Achieving excellence in sales for six months is great, embedding it in the genes of the organization is better. Creating a long-term culture in which excellence is embedded in the genes of the organization requires having the right people with the right capabilities, motivation, and attitudes. All the ingredients of a high-functioning sales organization can be introduced, enhanced, and modified.
Building capabilities is most often cited as the top priority for driving growth — even ahead of selling the way customers want or improving sales back-office support. There are three themes common to all organizations that have successfully lifted performance by building sales DNA:
1. Create a culture for the long term by weaving capability-building into daily, weekly, and monthly routines to ensure that the focus never slips
2. Give middle managers a starring role since they meet with sales reps daily and constantly reinforce good or bad behaviors
3. Put together the A-team–upgrade the people themselves through recruitment and other people processes, such as initial training, promotion, and attrition.
Efforts to create a continuous improvement mindset must deal with several barriers: sales teams are large and spread out, front line salespeople have a very short-term focus driven by quotas, and targets and many people are resistant to change.
Role-playing, a technique used intensively by all the high-performing sales organizations is particularly important for improving the softer skills such as navigating difficult conversations. Once a new skill has been introduced, reinforcement is critical. Adults need to apply a new skill at least 20 times before it becomes second nature.
Continuous improvement ultimately also requires upgrading the quality of people, not just their performance. This inevitably requires getting the wrong individuals out. Forced attrition during a major transformation typically runs at least ten to 20 percent. Those reps and managers who cannot or will not make the change are weeded out.
It is also important to realize that individuals must be matched to their specific role in the sales process: someone good at sales may not be good at managing other sales reps, or someone good at direct sales may not be good at coordinating channels.
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