What Can and Cannot Be Controlled In Sales? | SalesAndMarketing.com
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What Can and Cannot Be Controlled In Sales?

New book offers lessons to challenge managers, executives and new reps

The concept seems like a no-brainer: Sales reps cannot control customer buying – they can only influence it. How they do this is the job of sales managers. Where managers spend their time is, therefore, critical to making an impact. Jason Jordan’s new book, “Cracking the Sales Management Codebook: The Secrets to Measuring and Managing Sales Performance,” lives up to its promise of providing the frameworks, metrics and best practices to help sales organizations to succeed.

It all comes down to what can and cannot be controlled, which this book does an excellent job explaining in a well-written, straightforward style with good examples and solid research to support it. Yet beyond sales managers who will learn where to spend their time most efficiently and effectively, there are two other beneficiaries of the book where major impacts can be realized in today’s complex sales organizations.

The first is the next generation of sales reps, who need ongoing feedback from sales managers. As an educator of the next generation of sales professionals, I believe sales managers wait too long to measure sales activities and provide ongoing feedback to the Millennials. Without feedback, younger reps often become frustrated to the point of leaving the company within a year or two.

The second group to benefit from the book’s message is executives who are setting sales strategy. A group of Minneapolis-St. Paul-based sales executives recently discussed the book’s value and determined it was “a level up” from most sales management books. Directors and vice presidents of sales who are setting the sales strategy and moving the organization for growth should take it seriously.

Field-sales activities can be managed

I can relate to Jordan’s assessment of “outdated senior managers,” who are pushing their young reps to do non-impactful sales activities. I often hear back from student interns and graduates about sales managers who interrogate rather than coach; expect daily quotas but do not communicate for weeks; and ride along without discussing helpful customer approaches. Many take metrics to the extreme.

Metrics around field sales activities can be controlled, but those that track high-level business results are not, as Jordan explains:

“We can’t see or touch revenue, but we can see our sales reps going on sales calls and hope that revenue follows. We can’t see or touch share of wallet, but we can see reps creating account plans and hope that their customers buy more from us as a consequence. Sales activities are the causes that lead to other effects.”

The book outlines the field sales activities and metrics that sales managers do have control over, such as time spent coaching reps, number of sales calls made per rep, percentage of reps using CRM, and percentage of account plans completed.

The next generation of sales reps likes to figure out how to reach goals, yet they want to be coached along the way. Sales managers should give younger reps a road map on what activities to do daily, weekly and monthly. They need to proactively change activities every four to six weeks as learning and desired behaviors occur so that Millennials do not get frustrated. And offer CRM and other sales tools they have used in school to capture information about their activities.

What if the company’s leadership had decided how to reach its sales objectives?

The book – and this question – were discussed recently among members of the Sales Executive Forum (SEF) at St. Catherine University, a group of sales executives from 3M, Ernst & Young, CH Robinson and other local companies who meet monthly to discuss current sales challenges and learn from each other.

Overall takeaways from this discussion: Sales leaders have to know their business strategy and tie sales activities that they can control to that strategy – rather than focus on business results, which can’t be controlled. There’s a real need for discipline within the sales function of any organization. The book shed impactful light on how to align organizational strategies to drive growth using a disciplined approach.

One SEF executive brought the book’s concept to one of her clients, a large technology company that was pushing its salespeople to do things they didn’t have control over. Leadership changed its focus to field sales activities that could be controlled – number of contacts within each buying organization, account sales plans completed and proof of concept with client – for all plan solutions

“The company deployed a global pilot for a reward-and-recognition system to increase penetration of key products/solutions,” according to Louise Anderson, president of Anderson Performance Improvement Company. “The pilot was based on following the behaviors and activities of the company’s most successful sales reps, who gained higher margins and increased gross sales due to complete solutions per key account by going beyond the heads of technology buyers to others who might benefit from the products such as CFO and business unit executives. Sales management was surprised with the resulting acceleration in sales in the United States, Europe and targeted markets,” she explained.

Better processes = better sales performance

This idea of strategic alignment with sales discipline comes full circle in the book in the section about sales processes. As Jordan states, “Companies with more developed sales processes enjoy greater sales performance… (yielding) 23 percent more output from a sales force.”

Five key sales processes follow the “activities that can be managed” theme: call management, opportunity management, account management, territory management and sales force enablement. A chart with sample metrics indicates the type of activities that sales managers can influence and new reps can easily understand.

When these processes are aligned with sales objectives and business results that executives have set and communicated across the selling organization, the components for success in the new sales world –management, metrics and methodology (as defined by Jordan) – are in place to focus on what can and cannot be controlled.

Lynn Schleeter (lfschleeter@stkate.edu) is director of the Center for Sales Innovation at St. Catherine University in St. Paul.