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Aiming for Best Practices

As long as there is a system, there will be people who abuse it. This is as true in sales as in any other walk of life. In this resource, we would like to propose ways to make the scenarios described above the exception, rather than the normal course of business.

The concept of “best practices” has been associated with virtually all aspects of business. Sales has been, and remains, the most notable exception. Most senior executives and investment analysts believe sales to be much more art than science, and therefore not amenable to a best- practices approach.

We believe this view can be changed—but only after companies provide direction to all their salespeople about how to have conversations with buyers about how to use offerings to achieve a goal, solve a problem, or satisfy a need. Unless and until this happens, companies will continue to be dependent on the opinions of their salespeople in the following areas:

  1. How their offerings are positioned to buyers

  2. What accounts and titles to call on once given a territory

  3. What accounts should be included in their pipelines

  4. What accounts will close, and why, and when

  5. What the reasons are for losses

  6. What enhancements to offerings are necessary to improve win rates

One thing we have learned from our years in the systems business is that reports are only as good as the quality of the input that goes into them. Consider again the disappointing results that most sales force automation (SFA) and customer relationship management (CRM) systems have delivered with respect to pipeline management. Why? Because the input to these systems consists largely of salespersons’ opinions of the outcomes of sales calls they have made. When you add in the fact that product positioning is left up to individual salespeople, and that they often are under enormous pressure to justify their positions, you can see how problems get built into the system.

Automation without improved process only makes a bad system faster. In the following chapters, we will focus on the kinds of improvements that are necessary to make the sales process better.

In closing, consider what a misnomer the term forecasting is. If that were the objective, CFOs would just take the number they receive from their VP of Sales and run with it. Our view is that senior executives crave control. Doing this exercise weekly or monthly is a flawed attempt to give them an illusion of control. In point of fact, allowing salespeople to forecast abdicates control to people whose mission is to justify their jobs, not to predict what will actually close. Without process, opinions rule.


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