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It’s Time for your Sales Organization to Grow Up!

5 Steps to Transition to a Dynamic Sales Culture

Have you heard the saying “What got you here won’t get you there”?  Never is that more true than for the company that has reached the inflection point of moving out of start-up mode and into growth mode.  Growth is largely measured one way: increasing revenues.  So, for a company to consistently grow and achieve assertive revenue goals, it is imperative for the Sales Organization to grow up very quickly.

Companies who are moving into growth mode usually have had a sales model which is either principal-led or consists of several salespeople who are involved in almost everything that is customer facing: hunting, farming and customer support.  The problem with these approaches is simple—they won’t scale.  Often a principal’s passion and drive to make the business successful has provided the majority of a company’s sales.  However, this principal is limited by hours in a day and the necessary transition of working “on” the business instead of “in” the business.  The other model has flaws as well.  When a salesperson is responsible for hunting, servicing and supporting customers it becomes far too easy for the salesperson to become sucked into day-to-day customer needs and neglect the vital activities of new customer acquisition: prospecting, qualifying and closing new opportunities.

In order to successfully grow a company, Sales must become a core competency.  Often though it is either not seen as a business competency or is regarded as the Rodney Dangerfield of the business competencies—It “gets no respect”.  Face it, if Sales isn’t given the respect it deserves and considered as highly as Operations or Finance, the company will fail.  To effectively transition to a dynamic sales culture which can scale and support the organization’s goals, five key areas need to be considered.

1.  Sales Structure that Supports Strategy

Once an organization has defined the strategic goals, the right sales structure needs to be in place. Some standard structure questions are:

  • Are our sales direct, web-based or both?
  • What is the best lead generation strategy? How do we measure progress and success?
  • Could we outsource our lead generation?
  • Do we need an inside sales team that generates leads or that fields incoming calls?
  • Do we need an outside team?
  • Should we embrace direct sales, channel partners, work with VARS, etc. or a combination?
  • What skill sets should we hire first and do we have the right compensation plans to reward the behaviors that we need most?
  • Do we need to separate the hunter role from the farmer role?
  • Are there tasks/responsibilities that we should remove from the sales team?
  • Do we need sales operations, sales support or sales engineers?
  • What territories make sense and what is the plan?
  • What verticals, industries or Ideal Client Personas we should target?
  • Are Sales and Marketing aligned with our product/service offerings and operational capacity?

These questions and many others must be answered so that hiring, training and management needs can be prioritized.  Very often as a company grows, the old structure becomes inefficient or an impediment to achieving growth goals.  Without a thoughtful periodic re-evaluation, it’s possible to make a major investment in sales resources that might not pay off.

2.  Hiring and Onboarding

Great sales professionals can be a company’s greatest asset. They are the revenue engine of an organization, and without the right people and talent on board, a company cannot succeed.  Unfortunately over one-third of the individuals on sales teams are in the wrong role. The problem baffles executives who thought they did everything right when interviewing a candidate. The resume looked good, the references checked out and the warm fuzzy moment of really liking and connecting with the individual occurred. A few months later, the promise of a Sales Superman has been replaced with the reality of a mild-mannered Clark Kent.

Hiring sales managers can be equally challenging. Great sales people don’t always have the skills or attributes to become great sales managers. The general wisdom is that if a person has been successful at selling, the same person will naturally be able to transfer his skill set and create a team of sales superstars. The challenge occurs because salespeople frequently are unable to transition from achieving results through individual expertise, motivation and effort to achieving results through the performance of others.

Successful hiring requires knowing what type of sales professional you need.  For example, it could be a hunter, farmer, inside sales, channel manager or sales manager.  The next step is assessing and interviewing for the experience and sales competencies which will predict success.  Effective evaluations must include work experience, specific skill sets, behavior styles, workplace motivators, and sales/sales management competencies and how they relate to each company’s culture, market position, management structure and overall goals and objectives. Simply put, a sales rock star from a mature Fortune 500 business may or may not be able to achieve the same type of results in a growth stage company. Most often growth stage companies really need hunters—people who can prospect, qualify and close, but sometimes wind up with an account manager or farmer.  The result is very slow sales and lots of prospecting reluctance.

