How You Need to Improve Your B2B Sales Force Now

At the start of each year, sales organizations begin their year with new, larger revenue goals, something that is true whether or not they reached their goals in the prior year. More often than not, there is no plan to attain the new goals besides the directive to “go and sell more.” The companies that reach their goals will do so through the efforts of their top producers, who will find a way to meet and exceed their goals. But many more will struggle, missing their goals—and the growth they seek. If you want to improve your sales, start by improving your sales force.

Bad Generals

Napoleon once said that there are no bad soldiers, just bad generals. He accurately placed the blame for poor results with leadership, those who are responsible for leading—and for building good soldiers. Better salespeople require better sales leaders.

Engaged sales leaders produce salespeople who are equally engaged in their work, a good first step to improving your sales results. Engagement requires time and energy, which means sales leaders have to shift their focus from the more administrative work to the growth and development of their salespeople. The best and fastest way to help salespeople improve is through coaching. Even though coaching is known to be critical, it is rarely practiced, with the excuse being a lack of time.

You can’t use the excuse that you do not have time for the few things that deliver your goals. The time is going to pass either way, with no possibility of you reclaiming it once it is gone.

The number one reason sales organizations struggle to reach their goals is a lack of accountability. Too many sales organizations lack an operating cadence for managing their sales, something that indicates both poor engagement and a lack of accountability. Because they start without a territory and account plan, too little focus on opportunity creation results in too few new opportunities, the crucial first ingredient for growth. Without pipeline meetings to ensure the sales force is creating enough opportunities, you don’t know how you’re doing until it is too late.

One of the most difficult experiences you can have as a leader is recognizing that the people who fail under your leadership thrive under another leader. If you want better results, start by building leaders who can and will develop their teams.

The New Sales Curriculum

Most salespeople have never been trained or participated in a program to ensure they grow and develop in their craft and their profession. Most of their learning is experiential, which tends to be necessary but not sufficient for growth and development. It is clear that business-to-business sales are moving in a particular direction: The direction in which it has been heading over the last two decades is toward greater value creation, with everything transactional being eaten up by the internet.

In the final chapter of Eat Their Lunch: Winning Customers Away from Your Competition, I wrote about how sales organizations are being pulled in two directions. It isn’t difficult to buy something when the decision isn’t consequential, when you can’t be harmed by making a mistake. It is, however, incredibly difficult to make a decision without knowing how best to assess the decision, especially when the outcome is critical to your success—a challenge made more difficult when you need consensus from a group of people who have conflicting ideas and who happen to be located across the country or the world.

The salesperson’s clients expect them to create greater value, to offer more in the way of real insights, and to help them make sense of their world and their decisions around significant change. Creating that value means that the salesperson needs greater business acumen, situational knowledge, and a modern, consultative sales approach. It also requires they understand how to help their clients make significant changes and build the consensus necessary to move forward. The new skill sets for salespeople require something much greater than a curriculum that hasn’t changed in three decades.

If you want better sales results, you need to prepare your sales force to succeed in an environment that has evolved in ways that leave most salespeople unprepared.

From Training to Development

B2B sales training and B2B sales development are not the same things. Training tends to be an event, something one attends, and it is something that contributes to the person’s development. Development is a longer-term plan for improving one’s competency, a more realistic approach to building the mindset and skillsets necessary to better results.

One of the best ways to think about development is to look at the whole sales force. The bell curve of results will show the top twenty-percent who make up your A-Players on the right of that curve, with the sixty-percent of your B-Players in the middle. The bottom twenty percent make up the far left of the curve. The development will pull the entire bell curve to the right, with A-Players improving their already good results, B-Players moving to the right, the key to accelerating revenue growth, with the C-Players following, some improving enough to become B-Players.

One way to wrap your mind around this idea is to think about putting everyone in your sales organization on a plan, but not the same kind of plan that indicates they need to make adjustments or lose their job. Instead, you provide them with a development plan to acquire the new strategies, the new skills, and the new behaviors necessary to successfully improve their results.

If you want better sales results, start by providing leaders who can help develop their teams, holding them accountable for results as well as growth and development. Build better salespeople by providing them with a development plan that moves as many of them as possible to the right of the bell curve.

The better results you want will come from the better sales force you build.

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