Our story begins in 2003, a time of great distress in British Cycling. The national cycling team of Great Britain was the epitome of mediocrity at the time, having won just one medal in a century of existence. Fast-forward to 2008 and the squad took home 7 out of the 10 available medals in the Beijing Olympics - a remarkable feat that they would repeat in the 2012 London Olympics. In fact, by 2015, the squad had even won three Tour de France - the holy grail of competitive cycling. Make no mistake. This is much more than your average rags to riches story. But a natural question begs - how did the worst cycling team in the world suddenly turn into world champions?
Our answer lies in the strategy of “the aggregation of marginal gains”. It was Introduced by Dave Brailsford in 2003 when he was appointed the new performance director of British Cycling. The idea was simple yet hauntingly effective - to think small and not big. This involved breaking the entire process of competing into its constituent elements and then improving each of them by 1%.
In practice, this meant painting the floor of the team truck white to spot impurities that undermine bike maintenance, hiring a surgeon to educate team members on ideal hand-washing techniques to avoid illnesses, making athletes sleep in the same postures every night, and other such countless initiatives. Why does this work? How can such small improvements accumulate into such head-turning results? And most importantly, what can we learn here that can be implemented in sales and account management?
Sales Excellence: Getting Ready for 2021
The What and Why of Sales Excellence
As reported by Salesforce, organizations spend anywhere between 5 - 15% of their entire revenue on sales. Revenue. Not profits. This is as significant as an investment can get in a single organizational department. Naturally, it makes sense to have a well-defined framework that milks the maximum possible ROI from the equation. And this is where Sales Excellence comes in. In Key Account Management, Sales Excellence is an amalgamation and progression of all possible sales functions.
Drawing parallels from the management philosophy of Dave Brailsford, this would mean constant improvement in all key initiatives that go into sales - sales training, sales culture, sales tools, sales technology, and more. From a 360-degree point of view, Sales Excellence translates to stepping into the world of British Cycling. It cares about everything - the number of deals that are closed, deals closure times, deals won rate, the support level extended to salespeople, and much more.
What Ideal Sales Excellence Looks Like
For Sales Excellence and Sales acceleration to function at its ideal capacity, leaders and the organization at large need to live and breathe the practice. For a concept that involves attention to detail at unprecedented capacity, anything less than 100% buy-in would be a shame. What does such dedication look like in practice? At the foundational level, it begins with staunch onboarding, training, and up-skilling support for salespeople in a manner that grows into the shoes of a pan-organization culture. This means that salespeople are not only attuned with the best practices of sales but also work closely with other departments (such as marketing) to better understand the personalized needs of every buyer.
Key ingredients to formulate an ideal Sales Excellence framework includes:
- Sales Strategy: Scoping, understanding, and implementing ideal sales targets and budgets by taking into account both current and potential customer segments.
- Market Penetration and Development: Defining the best mix of digital channels that promotes market penetration at maximum capacity.
- Sales Processes: Defining the end-to-end sales structure and making crucial decisions related to key account management, customer classification, customer acquisition, and more.
- Pricing Strategy: Increasing profitability with the right pricing strategy in place. This includes closing the right number of deals, defining key accounts, order management, and more.
Impact of Sales Excellence on Deal Closures
In a traditional capacity, sales is driven by taking into account how effective the entire organization or sales department is in executing their roles and responsibilities. But such monitoring is often undertaken at a bird’s eye level with KPIs catering to teams or entire sales functions. Sales Excellence goes way beyond this and brings a fundamental shift in this practice.
It questions not just the leaders or the sales functions but every individual salesperson. This means monitoring metrics such as the deal closure time, deal win rate, the training and proficiency levels of salespeople with the tools, organizational support, and the like. What does this mean? When the spotlight is on every individual salesperson, improved deal closure is nothing more than a natural byproduct of the practice. Revisiting the story of the British Cycling team, focusing on every detail in the small picture ultimately has a significant cumulative impact on the big picture.
How to Measure Sales Excellence
Now that you know what Sales Excellence is all about, the next step is figuring how to measure it. The age of Sales Enablement and Sales Transformation has paved the way for many key metrics and frameworks that need to be put to ideal use in order to measure success in Sales Excellence. Here is a round-up of the key metrics that you should be focusing on:
- Time to Full-Ramp: How much time does a salesperson spend to put up his/her shop? The quicker they are set up and running (in both individual and organizational capacity), the better the results.
- Collateral Engagement: So you have provided every salesperson with the ideal content and sales collateral. But are they actually putting them to good use to move prospects through their buying journey?
