This blog post is an excerpt from “Growth IQ: Get Smarter About the Choices That Will Make or Break Your Business” by Tiffani Bova, Salesforce Global Customer Growth and Innovation Evangelist. Bova writes and speaks regularly about sales transformation and business model innovation.
It was almost thirty years ago when I realized that my outgoing personality, insatiable curiosity and competitive spirit would serve me well in the sales profession. Over the course of my career, I was an individual quota-carrying sales rep, team leader, director of sales, and VP of sales. I finally ended my days of carrying a quota running a sales division at Gateway Computers (yes, the “cow” boxes). It has always amazed me how much misperception there is about the profession and the role that sales plays in a company’s ability to grow.
Sales is the “last mile”— the moment of truth for any company. All the sweat and tears that have gone into developing products, the pain of creating the perfect marketing campaign, the hard decisions made along the way hopefully lead to a sale. Otherwise, how can you possibly sustain a business without generating revenue?
Many years ago, I was advising one of the largest technology providers in the world on how best to optimize sales performance. This wasn’t a global, boil-the-ocean assessment; rather, it centered on the U.S. region and large “enterprise” accounts it was targeting. A quick (I mean, like, two-minute) analysis of the coverage model exposed the first area ripe for improvement.
There were over 45,000 accounts under “management,” and only 600 sales reps to cover them. All it took was easy math to realize that 75 individual accounts per rep was completely unrealistic, from both a time and a customer value perspective. In addition, we found that existing sales resources were deployed by region (city, state) and spent more than 50 percent of their time in non-selling activities such as commuting, which meant that the company wasn’t getting the full potential (revenue or otherwise) of its sales resources. Leadership doesn’t always take the time to review current sales practices on a regular basis, so it was a bit caught off guard by the simplicity of this discovery.
This example, as basic as it might seem, should have been caught long before I showed up. The fact that the number of accounts assigned to each rep had reached a point of diminishing returns had gone totally unnoticed at the executive level. The point of this story is not to discuss how it solved this problem as much as it is about focusing on the basics, staying diligent on sales optimization, and rationalizing current sales efforts on a consistent basis. Isn’t it true that pipeline reviews (a representation of where customer prospects are in the purchasing process) are weekly, maybe even daily? Quota attainment is a sales rep’s score card. So, you must set them up for success. Optimizing sales is one of the ways to do that.
Indulge me for a moment in this vast oversimplification, but companies do two things: (1) they make stuff, and (2) they sell stuff. It’s my belief that even the greatest products in the world can’t market and sell themselves. Companies have to be good at bringing customers to their products.
With collapsing product life cycles, a more informed buyer, customer experience playing a greater role in buying decisions, and 24/7 access to online commerce, companies can no longer count on products alone to be their sustainable competitive edge. In addition to focusing on what they sell, companies are now placing more attention on how they sell. The goal? To meet customers where and how they want to buy, with the right products and services, at the right time, in a seamless, frictionless manner.
Easy, right? Not so fast. Sales optimization can be an amazing way to double down with existing (sales) resources, accelerate the effectiveness of another path by combining the two, and subsequently fund additional growth initiatives as revenue and cost of goods sold (COGS) improve. However, many companies get trapped by the paradox of hitting numbers “now” versus improving sales for future quarters or years ahead.
What can get a CEO fired from a publicly traded company (besides an ethics violation)? Not hitting sales numbers, or missing sales targets over an extended period of time. There is tremendous pressure each quarter to perform, to show quarter-over-quarter or year-over-year growth, and there are really only two ways to do that to improve revenue and profitability performance: sell more (top line) and cut costs (bottom line).
I coined the term “Seller’s Dilemma,” playing off Clayton Christensen’s “The Innovator’s Dilemma,” to describe this paradox while at Gartner many years ago — and this concept still rings true today. Sales executives who exclusively own quota-bearing resources are the ones impacted by this dilemma. If they don’t hit their numbers today, they won’t have a job six months from now to worry about. So, they keep their heads down and push through — working harder and harder each quarter to get revenue across the goal line, with no end in sight. They are working harder, no doubt — nobody in sales would tell you otherwise. But could they be working smarter and not just harder to meet long-term performance goals?
Unfortunately, they rarely come up for air to re-evaluate how they are selling. This means that current sales practices, processes, and organizational structure may in fact be hindering their growth more than any external factor they believe they are facing. This isn’t a new issue. There wasn’t a seismic shift in market context that made this more important today than it was a decade ago. But what has changed is the ease with which companies can now identify the areas to improve because of the advancements in technology. It used to be that we had to spend hours, days, and weeks analyzing the data, and by the time we uncovered an issue or even an opportunity, the reality had shifted.
Today’s winners need to be much smarter sellers, leveraging the advancements of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, customer relationship management (CRM), marketing automation, and other sales enablement and digital capabilities. They need to be willing to disrupt the status quo and fully optimize sales resources (both human and online) around various sales channels.
It’s a tall order. Companies are scrambling to keep pace with their customers’ demands, especially when it comes to the way in which they sell across a multitude of sales channels (online, offline, mobile, apps). This changing market context has given rise to the resurgence within companies to focus more on optimizing sales, not just developing new products — that is, increasing productivity and performance with current resources (number of salespeople and selling channels) that the company has in terms of its sales operations (tools, systems, CRM) and sales enablement practices — all while leveraging technology in new ways.
Excerpted from “Growth IQ: Get Smarter About the Choices That Will Make or Break Your Business” by Tiffani Bova, Salesforce Global Customer Growth and Innovation Evangelist, with permission of Portfolio, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © Tiffani Bova, 2018.