Do you have a Sales Team or a Sales System?

Ask any CEO or business owner what keeps them up at night and I have yet to find one that won't include REVENUE in their "top 3" (for most it's number one).  Diving deeper into that concern I generally ask the following questions: 

  1. Do you have a sales team or a sales system?
  2. Which do you rely upon more? 

The answers are generally some combination of "one or two great salespeople and a CRM".  Where it gets scary is when I ask "what happens if one of those salespeople leaves?  Obviously it is fantastic to have that great closer in your organization, but if they are that good eventually someone will take them from you.

I don't know any seasoned sales leaders that won't take a sales system over a given sales team "seven days a week and twice on Sunday".  Many business leaders will, however, place a lot of faith in "Bob", because Bob has "kept the doors open for so long"...and "the customers love him"...and "because he's been here so long"...

The following will make it obvious which choice I'll make whenever charged with building out the "sales engine" for a company.

The Sales System

When asked what a Sales System is, I generally respond by telling people what it is NOT...the CRM.  Properly implemented, the Sales System is embedded into the CRM in an intuitive way ...but it is NOT "the system".  A "best practices" Sales System is scalable and includes a number of key components:

Prospecting / Lead Generation – virtually all customers begin as a prospect / leads, no customers.

Opportunity Management - a process of separating out and focusing the most energy on the highest value/probability prospects.

Sales Enablement - the "toolkit" that supports and enables the above.

KPIs / Measurement - constant monitoring of the key "dials and knobs that need to be turned" to improve results from the top to the bottom of the funnel.

Each of these topics is worthy of a complete series of books, videos, etc., and there are plenty of authorities on each.  The following will attempt to explore each of these components in a bit more detail...from the perspective of what has worked for us and many of our clients.

Prospecting / Lead Generation

We have yet to find a magic bullet for generating leads.  It is a high volume of hard work, over time...and there is no way around it.  This is typically more of a marketing conversation than a sales conversation, but without leads the sales team will be left "twiddling their thumbs".  The companies that we have seen do the best job of generating leads employ a combination of:

Digital Marketing - all inclusive of SEO (driven by heavy content publication), PPC, ABM, social media engagement, etc.
Physical Marketing - in-person activities ranging from conferences to trade shows, etc.
Business Development - old-fashioned "smiling and dialing"...painful but it works.

Opportunity Management

Once you have a "lead", it is crucial that you don't "waste" it.  By waste we mean two things...wasting a good lead on a bad process or a bad lead on a good process.  Truth be told a good process weeds out the bad leads quickly.  However, every prospect deserves our time, attention and respect, and, put through the right process, everyone on both sides ends up in the right place:

1.  Separating out SQLs (Sales Qualified Leads) from MQLs (Marketing Qualified Leads).
2.  Identifying their "pain points" and priorities.
3.  Determining if you have a compelling offering/solution that aligns with those priorities.
4.  Presenting that offering/solution to the prospect and confirming that it aligns with their need.
5.  Presenting a quote that is aligned with the prospect's expectations for both the solution and its ROI.
6.  Setting up a successful delivery of the solution.

Managed properly, 90% of the prospects that are quoted closes, while the rest drop out of the funnel at the optimal point in the process, essentially when they have become "mutually disqualified" as a prospect. 

Sales Enablement

Sales enablement is a term that is broadly used and applied in many ways, often times in concert with the particular nuances and complexities of a particular market.  A "sales enablement toolkit" will typically include the following (at a minimum):

Lexicons & Playbooks - a set of tools that defines a common sales language, identifies each step in the sales process, and maps out the key activities and associated KPIs.
Pitch Decks & Presentation Materials - to provide the appropriate messaging and exhibits to support each step of the sales process / buyer's journey.
CRM - the system the documents all sales activities from the identification of a lead through the management of an individual opportunity, ideally aligned with a formal sales system, tracking KPIs along the way.
Training - training not only related to the company's products, services and process, but also with solid sales techniques and tools.

KPIs / Measurement

To quote Lewis Carroll..."If you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there..."...  When it comes to sales this isn't just a matter of having goals/quotas, it is about understanding the key activities that drive sales, the inflection points in the sales process and the tools and techniques it takes to measure and improve conversion rates down through the funnel.  The following is the starting point we typically use to map the KPIs for a B2B marketing & sales funnel, top to bottom:

Marketing and Sales Funnel KPIs

The Sales Team

Even with the most artfully crafted selling system will fail if the right person isn't plugged into it.  Depending on the size of the company there might be business development reps, closers, account managers, etc.  One thing we've learned early is that "never the twain shall meet".  Those that are great at managing accounts are typically terrible at prospecting...closers are typically awful at managing accounts.  The mindset, aptitude and skills that make someone great in one role typically do not translate to another.

Assuming you are committed to a structured selling system as we advocate to all of our clients, there are a few things you can do to give your sales team the best chance of success:

Map Your Org Chart to Your Process – a sales team should be structured in a way that aligns with specific activities, to achieve specific goals, developing and moving opportunities down through the funnel.
Put the "Right Butt in the Right Seat" - there are numerous tools available to support hiring the right people.  We like Harver (formerly Outmatch) as an aptitude assessment tool that can align an individual with a specific sales role.  We have seen specific instances where someone had the ideal aptitude for an Account Manager but the poorest possible aptitude for a Business Development Manager.
Measure & Adjust - no matter how solid the rationale behind any business objective it has no value unless you measure results against it and adjust as business conditions change (and they ALWAYS change).
Compensate - sales professionals are typically money motivated more than any other part of the organization.  Giving them the "brass ring" to shoot for is never as simple as "commissions".  Compensation should be structured to incentivize the behaviors that drive not only revenue but PROFITABLE revenue that aligns with all of the company's goals.

What Else?

If you've made it this far you obviously have an interest in getting the revenue generation side of your business right.  What is the alternative to the above?   We refer to it as the "sales anarchist playbook", in which one or more sales people are allowed to do pretty much whatever they want as long as they bring in business.   While this may keep the cash register full (for a while), it typically also means the CRM is a mess and that forecasting is a guess at best.  While this may seem a bit cynical, it is insight based in experience.