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Seize the Day!
The economy offers a special opening for companies to transform their sales force

Copyright 2003, by Dave Kahle

In the late 80s, the Detroit Tigers named Les Moss as their manager. He had been a long time member of the Tiger organization and had been groomed for years to take over the team. However, within the first few months of his tenure, the Tigers replaced him with Sparky Anderson.

The change had nothing to do with Les Moss's performance. When Sparky Andersen became available, the Tiger management was presented with a once-in-a lifetime possibility. Snatch one of the premier managers of all time, or do nothing. They seized the day, took advantage of the occasion, and subsequently rose to the top. Sparky lead the Tigers to the pinnacle of baseball, and became one of the winningest managers in history.

Progressive companies have a similar situation today.

Bring any group of sales executives together today and the conversation inevitably drifts to the miserable state of business. The mode of the moment seems to be to bemoan the fact that the market is not as robust as it once was, and then to wallow in worry.

There is another way to respond to the slower market. That is to recognize this as a once-in a lifetime chance to make significant changes in the way your sales force is organized and managed. These changes can form the infrastructure for constant growth in market share and profitability in the future, as well as greater immediate profitability.

What makes this a special situation?

Several trends have converged to form a situation where the ambitious company can leap frog ahead of the competition and lay the foundation for a robust future.

1.  Slow economy.

When business is booming, it's difficult to keep up with the flow of transactions. There is very little time or inclination to make structural changes, or even be concerned about them. After all, a growing market covers a lot of flaws in the system.

However, when business slows down, the marginal people, flawed processes, and ineffective systems become much more apparent. While a rising tide floats all ships, a receding tide makes visible all the rocks that were under the water.

The flaws in the system have become apparent and are crying to be fixed. So, the slow economy has made flaws and mediocrity visible. That's a good thing.

2.  Growing unemployment.

The positive side of this depressing trend is that the pool of qualified and eager potential employees is large and growing.

In a very practical sense, that means that it is likely that there are better sales people available today than those that populate the bottom third of your sales force. Every company has some marginal performers - people who just scrape by and cause you hours of frustration and sleepless nights as you strategize on how to help bring them up to standard.

This huge pool of potential sales people means that you probably have another option. Replace your mediocre performers with better qualified people. Remember Sparky Anderson?

There is another side benefit to the growing unemployment. Your current employees are more amenable to change, because they all know people who don't have jobs. They are thankful for their position, and much more flexible about your requests for change if it means keeping their jobs.

Remember a few years ago when you couldn't find anyone to hire? And you had to make ridiculous concessions just to get people to show up to work? We've come 180 degrees from those days. So, we have a rare confluence of...

  1. A clear visibility of the flaws in the system
  2. A sharpened awareness of the mediocre performers
  3. A greater-than usual willingness to make changes on the part of your employees
  4. A larger pool of qualified potential employees.

You may never see this again. It is time to seize the day, and to make the fundamental changes in systems and people that will support the future for your business.

What changes?

What changes you make depends on the state of your current system. You may have already initiated a number of changes to bring your sales force up to speed. Or, you may still be locked in the 1990's. Our Sales System Audit is a great way to assess and prioritize the key initiatives that will transform your business. To do a preliminary review of your sales system, take the accompanying "Sales System Snapshot" after reviewing the balance of this article.

In my work as a sales consultant, I see many of these same needs throughout the world of distribution. Here are some of the most common solutions.
    • Redefine the job of your sales person.

      I know this sounds so pedestrian. Job descriptions! Yawn. However, the reality is that in many companies the expectations for what the sales person should do have changed tremendously. Whereas a few years ago it was expected that sales people made "milk runs" and religiously saw the same people at the same time, most companies today expect a more strategic and consultative approach. Spelling out exactly what you expect from a sales person in the highly competitive 21st Century economy, and then communicating that to the sales force is a great way to start.
    • Demote some customers.

      It's highly likely that many of the customers your sales people are calling on are not worth the time and effort. If you haven't pruned the customer lists assigned to your sales force in recent years, you probably are losing money on as much as 50% of the customers your sales people are visiting. Now is a great time to trim the account lists and reassign some of those marginal customers to a proactive inside sales effort. Conversely, now is also a great time to identify the potential partners and to expand your sales and marketing efforts to them.

    • Take the next step in sales force automation.

      A well-designed sales force automation system can bring quality into the sales process, free the salespeople to focus their time effectively, and help serve the customer in a timely way. It's still a wonder to me that in spite of two decades of development and use, in spite of a long list of benefits, in spite of the fact that the sales force represents the largest single expense item on most company's P & L statement, in spite of the fact that every company has automated the other functions of the business - in spite of all this, still the majority of companies have not automated their sales force.

      This is a major initiative which has the potential to radically alter the way your sales force does business. Now is an ideal time to take the plunge.

