Leading Professionals in the Enterprise Sale
Sales managers have one of the toughest jobs in the organization, and frequently they're given few tools and little development support with which to do their job. Sales executives have much in common with managers in professional sports. Their records are posted for all to see; their jobs are secure - as long as they are winning and their success is dependent on the performance of their teams.
Plenty of coaches have enjoyed short-term success. Maybe a dream team comes along or the competition falls apart or perhaps the planets line up just right for one season. But long-term winners - legendary leaders such as Bill Belichick and Vince Lombardi in football, Phil Jackson in basketball, and Roger Penske in auto racing - have not relied on luck. They build sports dynasties by imposing systems on their organizations, recruiting and coaching players who are capable of executing them, and running those systems with exceptional discipline day in and day out.
Joe Gibbs, the first person to ever lead championship teams in both professional football and NASCAR auto racing, said, "A win at any track doesn't just happen by accident. We don't simply fill our cars with gas, crank them up, and hope we can drive faster or outlast our opponents. Every detail of the race is thought through, including contingency plans and backup parts. We have a game plan for the race and we attempt to follow it as closely as possible."  Like great coaches, sales executives need a winning game plan.
Unhappily, many executives are content to approach sales as a numbers game. If they aren't generating the performance results they need, they don't reexamine the selling system (if one is in place). They simply step on the gas and try to do more of what they are already doing. They ask their teams to work harder instead of smarter. We've already discussed why this strategy doesn't work in the enterprise sale, but there is one more consideration that bears mentioning: When managers run the sales function as a numbers game, they are depending almost exclusively on the innate talents of individual salespeople - and that virtually guarantees mediocre results.
This is a function of the Pareto Principle, the "80/20 Rule," which, when extended to sales performance, suggests that 20 percent of the salesforce develops 80 percent of sales. If you turn that ratio on its head, it tells us that 80 percent of salespeople are struggling just to keep their heads above water. These figures were born out of a 10-year study of 18,000 salespeople conducted by the Caliper Research Organization, which found that 55 percent should not be in sales at all, 25 percent were in the wrong kind of sales, and only 20 percent were properly placed. 
The myth of the Pareto Principle is that it is somehow set in stone and that we must accept these results. In fact, those results are simply part of the numbers game. It may be impractical to attempt to build a salesforce composed entirely of "20 percenters," but there is no reason that you can't double the number of top performers in your organization and substantially boost your sales revenue. You should be able to transform underperformers into full-fledged producers, and in those instances where you can't, leave them behind for your competitors to hire. It is all a matter of adopting a systematic approach to enterprise sales (see Figure 8.1).
"We only hire experienced professionals."
Translation: We don't have a system for developing successful salespeople.
"The salesforce is made of creative and independent individuals."
Translation: We can't control them.
"It takes six to nine months to learn our business."
Translation: It will be at least a year before we can judge their productivity.
"They've got some good irons in the fire."
Translation: There's lots of smoke, but we have no idea how the sales engagements are progressing.
"You just can't find good people anymore."
Translation: We don't know where to look or what to look for.
Systems are certainly not a foreign concept in professional and business disciplines. No one would suggest that airlines allow pilots to fly planes any way they wish or that hospitals allow surgeons to operate on patients however they please. Manufacturers don't allow workers to run production lines any way they see fit. They all work within preestablished systems. Likewise, a business needs a sales system. It needs a selling system that is capable of leveraging the full potential of salespeople and the sales team; enables it to track, manage, and continuously improve the entire sales process; and coordinate the efforts of all of the different functions involved in managing multifaceted relationships and successfully completing enterprise transactions. For all the reasons we discussed in previous chapters, we believe that the system must be decision-focused and diagnosis-based.
Now, the question is how to create a decision process based on your products and services and hire and develop a salesforce capable of executing that process.
Joe Gibbs with Ken Abraham, Racing to Win: Establish Your Game Plan for Success (Sisters, OR: Multnomah Publication), p. 267.
The discussion appears on pp. 9-10 of How to Hire and Develop Your Next Top Performer by Herb Greenberg and Harold Weinstein Patrick Sweeney (New York: McGraw-Hill).
