« A Reminder of the Basics | Main | What To Learn From Olympic Curling »

Balancing Act

Last week I was conducting a sales best practices audit with a client. This is a fairly common exercise for us these days where we evaluate the sales function against 20 proven sales best practices (which are grouped into five categories we refer to as Capabilities). In the middle of the workshop where all of this was being conducted one of the participants, a veteran regional manager, asked me directly which of the 5 capabilities I believed were most important.

Now, I have to disclose that I have been doing work sessions like this for a quarter century and I can smell when a question of this variety is really a set up. These questions are usually a front for the individual to declare what she or he believes is all important, and he or she is most likely testing whether I agree (which typically also means they are testing whether I am as smart as they are). For this particular individual, the capability that we have titled Opportunity Management was in fact his favorite. For him everything revolved around the ability to manage deals through the pipeline successfully – the mark of a master sales person.

I probably should pause to mention that the five sales capabilities being referenced include:
- Sales Force Leadership
- Territory Management
- Relationship Management
- Opportunity Management
- Sales Force Measurement
Over the years I have noticed somewhat of a pattern with the companies I have engaged. Some like to focus on account planning (a Territory Management best practice); some like to focus on forecasting (a Sales Force Measurement best practice); some like to focus on coaching (a Sales Force Leadership best practice); and some organizations informally put their effort into call planning (a Relationship Management best practice). The individual from my workshop believed it was all about the pipeline, a normal focus for those who have a centrism toward Opportunity Management. It now seems normal in my experience that sales functions naturally gravitate toward a centrism of one capability or another.

OK, so you are being patient with me but you are asking yourself, why could this possibly matter? And my response is that this centrism thing is both good and bad, and anything that is good and bad simultaneously matters to people who write blogs.

Centrism toward something like an emphasis on the sales pipeline is good because it causes focus. Everybody on the sales team knows what is important – moving deals toward the close. It makes measurement easy and it makes learning the process easy – everybody knows what to do. Focus truly drives results. But there is a downside in this situation. Focus on one of only five capabilities can also mean that four important categories of sales effectiveness are being under attended – and this is a bad thing. If everything is about the deal that means you may not have much focus on accounts that don’t have a deal going, but should. If you were focusing on account planning (a Territory Management capability) you might also be attending to accounts that should have deals being worked but don’t. This more balanced focus will drive new business better than a focus on existing deals alone, which ultimately translates into even more revenue. Being balanced with a focus on all the capabilities is what drives bigger success versus a narrow focus.

This is a lot like skiing at a large resort that offers multiple peaks and bowls but you choose to only ski the runs serviced by one chair lift (even though there are 19 others to choose from). The variety of the terrain and the experience of the different mountain views are a part of the experience (and the $90 lift ticket). Why limit yourself to just one small portion of the experience? The answer is simple – it is because you like the runs from that chair. That is your preferred focus, but you limit what you get from the mountain. And most importantly, you are likely missing out on something else that you would truly enjoy – maybe even more.

Heaven's Gate

The analogy is not perfect, but to be successful with your sales function you do need to truly attend to all five of the sales force capabilities. You cannot run your team just on the forecast. Without coaching you will get nowhere. You cannot build a great territory plan but ignore actions needed during the actual sales visit. Setting goals without measuring your progress toward them is pretty much meaningless. Each of the five capability areas needs your love and attention.

Just in case you were wondering what my answer was to the gentlemen from the workshop, I am willing to share it. Once he disclosed that his preferred capability was Opportunity Management I wholly agreed that this was a great one to choose. It is quite possible given their sales culture that a focus on the pipeline was a great focus for them to drive results. He beamed with pride that his was the right answer. But then he sulked when I went on to state that if they were nigligent in the other four capabilities (they were actually weak in three of the four) that this was putting them at risk, which we went on to identify with specific examples provided by his peers. We did eventually build a great plan to help them achieve more balance and with that more success.

Good luck with your balancing act!

Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)