Shareholders have experienced an interesting seven years since the crash of 2008. Most investors, having learned lessons from buying into rapid growth companies that became unstuck, are now reacting to the economic upturn by looking for companies to deliver a more realistic, but sustainable, return on their investment.
Today’s new breed of shareholder is far more interested in the details and business leaders across most sectors are under great pressure to develop and execute clear strategies for sales growth that will gain sustainable momentum and demonstrate clear evidence of breakthrough in terms of achieving sales transformation during 2015.
Achieving Sustainable Business Growth in Sales
When it comes to leading sales and business development teams to generate sustainable revenue growth, many organisations put tactical initiatives in place which initially have a positive impact. However, most of these initiatives ultimately fail because they don’t embed effective processes, systems, skills, attitudes and behaviours that have a lasting impact on their sales peoples’ performance.
If business leaders are to satisfy the expectations of today’s new breed of shareholder, they must develop the productivity of their sales and business development teams in a way that systematically (and permanently) delivers a truly different experience for their customers and their people.
As a sales leader, regardless of when your fiscal year starts and ends, you’re probably under real pressure to demonstrate breakthrough in terms of delivering sustainable growth across your sales function in 2015. To achieve this, we recommend that you start taking the following actions now:
1. Enable your people to create sustainable value for your customers.
2. Develop a clear and joined up sales transformation strategy.
3. Communicate in a way that gets real buy-in to the transformation.
4. Develop a winning attitude that drives confidence and success.
5. Drive the implementation and embed new ways of working.
In this article, we’re going to go through each of these steps to help you to achieve accelerated traction, momentum and, ultimately, breakthrough in terms of:
- Driving sales excellence across your organisation;
- Transforming your customer and employee experience; and
- Delivering sustainable business growth in 2015.
By ensuring that you have each of the following steps in place, you can put yourself in a great position to convince your shareholders (and other key stakeholders) that you are effectively leading your people, leading your target markets and, ultimately, leading your whole organisation to maximise the value it creates.
1. Enable your people to create sustainable value for your customers
Most sales organisations put strategies in place which focus on prospecting and product (or solution) campaigns. They benchmark their peoples’ performance against targets such as the number of customer calls or meetings made, the number of leads generated, the value of sales pipeline and conversion rates.
However, these types of incentives encourage sales people to make as many client interactions as possible, often incentivising them to push the features, advantages and benefits of their products (or solutions) onto prospects and existing customers. This fails to create value for the customer because everything is geared towards the sales organisation’s interests rather than the interests of the buying organisation.
While this approach might lead to initial sales growth due to the sheer number of interactions that sales people are encouraged to make, this growth is rarely sustainable because the sales force won’t systematically create ongoing incremental value for your existing or prospective client base.
Segmentation, targeting & proposition roadmaps
Today’s buyers are looking for sales people to take a more consultative approach to the sales process. They want to buy from organisations that enable their people to create real business value for their clients.
Instead of cold calling an untargeted list, the sales process should begin with segmentation and targeting. Segmenting prospects and targeting markets where your company and solutions add the most value will enable you and your people to build clear, compelling and differentiated propositions that are tailored to the needs of each and every existing and prospective customer. This will, in turn, enable your people to make every customer interaction count in terms of generating sustainable revenue growth.
You should also offer ‘customer journeys’ in your value propositions which map out the value of the partnership with your company from early tangible gains to medium and long term solutions that offer transformational benefits for the customer.
By embedding segmentation, targeting and proposition roadmaps into your sales strategy, you can enable your people to engage the right prospects with the right propositions that will create ongoing incremental value for your customers and drive sustainable business growth for your organisation.
Make every client interaction count
To deliver sustainable growth, you should also provide your sales and business development teams with a methodology for consultative selling (including a process, tools and techniques) that is proven to systematically maximise value for your clients and your own organisation.
Your chosen methodology should enable your people to maximise the impact of every client interaction at every level, including:
- The transaction level – to maximise their effectiveness in every call and meeting.
- The campaign level – to maximise their chance of succeeding in every complex sales opportunity and in every team or divisional sales campaign.
- The relationship level – to maximise the value of every client relationship.
- The market or territory level – to maximise the value of every target market sector and/or territory where your organisation can create value.
At the transaction level, you should have a structure, tools and techniques in place which ensure that your people lead the customer’s agenda for change, challenge the customer’s current thinking and use every opportunity to broaden and deepen the customer’s realisation of the transformational value that your company can create for them (regardless of what you are selling).
