It's Time to Tear Up Your Sales Playbook

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Most traditional sales models are at a breaking point. Sales systems and processes in many organizations are creaking after years of underinvestment and a reliance on long-standing programs that yield little value.

In fact, our research shows that a majority of chief sales officers (CSOs) expected to miss their revenue targets, despite the fact that they set lower targets and sales quotas per sales rep last year.

So what's changed?

Not only are sales executives dealing with the three ever-present challenges—shareholder needs, a highly competitive environment, and demanding customers—but now they also must contend with three new trends disrupting the marketplace:

1. Today's nonstop customers are always on, making traditional sales processes and models too slow, cumbersome, and increasingly irrelevant. Demanding customers are hardly a new phenomenon, but consumers' access to channels, knowledge, and opinions is reshaping preferences and expectations. Additionally, new digital technologies enable a constant process of evaluation and re-evaluation, making it harder to strike a deal and have it stick.

2. Disruptive digital technologies have become important catalysts for selling transformation. The application of digital tools and online and social media to enable digital relationships and drive sales across multiple channels is fast emerging as a primary driver of business growth.

3. The CSO role itself is changing. While improving sales performance remains fundamental, today's CSO is also chief profitability officer, chief transformation officer, chief coaching officer, and even chief customer officer.

How can CSOs create a new playbook? Our research has shown that an agile selling approach can be a source of competitive differentiation and sustainable growth, and can produce significant improvements in sales force performance, translating into bottom-line savings.

These five tips can help companies become agile sellers:

Put your money where your profitability is. Channel and sales incentives can cost hundreds of millions—if not billions—of dollars every year. But nearly one-quarter of sales executives do not track the return on their working sales investments. CSOs must optimize sales spending and enhance returns by gathering these insights, and then aligning sales and channel incentives, rebates, and discounts to the activities most likely to power profitable growth.

Master the art of the deal. Many reps pursue a deal at any cost, focusing on revenue and missing the impact on profitability. Leading CSOs have moved to a model that is customer-centered and data-driven, and that incorporates contextual pricing. This means reinforcing the importance of profitable sales, using analytics to evaluate the pipeline and potential profitability of each deal, incorporating training modules on data-driven and contextual pricing, and considering incentivizing based on deal profitability.

Redefine the rules. The new playbook should be built around customer experience and insights to help sales reps achieve their objectives—that's what will drive sales process adoption. Digital technologies offer tremendous potential but are not used in ways that substantially improve sales productivity. Rather than "bolting on" fixes, technology should be a catalyst for business process transformation and improving sales effectiveness.

Thaw the "frozen middle." CSOs should use analytics to understand the skills and behaviors that are the hallmark of their high performers. These insights will help not just with hiring the right candidates, but also with creating development programs to help salespeople delivering average results—the "frozen middle"—to lift their performance. Accenture estimates that a $20 billion company with 1,500 sales reps can generate an additional $420 million by nudging the frozen middle's performance by just 2 percent.

Build a front-office "engine" for agile selling. Many CSOs recognize the value of agile selling but struggle with the prospect of overhauling their sales operating model to bring a dynamic channel strategy to life. Analytics is a necessary foundation to create consistently satisfying customer experiences throughout a network of external and internal channels, both digital and analog. Additionally, agile selling requires breaking down silos to drive cross-functional collaboration between marketing, service, and sales reps—with customers at the center.

The transformation to agile selling may be daunting, but without it, the number of CSOs confident of achieving their targets will continue to decline.

Robert Wollan is the global managing director at Accenture Strategy, Sales & Customer Services.

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