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Can Sales Operations Mend “Broken” Salespeople?

By Paul Johnson

893 words. Abstract: All new sales hires are chosen for their talent and expected to succeed, yet the frustration as to why some fail to produce goes on and on. Before you have to cut more underperformers loose, consider the potential impact of sales operations.

Some salespeople do well in your organization, and some don’t. Why the difference? The more important question may be what can you do about the ones who are limping along? Could Sales Operations make a difference?

Not just sales managers, but all company executives want a smooth running sales operation. When revenue is unpredictable and fluctuates from month to month, management is hard for everybody. Frustration, poor decisions, finger-pointing, and waste are often the result. With steady sales, operations gains productivity and efficiency. The whole company gains stability, growth, and profits.

An Important Meating
In departments other than sales, operations are often process-driven and focused. The result is lean and efficient production. I was struck by the power of strong operations during a ride-along with a sales rep.

We arrived for our early afternoon appointment at a meat packing plant near Green Bay Wisconsin. As we pulled past the gate and approached the visitor parking area, we passed a long line of semi trucks hauling cattle up to the loading docks. A few semis passed us going in the other direction, pulling their empty trailers out through the gate.

Once inside, we met with the controller. As he began describing their operation, he casually mentioned “We process 2,800 head a day.” I didn’t hear what he said for the next several minutes because I was doing math. 2,800 a day… that’s about 115 cattle “processed” each hour. That seemed like a really big number to me. And tons of work — literally. They must have developed great processes for each employee in the back to use. And the director of operations would make sure each production employee used the SAME process. That’s where their productivity, efficiency and profits come from.

Divide and Conquer
I didn’t get to see what went on back there, but I’m pretty sure no one employee did everything. In other words, there was a team of people, each with different roles, who did specific parts of the process from the time the cattle arrived at the loading dock until the time the “finished goods” were loaded into refrigeration trucks at the other side of the building. A process is involved, but no one person handles every part of the process.

The concept of a process for selling is nothing new. However, it may be a mistake to expect the salesperson to handle every part of the sales process.

Many companies expect to hire the Swiss Army knife salesperson who can find the lead, respond to the RFP, create the presentation, do the demonstration, close the sale, and train the customer on use of the product. Sales Operations enables selling to be treated more like a multi-part production operation, where one person — the salesperson — is not expected to do three or more jobs. Instead, Sales Operations supports many functions of the selling process so that salespeople they can focus on what they do best: manage customer interactions.

Avoiding Sales Productivity Killers
It’s the distractions and job corruption that kill sales productivity. For example, new products are often released to the salespeople with the requisite brochures and spec sheets and some training from the product manager. From there, each salesperson is often left to figure out how to succeed in selling it. If you have 50 salespeople, there may be 50 different approaches taken in the field. Some of these approaches will succeed, and others will fail.

We were launching a powerful and complex ERP software system that would enable our customers to better run their businesses. Before turning the product over to the salespeople, we asked ourselves, “How can we make this product…

  • easy to present,
  • simple to understand,
  • memorable for customers
  • and compelling to buy?”

We developed a day-in-the-life scenario of how a business would use this software in their daily operation, and wrote a storyline that was brought to life through demonstration of the software. This would make it easy for buyers to understand how our software would help them solve their real-world problems. To make the presentation even more memorable, we grouped the software’s capabilities into seven primary functions and created a visual icon for each. After this approach was prototyped by the Sales Operations Group and proven to convert customers, it was rolled out to the Sales team.

As a result, this winning demo format was easy for the salespeople to learn and deliver in a powerful, memorable and compelling way. More importantly, it was easy for buyers to understand and remember why our software stood head and shoulders above our competition. Instead of each salesperson having to come up with their own presentation formula, the results of the work of a few in Sales Operations was multiplied across the entire sales department.

The Surgical Suggestion
If you have talented salespeople that fail to produce, they may not be broken. It’s more likely that you’re just asking them to do too many things. Consider how top talent in other arenas has support:

  • Musicians have roadies
  • Race car drivers have pit crews
  • Doctors have nurses

If you’re looking for more consistent and efficient production from your salespeople, cut away some of their duties and hand them over to a Sales Operations group. Even your top talent will be more productive if they don’t have to go it alone.

© 2010 Paul Johnson. All rights reserved.

About The Author:
Paul Johnson is an award-winning sales manager who explains the six competencies of the sales operations manager at http://salesoperations.us. He has gotten great results for some big players like Siebel Systems (Oracle), ADP and Akzo Nobel and works with medium to large corporate sales teams.

Note: This article is available for reprint at no charge. We only ask that you include our copyright notice in your reprint, along with the About the Author information we provide at the end of the article.

A Question for your Comments: When did dividing a project or process into separate components cause everyone to be more productive?

Posted: under Gaining Commitment (Sales).
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Comments (1) Feb 01 2010