As the world welcomes another new year, it's suddenly become clear that the futuristic-sounding date of 2020 is now only a mere 12 quarters away. Every company needs to start implementing changes now if they want to be running at peak performance by then. It's not hard for sales leaders to understand that competition is likely to be much more intense at that time, as developing technology continues to smash down the barriers to entry in every industry.
In the drive to achieve significant improvements in Q1 2017, it can easy to lose sight of 2020 and beyond. Here is some advice: Don't. Quarterly analysis and projections artificially force sales initiatives that prioritize short-term gains over long-term strategy. That actually worked out in the old world of business, but today's leaders know that success at social selling depends on the long game.
Whenever an organization starts to suffer from a “this quarter only” focus, there are certain measures that sales leaders can take to zoom out for a wider view and drive toward long-term success.
In Q1: Provide sales with a self-service metric dashboard that lets them check their progress toward goals as well as their individual performance. Recognition can be more motivational than cash prizes. A good leader experiments to find out which rewards pack the greatest punch at the individual level.
For Q2 and beyond: Create a backlog of internal content that supports and sustains a culture of winning. The best salespeople never stop learning and the most effective sales leaders provide them with ample supplies of learning materials.
For Q1: Social selling is always evolving along with technology. It takes training to break old sales habits, and this is just as true of sales leaders as it is for their teams. One unique aspect of social selling training is that it can become a two-way street — sales leaders should stay open to learning from the most effective new techniques of top sales people.
For Q2 and beyond: Work closely with HR to identify what makes a great social seller. Seek out ways to identify and connect with talent from new sources. Start crafting strategies for knowledge transfer so that the next generation of sales people can grow into the next generation of sales coaches. Star quarterback Peyton Manning said it best, “The most valuable player is the one that makes the most players valuable.”
For Q1: Align sales goals with corporate priorities. Sales-marketing alignment is emerging as a hallmark of top sales organizations. For organizations where marketing automation platforms aren't being deployed in a way that can boost sales, this point can't wait.
For Q2 and beyond: Fight “role pollution.” That's defined as wasted productivity when sales has to perform the functions of administrators or customer service. Research the technology that's available on the market now that allows salespeople to spend more time actually selling.
Sales Team Management
For Q1: If there are empty sales positions, slow down and make sure they are filled with the right talent. The need to post revenues in the current quarter can put intense pressure on the hiring team. Back off and make the smarter hire. This will make better financial sense for everyone involved, even in the short term. Use social channels and the extended networks to find sales talent that will fit in with the existing sales team.
For Q2 and beyond: Design sales team responsibilities to achieve long-term business needs. Too often, sales teams are built around industries or regions. Today's more successful sales teams start by reaching out to build consensus across industries. Start with the company's strategic direction and then map out the sales goals that it will take to reach it.
The Problem with Keeping Your Eye on the Ball
There are many other areas where short-term solutions are damaging to long-term profits. A good example is how some companies trapped themselves in unprofitable compensation structures with the emergence of e-commerce. Commission-only compensation is traditional for sales positions, but counterproductive for an online advertising company that found many sales led to recurrent orders.
The commission structure discouraged salespeople from seeking out new clients. When competition spiked and sales slowed, the commission structure started to weigh down profitability. Yet the company felt they couldn't change the structure without driving away their top salespeople. Sales leaders can avoid this kind of problem by looking ahead and making minor adjustments along the way.
Take advice from Peyton Manning about winning in the end game: “You hear about how many fourth-quarter comebacks that a guy has, and I think it means a guy screwed up in the first three quarters.”
Manning should know, with 45 fourth-quarter comebacks to his credit. He's harder on himself than he is on anyone else. His point here is that winning in the end game is a last resort that puts too many resources at risk. Plan ahead, react more quickly and prepare earlier in the game. If a quarterback only keeps his eye on the ball, there will certainly be a 300-pound defensive lineman in his near future.