Our process is a metamodel for the successful execution of enterprise sales, but to turn it into a more detailed blueprint, it must be customized according to the unique value proposition and offerings your company brings to market. We talked about how this work can be accomplished at the level of the individual salesperson, but to begin to realize the full potential of the process, it needs to be distributed over the entire sales, marketing, and support organization.
All four phases of the process must be aligned to your unique situation, but most organizations also find that there are specific phases of the process that are particularly important in their selling system. When you identify and focus on these areas, you will have honed in on the place in which your customers typically require the most assistance and in which you can leverage your ability to differentiate your company from your competitors.
You can use the simple matrix in Figure 8.2 to identify your focal point in the sales process.
We assume that none of you fall into the lower left quadrant, because if the complexity of the problems you address and the solutions you offer are both low, you do not have a enterprise sale after all. If you do fall into that quadrant, you need to verify your finding, and if it is confirmed, start exploring whether you should maintain a salesforce. A web site, direct email / mail, or some other self-serve model, such as that used in office supplies businesses like Staples and Office Depot or the omnipresent Amazon, is more efficient and cost effective in the simple problem / simple solution scenario. It can be quite normal to have different parts of your business fall into different parts of the matrix.
Moving clockwise around the matrix, when the complexity of our customers' problems increases, but the complexity of the solution remains low, the Diagnosis phase becomes the most critical aspect of the sales process. As problems become increasingly complex, the customer's ability to identify and understand those problems decreases. Thus, salespeople must pay particular attention to the work of diagnosis. (By the way, when diagnosis is critical to the customer's success, you might want to consider charging for the service, as in a consulting / professional services business model.)
In the upper right-hand quadrant of the matrix, both problems and solutions are complex, and we would place special emphasis on the Design phase of the process. When problems and solutions are complex, customers find it difficult to connect the two. Thus, the solution designer's ability to align the problem to the best solution becomes a paramount concern.
Finally, in the lower right-hand corner of the matrix, the solution is complex, but the problem is not. When this is the case, you should put special emphasis on the Delivery phase of the process. With enterprise solutions, you need to concentrate on implementation, execution, and results measurement. (When Delivery is critical to the customer's success, you might consider charging a fee for that work, as in a professional services business model.)
The quadrant that best represents your business is a good place to begin analyzing and customizing the decision process that you will bring to your customers. Typically, organizations create a cross-functional team to undertake this work. This business development team usually includes representatives of each function directly involved in the sales process - marketing, sales, service, and support. It should also include representatives from other internal functions, such as product development and finance, and customers who bring with them the most direct perspective of all. Starting with your focal point in the sales process and moving through each of the other three phases, the team's job is to customize the process from three perspectives: the customer's decision needs, our competitive strengths, and our competitor's competitive strengths.
To ensure that you understand and incorporate the customer's decision needs in the customized process, you want the business development team to answer four questions about each of the phases in our sales process:
What mistakes do customers commonly make in this phase of the decision process?
What information do customers most frequently overlook or not consider in this phase?
What are the most difficult things for customers to understand in this phase?
What level of professional education or experience is required to understand this phase?
As the team members move from phase to phase, they need to be sure to consider each of the major decision elements in the phases of the process. Thus, in Diagnosis, they consider the analysis of the problem, its consequences, and prioritization. In Design, they consider the expected solution outcomes, the alternative approaches, the investment parameters, and the decision criteria. In Delivery, they consider implementation issues and measurement of solution outcomes. And, even though Discovery does not have a place on the matrix, the team can ask each of the four questions in terms of the optimal strategy for the initial contact (because this is the first place the customer is directly involved).
Once the team has examined and customized the sales process from the customer's perspective, it is time to turn the focus inward and ensure that competitive strengths of your organization and your offerings are incorporated into the process. For instance, in the Diagnose phase, the team would ensure that the process enables the salesforce to diagnose early and often for the indicators that your offerings address most decisively. That way, the salesforce can size up prospects and forecast its chances of winning the sale more efficiently and accurately. A forecast based on the customer's decision that indicators are present and that the dollar impact of the problem is significant, is more accurate than a forecast based on the salesperson recognizing the customer's "interest" in the solution. In Design, they would emphasize those areas where the competitive strengths of your offerings are a close match with the customer's solution outcomes and decision criteria.
