Turn Sales Around – A 90-Day Plan
The average tenure for a sales leader is 18 months. This simple fact highlights the short runway afforded to new sales leaders in a highly visible function that can suffer from “over exposure,” especially when sales goals are not being met. Enhancing sales force effectiveness and lifting revenues and margins in the first six months are essential to a new Sales VP’s survival. However, given such a short timeframe there are only a few actions that can deliver significant changes in performance. If you take the time early on to identify and address the two or three most important issues that span sales strategy, organization and talent in an integrated way so that these areas are better aligned, you can create a powerful multiplier effect.
As the new sales leader you will hear plenty of opinions about what to do. Make sure you rely on facts, followed by your own observations, preferably supported by material evidence. Start by validating customer segments, including the needs and buying behavior of each segment, using market research, customer feedback, historical sales data analysis, and insights from front line sales managers. This is critical because making a mistake at this level will cause sales resources to invest in and articulate the wrong value proposition to different customers and account types.
This may seem simple enough but too often we see companies waste valuable time with the wrong customers focusing on issues that are simply not relevant to them. As an added bonus this process often brings to light the true incremental value of accounts in each segment by highlighting the opportunity to a.) Penetrate existing accounts with new or existing product and service offerings, and b.) Acquire new accounts that have a similar profile but are currently not served.
Once you’ve developed an economic model for valuing accounts and opportunities, modify your go-to-market approach to ensure you remain focused on the highest value accounts. Too many companies depend on their sales professionals to “do the right thing” in the field, usually at the expense of focus, consistency in execution and revenue and profit growth. If you don’t have a framework for determining account priority you need one. It should set clear expectations for how much time and resources should be invested in each account. Otherwise, expect as many approaches to prioritizing accounts as there are sales people. That’s not a recipe to extend your stay past the magic 18-month mark.
You should also define the right sales process for each offering to clarify how and when different resources are engaged (e.g., sales engineers). Focus first on sales efforts that engage multiple resources where you suspect the approach varies across the business, and make sure to keep the process at the right altitude so it doesn’t become overly complex. Organizations that use more than one resource on an opportunity often find that those resources are engaged too late or too early in the process, thus compromising conversion rates and consuming valuable resources. Use the intelligence and data you already have on where you’ve been successful in the past to determine the best point in the sales process to involve different resources.
Something that’s not easy to do when sales are already below expectations is to cut headcount. However, it’s essential to identify and remove poor performers as quickly as possible. Where available use a combination of data on competencies and results (e.g., sales-specific competency ratings, quota attainment, same account growth, new account acquisition) to highlight resources that are consistently dragging down the team’s overall performance. Remember, everyone can have a bad quarter — look for trends.
Fill vacant roles with new talent that have the right sales DNA and therefore are more likely to be successful in your company. Combined with basic hiring filters (e.g., qualifications, experience) and multi-layered interviews, this DNA can quickly be identified in candidates by employing inexpensive off-the-shelf assessment tools (for example, the Chally Sales Talent Audit and Assessment). The cost of making mistakes and bad hires are immediate and significant, so use the tools at your disposal to get this right.
Now get your “coverage model” aligned with the known market opportunity. Most organizations find they have some level of mismatch between resources and accounts. Since sales people and accounts are constantly changing this requires a continuous optimization process. Remember, you’re never done here. Set account valuation thresholds to identify where field or inside resources are most appropriate, making sure not to over-invest. Use geo-mapping techniques (visualizing geographic account distribution) to help quantify the cost to serve each account based on account call frequency, account density and travel assumptions and then continue to apply this methodology as accounts and resources change.
The 90-Day Plan
Clearly there’s a lot to get done in a short timeframe but it can be accomplished with the right approach well executed. See below a sample 90-day plan that you can tailor for your own purposes: