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How to build a High Performance Sales Unit

March 21, 2014 in Performance Management, Sales Driven Organisations, Sales Results

How does one go about building a high performance sales unit?

What does a high performance sales person actually look like?

What needs to be in place for high performance sales to flourish?

These and other questions are on the minds of many sales leaders, and if they are not they should be.

They are vexed questions too – not easily answered. Here’s why…

Unlike a computer which is a complicated system that has predictable outputs, sales operations are complex systems with many variables and unpredictable outputs.

complex-systemYet, many sales leaders from around the world continue to look for that one ingredient, that special factor that will give them the answers they are seeking.  It is human nature to want a simple answer. For simple problems simple answers can usually suffice, however, in complex systems determining high performance involves many factors that can also shift and change in their relevance as the complex system shifts and changes. There is no simple answer  because as soon as one variable changes it changes the other variables and so the answers change.

We know that you can build high performance units in sport for instance.  And while there are many variables in each defined sport, it is easier to build high performance units in these environments. Why? Because they are contained by rules, guidelines, and clearly defined operating environments with clear expectations.

Sales environments are not contained. They operate in open, messy terrains. For instance, up to 80% of the sale is outside the salesperson’s control.

So is it a futile exercise trying to build a high performance sales unit? Perhaps. However, if we are prepared to deal with variables that can change as swiftly as the weather and are ever vigilant to making adjustments to our sales operations, then we can create high performance sales units. And yes, it is like the ball juggler or the plate spinner, we will be forever looking at and managing multiple areas all at once.

So what do you need to factor in when looking at building a high performance sales unit?

Several things:

  1. Current Sales Strategy which will determine the approach sales people should be using and who your sales teams will be selling to.
  2. Sales Segments and the organisation’s position in these segments relative to their rivals.
  3. Expected Outcomes (output measures) for each segment i.e. growth, value, volume, product mix, customer support.
  4. Determine the Level of sales performance and overall competence required to achieve the goals for each sales segment. i.e. Do you put a strong sales performer in declining segment or a growth segment?
  5. Map the Sales DNA (Sales Competencies) of the required Knowledge, Skills and Mindset behaviours for the relevant Sales Role i.e. Inputs (capabilities and behavioural benchmarks). This information will form the base for any recruitment, training, coaching, and performance management resources.
  6. Measure a range of current Sales Performers against the Sales Benchmarks established for the relevant role (using a range of relevant assessments processes i.e. behavioural interviews, psych assessments, performance data, etc.). This will determine how closely the sales performers (top, average, new and poor) align with the model and performance criteria (established prior).
  7. Map Tacit Knowledge and Processes: Top sales performers and long serving salespeople are interviewed in order to establish present ‘best practice’ operations and garner tacit knowledge that is unique to their environment.

By mapping this information you will be able to outline the expected levels of sales capability for what ‘High Performance Sales’ needs to look like at the relevant sales level. ‘Relevant sales level’ is crucial here as your market is not a one-size-fits-all market. At any given time your business could have a variety of segments in which it needs to operate:

  • sales segmentationDeveloping segment
  • Growth segment
  • Competitive segment
  • Mature segment
  • Declining segment
  • Saturated segment

What ‘good’ sales performance needs to look like will vary from segment to segment. That is one example why creating a high performance sales unit is do damn difficult. It is not static and is ever changing.  What we need to do as sales leaders is clearly define in our sales strategy and sales segments so we always know who to put in where. And review, review, review.  Then and only then can we begin to define high performance in sales and look at our sales people’s capabilities around 4 key areas in whatever segment they are in:

  • Their ability to implement (Execute)
  • Their judgment (Decision-Making)
  • Their level of motivation (Energy)
  • Their ability to motivate others (Energise)

If you want to build a high performance sales unit please speak to us at Barrett. We have the knowledge, resources and capabilities to get you get started and help you put in place the disciplines to keep all those balls in the air and those plates spinning.

Remember everybody lives by selling something.

