matter how strong or experienced you are as a sales professional, sales executive
or smaller company CEO, if the infrastructure supporting your sales effort is
not in place, achieving your revenue targets will be like attempting to climb
Mt. Everest wearing running shoes.
of the challenges strong sales people face is being part of an organization
that is stumbling along from a sales support perspective. If you are one out
of let's say 25 reps and six of them underperform, regularly losing to competitors,
resorting to end-of-quarter panic discounting or selling business that will
result in unhappy customers, the impact on you will be substantial. You'll get
dragged down in many ways, from many directions.
some sales reps will underperform no matter how strong the team supporting them
is, but even the best reps and sales executives will never achieve their full
potential unless all the pieces are in place.
should mention that a lot of hardware, software and services are still being
acquired. Sure, the economy is down, there are fewer opportunities and the average
deal size is lower than in the past. But companies with a strong sales operation
are finding and closing business and building a solid and loyal customer base,
their long-term asset for the future.
are a number of the key components of an effective sales operation. If your
company is not tuned up and ready for action, you'll be left exposed, under-supported
or find yourself wasting your precious time on unproductive activities. You'll
be the victim of a sales breakdown.
1. Marketing Support of Sales
Approach to target market, pricing and fee validity. There
is no question that most people who sell technology will tell you that oversupply
and a down economy have contributed to what they see as a buyers' market.
With that in mind, here are a few questions: Is your company approaching its
market correctly, today? Can it specifically state what that market is and
the market's key characteristics? Has it validated the demand for the unique
value your products or services provide? Are your prices and rates relevant
to your market's demands and conditions?
tough questions that need to be asked and answered. Pointing a sales force
in any direction without answers to those questions is irresponsible and fruitless.
Clarity and consistency of value articulation. Once Marketing
validates what the marketplace needs, they'll have to provide messages that
state what general value your products and services provide to that market.
The next step is to provide the sales organization with the templates, tools,
and processes so they can create a value proposition that is unique for each
customer at a specific point in time, based upon a comprehensive situation
attempt to sell generic value, your products and services will be commoditized
and you are thereby inviting your customers to buy on price.
Effectiveness of press/analyst coverage. Is your company, however large or
small, doing what is required to assure that it has the name recognition and
reputation necessary to advance, not inhibit your selling efforts?
people to describe a key role of marketing and some will say, "I want the
prospect to know the name of my company and have a good impression of us when
I make first contact." Since advertising is expensive, it can easily be relegated
to a nice-to-have during tough times. But press and analyst relations are
a must. If your company is ignoring or under investing in this area, you are
working at a disadvantage.
Lead generation activities and initiatives. Is your company
generating sales leads for your products and services so that your time can
be spent properly planning and managing the opportunities? If not, it needs
to. And by the way, the glut of solutions on top of the limited time that
IT and corporate executives have these days requires new levels of creativity
and persistence in generating leads. What worked in the past just doesn't
work the same any more.
2. Opportunity Management
Sales planning methods, practices and processes. Does your company
employ a standard sales process? If not, performance consistency across the
sales team will be limited. Personally, I don't care which sales process a
company uses—so long as they use one. Enterprise software and services is
a tough sale. I would challenge any sales professional to plan, execute, and
measure the progress of two or more complex sales campaigns without writing
it all down. (It's been said that the dullest of pencils is far better than
the sharpest of memories.) A lot has been written about this subject. Suffice
it to say you are at a serious disadvantage if you don't approach each sales
campaign with a unique, competitive, strategic sales plan. If management doesn't
require you to adhere to a formal (not necessarily complex or bureaucratic)
process, you'll benefit from doing that yourself.
Qualification processes. Does your company provide you with
a set of current and relevant qualification criteria that reflect not only
the prospect's situation, but also the prospect's market conditions and the
impact of those on buying tendencies? This is so critical that I am listing
it separately from the point above. Business conditions are changing so rapidly
that only constant scrutiny of a prospect will alert you to situations that
may threaten—on enhance—your ability to secure an order.
Forecasting methods and effectiveness. Do consistent forecast
shortfalls leave you in the position of having to heavily discount for your
company to make its numbers? If the forecasting methods that are employed
by management are not effective, the results can often be catastrophic.
mention that forecast failures are often not that at all, but rather the result
of unachievable targets set by someone outside the sales organization.
