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July 1, 2003
Overcoming the Six Unders of
Ill-Equipped Sales Forces
By Michael Heflin
ill-equipped sales force suffers some
typical symptoms: a few salespeople drive a large portion of the revenue while
the majority of salespeople have average or below average performance. Worse
than the 80/20 rule (i.e., Paretos principle), in my experience it is
the 97/3 rule. The result is that the sales team routinely sells only what
they know rather than the high-margin products; new product rollouts end up
being unsuccessful; low-margin products continue to be the largest part of the
revenue base; or, on average, only a few products in a large portfolio of
products are sold to each customer. In these scenarios, only a very small
percentage of the sales force is truly equipped with the right processes,
knowledge and skills to bring in the high-margin, high-dollar deals that we all
I believe that problems arise in one or more of
six areas. Specifically, sales reps: 1. are under knowledgeable, or they 2.
under qualify, 3. under present, 4. under motivate, 5. under position, or 6.
Let me give some common examples. A sales rep
makes a call. He asks questions, but the questions dont lead to an optimal
outcome. The rep doesnt know the right questions to ask, or doesnt know
how to translate a prospects answers into solutions.
Another problem is over-reliance on scarce
technical resources perhaps sales reps too frequently call in product
managers, engineers or sales specialists to answer questions. Because of this
reliance, getting a proposal out to the customer can take too long. As a result,
the prospect cools, and the last thing on your sales reps mind is
cross-selling or up-selling additional business.
Sales forces experiencing these problems are
often unsuccessful in selling products in todays changing business
environment. The result is a crisis of competency and confidence.
1. Under Knowledge. The
first cause of ineffective selling is sales reps lack of knowledge about
their products and processes. The emphasis here is on the products they dont
know or the proper sales process they dont follow. Focusing on a limited and
familiar subset of products, they miss or ignore opportunities for up-selling,
cross-selling and bundling products. Theres an old saying that knowledge is
power. Today more than ever, product and sales process knowledge are the
foundation for confidence and competence.
2. Under Qualify. The
second cause of ineffective selling is under qualification. Reps dont know
how to ask the right questions and target the right products to the right
customers. In the end, they dont understand the customers needs. Theyre
like college freshmen in their second term that keep asking, Where are you
from and whats your major? Time and again, sales reps approach qualifying
prospects and opportunities with worn out questions and techniques that are no
longer applicable to their current selling environment.
3. Under Present. Sales
people often lack real-time information about their products, pricing and
promotions, causing them to fail to provide customers with the appropriate
information to make a decision. For example, there may be a relevant and timely
promotion that would close the sale, but the sales reps dont know to access
4. Under Motivate. Sales
leadership can clear the first three hurdles only to find that their sales reps
are under motivating. The reps are unable to create a compelling reason for the
customer to buy, because they lack the ability to tie the products to the
customers needs. There is a magical moment when a match exists between the
customers wants and what you offer. Its sales job to motivate the
customer to embrace that match.
5. Under Position. The
fifth problem area arises when sales people cant effectively describe their
differences versus the competition and crystallize those differences in the
prospects mind. Marketing has spent an enormous amount of energy and dollars
trying to ensure that sales reps understand how to best position a product in a
certain market with a certain type of customer. But sales may never get to that
last mile. A breakdown can occur somewhere between the information and training
that marketing delivers to the sales rep, and the sales reps conversation
with the customer.
6. Under Value. The
sixth reason salespeople can be ineffective is that they under value. They sell
at lower prices because they havent established the value of the product and
the company. They cant speak confidently about the solutions about why
us. They lack the confidence in their product offering to convince the
customer of the value of buying at their price.
A STRATEGIC SOLUTION SET
Sales leadership can address each of these areas
of underperformance with two umbrella components: in-process automation and
Imagine a professional football quarterback with
coaches and an offensive coordinator whispering tactics and strategies in his
ear. In addition to these resources, the quarterback has an understanding of the
weaknesses of his adversaries. He has a full understanding of the playbook and
uses it in a step-by-step process to make sure that his team drives towards the
win. In-process automation and real-time knowledge can deliver this scenario for
Now, dont misunderstand what the solution to
these challenges looks like. The solution set that you deliver to your sales
force is not simply an administrative one thats going to track their deal
steps, administer their territories or provide a view into their pipeline. All
of these have value, but the solution to this problem is one that addresses
confidence and competency, and does so in real-time.
In-Process Automation. Every
company spends a significant amount of time to determine how best to equip a
sales rep to approach, engage and close a customer. This includes product
positioning, market positioning and sales training. Even then, all of that work
and training typically ends up in a manual or on an Intranet site, but is not
used during interactions with the customer. If youre going to deploy
something that changes confidence and competency, you have to deploy something
that guides sales reps through best practices during the sales call.
