Four Prerequisites for Solving Age-Old Sales and Marketing Problems and How to Implement Them

I’m back in Canada again this week, but not without some huge hassles. Most people have had problems with their computers from time to time, and last Tuesday, right after this newsletter went out, my time came. My hardware was fine, but Windows finally degraded to the point where it would no longer function. The Dell support people I talked to seemed to act like it was no big deal, but as anyone who has gone through this before knows it is a very big deal. I easily lost a week of time having to format the damn hard drive and reinstall everything I ever had on my system from the very beginning.

I’ve become pretty convinced that Microsoft intentionally does not try to solve this problem, because they figure it will just motivate people to buy a new computer instead of fixing the problem. As I understand, it isn’t such a big problem on Apple computers, so if it is true, maybe they’ll get their just desserts in the end.

And lastly, I was able to put together that article I told you about last week on how to get sales and marketing people to actually implement a new process. This is a huge issue for companies to deal with. What follows is the result of many years of work and experience in this arena, and I hope it is useful to you.

Please let me know what you think about it, when you get a chance!

Until next time.

Michael J. Webb
November 13, 2007


Four Prerequisites for Solving
Age-Old Sales and Marketing Problems
and How to Implement Them

Process improvement provides a means to make businesses better, incrementally. However, implementing process improvement in sales and marketing is especially challenging. Here are four prerequisites that help people become prepared and committed to the change.

Motivate the salespeople

If your sales force is over quota and happy with the status quo, why should they endure the pain and uncertainty of changing anything? This is where leaders have to take a stand if they believe change is necessary. (A great article about this is “Demand Results-and Get Them,” by Robert Schaffer.)

One senior executive I know took advantage of two years of 20% growth to ask his two sales vice presidents whether their quotas should go up by 20% again based on past performance. With no idea why their luck had been so good, the VPs blinked.

This was all the excuse he needed. They had no defensible sales process, and they needed one. He demanded a proper, measurable sales process in time for the annual sales meeting. Such a process would have a mutual benefit: He could hold them accountable for business results, and they could hold him accountable for providing the resources they needed to achieve those results. The president’s demand created the burning platform necessary for dramatic improvements.

People do things for reasons. If your team has no reason to want to change, you may need to create one.

Make sure the CEO “gets it” (or nobody else will)

Sales isn’t just about the sales department. When it became clear that change was going to happen, these VPs instinctively knew they couldn’t “do” their sales process in a vacuum. If other departments weren’t also arranged (and motivated) the right way, it wasn’t going to work.

Most sales managers never articulate what factors beyond their control might have a much broader effect than they themselves do. For example, poor lead generation or customer service issue can make the sales department’s job a lot tougher.

Some sales VPs discard a process approach for the simple reason that they have no power to get everyone involved. It takes the President/CEO to pull that off.

Unfortunately, in many companies, the senior executive unwittingly supports mistaken “functional” views of the business. Improving things requires the recognition that finding, winning, and keeping customers are interdependent activities. If the senior executive is unaware or unwilling to become involved, the sales process initiative won’t have much effect.

Agree on a common framework

In most cases, a company’s senior marketing, selling, and servicing executives have never sat down to discuss basic questions around how they find, win, and keep customers. Curious, but true. You shouldn’t blame these people for making assumptions about their roles and goals rather than
trying to start from scratch.

Changes in markets, technologies, and other factors drive the need to go back to first principles, however. Not the ivory tower kind, but the nitty gritty, on the street, evidence-based kind. How do our customers buy? What creates their need for our products and services? What is the primary problem they want to solve? What pain is caused by not solving it? What risks do they most want to avoid? And,
most important, how do we make it easier for them to work with us to solve these problems?

For things to improve, the “sales process” needs to be transformed from a quagmire of assumptions and myths into an orderly arrangement of work that has a predictable, measurable effect.

That is not difficult to do, once you realize that marketing and selling is really a service that makes it easier for your prospects and customers to solve their problems. Figure out how your customers buy and align your efforts so as to help them achieve it more easily. Design your process around your Customer’s Journey.

This is a framework that galvanizes the team like no other I have ever seen. It simultaneously provides what everyone has been looking for:

  • A common sense insight for how the sales process works and why
  • A means of measuring interim activities and the interim results they produce
  • The ability to avoid sub-optimizing results by relating the parts of the system (such as advertising, qualifying, or proposal writing) to the whole

Millions of dollars are wasted every year in companies the double whammy created by a lack of this framework: First, people who know what kind of sales training or marketing or product will make a difference can’t prove it because no needles exist in the management system to show the effect
of their approach. Second, with nothing to stop them from bad decisions, people with power or personality tend to rule the day.

