This is not an easy issue to resolve, but it is vital that companies do so. The solution, I believe, is to begin with a proper diagnosis of what is wrong because that will define an effective solution. This approach is built on the experiences of my own company, LRMG.
LRMG is a performance optimisation company, which means everything it does is predicated on delivering results for its clients. However, some five years ago, after 19 years of existence, it was starting to become apparent that our sales pipeline had diminished. The problem was not with what we were delivering to our customers – those we had tended to stay with us. But we were failing to sign up new business. Clearly, something was wrong with our sales function.
Realising that Kotler is right and that an ineffective sales function compromises the whole company, we realised we had to approach the problem smartly. The first thing we did right was resisting the temptation noted above: to implement training to “fix” the sales department. Rather, we knuckled down to examine the whole sales process and crucially, how it integrated into the company as a whole.
Looking at the company through a process lens revealed exactly how the sales function interacted with and depended on other processes within the company. Specifically, it became clear that the sales process is dependent on the effectiveness of eight functions or levers in order to work optimally. These levers are Sales Leadership/Management, Engagement, Sales Culture, Sales Strategy, Process, People Capability, Performance Management and Digital Enablement. What’s important to understand is that these levers do not exist in isolation; they are interlinked with each other in a complex manner, creating something that one might call an ecosystem that spans the entire company.
Once we understood how the sales process worked within the context of the company as a whole, we were able to identify exactly where the most pressing issues lay, and what impacted them. Addressing the root causes of the underperformance of our sales team could then begin, and the turnaround was nothing short of dramatic. Just one example: our office in Kenya increased its acquisition of new clients by 800 percent within the year. No new sales staff had to be employed to achieve this, as would previously have been the case; in essence, what we did was make the existing sales team more effective.
The latter point is an important one because it goes to the heart of what we believe is the value proposition of this new approach. It means that the existing sales team does not have to be either reduced (with an inevitable loss of institutional memory and a reduction in morale) or augmented (thus adding to overhead); it is fine-tuned and given the support it needs to perform well.
This ability to enhance the performance capability of existing resources is very valuable – particularly so in tough economic times when cost reduction is often seen as the only way to survive. By making the sales team more effective, it is unnecessary to retrench salespeople to maintain profitability; rather than risk cutting muscle, the company can turn fat into muscle, so to speak, and effectively sell its way out of trouble.
Another key advantage of this approach is that having diagnosed the root cause of sales underperformance, a company knows where to begin. But equally powerful is the understanding that sales performance is a product of the functioning of all eight levers. Over time, then, it is possible to make incremental improvements in each of them, thus boosting the overall performance of the sales function. This is essentially the ability to embark on an ongoing, sustainable fine-tuning exercise that can be achieved with minimal disruption and will enhance performance continuously.
Having validated this new approach to sales optimisation, and seen at first-hand how successful it is, we felt it was something we could take to clients. The market has grown tired of point solutions, like sales training, that cannot be measured properly; the smart approach based on diagnosing the root causes of failure and then fixing them strikes a real chord. More important, it delivers results.