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5 Things You Can Do to Solve Tough [Sales Execution] Performance Problems

When poor sales performance persists, and everything you’ve tried hasn’t worked, it’s tempting to sit back and say ‘that’s just the way it is’. It’s probably the #1 reason sales performance problems DO persist. Skepticism.

The Power of Positive Deviance is a generalized look at ‘how unlikely innovators solve the world’s toughest problems’. It offers several clues on how to conquer skepticism about sales performance. It is an approach to problem solving that combines the hunt for best practices with participatory methods. Best suited to situations [like B2B sales] where the situation’s complex and ‘fixes’ may have unintended consequences, it enables adaptive change with many small experiments much like that found in nature. It’s a way of incrementally executing your way into a new way of performing.

From its lessons, here are 5 things you can do to solve performance problems on your front-lines of sales execution:

1/ PUT THE INVISIBLE IN PLAIN SIGHT
Mistakes that go undetected are doomed to be repeated. So, get out your flashlight and go looking in the dark for metrics that reveal the effectiveness of your existing sales practices. When you have metrics that let you [and everyone else] see instances in which sales effort’s being invested with little, if any, buyer impact you’ve accomplished an important first step to the epiphany. Now that you can see, therefore you can act. Once you’ve got hard proof of what everyone is accomplishing today, you’ll be able to spot the exceptional, successful, bits.

2/ PERSONALIZE THE LEARNING
Front-line folks, when empowered to learn from their practices better practices to practice, will exhibit extraordinary ingenuity and achieve extraordinary results. When they discover useful tricks of the trade that had been invisible, better habits have a chance to flourish. They’ll discover exceptions amongst themselves. Teams can witness what others ‘just like me’ are doing to get better results. The ability to measure progress achieved from new practices reinforces the value of behavior changes. Reps get to see they can ‘move their own meter’. Once Reps have tasted self-generated success, a foundation for continuous learning is laid. Such personalized learning is huge. Empowered Reps, so motivated, and so measured, will prove their value to you with their persistence and skill in developing better habits. They’ll improve on their own.

3/ ACCELERATE THE LEARNING, FROM THE DOING
One of the reasons sales performance can be such a struggle to improve is it takes SO long to see how today’s efforts might impact this quarter’s results. Get your metrics right and you’ll get to see, day-to-day, how you’re doing. With this, learning happens faster. When a mistake costs you a few days effort, Reps are much less concerned about trying something that doesn’t work. You’ve made ‘outside the comfort zone’ a much safer place than before. This helps Reps persist, with enduring courage and curiousity, even if the early returns on their efforts aren’t home runs. Don’t ask ‘what’s wrong’ or ‘what’s missing’. Ask ‘what works against all odds’. It’ll be a breath of fresh air.

4/ LOOK FOR PATTERNS
Sales is a social craft. It involves people interacting with other people. We’re all human. We know how chaotic such interactions can be. There’s a risk that, in its detail, your new metrics will seem like an avalanche of confusing noise. When the nature of what’s going on seems chaotic, look for patterns. Use data visualizations to turn obvious struggles into crystal clear motivators. It’s from such patterns that the need for better practices, and the path to getting there, can become obvious for all to see.

5/ LET REPS OWN THE OUTCOME
Changing habits is hard. It’s much easier as a group exercise than an individual one. Make it aspirational. Let everyone participating see their participation is critical to success. Organize your efforts in ways that let the group look in the mirror, decide what makes sense, and determine what to do about it. Let participating Reps own the outcomes, both individually and collectively. When they do, they’ll bring the courage and curiosity needed to get outside their comfort zones and try new things they might not have otherwise tried.

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As a post-script on these points [with thanks to Barb Giamanco to convening and hosting it] a podcast on the importance of faster learning on effective sales practices and the role of auto-analytics in provoking it is available here

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2 Responses to 5 Things You Can Do to Solve Tough [Sales Execution] Performance Problems

  1. Jeremy Pollard says:

    John, thank you, a great summary of your learnings.

    And, interesting that while also a safe list for most industries or practices, your points are particularly important for sales, because of a) that most sales people feel somewhat disconnected from the processes they are asked to work in b) most sales processes are not owned strongly upwards of sales line management.

    Your suggested approach can, I believe, bridge the gap. Hard numbers on the right things, and don’t ignore the emotional drivers. Great stuff, many thanks

    • John says:

      Jeremy: thanks for the feedback. Appreciated. As Chip Heath would say, in his musings on how to make change when change is hard, numbers that speak to me, with precision, about me, are ones that I can understand and own. Such diagnostics are an important 1st step to the epiphany of better practices. – John

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