately when they will close. This in turn enables the organization to forecast revenue growth and plan for resourcing new client openings.
The sales leaders must also be responsible for understanding how the CRM in use effectively serve the needs of the sales executives and the organization. Strong CRM’s can easily schedule future tasks, calendarize meetings, set reminders and synchronize with mobile technology for convenient use.
Perhaps the most vital part of the sales systems is the insights that can be learned, and adjustments that can be made in the sales process or even the value proposition.
Takeaway: Adhere to and adjust systems to tangibly serve the sales team members, not just the finance group.
The Annual Sales Plan
Most if not all companies develop an annual strategic plan that clearly spells out the expectation for revenue growth and profitability. Sales and growth leaders contribute to developing these plans.
Every member of the sales team should write their own territory sales plan, all of which directly builds from the company strategic sales and growth plan. However, the individual sales plan should define specifically how they intend to achieve their own goal. The plan should include an updated target list of their prospects, the specific actions they will take to engage with them and how often they will take each action, be it a call, an email, a social media “touch”, etc. It should include what industry associations they will attend to engage prospects. Comprehensive sales plans will also include actions they will devote to industry publications, and self-development.
Takeaway: Writing out a plan and sharing it is the same as making a commitment to action. The Sales Plan represents how sales executives will work toward achieving their goals.
Focusing only on the fiscal year sales goal is a recipe for mediocrity. Sales leaders and sales executives must understand which activities in the sales process, when performed well, will drive sales through the pipeline process. For example:
How many reach-out attempts does it take to secure one introductory meeting?
How many introductory meetings with clients will advance to a second deeper discovery meeting?
How many discovery meetings take place before a proposal is delivered?
How many proposals are delivered that result in a follow-up meeting or presentation?
How many post-proposal meetings are there before a decision is made?
How long is the average sales cycle from the point of the first meeting to the contract signing?
How many proposals are the result of a formal bid request (RFP) and how many are not?
This list can go on, but the important thing is that sales leader and the sales executives understand which data points focus on the key activities needed to drive the process. These activities become the subject of regular coaching and accountability discussions between the sales leader and the sales executives.
Takeaway: Focusing on the scoreboard doesn’t move the needle. Focusing on leading indicators is what drives change and different outcomes.
A Word About CRM
Not all Customer Relationship Management systems serve the sales organization well. Choose carefully when selecting which one you want to use. They should not be just a system to house contact data that feeds financial forecasts to finance and other leadership.
One that also serves the sales executive is a plus. One that will help them segment and work their target lists, schedule their reach outs well in advance, connect to their calendar for visual reminders, provide important notes on previous dialogue, house documents associated with their prospects and more. Nothing triggers frustration in a sales executive more than being asked for information that they’ve already taken the time to enter into the CRM system. I promise you this is a quick way to demotivate them to use the system.
Takeaway: When selecting a CRM, choose wisely. Be certain it has the capability to deliver value to the sales team, not just the finance team.
There Is More
James Clear’s comment in his book ATOMIC HABITS is completely accurate. Sales goals that are supported by systems help the sales executive’s ability to manage effectively and efficiently. This is extremely important and not to be understated.
But systems cannot create and foster meaningful relationships. Soft skills like building trusting relationships, collaborative solutioning and having strong emotional intelligence (EI) constitute the other vital ingredients to building strong partnerships in the B2B world. And this this leaves room for another article on the topic of emotional intelligence and soft selling skills.
To learn more about 4xi, strategic account management, and TRUE NORTH© you can contact Ed directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our website to learn more about who we are, what we do, and how we inspire a brighter future, together: www.4xiconsulting.com
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
ED SNOWDEN Strategic Business Consultant
Sales Growth and Client Retention Ed has over 45 years of progressive growth in leadership responsibility at two Fortune 500 management services and hospitality companies: ServiceMaster and Aramark.
At both organizations he was regularly promoted based on his performance and was awarded several awards in both sales and operational roles.
As Vice President of Operations, Ed provided leadership for a hospitality team of over 500 people and an operating budget of over $60MM which he successfully renewed for five years. He has extensive experience in a multitude of business capacities including strategic account management, sales, and growth leadership.
As Vice President of Strategic Partnerships, Ed was responsible for cultivating professional relationships for the company’s largest healthcare clients in North America valued at over $350MM annually. In that role he assisted in the writing of a living Strategic Account Management Playbook.
At 4xiGlobal Consulting, Ed co-authored the TRUE NORTH© Strategic Learning Academy centered on creating a new mindset for developing and retaining the best business partners, winning better, retaining better business.
4xi Global Consulting & Solutions is a team of talented leaders from both the client-side and service provider side, impacting the Human Experience (HX) for people at work, in education, rest, and at leisure.
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