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Chapter 8: Performance Leadership


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 Vince Lombardi and Don Shula in football, Phil Jackson in basketball, and Roger Penske in auto racing—don't rely 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, says, "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." [1] 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. [2]

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.

Figure 8.1: The Top Five Excuses for Sales as Usual

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 complex 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.

[1]Joe Gibbs with Ken Abraham, Racing to Win: Establish Your Game Plan for Success, p. 267.

[2]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.

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