We learned about the business-damaging pitfalls of leaders not fully embracing sales in a prior post. These pitfalls include poor customer experience, high costs, and avoidable financial pressures. We, as non-sales leaders, can avoid these pitfalls by reaching a helpful level of sales mastery ourselves. Though the process of attaining this mastery may take us some time, we only need to commit to it, follow through, and make steady progress.
Our first step is to understand the essential elements of sales: Mission, Client Process, Client Fit, Roles and Compensation, Sales Team Growth, Sales Metrics and Systems, and Sales Leadership. Some of these are obvious; it’s worth reminding ourselves of them. Some matter more or less to us depending on our roles. Some may be new or even surprising to us. Understand all the aspects sales lets us rethink how we work with our sales colleagues and contribute to our clients’ success.
If we think of our organization’s overall mission as helping our clients along the journey from stranger to enduring partner, then the mission of sales is to help clients choose whether engaging us (via our products and services) currently makes sense. Though this is not the typical definition, (many would guess that the job of sales is something like, “get people to buy from us”), it is quite accurate and useful. This mission helps align everyone: Sales, Operations, Finance, and our clients.
Different departments specialize in the various parts of the clients’ journey. And there are lots of overlaps and handoffs. Marketing helps potential clients become aware of us. Sales and Marketing together help specific clients comfortably and effectively start communicating with us.
Sales knows the flow of conversations that they and clients must have to mutually learn, plan, and choose to work together. They understand how to best assist clients through these conversations.
After securing a sale, Sales and Operations ensure clients are cared for and confident in their expectations of us as they engage us via our products or services. Operations delivers our products or services as the clients expect. Operations and Finance work with each other to ensure that all the transactions associated with serving the clients are accurate and timely. Finance ensures that clients pay what they’ve agreed to and that they understand how well we appreciate working with them.
Throughout, Sales ensures that clients are well cared for when things go wrong and listens for new ways and opportunities to help.
Before we can invite clients on the journey, we need to ensure our products and services match the needs, wants, and desires of the clients we are inviting. It’s tempting to say that we can sell our wares to anyone. But we do much better when we have a clear, tight focus on specific types of clients we will best serve and then design products or services to fit.
Roles & Compensation
We match roles to the steps within the sales portion of the clients’ journey. We define the roles not by task or responsibilities but by answering, “How will we know this role has been done well?”. Sales compensation is important, potentially contentious, and can get complex. Two rules to follow are:
- Make sure your compensation reinforces the results you want to see.
- Set the compensation plan so that the sales team feels well paid and the organization feels it is getting a good deal.
Sales Team Growth
As our organizations grow and change, our sales teams need to grow and change. This includes adding more people to the team in time to meet the expanding business goals and having the existing team stay current with trends, skills, processes, and client needs. As in every department, the quality and fit of the team members is the major predictor of success.
Sales Metrics and Systems
We pick carefully what aspects of sales to measure and track. Some measures paint an incomplete picture (number of app downloads) or work against both our and our clients’ goals (e.g. number of cold calls made). Choose the smallest number of metrics that will help make timely and trustworthy decisions in sales, operations, and finance. Then select systems that both support your Client Process and deliver timely and accurate data for your metrics. Note that sales teams often have a love-hate relationship with their systems; they value the insight but often avoid the detailed work needed to keep the systems current. Spend the time to have the sales teams see these systems as enablers of their success
Sales leaders ensure that the above essential elements of sales are done well and evolve as clients, markets, products, services, and the organization changes. Oh, and it is a given they are on the hook for revenue and margin targets. One of the odd truths of sales is that the best sales people do not often make the best sales leaders. The best sales leaders are leaders first. They coach, plan, develop, and manage much more than they apply the tools of the sales trade.
These are the essential elements of sales. Use your understanding of these elements to help your organization work more seamlessly in serving your clients’ needs, wants, and desires. One good first step is to sit down with your sales leaders. Share this article and ask them, “Which of these areas should focus on first? What improvement would be most helpful? And how can we best work together to make that improvement?” With a bit of dedication, insight, and collaboration, you can make a significant impact on your clients’ success and your own.
In your corner,
Strategic Partner – Sales