Delivering for Best-in-Class Wholesaler-Distributors
May 17, 2017  |  ByMark Dancer, NAW Institute for Distribution Excellence Fellow
NAW-Are You Calling the Right Plays for Sales Success?-Distributors in the Digital Era #16

More and more of the time, winning at sales is not about hiring experienced salespeople and letting them do the things that have always made them successful. Rather, it’s about working together as a team, identifying the sales activities that are essential for achieving your unique goals, leveraging digital tools to help salespeople execute those activities, and adopting a culture of collaboration, continual improvement and a never-ending search for profits and growth. The core of this new reality is about aligning sales and marketing teams against an overall sales process, and then executing a well-planned and documented portfolio of sales plays at each step in the sales process. There’s no doubt that it is hard work, but so is surviving and prospering in today’s hyper-competitive and disrupted markets. Distributors that adopt sales plays as a critical competency can achieve industry-leading performance. Those that don’t will fall behind.

Here’s how you can get started …

The sales process in the graphic below should be very familiar to distributors. It’s about repeat sales, account management, revenue optimization, and ultimately, supporting the customer’s ongoing operations. In this example, the distributor works to find and acquire new accounts, sells products to solve unique customer needs, adds additional products as the customer recognizes the distributor’s high-quality delivery services, and conducts an annual account review to examine the distributor’s record and look for opportunities to strengthen the overall relationship.

Are You Calling the Right Plays for Sales Success?-Distributors in the Digital Era #16

In Getting the Most Out of CRM: Best Practices for Wholesaler-Distributors, we found many distributors setting up CRM tools to enable similar sales processes, align resources and track results. But while attending a recent conference on inside sales, I found that top-performing sales organizations are going further and defining multiple “sales plays” for each step of the overall sales process.

A sales play is a specific, predefined set of actions executed by a salesperson and often in coordination with marketing, operations or finance team members. Once identified, sales plays are executed as customer needs arise or as salespeople take the initiative to suggest changes for customers. The table below provides a high-level example and working model for distributor leaders to create their own sales playbook.

Are You Calling the Right Plays for Sales Success?-Distributors in the Digital Era #16

When best deployed, sales plays are defined using a template that names the play, lists actions with cross-functional roles and responsibilities and identifies success measures. Videos can be included as an example or to highlight successful use of the play. Coaching guidelines for sales managers help them guide salespeople to successful execution. Documentation of all sales plays is kept in a convenient online location and maintained by a sales operations team or sales manager.

Sales plays are a highly effective tool for driving sales excellence, growth and profits for several reasons:

  • Documenting and standardizing sales plays help enable consistent, high-quality execution.
  • Managing a portfolio of sales plays expands the efforts of salespeople beyond their comfort zone of familiar sales activities.
  • Sales coaching improves as first-line sales managers coach less on “do it my way” and instead help salespeople implement established plays.
  • Collaboration improves as marketing, operations and finance teams have a say in designing plays and then contributing as each play requires.
  • Analytics teams measure outcomes by play, identifying best practices and suggesting requirements for driving growth and improving profits.

Here’s a sports analogy that should drive home the importance and impact of sales plays. Football teams run plays to move the ball down the field and score points. No team, at any level of performance, allows individual team members to decide which plays to run or how to participate. Winning teams execute a portfolio of plays that are tailored to their team’s competencies and are customized to outperform their opponents. Champion teams seek excellence every time a play is executed and innovate by introducing new plays to stay ahead of the competition.

One final thought: The need to plan and execute sales plays is becoming critically important as the adoption and use of digital tools—by distributors as well as by their competitors and disruptors like Amazon—are forcing distributors to rationalize their channel structure. Branch locations are being repurposed or resized as customers embrace online buying. Videos, configurators and e-commerce platforms are performing the traditional functions of salespeople. Inside sales teams are also assuming new roles, working side-by-side with or in place of field salespeople.

All of this is part of a new multichannel approach described in depth in Becoming a Digital Distributor: Strategies and Tools that Create Value and in the possibility of achieving industry leading sales performance covered in How to Build an Industry-Leading Sales Channel. As Bill Belichick, winning coach of the Super Bowl Champions New England Patriots has said, “On a team, it’s not the strength of the individual players, but it is the strength of the unit and how they all function together.”

For distributors, “function together” is about designing and running winning sales plays over and over again.

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Mark Dancer, NAW Institute for Distribution Excellence Fellow

Mark Dancer, NAW Institute for Distribution Excellence Fellow

Mark Dancer founded the Network for Business Innovation to drive awareness, advocacy and excellence for B2B innovation, and to enable an exchange of ideas between leaders on business transformation, technology adoption, social impact and community engagement. For more than 30 years, Mark has worked with leading companies to achieve go-to-market excellence across a wide range of industries in developed and emerging markets.

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