Author: Sue Barrett, www.barrett.com.au

Hidden sales coaching moments

October 25, 2013 in Coaching, Education in Sales, Performance Management, Sales Coaching, Uncategorized

The value of sales coaching cannot be ignored. Various studies across the last 30+ years have demonstrated that regular coaching improves recall and retention of learning from sales classroom training at between 80-95%, as compared to 13% with no follow up coaching.  Coaching helps improve sales performance by around 20% when compared to a non coaching environment.

Yet, many sales managers maintain they don’t have the time to perform coaching, the most important of all sales leadership tasks.  Go figure! One of the main reasons why sales managers think they do not have enough time to coach is that they think sales coaching has to be a formal sit down session conducted in a quiet room.

Far from it… it is possible to coach anywhere, any time.  What is needed is awareness of what to pay attention to and have the coaching skills and resources ready for your many sales coaching moments.

Avoiding DistractionsBefore we dive into sales coaching moments it may help to review what coaching actually is:

  • Coaching is about helping people lift the bar of their performance.
  • Coaching is about moving forward not looking back (that is counseling).
  • Coaching is about helping people find the answers to:  ‘How can I be the best I can be?’ and ‘what do I need to do to get there?’

Coaching is…

  • Working in collaboration with a person to help them identify and remove any interference that limits the expression of their full potential
  • Helping a person set goals and take action to ensure sustainable behaviour change
  • Helping a person improve the quality of their working and/or personal life, leading to improved organisational and/or professional/personal effectiveness
  • Above, all, coaching is about helping people self-actualise and reach the pinnacle of their competence

It certainly helps to be trained in how to coach effectively to deliver on all of the above and it cannot go without saying that the only way you will be an effective sales coach is if you get out there and start coaching.

Sales is one of the best environments in which to coach. There are so many variables to contend with and so many insights to be obtained.  So many coaching moments. You do not have to be in a quiet room one-on-one to start coaching.

Sales Coaching Moments

So what do sales coaching moments look like? And how does a sales manager make time for sales coaching?

Sales Coaching moments come in two main forms:

  • Strategic or Formal Coaching:
    • Strategic or Formal Coaching implies an agreed upon, ongoing relationship with a team member in order to achieve change over time. It usually involves an agreement around a coaching program at regular intervals for an agreed amount of time. There is usually a consistent focus of the coaching sessions (e.g. shifting or enhancing skills over time).
    • Strategic or Formal Sales Coaching looks at trends in behaviour across sales processes (sales planning, prospecting, solution selling, Key Account Management, etc.), sales pipeline, territory management, sales input activities, deals that affect strategic and long term development goals. This type of coaching usually includes activity pipeline (Input & Output measures). It looks at career progression including knowledge, skills, mindset. It usually happens once a month on average.

  • Informal or Deal-based Coaching:
    • Informal coaching can occur naturally in a conversation around a ‘coachable issue’. It is a very useful process for on the job development where the leader wants to move beyond a ‘tell’ approach to encourage the team member to discover the path forward for themselves.
    • Informal Sales Coaching or Deal-Based Coaching usually targets performance obstacles within a specific deal or at sales process stage. It is more immediate, more spontaneous, and often happens in the field.  It may be organised as a result of skills focused sessions. It is practical and outcomes oriented. It happens as close to the event as possible, either before or after the sale.  As a sales coach you are often shadowing for the day, in direct observation of a sale, or listening in on a call. It can include role playing, debriefing details of a call, and provides a greater level of feedback and training.

Using a combination of both of these coaching strategies is important as the formal coaching process ensures that there is a structure approach to the development of your team members. However, the informal coaching acts as an excellent support to the formal coaching strategy (particularly where there is a month or more between formal coaching sessions) and examples from informal coaching can be drawn into the formal coaching sessions as a means of enhancing the coaching process.

So what conclusions can we draw from this?

You are likely to have many more informal deal based sales coaching moments than formal.  To help you help coach your people we suggest you start your day with an open and prepared mind – be alert and ready to sales coaching moments, especially the spontaneous, informal moments. They often take up very little time but can produce very big results.

Gallup research also demonstrated that there is a very significant connection between outstanding salespeople and their managers.

You know it. We know it. Sales Coaching pays dividends on many levels.

You want to improve sales? Get to it… get those coaching moments happening.

If you need further information on how to be a better sales coach please call us on 03 9533 0000.

