By Tom Hill and Landon Petersen

Better Sales Culture: Building a Prospecting Culture for Profitable Growth is the third in a three-part series on how highly effective sales teams can drive profitable growth for the organization. 

Despite an expanding economy, sustaining profitable, long-term growth seems continually challenged.  Companies facing classic challenges like the war for sales talent and sales reps’ often lackluster performance now face new complexities like digital disruption. Many look to tried-and-true solutions like a new account planning process, CRM system enhancements or the latest sales training course, only to be frustrated by unmet returns on investment.

But one of the most effective approaches—which often goes overlooked—is to create and enable a prospecting culture.  The de facto sales culture in most organizations focuses primarily on closing sales, without enough focus on the broader prospecting culture.

What is a prospecting culture?

A prospecting culture recognizes, encourages, and enables dedicated and purposeful business development activities that become a consistent and substantial part of the sales team’s process and habits. It provides the tools, systems, and expectations to enable the culture.  A prospecting culture integrates these activities in a continuous process to build, feed and nurture the pipeline, rather than “one-off” events or temporary initiatives. Leaders who successfully build a prospecting culture instill discipline and follow-through around these activities in ways that encourage and promote desired and role-specific prospecting behaviors across their teams.

A poor prospecting culture means a continual struggle to keep the top of the sales funnel robust, qualify leads and dedicate the right level of resources to each opportunity.  For most, prospecting culture is haphazard, resulting in either not enough good leads, wasted effort on bad leads, or wasted effort in general.  A healthy prospecting culture requires an ongoing and holistic approach to role definition, expectation setting through performance management, identifying the right competencies for the sales roles and then enabling the sales team’s success with a high-functioning sales operations team.

Organizations that execute on each of these elements establish a foundation for building and enabling a prospecting culture. Done effectively, the impact of this mindset on the sales team’s performance yields improved volumes and margins at a lower cost to serve.

Prospecting Culture Factor 1:
It starts with strategy

The primary prerequisite for any successful prospecting culture is a clearly articulated and understood business strategy that is embraced by the sales team and effectively executed.  Defining target markets and providing a deeper understanding of what good leads look like drives focus.  The sales team also needs to understand the relative importance of pursuing new-new vs. new-old so they clearly know what to chase.  Finally, being intentional about resource allocation means the best leads will be developed effectively and time, money and energy won’t be wasted.

While it may sound obvious, the prospecting-oriented sales leader must help each member of the team see how his or her responsibilities connect with the broader organization objectives. Specifically, the sales leader’s aim is to ensure that the requisite shifts in expectations and behaviors required to fully support the business strategy are accepted and embodied by all sales team members. For example, a technology company that recently went through this change trained their sales managers for one-on-one meetings with reps, creating cascading messages centered around each individual contributor’s perspective.

 

Prospecting Culture Factor 2:
Design roles and sales process to support the new culture

The sales function is one of the last to undergo specialization, often because of the sway sales leadership holds within the enterprise. Re-examining and redefining sales role expectations allows the sales leader to orient his or her team toward specific business development activities and better support the entire sales team. This is typically architected by:

  • Adding roles dedicated solely to prospecting. One example is a lead generation position with the priority of identifying and qualifying opportunities. The position needs someone who is persistent but also able to probe to determine the nature of an opportunity so the right resources can be deployed to win it. This allows field salespeople to spend valuable time concentrating on higher probability opportunities. Some organizations will even outsource this activity to a third party.
  • Adding prospecting duties to existing roles. An example here is a customer success position. While the core accountability is ensuring customer satisfaction, this position can also be oriented toward surfacing opportunities and helping to determine the magnitude of resources to invest in a client. These positions need someone who can communicate well and create action plans for the sales team to execute.

Each role on the team and the various activities need to be mapped to the desired sales process so that clear accountabilities are understood and there are no gaps or overlaps. A current state/future state analysis of the various processes in the sales cycle can be invaluable in helping team members understand potential new roles and where they can be put to best and highest use. Look for points of friction across the customer’s purchasing journey and how any technical and supporting roles are enabling the sales process and supporting prospecting.

For example, an industrial company had most of their sales reps calling, almost randomly, on any accounts in the geographic area. After sales growth stalled, they reorganized their channels and individual roles to better serve how their customers were organized, which in this case was to organize by sector and serve key customers globally. Through the sales process mapping, they also addressed the overlap and gaps in account coverage and internal sales support which allowed them to reduce non-selling time and non-value-added tasks—such as customer service, proposal drafting and RFP management—from the sales team’s plate.

 

Prospecting Culture Factor 3:
It’s all about the people

It takes a combination of diligent performance management and the right incentives to implement lasting change.

Once new roles are assigned, outlining the required behaviors and competencies will help to identify gaps with the current sales team from both a development and recruitment standpoint. It sounds simple to make sure the right people are in the right roles – but sometimes this requires redeploying certain individuals. Assessment tools such as those provided by Hogan can provide fresh insight into how your team thinks and behaves and reveals which changes in behavior and attitude are required to instill a prospecting mindset.

The sales leader and their managers must communicate to their teams how the salesforce can and will win. It is often ideal if these messages are tailored to consider the sales people’s perspectives. Also, the informal coaching that results from joint client meetings and other activities should further reinforce the message.

On the incentive front, when a consumer company realized they needed to drive new client acquisition after growth among its existing client base had capped out, the company focused not just on paying for traditional outcomes such as sales volume, but other ways to recognize and reward the new behaviors they wanted to instill. These additional cash incentives allowed for higher payout upside for the ‘how’ around client acquisition metrics, activities and product mix.

Conclusion

A sales culture where prospecting is encouraged, supported and rewarded can be a sales organization’s greatest asset. A prospecting culture that informs and drives the entire customer-facing organization results in higher sales volumes at lower compensation cost of sales.

 

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