The framework of defining the Customer’s Journey and then aligning your activities to support it in measurable ways is the best means of solving that problem because it provides the ability to associate interim causes with interim results. It gives middle managers the vital feedback they need to do things right.

Provide tangible changes and feedback

Once the executives have recognized what the process is (or should be) intellectually, they must take it to the field. Fortunately, at this point things are no longer magic, but simple hard work.

Overlooking this requirement is a common mistake: For executives who have thought things through it seems “obvious” why qualification criteria should include certain questions and why salespeople should fill out certain forms designed into the CRM. However, it is definitely NOT obvious to rank-and-file marketing and salespeople.

Until you take the problem to them, and engage them in finding the solution, not much will happen. Here are some key actions that get attention, in a positive way, when dealing with salespeople:

  • Get them to own some of the problem

    Sales processes must be re-invented by the people who implement them. Fancy process maps or qualification criteria created by people at headquarters mean nothing to salespeople on the street. It is best to work them through the problem in small groups and use facilitation skills to lead them to their own version of the solution. At the very least, you should plan to incorporate at least some of their suggestions in the final product.

  • Change something that makes sales easier

    The number one way of getting the sales department’s attention is to find out what their challenges are and do something tangible to fix them. Improve lead generation or reduce the amount of paperwork required to deliver proposals or complete expense reports. Whether their challenge is in lead generation, account retention, margin pressure, or something else, applying process expertise to their pain is the best way to gain leverage for your cause.

  • Simple, relevant, and effective training, tools, and coaching

    Salespeople hate off the shelf academic theories. They want specific tactics, tools, and training that directly apply to their job. Give them qualification criteria they can observe about their prospects. Use your industry’s technical language to clarify it. Help them build the relationships they need with the right people by providing examples of high-impact questions that open up the conversation.

I once traveled with Ed, a senior distribution salesperson who feared he would look stupid if he asked the types of questions we recommended he ask his customers. During a visit to a steel mill, while he was occupied in a discussion about a delivery problem with the purchasing agent, I asked one of the foremen a simple, open-ended business question that led to a 30-minute discussion about the changes being planned in the plant the following year. Ed’s jaw almost fell on the floor as we learned about the
business this mill was going to be doing in the coming months.

Now, lots of seasoned sales trainers have had experiences like this. Good sales behaviors are well understood and not that difficult to impart–under the right circumstances. If your sales managers don’t have the savvy (a common problem), you can and should hire the people who do. Once your sales process is properly defined and measured, you can do this with confidence.

  • Provide feedback and visibility to their value add

    Once the salespeople need to understand the big picture and start to realize your tactics and support are credible, it is critical to prove once and for all that you are serious by providing tangible feedback to everyone. This is best accomplished by closely monitoring the progress of their deals through the stages of the Customer’s Journey, and posting the results daily or weekly on a poster or report for everyone to see.

Measuring salespeople’s activities is not the point. Getting customers to take the actions you want them to take is.

I once worked in a complex sales environment where the most successful salespeople were experts at telephone prospecting. As a young (and starving) salesperson, I listened in awe to entire conversations carried by these salespeople’s artful, penetrating questions. Comparing their tangible results with my mediocre ones made me incredibly motivated to learn how they did it. Having “production” numbers publicly posted was a constant reminder, and best of all, my own numbers increased as my hard work began to pay off.

Managing salespeople is problematic, because salespeople do not have direct control over their customers. All they can do is implement their skills to the best of their ability. The customer decides whether or not to take action. This dilemma is best resolved by managing for results (rather
than activities) while enabling salespeople to choose from the best support tools and skills you can find for them.


Properly implemented, the framework described above provides the means of enabling not just salespeople but also the marketing and servicing teams to focus on and implement the right things.

Most companies need a little help getting through these steps. Once some momentum is established, however, they are better able to base their decisions and tactics on market realities to make their business grow profitably.

Michael J. Webb

November 13, 2007

Michael Webb

Michael Webb founded Sales Performance Consultants to create a data-driven alternative to the slogans and shallow impact offered by typical sales training, sales consulting, and CRM companies. Michael helped organize and delivered the keynote speeches for the first conferences ever held on applying Six Sigma to marketing and sales. Connect with me on LinkedIn.

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