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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

Why ‘Point Solutions’ ruin sales operations

August 15, 2013 in Education in Sales, Sales Consulting, Sales Culture, Sales Results

What is a Point Solution? A point solution solves one particular problem without regard to related issues. Point solutions are usually called for when there is a need to fix a specific problem or fast-track the implementation of a new service.

Unfortunately, point solutions often don’t deliver meaningful or sustainable results. The sales training/consulting industry is littered with point solution providers, all promising ‘sales excellence in a box’ ranging from the latest selling style [1] you must adopt to a New York best seller book promising the golden nugget that will turn your sales around. When it comes to improving sales operations training is the point solution of choice – and often “any training” will do. And if it is not training then it’s a CRM point solution that will solve all of the sales ills.

This has been going on for more than 70 years. While it’s fair to say that some of the content in these point solution offerings is useful it would not be fair to say that, on its own, a point solution can improve anything for long, let alone something as complex and dynamic as a sales organisation.


The challenge of point solutions is the outcome of unintended consequences.

For instance, a point solution could be to train sales people to be more productive i.e. better at prospecting for new business. So your sales team is trained and now they go and get more business, however, the business systems and operations have not been geared to support the increase in new business thus leaving sales people frustrated and customers disappointed.

Large organizations are the worst offenders when it comes to point solution overload. Preyed upon by vendors offering the latest in sales excellence, you can find several different point solutions that do not talk to each other or, worse still, compete with each other therefore  littering sales processes, sales language, sales systems and sales people with conflicting information. All this does is create more confusion for the sales teams who are often trying to report on 15 or so different sales metrics that make no sense and keep them from doing what they are paid to do – sell.

Ironically many of these point solution vendors come off as nothing better than snake oil salesmen themselves – offering sales salvation in a box (or training, or software, or assessments, or coaching, or technology, etc .) You know what I mean.

So why do business leaders continue to let point solutions take precedence over a more a considered, integrated and strategic approach?

There are three main reasons:

  1. There is no formal education where business people can learn and understand all the elements involved in running something as complex as sales operations. For instance, in the conventional MBA program you would spend as few as 18 hours on the theory of selling out of a total of 425 days of study. No wonder people do not understand the complexity of selling, the sales value chain, sales strategy, etc.  So when you don’t understand something you look for the easiest fix to your issue – hence the market for the quick fix point solution in the absence of real education.
  2. For many years the USA was seen as the Mecca for sales solutions with people thinking ‘if it is from the USA it must be good’. [2] Many point solution vendors hail from the USA.  Why? Well, the USA is such a huge market place that many purveyors of point solutions are able to make a great living shopping their ‘solutions’ in a relatively small geographic area with a huge population. They are able to move around for years from one client to the next without really improving sales operations. What they leave behind is a trail of the illusion of sales improvement.  When the short term effects wear off the client has to keep looking for more solutions and the cycle continues.
  3. The use of expert language and terms in sales has created nothing but confusion with people speaking in clichés and slogans.  You constantly need to decipher what people mean. For instance, one person’s version of being strategic is unlikely to be the same as someone else’s.  Point solution vendors create terms and language to differentiate and make a name for themselves but only leave people unable to communicate with each other on what are the fundamentals of sales and sales operations.  It’s a bit like the bible story about the Tower of Babel where no one could understand one another.

The brutal facts are that building and improving sales operations is multi-faceted and complex – it is a dynamic process that is changing constantly.

What is vital is that organisations have a clear vision that directs their strategy and creates focus that in turn drives the right actions and behaviours. The vision is critical. Whilst strategy changes as we navigate around obstacles the vision should be immutable. To give a sales operation the focus, tools and capability to navigate their way towards the vision there needs to be core fundamentals in place.

sales-atomRunning an effective sales operation is not easy.

The well validated Sales Atom is an excellent framework on which to build and improve sales organisations.

The Sales Atom is a unique value chain for sales consisting of revenue generating activities and revenue absorbing functions.  A strategically aligned organisation is usually one that gets the appropriate balance of effectiveness (i.e. doing the right things) in its revenue generating activities and the efficiencies (i.e. doing things right) in its revenue absorbing functions.

So beware of the point solution, it may sound like the ideal fix but unless it is integrated into a sound sales framework you are likely wasting your money, time and effort.  In short, you cannot change, fix, develop or cultivate an effective sales operation with a point solution approach.


[1] There are many sales styles that have been touted as the ‘ideal’ sales style over the years. Think mood selling, barrier selling, formula selling, needs satisfaction selling, consultative selling, solution selling; these are, all forms of selling practice across the last 100+ years.  The latest is a derivative of needs satisfaction selling called Challenger Selling. And while this style does make valid points, none are actually revolutionary or innovative, rather it is a progression on the insights into needs satisfaction selling.  Solutions Selling is by far the most effective selling practice. Some reports indicate that “solutions selling” has past its sell by date. The reality is that solutions, as opposed to products, are precisely what buyers (customers and prospects) are looking to purchase. (see our article on ‘Solutions Selling isn’t dead‘).

[2] Knowing what makes sales people tick is critical for finding and keeping top producers. The implications are serious and far-reaching, especially when it comes to multinational sales management practices. American sales management, training and procedures adhere to US presupposed values and perceptions, and may not be optimal, or even suitable, for other countries. It is often better to access country and culturally specific training for your sales people.