When the team has explored our process from the perspective of your competitive strengths, the members should make a final pass through the phases. This time, they want to customize the process in terms of your organization's competitors. The goal here is to enable the salesforce to identify those situations - that is, the physical indicators, the solution expectations, and the measurable outcomes - in which the competition has a strong advantage. This information allows us to predict the outcome early in the sales process with greater accuracy.
Perhaps more than any other profession in business, the sales profession is thought to be personality driven. Many people speak of the "born salesperson" as if the ability to sell is genetic. Organizations implicitly subscribe to this view when they attempt to staff their salesforces by identifying and hiring people who exhibit the personality traits of the legendary born salesperson.
Are there people who are naturally better suited to selling? Sure, some individuals are brought up in an environment that enhances their communication skills and goal orientation and possess an aptitude that later is described as "born" into the profession. But how many? And, are they available? When a company's sole strategy for success is to hire a bunch, turn them loose, and hope there are a few born salespeople in the mix who can work their magic, it is playing the numbers game and it is going to get Pareto Principle results.
Why do sales managers keep hiring salespeople based on personality? Because without a systematic method of determining the true ingredients of sales success, they have little choice but to attribute it to some random genetic permutation.
The reality is that successful professionals in other disciplines, such as doctors, lawyers, and pilots, do not exhibit a single personality, and neither do successful sales professionals. A good selling system allows multiple personality types to be successful and helps us move beyond the stereotypical salesperson, the aggressive, outgoing James Bond type. With a well devised system in place, we can free ourselves from the personality-driven sales syndrome.
What kind of sales candidates do we want? Obviously, we need people who can fulfill the role of a enterprise sales professional - that is, people who can execute the system, learn and use the skills, and live the discipline.
Assessment instruments remain the best way to quickly and accurately predict the performance of sales candidates. With that said, we need to be sure to carefully explore what the assessments we use actually measure. The vast majority of assessment instruments are one-dimensional, and they are aimed at identifying a conventional sales personality. This type of instrument identifies the James Bond-style salesperson for you, but that profile is appropriate only for simple sales (and perhaps not even that). It does not pinpoint superior performers in a enterprise sales environment. In fact, if you run most top performers through a standard sales profiling tool, they will likely be rejected: They aren't aggressive enough, will take "no" for answer, won't close.
To identify key sales candidates, we combine three assessments to create a holistic profile of the candidate and offer a high probability of predicting the success of an individual working in enterprise sales:
A behavioral assessment that offers insight into a candidate's behavior style. This is the "how" of their behavior.  We are looking for candidates who portray the behavior style of the doctor, the best friend, and the detective.
An assessment that identifies the candidate's personal interests and values, which tells us "why" a candidate will sell. We are trying to understand the candidate's attitudes and motivations, and we are looking for the proverbial self-starter with a history of setting and achieving goals.
An assessment that provides insights into "what" the candidate can and will do relating to executing our sales process. This instrument provides an insight into the candidate's mental and emotional stamina. When the rubber hits the road, does the candidate have the intestinal fortitude and mental strength needed to actually execute the system? We also gain insights into the professional growth potential of candidates and the type of development that may be most helpful to maximize their growth potential. We're also attempting to predict if this candidate will ask the tough questions in a sale and if the candidate has the mental strength not to get emotionally involved - like a doctor calmly performing triage in a battle zone or a pilot coolly reacting to a wind shear.
The widely used DISC model was designed by Dr. William Moulton Marston in the 1920s to explain and predict how people would respond in favorable and unfavorable conditions. It measures four behavioral response styles: dominance, influence, supportiveness, and conscientiousness.
Once you hire a candidate to work in a enterprise sales environment, it is your responsibility to provide the knowledge that person needs to do the job. The problem in the enterprise sales world is that sales training is generally relegated to product knowledge. Customer, market knowledge, and the integration of systems, skills, and discipline of the profession are largely ignored.
Typically, we find that 90 percent of sales training is devoted to the products and services being sold, and almost all of the remaining 10 percent is spent on conventional selling techniques such as prospecting, cold-calling, presentation, and closing skills. The amount of training that is devoted to understanding the customer, market knowledge, and the integration of skills that enterprise salespeople need to diagnose customer problems, design solutions, and deliver results is negligible, at best.
