An old and all-too-common story
When leaders build or rebuild sales teams, they often move quickly to hire the best individual contributors available and allow each to leverage their own skills and experiences to find success.
These leaders take a hands-off approach, essentially providing new hires little more than a comp-plan, a territory, a desk and a computer. Then they wrap it all up with a few encouraging words like, “go get ’em tiger!” or a not-so-vailed threat like, “I’m counting on you!”
Though the approach is far from ideal, it will be supported by the CEO for as long as revenue and margin contributions grow. Ultimately, however, these leaders get themselves into trouble by ignoring warning signs like low commitment, rising turnover and the fact that 50%-80% of new team members have turned into poor or mediocre performers.
Eventually, the reality of this system becomes evident as sales stagnate or decline. Attempts to spark a turnaround by reorganizing the team, replacing poor performers and making new investments in marketing ultimately have little sustained effect. At this point it becomes apparent the ‘system’ is the problem – it must be replaced along with the sales leader, so the team can be rebuilt.
While still stinging from the ordeal, most CEOs will immediately begin looking for a new sales leader who they ‘hope’ can install a new and better system. The assumption being, the right system follows the right leader. Unfortunately, not only is this assumption wrong 85%-97% of the time (we have the data), it is also unhealthy as it traps the CEO in a relationship of dependence rather than one of independence.
The correct assumption is that the right leader follows the right system. In other words, the high-probability move is for the CEO to build key elements of his or her foundational sales playbook first, based upon what his or her sales team already knows about how their best customers buy and how their best salespeople sell.
Now, new sales team members, including the next sales leader, can be hired and trained to fit the unique requirements of the sales organization. The CEO will have engineered a culture of independence and taken control of the process that will eventually deliver sustained growth to the business.
Why sales playbooks fail
Ask any sales leader if they regularly reinforce a structured and dynamic sales process that each sales team member is held accountable to executing. Odds are you’ll hear an emphatic, “yes.”
Unfortunately, the odds in favor of this being true are very low. How do I know? After we ask sales leaders this same question we confirm their confidence by asking each sales team member to describe how they closed their last four deals. Rarely do the team’s systems and behaviors lineup.
What sales leaders of growth companies know that most of their peers do not is, 1) which best practices are most predictive of sales success at each stage of the sales cycle, and 2) how to teach and reinforce these best practices so they become automatic behaviors prompted by situational cues – i.e. winning habits.
How do they know this? Chances are they have a foundational sales playbook that they are always using to develop, hire and onboard ‘high-fit’ sales team members. And, they are not satisfied until 80% or more of their team are perennial quota killers.
Unfortunately, simply building a sales playbook does not guarantee success. There are several unseen factors that can block you from delivering the growth and return you seek.
- There may be unresolved disagreements around what elements a foundational sales playbook should include. This may discourage you from getting started, or significantly hinder development.
- There may be no one on your sales team with the time required to figure it out, let alone produce a deliverable capable of meeting your high standards.
- You may produce a sales playbook that meets your high standards, but it may be so complex and hard to update that over time it loses credibility with your team.
- Your sales playbook may be updated, but the information it contains may not be used or endorsed by your most consistent top sales performers, creating a huge hurdle that will block adoption.
- Your sales manager may not know how to easily reinforce what the playbook teaches, making his or her time management and accountability skills your greatest execution risks.
Our recommended path to success
Over the years I have learned how create and deliver foundational sales playbooks that avoid these and other unseen barriers to success. I have also learned how to guarantee their effectiveness for large and small sales teams representing more than 100 industries (contact me to request our simple 4-page outline).
If you are going to start the process on your own, the best advice I can offer is to recognize that there are as many successful sales playbooks as there are successful sales teams. To make sure your sales playbook is representative of your unique sales environment, develop it incrementally. This way you won’t over invest in the process and your odds of success increase exponentially.
Below are the first three steps our clients follow to ensure they get the foundational sales playbook they expect:
- Get Your Team on Track – Consider starting with a highly focused effort to document and restage your current sales process, pipeline and forecast. These changes represent the ‘fastest path to cash’ for most sales teams, and they can also be among the easiest to adopt and adapt. In addition, it is relatively easy to track the 15+ metrics that will ensure the desired changes in your team’s behavior and performance, including: pipeline quality, pipeline growth, number of qualified leads, average deal size, win rate, sales cycle time, quota achievement and more.
- Improve Individual Performance – Once your team is executing with a common focus and cadence, you can confidently invest in building skills that will improve the quality of their work. There is a big difference between doing the right work and doing the right work well. To support this step, there are more than 17 metrics you can use to make sure your investment is driving the change you seek, including: improving forecast accuracy, margin generation, account retention, cost of sales and more.
- Establish A Winning Sales Culture – The bar that defines success is always rising. In order to keep up, sales team members must keep growing. What better way to support this mandate than by expanding your foundational sales playbook to include even more sales systems and best practices in key areas such as: goal setting, territory management, account management, lead generation, email communication, using the phone, recruiting, onboarding, etc. If done right, your incremental approach will have created a track record of success and a level of confidence that will make this a welcomed next step for your team.
This path to independence builds sales teams that differentiate the products and services they sell and the organizations they sell for, not the other way around. This path builds functional sales playbooks that represent unique collections of protected intellectual property, not just collections of common sales best practices.
Of course, we recognize it can be tough for even the most motivated organizations to find the resources required to get started on a foundational sales playbook. We have found a way to make the process easy for any size company. Whether you’re a do-it-yourselfer or prefer working with outside experts, I am happy to help. Send me an email and I’ll send you our simple 4-page outline to start the conversation and get you on your way to greater independence and more sustainable revenue growth.