July 8th, 2007 10:39 AM by Ron Mastrodonato
without a plan. In a basically hit-or-miss environment, it’s amazing when they actually land sales contracts. Even when a sales force is hitting quota, company management often believes that they are operating at a fraction of their potential.
The bottom line is that sales is not the disciplined group of professionals that management wants them to be. Many people attribute this lack of discipline to the “sales personality,” and argue that attempting to infuse order and structure into their world would surely result in failure.
Management, however, understands that absence of order in the sales team is one of the highest opportunity costs in the organization.
The Power of Sales Standards
Is there a way to put discipline into the sales function without breaking its spirit? Won’t discipline kill the motivation of a good sales team?
Good sales people are typically high-energy, relationship-oriented people with a low tolerance for structure. Their talents lie in handling the nuances of multiple relationships in an uncertain and dynamic environment.
It’s hard to be successful while following strict (and restrictive) rules in a high-stakes game with shifting goals, fierce competition, and multiple layers of decision makers, influencers, and spoilers to navigate.
Sales Standards are the answer.
Sales Standards are not policies and procedures. They are a set of best practices, lessons learned, and minimal operating procedures that help create discipline and that form the baseline for team learning. They offer the right structure for high performance as well as discipline, and also allow the freedom to adapt and improvise as needed.
The Seven Building Blocks of Good Sales Standards
Sales Standards can take many forms. To be effective, they have these common sections:
1. Corporate Information. This section discusses the corporation, areas of business, and strategy. It needs to tie corporate strategy to a compelling “dream” that can really motivate the sales team.
2. Sales Organization. This section covers “how things work” with topics such as territories, marketing support, team procedures, and performance measurement. “Sales operations rhythm” is a key topic. It defines the timing, tone and objectives of periodic sales meetings. It also includes the manner and method of management spot checks. Another key topic in this section covers coaching to support their continued development. A coaching standard that includes simple forms and steps can ensure that coaching takes place on an ongoing basis.
3. On-boarding Process. Getting the right people on the bus (and the wrong ones off) is one of the easiest ways to improve the performance of the whole sales force. This section of your Sales Standards should spell out in detail how you market for new sales positions, what pre-hire assessments you use, the interview process, structured interview questions for each step of the process, and the hands-on skill demonstration tests candidates must pass.
4. Tools & Technology. This section outlines the basics of your sales management software system, and is as much about data entry consistency as about instruction. The important items to include here are screenshots and how-to’s for entering new prospects into the system, forecasting, contact management, report creation, and any other key system use.
5. Prospecting. There is no one right way to prospect; different personality styles are better at different approaches. This section should contain all of the “best practices” your team uses, directly from the people who have been successful using them.
6. The Engagement Cycle. This section should diagram the critical milestones in your engagement or sales cycle. It should also provide guidelines for account management. This helps everyone who touches the customer coordinate with each other in order to win the sale.
7. Selling Tactics. This section covers how to qualify prospects, position your services, and close business. It should include lists of questions to use at each stage of the sales cycle and for approaching different types of buyers. It should also include “how to” scripts for positioning your products, selling against competitors, as well as closing techniques.
You Have Them, Now Use Them
When you have completed your Sales Standards, make the document tangible.
Print, bind, and distribute it the “old fashioned” way. Use version numbers with different covers for new iterations, and make sure people destroy or return old copies. People will take the document far more seriously when formal updates are employed. You can have an electronic version on your intranet, but this is not a substitute for the printed document.
When you are ready to launch your Sales Standards, hold a series of meetings with your team to review the document. Expect resistance, but don’t succumb to it. If you don’t take communicate clearly at this point, no one will take the standards seriously, and you won’t establish the discipline you want to achieve.
Refer back to the standards in every meeting. If an issue is not addressed in the standards, add it to the document. If there are loopholes that allow individuals to take advantage of others on the team, close those loopholes.
If you have a recurring problem with poor coordination between sales and service, send the team back to the standards the next time the issue comes up. After a while, people will catch on and get in the habit of referring to the standards when resolving issues.
Create a standards review committee that meets at an interval appropriate for your business. Their role is to review and update the standards based on feedback from the sales team. This helps establish the Sales Standards as the primary repository for best practices and lessons learned.
These tips for creating and using Sales Standards will go a long way toward decreasing the opportunity cost of an undisciplined sales team. Over time, you will see measurable benefits that provide a clear return on the time and energy spent on this key element of an effective sales force.
About the Author:Bryan Feller is CEO of Catalyst Performance Group, a full service B2B sales and marketing agency that focuses on the whole go-to-market system. Catalyst Performance Group works with the who’s who of corporate America - helping clients achieve sustainable growth through disciplined sales and marketing strategies. Bryan has attracted a diverse team of high-caliber talent, each working toward the same powerful vision: to achieve unprecedented results for their clients through experience, opportunity and insight.