What is needed is an educational mix that more closely mirrors the medical profession. Seventy percent of the training that doctors receive is focused on diagnosis, and the remaining 30 percent is evenly split between learning about the human body (product knowledge) and learning about treatment alternatives (solutions). Companies in enterprise sales would do well to emulate that learning mix.
In enterprise sales, we can divide optimal sales education into three categories: (1) Product Knowledge, the study of the features and benefits of the products and services you offer and how they impact the business drivers of the customer; (2) Diagnostics, the study of the customer's business, job responsibilities and the skills needed to uncover the problems customers are experiencing; and, (3) Solutions, the study of how to solve customer problems and how our products and services relate to those solutions.
How does your current sales training relate to these categories?
What percentage of your training falls into each?
Product Knowledge ______%
"Well begun is half done" goes the proverb; and in enterprise sales, that means that we need to provide new salespeople (and existing salespeople who are required to adopt a new system) with a foundation on which they can build a successful career.  This education not only ensures that salespeople have the tools they need, but it also serves as an appraisal structure that enables management to appraise, correct, and improve their performance.
The initial body of professional knowledge that salespeople require corresponds to the new sales process. We need to prepare them to Discover new customers, Diagnose their problems, and Design and Deliver the solutions. To cover this ground, we typically recommend the 12-Stage Success Plan.
A proverb quoted by Aristotle circa 350 B.C., according to Bartlett's Familiar Quotations 16th ed. (Boston: Little, Brown), p. 78.
The 12-Stage Success Plan is an on-the-job learning sequence that runs from 12 weeks to 12 months, depending on the complexity of problems they solve, the solutions our clients undertake, and the capabilities of the salesperson.
The basics of a good professional development plan start with a format based on experiential learning. Learning by doing is the most effective form of education. A good program should be hands-on, sequential in nature, and incorporate a learning process that builds in complexity as the salesperson's knowledge and confidence grow.
Effective learning should also include scheduled milestones, at least one for each stage, during which salespeople must demonstrate their proficiency before they can move ahead. (In our programs, new salespeople sign personal development agreements before they are hired acknowledging that failure to meet the milestones is grounds for termination.) One vital dimension of these milestones is the feedback the learner receives. Learners need to receive objective, consistent, and specific feedback. Oral and written reports and presentations, travel with best-practice performers, coaching sessions, and observation of prospect and customer interviews all offer the opportunity for many people in your company to be involved in the development process and create feedback loops to ensure and enhance the transfer of knowledge.
We must consider the decision to hire as singular and complete, based on the information available at the time of the decision. We must treat the decision to retain as a separate decision that will be based on new information received and observations made after the individual begins working with us. The point is, you can base your decision to retain on observed behavior long before you can see results in a enterprise sale.
The key to the effectiveness of the 12-stage plan is that at each stage of learning, a measurable and objective proof of learning is to be achieved. We must not advance the learner unless and until that proof is received. It's no different than the 12 grades of elementary and secondary education. You don't advance the student to the next grade until they have given evidence of learning the content of their current grade. Passing them will not cause the learning to happen later. It more likely means they will have to perform, minus certain skills and knowledge for quite some time.
We talk about the stages of the development program in terms of the questions each is designed to answer in the learner's mind. Learners develop the answers to these questions through both internal and external sources. Internally, they use company data and information, as well as interviews and coaching sessions with fellow salespeople and colleagues from other functions within the company. Externally, they use industry and customer data, as well as interviews with prospective and existing customers.
We explore the 12 stages of a generic quick-start professional development program in the following paragraphs:
1. What Is Our Company All About?
Sales professionals need to know your company's history, the key people and positions, its market position, its value proposition, as well as the details of employment such as the compensation plan, expense policies, and so forth. The culminating milestone of this stage would be 2-, 5-, 10-, and 20-minute presentations (ideally video or, at least, audiorecorded) to colleagues or managers that demonstrate the new salesperson's ability to organize and present information and to give a clear picture of your company and its capabilities to a prospective customer.
