Sales effectiveness programs: not for the faint hearted

5 minute read

Maybe it’s the heat the of the summer, recession depression, or election fever, but for some reason it seems that some of our sales operations leaders are losing their way. Over the past few weeks I’ve seen some behavior that’s hard to fathom. Even George W. might find it incredible!

Exhibit 1: The sales operations leader of a Fortune 500 company (we’ll call it Company A) cast aside its account management program, and asked 1500 of its account managers to develop ‘account plans’ using a simple 10 page PowerPoint form to build its business plan for its next financial year. Simple is good – but this went to an extreme level. No training was provided on account management. There wasn’t any investigation of the business drivers at the target companies, competitive position, existing solutions at the customer, prevailing financial conditions or relationship with key influencers. The account managers were asked to just fill in a form to identify what solutions they had that had not been sold to the target customers. Then the 1500 PowerPoint forms were sent to one sales operation individual who keyed in all of the numbers into a spreadsheet, added up the numbers and secured resources based on this ‘business plan’. No validation of the ‘account plans’. No account strategy development. No customer perspective. With apologies to the Creationists out there, I think maybe Darwin might suggest that these folks don’t deserve to survive.

Exhibit 2: Company B, another Fortune 500 company, asked for a sales effectiveness program that would – and I quote – “improve the results without asking the sales team to do anything different.” Sad but true.

Exhibit 3: The sales operations and L&D team at Company C, yet another Fortune 500 company, wanted to implement a multi-million dollar sales effectiveness program, and wondered about the best way to get started. They felt that it might be difficult, given that the sales leadership didn’t believe in the program and would not support it. It’s not my place – but I’d probably recommend donating the money to charity.

There’s a saying in some companies that goes HR is too important to be left to the HR department. Well, if these three examples were generally representative of sales operations (and I don’t believe they are), then I think a similar adage would apply.

Two fundamental tenets of sales effectiveness of sales training are being overlooked in these examples. In the first instance, you only get back what you put in – and the sales team need to be involved, engaged, enthusiastic, and prepared to put in some effort to get some return. Secondly, because sales pervades all aspects of a company, without support of all stakeholders, a sales training or sales effectiveness initiative is likely to fail. These are just two of the key issues that need to be thought about – but maybe some general guidelines might help.

Going beyond the obvious, there are some principles that I believe merit consideration.

Based on our experience at The TAS Group from working with thousands of companies, when we look at the the efficacy of any sales effectiveness initiative, there are many ‘usual’ factors that combined determine the level of success or failure.

The most tangible elements are:

  • Standard and quality of the content – methodology/process, delivery, and the supporting tools;
  • Suitability and alignment of the content to your business, your culture and your existing systems; and
  • Sustaining processes, procedures and tools to maintain consistent adoption, reinforcement and application.

In addition to this however, the more intangible elements are sometime more prominent determinants of success. Of these, Executive Sponsorship is the most frequently cited, and of course we understand and cater for this important element. Specifically however, regardless of content, context and culture, and even with the high-level Executive Sponsorship, there may yet be one missing ingredient.

Without the support of the sales organization, from the individual sales person to the regional and executive sales leadership, optimum performance / ROI will not be achieved. Working with your sales effectiveness provider, I’d suggest that you try to answer these questions?

  • How do we together ensure that the sales organization will embrace this initiative with open arms?
  • How do we entice (rather than enforce) involvement?
  • How do we answer the ‘What’s in it for me?’ question for the sales person, sales manager or sales director?
  • Can we together design the program, its components and (equally importantly) its presentation, in such a way as to build active excitement in the sales leadership, and
  • Building on that momentum, how do we create a level of eager anticipation in the sales team?

– and then over-deliver on the actual learning, delivery and application experience to maximize the effectiveness of the program?

If you don’t consider every stakeholder’s perspective, seek out every different opinion, and gain commitment to the requisite behavior change (and pain that goes with that) success will elude you. You need to front-load the pain, do the planning, design and delivery work, and have both the courage of our convictions and the intestinal fortitude to see it through. The rewards can be tremendous – but it doesn’t come easily. Do it right – or don’t do it.



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