Are Your Sales Tools Turning A-Performers Into B-Performers?

Some things in business are very clear and binary: A company succeeds or fails. A customer buys from you or from someone else. A customer returns for additional sales or leaves for a competitor.

Other things are indeed relative: Sales numbers may be double the previous quarter but still fall below expectations. A customer returns for additional sales but resists buying more because of satisfaction issues. A deal falls through, but the prospect would have been a poor fit as a customer.

In all these cases, the context in which they are seen has a lot to do with whether they are good or bad things.

The trend to evaluate sales reps is a little like that. The A players blast past their quotas regularly and adapt to changes — such as new products and sales procedures — with little trouble. B players deliver satisfactory results, but may miss their quotas at times. The C players almost always miss quota and often are marked for termination by their management.

This is all relative. Ideally, you can get the most from the A players, and help the B players improve into A players. What does that look like? Are your expectations set correctly? Have they been warped by years of results that disguise a lack of sales process efficiency?

Too often, companies come to expect their results to be a constant, perfectly in keeping with historical trends. If process issues are constraining sales, over time they come to look like the norm. As a result, your A players are delivering A results — but in the context of a less-than-optimal organizational performance.

Oddly, decent results can disguise these flaws — even if there’s a realization that things could be better, the old “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” way of thinking can impede efforts for improvement. As a result, your A players may be delivering A results in your perception, but they’re delivering B-level results in relation to their potential.

This may stem from systemic product or service problems, but it’s more likely that some basic sales processes are neglected, which can optimize sales’ performance. Here are three of the most important questions to ask about your sales staff:

Quotas and Territories

Are their quotas and territories being determined correctly?

If you underestimate the potential of a salesperson or a territory, you immediately increase the likelihood that the salesperson will make quota. That may be great for the salesperson, but it means you’re leaving money on the table. Getting these two components right means you can forecast, allocate sales assets and provide incentives correctly, which means your A players will deliver A results.

Let’s start with territory. Every sales rep wants a big territory. The thinking is that the bigger the territory, the more sales opportunities there are to cash in on. Well, yes and no.

The objective of determining sales territories is not to reward some reps or punish others. It’s to spread prospective customers evenly over your sales team (based on their abilities) so that you get the most return from every area you sell into and from every salesperson.

Too small a territory leaves salespeople frustrated and angry. When you make one territory too small, it’s likely you also made another one too big — and the size of that territory can impede sales.

That seems counterintuitive, but a right-sized territory allows your sales reps to spend the right amount of time going through leads, then focusing their attention on the deals that are likely to close.

The oversized territory, however, forces your reps to spend a lot more time in the initial stages of reviewing and making initial contact with a lot more leads. When they’re down to the hot leads, they have less time to work them — and have more work to do to cover them all.

The result is that some hot leads are dropped, and the ones that are worked are worked more hastily and are less likely to convert. That’s a waste — for the salesperson, for the marketing department that found the leads, and for your business. Had you used territory management software, other salespeople could have picked up those lost deals — and increased sales by as much as 15 percent, according to Gartner.

Once you have your territories determined, creating quotas becomes much simpler — and more reality-based. If you have a system that captures, stores and permits analysis of historical performance for each rep, you can use that to assess their capabilities. Combined with the potential for their territory, this enables you to set quotas that are realistic.

Training Days

Are they being trained constantly?

Most companies pour on the training early in a salesperson’s tenure, and the learning trend for sales becomes a bit troubling after that. In many cases, once sales reps are deemed ready and trained, they’re cut loose from training and sent out on their own.

Salespeople really become profitable in their third year on the job. Unfortunately, that’s often the exact time they start looking for new opportunities. Why? The culture of your sales department, how well you compensate sales, and the perceived sales opportunity of your products play a huge role. One other thing does as well: training.

In order to stay relevant, salespeople have to become subject-matter experts — on your products and on sales techniques. Salespeople know this today, and so a failure to train sales on an ongoing basis holds performance down, limits commissions, and sets the stage for reps’ departure.

The training content is different for experienced reps than it is for new hires, of course, and training will always battle for a spot on sales reps’ calendars. Continuing professional development of sales reps gives them additional abilities to sell, so they close more deals for higher amounts, meaning bigger commissions for them and better revenues for the company.

It also sends an important churn-fighting message: The company cares about continuing improvement for its sales reps; they are not mere cogs in a selling machine.

Training is worth salespeople’s time and attention, especially in the crucial year two and year three or their tenure. It prevents them from becoming irrelevant as the customer changes. It better enables them to fulfill the role of trusted advisor to help get customers the last few steps to the goal line. It also makes sure they increase in value to your business over time.

Information Overload

Do they have information at their fingertips?

While training is a must, there’s no way your salespeople can retain every detail of your products and services in their heads. As many of us realized in college, however, the key is not knowing everything but rather knowing where to look everything up. In the case of sales, it should be the sales enablement and configure price quote, or CPQ, systems.

The last two years have seen businesses focus heavily on content, resulting in libraries of white papers, reports, videos and podcasts. All of that is great, but unless sales can find it when it’s needed, this content is merely an exercise in creating noise without delivering a signal to sales.

It’s an expensive approach — at $600 per content item, if a company with 2,000 content items has 70 percent of them unused, that’s a waste of $840,000 per year on unused content. Not only is that wasted money, it competes for attention and distracts salespeople from high-value content. When it comes to sales, more content is not “more” — it’s simply information overload.

A good sales enablement system gives you the structure to sort and prioritize content so that a salesperson can get exactly what the current deal calls for without having to memorize your content library. CPQ uses the same structure to deliver key content as quotes and proposals are created — a key moment of truth in any deal, especially a somewhat complex one.

This elevates sales performance by presenting the salesperson — and by extension the company — as an authority, a fair dealer in information and a trusted advisor. Better yet, being able to deliver the right content on-demand makes the company and the sales staff look hyperorganized and competent and builds trust.

These tools will reset the context for sales. Having them in place, and using them properly, will elevate A players’ performance significantly — enough to show you what “A” should really look like in your business.

CRM Buyer columnist Chris Bucholtz is director, content marketing, for CallidusCloud and a speaker, writer and consultant on topics surrounding buyer-seller relationships. He has been a technology journalist for 17 years, focusing on CRM since 2006. When he's not wearing his business and technology geek hat, he's wearing his airplane geek hat; he's written three books on World War II aviation.

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