Remember everybody lives by selling something.

Author: Sue Barrett, www.barrett.com.au

Why managing sales inputs leads to sales disaster

June 27, 2013 in CRM, Education in Sales, Performance Management, Sales Forecasting, Sales Management, Sales Measures - Inputs & Outputs, Sales Motivation & Rewards, Sales Pipeline, Sales Results

‘Selling is a numbers game’ has been said more times than any of us care to remember.  And yes, numbers are critical to sales, however some organisations place far too much emphasis on the managing the numbers, especially their obsession with their salespeople’s input activities – i.e. number for prospecting (cold) calls, client meetings, numbers in the pipeline etc.

This “management by numbers” approach is flawed and leads to confusion, distress and worst, poor sales results over both the short and longer term.  The approach fails to grasp that up to 80% of the activities of a sale are outside the control of the salesperson. Most of the inputs that lead to sales results are centred around conversations with people and the decisions they make based on their own priorities which is filled with variables that cannot be tracked by focusing on numbers alone.

forcastingWe are not suggesting that account planning, sales forecasting and pipeline management are invalid, they are critically important, however focusing ONLY on the numbers, at the expense of coaching salespeople to be more effective at working with people (clients, prospects, stakeholders, internal support, etc.) as well as proactively managing the decision making process, will result in a flawed and less effective sales force.

For example, if a salesperson is managed against forecast accuracy with a benchmark of 100%, the natural reaction of the salesperson is to make the lowest forecast possible in order to meet the benchmark. Similarly, if the benchmark is “make 50 client calls per week” with consequences if salespeople don’t hit that target, where will the focus of the salesperson be, even if they are $2M behind target? Obviously on meeting the input call rate target.

This linear data driven approach to selling limits people to being number watchers, obsessed with missing their input measures while failing to look at the bigger prize which is attracting more business and retaining viable clients.

If a salesperson can make 5 quality client calls a week and win business that meets or exceeds their sales targets because they understood their target market, knew the right people to call on in the value chain, positioned themselves effectively and delivered real value to the both the client and the business, would it really matter that they did not make the 50 calls that week?

Knowing what you are doing up front only tells you half the story because it monitors what sales people are doing, not HOW they are doing it.

From what we can see in a number of businesses here and overseas there appears to be DATA addiction, tracking everything possible but to what end we ask?  Just because you can track lots of activities now doesn’t mean you have to.

How much time do you think it takes your salespeople and sales managers to complete these input sales reports?  A bloody long time is the answer! Where should your sales people be?  Out seeing their customers and working with people, finding out who the key decision makers are, getting in front of them to have real quality conversations that can lead to results.  Some client relationships and deals take many meetings but are worth pursuing while some happen more quickly and are equally worth pursuing and that’s the challenge.

waste of time 3d scatter Selling and buying is not a linear process.  It is holistic, 3D, where both rational and emotional decisions swirl about and our salespeople are charged with navigating these waters for us. How do you track that? You can’t.

The obsessive focus on input numbers and input activities for the sake of activity measurement that can be logged into a CRM is holding sales teams hostage.

Selling and Account Planning should be people focused not numbers focused. Sales people should be responsible for proactively managing the decision making processes in an account; working out who are decision makers, their profiles, their preferences, their priorities, how they contact prospects and how they position themselves effectively, etc. and working out how to navigate their way to effective client relationships based on real exchange of value.

Sales managers would do well to coach their people around these capabilities, making sure their people are really performing at a quality standard rather than obsessing about the input activity, the numbers.

Just tracking numbers such as prospecting calls, clients visits, proposals/quotes presented does not automatically give you the desired output i.e. profitable sales results. It does not give you information about the growth of the market, competitive intensity, or fragmentation of segments and client trends.  It just gives you numbers of activities with no context.

In conclusion:

Selling is a ‘Doing’ job for sure but it is a ‘Thinking’ job as well that should focus on quality not just quantity.  While we know sales people have to do these sales activities, we suggest you will get better sales results if you coach your sales people around the quality of what they are doing and how they are thinking and then monitor the output of these actions to get real fix on results.

Remember everybody lives by selling something.