2. Who Are the Customers We Serve?
In this stage, learners meet customers via the telephone and face-to-face appointments in the field. They learn who buys from your company and, more importantly, why they buy, how they perceive your company, and how satisfied they have been with the value created by your company. We want our sales professionals to learn how our customers think, how they see their businesses, what issues they face, and what market trends they see. The milestone is the salesperson's ability to create external and internal profiles for use in qualifying potential business.
3. How Do We Develop New Business?
After salespeople learn to prepare customer profiles, they need to understand the opportunity management process. In this stage, they establish an opportunity management system that enables them to coordinate their activities and set priorities. They create a plan for time and territory management based on the optimal ratio of lead types. The milestone is an internal presentation of the plan, which targets and qualifies a preagreed number of business opportunities.
4. What Is Our Diagnostic Engagement Protocol?
In this stage, salespeople learn the basics of building a diagnostic engagement strategy from a prospect's profile. The diagnostic prospecting and qualifying protocol is the engagement strategy for a prospective customer. It details the Discovery process, the cast of characters, the areas to be diagnosed, the best kinds of questions for finding the answers needed, and the diagnostic process the salesperson will complete. The milestone is an internal, simulated exercise in which the salesperson prepares and engages in a typical first call and other strategic diagnostic situations.
5. What Is Your Personal Business Plan?
In this stage, salespeople develop an initial version of an individualized business plan that includes their financial goals and specifies the quality and quantity of activities required to achieve those goals and the internal/external resources needed to help support those goals. As described in Chapter 4, a personal business plan is a subset of the regional, national, and corporate business plans. The milestone is a review of the proposed plan and, on approval, the commitment to meet those goals.
6. What Are Our Solutions?
Product and service training does not appear until the middle of the program to ensure that salespeople understand customers and the problems those customers face before they begin to learn about the solutions you offer. In this stage, salespeople learn much more than the technical features and benefits of your offerings. They learn how to diagnose the indicators present in the absence of those features and specific departments and job responsibilities in the customer's business in which to look for them. They also learn how to connect solutions to customers' business drivers. The milestone is a presentation along with an internal role-playing simulation in which the salesperson moves from problem diagnosis to solution design. Periodic audio/videotaping of the salesperson's presentations allows for self-critique and provides auditory/visual baselines of performance.
7. Can You Now Develop Business?
During this stage, salespeople begin applying their knowledge in the field. They prepare for and initiate new engagements, set qualified diagnostic appointments, and follow up on leads received. They remain closely supervised and are coached as necessary. The milestone is the ability to "get invited in" by new customers and initiate a constructive engagement.
8. Can You Diagnose the Customer's Situation?
In this stage, salespeople conduct customer calls with an observer. They plan account strategy and prepare for and conduct diagnostic calls. At the conclusion of each call, they receive immediate feedback from their observer and incorporate new learning as it occurs. Milestones are the ability to diagnose symptoms and causes of problems, as well as establish a mutual understanding of the diagnosis with various individuals in the customer's cast of characters.
9. Can You Determine the Cost of the Problem?
In this stage, salespeople extend the work of diagnosis to the establishment of problem consequences and the calculation of the problem's financial impact. Salespeople demonstrate their understanding of the three elements of total cost (direct, indirect, and lost opportunity) and the formulas of cost calculation to sales managers, and then in the field with customers. An observer offers feedback at the conclusion of each call, and the milestone is the proven ability to move an engagement into the Design phase.
10. Are You Perceived as a Creative Problem Solver By Your Customers?
In this stage, salespeople learn and demonstrate the skills of solution design. They link and discuss solution options in terms of the problem, its total cost, the client's expectations for change, and the investment customers are willing to make to achieve their expected outcomes. This knowledge is acquired first in internal interviews, classes, and role plays. Then, an internal presentation is made, and, finally, the knowledge is demonstrated during supervised calls on customers. The milestone is the ability to help the customer establish desired outcomes, create an optimal solution, and align selection criteria with the solution that will be proposed.
