Frequent readers know that the primary focus of my work is sales effectiveness and sales leadership. My work is focused on human beings, and I avoid a lot of topics, leaving those to others who care deeply about the areas where I have little to offer.
The idea of effectiveness indicates there is a way to measure results and recognize the variables that influence, impact, or determine them. A sales team that is not getting better is almost certainly getting worse. The question here is: Why don't sales teams get better?
The Requirement to Change
A sales team that is not required to change is not going to improve. The better results the sales leader needs from their team are always found on the other side of change. If the sales team were doing enough to produce better results, they would already have reached the sales leader's goals.
This is the first and only reason sales teams don't improve, despite the many and varied changes that may be necessary. Much of the time, sales leaders are well aware of the changes their team needs to make, but because change is about as attractive as a skunk at a garden party, leaders avoid addressing the issues that prevent improvement.
Too Few Opportunities
Improving a sales force's results may require more new opportunities. The majority of sales leaders don't enjoy addressing what is, at its core, an activity problem. Sales roles come with more autonomy than most other roles, but when there are no standards around prospecting and scheduling new meetings, salespeople who lack self-discipline will never produce the results they need.
The longer a sales leader takes to address the lack of activity, the longer they will go without the improvement they need. As this problem lingers, sales leaders demand that their sales force has a pipeline that is four times each individual's goal. As a result, their sales team has a pipeline full of poppycock and hogwash.
To get the better results you need, you must set a standard that everyone prospects for part of their day and schedules new meetings every week.
No Improvement in Effectiveness
There are four major obstacles that may cause salespeople to find their effectiveness stagnating. There is a high likelihood that all of them may be present when a sales team isn't improving.
- Salespeople Who Refuse to Change: A salesperson may be comfortable in the way they sell, even if they are not effective enough to reach their goals. When a salesperson suggests they have their own style, they are suggesting that they don't need to make any changes to the way they sell, even if their results say otherwise. If a salesperson’s preferred style doesn't produce positive results, they need to make changes.
- Salespeople with an Outdated Approach: As the rate of change in the external environment accelerates, the rate of internal change must respond. In most sales organizations, the significant changes remain unaddressed. They relate to major factors that impede decision-makers and their stakeholders in understanding how to best improve their results. Without updating the sales approach, sales teams will continue to fail. The change here must come from sales leadership, which needs to understand how to make effective decisions.
- No Training or Development: Most sales teams are treated to training once a year, often at a sales kickoff meeting (SKO). Much of the content delivered at the SKO is about telling the company's story and introducing the new or improved products or services. It is rare that the sales force spends enough time learning how to improve the client’s experience. Even so, the client is the only person who can say yes or no to the salesperson. Most salespeople are confused about what clients find valuable, making them woefully One-Down in a world that needs them to be One-Up and truly consultative.
- No Leadership Mandate on Effectiveness: Obstacles 1-3 on this list belong to leadership. If there is no mandate to improve the sales team, there will be no improvement in effectiveness. Too often, sales leaders ask for more activity without recognizing that the opportunities their team creates are wasted because ineffective salespeople are allowed to pursue those opportunities.
The Infinite Initiative
High-performing sales teams continue to improve, going from strength to strength. They also spend a lot of time talking about sales. Some sales organizations could improve their results by increasing the number of conversations they have with their teams about sales effectiveness. The greater the emphasis on selling effectively, the more the sales force will recognize its importance. When improvement and effectiveness is never mentioned, a status quo takes hold, making it more difficult to improve results.
Improvement must be an infinite initiative, especially when it comes to sales effectiveness. Most sales organizations would do better to work on improving their win rates than by building a pipeline that is two, three, or eight times the goal. Every salesperson, from the poorest performer to the best, is capable of improving. If Leonardo DaVinci, Marie Curie, or Albert Einstein were unable to reach their full potential, it is certain that every salesperson—and sales leader—has a lot more runway in front of them.
If you are a leader, know that your team can improve their results and their effectiveness, but only if you make it a priority. One of the best outcomes for a leader is that everyone on their team grows. The best advice if you are a salesperson is to work on improving your effectiveness, with or without your company's help. The best investment you can ever make is the investment you make in yourself.