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

Customers are in control of the buying process

May 23, 2013 in Attitudes & Behaviours, Complex Selling & Transactional Selling, Sales Results

In December 2012, we published the 12 Sales Trends Report for 2013 and released a brief summary of each trend. This month we are focusing on the Sales Trend “Customers in control of the buying process”.

It is good practice for salespeople to control the sales process. At least that is the conventional wisdom driving the way salespeople behave. Salespeople see themselves as experts, educators and advisors. They see their customers as ignorant and anxious recipients, waiting for their wisdom. The reality however is vastly different!

Customers aren’t waiting for salespeople to call on them. In fact recent studies show that most if not all buyers actually resent salespeople assuming that they understand their needs and expectations. In addition, buyers are making it harder for salespeople to meet them because they don’t want to be treated as ignorant, nor do they want to meet salespeople who are trained to feign interest in their customers.

main-social-media-iconsMore and more buyers are doing the pre-purchase work themselves. In both B2B and B2C sectors more buyers are turning to their networks or the Web for as much as 70% of the purchase decision before calling on salespeople. And one cannot blame them. Most salespeople do little more than regurgitate the company’s story. They meet with buyers and pretend to be interested in understanding the customers challenges, but they neither ask enough questions to gain a deep enough understanding, nor do they have the well rounded business acumen needed to understand the implications of the issues and construct a meaningful solution. Worse, beyond their limited product knowledge they aren’t really in a position to advise customers.

Interestingly, when salespeople do show an interest in their customers; when they take the time to ask quality questions and then listen to the answers, they get all the time they need to understand the buyer and then to make a pitch for the customer’s business. Genuine solutions providers find it easy to get an initial appointment and get the responsiveness they expect after having made a pitch.

Instead of fighting the inevitable shift, organisations should be looking at how they can change, before they lose even more control. Buyers today put more importance on the genuine interest salespeople show when they explain how customers can extract value from a purchase than an explanation of how to make a purchase. They expect salespeople to learn where they are on the purchase journey and then adapt their style – from educator to facilitator – to the buyer’s position on that continuum. These days, selling is about the journey rather than merely the purchase.

Remember everybody lives by selling something.

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

PS: Here‘s the link to Peter Finkelstein‘s talk at Swinburne University’s Business Forum this week. Peter talked about  Customer Centricity  

Questions deliver answers. What questions deliver sales?

May 15, 2013 in Attitudes & Behaviours, Education in Sales, Sales Results

It is well known that questions deliver answers.  The real question in sales is ‘What questions deliver sales results?’ 

Asking questions and listening are at the heart of any effective selling situation.  Questioning and listening are critical; without them you have salespeople conducting monologues to an audience of bored, disengaged, frustrated customers.  Any self-respecting sales person couldn’t image not asking questions in a sales situation, yet many well intentioned salespeople still fail to sell effectively because of poor question choices. 

is selling about making friends?

like me …

follow me …

tweet me …

poke me …


Many salespeople describe themselves as ‘people people’ often entering a sales career filled with good intentions and under the false assumption that selling is about making friends, getting along with people and getting people to like you because when they like you, of course, they will buy from you.  Wrong.  People buy from people they TRUST and trust supersedes like.  The problem facing many salespeople who adopt the ‘like me and you will buy from me approach’ is that they specialise in ‘Social’ Questioning’, which revolves around their need for affiliation and not much else. You hear it all the time, salespeople being told that they need to build rapport by asking people about their personal lives, footy teams etc. This is very old fashioned and not as effective as people think it is. In fact for many first time client encounters it can be a real turn off for the client. It often comes across as fake. You will build more rapport by focusing on what you are really there to do – and that is work with client’s priorities and address their issues.  Of course it helps to be likeable but you need to build trust as a priority first and focusing on the client and what they want is the key. 

Successful salespeople specialise in ‘Opportunity’ Questioning. Here they are looking for evidence that opportunities exist for them to work on effectively with others. They are inquiring, curious and ideas oriented.  They are also asking questions to validate their clients.  It is their world they are interested in.  It is the sales person’s job to see how the client’s and the sales person’s worlds can intersect successfully – where they can find something of mutual value they can both work on for the benefit of both parties – the fair exchange of value, if you will.

In these instances questions are used to not only assist salespeople with gathering information about the customer i.e. their needs, situation, issues and priorities but also, when used effectively, assist the customer with coming to a clear understanding and realisation about what they need to do for themselves, hopefully with your assistance. customer-relationship For instance by practicing ‘Opportunity’ Questioning the salesperson can:

  1. Gain an understanding of the customer’s needs, priorities, issues, perceptions, prejudices, fears, etc.
  2. Come to have a deeper understanding of the customer’s buying motivators or intentions.
  3. Build genuine rapport and trust with the customer by listening effectively and demonstrating empathy towards their situation. Key is being able to see it from the client’s point of view.
  4. Probe deeper into their situation using effective questioning techniques that help the customer to see a greater, tangible need for your product or service.
  5. Establish what the consequences and opportunities are for the customer and how working with you will add value to them.

When we don’t ask ‘Opportunity’ questions we are at risk of accepting what we are told is true. This can then lead to all sorts of issues such as:

  • being told something is true when it is not
  • making assumptions and being caught out taking the wrong approach
  • being misled and losing out as a result
  • acting unwisely and causing harm to yourself or others
  • giving people what they don’t need
  • creating more problems than there were before

So next time you are out with your salespeople, or, if indeed you are a salesperson yourself, look at your approach to questioning. See what you are doing, what effect your questions are having on your clients and sales results.

Remember everybody lives by selling something.

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

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