Chapter 10: Conclusion

Chapter 10: Conclusion

“We made [technology] investments and put in metrics and scorecards and a performance management system. We put in hard tools around process and pipeline management and we put in soft tools, such as management coaching and sales training. We resegmented our customers and changed our recruiting profile.”
—Sales Leader (describing a three-year window of change)


This final chapter summarizes the strategies detailed throughout this study, discusses the underlying themes among them, and considers how to use the contents of this book within your own business.

Summarizing the Strategies that Win

While each organization had individual circumstances and operated in discrete industries, all were experiencing similar challenges in the markets in which they operated. These challenges, such as global economies, customer sophistication, and growing competition, were driving their strategies for building and operating their sales organizations. Although these were not necessarily new challenges, and in many cases had been exacerbated by the recent economic downturn, there was a universal sense of urgency around overcoming them. As a result, every organization in our study was investing in one (if not many) of these “strategies that win” in this increasingly complex environment.

Expanding Multichannel Strategies

All organizations in the study took advantage of a multichannel delivery system to get their offerings to the marketplace. Most were in the process of expanding these channels in search of a variety of benefits: to lure lower-potential customers to lower cost of sales channels, to meet customer demands for self-service, to expand geographic footprints, and to provide greater levels of focus to high value customers. Common channels included a field sales force, inside sales force, telemarketing unit, indirect sales force, and an e-commerce channel. Many companies were becoming increasingly focused on the use of third-party indirect sales resources (such as distributors) as a key element of the sales force, bringing questions about quality control, salesperson development, and branded customer experience. Furthermore, there was also an increasing dependence on using the service unit as a significant sales channel through the cross-sell and up-sell of inbound inquiries.

As channel options increased, channel conflict and channel misalignment was common, resulting from channels that grew as stovepipes instead of being integrated into the organization. Some organizations still struggled with how to manage customer expectations and use of channels. Most still struggled with the technological infrastructure. Overall, however, organizations were used to channel conflict and considered it a normal part of doing business. Arbitration and compensation policies were most effective in ensuring that these situations did not create inordinate inefficiencies in the organization. As organizations move forward, there is every indication that this growth in channels will continue, resulting in more formalized channel integration within regions, sales managers who act as channel managers, and salespeople who leverage other channels as an integral part of a virtual sales team.

Resegmenting and Deploying Sales Forces

We found that every organization was continuously restructuring the deployment of sales resources to maximize their return. Deployment strategies were almost always a matrixed structure based on customer characteristics, product types, sales activities, and geographies. Although inside sales was becoming more important (and more strategic in terms of sales approach), there was no indication that face-to-face sales was going away. In fact, face-to-face account management structures were common with the concept of a dedicated account rep or team being driven further and further down customer tiers. As organizations explored ways to maximize the individual talents of their sales professionals, the concept of deploying the sales force as “hunters” and “gatherers” was once again gaining favor, resulting in organizationwide assessment, evaluation, and restructuring. Even when structures stabilize, organizations must constantly reevaluate territories and revisit territory coverage. Therefore, organizations must continue to find ways in which to minimize the distraction and productivity loss from such constant restructuring.

Implementing Sales Technologies

Many organizations were looking to technology initiatives to help them leverage the size of their organization (selling as one organization, not different divisions), improve productivity (and thus increase time in the field or on the phone), and deliver consistently via multiple channels. These were difficult benefits to realize, however. In fact, almost every organization we spoke with was on their second or third generation of customer resource management (CRM) system. While some success had been achieved in using a CRM system for managerial reporting and integration of information across different parts of the organization, frontline sales representatives still did not use the systems with consistency. Although organizations were starting to invest more in the human performance side of such technologies, such initiatives continued to be technology driven rather than people or process driven.

Adopting Consultative Selling

All organizations interviewed felt that delivering on the promise of consultative selling in their markets would be a true differentiator and a key to avoiding commoditization. Consultative selling in this context meant holding needs-based conversations, assembling creative solutions from multiple products and services, displaying an unwavering focus on value, and aiming for Trusted Advisor status.

Organizations recognized that despite past efforts in this area, there was still a large gap between philosophy and execution in the field. This was due to many of the following factors: because in more prosperous times the approach may not have been worth the effort; because the philosophical approach of a consultative sale was not translated into daily processes; and because the bar for consultative selling kept rising.

To make sure that they would be more successful in their current efforts to deliver on consultative selling, organizations were devoting resources to developing sales processes and figuring out how to turn something that is a philosophy into processes and behaviors. For some organizations, this meant creating new sales processes that would help salespeople create and nurture key customer relationships—for example, building professional relationships with procurement professionals in markets that had been dominated by personal relationships. In other cases, it meant reskilling the sales force and revisiting managerial reinforcement of skills training.

Reskilling the Sales Force

Many of the organizations recognized that their current sales force would be unable to support the sales strategies being deployed. As a result, many organizations in the study had gone through vast changes in personnel (especially those that were involved in mergers). Therefore, even in a job market that favored employers, managers and directors were still very concerned over the ability to attract and retain talent that was capable of delivering on a consultative sale.

Although the skills being focused on were not new, there were now new and much higher levels of expectation in place than there had been in the past. It was no longer enough to have product knowledge, salespeople needed business acumen, industry expertise, and in-depth customer insight. They no longer needed only to be able to communicate product benefits, they needed to communicate (and even calculate) value. There was also growing interest in the idea of emotional intelligence as a precursor to sales success. Some looked at this as a selection issue (looking for salespeople with innate skills); others saw this as an awareness and development issue. Regardless of the skill set desired, obtaining it required a complete approach, starting with sales strategy and moving through assessment, performance management training, support systems, and more.

Redefining Sales Management

Organizations recognized that they were putting more demands on sales managers than they had in the past, and some were trying to find ways to better support them. Managers were now much more responsible for business decisions (à la general managers), resource management across a variety of organizations and channels, and influencing capabilities. That being said, there was still no consensus on the way to support and develop management, however. Managers were still most commonly promoted based on selling ability rather than managerial ability; development was handled by a disconnected human resources department instead of the sales training department. As a result, there is a high level of inconsistency among sales managers in the organizations (in terms of processes, decision criteria, success, etc.) and the organizations interviewed felt that there was still a lot to be done in this area.

Creating a Sales Culture

Many of the organizations we spoke with were focusing on the idea of proactively creating and maintaining a sales culture. This was usually a function of trying to integrate teams of people from different parts of a merged organization and to support frequent restructuring initiatives. Some organizations were very focused on using their culture as an important element of their brand and as a recruiting and retention tool for both sales professionals and customers.