How to build a high-performance sales unit

How does one go about building a high-performance sales unit? What does a high-performance sales person actually look like? What needs to be in place for high-performance sales to flourish? These and other questions are on the minds of many sales leaders, and if they are not they should be.

They are vexed questions too – not easily answered. Here’s why.

Unlike a computer which is a complicated system that has predictable outputs, sales operations are complex systems with many variables and unpredictable outputs.

Yet, many sales leaders from around the world continue to look for that one ingredient, that special factor that will give them the answers they are seeking.  It is human nature to want a simple answer. For simple problems simple answers can usually suffice, however, in complex systems determining high performance involves many factors that can also shift and change in their relevance as the complex system shifts and changes. There is no simple answer because as soon as one variable changes it changes the other variables and so the answers change.

We know that you can build high-performance units in sport, for instance. And while there are many variables in each defined sport, it is easier to build high-performance units in these environments. Why? Because they are contained by rules, guidelines and clearly defined operating environments with clear expectations.

Sales environments are not contained. They operate in open, messy terrains. For instance, up to 80% of the sale is outside the salesperson’s control.

So it is a futile exercise trying to build a high-performance sales unit? Perhaps. However, if we are prepared to deal with variables that can change as swiftly as the weather and are ever vigilant to making adjustments to our sales operations, then we can create high performance sales units. And yes, it is like the ball juggler or the plate spinner, we will be forever looking at and managing multiple areas all at once.

So what do you need to factor in when looking at building a high-performance sales unit?

Several things:

  1. Current sales strategy which will determine the approach salespeople should be using and who your sales teams will be selling to.
  2. Sales segmentsand the organisation’s position in these segments relative to their rivals.
  3. Expected outcomes (output measures) for each segment, i.e. growth, value, volume, product mix, customer support.
  4. Determine the levelof sales performance and overall competence required to achieve the goals for each sales segment, i.e. do you put a strong sales performer in declining segment or a growth segment?
  5. Map the sales DNA (sales competencies)of the required knowledge, skills and mindset behaviours for the relevant sales role, i.e. inputs (capabilities and behavioural benchmarks). This information will form the base for any recruitment, training, coaching and performance management resources.
  6. Measure a range of current sales performers against the sales benchmarks established for the relevant role (using a range of relevant assessments processes, i.e. behavioural interviews, psych assessments, performance data, etc.). This will determine how closely the sales performers (top, average, new and poor) align with the model and performance criteria (established prior).
  7. Map tacit knowledge and processes: Top sales performers and long-serving salespeople are interviewed in order to establish present ‘best practice’ operations and garner tacit knowledge that is unique to their environment.

By mapping this information you will be able to outline the expected levels of sales capability for what ‘high-performance sales’ needs to look like at the relevant sales level.

Relevant sales level is crucial here as your market is not one size fits all. At any given time your business could have a variety of segments in which it needs to operate:

  • Developing segment
  • Growth segment
  • Competitive segment
  • Mature segment
  • Declining segment
  • Saturated segment

What ‘good’ sales performance needs to look like will vary from segment to segment. That is one example why creating a high-performance sales unit is do damn difficult. It is not static and is ever-changing.  What we need to do as sales leaders is clearly define in our sales strategy and sales segments so we always know who to put in where. And review, review, review.  Then and only then can we begin to define high performance in sales and look at our salespeople’s capabilities around four key areas in whatever segment they are in:

  • Their ability to implement (execute)
  • Their judgment (decision-making)
  • Their level of motivation (energy)
  • Their ability to motivate others (energise)

If you want to build a high-performance sales unit please speak to us. We have the knowledge, resources and capabilities to get you get started and help you put in place the disciplines to keep all those balls in the air and those plates spinning.

Remember everybody lives by selling something.


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