August 17, 2009

Sales Engine Versus Sales effort, or Sales Person

The Role of the Sales Person in Sales Success.

We have worked with sales managers and their teams in 100s of organisations for over two decades. That means we have had contact with lots of great sales people and, as the law of averages would dictate, with a minority of 'not so great' sales people.

All of this has shaped our view of what determines sales success. In particular, it has led us to the view that sales is not just about the sales person. This may sound like a statement of the obvious, however it all too often goes unsaid and the sales performance of many companies suffers as a result.

The Sales Person Centric View of Sales.
Too often organisations take a narrow view of sales success. They focus on sales people and personalities, without full consideration of the many other issues involved. This people centric view tends to characterize sales, more than of any other function of the business.

Take finance, for example, where standards, systems, controls and procedures, rather than just individuals, govern success. This means that a particular financial controller may come, or go, while the systems and structures should remain in tact. The competence, strategy and structure is at the level of the organisation, not the individual. Similarly, just because a production worker leaves does not mean that production stops.

Too often in sales, the strategy is the salesperson, so to is the approach. The production of leads, orders and repeat orders depends on the salesperson. He, or she controls the pipeline. This has two undesirable implications. The first is that the sales person is expected to succeed, often without the right strategy, structure, or support. The second implication is that the organisation can become too dependent on the salesperson. That means if he, or she leaves much of the information, skill, contacts and so on, will be lost.

In sales the skills and efforts of the individual seem to matter more than in any other area. Yes, a good salesperson is important, but equally if not more important is the development of the core sales and marketing capabilities, strategies and systems within an organisation. Without these the success of any salesperson, however great he, or she is, will be constrained.

The Traditional View of Sales Success.

The traditional view of sales success focuses too narrowly on the salesperson. In this salesperson centric view of sales, success involved a two step process:
Step 1 Hire a good salesperson.
Step 2 Provide the right incentives and an element of management control
If success does not result then the salesperson is bad, so fire him, or her and repeat steps 1 and 2. The only problem is that there is no direct correlation between the quality of the salesperson and the rate of sales success of the organization.

In reality, how good the salesperson is, or is not, is just one of a range of factors that determines the sales success of an organization. That explains why
not all great sales people are to be found in fast growing companies, and not all the ‘not so great sales people’ are to be found in slow growth companies.

Sales Effort, or Sales Engine.

Which is better – to have a great salesperson in an average sales organization, or an average salesperson in a great sales organization?

Salespeople come and go. This is particularly true in the context of our own experience which puts the annual rate of turnover of sales staff at 33%. However, it is the capability of the sales organization that matters. The capability of the organization is more important than the capability of the individual sales person.

What is the difference between a great salesperson and a great sales organization? Well, the salesperson has skills, techniques and personal characteristics that are important for success. However, even more important are those sales and marketing competences, resources and capabilities and skills at an organisational level. It is essential that every organisation develops a proven capability, strategy and system for generating sales that does not just reside in one person, but is at the core of the organisations competence and capability.

Does that mean you don’t need good, or even great sales people? Well, effective salespeople will always be required. However, key to this is the organisational environment within which he, or she operates, as well as the systems and supports available.

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