Setting Up Your Sales Team for Success

Customer Strategy
Customer Experience
Key considerations to help ensure companies are taking a holistic view of their selling system as their business strategies change.

With the availability of new technologies for improving the effectiveness of both sales and marketing, there have never been so many tools at our disposal to help craft comprehensive plans to drive sales. It's an exciting and rapidly evolving space, yet we're merely in our infancy in determining best practices and understanding just how much these new tools and processes can impact the business.

As fast as our tools are changing, so are the tools for our buyers, resulting in an ever-changing buying environment requiring organizations to be more responsive to support the buying process. Moreover, being able to meet these aggressive goals aren't competitive advantages anymore - they are table stakes.

The selling system

If you haven't read the topic of a selling system from Forrester Research, you should. In simplest terms, Scott Santucci defines a selling system by three things:

  • The audience you're speaking/selling to = your customers
  • Those communicating your value to your customers = your sellers
  • The functions to enable the sellers to sell = your organization

The connecting factor in every successful sales organization is the ability to manage this system and the changes affecting it-directly impacting the ultimate success (or failure) of your company. The teams responsible for how you speak to your customers-sales and marketing-have become so specialized, that it's become increasingly difficult to maintain a holistic view of your selling system resulting in an inconsistent experience for your buyers.

If you're like most sales and marketing leaders, you also likely have aggressive growth objectives. To meet these growth goals, you are probably planning at least one of these typical initiatives: new products, new markets, investing in sales training, a merger or acquisition, new technology, or territory/account shifts. Each requires significant time and investment, and is a project in itself. The timeline to execute any of these is long, and often results are not seen for many months. Additionally, each strategic initiative affects a different piece of the selling system.

Adapting to a changing business strategy

So what happens as the business strategy shifts? That new territory plan you just rolled out now needs to adjust because of an acquisition. Or the new product being developed requires a completely different sales approach, resulting in sales training and methodology investments. Often when these changes occur, their impact is felt only by the most immediate team or individual, without taking the entire selling system into account. Without context to each other, the selling system breaks down and we open ourselves up to risks and a myopic view of the situation that results in missing the bigger picture.

Forrester supports this with two key points. First, it cites a survey where the firm asks CEOs, "Are you satisfied that your sales force is getting your company to its strategic objectives." Out of the 40 CEOs interviewed, 39 said, "No."

Secondly, they reference Symantec President & CEO, Steve Bennett to illustrate the point:

"On our go-to-market strategy what I would say simply, we had talented people everywhere in the world really working hard but that our system doesn't work, or probably better said we don't have a system. Our process, our technology, the tools we have, our knowledge management, our salesforce is not empowered and freed up to sell." - Steve Bennett, Symantec President and CEO - January 23, 2013, Q3 Earnings and Strategy Direction Conference Call.

Setting up for success

This doesn't mean you need to change the way your organization is structured to adapt.It also doesn't mean there is any one person or group responsible for optimizing the selling system. However, if we think of it as "The whole is greater than the sum of its parts," then we begin to see how one investment or change impacts the others.

Here are the key considerations to help you factor in the entire selling system:

  • Do your sales reps have easy access to the most relevant information?
  • Are your supporting functions clear on how sales is communicating to your prospects and customers?
  • Do you leverage your existing tools to maximize your investments and enable your teams?
  • Is the flow of information from internal teams, to sales, to your prospects and customers consistent?
  • Is each part of the selling system maximizing its time for efficiency? For example, is your sales team spending more time selling than searching for information?

These considerations will help to ensure you are taking a holistic view of your selling system as your business strategies change. While exciting, it's also a tough time to be in a sales enablement function right now. As with any emerging discipline, we are going to see our share of challenges and changes and the more we share what we learn the better. I look forward to hearing your success stories.