By Alex P. Bartholomaus, President & CEO
Are you happy with your company’s sales performance? It’s a question that’s rhetorical to most CEOs, but you must ask it regularly.
However, improving sales performance is not like going to the doctor, taking a pill, and making it better. It’s not going to kill you tomorrow, but eventually, it will. CEOs can have a false sense that everything is okay because nothing terrible has happened.
But there’s not a Lipitor for sales performance. This is about long-term health, and you need to change your business’s lifestyle.
Look inside yourself
If sales aren’t where they could be, then how did you get to this point? What role did you as CEO have in that suboptimal sales situation?
It’s easy to analyze the metrics or pass the buck to the Sales VP and his staff to improve things. You might even have a knee-jerk reaction and fire people, but that’s only going to go so far—and won’t address the underlying issue.
Take a step back, take the emotion out of the situation, and ignore pressure from your board or stockholders. Sometimes the best reaction is not to react.
Instead, ask yourself: Are you having the right conversation around sales performance with your Sales President?
Likely, you are not.
Sales issues start at the top
A commitment to sales excellence begins at the top. A lot of times, companies conceptualize solid strategies, but operationally, they struggle.
Often leadership is lulled by “satisfactory” sales performance. They’re not having any glaring issues concerning sales excellence, but they’re going to have a problem if they don’t get better at it. Fast.
What have you done to make sales excellence an organizational priority? I have found that it’s easy for CEOs and Presidents of Sales to say that sales excellence is a priority. But I follow up with a tougher question.
“What are you doing organizationally that reinforces that?” This is where the desire vs. commitment paradigm comes into play—what a company is willing to invest against their desire.
In general, the desire exists to make Sales Excellence a priority, but the commitment is usually small if it exists.
Sales excellence = conversations, questions
Having the right conversation around sales excellence between you as CEO and your Sales President is one thing. Still, it needs to trickle down to the lower levels for Sales Excellence to become engrained in the culture.
But even then, it’s not a home run. Getting buy-in from the CEO isn’t enough, and I’ve learned this the hard way. If you don’t get buy-in from the levels down from the top, you’re doomed.
Once the top two influencers are on the right track, the President of Sales must communicate with the sales managers, both as a team and individually. Finally, your sales managers must be interacting with your front line salespeople.
These lower-level conversations will also be full of questions—not interrogations, but constructive questions surrounding each person’s experience and process within their role with the sales department. That sharing of methodologies will drive growth.
Strategy and goals
As with many business initiatives, the first way to set expectations is to define it—and the hopes and successes associated with the idea, in this case, Sales Excellence. Set the concept as a core value. Put it on the walls. Name it as one of the pillars on which the business is built. If you don’t, things happen in isolation. It is nearly impossible to drive growth consistently when you’re doing it in isolation.
Defining success is critical because when people don’t know where they stand, they assume they are doing a good job—even when it’s clear they are not. It’s all about qualitative and quantitative feedback.
Many companies are not leveraging analytics. Often, it’s the CEO who considers which analytics their company can look at to continue trending. But the CEO should be sharing these analytics with the Sales President at least monthly.
But this harkens back to the setting of goals, which will vary for businesses based on size and growth projections. Analytics are just a tool. There are a whole host of tools an organization needs to consider to determine the health of its sales efforts.
Commitment and Accountability
Making Sales Excellence a priority needs to be prolonged commitment. A mindset within the organization. It’s hard making sales. If you want constant growth, you must close the feedback loop as it pertains to sales excellence.
As sales environments increase in complexity and value, there is a direct correlation between a sales person’s or sales manager’s performance and level within the organization. Progress reports will lend to a more organized effort.
An organization cannot tolerate under-performance if it wants to live by sales excellence. This means there may be attrition in the sales department. The consequence of losing one’s job is part of accountability. The most crucial part of accountability is the initial commitment.
A CEO must take a step back before considering dismissing any of the sales staff, in particular the department’s VP. A shortcoming in sales growth does not necessarily mean you’ve got a weak VP. Slow down. The CEO should look at the organizational factors of the lack of growth before going down that path.