There is no purple pill to improve your sales team's effectiveness, increase profit, enlarge revenue, or grow market share. If there were, salespeople everywhere would be popping purple pills.

After all, most sales professionals are willing to try anything that offers the potential for a fast boost, a quick sale, increased value, or strengthening relationships with customers. Salespeople are high-energy, fast-thinking, opportunistic people. If they are good, they often shoot from the hip and take calculated risks.

Too often, though, this quick fix mentality reduces the long-term focus and discipline of the sales force.

Luckily, there is a proven process called a sales effectiveness process (SEP) that sustains continuous improvement and will help you achieve the aforementioned objectives.

An SEP is simply a structure for continuously improving sales-force performance through focus, discipline and a process built on a platform of accountability.

But we already have a system

Don't confuse an SEP with a customer-relationship-management (CRM) system. CRM concentrates on the effectiveness of interactions with customers — not the effectiveness of the sales force. It's also not a sales-force-automation (SFA) system, which deals with improving the efficiency of the sales force by performing administrative duties more efficiently.

An SEP improves the effectiveness of the sales force by doing the right things at the right time rather than just doing things right.

Similarly, an SEP is not a canned sales-skills training course. Training is really only effective when students are eager to learn, and the material is immediately relevant. Offering instruction or a motivation course without having a structure that continuously encourages proper behavior is a waste of time. Training should therefore be considered a supplement to other initiatives rather than a sales management program. An SEP does not replace sales training.

A sales-effectiveness process provides critical structure and motivation for using tools such as CRM, SFA and skills training. It also provides a measurement system to manage the activities required to meet specific objectives. Without a focused sales-management process, automation and training are wasted because their power is undirected.

However, the SEP can provide tremendous value on its own merits even without the independent use of the other supporting tools. Used in conjunction with the SEP, these tools are much more powerful.

Why is this any different?

So what, specifically, is this thing called SEP? It's a set of best sales practices with a small amount of automation thrown in.

SEP is built on the concept of “managing activities and measuring results.” Focus, process, discipline and accountability become the engine that drives the process. The diagram on the adjacent page shows how the concept and practices work together in a simple process of planning, executing the plan and continuously adjusting based on actual results.

It starts with planning

The key to planning is making sure that it deals with reality rather than wishful thinking. A quota from the boss may be called “the plan,” but it has no relation to how the salesperson will achieve it.

You can set a goal of becoming 4 inches taller this year, but it's probably not going to happen. In contrast, if you decide to lose 10 pounds and plan an exercise regimen, a specific diet and the activities necessary to get there, with your plan, you have a real chance of success.

Using an SEP, each field salesperson identifies a small set of target accounts in his or her territory to receive intensive sales focus. The number is limited because true targeting must be backed up by action planning, which requires a lot of effort.

The salesperson sets numeric objectives for sales and gross-margin dollars on each target customer along with detailed action plans to achieve them. The goals could be for the next year or the next quarter; goals will periodically be adjusted to ensure they are always realistic.

Note that this doesn't mean salespeople get to change quotas; they're still expected to reach the same final numbers.

The SEP provides a realistic platform that allows a salesperson to adjust how he or she will get there by tweaking individual targets and goals, making course corrections as necessary during the year to make sure objectives will be met. The SEP helps the salesperson identify and use any resources inside and outside of the company needed to attain goals.

Execution

The SEP circumvents the most common mistake in distribution today: trying to manage results. Instead, it manages activities and the activities produce results.

Execution involves the day-to-day activities of the salesperson. For most industries, this entails both planned, proactive tasks and opportunistic, reactive events that the salesperson uncovers by doing the right things in the right place at the right time.

It's critical that the progress of the tasks in target-action plans be carefully monitored to avoid surprises. Think of it as monitoring your daily exercise before the weight-loss starts to show up on the scale. If you proactively manage activities, expect that results will follow.

Feedback

The feedback process is where the real magic of the SEP comes in. Use a universal scorecard to create competitive energy within your sales team and motivate them to focus on strategic objectives. The scorecard should include a small number of well-designed metrics that are regularly updated. This information is extremely valuable for:

  • Identifying the best opportunities for performance improvement.

  • Creating a level playing field.

  • Driving continuous sales improvement.

  • Providing salespeople with performance feedback.

  • Encouraging and measuring cross-functional selling.

  • Offering key information for the review process.

Monthly territory review: the cornerstone of the SEP

The monthly review process is a critical component of the SEP. It enables the sales manager and sales representative to discuss, plan and measure success. This is how a good manager enables salespeople to capitalize on their natural talents and abilities. The review process should include the following:

  1. Reviewing all target accounts.

  2. Reviewing all cross-functional selling opportunities, or lack of them.

  3. Reviewing specific territory objectives, including sales to plan and gross profit to plan, and assigned account objectives.

  4. Knowing the products, customers and customer organizations.

  5. Applying this market knowledge.

  6. Developing a favorable attitude as it pertains to that knowledge and those applied skills.

  7. Making course corrections.

The review is not a session for reprimand or criticism. Instead, it should be designed to achieve maximum participation by the sales representative. Industry best practice has proven that such representative participation is one of the most effective methods of developing both an attitude for learning and a drive for successful accomplishment of goals and objectives.

Next, enthusiasm must be created. Enthusiasm is one of the most important traits of a sales manager because it's contagious. Remember, sales representatives will learn very little if they are mentally falling asleep.

Finally, sales reps must have confidence in the program. They must trust the content of the program and truly believe it will provide personal benefits.

The review process is extremely critical to the success of the SEP. It must be taken seriously and performed at a standard of excellence that supports the intent and objectives of the overall program. It requires 100 percent compliance throughout the company.

Throw away the call report

Most distributors have way too many reports, measurements and programs that diffuse focus, dilute effort and may indicate that upper management is really not clear about the company's strategic direction. So as not to burden your sales force with administrative tasks of limited value, throw away the call reports. They aren't necessary in the SEP.

How many times can a salesperson report, “I called on Joe. Everything is great, and we get to bid on his next requirement.”? A well-thought action plan has more than 100 times the value of any call report.

The SEP in summary

An SEP's focus, especially through the monthly review process, is on improvement through coaching and counseling. It is a simple but powerful process for sales teams that use it.

Good salespeople, the kind who can help a company really grow, don't just happen to come along by chance or fate. There is no such thing as a “born salesperson” because selling ability is much more than a personality trait.

Granted, selling does require certain attributes in a person that some people are born with and some are not. Also, the person must be intelligent, able to grasp ideas and details easily, retain them and recall them for use whenever necessary in selling situations.

Salespeople must have adequate tools, resources and leadership to maximize effectiveness. That is why the Sales Effectiveness Process is so vital. It provides the support and the resources to give each salesperson the opportunity to maximize personal effectiveness.

An SEP will not replace good sales management, but it can make it much more effective. Remember, it's not the sales manager's job to call on accounts and sell product. It's the sales manager's job to make the sales force as effective as possible so it can achieve the goals and objectives of the organization.


The authors are part of Indian River Consulting Group (IRCG). Steve Deist (sdeist@ircg.com) is responsible for the operations practice. Eric “Rick” Johnson (rjohnson@ircg.com) is managing partner at the firm. Started in 1987 by J. Michael Marks, IRCG consults with distributors and suppliers to make changes necessary to maintain competitive advantage. Contact them by calling (321) 956-8617, or visit www.ircg.com for more information.