Why your sales initiatives won’t work (and what to do about it)
Sales organizations have been trying to ‘crack the sales code’ ever since selling became a profession. Every few years someone comes up with a new sales methodology that claims to hold the secret sauce that will significantly increase sales growth and catapult companies to new successes. Recently there has been an explosion of sales enablement technologies that have similar claims of accelerating performance. While most of these sales initiatives have value, their underlying premise that you will improve performance if you simply implement them is misleading at best. Sales organizations are pouring more money than ever into these types of sales initiatives, but more often than not, they do not produce the results that were anticipated.
The reality is that sales organizations are complex, interdependent, and usually require a review of all components to effectively ‘move the needle.’ Similar to the human body, no one component operates independently and outside of the system. For example, if a runner is trying to improve their time in a race, then they must fine-tune all components towards getting faster. This could include cardio conditioning, muscle development, proper form, footwear, and even mental focus. Similarly, when sales organizations are looking to improve, they must consider all parts and functions of the sales department.
When companies don’t take a holistic approach, the results are costly. Studies show that up to 65% of sales initiatives fail, costing companies thousands – or millions – of dollars. Worse, most sales organizations will repeat this mistake over and over again.
So what’s causing companies to continue to try to solve complex sales problems with isolated solutions?
They treat what they see
It is common for sales leaders to address the symptoms of underperformance as these are the most visible pain points. For instance, if sales reps are not hitting their targets, then one could argue that hiring better talent might fix this. If there aren’t enough “A” or “B” players, then maybe better coaching will help. If sales teams are experiencing plateaued performance or unmotivated reps, then it might be time revise your compensation. Lastly, when conversion rates and win rates are down, organizations look to implement new sales methodologies.
All of these approaches are attempts to fix the symptoms of common sales pain points. Yet just like in medicine, treating symptoms won’t cure a disease.
When dealing with performance or sales issues, it’s important to take a step back and understand the root cause(s) and contributing factors. A good example of this is an energy company with some common sales issues – their cost of sale was too high and win rates were low. They initially thought that if they changed their sales methodology they could increase performance and reduce costs. This was definitely part of the equation, but when they dug deeper they found that the company really needed a new sales process and new sales roles to support it. Ultimately the initiative became a bigger effort than anticipated, but it paid off when the changes resulted in a 30% reduction of the cost of sale and 20% improvement in win rates.
They focus on the equipment
Athletes love to buy the new equipment featuring the latest technology. They see this as a critical way to gain an advantage. Similarly, sales leaders often look to the new sales tools to improve performance. These equipment (i.e. sales tool) changes are important and necessary, but the latest running shoe won’t make you suddenly be able to run the mile in half the time.
There is a right way to improve your performance in any sport and it can be fairly linear. First, you must have the determination and focus to put in the effort needed to get better. Then you must work on muscle development and proper form to condition the body towards the right set of motions. After that, you must work on being able to perform those motions at scale through cardio training.
Optimizing sales organizations is a linear process as well. For instance, you can’t define customer journeys until you’ve segmented your customers. You also can’t build sales processes until you’ve defined the customer buying process. Consequently, you can’t implement sales tools until you know the processes you’re trying to enable.
They are not considering the whole
Have you ever bought a new a new golf club that changed the way you needed to swing? Or had to change your shoes based on the type of running you are doing? It is common knowledge that when you change one thing in a system, you’ll have to make adjustments to connected components.
Yet sales leaders often fail to apply this concept when they are looking to implement new sales initiatives. Too many times we see new sales models being introduced without looking at organizational structure, or new sales processes being created without thinking through the sales roles. When implementing a new change, sales leaders need to consider how that might affect other parts of the sales organization.
Next time you think about making changes to the sales organization, take a quick step back and ask yourself:
- Am I solving the root cause of the issue or just a symptom?
- What other factors might be playing a role in the issue?
- What impact will this change have on my people, processes, and tools?
- Is the current sales model compatible with the initiative?