- Communication Analytics: Are salespeople eager to up-skill and keep up to date with organizational and product updates? Monitoring communications (at a high level) can be indicative of their eagerness to be prepared.
- Sales Performance: This is a direct measure of the effectiveness of all sales efforts and includes monitoring KPIs such as total revenue, yearly growth, Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC), Average Lifetime Value (LTV), and more.
- Productivity Scope: How productive are your sales reps while converting leads? Monitoring and benchmarking metrics in this regard would naturally boost both the number and quality of closed leads. Key metrics here include a percentage of high-quality leads, time invested in content creation, number of sales tools utilized, and more.
- Sales Rep Proficiency: This includes timing key sales functions and milestones such as the time taken by a salesperson to attain their quota, time that is spent in onboarding sessions, time that it takes to close the first deal, and more.
Tips to Achieve and Improve Sales Excellence
At its heart, Sales Excellence is more of a cultural and mindset shift than a mere focus on metrics. This calls for the right combination of processes and practices that aid to achieve and boost Sales Excellence from the ground up. Leading best practices in this regard include:
1. Investing in ideal sales technology
No process can ever be 100% streamlined and there is always a scope. With sales, optimization can come in the form of multiple possible technologies, leaving you time and attention-strapped while making an informed decision. The right sales technology tool will win you back valuable lost time, deliver key analytics that shapes both short and long-term strategies, drive business intelligence, and boost sales engagement. The key lies in knowing which tools to invest in and which ones to skip. A simple tech stack automatically translates to better sales efficiency, easier training & maintenance, improved sales effectiveness, and more.
2. Consistent up-skilling and training
A culture of continuous improvement and sales training is the most comfortable boat to be in. Not only does it arms the sales rep with the most recent knowledge of the services or products, but it also keeps them up to date with customer management strategies and trains them on how to best steer deals and conversations towards success. For successful implementation, sales training collateral needs to be at the foundation and be integrated with the sales enablement platform. This would empower salespeople to navigate through the complexities of customer engagement and grow with the business.
3. Sales planning and opportunity scoping
Sales Excellence involves digging out the right opportunities for growth and an intuitive (read data-oriented) understanding of where the market is heading in the near future. Based on this understanding, key opportunities can then be matched with the right sales reps at the right time. Three Key ingredients that come in handy here include:
- Go-to-market architecture: a combination of the sales routes that you will leverage to reach the target deal count.
- Sales planning process: an ideal framework to allocate the sales reps to these routes.
- Skills assessment: ensuring that the sales reps are equipped with the right skills to win the said deals.
4. Perfecting customer pitches
So you have identified the right opportunities and allocated the best fit sales reps to the jobs. But how good are their pitches?The first optimization step here would be to segment your customer base and charting out the specific problems that each of them faces. Sales reps can then listen to customers, identify the opportunities, and match the customers to the ideal value proposition. By bringing together all this, sales leaders can define the most ideal pitches for every customer segment.
5. Creating an ideal operating model
It would make no sense for sales reps to be ready for any opportunity if they are unable to identify them in the first place, deliver the wrong pitch, or be inconsistent with their execution. As a sales leader, what you need is a well-defined operating model that can drive critical decisions in an ongoing capacity. This would include having a centralized strategy and guidelines, performance management, operational planning, sales forecasting, and more.
6. Being open to change
A takeaway for every person that is involved in the sales process, Sales Excellence at the cultural level includes the realization that there is always scope for improvement. The best of sales reps (and leaders alike) are always striving for improvement, inviting change as a constant part of the process. Exploring new opportunities and avenues to execute old processes should be second nature and ‘change’ the only comfort zone.
7. Driving social skills
It goes without saying that sales are a people’s arena. It pays, literally, to be social and good with people management. A charming personality seems to be more intuitive and natural at driving conversations and closing leads simply because it appears to be less sale-sy. While some sales reps are naturally good at this, others might be lacking in this regard and more process-oriented. Nonetheless, including relevant and consistent support as a part of up-skilling activities can help to navigate related complexities. For long-term change, you can also always relook your hiring protocols and include effective communication and social skills as key prerequisites!
Sales Excellence is an integral yet intangible asset in any sales function. There is no ‘one-size fits all’ solution here. Every organization is unique in its own sense and this will reflect in the definition of their Sales Excellence. Each of them will have their unique formula to drive sales and sustain it over long periods. The key to your success here lies in the true introspection of your sales functions, finding avenues for improvement, and driving change at cultural levels. Remember - even a 1% change in every sales function can cumulatively do wonders to your conversions, provided that you are consistent enough to see through every optimization battle.