Increasing sales productivity is one of the most powerful levers a company can pull to improve the overall health of the business, and one of the best forward-looking metrics for growth and financial performance. Before we dive into how to improve productivity, let’s first define what strong sales productivity looks like:
Actual sales productivity is greater than the assumed level of productivity that what was built into the sales plan (assuming the plan was built by finance and sales teams, and achieves a company’s cost of sale and operating margin goals).
The productivity distribution between high-, medium-, and low-performing sales reps is relatively balanced and a good portion of the sales team is consistently seeing success.
Productivity stays consistent or even improves as sales headcount increases and territories become smaller.
Pretty ambitious goals — so how do we increase sales productivity?
To improve sales process, build it, grow it, break it, then do it again.
Increasing sales productivity per agent while growing sales headcount is nearly impossible if you don’t build a repeatable sales process that’s tailored to the companies and personas you’re selling into. The first step to building a repeatable process is knowing and defining the steps successful reps take to win. How do successful reps tier accounts, create account plans, and prospect? What questions do they ask and how do they navigate an org chart to do a thorough discovery? How do they handle objections across various stakeholders? What value do they position and what does a winning proposal look like? Having a defined and proven sales process, and ensuring all reps are trained and enabled to use it is the first step to increasing productivity and consistency.
Once you’ve built your sales playbook and enabled your team, how do you know your playbook is being followed? As you launch new products, expand into new markets, or go after larger accounts, is the process you created six months ago now obsolete? These problems only compound as your team grows and your sales process becomes more complex.
Investing in a scalable technology infrastructure that grows with your business is a necessity when it comes to improving productivity. Real-time insight into the performance of your sales team is the only way you can solve execution issues and take the necessary steps to iterate and improve your sales process.
Here’s a good example: When I initially joined ZeroCater, one of my top priorities was determining if the roles we had in the sales org (and skillsets of reps filling those roles) aligned with the skill sets we needed to execute our playbook and win the accounts we aspired to win. At that time, we had a BDR team that was responsible for prospecting and creating pipeline for our senior reps. Looking at the data we noticed opportunities that were created by the BDRs and handed off to the account executives not only had a longer sales cycle, but were also much less likely to close (a double whammy to productivity). After careful thought, we decided to phase out the BDR role and reinvest those dollars into hiring more senior account executives. Not only did we see an increase in return for the same amount of money, but existing reps also enjoyed increasing sales productivity as they no longer spent time working a low-quality pipeline.
Align sales, marketing, and product to win as one team.
As a sales leader, aligning with your marketing and product counterparts is one of the most impactful and underused methods for increasing sales productivity. Marketing and product teams that partner with sales gain insight into what prospective customers want, while sales teams that share that insight are able to influence corporate messaging and the product roadmap. It’s a win-win: the stronger the partnership, the more each team benefits.
Traditionally, marketing's impact on sales productivity has been measured solely by the number and quality of leads delivered. While lead generation and pipeline from leads are important, there are many other impactful ways marketing and sales can partner to increase sales productivity (especially in the B2B space). Whether it’s events that help reps get meetings with high-value stakeholders, sales decks and product training that help reps tell a compelling story during a proposal, or PR and collateral that establishes brand and product credibility, marketing should be deeply involved in all stages of the sales process to help sales reps find and win deals faster.
Even the best sales team is going to have a difficult time with productivity and scaling if there isn’t product/market fit or a large market to sell into. Sales has a large reservoir of customer feedback and hard data into why prospects decided to go with a competitor, what features and functionality various stakeholders valued, what prospects thought about pricing and bundling, what new products existing customers would want to buy, and more. This feedback enables product teams to build a more competitive product roadmap and prioritize launching new products, both of which improve sales productivity.
Build a culture that values trust.
A culture that’s built on a foundation of trust is what separates high-performing sales teams from teams that merely perform well. Playbooks can be copied and people can be poached, but culture is unique, and the lifeblood of every sales team.
Trust becomes the foundation of a sales team's culture when management creates an environment where safety is established and empathy is shown. In these environments, teams embrace and learn from failure, rather than hide it. When trust exists, teams debate and find the best way forward, rather than work in silos and reach a failed state.
When this happens, sales productivity consistently improves because teams seek change rather than fear it. Why would reps reach out and ask for help on a failing deal if they didn’t trust management? How would the broader team know if a rep found a better way to prospect if the rep fears they’ll be reprimanded for not following the playbook? Why would the team embrace change to compensation plans if they didn’t trust the sales leader? The impact trust has on sales productivity can’t be overstated.
“Real-time insight into the performance of your sales team is the only way you can solve execution issues and take the necessary steps to iterate and improve your sales process.”