At the campaign level, you should ensure that a process for up-selling and cross-selling is embedded into the sales function’s planning and execution processes to differentiate your propositions and maximise value. Ensure that your people are trained and coached to systematically differentiate, up-sell and cross-sell in every campaign.
At the relationship level, you should ensure that your people systematically maximise and accelerate the mutual value realised from every existing and new relationship. If your key account managers and directors are not already doing this, you seriously run the risk of losing your competitive position, regardless of whether you sell to businesses or consumers. A customer relationship should grow in value for both parties otherwise you are at risk of a competitor making a better offer. If you can embed the skills, attitudes and behaviours required for accelerating and maximising the lifetime value of every relationship, your teams will quickly achieve breakthrough in terms of transforming their overall performance in a sustainable way.
At the market or territory level, your people should systematically ensure that their sales efforts are focused and tailored so that, given the available resources and opportunities, they maximise their impact. This means having clear processes for segmentation, qualification and targeting. It also means taking a structured approach to planning and execution across every market and territory to ensure that you and your teams maximise returns.
Giving your people a process, as well as the attitudes, skills and behaviours, that will enable them to systematically accelerate and maximise their impact at every level of client interaction will enable you to accelerate breakthrough in terms of delivering sustainable growth. It will significantly increase sales productivity and margins as it will enhance your company’s ability to differentiate itself from competitors with a professional approach to selling that transforms the experience for your customers and the performance of your employees.
Sales management enablement
From our experience, most sales organisations limit the potential value of their client interactions because their managers focus most of their time tracking and reporting upwards on forecasts. This often leads to an urgent need for performance management reviews and ‘get well’ plans as a lack of focus results in sales targets being missed.
In contrast, successful sales organisations develop and embed a more proactive approach to sales leadership, coaching and management into every aspect of their performance management and sales development processes. They make every client interaction count by giving their sales managers a process that gives them the skills, attitude and space they need to be great managers, coaches and leaders.
By equipping your sales managers with best practice sales management, coaching and leadership skills, their world will become a different place. They will no longer face the common dilemma of spending too much time analysing and reporting on poor performance. They will be able to focus on effectively driving momentum in terms of achieving sustainable sales growth for your organisation by the end of this year.
2. Develop a clear and joined up sales transformation strategy
In today’s world of B2B selling, sales leaders typically put numerous tactical sales development initiatives in place to address specific issues. However, most of these individual initiatives fail to deliver sustainable business growth because they are not joined up or aligned to a clear overarching sales strategy.
At best, initiatives which are not aligned to a clear strategy for change will drive confusion and inefficiencies. At worst, they will actually slow down (or even prevent) the attainment of sustainable growth.
The dreaded “death by 1,000 initiatives” is incredibly common in many large and medium-sized sales organisations and always has exactly the opposite effect to what was intended by its creators. As a rule of thumb, you should only ever have a maximum of five headline change initiatives and you should make all of them part of a single, joined-up sales transformation strategy.
Strategic vision & credible goals
To deliver sustainable business growth in 2015, you should have a clear and compelling strategic vision and credible goals for what the sales function (and the process of selling) will look and feel like (for customers and employees) by the end of the year. To do this, as Stephen Covey once wrote, “Begin with the end in mind and work backwards”.
“Begin with the end in mind and work backwards.” Stephen Covey
As you work backwards from your vision and goals for the year, you should set out clear sales enablement milestones and plans for embedding effective processes, propositions, skills, behaviours and attitudes that will enable your teams to achieve real traction, momentum and, ultimately, breakthrough in terms of achieving your strategic vision and delivering sustainable business growth by the end of the year. This will enable you to ensure that both the substance and timing of every sales development initiative is aligned to achieving your vision and goals.
Involve capable people
You should also invite capable people from all levels into the planning process to bring their insight and ensure that your strategy is connected to what counts on the front line. As well as making sure that your strategy is in tune with what really goes on, it will free up your own time and help you to develop influential supporters at every level of your own organisation who will champion your cause and motivate their peers to buy into your strategy.
By taking a strategic approach to sales transformation, you will avoid the common pitfall of suffering from “death by 1,000 initiatives”. You will ensure that your strategy is relevant and achievable and you will be able to give the sales force the clarity it needs to gain the traction and momentum required for delivering sustainable growth by the end of 2015. You will also take a much more strategic approach to leading the sales force, in terms of the way you lead your marketplace, teams and stakeholders while becoming a master your own effectiveness as a leader of growth.
