How to Optimize Your Sales Organization

What specific techniques can high-performance sales organizations implement to dramatically improve ineffective sales processes that historically hinder sales organizations? Contrary to what you might have heard, it's not all about having sales superstars on your team. Here, the CEO of Cloud9, a IT solution provider of on-demand sales forecasting and pipeline management solutions, offers tips on how to evaluate what you already have going for you -- and what you need for a successful future.

The intersection of technology and sales – it’s critical to anyone involved in optimizing a sales organization’s output. We devote countless hours exploring the challenges our customers face, finding the right solutions and, finally, mitigating critical business obstacles by selling the right technology. Yet, many companies have failed to identify, examine and rectify a pandemic business issue – an inefficient sales organization driven by insufficient technology.

For the past 20 years, I’ve helped companies increase efficiency and bottom-line results with the right technology solutions. I’ve been exposed to a multitude of sales organizations from different vantage points, from the frontlines of sales to the corner office, and have seen several common themes that define and transform a sales organization.

Whether you’re building something from the ground up, trying to turn around a flailing division or seeking to maximize the results from the sales force, there are three key steps: build a strong sales foundation, implement the best tools and, finally, treat sales as a science.

Build a Strong Foundation Constructing Your Team
To be the best, you have to hire the best – right? Wrong. If you build a business based only on great people, you will set yourself up for failure. You have to base it on great process. Now, of course I’m not advocating hiring and rewarding mediocre employees. Rather, evaluate what – or who – you’re expecting to drive your organization’s success. If you have to have the best of the best, you’re relying on your people to carry your organization; this won’t scale. You need process to ensure success. While a top-talent sales team can find leads, build relationships and close deals, the people cannot be the sole factor for success. Great process will allow you to optimize your people,scale the organization, and produce superior results without requiring every rep to be a superstar.

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Understand your Customers
We often miss the most important aspect of getting to know our customers. That is, understanding what makes them engage with us in the sales process. We spend time understanding everything from the intricacies of their business to the macro-economic issues that influence their revenue to their favorite sports team. But, do you understand their immediate business problem? How much research have they done? Do they need a hands-on trial for some period of time? What type of references do they require? What is their process for making a final decision? While knowing their dog’s name may win you more time on the phone, you need to understand how they consume information and plan to evaluate a solution. Then you can align your sales process to their buying process. Your win rates will definitely improve if you understand this critical piece of information.

Implement the Best Tools

CRM Solutions
At a fundamental level, a customer relationship management (CRM) system is a must. Whether it’s delivered via the cloud or an on-premise implementation, you need an efficient, uniform way to record what’s going on for “institutional memory.” There’s no excuse for depending on Excel grids and notebooks to track your sales - or worse, having critical customer information walking out the door if your sales rep leaves.

Making the Most of Your Data
CRM solutions are great for keeping track of critical information, but they’re not built for making decisions. They don’t help you understand the daily life of your sales reps, external issues affecting your business or what deal “X” means for this quarter’s pipeline.

With the new technology tools available on the market, it’s shocking how many companies have no visibility into the cadence of their sales organization. Data is the most valuable untapped resource your sales organization has. Data can tell you how you’re doing and who is performing well. It can show you where you have unforeseen risks, and help you properly prioritize deals and allocate resources. It can help you better mentor your sales representatives, identify competitive threats and rapidly make needed changes for success.

Access to actionable data – not just contacts and activities – is critical to every part of your sales ecosystem. Your reps need to be able quickly assess which deals are likely to close and when.

For sales managers, data is crucial in managing the sales pipeline, giving accurate forecasts to executives, delivering results and helping build and mentor a team. Visibility into what is changing in the pipeline is critical. If a manager is under pressure to deliver $500,000 in revenue in two weeks, how do they know what deals to concentrate on? The two largest deals in the pipeline or the 10 that are almost across the finish line? Real time data analysis can analyze past trends and give managers insight into the best possible scenario, allowing them to work with the appropriate sales reps to close needed deals.

From an executive level, your data gives you the big picture, is a barometer of the health of your team and helps identify lurking problems that can affect your business. Looking at where you were at this stage in Q3 last year — what your pipeline distribution was at the time and what you ultimately closed –how likely are you to meet this year’s goal? What are the obstacles?

Or, what if your top-line revenue acquisition rate is starting to change for the worse? What is your course of action? For many, it would be to push a little harder on the sales team, put more executive focus on key deals, or maybe be more aggressive with discounts. Sometimes, discovery of the real cause for such a change comes down the line when a rep gets word from a common customer that a competitor has changed their process, and to your detriment. The issue is how fast you can discover this information and adjust accordingly. Proper use of sales analytics can help uncover subtle signs early, and certainly can confirm trends. Are your managers equipped with the right technology to derive this critical information from your CRM data? Maybe you hope that somewhere in pivot table hell you’ll discover the trend. Or, do you have to plead with the IT group to manipulate a complex BI system to explore the data? Consistent use of a CRM system will capture the data needed, but then you must preserve the history of that data as it changes because the answers lay in the detailed change over time. Once you have the history of changes, you layer the sales analytics on top of it to expose the trends, exceptions and warning points – preferably in as close to real time as possible.

Treat Sales as a Science
There is an art and a science to sales. Art, however, is influenced by emotion. Science is not.

While there is an undisputed finesse needed for a great sales team, in order to truly transform your organization, you need to have untainted insight into the reality of where you’ve been and where you’re going. If you’re counting on a combination of data transformation, Excel and an abacus to give you that visibility, you’re headed for failure. But with the right team, visibility into the pipeline and tighter sales forecasting, you can identify opportunities and make the truly optimize your sales organization.