If you’re like most sales teams, 2016 was probably a blend of high spots and low spots. A subset of your sales people (often the same ones as last year) achieved their sales targets well before the end of the year. Another group got there or thereabouts, and a further group struggled.
Some of your new hires proved their potential early, and the success of others is still to be proven. It’s a familiar picture that will be repeated across many - perhaps the majority - of sales organisations.
So here’s the critical question: what have you learned from these experiences, and what is your sales organisation going to do differently in 2017 to close the gap between your best sales people and the rest?
Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity was “doing the same things and expecting a different outcome”. At an organisational level, if we are to increase our chances of achieving different and better results, we must choose to do different and more effective things, and accept the need for change.
Many of today’s most successful sales organisations already have continuous improvement programmes in place. They analyse their patterns of success and failure, and systematically reinforce winning behaviours and progressively eliminate the habits that are holding their sales people back.
What do your top performers do differently?
A good place to start must surely be to truly understand what your top performers are doing differently. Some of their success can probably only be explained by the fact that they are innately more talented, but most of the explanation often turns out to be that they have learned what works, and are pursuing proven winning strategies and tactics in a highly disciplined way.
These winning habits and behaviours can - if understood and embedded in simple universal systems - be adopted by any averagely intelligent and committed member of your sales organisation. The handful of sales people who would be unable or unwilling to benefit probably don’t deserve a long-term place in your sales team anyway.
Playbooks and gameplans
I think this explains the tremendous tide of interest in sales playbooks - a concept that has been borrowed from today’s professional sports teams. And as with a winning sports team, creating a winning sales team involves hiring the right people and immersing them in a system that makes the best use of their individual and collective talents.
The most effective sales playbooks go far beyond just collecting together a set of data sheets, product specs and sales presentations. They guide sales people in what they need to know and do during each stage of the sales process to maximise their chances of winning, and show them how best to deal with common situations.
They help enforce consistent opportunity qualification, and reflect the collective wisdom of the entire sales organisation. They are dynamic documents that continuously evolve to embrace the latest learning and best practices. They help sales people of all levels of experience to eliminate avoidable, predictable errors.
They include gameplan templates that equip and encourage sales people to think through their strategies and tactics to maximise the revenue potential of their territories and key accounts, to maximise their chances of winning individual opportunities, and to plan their approach to key customer interactions so as to achieve maximum impact.
They are not merely a resource to help bring the performance of average sales people progressively closer to that of their top-performing peers; they also provide the essential foundation for on-boarding new sales people and making them productive as quickly as possible.
Implementing a more effective playbook in 2017
Even if your organisation already has a sales playbook, I'd encourage you as a critical part of your New Year resolutions to take a look at what the latest concepts in sales playbooks are capable of achieving. And if you haven’t already invested in establishing a sales playbook, I’d urge you to do so in 2017.
The impact on sales performance of implementing sales playbooks will be far more dramatic - and much longer lasting - than putting your sales people through an annual one-off training programme, the contents of which will have been forgotten or abandoned by the majority of participants in under a month.
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