This article is part two in a series about achieving world-class results.  In my last post, I shared definitions of sales process rigor and quality of customer relationship, plus CSO Insights’ conclusions about sales results associated with different levels of “great” (you should also read CSO Insights’ 2017 World-Class Practices Report. Ask me for a copy). The title graphic above provides a great review.  Unfortunately, What neither the post or the report does is give descriptions of what a sales organization needs in order to achieve each level. Here, I describe the “how” more clearly.

Bottom line: It’s all about how your managers lead and coach adoption.

Your leadership/coaching corps needs to operationalize a dynamic (or a formal) sales process culture. Don’t assume it’s a willingness problem; it’s usually a capability (specifically, having simple tools) situation. I regularly encounter sales managers who want to be great, and eagerly seize tools when offered.

The diagram below depicts a hierarchy of sales management capabilities that build up a formal or dynamic sales process culture.

Sales Management Acumen Hierarchy


Capabilities build from the bottom, each layer building on the ones below. As you go through this, think your capabilities all through this hierarchy. Typically, we find existing strengths to combine with new capabilities.

The Base Layer: Selling Acumen for Your Reps

Obviously, the foundation of a robust process culture is the process. Your sellers operate  day-to day in this layer (although a key/strategic account manager can have significant involvement in the key account layer).

  • Selling Process describes the steps your sellers, sometimes assisted by other specialists (demo experts, technical sales engineers, RFP teams, etc.) perform, and in what order.
  • Sales playbooks detail who is involved, what selling resources/media are recommended, give detailed process procedures/instructions, and conversation guides (even scripts, yuck!), sometimes broken down by buyer persona. The best playbooks also describe customer actions at each selling stage.
  • Selling Skills are customer interaction behaviors, like questioning strategies, dealing with objections and indifference, etc.
  • Selling Methodologies detail how sellers execute the selling process with customers in a way that engages the customer in a buying process—in a measurable, trackable, trainable, coachable framework. The bottom two sections of the table below describe two major methodology types, customer interactions/meetings, and opportunity management/pursuit.

To review, CSO Insights’ “Informal Sales process” is when leadership provides some/all of these tools for sales teams, then releases sellers into the field to use/practice–self-directed. If your company ever “invested in sales training that didn’t meet objectives” (OK, “went nowhere”), ask yourself if you invested almost completely in this foundational layer, under-emphasizing the others.

Building on the Foundation: Layers of Sales Management Acumen

Sales leaders often erroneously treat Sales training like simple “knowledge transfer”.  It really requires a “behavior adoption” mindset.

Consider the example of learning a sport like tennis. Training on the rules of tennis, describing/ demonstrating the grips, the strokes (including having students hit a few balls themselves—or role-playing a game situation), and all techniques does not a tennis star make. High performance requires guided practice, coaching, more practice, game experience and more. Parallel this with sales performance. Your sales management corps is the resource for that coaching, guided practice, and reinforcement, and it needs to be administered in an ongoing, consistent cadence

The bottom layer is a critical foundation: seller skills, behaviors, and knowledge. Your management team is responsible for building successively complex selling behaviors into habit, then into “muscle memory“…and toward superior results. Your sales managers are the lynchpin connecting seller knowledge (salespeople know what they should be doing) with selling behavior (they practice those behaviors consistently, and with ever-increasing proficiency).

Level Two: How Your Managers Coach Effective Conversations.

The building block of all selling work is effective conversations.   Therefore, coaching sellers to secure, plan and execute every customer interaction for maximum effectiveness is critical.  As they key to performance, sales managers need to coach to your meeting methodology to gain consistent application, and eventual mastery. Coaching improves how sellers:

  • Uncover business and personal needs.
  • Secure meeting more successfully with new contacts.
  • Construct, then execute conversation plans.
  • Align the selling process more accurately with each contact’s place in their buying process.

Level 3: Coaching Opportunity Pursuits

Coaching to a methodology distills best practices into a repeatable process.  Importantly, the methodology must be flexible enough to “wear” any seller’s personal style. It also:

  • Helps sellers uncover unknowns more reliably and rapidly, then manage risks.
  • Supports scoring systems that uncover problems quickly, identify at-risk opportunities, and pinpoint behaviors which will refocus “wandering” deals.
  • Enables more intelligent resource allocation.
  • Helps managers assess deal progress more rapidly and accurately.
  • Provides an objective framework for more efficient and effective opportunity reviews.
  • Ideally, integrates seamlessly into the organization’s CRM to increase visibility, CRM utilization, and data accuracy.

Level Four: Key Account Management/Strategic Planning.

Simply aggregating sales opportunities with an important account is not Strategic account management. It should involve key team members from throughout your company to:

  • Jointly envision the future of the relationship with the customer.
  • Create a framework for peer-to-peer and executive-to-executive interactions on a regular cadence.
  • Execute a variety of initiatives and/or support programs calibrated to move the relationship in the desired direction.
  • Engage in a strategic planning process to review and adjust all of the above.

Level Five: Funnel Management

Funnel reviews are the centerpiece of a robust management cadence. Coaching each seller’ funnel (pipeline) is a higher-level exercise than opportunity reviews.  When implemented correctly, they render much more predictable funnel/sales performance. They allow:

  • Managers to discuss the health of each seller’s overall business:
  • Coaching to balance all types of selling work to keep the funnel fed.
  • Early warnings of deals getting stuck – a major risk factor.
  • Anticipating resource allocation challenges.
  • Diagnosing, then coaching seller weaknesses.
  • Coaching for healthy mix, such as product type, strategic/new product efforts, etc.

Level Six: Sales Strategy and Forecasting

As senior sales leaders set direction for their organizations, a dynamic sales process helps in many ways:

  • Forecasts are informed by sellers’ funnels. Accurate forecasts are informed by quality funnels.
  • Sales turnover analysis becomes much more enlightened.
  • Performance reviews, action plans, and promotion/succession plans are more robust.
  • Go-to-market strategies are more achievable.
  • Role definition and deployment is more insight-driven.
  • Territory definition and alignment can be performed more confidently.
  • Sales performance metrics are more leading-indicator based, and more reliable.
  • Management cadence becomes an easy-to-justify priority.

Putting it all Together

The difference between an informal sales process and a formal/dynamic one lies almost completely in management execution and support.

While the capabilities described above build on each other, you may not need to launch a full initiative from the base layer up. Often, I find clients who feel that they may have a serviceable capability in some layer (in whole or in part), and the big “needle-moving” initiative will be higher up the stack. Use the pyramid diagram as a framework to identify what works well already, and how prior investments integrate.

I’d love to hear your comments below. As always, feel free to reach out if you have more involved questions, or would like an outside set of eyes on your situation.

To your success!

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