When I talk to sales enablement or sales leaders and ask them what initiatives they’re tackling or what solutions they’re implementing to achieve sales growth or improve performance, I often hear that they want to do things like: 
  • hire more effectively (reduce turnover; improve average production)
  • improve onboarding effectiveness (decrease new hire ramp-up times)
  • foster consistent sales messaging or improve ability to communicate value
  • increase quota attainment rates (make the number)
  • increase average deal size (improve revenue)
  • improve pipeline velocity (reduce stalls)
  • improve win-rates. 

Occasionally (but not nearly often enough), I hear they want to improve sales coaching or to better enable other aspects of sales manager effectiveness. 

But We’re Not Always Clear About How

Those are worthy goals, no doubt. They’re also problem statements and goals, though, not initiatives or solutions. 

My next question is usually “Why that, and why now?” Those answers are frequently clear, but they’re often not very detailed.  When I ask about benchmarks and metrics, things tend to get a little fuzzier. 

The conversations devolve quite a bit further when I start to ask how exactly they’re going to accomplish those things. Typically, somewhere after my fourth “How’s that?” or “What’s your plan to ensure that happens?” question, I hear, “I guess I hadn’t thought of that” or “Maybe we need to step back and look at this differently.” 

I don’t go into these conversations trying to take the wind out of anyone’s sails (or sales). I’m asking out of a genuine curiosity to see what people are tackling and how they’re going about it. Often, what I learn is that the problems aren’t very clearly defined, the solutions are less so, and the implementations aren’t likely to make that much of a difference. 

Worse, the initiatives in play are often very reactive and tactical, rather than being part of a larger plan that is being systematically implemented.   

This wing-and-a-prayer approach makes me worry that problem-solving methods, root cause analysis, thoughtful solution design, and disciplined execution are waning, based on the urgency of often-reactive projects, for leadership teams with an attention span of 15 minutes. I believe we can do better, and I believe it’s up to usthe sales enablement leaders (whatever our formal titles may be)to lift the level of thinking about sales performance improvement in our companies. 

In my experience, taking a systems approach is the best way to transform a sales force and dramatically improve performance.

What’s a Systems Approach and Why Should I Care?

A system is a set of distinct parts that interact to form a complex whole. There are open and closed systems, with the human body, automobiles, and organizations being examples of open systems, where pieces and parts interact with one another.   

Using an automobile as an example, it doesn’t work very well when systems are not functioning or out of alignment. Imagine an 8-cylinder car with 4 cylinders that are either not functioning or misfiring, and a problem with the drive train. This is a car that won’t be going far or fast, if it moves at all. (See Figure 1.) 

Figure 1. System 1 Engine and System 2 Drive Train

Kunkle Figure 1

Organizations aren’t much different than this. In the sales function, there are many systems in the sales performance ecosystem. Like the automotive example, if you get the systems in alignment and running smoothly, performance improves. An organization development pro would remind us that systems extend far beyond the sales function, and we’d get even better results by aligning systems across functions. But in my experience, getting some effective sales systems in place can be enough of a challenge—and is a great “land-and-expand” starting point.

A Starting Point: The Four Systems

First of all, there are a lot of options and systems within the sales performance ecosystem. (See Figure 2.) 

Figure 2. Sales Performance Ecosystem

Kunkle Sales Ecosystem

It’s overwhelming to consider all of possibilities, isn’t it? I see many sales enablers shying away from systems approaches for a variety of reasons:

  • perceived complexity
  • uncertainty about where to start or what will produce the best result
  • fear of getting in over their head
  • concerns about producing results fast enough to maintain sponsorship
  • difficulty in selling the concept to senior leadership that suffers from short attention spans and “Not Invented Here” syndrome.

While we should always do a gap analysis and select interventions that are specific to the situation, I’ve found four systems to be foundational for sales transformation work. Getting these right is the ticket to entry. I call them the “Four Sales Systems,” which includes:

  • Sales Selection System
  • Sales Support System
  • Sales Learning System
  • Sales Management System. 

Kunkle The Four Sales System

If you truly have one or more of these systems fully in place and running smoothly, congratulations. Move to the next one that makes sense for you. If you truly have all of them in place and functioning at a high level, I would say you are in the vast minority—based on what I see. But in that case, move on to other systems in the sales performance ecosystem and continue to build or align those systems. Or move on to other organizational systems or performance levers.

The Results Are Worth It

For most organizations near the middle of the bell curve (relative to having these systems implemented and running well), one or more of these systems could make a huge difference. Here are some results I’ve seen from implementing one or more of these systems:

  • decreased ramp-up time between 23-52 percent (3 to 18 months)
  • at 120 days, new reps outperformed a control group of five-year reps by 21 percent (6 months)
  • $398 million YoY revenue increase, $9.96mm net profit increase, and a 400 percent ROI (12 months)
  • increased sales/rep in the 90 days after training by 2.3/month
  • average increase of $183K per class or $36.6MM/year (9 months)
  • Improved average profitability/new reps by 11 percent (4 months)
  • Improved new rep win-rate by 16 percent (6 months). 

The framework and components for each system can serve two purposes. You can use them as a diagnostic tool, to explore how well you are (or aren’t) addressing the elements of each system. You can also these frameworks as a solution guide, to help address problems and implement the systems.

Sales Selection System Highlights

This system is designed to help you hire the right sales reps and sales managers for the right roles. The elements of this system include: 

  • determine sales competencies
  • determine traits
  • create job documentation
  • select psychometrics assessments
  • implement behavioral interviewing
  • test situational and hypothetical judgment
  • orchestrate skill validation
  • perform background and reference checks.

Sales Support System Highlights

This system is designed to ready and enable your sales reps to effectively engage with your buyers, uncover opportunity, wins deals, and develop accounts. The elements of this system include: 

  • ensure market and buyer persona knowledge
  • align sales process to buying process with decision and exit criteria
  • create buyer engagement content that aligns with decision and exit criteria
  • use sales enablement tools to manage, share, and track content and improve sales efficiency and effectiveness
  • use a buyer-oriented, consultative, solution-focused, and outcome-driven sales methodology
  • train reps to engage buyers in valuable business conversations and to create real value and differentiation, through their customer acumen, business acumen, and solution acumen
  • use analytics to track training, content, sales behavior, and outcomes.

Sales Learning System Highlights

This system is designed to support the effective implementation of skills-based training initiatives to foster the adoption of the training and the change of sales behavior across the sales force. The elements of this system include:

  • ensure content matters
  • design great learning
  • engage managers
  • sustain knowledge and transfer skills
  • coach to mastery
  • measure for success
  • manage performance
  • lead and manage change. 

Sales Management System Highlights

This system is designed to provide frontline sales managers the support they need to effectively hire, train, coach, develop, manage and lead their sales teams. The elements of this system include: 

  • master sales hiring
  • remove barriers to FLSM engagement
  • Implement a proven-effective management operating rhythm
  • master your sales process and sales methodology
  • conduct team and rep meetings
  • master sales analytics and the ROAM method
  • develop field training and sales coaching skills
  • master your CRM and sales enablement tools
  • master sales performance management.

See You at ATD 2017 in the Sales Enablement Track! 

I’ll be speaking about the Four Sales Systems in detail in the Sales Enablement track at the upcoming ATD 2017 International Conference & Exhibition on Monday May 22 at 1:00 p.m. in room B203.  If you’re attending the conference and have an interest in learning proven-effective ways to radically improve your company’s sales results, this would be a good session for you to attend and participate. I hope to meet you there!

ATD 2017