Although sales is a critical function in any organization, they are often viewed to be lower in importance than other functions. And one of the most serious challenges to improve sales performance I had as a sales leader was to build their currency inside the organization as well as ‘on the outside’.
In order to improve sales performance we need to treat them differently.
- Their strategic role must be clearly defined in terms of the specific role they have in executing the strategic game plan of the organization;
- The value they are expected to deliver to the customer must be carefully crafted to align with their strategic role;
- The behaviours they are expected to exhibit day-in and day-out must be designed to deliver targeted results.
We need to hold sales accountable to deliver.
Strategic goals must be integrated into their performance plans and their compensation. If Sales don’t get paid to behave a certain way, they won’t do it.
To improve sales performance, action must be taken in these areas:
Sales must apply the same amount of emphasis on their customers as humans as they do on the products, services and technology they deliver.
Salespeople tend to get infatuated with what they are flogging and pay less attention to the needs, wants and desires of the people they are supposed to serve.
Product and technical knowledge overpower the need for salespeople to be empathetic and caring to their customer base.
As a corollary to the first point, the ‘hard stuff’ of the products they offer overshadows the need to build long term relationships with their customers.
In fact the sales compensation plan for most organizations encourage short term product flogging to generate immediate sales revenue at the expense of asking sales to spend the time necessary to gain a person’s trust and remain a customer over the long term.
Sales time in any customer engagement is sucked up more by the salesperson explaining why the customer should buy what they’re selling as opposed to the salesperson trying to understand what critical problems the customer must solve.
It’s the classic sales ‘push’ mentality and approach rather than a customer ‘pull’ process of using problems to lead and direct the sales process.
The salesperson has what they think is a good solution — their product — and their challenge is to try and convince their customer they have a need for it; that it solves an undefined problem. Hardly a relationship building behaviour is it?
Salespeople see their job as selling; they don’t generally get very excited about doing the other work that’s necessary to support the sales process.
They see it as taking time away from doing what’s necessary to achieve their quota and bonus.
Following up on specific things like whether the solution implementation went ok, promised information on product features or an answer to a billing query don’t rate high on their priority list even though they are very important to the customer.
It’s the mundane little things that are important to a customer and can decide on whether or not they continue to spend their money on an organization or not. Sales needs to pay way more attention to this ‘trivia’ and not hand it off to some administration help.
Mistakes are commonplace in any organization, but what separates the great ones from the average ones is how they respond when things go wrong.
And the key to brilliant recovery is how well the salesperson advocates for the customer that’s on the receiving end of the screw-up. What needs to happen is for the salesperson to ‘stand up’ for and defend the rights of their customer ‘on the inside’ to functions like marketing, billing, product fulfillment, repair service: any department whose responsibilities have played a part in the OOPS!
Sales needs to take leadership to promote and implement the ‘Customer Charter of Rights’ in their organization; they have a long way to go to be able to say their customer is their most important asset.
Because of the product focus they have, sales continues to be features-and-benefits oriented in terms of what goes down during the customer transaction.
At best, they look for a potential product application; it’s a narrow view of what the customer requirements are. And let’s not forget, they are paid to sell stuff not learn what the customer is all about in a holistic sense.
What is needed is a sales approach that seeks to understand the customer in a broad holistic sense, and where the information gathering probes to learn what no one else knows about them — their secrets.
There is an insufficient commitment by sales to actively participate in the internal recovery process when service screw ups are inadvertently made. They believe that fixing mistakes is someone else’s job and they relinquish their involvement to someone else.
Sales performance is critical to any organization, and there are some simple, proven ways to improve it.