Monday, November 10, 2008

Life Line for Sales Executives

Most sales leaders are currently faced with a big dilemma. On one hand they have to painfully admit that their teams are probably not apt to be successful in the tough current market context. This is not surprising. It happens every time after a phase where demand was high and covered over deficits in selling capabilities of teams.

On the other hand, It is also normal that in tough times budgets to improve sales effectiveness, although needed more than ever, are tighter. Despite the recommendations of many experts that sales efforts should not be reduced to assure survival of the company, leaders often have no choice but to adjust selling cost to reflect current expectation of market evolution.

These experts are not short in quoting studies indicating the advantage of a counter cyclic behavior with respect to sales efforts They recommend that it is now the time to invest in sales effectiveness. Justifying such investments is however very difficult in belt tightening times. The impression is widespread that past massive investments in such initiatives have not shown the expected returns. It is thus understandable if sales executives and their superiors are very hesitant to follow such recommendations and ask themselves why the outcomes should be different with a new initiative. The danger however is real that not addressing sales capabilities issues might further endanger the sustainability and even the existence of an enterprise.

An alternative way to improve sales effectiveness

Looking for causes that lead to t he impression that past initiatives to improve sales effectiveness did not show the expected results helps us to find an alternative approach.

Here are some reasons leading to the impression of unsuccessful sales effectiveness initiatives:

  • Potential improvements were not measured at all or with inadequate indicators.

  • Initiatives were structured as training events suffering from the Hawthorne effect

  • Managers were rarely enabled to integrate new methods and approaches, taught to their troops, into their daily management practice.

  • Most sales managers even had never any specific training for their job. They copy what they saw their bosses doing at the time. The methods observed might have been already questionable at the time. The danger of them being inadequate to face today's context is even higher.

Sales Management as the primary target

Focusing on the sales management as the core of a transformation initiative for improved sales effectiveness seems therefore a plausible alternative approach.

Not only is the initiative primarily aimed at sales leadership more affordable than addressing sales people; as there are fewer managers than sales people. Focusing on the managers can also improve sustainability of the initiative. Analyzing failed sales effectiveness initiatives often revealed that sales leadership was the primary cause of failure since they had not adapted their practice to new methods and approaches taught by external organizations to their sales people. Training the sales management on how to adapt to new methods should be considered a minimum but is often omitted due to budgetary constraints. These constraints can however be overcome by enabling sales management to introduce these methods to their teams by themselves. This approach not only dramatically increases sustainability of sales effectiveness initiative, because they now have to give active and visible support to the initiative, enabling sales managers as multipliers also allows for much faster deployment of an initiative. Rapid implementation is particularly essential in though times where improvements are needed fast.

Accompanying the initiative with an adequate set of success metrics seems to go without saying to avoid problems of justifying future initiatives which seems to be inevitable to keep up capabilities in ever changing environments.

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