3. Communicate in a way that gets real buy-in to the transformation
Many companies fail to deliver sustainable business growth because their sales transformation strategy is not communicated to their people in a way that gets buy-in or motivates them into purposeful action and urgency.
Poor communication of your sales strategy can have a seriously negative impact on motivation and achieving your desired outcomes, especially with a sales function. Sales people are focused on getting the best results and the biggest rewards from their efforts. If you get the communication of your strategy wrong, it can lead to your people seeing the transformation as an unnecessary inconvenience that takes them away from selling, rather than enabling them to be better at what they actually do and reach greater levels of achievement, recognition and, ultimately, reward.
Put simply, if you’re unable to sell your strategy sales transformation to your people, then don’t expect them to be committed to developing the skills, behaviours, attitudes and focus that is required for achieving sustainable business growth.
Resonate with their needs
To get your people to buy-in to your strategy and motivate them into purpose and urgency, you should clearly communicate your sales transformation strategy to them in a way that resonates with their needs, as individuals and as specific teams.Make it clear how the strategy will contribute to their goals (as well as your own). Remember to keep it simple in terms of how all of the relevant initiatives fit together to deliver for you, your shareholders and for them.
Communicate your sales transformation strategy in a way that resonates with their needs.
To accelerate results, you should also communicate and lead the strategy with gravitas. Engage them with clarity, impact, empathy, passion and a commitment to achieving outstanding results. Position your strategy within the context of the environment your people are operating in and emphasise how the environment is becoming more challenging. Recognise the pressures and challenges they face, what that means to them if they don’t change and what’s in it for them if they pull together to deliver to your expectations. In other words, you have to adopt a consultative approach to sell the initiative to them!
By communicating a clear sales development strategy in a way that relates with their world and motivates them to put real purpose and urgency into making the transformation a reality, you can accelerate your organisation’s journey towards achieving breakthrough in 2015. You can maximise your impact as a leader, enabling your people to individually and collectively gain traction, develop momentum and achieve breakthrough in terms of driving sales excellence and sustainable growth.
4. Develop a winning attitude that drives confidence and success
While it is crucial to have a process and supporting infrastructure in place which encourages a consultative approach to selling to unlock true value for your customers, it is also crucial to develop a winning attitude and culture in your people which enables them, as individuals and teams, to relish and rise to the challenges that they will face.
To ensure that your people drive sales excellence and deliver sustainable growth, try to make sure that they have a positive mindset, confidence in their own ability and respect for their colleagues and clients at all times. To achieve this, you should make sure that you lead in a way that motivates them and gives them the confidence they need to deliver. Give them a real purpose and conviction that drives them to delight their customers, beat the competition and exceed expectations. Remember, confidence is a good thing, particularly in a sales force.
Don’t make the sales process (or structure) too rigid or you will stifle creativity, as well as the entrepreneurial spirit and motivation, of the sales force. A rigid sales process can be a significant barrier to your success. However, do make sure that your people are systematic in the way that they sell. Give them the confidence and creativity that comes from a winning attitude, but also expect rigour and discipline to make sure that they can foresee problems before they occur and take action when necessary.
5. Drive the implementation and embed new ways of working
As the final step towards making 2015 the year of sustainable business growth for your organisation, you should ensure that every team and individual takes ownership for executing the sales transformation strategy with urgency and focus at every level.
To drive the implementation of the sales transformation and embed new ways of working, you should ensure that every team and individual:
- Takes ownership for delivering results at every stage of the journey.
- Constantly reviews progress against your plans.
- Forecasts (and re-forecasts) outcomes.
- Qualifies (and re-qualifies) opportunities and threats.
- Realigns their plans.
- Reports on actions as they drive forward with the transformation.
To achieve this, you should embed professional performance management and development processes into ‘business as usual’ across the sales function. This can be achieved through regular performance reviews, assessments, feedback and coaching sessions embedded into the management culture at all levels.
To get early traction and progress, you should drive the implementation of your strategy and push towards building the momentum required to achieve real breakthrough in terms of achieving your milestones and delivering sustainable business growth.
You should also develop and personally oversee a sales transformation programme control board to ensure that milestones are being met, progress is being made, recognition for successes is swift and risks are assessed and addressed before they become a reality.
Once the new ways of working become second nature and embedded into the culture and ‘operating rhythm’ of the organisation at every level i.e. when breakthrough is achieved, the organisation will feel very different and you will realise your vision for delivering sustainable business growth in 2015…and beyond!
Written by: Steve Eungblut, Managing Director of Sterling Chase