Author: Sue Barrett, www.barrett.com.au

Signs you are at risk of losing your top sales performers

October 26, 2011 in Attitudes & Behaviours, Coaching, Performance Management, Sales Coaching, Sales Leadership, Sales Talent, Self Development, Success, Wellbeing

There they are every day bringing in the deals. They’re always prospecting, meeting clients, networking, making suggestions about how to do things even better and they never discount unnecessarily. Best of all your clients are happy. They’re happy with your offering, happy with your service, happy with the sales support they get and your business is profitable.

Top of the world

Top of the world

Sounds magnificent doesn’t it? Your top sales performer(s) require(s) very little work. They self manage, are resilient and are such a breeze to work with. They’re low maintenance and are not temperamental like those 600lb sales gorillas. You couldn’t be happier, right?

Well this is what most business owners or sales managers are thinking when they get a great sales performer. ‘So easy’ they say, ‘I wish all my sales people where like this’. And yes, we would love all our sales people to be self motivated, self disciplined, engaging people who cared as much about our businesses as we do while bringing in fantastic, sustainable sales results.

The temptation is to leave them alone and say ‘don’t fix what isn’t broken’. Many business leaders and sales managers take this approach. However, it’s precisely the wrong approach to take with top sales performers.
Let’s look at how much would it cost you to keep a top sales performer versus how much you would lose if they left your business.

Research continues to show that top sales performers love to learn and grow. The money is good but it is not the overriding factor. Instead they seek out opportunities to advance their skills, knowledge and mindset on a regular basis – they want to be the best. They strive for Mastery. The number one quality distinguishing top sales performers from their colleagues is their desire to engage in self-appraisal & continuous learning.

Here is what you are likely to see top sales performers doing on a regular basis besides selling:

  • Asking for feedback on their own performance and the degree to which they have met client expectations.
  • Collaborating with colleagues and not putting competitiveness in the way of business success.
  • Recognising and acting on the need for continuous self learning and development.
  • Appraising their own performance and competencies and initiates development activities without prompting.


These activities are often done without the support of management. Top performers create their own self development journeys and go outside to get the coaching, mentoring and nourishment they need.
This is admirable on the part of the sales person and it seems, great for the business leader/owner or sales manager. However, businesses are putting themselves at a huge disadvantage if this equation remains one-sided.


Because money isn’t enough. We might think that all we need to do is throw more money at top sales performers. Yes they deserve to earn top dollar but it’s more than that.

We need to take an interest their overall development. Provide them with opportunities to further develop their knowledge, skills and mindset. Give them opportunities. These can be to work with us on the business, take a mentoring or coaching role in our sales team, work on special projects, develop new markets or become our business’ key spokesperson. We can position our top performers as a champion an important aspect of our business or simply give them one-on-one time with us or a nominated coach who takes a particular interest in their development helping them to be even more effective.

Changing Jobs

Changing Jobs

The small investment of our time and attention to develop our sales superstars is far outweighed by their contribution to our business. Why risk it by ignoring the very people who make us a success? It seems logical but organizations make this mistake time and time again.

I hear so many stories from top sales performers who just up and leave organisations because they feel they were taken for granted. Here are some stories from top sales performers who have left companies because their requests for development were ignored:

  • “I wasn’t listened to. No interest was taken in me and my development. I had no respect as a professional business person. Management didn’t care about my professional development and dismissed me as only being ‘a salesperson’ because I did not have a business degree. They were only interested in me because I could bring in the deals. I tried to explain that it wasn’t only about the money and that I wanted more challenges to help the business grow. I had great ideas and wanted to step up. Instead they just told me to keep on selling and stay in my box. I felt ignored and taken for granted. I became tired, bored, and disillusioned with management and so I left. They went into free fall when I resigned and since leaving the business they keep coming back to me offering more money. They just don’t get it do they?’
  • ‘My repeated requests to my manager for coaching and training were dismissed as too costly. I went outside to get the development I craved. My manager just wasn’t interested in giving me any of his time to coach me and certainly wasn’t interested in paying any money for my development. So I paid $3,000 of my own money for 6 one-on-one sales coaching sessions and they really helped. The benefits of one-on-one sales coaching were enormous. I achieved 130% of my budget in my first year and made the annual incentive trip overseas. My manager tried to claim the credit for my success. Needless to say into my second year nothing changed on the management front so after a further 9 months in solitude I left the company to pursue a career where personal development was valued.’

