There’s a lot of discussion in distribution these days about “sales transformation.” Between the decade-long digitization of buying and the reframing of seller activities jolted by the pandemic, many sales organizations are wondering what they should be doing about sales transformation.

I’d like to propose a simple, bright-line test for defining whether a company has already, or is in the process of, implementing a true sales transformation. Hopefully, my definition is simple enough for most sales leaders to immediately get a binary yes-or-no answer to whether they have or haven’t done a sales transformation. Leaders should also be able to identify where in the process they may have already accomplished some of the building blocks and highlight where their transformation is incomplete.

The Difference Between “Wild West Selling” and Having a Sales System

Here’s the demarcation line. Traditionally in distribution, sellers operated autonomously as independent agents; each one doing their job the way they wanted to, as long as they hit their numbers and kept customers happy. Sales managers hired people like themselves, threw car keys and keyboards at them, and said “Go get ‘em Tiger!” Sales executives, of course, could not reliably forecast or budget performance, as the variability of performance was so great that it was unreliable. Sales training consisted of lunch-and-learns with vendors. There was no formalized account management process or call planning. We describe this as “Wild West Selling.”

On the other hand, a sales system is characterized by a controlled sequence and linkage of inputs, processes, outputs, outcomes and metrics of success. It lends itself to a Six Sigma approach to identifying, quantifying, and remediating selling defects. In a sales system, sellers (and their managers) still have discretion and adaptivity, but they do so within a clearly defined sales system.

Key Components of a Sales System

In distribution, you know you have a sales system when building blocks are formally and universally in place, such as the following.

Formal Buyer Persona & Buying Process Research

If we are to design a sales system that sells more, that system must ultimately help our buyers buy more (efficiently, effectively, frictionlessly). To build a robust sales process, we must first identify the buyer personas we seek to serve, where they gather information, when/how they engage online versus with sellers, how they make buying decisions, etc.

Formal Sales Process

In order to help buyers buy more, we need our sellers to consistently execute a formalized sales process that is grounded in the buyer personas’ buying processes. Each seller has a defined process for how to engage prospects and customers at each stage in their buying process — resulting in a defined sales process where all sellers within a given role selling to a given buyer type sell the same way. It doesn’t matter which seller a prospect or customer engages with — the sales system and seller actions and behaviors are the same. This is the hallmark of a true sales system.

Talent Assessment & Selection

The formal sales process will identify key formalized activities that must be mastered to drive consistent sales outcomes. Because sales talent is one of the key inputs in the sales system, you must clearly define the talent parameters for each of your key sales roles. Some key aspects you can screen for using talent hiring and development assessments are intrinsic (sales DNA) traits, as well as extrinsic, sales competencies that you can measure, train, and coach to mastery.

Talent Development

Continuous improvement of your carefully hired sales professionals is key to the successful mastery of the competencies underlying execution of your buyer-centric sales process. Each seller progresses through a formal onboarding process, sales skills training (as distinct from product/application training), sales coaching to attain mastery of defined competencies, and personalized learning plans for continuing professional development.

Call Planning

Another sure hallmark of a sales system is formalized call planning for all sellers. Call planning maps out the mix of resources for sellers to apply to prospecting and existing-customer account management: who calls upon whom, about what, with what frequency, and to what end. A seller’s daily calendar has prescribed calls/actions, time allocation, and call playbooks to guide execution. On any given day, management knows who is talking to whom, about what, to achieve what outcome. Key performance indicators (KPIs) measure both activities and outcomes.

Account Management

For each assigned existing account, there is a defined process for how each seller engages their customers to add value, assess gaps and opportunities, and engage buyers in conversations that create and capture true economic value and relationship equity. If a seller cannot consistently execute account planning and attain measurable outcomes for a given account, that account is either retired or reassigned to a seller who can accomplish measurable outcomes.

Sales Analytics

As hinted above, a sales system with underlying formalized call planning and account-management systems needs to be data-driven. It is impossible to economically allocate precious sales resources without sales insights to assess current state, defined desired future state, and specify the right call-planning allocation of seller activities to fulfill account-management potential.

Sales Lead/Campaign Generation

With strong sales analytics to identify qualified leads for new business, a sales system identifies, prioritizes and prescribes the prospecting and account-management objectives for sellers to execute in daily workflow. Lacking sales analytics leaves sellers on their own to determine how to allocate their precious time across competing priorities.

With these key components in place, management has a reliable revenue system that can be forecast, managed, measured and applied to optimize market coverage and revenue conversion rates.

A Sales System will be Your Guiding Framework

While chance still plays a role in performance, chance has been limited to its proper role. What is controllable (who works when and how on what for what purpose) is managed and controlled. The building blocks proceed appropriately from buyer to seller to sales system. With this sales system as a guiding framework, investments in sales training, analytics, and technology will reliably support the performance and outcomes of a true sales transformation.

Explore resources to help distributors implement a sales system, as part of their sales transformation.

This was one long line that needed to be broken up for clarity and better comprehension.