Field Sales Case Study in a Global Chemical Firm
Field Sales Case Study
A division of global chemical company provided collision repair products to automobile dealers and collision repair shops. They employed 210 field salespeople in 18 district offices. The division was experiencing flat revenue growth and declining market share. A European competitor’s foothold in North America was making it difficult to capitalize on the fast-growing auto-dealer segment of the market.
District managers in each sales office ran their own show. Proposals and legal contracts were done differently in each location. Key market segments like mega-dealers and more sophisticated auto dealers were being approached in generic ways.
Client Discovery & Root Cause Analysis
Initially, a guided discovery and diagnostic process revealed conflicting data, undefined terms, and absence of data across multiple district offices. The cause was a lack of agreement on a shared methodology across the sales organization.
- District offices were autonomous because local market conditions were different. Each office invented its own unique way to deal with common challenges like generating proposals, participating in local trade events, and dealing with competitive threats.
- The customer base was shifting from family-owned dealerships to more organized and professional chains of stores. Competing district offices sometimes provided conflicting proposals to a national chain account—an embarrassment.
- People in the field were resistant to headquarters “meddling” in their activities. They wanted control over their own destiny in generating business growth.
Before Sales Process Excellence
The industry relied on an expensive and unreliable sales strategy—giving away free products. Like their competitors, this division relied on personal relationships to predict which customers would buy and when. Salespeople labored to assemble proposals. How “hungry” a given salesperson or district manager was became the basis for discounting decisions.
The Sales Process Excellence Approach
The discovery process revealed key pains for salespeople and district managers as well as some of their causes. Division management created a team to address the issues. The team consisted of respected field sales people and managers, with only facilitation support from headquarters.
The improvement team started their work by defining the problems they were trying to solve. They surveyed key regions of the country as well as certain influential customers. They met as a team to assemble what they had learned and devise an approach for improving.
The team created a model that incorporated what they believed had to happen before, during, and after the sale. They compiled best practices from around the company, and graphically represented a common set of these activities as a process map. Once there was sufficient definition and agreement on how a salesperson should work, they commissioned a subset of the participants to try out these new ideas and approaches on live accounts.
When the team met again, the new process model was improved based on that field experience. The improved model made deal flow more visible, and therefore more measurable. The new approach was further tested in the field and reviewed by the VP of Sales and several additional district managers. Based on the success of the piloting and the reviews of the management team, they received a green light to launch the new process across the organization.
They developed a training and launch package to be delivered “road-show style” to each district office and every salesperson within three months. Each team included at least one member of top management, such as the VP of sales or his or her direct report. The new process made use of their CRM and they began collecting data on how the new program was working as it rolled out.
Almost immediately, data from the CRM revealed both similarities and differences among the field teams. Some districts lagged behind in implementation. Others had higher close ratios. Deals tended to get stuck at different stages in different district offices. This information was shared widely with the field salespeople. It was not used to evaluate performance, but to help the field personnel identify causes of variation and to look for bottlenecks and problems that they could address.
As areas for improvement became clear, the company formed improvement teams to attack the problems one by one. For example, generating proposals had always been a time-consuming challenge. One team created a centralized approach that made it easier and quicker to generate customized proposals. The other teams received it enthusiastically and shared it with the field.
When salespeople saw that the company was listening to them and responding, their support flooded in. They provided customer data from states with especially harsh environmental regulations. This type of information fed into to new product ideas that, once launched, gained back market share. They tested alternatives to the kinds of calendars traditionally seen on the walls of automobile repair shops. When they sponsored NASCAR, new customer inquiries increased.
Deal quality, visibility, and forecast accuracy increased. Improvement in the sales process was the single contributing factor. Without launching new products, the following results were achieved:
- Profitable sales growth increased $40 million in in the first year.
- The company’s five-year plan targets were achieved in four years.
- Improved responsiveness slowed their European competitor’s growth.
- The competitor ultimately pulled out of the market.