11. Can You Propose an Effective Solution?
In this stage, salespeople learn and demonstrate their ability to translate the customer's expectations into a compelling solution. They create a discussion document, gain confirmation, and translate that discussion document into a formal proposal. Again, the learning is conducted in workshops, internal interviews, and in the field with an observer who offers immediate feedback. The milestone is the demonstrated ability to produce a balanced, comprehensive proposal.
The enterprise sale requires salespeople who are experts in the problems their customers face and their solutions. Yet, we often find that salespeople in sophisticated environments are stretched too thin. They are responsible for either calling on too broad a range of customers or offering too broad a range of products and services. In the former case, salespeople's ability to diagnose customers' problems is negatively impacted; in the latter, their ability to design and deliver solutions is negatively affected. Depth of knowledge is a key characteristic in exemplary salespeople, and that requires focus on both the customer segments they serve and the range of offerings they bring to market.
12. Can You Effectively Present a Proposal?
The final stage of a quick-start training program is demonstrating the knowledge required to review the proposal with the customer and complete the customer's decision process. Again, workshops, internal interviews, role plays, and supervised calls are used until the salesperson has demonstrated the ability to successfully write new business. The milestone is the concluded sale.
A quick-start training program should conclude with the salesperson's revision of the individual business plan. This plan should now cover the next two quarters and include business and professional development goals; market, territory, and key customer analyses; targeted prospects; performance metrics; and resources needed to help achieve the goals. It should be a formal document agreed to by the salesperson and management. This business plan serves asa basis for performance monitoring, coaching, and review. These reviews should be conducted on a regular basis, weekly at first, and as the quality of the salesperson's performance improves, biweekly, then monthly, and, eventually, once per quarter. Before each review, the salesperson should write a short (one- to two-page) summary of what's working, what's not working, and what needs to be changed, if anything, to stay on goal. By having to do a self-analysis before meeting with the sales manager, development of self-management skills of the sales professional continues.
A quick-start training program is just that - a start. The development of a key salesperson is a career-long quest that encompasses the continuous training, application, and refinement of a complete body of professional knowledge. The purpose of this ongoing training is the continuous improvement of a salesperson's ability to consistently operate the system, execute the skills, and adopt the disciplines of a professional. It's goal is improved closing rates, reduced proposal-to-close ratios, and the optimization of the sales process.
When salespeople successfully complete quick-start training, they have established a firm foundation for their careers. The Dreyfus Model of Skill Acquisition is a good way to understand and manage this foundation. Stuart and Richard Dreyfus, brothers and fellow professors at the University of California, created the model in the late 1970s and early 1980s. With the support of the U.S. Air Force, they studied the process of skill acquisition among aircraft pilots, racecar drivers, and chess players. (Later, additional studies by other researchers extended their findings to the nursing profession.) 
The Dreyfus model describes five stages of professional development: novice, advanced beginner, competent, proficient, and expert.
Novices are the new hires who do not yet know anything about business or sales. Novices must approach their new profession with an attitude of acceptance. They don't have the previous experience necessary to evaluate what they are learning; thus, they must accept the information they are offered and apply it without a complete understanding of the context in which they are working.
Advanced beginners have attained enough professional experience to begin to use their skills in a situational context. That is, they are starting to recognize aspects of situations, but they are still reacting within the guidelines of the skills themselves. These learners are not yet ready to operate without supervision.
Competent sales professionals understand all of the elements of the professional body of knowledge and can judge their responses in terms of specific situations. Professionals at this level can solve problems and efficiently organize and plan their own time. This is the point at which our 12-Stage Success Plan leaves the learner, but in contrast to what many learning theories suggest, this is not the end point in professional development.
Proficient sales professionals understand the customer's problem and its solution as a holistic process. They are incorporating their experience into their performance, and they can smoothly adapt their responses to changing situations.
Expert sales professionals represent the zenith of professional development. A good example of this is the top performing salesperson who has a seemingly casual conversation with a customer and yet leaves the meeting with a complete picture of an until-now undiscovered problem, a solution that is most likely to solve it, and strategy for moving the customer through the complete sales process with relative ease. Experts create opportunities.
This is the greatest challenge in developing sales professionals for enterprise sales - to move beyond competence and develop a salesforce of experts who create value for their customers and capture an ample share of that value for their companies and themselves.
See Patricia Benner, From Novice to Expert (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley).