Sales Effectiveness – What We’ve Learned

Sales Effectiveness – What We’ve Learned Over our First 10 Years, 1995-2005

As we celebrate ten years of providing business development and organizational design expertise to financial services, software and technology firms and others, we reflect here on what we’ve learned and observed over the last decade.

The strong bull market of the 90’s seemed to make Woody Allen’s maxim—”Ninety percent of success in life is just showing up”—all the more true for financial services and high technology firms. Whether it was launching a new mutual fund or a new software product or a dot-com, it seemed that success came from “just showing up” as failures seemed few and the sales easy.

In the early years of the Collaborative, many firms we talked with thought about sales effectiveness only in terms of calls-to-close ratio, territory management, negotiation skills or related sales-specific skills. Marketing was on a separate track focusing on collateral, public relations or other marketing communications—if there was a marketing department at all. Many high tech firms seemed to regard marketing, in those days, as a worthwhile function only if there were funds left over. Few firms saw the need or value in aligning sales and marketing efforts and fewer still saw that sales effectiveness really means organizational effectiveness. Firms overlooked the many ways in which an organization as a whole can positively or adversely affect revenue growth.

Other changes we’ve observed include the increasing role that technology plays in organizations. The year we incorporated, 1995, was the first year the world heard of Netscape. Soon thereafter, the Internet Age swept upon us like a tidal wave—bringing with it all kinds of communication challenges and opportunities. By 2000 it was clear that the Internet was having a monumental impact on sales and marketing efforts, making competition tougher by serving as an equalizer between big and small firms.

These experiences—together with the leveling impact that the events of 2001 coupled with a recession have had on many in our market—led us to develop an integrated, holistic approach to increasing revenue. The Collaborative’s proprietary Sales Effectiveness Model was developed based upon observations from many client firms about what really breaks down in sales efforts. The Model applies diagnostics to eight areas impacting sales success:

  • Defining markets offerings
  • Sales strategy
  • Sales talent
  • Sales support
  • Sales compensation
  • Sales & marketing technology
  • Qualification
  • Communication

The best firms with consistent revenue, happy employees and a focus on meeting goals are constantly looking at each of these elements. In addition, firms over the last decade have learned the importance of client communication and a focus on the revenue the comes from existing clients. We’ve also watched a trend toward teaching, mentoring and training employees to be more effective in their roles. Much of our work in the “sales” area is requested for things like time management training, conflict resolution training and behavioral profiling and training. While none of these are directly related to sales per se, they all impact a firm’s profitability and bottom line. Overlooked, these areas can derail a firm even if everything in the sales arena is firing on all cylinders.

The past decade has taught us that no aspect of any given organization operates in a vacuum. All elements of the organization must be healthy and managed if the organization overall is going to be successful. Consultants in our field must be adept at understanding the obstacles quickly and implementing plans to remove the obstacles so that the organization can be free to perform at its highest levels.