Smart Management: Solving The Sales Productivity Dilemma |
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Smart Management: Solving The Sales Productivity Dilemma

Yes, you need to grow sales.

As your company emerges from the recession, senior management is challenging you—the sales leader—to increase sales growth. With CFO-mandated cost controls in slow retreat, you now need to make sales force investments to improve productivity.

But where? You know the sales numbers should be better. The win rate should be higher. Your market share should be increasing. And the sales loading per sales rep should be greater.

The field has plenty of excuses: "The product is wrong." "We don't have leads." "Our Website is anti-customer." "The 800-line is incompetent." "Operations isn't doing its job." "The pricing department does not respond to e-mails."

But you know better. Excuses notwithstanding, there is much work the sales department can undertake to improve its own effectiveness. In fact, there's a pile of ideas and suggestions sitting on your desk right now: "Improve sales training." "Fix the sales compensation program." "Drive CRM compliance." "Adopt solution selling." "Buy a sales process methodology." "Segment the customers." Really, the list could be endless.

So now what? As a sales force grows in complexity, the need to invest in sales force productivity solutions also grows. Unfortunately, many such investments can end in disappointing outcomes. The challenge is to select the right productivity investments in the right sequence at the right time. Otherwise, all you're doing is consuming time and dollars. So, before you assign teams and spend money to chase another program, perhaps it's time to step back and rediscover strategic sales planning.

Most sales executives roll their eyes when the phrase "strategic sales planning" is used, and rightfully so. The history of this concept is not a bright one. It usually means some type of large report prepared by a third party that is overly judgmental, factually inaccurate, and not actionable. Anything but a promising reputation.

Moving past non-sales force factors such as product features, competitor actions, and internal support, the fact remains: Sales force productivity problems are caused by…the sales department. Failure to manage the department with a forward realization of future challenges drives a sales department toward increasing obsolescence, resulting in reduced productivity, excessive costs, and chaotic bureaucracy.

Three dissimilar but integral competencies define the health of a sales organization:

Destination. Sales destination defines the "what" of sales effectiveness. The department must have an unsurpassed understanding of how to align its resources to achieve corporate sales objectives, given buyer needs. The efficient allocation of these resources provides the basis for correct sales coverage solutions, assignment of objectives, and the definition of sales charter.

Execution. Sales "execution" defines the "how" of sales success. It includes the actions necessary to achieve success, including talent management, enabling solutions, and technical infrastructure. Process improvement helps ensure efficiency of effort by reducing improper use of sales time.

Transformation. A sales department cannot remain stationary, however. Changing objectives and evolving buyer's expectations both contribute to the need for renewal of the sales department. Rigid, non-changing sales coverage, messaging, and deployment immediately can expose the sales department to erosion in productivity. Change management requires both leadership vision and courage.

An annual strategic sales planning effort will challenge you and your team to rethink your current programs. Start with a confirmation of sales objectives. Define buyer populations. Then…assume your sales organization does not exist. Absent the current practices, what type of sales organization would you create to meet the corporate sales growth goals? Once defined, you now have your destination.

Next figure out what you will need to do to change from your current model to the preferred model. This defines your transformation requirement.

And finally, implement and follow through on the changes. Voila! You now have your execution plan.

David J. Cichelli is senior vice president of The Alexander Group in Scottsdale, AZ. He can be reached at