Brainstorming Your Way to Sales Growth

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All sales executives face the challenge of driving consistent sales growth—but some are far better at it than others. In their new book, Sales Growth: Five Proven Strategies from the World's Sales Leaders, three experts from financial consulting firm McKinsey & Company—Thomas Baumgartner, Homayoun Hatami, and Jon Vander Ark—tapped into the minds of more than 120 sales leaders from companies like BMW, EMC, Google, Novartis, Salesforce.com, Samsung, Vodafone, and Wurth to find out what they're doing to capture growth. Associate Editor Judith Aquino recently caught up with Vander Ark, who gave her a glimpse into the book's findings.

CRM: What will excite readers about this book?

Jon Vander Ark: Growth really can be found in all sorts of places, and the best companies know how to find it, which a lot of readers find exciting. We use stories from sales leaders and hundreds of detailed examples to bring the opportunities to life. In particular, we've gotten a lot of interest around digital sales, emerging markets, and big data, as well as performance management capabilities.

CRM: Your book is based on five key strategies. What is the best way to approach these strategies?

Vander Ark: Companies really have to put sales management at the heart of their agendas, but if you try to change too many things at one time, it becomes overwhelming. Most sales transformations take two to three years, and the successful ones work when there is a clear goal and focused priorities based on the greatest opportunities for growth.

Progress has to come in incremental batches, which ends up being quite a successful formula for growth.

CRM: What common traits do the successful companies that you interviewed share?

Vander Ark: Shared traits include clarity of purpose, courage, and consistency. Oftentimes sales organizations suffer through lots of flavor-of-the-month initiatives, and at some point it just becomes noise. The best sellers put together a clear road map and stay on it. A number of sales executives we talked to said, "I kept repeating the themes and the message even when people got sick of it, and that's what it took to make change happen."

CRM: Did you notice any trends in the ways companies use CRM systems?

Vander Ark: The best sellers are figuring out that CRM systems are absolutely integral to how they do business. They have shifted away from CRM being a tool that the sales management or finance team use to watch sales and turned it into a frontline tool that helps reps sell better. It's the tactical things that matter, such as putting in compensation calculators so a salesperson can figure out how much they'll make if a sale goes through. It's working closely with marketing and feeding qualified leads into the tool so the sales guy can open it up and immediately benefit from the front end. It's simple things, too, like using a drop down menu instead of manual text entry to shave minutes off data entry.

CRM: Can you give our readers an actionable tip from your book that they can use immediately?

Vander Ark: One of my favorite examples is that companies often struggle with the idea of "hunters" versus "farmers." The sales team of a European industrial company that we spoke with found it hard to make time for new sales calls. They came up with a concept called hunting days. Once a quarter, everyone turns off their phones and BlackBerrys and tells their existing clients they're going to be offline for the day.

Everybody then calls 10 new customers. They've generated two months' worth of leads in a single day. If you have everyone focus on a single task, you can accomplish much more than trying to have everybody spend the last hour of their day doing it. I see people's eyes light up whenever I give this example because it's something they can implement immediately.

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