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My 2009 Word of The Year, So Far

One of my most-used words these days is “scrutinize.”  Merriam-Webster says it means to examine closely and minutely.”

At ESR, we find ourselves using the word fairly often:

  • VPs have been asking us about how to determine which sales reps to keep and which to redeploy.  In this current economic situation some of what salesreps depended on to win in the past will simply no longer work.  It’s the old, “the past does not equal the future.” We recommend scrutinizing past performance as well as all the reps’ strengths and weaknesses against the new set of required skills and traits. And we strongly recommend psychometric testing. It’s very effective objective scrutiny.

  • We know from work with our clients that business acumen is more important now in B2B selling than ever before.  Salesreps need to scrutinize their customers, clients and prospects.  (More about this and some disturbing data when ESR reports on the results of our social media in B2B sales survey, which closed today.)  By the way, I was recently briefed by Chip Terry, Vice President and General Manager Enterprise Solutions at ZoomInfo.  He demoed their product.  Within two minutes I could see how ZoomInfo can provide the breadth and depth of information about not only companies, but equally as important, people within those companies, on whom salesreps would be calling.)

  • Messaging.  How relevant are the messages your salespeople are delivering to your customers and sales prospects?  Those need to be scrutinized and relevance to what and how your customers are buying must be determined.

  • New approaches and tools.  I’ve written a lot about the new social media as well as Sales 2.0 (again here).  These are very hot topics. (Just the number and flavor of comments to these three blog posts will attest to that.)  ESR’s recommendation is to… You guessed it:  thoroughly scrutinize any new direction or investment with respect to either or both of these promising technologies. The time may be right.  But then again, it may not be.

  • Lead Generation and Lead Nurturing.  Brian Carroll (podcast) and I are working on a project together.  Just yesterday we were discussing the challenges most companies are facing these days in those challenged areas.  What’s required for many companies is significant scrutiny. Bring in experts if you need to.  Get the right one—someone like Brian perhaps—and it will be money well-spent.

  • Sales training.  I’m very concerned about the significant drop in sales training during the past quarter.  Sales training may be precisely the right area to scale back in certain companies.  But certainly not in all, or even most.  Again, here’s where some significant scrutiny will enable you to determine where to spend your limited funds so that you have the biggest chance of making it through this economic situation.

  • Here are a few more areas that should be targeted for some scrutiny: Territory assignments, compensation, coaching mechanisms, measurement and analytics, sales process, sales support and readiness.  The list goes on.

Photo credit: © Sandor Kacso – Fotolia.com

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Making the Number: How to Use Sales Benchmarking to Drive Performance

I’ve been writing about measuring the impact of sales training for a while.  ESR published a report on the subject.  We know from our research that there is little to no measurement taking place—not by most sales trainers and not by their clients and customers.  This is one of the factors that is preventing the degree of sales performance improvement we should be seeing, based on the $6 billion or so a year that is being invested in sales training in the U.S. 

Opinions differ on the subject of measuring the impact of sales training.  For example, Charlie Green (Trusted Advisor Associates) is a sales expert whose work I respect and appreciate.  He wrote a post with a strong opinion that we should stop measuring ROI on soft skills training.  Although I agree with some of his points in the post, there are others with which I don’t agree.  Charlie writes:

“But what if I take one course in trust, and another in listening. Suppose my sales go up next year by 50%. Which course did it? Or did my company’s 70% growth have something to do with it? Or my happy new marriage? Too many variables.”

With the right measurement system in place—simple, few metrics, easily implemented and managed—one can, with considerable accuracy, determine the impact of both the program in trust and the other in listening. 

Enter Making the Number: How to Use Sales Benchmarking to Drive Performance by Greg Alexander, Aaron Bartels and Mike Drapeau, of Sales Benchmark Index.

Although we have different business models, ESR and SBI are quite aligned in our philosophies.  We both know that sales managers, as a whole, think of sales more as an art than a science.  And that gut instinct has no place in decision-making.  On the positive side, we both know that collecting, analyzing, and using the right data about sales team performance, in the right way, can make a substantial difference in sales effectiveness.

If you’re a sales manager who has decided that now is the time you are going to start running your sales operation more like a business, Making the Number is a terrific place to start.  But let me warn you.  It’s not a silver-bullet-of-the-week book.  Not by a long-shot.  This is serious, but powerful stuff. 

Greg, Mike and Aaron take the reader (presumably a sales manager or someone whose success in their job is based upon sales productivity, like a Sales Ops director) through pretty much all you need to know about sales benchmarking with a detailed and logical step-by-step process. 

The authors provide an insightful list of common objections to sales benchmarking, including “sales benchmarking is a fad,” “it isn’t worth the emotional cost,” “and it won’t really work.”  In fact the best counter to the “it won’t really work” objection is their case studies: Netsuite, Discover Financial Services, FranklinCovey, Covad Communications and Smart Modular Technologies.  If you’re skeptical, you might want to start reading the book there, and when you’re convinced that this is all real and doable, skip to the beginning.

I like this book.  I like what it represents—taking sales management more seriously, and what it can deliver—a proven path to measurable and ongoing sales performance improvement.

Disclosure:   SBI and ESR have an informal business relationship whereby we have each referred business to the other.

How to Measure Anything

I’ve been reading two books on measurement.  It’s a subject every sales leader should be interested in because measurement is a critical requirement for the success of any sales performance improvement program or initiative.  Many companies do nothing in this area other than to monitor unimportant metrics or focus only lagging indicators, such as year-to-date sales.

One of the books is Douglas W. Hubbard’s How to Measure Anything.  I was skeptical when I saw this book listed on Amazon.  Measure anything?  Yes.  I’m now convinced you can measure just about anything and Hubbard teaches us how.

Hubbard’s examples are far-reaching in terms of the potential areas and applications of measurement.  Hubbard points out that many of us are quick to say that there is no answer to a question of how much, how far, how long—or that some things aren’t measurable, when in fact, one can make a very reasonable estimation.  The author provides us with powerful tools, exercises and examples to help us learn.

I’d categorize this as a must-have for any sales leader interested in getting her arms around the question of sizing and prioritizing the challenges and opportunities they face.  It’s also a valuable tool for you marketers interested in measuring the impact of programs and initiatives.

The Time is Now

At ESR, we’re proud of the fact that we can see our influence take hold within certain companies and industries.

We founded ESR with critical guiding principles. One is to be straight with our customers, clients and subscribers. So we built a “To the Point” into the template for our ESR/Insight Briefs. If you tend to ask the question “What’s the point?” when you read something, well the answer is right there for you, served up on a webpage.

Here is an example of a “To the Point” from our content library that delivers an unequivocal, highly relevant message to sales leaders from companies in the financial services, high tech, business services and some manufacturing sectors. It deserves to be repeated.

To The Point

The time is now to:

    Adopt a formal sales methodology
    Begin to formally measure your sales performance improvement programs

If you have not begun by now, you’re already late. Fortunately, it’s not too late.

With 70% of organizations focusing on methodology and skills improvement, you have time to begin to make the right moves.

The Consequences of Inaction

There is a high probability that if you’re in financial services, high-tech, business services or manufacturing, 7 out of 10 of your competitors are focused now on formally building a sustainable sales performance improvement program by the definitions ESR has been using. Given the clear evidence that formalism and measurement directly affect sales productivity, this means that these sales initiatives are no longer “nice to have” but are rapidly becoming “must have.”