Sales Execution: There are no shortcuts to Success
By Jim Lundy
IBM CEO Virginia Rometti had to shuffle her sales staff last week after IBM’s hardware division missed its sales number by 17%. That isn’t a small miss. There are many lessons learned from IBM’s move that other CEOs could learn from. This blog post is about Sales execution.
First, I spent my early years at Xerox in Sales. In fact, I had just about every job there is in sales from Account Executive, District Manager, Region Sales Manager, and National Sales Operations. So when it comes to Sales, unlike some other analyst firms, we can walk the talk. Let’s go full circle to the problem that some many firms have with execution.
Sales execution is all about people and process. On the people part of the equation, there are many firms out there that are not executing and it is most often attributable to a lack of execution in Sales. I often hear excuses from Sales leaders that they are not getting enough leads from marketing. Real Sales Pros use the lead process to ensure that they overachieve. Most of the Sales Eagles are not waiting for leads, they are driving the lead process by nurturing existing accounts and reference selling their way into others.
In IBM’s case, for such a sales driven sales culture, missing a number by 17% is stunning. Ms Rometti wasted no time in acting. The question is, why do so many other CEOs fail to act when Sales is not delivering?
Picking the right head of sales is critical. One of the biggest lessons I got in my time at Xerox, was a message that Senior Executives were merciless about. Don’t hire a friend to run a sales organization. For the CEO, when a Sales Leader isn’t delivering the forecasted numbers, time is fleeting. The issue for many CEOs is that they wait too long to pull the trigger to replace sales leader who isn’t managing the execution of the sales plan.
For many companies, the issue with Sales execution often starts with Sales Management. Do they have the tools, can they help their teams succeed, can they multi-task? If a Sales Manager isn’t delivering, how does the Sales Leader get that manager back on track? As is often the case, some Sales Pros are not cut out to be managers. Shifting an unsuccessful manager to a different role in the firm is an option that should be looked at.
Sales Training and Role Playing
For world class Sales organizations, Sales training isn’t an option. It is all about having a competent salesforce that knows what to do and how to do it. It doesn’t matter if it is inside or outside sales. Sales training is a must do option.
In that spirit, practice makes perfect. Rehearsing before a sales call is important, even vital? Many don’t take the time to rehearse. They wing it and the results are not that unexpected. The people who rehearse, either verbally or mentally, are better prepared.
The Sales Pipeline
When a firm misses their sales number, it makes me wonder about the health of the pipeline as well as the forecast. In IBM’s case, they had the deals in process, but they didn’t close. Sound familiar? The close ratio is often something to look at. Do the forecasted deals close on time and the others push or are lost? Why are deals getting stalled?
Sales Activities vs Results
Make no mistake, you can’t confuse sales activities with results. That said, doing the right sales activities most often leads to the right results. Making enough calls to develop and nurture accounts and deals is critical. Today, I see many Sales teams that don’t want to do the work and make the calls. In my early days at Xerox, it was a minimum of ten calls a day. That tends to hone your skills pretty fast.
The bottom line is that there are no shortcuts to success in Sales. Having the talk track, making the calls, developing the needs, getting the client to vision the solution and closing the deal are what it is all about. Sales leaders are the magicians that make this happen. A CEO that wants their company to go far needs to invest in the right sales leader. They also need to know when it is time to make a change.