I was called
into one company a few years ago to help them retain a few key salespeople
who were on their way out the door. It seems that management parachuted into
a number of deals just before the end of the quarter, offering severe discounts
to make up for other forecasted business that wasn't materializing. (Goals
were set too high in my opinion.) The salesreps were frustrated, had been
disrespected in front of their customers and to make matters worse, lost a
substantial amount of commissions they worked smart and hard to earn. It wasn't
rocket science to fix the broken process, including a reassessment of the
3. Sales Tools & Resources
Corporate presentations. Have you or your team been provided
with an updated corporate presentation targeted for the industry, level of
audience, and business issues your prospects face? If you are wasting time
creating (rather than customizing) PowerPoints, you'll need some assistance
from Marketing. A good corporate presentation should be leveraged like the
valuable capital it is. The best sales professionals use it to gain access
to executives, to differentiate themselves, to build credibility, and to prove
to prospects that they are worthy of serious consideration.
be clear, it is the responsibility of the individual sales rep to deliver
that presentation in a believable, professional, and compelling way.
Collateral materials. Do you have collateral materials that
articulate the value to be gained by the different constituencies within your
prospects' organizations, by industry?
of generic market materials are long over. If I am a CIO, I need to see a
different view of your product or service than users or the VP of Manufacturing.
And I don't want to see a brochure written for process manufacturers if my
company makes barbeque grills. Each person to whom you give a piece of collateral
material needs to understand the value that your roduct or service will provide
to them in a clear, concise, and compelling way.
Competitive tools. Does your company provide you with up
to date and relevant information about your competition—at the company, product,
and rep-on-the-street levels—and exactly how you and your team should use
that information? So many sales professionals are underprivileged in this
area. The companies that sell most effectively have resources responsible
for gathering, analyzing, and disseminating competitive intelligence as well
as—and this is important—recommending specific strategies and tactics to use
against those competitors.
Customer proposal quality and value articulation. Are the
proposals you provide to your prospects of sufficient quality to be credible
at the board level? Proposals are being seen and approved by people much higher
in customer organizations than in the past. If a proposal provides too much
detail (use an appendix under a separate cover), doesn't reference the customer's
specific high-level goals, challenges, and strategies and doesn't provide
a strong business case or ROI assertion, it might very well not be taken seriously.
Customer case studies and testimonials. Do you have a list
of customer testimonials that you can provide or talk to during your sales
campaign? Do these testimonials highlight the benefits your customer has received
from your products or services?
company made the investment in gathering and producing case studies to provide
you with the additional credibility you need to establish your company as
a contender? If you work for a smaller company this is mandatory. Customer
testimonials are a key factor in solidifying your prospect's vision of success.
Resources. Does your company provide company executives,
domain and technical experts, and administrative help to assist you in winning
business? It is the rep's job to lead a "virtual sales corporation" whose
goal is to win a specific opportunity. As part of that job, they are responsible
for deploying those resources prudently as specified in your documented, strategic
4. Sales Execution
Process improvement mechanisms. Does your company employ
a feedback mechanism so that what is learned from each win or loss is used
to build a more effective operation? Lost business, drastic end-of-quarter
discounting, and forecast slippage are all fixable. But first you need to
understand the conditions under which they happen. Is it against specific
competitors, or with certain sales reps, or for certain size deals? Those
questions and many more need to be answered and addressed now, before the
problem gets worse.
Ongoing Account Management
Transition from pre- to post-sales. How smoothly and efficiently
does your organization transition a company from prospect to customer at the
time of sale? Some companies employ the hunter-farmer model, where new account
reps bring in the deals and then pass control on to ongoing account managers.
In other cases, the rep that sells the deal owns it forever. Both models can
work and both can fail. If your company hasn't figured out how to manage that
transition it will be difficult to build happy customers, solid references
and predictable revenue streams going forward.
Customer base classification and approaches. Your company
must be able to generate ongoing revenue by providing continuing business
value to selected segments of your customer or client base. All your customers
are entitled to receive the benefits as represented when they bought them.
However, some customers will, over time, provide more long-term value to your
company than others. Having a way to identify those customers and a long-term
approach for meeting their needs and requirements will result more business
at less cost. Short-term opportunism doesn't work well, as in, "Let's see
how much we can get out of the base, since we are looking at a revenue shortfall
I've presented a number of key components that must be in place to support an effective sales operation. By no means is this list intended to be complete. However, if you, as a sales rep or sales executive determine that any of these components are not in place or are not being effectively handled, you owe it to yourself and the very survival of your company to formulate and present a business case that will be heard and acted upon.
Stein, an expert in selling and marketing enterprise software and services,
has over 20 years executive management and consulting experience in technology.
He provides vendors with insights and strategies around ethically positioning
the business value that their offerings provide, especially in fiercely competitive
On the user side, Stein
guides buyers through the specific vendor-caused risks associated with the acquisition
of enterprise software and services in today's environment of hypermarketing
and hyperselling. He assists user companies in effectively mitigating those
Dave Stein has sold to and
consulted with companies from $10 million in sales to the Fortune 100 - in 48
of the 50 states as well as more than 20 countries.
STEIN ADVANTAGE, INC.
69 Woodland Road Mahopac,
Phone: +1 (845) 621-4100
Fax: +1 (845) 621-3723