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Build Predictable Revenue

In recent years, organizations have gotten better at analyzing financial statements, refining manufacturing procedures, re-engineering business systems and improving marketing effectiveness. CEOs have strengthened their balance sheets with better asset management, reduced their inventory and cost levels with just-in-time methodologies, and increased direct mail and advertising effectiveness through thorough testing and reporting methods. But one area where additional improvements still can be made is the sales organization.

Smart companies are scrutinizing their strategic sales management plans, taking a closer look at everything from their pipelines to their forecasts. They are also taking a closer look at lifetime values, cost of sales, market share, sales processes and salesperson effectiveness. The reason is simple: All organizations, regardless of whether their sales are shrinking or growing, are under pressure to create a sales distribution organization that generates predictable, consistent, profitable results.

We believe most organizations can improve their profitability by increasing their discipline, accountability and control. Many times we hear, "Our company is too small to do these management systems that you show us, Ken." My answer is simple: "It's more critical to begin building management systems and tools when you are small because revenue and profitability are considered more critical in an organization. Start with a few simple tools and you will be amazed how you can leverage your time more effectively and begin to achieve revenue and profit growth in your firm."

Interestingly, I see many VAR organizations that are struggling. They often lack both a strategic and tactical sales plan. Before you get too deep into your 2016 strategic plan, ask yourself what kind of sales-management plan you have in place. Such a plan must include an amalgamation of the organization's goals, individual salespeople's desires and objectives, and a common set of measurement factors that ensures all parties are focused on the right activities for generating success.

Planning
The first step is to plan your revenue plan. This exercise will begin to build your framework for allocation of sales and marketing dollars, marketing plans and the beginnings to create a dashboard to track your effectiveness.

Focus on creating business plans for individual salespeople that define and bring together their goals with those of the corporation, and that coordinate activities with planned marketing programs. We recommend that in a salesperson's business plan you should make the salesperson define their weekly activity goals, setting sales goals that reflect their best, most likely and minimum revenue or profit expectation levels. In addition, we like to see them forecast by suspect/client by product or practice area three times their quota. Also, each salesperson should set their networking goals and their own marketing plans. Each plan should be created every six months.

If your sales team is focused on certain accounts, where you have defined five or 10 named accounts or you have certain accounts targeted for your firm to "open," then salesperson account plans should include a specific strategy for each named account and five tactical sales actions to move deeper into the account, sell additional products or services into the account, and increase the overall sales into that account. These account plans should be prepared every 90 days.

Sales-management planning systems dramatically refocus a sales manager to future business instead of past results. While most SFA/CRM or manual sales-management systems can enhance the effectiveness of a sales organization, they generally measure past activities and current sales funnel values. While this information is a must for all sales teams, the systems fall short by providing a rear-view mirror methodology to management.

A properly designed sales-management planning system changes all of that. With a sales-planning tool, a sales manager or executive can monitor expected performance; coach, mentor and provide a viewpoint of past performance; and measure results against the salesperson's desired objectives. In addition, such a tool helps a salesperson and sales manager, who are looking at planned activities far enough ahead, ensure that consistent activities are in place to build pipeline values that will provide enough prospect opportunity to exceed individual quotas or personal goals.   

I like to say that it is the salesperson's responsibility to achieve their monthly quota and management's responsibility to ensure the proper mix of marketing and sales activities are in place so that the 90-day pipeline is full enough to ensure quota can be made each and every month. This type of salesperson business plan can take the load off an executive and place it on the people accountable for sales.

Like any new organizational change, the rollout of such a system must be carefully planned and explained to all salespeople. Ideally, salespeople should attend a group meeting with all members of their team, along with key members of the management team, including a controller/CFO and any vice presidents of marketing and delivery. Last, it's wise for each salesperson to present a business plan and account plans to his/her peer group and management team.

We recommend that these meetings be serious events that incorporate some aspect of fun. The power of these personalized plans is actually realized when the plan is measured against actual performance. This is when salespeople get it. They recognize what it takes to achieve their personal and professional goals, and they see how creating better planning impacts performance.

Training and Development
The next step is create a sales training and development plan each quarter for you and your sales teams.

In our work with many partners, we find four essential elements failing.

  1. When new employee' are hired, there is a limited-at-best new-employee training program.
  2. Ongoing sales training programs are sporadic and not focused on the key elements required to compete.
  3. Ineffective or nonexistent roleplay scenarios are being run in sales meetings.
  4. Sales management is not coaching or mentoring in the field or during routine sales calls.

The result is uneven knowledge levels and a lack or discipline by sales management to reinforce MSS or other training programs.

It is critical that companies of all sizes focus on the need to train employees continuously. In most partner organizations, there has been a focus on ensuring that the "certification levels" of the technical team are current, yet little investment is made to "certify" sales teams. Training programs do not have to consist of an expensive, sophisticated program -- just keep it to the basics.

To ensure success, several basic components need to be in place:

  1. A plan that defines the goals and components of a training program
  2. A defined ongoing process
  3. Most importantly, proper execution 

The Plan
The plan should contain an outline for initial employee training on job functional requirements, company product/service offerings, benefits and recurring plans for training existing employees. One element that most organizations miss in their training plans is the belief aspect of employee training. While it's important to train on new skill development and product/service knowledge, maintaining an employee's interest and motivation levels is critical in today's competitive economy. This focus on developing an employee's mental commitment and aligning their personal motivational interests is called "re-recruiting." As new employees enter into your company, it is the perfect opportunity to set the tone. If you have letters of reference, they should read them. If you have awards, make sure they look at them and understand how you earned them. Next, make sure all new employees have a lunch or a meeting with the highest-level position in their division or in smaller organizations with the president. It is at these sessions that commitment, attitude and loyalty can begin to be developed.  

We believe in creating a detailed three-week new-hire training plan. The format is simple yet complete. Each week is broken down into specific training and knowledge-transfer components -- with homework! Everything must be covered: legal documents, marketing case studies, how to use the phone/fax/CRM, lunch meetings, as well as learning to sell/present your organization via the use of your company's  brochures/PPT. It is critical that each aspect of your new-hire training program is defined. As the salesperson completes each section, the person responsible for the area signs off that the new person has "passed".

The Process: It's Ongoing
The process again can be a simple program. In designing a training plan take into consideration the following elements:

  • Sales skills
  • Product/services knowledge
  • Company operations
  • Industry awareness
  • Vertical industry awareness (if appropriate)

We recommend that once a quarter you plan each sales meeting and sales training event. By preplanning in advance, you can incorporate each of the five items into a comprehensive plan.  In addition, each salesperson should have a six-month personal program that allows them to set their personal goals. This document begins the process of ensuring each person's goals are aligned with the overall corporate goal. Hint: Monthly company meetings or semi-annual employee gatherings should also be utilized to reinforce employee development. Rather than simply "getting together," use these sessions to bring in customers to tell of your success stories, speakers to work on team concepts or industry awareness programs.

Execution
How do you start? Develop the written three-month sales training plan. A predefined schedule will end individuals having conflicting appointments or not being prepared for the training. Assign salespeople for most of topical training, (this will ensure they know it if they have to train on it) and schedule outside resources at least once a quarter. The benefits of a short-term plan and agenda are that current issues can be addressed and continuous training and employee focus is a company goal.

Employees are a critical asset. Most software systems have regular maintenance check-ups and support agreements to keep them at current levels -- do the same with your employee assets. Keeping your employees' personal and professional objectives aligned with your corporate goals by training and re-recruiting will create huge dividends.

Posted by Ken Thoreson on October 13, 2015 at 12:06 PM