A final consideration for getting the right people ramped up and performing quickly is an on-boarding plan.  The vast majority of companies do not have one that is specific to the sales role.  Most on-boardings consist of product or service orientation and training, introduction to other team members and a really nice lunch on the first day of employment.  A successful onboarding plan should be your new employee’s written path to success.  It should include specific activities, learning objectives, metrics, regular meetings with management and mentors, and be written in a manner so that the employee has control over scheduling the activities and responsibility for accomplishing the objectives.  This is far superior to having an employee camped in the manager’s office asking “What should I do next?”  Ideally, the onboarding plan will span the first 60-90 days of employment.

3.  Sales Leadership

Sales leadership is a tough job.  Often a top sales producer is promoted, but his sales skill set doesn’t translate to a sales leadership role. The usual expectation is that a great sales professional can be promoted to Sales Manager and will be able to create a lot of Mini Me’s, yet nothing could be further from the truth. An equally perplexing problem occurs when companies are transitioning from a principal-led sales model. The decision to hire a sales person or team results in an unintentional promotion of the principal to Sales Manager. Usually these principals have sold successfully through passion and conviction, but either don’t have the time or inclination for sales management activities or are at a loss to provide direction beyond “Here’s what I would do…”

Another requirement for successful Sales leadership is a structured meeting with pipeline reviews, activity metrics, results evaluations and regular communications of company issues and priorities.  When teams consist of only 1 or 2 people, it’s easy to meet one-on-one individually and not develop a structured sales management process. However, that style of management for a growing sales team will eventually become chaotic, balls will get dropped and the necessary financial reporting and forecasting will be haphazard.

Finally, let’s talk about accountability.  Even top professionals are better when held accountable.  Unfortunately accountability gets a bad rap.  Companies that have been entrepreneurial and prize independence, nimbleness and flexibility often see any level of accountability as micro-managing.  Also, people with the entrepreneurial gene are usually visionaries, not maintainers.  Thus, there is a resistance to more structure and accountability. This is largely because visionaries find it boRRRRing and because they are so self-motivated that they mistakenly believe others will “take care of their business” in the same manner they did.   Let me be blunt—Anyone you hire will never have the personal stake and level of financial incentives you have as a principal or founder.  Stop fighting accountability.  It’s good for your company!

4.  CRMs

I will start by saying there are many good CRMs, and I have no dog in the hunt on this one.  That said, CRMs are not optional.  This is your only chance to capture in an organized, meaningful way the market intelligence your sales team is uncovering.  Many companies get by without one for a while, however the problem is that leads, opportunities, contact names and relevant company info winds up on yellow sticky notes, personal spreadsheets and personal Contact folders.  When the sales professional leaves your organization, all of that information goes away as well.  And yes, I know—Sales people don’t like the reporting and detail work, and they have many reasons for why they don’t have time to update the CRM.  So what?  They are paid a salary to do certain tasks, and this is a task that is a requirement of the job.  Without good capture of sales information, it is almost impossible to do good reporting, forecasting, scheduling of effective activities and to know who is actively pursuing a prospect.  Additionally without a good database, how will you run successful marketing and pursuit campaigns?

Beyond having a CRM and requiring your sales team to use the CRM, I’ve got one final suggestion.  If you are considering CRM options, make sure it is cloud-based.  The cloud doesn’t care whether you access it from a Windows machine or a Mac.  It will eliminate a lot of excuses, and you won’t have to buy a new version in a few years.  Start with the basic model and if you need more capabilities, upgrade.

5.  Sales Process that is Effective

Finally, an effective sales process that can be taught and replicated is essential for sustainable, measurable growth.  Period.  Otherwise, everybody is making it up as they go, and results will be all over the board. Do you have a process for prospecting, qualifying and closing?  Can you develop new members of your team with this process?  Can you debrief opportunities against the process and make corrections along the way?  Can your sales manager use the process and reinforce it? If growth is a top priority, the answer to these questions needs to be “yes”.

A good sales process should improve your prospecting, shorten sales cycles, reduce stalls and objections, improve margins, eliminate poor opportunities from the pipeline, make your sales team more productive, increase your sales and mostly increase your revenue.

So why wouldn’t a company invest in a successful sales process?  The concern I hear most frequently is the fear that training a sales team is too expensive because they might leave the company.  My belief is the opposite—If you think training your sales team is too expensive because they might leave, try not training your sales team and have them stay!!

This article originally appeared in the December 14, 2015 issue of “Texas CEO Magazine”

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