    • Revise your sales compensation plan.

      Most compensation plans are vestiges of days gone by. They were created at some time in the past to meet some by-gone situation. The situation has changed but the sales compensation plan has not. Obsolete compensation plans produce frustration for management, and mixed signals for the sales force. Now is the time to fix that. See my website, www.davekahle.com/article.html for several articles on this subject.

    • Tighten up sales management process.

      How are you managing the sales force? What routine planning, reporting and communication do you insist on? How do your sales managers or branch managers go about their jobs? Now is the time to tighten up your sales management routines, measurements and requirements.

    • Sales process design.

      How do your sales people go about their job? How is a customer approached? How is an opportunity identified? How is a presentation made? How is a purchase followed up on? How is a relationship developed? How is a customer ranked? I could go on and on with questions that would just make you feel bad. The point is that there are best practices for each of these and dozens of other questions that relate to how salespeople should go about doing their jobs. You can either leave it up to the individual salespeople to decide for themselves, which I call the "abdication of responsibility approach", or you can identify and train them in these key processes. See our Kahle WayTM selling system for a solution. (www.davekahle.com/kahleway.html)

    • Shore up your training and development program.

      New salespeople need to be brought up to speed as soon as possible. And existing salespeople need to be trained in the best practices that form the basis of your minimum expectations. That's a definition of training. If you have no program to instruct a salesperson in the basics, now is the time to fix that. See our website for lots of resources.
    That done, you then need to institute a system that stimulates your sales force to continuously improve. One of the greatest challenges of sales is that you are never as good as you can be. If your experienced salespeople have settled into comfort zones, and you are doing nothing to mandate continuous improvement nor to provide them with avenues for doing so, it's your fault. Now is the time to change that. See our monthly TGIF & K seminars for an easy, inexpensive solution. (www.davekahle.com/virtual.html.)

    The current economic conditions provide you a rare chance to make significant, positive changes in your sales system. Don't let this pass you by. Seize the day!

    Sales System Snapshot
    Each of the statements represents a best practice for a sales systems. Read each statement, and rate your company by using the following scale.

    5  =  We do this exceptionally well.
    3  =  We are struggling to implement this.
    1  =  We probably should do this. We haven't yet.
    -3  =  We have never thought of that.
    -5  =  What's that?

    ____ 1.  We have a written document that accurately describes our expectations for the sales force.

    ____ 2.  We have thoroughly and accurately communicated those expectations to every one of our salespeople.

    ____ 3.  We have a company-wide system of identifying the potential within every account, and then ranking the accounts based on that system.

    ____ 4.  We have different methods of selling, depending on the potential and dynamics of the account.

    ____ 5.  We have implemented a company - wide CRM system which all salespeople are expected to use.

    ____ 6.  We have a sales compensation plan that directly rewards the salesperson for doing what the company expects of them.

    ____ 7.  Our compensation plan costs us an appropriate percentage of gross profit.

    ____ 8.  We have well-defined sales management routines and process and all our sales/branch managers follow them.

    ____ 9.  We have a well-designed selling process in which all our sales people are trained, and expected to follow.

    _____ 10.  We have a program for training the key behaviors necessary for a salesperson to become successful.

    ____ 11.  We have a system to stimulate every salesperson to continuously improve.

    _____ Total Score

    Interpreting Your Score
    • Total = 40 - 55. Congratulations. You are up to speed. You are probably growing and taking market share from your competitors in spite of the economy.

    • Total = 25 - 39. You need help. Better get serious about this.

    • Total = 0 - 24. You are locked in the past and vulnerable. You may want to see if you can find a buyer for the business. If not, it's time to invest time and money to fix your sales system.

    • Total = 0 - minus 55. You may be beyond help. Enjoy what ever you can wring out of the business for the next couple of years and plan for early retirement.

    Dave Kahle offers a variety of resources that can help your business stay competitive in changing times. To learn you can reach Dave by phone at 800-331-1287 or send him an email request.

    Transforming Your Sales Force for the 21st Century
    Transforming Your Sales Force for the 21st Century
    Buy it now!
    Only $69





    Distribution companies, by their nature, should be sales-oriented companies. But, most distributors don't do sales very well. That's the premise behind this new book.

    The book, written for sales managers and executives in the distribution industry, provides a blue print for executives to transform their sales forces into highly directable, effective, focused performers.

    The book begins with an analysis of current conditions that pressure the distributor to revise the way he/she thinks about his sales force. Kahle then paints a picture of the distributor sales force of the future. The sales force will be:
    1. more specialized
    2. more directable
    3. more flexible
    4. more professional
    5. more productive.
    His advice begins with "See it as a system," a concept that is based on one of the key principles for the book, "When you change the structure, you change the behavior of the people who work within that structure."
 
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