The cost of losing a top sales performer is enormous and it’s not until they are gone that most businesses realises its mistake. Are you at risk of losing someone who is vital to your business?

Before it’s too late ask your top sales people:

What they want by way of personal and professional development. Where would they like to take their careers? How would they like to contribute to the business? What ideas do they have about how we could be better?

Nourish these people with your interest in their ongoing development and show them that you genuinely care about their contribution and growth in your business – not just every now and again but continuously. If you make this a priority you will retain these top sales people and benefit. Make it a priority to do something to support them and let them know you really value and appreciate their contribution.

If you need to talk to someone about coaching or training in sales, sales leadership, sales coaching or people management contact us.

Remember everybody lives by selling something.

Author: Sue Barrett, MD of www.barrett.com.au

Why we should coach, manage & measure Sales Inputs rather than Sales Results

June 9, 2011 in Coaching, Communication, CRM, Performance Management, Prospecting, Sales Forecasting, Sales Measures - Inputs & Outputs, Sales Pipeline, Sales Training, Success

Do you leave your sales results to chance? Well you might be if you are like most businesses that are too fixated on Sales Results – the Outcomes. Managing by numbers, sales managers can get blinded by measuring the number of sales made and revenue and profit margins achieved rather than focusing on the vital activities that produce these outcomes in the first place- The Sales Inputs.

Every outcome is the result of its inputs. Every effect has its corresponding cause(s).

Consider the following questions:

  • Do you know how your sales people actually achieved their sales results?
  • Do you know how well they are identifying real opportunities with their prospective clients and current accounts?
  • Do you know how well they are planning and managing their sales portfolio and their time?
  • Do you know how well they are utilizing the CRM to help drive sales and manage relationships?
  • Could there be more opportunity in these accounts that is otherwise being identified by your sales people?
  • How easy is it for a new comer to learn and replicate what your top sales performers do?

These are just some of the questions that if examined for their content, would make the lives of sales managers and sales people that much better. Sales people would know the vital activities they need to perform and to what standard and what knowledge they need to apply to add real value. And sales managers would yield much better sales results all round if they devoted more of their time coaching and managing their sales people around these input activities rather than only looking for and reporting on their sales results.

Do you want to increase your sales team’s effectiveness and boost sales results?

Pay attention to the details because excellence is in the details. Look at what you put in to see what you get out in terms of sales results.

Sales managers, sales people and business leaders could learn a lot from observing the Quality and Quantity of their actions each day. We call these the Input Measures which are made up of Type & Quantity of Activity and Quality of Activity. These are the areas that people can be trained and coached in.

Type & Quantity of Activities – the following are examples of types of activities:

  • Leads developed
  • Prospecting calls
  • Client meetings
  • Proposals developed
  • Deals in the pipeline
  • Up / Cross sales discussions
  • Customer inquiries
  • Account management calls / meetings
  • Account reviews had
  • Referrals requested

Quality of Activities – the following are examples of competencies or standards of activities:

  • Business acumen
  • Sales Planning skills
  • Prospecting skills
  • Selling skills
  • Communication skills
  • Relationship building skills
  • Negotiation Skills
  • Product knowledge
  • Company and market knowledge
  • Problem solving
  • Client proposal development
  • Self-Management

Sales Managers can really make a significant difference to their sales results and the lives of their sales people if they invest the time in coaching, training and working with their people on the Input Measures rather than pointing out the results week in week out. Results are important and need to be acknowledged but they can only be as good as the inputs. Once we understand the Input Measures then we can see their effect on the Results or Output Measures.

Output Measures / Results can include:

  • Overall Sales made including sales with new clients and existing clients
  • Sales revenue
  • Sales profitability
  • Sales growth
  • Sales quotas
  • Sales by product or region
  • Average deal size
  • Market share & growth

Let’s make sure that sales results are not left to chance; work on the inputs and get them right. It will make a difference to your results.

Remember everybody lives by selling something.
Author: Sue Barrett, MD of www.barrett.com.au

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