I recently had the opportunity to attend the inaugural Optimising the Sales Force Conference, along with over 120 high level sales leaders across Australia. I was privileged to be part of the panel of international and local experts presenting on sales effectiveness where we explored the latest research on sales strategy, leadership, learning and development, sales management, sales people, and current market trends.
This was the first time in Australia we have had the opportunity to come together as a profession and share ideas and discuss important matters moving forward. There have, of course, been industry specific forums held for the profession of selling but not one that brought industries of all kinds together to discuss sales specifically. It’s hard to believe but this was the first time this has occurred in Australia and about time to! It was really about driving a better profession. Many people are unaware of just how skillful you need to be to run a sales team or lead a successful sales career.
The conference was full of important information and we also had the privilege of hearing from the elder statesmen of strategic selling 78 year old Bob Miller of Miller Heiman fame, who pulled no punches and reminded us of the foundations of our success. We also heard from Tom Snyder who is world renowned for his expertise in creating high performing sales teams.
Over the next few weeks I thought I would share with you some of the insights and findings from the conference in more depth but here is a summary of the topics we discussed and where our attention was focused. This might give you some insight into where the world of selling is heading.
- Everybody is in sales: there was overwhelming agreement that everyone in business is in sales– You are either selling or supporting someone to sell. If your people are disassociating themselves with sales then you need to let them know in no uncertain terms we all live by selling something and they had better get with the program or get out.
- New customer behaviours: the economic downturn has changed how customers conduct business and interact with suppliers, while this comes as no surprise there are now new customer behaviours we need to contend with. In particular, the increase in risk aversion was cited as being one of the most contentious issues. This risk adverse approach is leading to indecision by clients meaning that rather than losing to a competitor, nothing happens. So it is critical that sales people are able to work more strategically with clients and challenge them to help them make good decisions moving forward. This requires a more assertive, confident style of sales person.
- The Challenger Sales Person: research by The Corporate Executive Board Company reported that we need to find and cultivate the ‘Challenger Sales Person’ who is best suited for these markets moving forward. Some of the key characteristics of these people are that they always have a different view of the world, understand the customer’s business, love to debate, and challenge the customer’s ideas and perspective; in short they are at their best as commercial educators and bringers of new ideas and innovations to help businesses function better.
- Coaching, coaching and more coaching: At least 40-60% of a sales manager’s job should be dedicated to coaching their sales people. Yet it still remains an area that is poorly executed. We were shown excellent case studies which demonstrated the financial return of sales coaching. Many of the case studies indicated that a blend of competent internal sales coaching by sales managers supported by external experts in sales coaching was very advantageous to their sales teams’ performance and productivity.
- Role clarity and clear expectations: make sure salespeople and sales managers understand their roles and what is expected of them. Make it explicit and ensure people are adequately skilled to carry out their responsibilities.
- Clear the dead wood quickly: sales managers spend too much time with people who produce too few results. Focus your attentions on those people who are already showing they want to do well and are actually doing their job. You have more hope in getting to your better performers to be much better producers than wasting your time on people who will never perform. As Tom Snyder said “Sales managers are guilty of thinking they can ‘save’ these people from themselves” – his advice is “get rid of them now!”
- Insight and awareness: despite all the skills, tools, and processes around salespeople and sales managers need to be able to develop their own internal guidance and support systems. The ability to reflect on our own performance, be resilient, show empathy, and work ethically was high on the agenda. Personal insight and making a personal commitment to the corporate objectives is also important for ongoing success.
- Connect strategy to activity: your strategy should translate into practical actions people can apply and see results from.
- Marketing and sales unite: marketing needs to support sales and sales must support marketing. There is no in between. Hugh McFarlane from MathMarketing stressed the importance of making sure that all touch points and messages are in alignment.
- Really connect with your key clients: Bob Miller pressed home the importance of being truly connected to your best clients, however he said you cannot have a strategic relationship that is only one way. Your clients must want it as much as you do and there is mutual agreement on the conditions of the relationship. He stated that most companies are very poor at managing this aspect of their business and it leaves them vulnerable to losing major accounts.
- Corporate assets: today’s reality is that in addition to people, property, plant equipment, and IP some of the biggest and most often overlooked assets are companies strategic accounts. They need to be on the agenda of the ‘C’ suite i.e. the CEO, CFO, COO, etc.
I hope that this provides you with some valuable information and insights into what is happening in sales today and into the future. I will go into more depth in the ensuing weeks about these and other topics we covered.