Chris Lynch is CMO at Mindtickle. Previously, he has held CMO roles at both B2B and direct-to-consumer companies.
Revenue leaders face a harsh reality: Many sales organizations, even the ones that hit their targets, are staggeringly mediocre.
According to CSO Insights, only around half (53%) of sales reps were meeting or exceeding their quotas in 2017. Ramp time — how long it takes to make a seller fully productive — is over nine months, according to 2018 CSO Insights data. As a CMO, I’ve worked at large organizations that architect their sales hiring plans around the Pareto principle: the idea that 20% of the sellers generate 80% of the revenue. This sad acceptance of mediocrity creates a numbers game for sales leadership. They often churn and burn through sales reps and find themselves continually pressing their top performers to carry the load.
Better hiring alone likely won’t solve this issue. If it would, the math wouldn’t look so stark. Instead, I believe revenue leaders should embrace the emerging discipline of sales readiness. While Mindtickle provides a sales readiness platform, we’ve developed an agnostic definition that should work for any revenue organization: Sales readiness is a continuous state of excellence that grows revenue using a set of tools and processes to increase knowledge, enhance performance and adapt to change.
Unpacking Sales Readiness: A Suggested Framework
Recently, I worked with my team to develop a sales readiness framework, which offers a five-step process for creating readiness. Revenue leaders can use the framework to start an internal discussion with their sales management, training and ops teams about what readiness looks like for their organization.
1. Define Excellence
Old-schoolers in the sales function often like to use “the it factor” or adjectives like “gravitas” to describe strong reps. They should shift their thinking because they can actually quantify sales excellence at a more specific level than just the end result or revenue outcome.
To do that, start with a basic question: What is your ideal rep profile? And how can your organization quantify it beyond just the individual revenue outcomes themselves? You can create an ideal rep profile by organizing characteristics into three buckets:
• Attributes: These are inherent qualities you look for in a sales rep, such as whether they’re a strong communicator or negotiator.
• Behaviors: What training activities can you identify and track in your organization and tie to performance? This would include metrics like scores on messaging or presentation delivery and their correlation to specific products the company sells.
• Metrics: What are the individual seller metrics you track? These may not only be whether they hit revenue goals but could also include sales cycle length, customer satisfaction and others related to in-field performance.
2. Build Knowledge
Many sellers treat training programs like cramming for a test at school; they study, take and pass a test and forget the knowledge within days. According to Gartner, B2B sellers forget 70% of the information they learn from training within a week and 87% within a month.
Building seller knowledge should become an ongoing discipline — one aimed not just at messaging memorization and passing tests but also at developing true mastery of the skill sets sellers need to solve customer problems and close business. You can build knowledge effectively using these components:
• Defined skill sets: Identify key product knowledge, deal negotiation, sales forecasting, communication and message delivery.
• Several engagement mechanics: The key here is the word “several.” You should have a diverse set of tools that vary reps’ interactions with training programs, or they may get bored. Keep them surprised and avoid monotony. For example, you could create missions, live challenges, role-play exercises and social sharing elements, but they shouldn’t always be long.
• Spaced reinforcement: Once you train them on a specific topic, go back to the seller periodically to make sure the information sticks. You can ask them quick quiz questions that they can answer in 30 seconds or less.
3. Align Content
In my experience, sellers gravitate toward content that accelerates their deals. To make sellers ready, you should accept the fact that content doesn’t follow a linear buyer journey that marketing planned out in advance. You should build a “just-in-time” sales content management system and organize it by content types:
• Evaluation: What product or technical content will their customers require to make a decision?
• Insight: This is content that articulates the industry vision and helps your sellers tell a customer something they didn’t know.
• Objection: This is content that will help sellers clear hurdles or blockers that either customers or competitors create.
• Value: This content helps a customer understand either top-line improvements or bottom-line savings your product provides and could include ROI analysis, customer case studies, use cases or references.
4. Analyze Performance
Every sales organization today has some understanding of individual seller performance from an outcome standpoint, including deals they win or lose and overall revenue they drive to the business. But to achieve sales readiness, you should understand how a seller got there and quantify that information through their behaviors during the sales process. For example, you can draw correlations between how a seller scored in messaging training and their delivery of key themes in a sales meeting that led to new business.
5. Optimize Behavior
To achieve readiness, sales leaders should create a coaching culture within their organizations. They should demand more from their front-line managers and provide avenues for peer review. Here are key coaching interactions they should harness:
• Manager-to-rep: This includes pitch assessments, course guidance and deal remediation, among others.
• Manager-to-team: Utilize daily interactions, including account targeting and territory and patch management.
• Rep-to-rep: Many sellers can benefit from peer feedback as they sharpen their skills, as it offers interesting opportunities for content sharing and pitch feedback.
• Manager-to-manager: “Coaching the coaches” can be instructive for examining team trends based on meeting data and overall team performance.
For sales leaders who want to create a more balanced, high-performing organization, sales readiness is a useful lever to pull. Utilize this framework to begin a discussion with your team about the best way to implement it.