The art and science of sales leadership is clearly complicated, but the fundamental goals of sales leadership - at least from my observations of complex B2B sales environments - seem to be remarkably consistent:
- They want to be confident that they are going to consistently achieve their revenue targets
- They want to progressively narrow the performance gap between their best sales people and the rest, and
- They want to ensure that they hire the right new sales people and make them productive quickly
If any of these goals are important to you, I hope the following experiences might prove relevant to your situation...
Every sales leader wants to be confident that their sales organisation is going to consistently achieve their sales targets - and yet the end-of-month or end-of-quarter is a stressful time in most sales environments.
It’s worth reflecting on the most common causes:
- Their sales teams simply aren’t working on enough well-qualified, highly developed sales opportunities - so they end up having to attempt unnatural acts to close business before it is ready
- Their sales teams have failed to make a strong enough connection between the specific business value of their offerings and the specific business issues of their customers
- Their sales teams have missed out or rushed through some essential elements that the customer needs to go through in order to advance their own buying decision process
Every sales leader worries about an over-dependency, quarter-after-quarter, on a handful of top sales performers and wants to narrow the gap between their best sales people and the rest.
This also has a small number of common causes:
- They haven’t made enough of an effort to understand exactly what it is that their top performers do differently - sometimes assuming that it is simply down to raw talent and not recognising that much of their success can often be attributed to learned behaviours
- As a consequence, they have been unable to incorporate these winning behaviours into simple frameworks and checklists that every sales person can be guided to adopt and apply
- They haven’t invested enough effort in the targeted training, coaching and mentoring that is required to move middle-of-the-road sales people with potential into the sustained high-performance zone
Every sales leader wants to ensure that they hire the right new sales people and make them productive quickly, and to avoid getting into a desperately unproductive hire-fail-and-fire cycle.
Unsurprisingly, there are a handful of common causes here as well:
- They have focused too much on the apparent historical achievements of candidates and not enough to assessing the aptitude, attitude, and their ability to thrive in their new organisation’s culture
- They train their new hires in what to sell (product training) but (when hiring experienced sales people) unwisely assume they know how to sell and so fail to train them in how to sell successfully in their new organisation’s specific environment
- They fail to invest enough time in coaching these new hires during the critical first few months of their tenure - when the foundations of long-term success or failure are established
What’s holding you back?
These goals - consistently achieving revenue targets, progressively bridging the performance gap, and recruiting and onboarding the best sales talent are close-to-universal objectives for most sales organisations.
But it’s also true that many sales leaders (and their Chief Executives) find themselves frustrated by their inability to reliably achieve these goals. And it should be obvious that the challenges that are holding them back are equally common.
There is, in my experience, an often-untapped opportunity to do better - and working harder clearly isn’t going to be enough to move the dial. Now, more than ever, sales organisations need to work smarter, to encourage winning behaviours and to eliminate bad practices.
But in complex B2B sales, we’re not going to achieve our goals through the application of canned scripts or rigid processes. We can only make progress through the application of flexible frameworks that make the collective wisdom of our top performers accessible to all.
This doesn’t have to be an expensive, complicated or time-consuming exercise. You can start simple and grow. Here are half-a-dozen things I suggest you focus on first:
- Taking the time to observe and understand how your top sales performer’s behaviours differ from those of the rest of the sales organisation
- Based on these insights, clearly defining your sales pipeline stages and ensuring that every member of the sales organisation understands what best practice indicates they are expected to know and do at each stage, and which milestones need to be completed before they can advance the opportunity to the next stage
- Establishing clear and consistent guidelines for opportunity qualification, and insisting that every member of the team regularly re-qualifies their active sales opportunities
- Establishing similarly clear expectations for proposal generation, with a particular emphasis on ensuring that every proposal includes a personalised executive summary
- Separating forecast meetings from opportunity reviews, and using the latter as a platform for targeted opportunity coaching
- Training your managers on how to coach their staff, and insisting on regular skills-based 1:1 coaching sessions
There are, of course, many more initiatives you could and should be taking to give you the best possible chance of achieving your goals, but these represent a pretty good start.