What influences sales performance management success?

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While most organisations have introduced some form of sales performance management activity over recent years, ensuring it works has proved quite another kettle of fish.

The challenge is that sales people tend to be a free-thinking, individualistic bunch who object to being controlled and like to feel respected and trusted. So the fact that many companies require their reps to fill in call reports in order to capture data about the sales process for slicing and dicing purposes generally does not go down too well.

Kevin McGirl, co-founder of sales-I, explains: “In terms of adoption, SPM is high on lots of people’s agendas. They’re trying to do it, but most haven’t been that successful as they don’t understand it’s real value, and the form-filling people have to do to in order to ensure data is captured really isn’t popular.”

As a result, in many instances, more experienced personnel either tend to do it half-heartedly or refuse to do it at all, preferring to spend their time with customers.

“This means that the information in the system can often come from junior guys as the experienced ones won’t engage. McGirl says. “This leads to inconsistency and dilutes the value of the data dramatically as not everyone is being tracked in the same way.”

Another key issue, according to Ian Helps, director of sales performance improvement company Consalia and board member for the Association of Professional Sales, is that SPM consists of three core elements, but only one is generally taken into consideration.

These three factors are: ensuring the team hits its numbers, creating a positive customer experience to help them do so, and developing star performers for the future.

A question of balance

“The best managers balance all three of these things on a daily, weekly and quarterly basis, but most just tend to address the first as the others require a lot more effort,” Helps says. “So they focus on measuring outputs and quizzing the team on when and how numbers will be hit rather than coaching and mentoring them about how best to do things.”

But if sales managers take the time to sit down with their staff and, using sales performance data, identify the best opportunities for cross-selling or where each individual would benefit from professional development, then everyone gains.

“It’s about people and empowering them to achieve the best results. You want them to grow and, while you’re not going to do it for them, it’s a starting point,” Helps says. “So the idea is to pick out what each of your sales professionals needs most and help them to do it better.”

The three core elements of SPM are  ensuring the team hits its numbers, creating a positive customer experience to help them do so, and developing star performers for the future.

Michael Connor, chief executive and founder of SalesMethods, agrees. “The discipline of sales performance management is maturing, but it has a long way to go,” he says. “While most sales organisations value sales skills training and focus on the sales pipeline and forecasting while using a CRM system to administer the sales process and provide reporting, the full management curriculum is far from being used.”

This curriculum includes sound metrics to measure efficiency and effectiveness such as revenue versus sales resource overhead or trends relating to numbers of orders. But it also involves reviewing opportunities and accounts, undertaking performance and root cause analysis and ensuring a process of continual improvement using basic Lean and Six Sigma principles.

Lean processes are intended to create more value for customers while minimising waste, while Six Sigma consists of a set of tools and techniques to improve the quality of output from a process.

Change management

In order to broaden out practice and implement SPM as a fully-fledged discipline, therefore, most organisations will likely need to put together a change management programme. But any shift to adopt a more all-encompassing approach will require buy-in and commitment from the top – in other words, a C-level sponsor - in order to drive change through, often against resistance.

The discipline of sales performance management is maturing, but it has a long way to go.

As  Helps says: “To make things sustainable, the leadership has to support it. It can be hard to get them to buy in due to the psychological expectations they often have of sales people being doers rather than thinkers. But if you use your sales skills and demonstrate that it’s about improving performance and numbers, that will shift things.”

But to do so, it is also vital to have a clear business case and a “vision of what good looks like” that is “sufficiently compelling for them to put the effort in," he adds.

Another practical consideration, says Connor, is ensuring that business and management processes are well documented – businesses processes being the ‘what to do’ and management ones the ‘how to do it’ – and that any changes build on what was there before rather than starting from scratch. As he aptly puts it: “Keep what works, stop what doesn’t and start what will.”

But a final and just as important thought involves obtaining buy in from the sales reps themselves rather than simply imposing change upon them.

McGirl explains: “Before you even make a decision, ensure the sales team is authentically involved in the process. It’s important to make them feel like their opinions are valued as it’ll impact them most and they’ll resist it if they can’t see the benefits to themselves.”

But ensuring that you appoint team champions to help their peers understand the value and any potential return is just as important to keep momentum going. The same goes for broadcasting successes via things like the company intranet or newsletter.

“It’s all about psychology so making people feel as positive as possible about what they’re doing and that they’re part of it all. Remember you’re dealing with people, not numbers and they have personalities and concerns. And if you do all of that, you won’t go far wrong,” McGirl concludes.

About Cath Everett

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