Inconsistent sales results? Here’s why.

How complete is your sales system?

When I ask that question of most sales leaders and sales learning and development professionals, I’m usually met with a questioning look and then an explanation of adopting best in class sales process, methods, content or the latest selling fad – a standard response to a purposely ambiguous question. Sometimes I will get asked “what do you mean how complete is our sales system?”

In my experience, the sales performance industry and sales organizations in general place an undue amount of emphasis on sales process or method (both of which are important) – to the neglect of two other critical elements of an effective and enduring sales system; namely philosophy and execution.

An effective sequence looks like this: Philosophy + Process + Method + Execution

Process (what to do) tends to be internally focused. It doesn’t arm the sales force with the conversation and communication skills that are needed to create customer value. Process alone is insufficient. Table stakes.

Method (how to) can give sellers the conversation and communication skills to diagnose, qualify and create value by sharing insights and reframing how the customers perceives a problem or opportunity – when done well. And often it falls short, leaving the customer feeling as if something has been done ‘to’ them versus ‘with’ them and sales people who lack the confidence and capability to have a business conversation, ask the tough, needed to be asked questions that create rapport and establish credibility with the buyer. Clearly technique alone doesn’t serve buyer or seller either.

So, let’s address the bookends of this sequence.

Philosophy (why do we).When was the last time you had a conversation with your sales force and asked them what their purpose was? Most sales leaders and sales people will answer that their job is to “make quota” or “sell stuff.” Most organizations don’t take the time to make explicit what the ‘purpose’ of a sales person is. It’s just assumed that the role of the sales person is just, well, to sell stuff. And poor and average performers, grudgingly accept this definition and run with it. It’s the way many sales organizations are still run. I say grudgingly because, the problem is, this mindset violates several core human needs including need for love/connection, contribution and certainty – and at a conscious or unconscious level sales people know that just ‘selling stuff’ violates their core beliefs. And so their results are inconsistent because their conflicting beliefs sabotage their own success.

Top performers on the other hand develop their own organizing philosophy so that they can feel congruent and confident. They reframe the way they see themselves to be ‘business improvement specialists’ or ‘trusted business advisors’ whose role is to create and deliver positive results and outcomes for customers. In this way they give themselves permission to ask the tough questions that need to be asked – because it’s in the customer’s best interest. In doing so they build credibility, establish trust and create value AND get the sale at the same time (seller and buyer wins). Their confidence is an inside out job and sales organizations would do well to emulate their mindset and philosophy and make this an explicit part of how they define the role of sales person. Clients of mine who’ve worked to reframe the role of sales person and made the purpose or ‘intent’ of the sales person clear in customer conversations have achieved transformational sales results (revenue, profit, and share growth).

Execution. Being congruent certainly helps sales people to have the internal confidence to create and have value creating customer conversations. And yet for them to grow and get better over time they need to practice and master new skills through deliberate practice. Many sales organizations lack the framework for institutionalizing deliberate practice. Here’s our approach. We know it helps to build a culture of continuous growth and sustained execution.

  1. Measurement: Identify the lead metrics and associated behaviors that are appropriate for the role and tenure of the sales person, i.e. hunter vs farmer, new to sales vs tenured in sales. Hire an outside firm or assign someone whose role it is to ensure that the behaviors are impacting the lead and lag measures – to design and measure progress. Focus on 2 or 3 lead metrics/behaviors (and no more for now) that will have the most impact on the lag measure (the goal). Start with and coach to those until proficiency is demonstrated. Then add 2 or 3 more. Rinse and repeat. Make sure new hires go through the same process.
  2. Sales Leadership as role models: Peter Drucker said that “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” The role of the sales leader and sales managers is to model and expect the behavior they want from the field. Just as kids will model the behavior they see from their parents (not necessarily what they are told), it is vitally important that sales managers/leaders are able to walk in their sales peoples shoes, and be consistent in their expectations. Expectations and boundaries are helpful for sales people, it provides certainty (a core human need) and a framework to operate in. Nothing is more destructive to sales productivity than constantly changing goalposts and expectations or flavor of the month initiatives.
  3. Coaching. Whether your sales manager’s coach, you have internal coaches or you hire external coaches, nothing helps to create sustained growth more than having a coach to accelerate deals and performance. All top athletes have a coach(s) and top performing sales organizations are no different. Coaches create a cadence of accountability, reinforce skills and create increased personal awareness (that leads to more growth) that advance talent and deals. Coaching is a performance and revenue multiplier. Most organizations say or think they do coaching. The reality is coaching is often inconsistent or non-existent across regions and teams because the organization doesn’t have a means of scaling coaching. Coaching playbooks tied to online resources are proven ways to make coaching accessible to sales managers, scalable and effective.

So, after all that, how complete is your sales system? Do you have all 4 elements of Philosophy + Process + Method + Execution in place? Or are you neglecting one or more? What would you add to this conversation?