Sales_crystal_ball When your CEO asks, "Why haven't we realized the sales performance boosts we expected when we (insert investment of your choice)

…implemented our SFA system?
…trained our sales organization?
…launched our sales portal?"

How will you respond?

If you (and the CEO) thought that investment was "the answer" to improving sales performance, we have some bad news. There is no such thing as a sales effectiveness silver bullet.

While, there are many different types of organizations that claim they can help you improve your sales productivity, few of these solutions can offer measurable gains in productivity on their own. For example:

•CRM vendors argue that implementing their software will help you drive more business by providing better structure to the sales process and improving the accuracy of your forecasting.
•Sales training firms suggest that you can improve your sales fundamentals by teaching a common sales methodology and best practices.
•Market intelligence firms claim that better and more up-to-date information about market trends and your competitors' actions will do the trick.

However, companies that have implemented these solutions report that they are not realizing the desired impact of these investments.

And now that you find your firm in this same situation, how will you respond?

Potential Response #1: "We Must Have the Wrong Salespeople"

While it's true that many executives who feel they have been burned by these investments view missed sales quotas as a performance issue, I don't necessarily agree.

Perhaps from an ivory tower, one might assume it's a simple task – selling your wonderful product to customers who must have it. While this might be a reasonable expectation when selling an item that people are familiar with (like a luxury car or laundry detergent), this perspective is dead wrong if you provide complex offerings and sell primarily to businesses. In fact it could be argued that selling B2B solutions is fundamentally harder than any other business model in the market. The basic reality is that you are demanding a lot more from your field selling organization than you may realize, which I touched on in earlier. (See “Are Your Salespeople Stupid"

Potential Response #2: "We're not meeting our sales team's needs"

Brutally honest, I will admit. But probably true.

According to the American Marketing Association, 90% of marketing collateral is never used by the sales force.  Any deep study on how sales people use their time reveal only a fraction of their day is dedicated to valued-added, client-facing activities.

The rest of their time is spent on a combination of tasks including, internal meetings, paperwork, researching customers and account profiling, coordinating internal resources, looking for or creating relevant content to advance opportunities, etc. Before we examine areas to make investments in sales productivity, lets first get a sense for what we ask sales executives to do each day (either intentionally or unintentionally).

Understanding the customer's needs. Identifying the true customer is challenging enough. With most technology purchases, there are many buyers involved. Business sponsors, IT executives, requirements analysts, financial analysts, enterprise architects, and application engineers are all common participants in an enterprise solution purchase decision. It is almost impossible for a typical sales person to understand the business goals of each stakeholder and translate your offering so that it is relevant to each of them. And, even those that can have to perform this time-consuming activity from scratch for each opportunity.

Following up on leads and prospect opportunities. What happens when marketing passes a lead to sales? All too often these leads only contain contact information and a list of products the customer may be interested in. The sales person who is tasked to follow up on that lead does not have insight into the business goals of that prospect, nor a compelling way to engage in a conversation with them. If given a lead from your marketing organization today, how would you follow up? What would you say when you called the contact? How excited are they going to be to hear from you?

Advancing opportunities through the pipeline. Sales people are expected to continually advance opportunities through the sales process towards closure. Methodologies allow sales executives to focus their skills on various stages of the selling process and define key milestones to help determine how soon an opportunity will close. However, your customers are not making decisions based on the artificial milestones that your organization sets – they have their own buying process and very few sales people have insight into how the customer will really make the decision.

Translating product knowledge into business advantages. A lot of time and energy is invested in training sales people on the functional attributes of the offerings they sell. However, sales professionals lack the personal experience of working with your offerings and have difficulty understanding why the features and functions are important to your clients. Meanwhile, your clients are less interested in the features. They want to know how your products or services will help their business. Since most sales people have difficulty making their offerings relevant to business issues, they rely on the product demo to tell the story and hope the customer will connect the dots themselves.

Unfortunately, today IT organizations are less interested in technical merits because standards are improving and they have architectural processes in place to help them better understand the strengths and weaknesses of certain technologies. They are much more interested in the elements of the business relationship. For example, they want to know how you can help them implement the solution, how it relates to their business, how you can help them justify it, what you can do the help gain buy-in, and what it will take to maintain the system.

Financially justifying investments. IT investments are under a tremendous amount of scrutiny. Organizations want to know how your offering is going to impact their business, when they will realize that return, and how that investment will impact their budget. Corporate financial metrics, cash flow outlays, and internal rates of return are all examples of topics common in evaluations of technology investments. Yet, most sales people lack the ability to have a meaningful conversation about these subjects – let alone prepare the tools to help your clients perform these analyses.

It's true that most organizations can improve their productivity with investments in infrastructure. Likewise, they can always benefit from a solid sales process and an occasional fine-tuning of their selling skills. And, no one questions that sales organizations require up-to-date information about market trends and competitor actions. These steps are critical to continuously improving sales effectiveness.

However, the fundamental sales need that organizations rarely provide is relevant, targeted content that is directly correlated to the customer's buying process and considerations. Additionally, optimum sales performance requires balance across each of the five disciples mentioned. Therefore, the best way to maximize sales performance is to view sales effectiveness as an ecosystem – one who’s governing dynamics are the unique needs of your targeted customers.