Four Themes from The Conference Board’s Senior Sales Executive Conference

Four Themes from The Conference Board’s Senior Sales Executive Conference

I had every intention of making four or five posts today live from the floor of The Conference Board’s Senior Sales Executive Conference. The conference is a wonderful room in the Hyatt Regency, but it is two floors underground, making Internet connectivity impossible. Hence, a single, longer post here and a sporadic, rapid fire Twitter feed under the hash tag #tcbsales when I have come up for air.

The theme of this year’s conference is Sales Operations as a Strategic Revenue Growth Asset. I have found all of the presentations and discussions to center around four themes, and these themes are worth paying attention to in 2010 and beyond.

1. Sales is Changing and We Need to Perform Under Pressure

The nature of sales is changing dramatically. Sales success used to be based upon relationships. These relationships enabled an understanding of the customer’s needs so that the right product could be applied. As we moved away from products alone, the ground shifted to reveal the need to sell solutions, the ability to identify and solve problems. But the ground has shifted again to reveal  the territory we in sales occupy. It is infinitely more difficult to navigate, and now requirs selling business results (a theme long-time readers will recognize here and here).

The complexity of the sales has grown from managing a single relationship, to managing multiple relationships on the buyer’s side of the business, to managing multiple relationships made up of cross-functional teams from both organizations.

Winning deals now requires the ability to tie solutions to actual business results created. This requires much stronger, provable value propositions.  It requires a demonstrable ROI analysis, and it is made easier with case studies that prove you can provide the results you sell. The results need to help your customer grow their business. They need to be provable revenue increases or overall cost reductions. Many company’s’ value propositions don’t begin to properly address these needs.

This change requires that the sales force be able to hold a higher-level conversation. It requires that the salesperson have much greater business acumen, and requires more training and coaching (which we will see on this list again).

2. Sales Strategy is the Starting Point, requires Execution

Sales organizations need a defined sales strategy. They need a plan to compete and win. But many organizations have discovered that even when the strategy is there, the results only follow if the sales strategy and the sales processes are well executed.

This theme was addressed in half of the presentations, and it was reiterated that sales isn’t a fuzzy concept. The results can be measured, and the sales behaviors can be observed in the field.

A high-level consultant shared my concerns that while the process needs to be executed well, not enough time is spend developing the business acumen that enables the conversations with prospects that lead to the process and strategy working well.

The conversations I heard and participated in lead me to believe that you will very soon see a great effort placed on training salespeople to have greater business acumen. Much of the discussion about sales strategy and value propositions are based on the idea that salespeople have to be able to prove that they can help the client with their business, and without the fundamental business education, these strategies are going to be increasingly difficult to execute.

3. Sales Coaching is More Valuable than Simple Sales Management

More than half of the presentations today also mentioned the need to transform from organizations that try to manage a sales force to organizations that coach salespeople.

This includes coaching at the strategic level and the opportunity level.

I believe that this theme provides evidence that both sales is changing dramatically, that there is an enormous gap between the behaviors we need salespeople to take to win deals, and the execution is more difficult than simple event training can effectively accommodate.

4. Sales Operations and Enablement Must Focus on Ensuring the Right Resources are applied to the Right Opportunities

This conference’s theme is directed towards sales operations, which is sometimes called sales enablement. There were a number of themes that sales operations were interested in learning about and discussing. This ranged from the challenge of creating recognition and credibility for the function of sales operations, the ability to build a business case that proves the value of sales operations, and the ability to create the appropriate staffing models in a field that is still rapidly evolving.

The most impressive idea here was the general agreement that sales operations is as responsible for the strategic, as well as the tactical. Those who work in this role work understand their role to be stewards of the sales force’s capability.  They addressed ideas about building the capability of their sales team, and the sales organizations they serve.

Interestingly, sales operation practitioners were more interested in the sales force actually embracing the tools, instead of simple compliance. They also made statements regarding the need for sales operations to be world class in order to support a world-class sales organization. This is far greater charge to keep than simply generating reports and metrics.


I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend attending this event in the future. Even though much of the presentations involved proprietary information that I cannot attribute to the presenter, the takeaways from today alone will undoubtedly keep any sales organization busy for the rest of the year. This post gives you an idea of what leading sales organization are thinking about.

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