A Simple Sales Effectiveness Framework for Understanding Where and How to Focus Your Improvement Efforts In B2B, there can be a lot of different people and groups involved in the overall selling process. The process itself can involve a number of steps and stages that play-out over weeks or even months. And the pace of business today never seems to slow down long enough to give things a good overhaul.
Given these dynamics, it can be challenging to know where and how to focus your attentions, energy, and resources to have the greatest impacts on overall sales performance.
A Simple Framework Drives Focus
It’s often helpful to break complex processes down into their essential components. While looking at the “whole” can seem intimidating and daunting, looking at the sub-systems that make up the whole is much easier.
To that end, I have developed a simple framework to describe the sub-systems or components of our overall sales process. I didn’t attempt to identify all of the components, just those that had the greatest influence of performance in the environment—i.e. the things that would have the most impact on close-rates, cycle-times, deal sizes, margins, etc.
Each of the foundation blocks plays a different role in our sales effectiveness framework. And some of the foundation blocks affect or enable all of the other building blocks in the framework:
Insight — This component is about developing a better understanding of customers and competitors. Prior to giving this explicit focus, I was relying heavily on internal opinions about what really mattered to our customers and how we actually compared to competitive alternatives. With greater focus being given to research, sensing, and so on, I was able to develop a much more realistic and actionable picture of our marketplace. As I’ve tried to convey in the framework, this particular component feeds every other component—making decisions in every other area more sound and fact-based.
Targeting — This is about leveraging our improved knowledge of the marketplace to really zero-in on the prospects we should be targeting. Everybody knows that not every prospect is worth going after. Some prospects are worth a lot more than others. And even prospects that may seem financially valuable can be unwinnable. So while we used to waste a lot of time and energy trying to sell to “anybody with a budget”, we now make a concerted effort to identify, attract, and pursue prospects where we have better chance of winning profitable business—prospects that lead to better close-rates, higher margins, and more follow-on business.
Messaging — While there are dozens of processes and elements around lead-generation, prospect cultivation, drip sequences, content development and delivery, etc., I identified that “messaging” was the essential ingredient in all of it. In the past, we did a great job of executing the tactical processes, but paid relatively little attention to whether the messages being delivered were actually relevant, compelling, and differentiated. Now we leverage our enhanced insight and targeting to develop powerful messaging platforms and “strategy stories”. We prioritise getting the message right, and then we figure out how to deliver it.
Pricing — Pricing had to be discrete focus area in our framework. In our industry, margins are relatively thin so even the slightest improvement in the prices we’re able to capture or negotiate has a huge impact on profitability and customer value. In the past, we weren’t very deliberate about setting prices and we essentially left it up to salespeople to do the best they could—and we left a lot of money on the table in the process. It hasn’t been easy to move away from an “anything goes” pricing and discounting mindset, but now that we’re focusing more attention on it, our margins are getting more consistent and much more predictable.
Expansion — When it comes to account development, everybody talks a good game about the concept of “land and expand.” But I suspect that we weren’t alone in focusing almost exclusively on the “land” part of the equation and basically ignoring the “expand” part—i.e. once we acquired a new client, we just checked-in on a regular basis and hoped they’d give us all the business they could. But these days, we aren’t just giving lip-service to things like cross-selling, up-selling, and account penetration. These days, we’re being more proactive and actually doing things to make sure we’re getting everything we can from every account.
Retention — In our business, customers can buy from us for years. And over that buying lifetime, they can generate considerable dollars in profit. But just because they can, that doesn’t mean they will. Our competitors are always trying to steal our customers away. And when we lose a customer, it takes us a long time to make-up for the financial hit. So we focus a lot of attention on customer retention and preventing customer defections. By being much more proactive about it and not just taking churn for granted or seeing it as a “cost of doing business”, we’ve been saving a lot of customer relationships that would have been very costly to lose.
Systems — Like the customer and competitor insight component, this component or building block enables every other building block. With the right processes, systems, and technologies, we’re able to make our entire sales process more efficient and more effective at the same time. For us, this building block is not just about technology, but also the manual processes and human systems that are involved. By being more deliberate and diligent about developing and documenting repeatable processes we’ve been able to reduce the ramp-up time for new sales persons, reduce inconsistencies, and improve the output of our “sales machine.”
Small Improvements Across the Board
Instead of focusing on just one area at a time, we find it best to work across the entire framework, all at once. Since all of the foundation blocks in the framework are fairly inter-connected, this allows our improvement efforts to feed one another and eliminates a lot of potential re-work down the road. Plus, by improving all of the areas in parallel, we’re able to produce more significant results in a shorter amount of time.
It’s not as difficult as it may sound. After all, we’re not shooting for huge improvements in any one area. We just want small—but consistent—improvements in all of the areas that really matter.
So every month, we identify just 1 or 2 things we’re going to do to improve in each area of the framework. We tend to have a lot of ideas, but we try to narrow it down to just a couple of productive things we know we can execute. Then, we assign those tasks. Throughout the month, we gauge progress and discuss what we’ve learned. Rinse and repeat.
It’s a really simple process. But simple improvements in the right places can be very powerful. And that’s what the framework does for us—it keeps us focused on the areas that will generate the greatest overall impacts and value to clients.
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