Mapping Out a New Sales Landscape

I recently read an eye-opening article about the demise of solution selling. It described how salespeople who are following traditional sales methods (seeking out pain) are losing to the new breed of "sales disrupters" (salespeople who find solutions to business problems that prospects weren't even aware they had). As one would expect, these disrupters create a high level of trust and confidence with the prospect, leaving others in the dust. I began to ponder the future of sales management and how traditional metrics, sales processes, recruiting, training, and coaching will need to adapt to this new sales landscape.

This new sales environment impacts business drivers of profitability. The need to increase the velocity of the traditional sales transaction not only drives productivity to curb cost of sales, but also minimizes the time available for "sales disruption." Commodification of products and/or services in almost every industry is making profitable growth more difficult. For example, in the technology sector, we see cloud offerings and Google applications driving down prices and margins. However, expectations for CRM implementation success, conceived when applications were purchased, have not yet been reached. The good news is that there is hope for the future.

CRM applications take a toll on sales managers' careers. In 14 years of consulting, I have seen that the job tenure of a person with sales management responsibility averages only 14 to 18 months, due to senior management's frustration with sales leaders, most often connected with the failure of CRM applications to meet expectations. Vendors lead senior management to believe that CRM is a panacea for improving salesperson productivity, offering effective insights into pipeline and lead management, and improving account management, sales, and marketing metrics. Although there is some truth to these beliefs, sales management must focus on much more to build a high-performance sales organization and predictable revenues.

CRM's failure to impact sales results has been due to its limitations as an application. But today's advanced technology can turbo-charge CRM to live up to its potential.

Change for Gain

The best example can be found in our healthcare system, which, despite its flaws, has embraced technology to generate better treatment outcomes. The industry has combined medical protocols, the power of computers, and database management to create personalized medical treatment plans based on variable data points. As an example, if you are a male or female in a certain age range, of a certain nationality, with or without diabetes, your heart issue may be treated based on a customized plan that takes successful historical patterns into consideration. Sales leadership can incorporate this same idea to begin creating custom sales plans for various sales situations.

Developing Protocols

When linked to business intelligence software and a variety of data points, CRM systems can create custom sales processes/protocols designed to combat sales disruption by expediting sales, and improve margins by increasing sales productivity.

While data points may vary by industry, some fundamentals will serve as a baseline, such as those captured from a CRM database or a salesperson's initial call—similar to an initial consultation with a physician. These points may include:

  • New or existing client
  • Job position/decision maker
  • Length of time with the company
  • Composition of decision-making team
  • Decision target date
  • Personality/management style
  • Complexity level of the sale or transaction
  • Pains to be alleviated
  • Current solution provider

Once these data points are captured, an application can be created to access the specific sales situation, validate it against an historical database, and identify a preferred pathway that includes proper sales tools, a predefined sales process, and recommended sales protocols.

Impact of Protocols

How does the adoption of sales protocols impact sales leadership?

First, in recruiting, sales management must adjust the sales candidate's profile upward with respect to adaptability, intelligence, and creativity, and train salespeople to be more attuned to the prospect's situation.

Second, sales training will be more critical and intense. Leaders will have to raise the bar on skill development to ensure that salespeople can execute various protocols. Companies are likely to create their own certification and sales training programs in lieu of relying on traditional sales training firms. Since effective protocols may change a sales approach, the sales actions will not follow traditional sales training methodology. Sales leaders will need to accompany salespeople on sales calls more often to ensure they are able to follow protocols, validate their expertise, and test the protocol against the reality of the sales environment.

Sales metrics will also become more critical and more complex. In a traditional sales organization, sales management may track four to six metrics—a combination of historical and forward-looking sales activity and pipeline values. In the new environment, sales leadership will use some of the same metrics, but also begin to monitor other actions based on the types of sales protocols being followed, and link them with success ratios to specific sales actions being executed.

A Shared Commitment

There must be a commitment from all levels of management to institutionalize the CRM system. Sales leadership must set the vision, and sales management must focus on its execution.

The first step is to ensure that there's a written sales process map, with definitions and detailed action steps for each major stage in the sale. This will help each salesperson understand what's expected at each stage and enable the CRM application to follow the map.

Once the sales process is mapped into CRM, there must be continuous training for all salespeople. Vendors may say their CRM systems are designed for a one- or two-hour training session, but during the first six months, as you roll out the application, sales management must train everyone to use the system identically. They must ensure a clear understanding about how to use the system and why the system was designed the way it was. This will help everyone enter data properly and consistently.

Phase two is for setting quarterly data-cleansing objectives. This means sales leadership defines new data entry and data collection goals, such as adding one more title/contact name to each account or correct email addresses for all names in the database. This phase could also be used for cleansing old and nonactive sales opportunities.

In summary, the "art and science" of sales management will still rely on the salesperson's ability to create trust and confidence during the sales process, but a more prescriptive, proven approach to winning the sale will be the salesperson's most effective ally.

Ken Thoreson is the president of Acumen Management Group,, which has offered consulting, advisory, and platform services to organizations throughout North America for 14 years. His latest book is Leading High Performance Sales Teams. See his blog at www.yoursalesmanagementguru.com.

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