Everyone wants their sales organisation to be the best. The boldest ambition any sales leader can have is for their team to be the world’s best in terms of growing the business.
Yet, while many sales leaders have a vision of creating a world-class sales organisation, it is clear from our coaching sessions that most do not know how to get there. When asked what they consider to be ‘world class’, they often tell us about the importance of their people knowing everything they need to know to win the sale and being committed to constant self-improvement.
At Sterling Chase we help companies to deliver and embed ‘best practice’ selling to ensure that their people have the knowledge, the will and the skills required to win big. However, there is more to becoming a world-class selling organisation than this.
From experience, developing a world-class sales organisation requires the leadership team to develop what we call the four ‘pillars of sales excellence’, which are:
- 1. A world-class approach to selling.
- 2. World-class sales leadership.
- 3. A world-class sales enablement infrastructure.
- 4. A world-class sales ethos, values and culture.
So let’s take a close look at each of these pillars in turn to understand what we mean and how you can achieve this.
1. Develop a World-Class Approach to Selling
World-class sales organisations work really hard to make their value propositions compelling, differentiated and tailored to the sectors, segments, companies and individuals they target. They systematically and proactively sell solutions to address their customers’ explicit and latent needs with clear, tangible and compelling strategic outcomes. They don’t sell products or services with a focus on the features, advantages or short-term benefits. The customer is king and selling is a service that satisfies the customer’s needs better than the customer could ever have hoped for.
To achieve this, world-class selling organisations take a proactive consultative approach to selling solutions. They systematically ensure that all of their people practice and perfect this approach in a way that enables them to beat their competitors by gaining a much deeper insight into the prospect’s needs and, in turn, accelerates the journey towards being perceived as a ‘trusted advisor’.
As part of this approach, every message and solution must be tailored to the client’s specific needs. Communications should always start with a demonstration of relevant insight into the customer’s world and needs before proposing solutions that meet and exceed those needs.
To be world class, sales organisations need to develop effective, efficient and structured ways to lead the selling process at the following levels:
- The interaction level – how they conduct sales meetings, calls and interactions.
- The campaign level – how they lead and win campaigns.
- The relationship level – how they up-sell and cross-sell to maximise and accelerate the lifetime value of every existing client and every prospect.
- The channel level – how they ensure that every route to market has an effective and efficient approach to selling and how every third-party qualifies and competes to sell their products and services.
- The territory level – how they ensure that every sales person, channel and region hits their targets.
World-class sales organisations also have a structure and language for selling that everyone understands and buys into. They measure and manage performance based on how people sell, in terms of behaviours, as well as how much they sell, in terms of results. World-class sales organisations are committed to continuous improvement, but their people are also passionate about learning from every mistake, loss and piece of customer feedback.
In world-class selling organisations, it is critical that everybody systematically plans, and practices (both mentally and physically) every key client interaction. Their people go into every meeting or call with the right mind-set, clear objectives, a selling agenda and a structured approach so that, whatever happens, they know how to achieve a win-win outcome for both the buyer and the seller. To achieve this, every sales person should practice consultative selling techniques and approaches with their peers. This will help them to test their propositions, introductions and opening questions, while it will ensure that they consider all of the potential twists and turns that the sales interaction could take. Once fully practiced, they should clear their minds and ensure that they actively listen to the client before confidently steering the conversation towards the desired outcome. The same focus on planning, preparation and ‘testing’ should go into every campaign, territory plan and market development programme.
Finally, to develop a world-class approach to selling, the people need to take ownership for their own performance and always be at the top of their game. In world-class sales organisations, sales people are open to, and positively seek, feedback so that they can constantly improve. Performance management is owned by the individual, rather than just the coaches and managers. However, positive performance management also requires the leaders and managers at every level to actively lead, coach and manage the individuals and teams towards greatness.
2. Develop World-Class Sales Leadership
Although it might seem obvious that world-class sales organisations need great sales leadership, there are three problems that stand out in this area:
- Many sales leaders think that being a great leader is about being charismatic and always having the answers when a problem occurs.
- A lot of sales leaders think that their people should naturally aspire to be great and, since they were a great sales person themselves, their people should have little difficulty in achieving greatness.
- Many leaders and HR departments don’t actually know what great sales leadership looks like. They either think that any good leader can be a great sales leader or they think that great sales leaders are miraculously born with experience and skills that cannot be developed in-house.
In reality, however, great sales leadership is about being great at:
- Leading and influencing your target markets.
- Leading the sales teams with a sales vision, ethos and values that inspire.
- Leading the rest of the organisation to support the sales strategy.
- Leading your own continuous improvement as a leader.
But to go from ‘great’ to ‘world class’ the sales leadership team needs to be strategically great at all of the above, as well as being agile situational sales leaders. This means that you need to be able to switch between the roles of sales leader, sales coach and sales manager at the appropriate moment.
World-class sales leadership is also about being authentic and being able to inspire people with:
- A compelling and credible vision for the sales organisation.
- High-impact communications that motivate and engage every member of the team to buy into the vision.
