As a leader, you rely on valid information from each department so you can make intelligent business decisions. The chances are that the team members in your sales department (the people responsible for generating revenue for the company) have no common approach and speak no common business language. It sounds insane, but it is, in fact, the status quo at too many companies. The hundreds or even thousands of people interacting with prospects and customers are each doing it in a slightly different way.
Before you shrug your shoulders and think, “What else is new?” I’d like you to consider some tough questions. Does each member of your accounting department get to make up the rules as they go along? How about the people in your operations department? Does any other department let individuals do what they want, when they want, how they want, without even attempting to implement a process? Of course not! But for some reason we treat the sales arena as though it were some realm of magic, something mere mortals can’t understand and that must be interpreted uniquely by each individual practitioner. That’s simply not true. But we act like it is.
The end result is predictable: sales forecasts that aren’t accurate, new people not reaching optimum productivity as quickly as you would like, and the all-too-common syndrome of having to make absurd deals at the end of the quarter in order to hit your numbers.
Why do these things happen? Because people are using their own personal definitions to describe critical activities, objectives, and completion benchmarks. There’s no common language and no common process.
This is, first and foremost, a management challenge. Sometimes, as leaders, we forget that it’s our responsibility to make sure that our people are using the same playbook with key terminologies that mean the same things. We forget that it’s the leader’s job to make sure people are communicating as effectively as possible about an agreed-upon process: who’s doing what, why they’re doing it, and when it’s needed. If we don’t fulfil that responsibility, we run the risk of making mutual mystification part of the company culture. This is particularly important within the sales team, where a “Tower of Babel” status quo is all too common.
Creating and reinforcing a common language and a common process for every sales professional in the organization seems like the kind of common-sense step every company would follow. Yet for some reason it hardly ever happens. Most of the sales leaders we talk to have no shared language to use when interacting with salespeople about the most important issues, and no process in place to confirm that they are following the right sequence of best practices when they begin selling. As a result, mutual mystification and improvisation are the default settings.
Here are some questions for leaders who want consistently increasing sales revenue to consider:
- When a salesperson says that a meeting with a prospect “went well,” do both the salesperson and the manager agree on what “went well” actually means? At our company, if there is no scheduled next step in place to move the discussion forward, we would say the meeting didn’t actually go all that well!
- When a salesperson says that a prospect is “definitely qualified,” is the manager sure the word “qualified” is being used correctly? At our firm, if we don’t know the details of the budget, the decision-making process for deciding whether it makes sense to work together, and the specific problem we’re supposed to be solving – as well as the emotional impact for the prospect of leaving that problem unaddressed – then we would say that the prospect is not qualified!
- When your precious internal resources are being pushed to the limit because salespeople are going on customer calls either too early or for no reason at all … are there clear standards in place for when it makes sense to schedule a face-to-face visit? If your answer is “No” or “Hmm, I should check on that,” your organization is missing out on legitimate opportunities, because your resources are being pulled in too many directions.
If you and your team are not following the same play book, if people are using different definitions and different understandings for common terms and sales cycle issues like these, you are definitely not on the same page. It’s highly likely that no two people on your team are following precisely the same process … and that means opportunities that should be turning into revenue for your organization are taking longer than they should to complete, are not as big as they should be, or are going to the competition.
Turning such a situation around is not an overnight task. The good news, though, is that we, as leaders, can begin immediately. How? By accepting our responsibility to building into the team’s culture a value that says, “We clarify exactly what we’re talking about so that there’s no mutual mystification … and we confirm the real-world implications of what we’re saying to each other.” Then we need to help our sales leaders get more comfortable saying things to their salespeople like, “So when you say the meeting ‘went well’ – what does that mean?”