Eight principles of sales force reinvention (part 3 of 4)

By: Gary Tubridy Sales Growth

featuredIn Parts 1 and 2, Alexander Group identified the first four of eight principles that top companies and their sales leaders used to reinvent their approach to customer coverage.

PRINCIPLE 1: You serve diverse buyer segments … act like it
PRINCIPLE 2: Serve different segments with different sales motions
PRINCIPLE 3: Deliver sales messages that matter
PRINCIPLE 4: Focus scarce investment dollars for maximum return
PRINCIPLE 5: Position your sellers to deliver impact
PRINCIPLE 6: Ask sellers what they need
PRINCIPLE 7: De-isolate the sales function
PRINCIPLE 8: Always be learning

In this article, Alexander Group will discuss details on the next two principles of reinvention.

Principle 5 – Position Your Sales Force to Deliver Impact

A technology sales executive at the Forum noted that a customer-centric sales process consists of five steps:

chart

According to another executive from the medical technology industry, “Ninety percent of seller time is typically devoted to closing.” Yet closing behavior and activities do not earn a seller the opportunity to meet with C-suite executives to explore any form of “business impact.” “Product push” typically results in being “packed off to purchasing.”

Selling impact requires that more time and resource be dedicated to Ideation and Design on the front end as well as helping customers Implement and Use products after the sale. Consider what two Forum keynote speakers did to accomplish this.

When Tom Isett, former General Manager of GE’s BioProcess Division, took charge he found a competitive environment in which traditional as well as emerging competitors focused almost exclusively on perceived product features and advantages. Outside of specific leading-edge products, price emerged as the chief means of competing. When Isett began a dialog with his GM counterparts on the customer side, he found that their chief concerns were less about product features and more about production expertise, production deadlines and capital preservation. He saw a chance to differentiate from the competition by ideating with the customer on how GE could help them deal with their business issues. He shifted the mission of the sales force from “selling product quality and performance to selling manufacturing strategies and their execution.” Sellers needed to move from delivering product specs to delivering:

  • Production design expertise
  • Financing alternatives to capitalize selected operating expenditures
  • Access to other key vendor relationships

To accomplish this Isett created:

  • A new structure to focus sellers on customers, not products
  • A new deal hub to give sellers ready access to executive talent in GE
  • A higher powered Sales Operations team to target demand
  • A reference account program to offer impact “evidence”

The result: Newly appointed Account Managers could deliver messages and services, along with product, that together could not be matched by the competition. And the enriched capabilities opened a dialog with top management on the customer side that product alone would never have allowed.

Commenting on the typical customer experience after the sale, Paige Wittman, VP of Sales at Andersen Corporation said, “Dealers expect bad service.” Wittman looked at this as an opportunity to both deliver greater impact and develop deeper, more lasting relationships. She shifted the service mission from “reacting to problems” to “avoiding error before it happens.” The organization structure was changed as well:

  • Sellers were teamed with specific service specialists to enhance accountability
  • Service centers were regionalized to move personnel closer to sellers and customers
  • Service specialists were integrated into the sales process as true team members to improve both order accuracy and customer relations BEFORE a problem occurs
  • Direct, proactive service outreach went from “discouraged” to “regular”

The result: Andersen was able to accept more orders, process them more accurately and enhance the experience of the dealer in ways that “ultimately saved the dealer and the end customer both time and money.” Said Wittman, “While it is often difficult to justify service costs, putting them into the front end of the sales process was an industry game changer.”

Principle 6 – Ask Sellers What They Need

Despite the best intentions, top organizations can overwhelm their sales forces when delivering operational support for a customer-centric sales approach. Said one exec, “With IT, HR, Marketing and Sales Ops all supplying tools and collateral, none was focused on what the sellers really needed to better serve customers. For all the money spent, not much value was really delivered to Sales.”

Recent efforts at Cisco are a great example of how you can do “more with less” if you engage sellers in a discussion of what they actually need vs. push materials and tools on them “from the inside out.” Bill LePage, SVP of Worldwide Sales Enablement at Cisco, offered three pieces of advice:

  1. MAKE IT RELEVANT. Start by understanding the needs of the sellers and partners. Ask them. Use surveys, focus groups, panels. Go out and ride with them. Find out what is needed. Create tools and test them. Sellers ignore tools they do not find useful but opine over the ones they love. Create positive buzz by listening, testing and focusing. Less can be more.
  2. MAKE IT GOOD. Cisco organized a curation process that both scheduled the release of new materials and kept lower value materials off of the site. Further, as reviews were scaled up, materials that did not achieve 3 of 5 “stars” or better were returned to the author for improvement. Continued low ratings would result in removal from the site.
  3. INVITE THEM IN. Invest in how you distribute tools and materials. Create a web portal that is user friendly and ensure that it is constantly updated with the latest insights and information. Give them something new every day. Better yet, when the seller logs in, push insights to them based on their role and typical needs. If Amazon can do it for customers, why can’t the sales enablement team do it for sellers? Don’t push massive amounts of material on sellers … pull them in by offering a customized, quality experience.

The result: Upon quietly launching the Sales Enablement Portal, Cisco picked up 14,000 users almost immediately, as a result of positive, viral word of mouth. This number far surpassed the traffic on all prior web-based enablement efforts put together. More importantly, the ease of use returned precious hours to the seller (at least three hours per week) and enhanced seller effectiveness by putting the latest tools and cases literally at their fingertips. And because Cisco did all this by combining previously disjointed efforts of several functions (marketing, human resources, sales ops, finance), they were able to deliver more value at a fraction of the original spend.

Read Part 1, Part 2 or Part 4 of this blog series.

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Gary Tubridy

Gary Tubridy is a senior vice president of the Alexander Group and the general manager in charge of the firm’s management consulting business. Gary’s consulting work is focused on increasing marketing and sales effectiveness with particular emphasis in technology and medical products industries. Gary has deep expertise in diagnosing sales management issues and helping clients execute action plans to improve results. His research is focused on best practices of leading sales organizations in North America with particular emphasis on sales force transformation and the role of sales leadership. He leads the Alexander Group executive events series and hosts the Operations and Executive Forums. He is one of three founding stockholders of the Alexander Group.


Gary has been with the Alexander Group for over 35 years. Prior to that, Gary was in sales with the IBM Corporation. Gary holds a B.A. from Brown University and an MBA from the Graduate School of Business at Columbia University.


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