I recently responded to a reporter’s query about the best new tips and tricks for sales coaches to help their sales teams increase annual revenue by a factor of ten. Reflecting on where the most powerful opportunities lie, I concluded the best path to exponentially boost revenue for most companies is not through “hot new sales tips and tricks.” Rather, it will be found by going back to the basics. Only organizations that already have a functional sales foundation in place are well-poised to benefit from new strategies and techniques. Sustainable performance can’t be achieved via shortcuts. What follows is an expansion of my response to the reporter.
Sales Foundation: Get a Dedicated, Effective Sales Manager
The first “hot tip” isn’t new at all; it’s an old reliable standby. You need to have a dedicated sales manager — the importance of this role cannot be understated. Unfortunately, 82% of sales managers are not effective as sales coaches, which is the #1 most important thing they should be doing (Objective Management Group data). So you need to ensure you have the right person in the role, and that they are ready, willing and able to coach effectively. One of the reasons so many sales managers are ineffective is that they are promoted from the top sales position, and the characteristics required to succeed in sales management are extremely different from those needed to succeed as a salesperson.
Often, people think a sales manager’s job is to grow sales. It’s more accurate to say their role (when done properly) is to grow salespeople. And if they are doing that right, a sales manager will make a significant impact on revenue generation. By focusing more on sales team growth vs. sales revenue growth, a sales manager can end up having an exponentially greater impact on revenue than if they were to focus on growing sales themselves.
The Problem With Trendy Solutions
Stop looking for the next great shortcut or trendy trick. At this point, where sales and sales management are concerned, people have mostly heard about what they should be doing. The problem is that most organizations aren’t executing the basics properly yet. So we can talk about the latest sales concerns, but the powerful stuff that will transform your sales probably isn’t coming from social selling or a new CRM or sales and marketing integration. All of those are important and great, by the way — when properly executed. But frequently the real issue is that the baseline sales stuff, which is not new and shiny, isn’t in place correctly. So when you start integrating great social selling tools like LinkedIn + Reachable, or a snazzy CRM, it may not get you the results you had hoped.
People may not be excited to hear (yet again) about the need to hire better, coach more, and coach better, but odds are they still aren’t doing those things right. Here’s a perfect example: consultative selling has become a sales buzzword in recent years due to the shift in sales dynamics, where prospects are very well-educated by the time they connect with sales. Consultative selling is supposed to be the way to overcome that.
You’re Not Doing it Right
Dave Kurlan, who created the OMG sales assessment tools we use at Braveheart, recently published research on how far consultative selling has come in four years. In four years of focusing on consultative selling, most organizations have managed to get just 1% better at it. They are talking about it, they may have tried it, they may think they are doing it. But they aren’t doing it right, and it ends up being insultative rather than consultative. It’s not a failure of the consultative approach itself. The opposite results occur where consultative selling is implemented in organizations that have received outside consulting to get their baseline functions in order. It’s an application failure.
Sales Foundation: Get the Basics Right
Organizations need to focus on getting the baseline stuff right. Hiring, onboarding, coaching, having a repeatable sales process. All of these have been talked about ad nauseam, so they may not be attention-grabbers, but they should be, because most of them have room for improvement─ if they are in place at all.
If you aren’t using a candidate assessment tool designed specifically for sales (not adapted Myers-Briggs, etc.), then you probably have the wrong people selling for you. Stop hiring based on resumes and your gut instinct. When you do that, you have essentially a 50/50 chance of getting the right person; it’s a crapshoot. Hiring just one wrong person is more costly than you may think (you can use our Sales Hiring Mistake Calculator here). The OMG sales assessment tools we use are the industry standard, the first created for sales, rated the #1 sales assessment tool by sales professionals on Top Sales World for the last four years in a row. OMG’s candidate assessment can tell you, with 96% accuracy, whether a sales candidate is going to perform. Out of 750,000 salespeople who have been screened with this tool, 92% of the candidates it identifies as recommended to hire rise to the top 50% of their sales teams within 12 months! Do the math. Why wouldn’t you want to use it?
Your new salespeople aren’t going to learn to succeed by osmosis. You need to arm them with stories, information, questions and answers through a consistent, repeatable sales onboarding process. According to a recent Sales Management Association research brief, only 31% of companies described their onboarding programs as structured. This is where most companies fail. But those who do have a structured, consistent onboarding program in place have more positive results and shorten the time to productivity by 37%. We have a Sales Hiring eBook that has an example outline for an onboarding program.
Bear in mind, if there are underlying issues with your sales manager or sales organization, hiring a superstar salesperson is irrelevant. They won’t succeed until your larger issues are addressed, and they are going to learn the wrong ways of doing things. So, don’t stop at candidate assessments. You can get a ton of powerful information by doing evaluations on your existing salespeople, your sales managers, and your entire sales organization. Fix problems there and you can really unlock your sales effectiveness (and revenue).
For a Repeatable Sales Process:
This is an area that is flawed —if it exists at all— in nearly every company we have worked with. And it’s one of the reasons consultative selling often fails. Salespeople need to be comfortable and informed enough with the product or service to sell it. Often, they aren’t. So you create training materials, such as scripts and questions, and customer stories. And you allocate plenty of regular, ongoing practice time. It’s a simple concept, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to implement correctly.
You really need to spend at least 50% of your time coaching, and you probably aren’t. But what is coaching? First of all, it’s not telling. Managers need to learn how to elicit the answers from their salespeople by asking the right questions, and tying sales activities and goals to the salesperson’s individual motivations. Those are one to one activities, where you calculate together what they need to be doing, where they tell you their plan, and you hold them accountable to it. We have put together tools to help with this, such as our Sales Leadership Toolkit and Math of Success worksheet.
Stop looking for the next shortcut. Nothing new is going to help you without a solid foundation, and the odds are good that yours is shaky in one or more areas. If you want to improve your sales revenues times ten, your resources are best spent addressing those first.
Is there an exception? If you can think of a single sales tip that will increase revenue by a factor of ten even if your sales foundation is in ruins, let us know about it in the comments.