Im not talking about something like, Step 1
is to qualify, Step 2 is to analyze, and Step 3 is to present. Rather, Im
talking about understanding in-depth the products that Im selling and the
audience that Im selling to. Take the 3 percenters that produce the
most sales and extract from their rich experiences the best analysis processes,
the best engagement steps, the best positioning and offerings. Then, put all of
this into a dynamic environment so that other sales reps can use it in engaging
This dynamic knowledge can be captured within an
interactive selling system or sales effectiveness system that your reps utilize
throughout the sales process. While key steps in the sales process might be engage,
analyze and present, an in-process automation tool used during the sale
should support what the sales rep actually has to do. For example, in order to
sell a data network solution in the telecommunication industry, you have to
understand many things about the customers needs and environment. At the same
time, you need to understand a significant set of data about the different
solutions that you could offer. An interactive selling tool helps the rep to
understand the specific types of business questions that should be asked, and
assists in translating the prospects answers to the types of services and
products that could be offered.
This type of system is especially useful if it
challenges the sales person to do things he or she has never done before.
Whenever possible, the system should produce multiple solutions. This gives the
sales rep the opportunity to sit down with the customer and say, Lets get
on the same side of the table and look at different solutions. Lets you and I
work together and determine which one makes the best sense for you.
Real-Time Knowledge. The
second primary component of a strategic solution set is real-time knowledge:
bite-size contextual information that transforms relevant marketing information
into effective selling information. It specifically speaks to the reasons why a
solution makes sense for a customer based on what that customer needs. When we
speak of needs, were not just talking about technical specifications, but
also the customers qualitative needs. We must understand that price can be
more important in one case, and customer wants more important in another. When
two competitors walk in the door with offerings, all things being equal, theyre
just two different solutions to the customer. Real-time knowledge during the
sales call creates a consultative relationship by again allowing the sales
person to provide alternative solutions to the customer. The majority of
competitors will bring in one solution that they will offer as the answer.
Salespeople can differentiate themselves by bringing multiple offerings to the
table. This helps them to build better relationships.
This is especially true in industries where the
actual solution set can have a degree of variance defining best. For
example, two banks recently approached our company with possible solutions to
our needs. One of them brought a single offering; the other brought three
different offerings. I spent a lot more time with the banker who brought three
offerings, having him explain each and using those as tools to discover my true
needs as the companys CEO.
Banks dont want to put only one solution on
the table. The stated goal of most banks is to average six to eight products per
customer. Yet, the average retail customer utilizes one or two products.
Increasing the number of products per retail customer has been a goal of banks
since the 80s. However, as an industry, they have not elevated beyond one to
two products per customer.
Now you have to ask yourself a fundamental
question: Is it impossible to move customers to multiple products, or is there a
fundamental problem with how we deploy our sales resources to get those
customers to buy additional products? By giving real-time knowledge in
bite-sized contextual pieces, you can actually deploy automation to make
customers aware of your portfolio of accounts and services. The key difference
is using automation steps to do this during the sales call. With real-time
knowledge you can say, I have multiple offerings for you to review; you may
want to explore more than one based upon the needs weve discussed.
A sales effectiveness system is different from a
sales automation system in three ways. First, the system is architected from its
base to focus on the interaction with the customer, not on sales administration.
Second, you have to embed into the tool your
companys offerings, products and industry knowledge. This does not mean
sprinkling the tool with words and a few pieces of workflow to make it look
strong enough to be demonstrated. It means embedding into the application a full
understanding of how your sales reps conduct themselves in a best practices
manner, how they sell products, and how they sell to different types of
customers. Third, you must actually embed product knowledge; that is, you
understand and develop modules around the products that the sales reps are
selling to the customer. If business rules or product requirements necessitate a
configuration or human intuition engine, include it in the system. Or, if theres
something very special about the way that you analyze and classify need sets
that is different from every other product, include it in that product module.
These three points focusing on the
interactions, industry knowledge and product knowledge make sales
effectiveness a very different offering from sales force automation. You arent
just buying an application. You need to deploy a tool that covers the products
for which your sales force really needs help. This tool might not cover every
product or service you offer you could start with less than your full array
of offerings but it is important to get it out to your organization to
address their challenges.
Another issue for which you must be prepared is
maintenance. A major cause of failure of knowledge-based systems,
knowledge-management systems, and the like is that the maintenance keeping
the knowledge current simply becomes a nightmare. To actually do this and
make it work, you have to deploy the system in a way that matches the business
processes and the organizational preferences of existing environments in product
marketing and sales.
There was a time when people believed that they
could replace the sales force with automation. Im confident that this is
nonsense. Any tool used appropriately can produce massive leverage, but it
cannot replace the sales force. Sales leadership must focus on appropriately
using technology in combination with other strategic initiatives to improve
performance. Well never make every sales rep a 3 percenter, but if the
bottom 30 percent can move their performance up to where the 40 percent to 50
percent performers are, and the middle third can move up 10 to 15 points on the
performance scale, the companys ROI will be very compelling. By taking a
holistic approach to developing their sales organizations confidence and
competence, sales leaders can realize strong results in todays selling
Michael Heflin is CEO of WhisperWire Inc. This
article is excerpted from Confident Competence, a chapter in The
Sales & Marketing Excellence Challenge, published
in March by Sales Mastery Press.
WhisperWire Inc. www.whisperwire.com
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