- A commitment to developing a learning organisation that constantly reinvents itself so that it delights its customers, motivates its people and stays ahead of the competition.
The world-class sales organisation’s vision, mission and values should be clearly articulated, compelling, simple and relevant. This should be understood by every person in the organisation and embedded within everything they do. Every action should explicitly contribute towards the sales strategy and mission. You should not keep developing new programmes or initiatives that seem, to your people, like an ever growing list. Everything must be integrated while being kept simple and ‘joined up’.
sales strategy and mission.”
In world-class selling orgnanisations, the leadership team enable and embed the right behaviours at every level, including their own. If there is a format for developing a major account development or volume telesales campaign, then this format should also be used as the basis for reviews at every level, with no disconnection between what the leaders are expecting the people to do and how they review their progress.
Transparency and relevance are crucial. All targets, recognition systems, remuneration systems and performance management processes should be directly aligned to the desired behaviours and results. Targets should be connected and transparent at all levels and should be cascaded without additional ‘stretch’ factors taking hold. Decision-making should be fast and either decentralised or delegated wherever possible – which is easy if the vision, mission, strategy and values are clearly understood by all.
3. Develop a World-Class Sales Enablement Infrastructure
World-class sales organisation need world-class sales enablement infrastructure. In other words, they need great sales support processes, a structure that is aligned to their customers and supporting sales, and systems that make it easy to get a quote or proposal out and orders placed once the sale is made.
World-class sales organisations have sales (and sales support) processes that are effective and efficient, with clear agreements on response and completion times across the organisation. They have a structured (but non-bureaucratic) approach to commercial decision-making on both a tactical and strategic level. World-class sales organisations are focused on selling and they are backed up and supported by service teams who care about the company’s sales figures and actively create qualified leads. They have great CRM systems and processes that give everybody who is involved with a customer a single and consistent view of the current status and historical events (across the sales, pre-sales, service and executive teams).
To be world class, a sales organisation needs its leaders to develop a world-class recruitment policy that is based on attitude, skills, behaviours, experience and track record. They also need to develop and retain the organisation’s talent by giving them pathways for continuous personal and professional development. Continuous professional development programmes should be ‘applied’ (i.e. based on demonstrating performance improvement in a live environment) while using and embedding world-class methodologies, tools, techniques and behaviours for selling, sales management and sales leadership at every level.
To become world class, a sales organisation’s leaders must develop a ‘continuous professional development’ ethos at every level, including their own, and should give their people access to physical and virtual resources that support and enable their continuous professional development. They must also develop a great recognition and reward system that is fair, equal, understood by everyone and rewards great behaviours as well as great results.
4. Develop world-class sales values, sales ethos and sales culture
The way people in the organisation think and view their world is crucial to becoming a world-class sales organisation. In a world-class sales organisation, people think differently to the way they do in other organisations. They have different and more positive attitudes, values, cultures and ambitions. They are determined to be successful while remaining ethical and playing for the team as well as themselves. Success, to world-class sales people, is all about getting recognition for being the best. This includes recognition from their customers and their own company, as well as recognition from competitors and industry influencer groups.
World-class sales organisations have their own world-class reputations and brands within and outside of the industry. The people in a world-class sales organisation have a passion for genuinely Driving Sales Excellence and their measure of success is based on:
- Their customers’ satisfaction with what they sell AND deliver;
- How what they sell contributes to the customers’ own success (and to their own company’s success).
In our experience, world-class sales organisations put their customers and their needs at the centre of all that they do. They are built on and embodied by:
- Taking ownership for ensuring their customers’ success before their own success.
- Positivity – striving for the ‘art of the possible’, challenging accepted norms, a willingness to be challenged and genuinely being different in a positive way.
- Creating urgency and driving forward while always being respectful to others.
- Maintaining a winning mentality even in the face of adversity.
- Teamwork, collaboration and a common paranoia of getting complacent.
- Constant qualification and requalification of where the effort is focused.
These values carry world-class selling organisations through, no matter what the customers, market or economy throws at them, while they are always able to treat these events as opportunities rather than threats.
Conclusion – Bringing it All Together
The truth is, if you make your sales organisation truly great and constantly improving – with zero tolerance for any form of mediocrity – across all of the four pillars outlined above, it will be and will stay world class. The results will be astounding and people will fight to work for the company.
Of course, developing a world-class sales organisation involves a lot of strategic planning, everyone pulling together to achieve a common goal, and a real focus on meticulous implementation and attention to detail in the execution of the strategy.
To get there, you need to become world class in transformational sales leadership, sales management and sales coaching; and your people need to become world class in transformational selling.
The good news is that it’s more achievable than you might think. All you need is a clear plan on how to get there, encompassing the four pillars of excellence, and a focus and commitment across the whole organisation to make it happen. The job of the leadership team is to plan, implement and constantly improve the four pillars of excellence and drive the organisation forward towards the goal of becoming world-class.
If you want more advice on how to develop your sales organisation to be world class, download our free whitepaper: A Guide to Driving Sales Excellence.
Written by: Steve Eungblut, Managing Director of Sterling Chase