To boost top line, put sales at center

Owners often struggle when it comes to accountability with their sales staff.

They watch their reps leave the office for a meeting and, eventually, a purchase order comes in. What happens in between are sales activities that owners may never see—such as emails, follow-up calls and proposals.

This lack of visibility and measurement in the steps of the sales process creates problems throughout the entire organization. The result: lower productivity and performance. Improvement comes only by understanding the interrelationships between sales and the rest of the company. The sales function is not an isolated activity—it’s a team sport.

What does it take to go beyond the purchase order mentality and gain more systematic revenue generation?
Owners can get into the game by organizing all of the company’s functions into one team with a comprehensive playbook — the sales process methodology.

Sales reps impact everyone in the company; all employees are, in one way or another, selling the company. Customer service staff, engineers, administrators and others all need to know the company’s language and sales processes.

Increased visibility

A framework for increased visibility of sales within the company places sales activities in the center—phone calls, emails, conferences and other customer touch points—surrounded by various team functions.
Sales activities get handed off among the other players, such as a tradeshow that marketing develops, sales people attend and then the database manager logs the resulting new leads for follow-up activities. The idea is to work together more closely to avoid dropping the ball.

For example, a new business strategy impacts the entire sales productivity framework.
When a company stopped its outsourced lead generation because it couldn’t keep up with proposals, it was easy to think the salespeople weren’t doing their job. However, prior to starting this sales activity, the company should have reconsidered how to increase the productivity of its entire team, such as:

  • Identifying inside resources who could pre-qualify leads before turning them over to sales people for follow-up;
  • Segmenting the sales force to focus some reps on the new business leads and others to work on existing business;
  • Recording sales activities in a centralized, record keeping system known as a customer relationship management (CRM) system, which marketing could track to better manage the outsourced lead generation provider.

Without an interrelated framework to support sales activities, companies can experience unfortunate errors:

  • An individual versus team culture results in people who refuse to follow the rules and use their own form of database for logging activities that cannot be easily shared with others.
  • Friction between sales and engineering can exist based on priorities that are not in sync, which leads to inefficiencies.
  • Sales people who are not matched well with the company’s values and language will not be team players. It’s an even greater challenge to manage these "mavericks" if they are high performers or the owner’s son or daughter.
  • A culture that doesn’t "hear" sales feedback does not evolve with the marketplace, which can lead to customer loss and declining revenue.
  • "Sandbagging" does not provide an accurate reflection of sales numbers. Anecdotal information about sales status can be misleading to the owner or finance manager, which can throw off a weekly or monthly forecast.

Increased measurement

Owners and managers often wonder:
"How close are we to making the sale with XYZ Company?" Without a centralized accountability system, it’s difficult for them to know how much work the sales person has done to get from first to second base, and what may be needed in time and tools to get the order.

By the salesperson’s logging customer touch points—meetings, phone calls, emails, etc.—into a CRM system, it’s easier for management to track sales activities and gain better visibility into its forecasts.

In the case of introducing a new product, this ongoing stream of information can indicate a need for more sales development time, or a different sales incentive plan, or more frequent mailings from marketing.

Many companies are building social forums for account development and customer service opportunities. Whether the person in charge is in marketing or simply a young, eager staff person, this too is a sales activity that needs to be measured beyond number of "likes."
Customer feedback and data need to be fed into the CRM system in order to be seen throughout the organization and acted upon.

Best practices

A sales productivity framework can be used as a diagnostic tool to help companies discover the root causes of marginal, top-line performance.
By creating a catalog of all elements of a company’s go-to-market system, from the perspectives of a salesperson’s activities, it is possible to identify weak links and areas of improvement.

These "gaps" in the sales process can be filled with value-added initiatives and best practices across the organization.

Some best practices to consider:

  • Compensate sales people on behaviors tied to revenue growth strategies rather than merely revenue brought in.
  • Develop a comprehensive playbook to help everyone in the company to communicate more effectively with customers and prospects.
  • Look for ways to create a single, comprehensive view of the customer. If the company cannot afford a CRM system, then track opportunities in a centralized spreadsheet or Outlook.

Rather than sitting on the sidelines and waiting for purchase orders, management can bring the entire organization into the sales process and work together as a team for greater productivity and profitability.

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